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December 2002   

Interview: Trade Secrets
Federal Labor�s trade spokesman Craig Emerson is on a mission to bring the shady world of trade talks into the open

Industrial: It�s About Overtime, Stupid
An overtime free-for-all is at the heart of Australia�s hours explosion and it's time to look at a cap on hours, reports Noel Hester from the ACTU�s Working Hours Summit.

Unions: Full Steam Ahead
After two weeks of rallies around the state, rural Rail Towns are making a stand for jobs and safety. Jim Marr reports.

Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Manly restaurateur, David Diamond, is a shoo-in for this month�s Bad Boss nomination, leaving Workers Online looking for a good employer who can undo some of his damage.

Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
Professor Frank Stilwell presented the big picture on debt policy at the Evatt Foundation�s Breakfast Seminar

History: Raking the Coals
Labour historians Rae Cooper and Greg Patmore explain why today�s organisers have much to learn from the lessons of the past.

History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
Rae Cooper tracks NSW union organising between 1900-1910 to argue that today�s activists should be looking closer to home for inspiration

History Special: Learning from the Past
Ray Markey looks at union membership growth in the 1880s & 1900s to argue that today�s unions must engage to grow.

History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Barbara Webster looks at Rockhampton between 1916 � 1957 to debunk the �dependence� theory of trade union growth.

Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
Labour lawyer Jim Nolan looks at the challenge for the Left in the current geopolitical stand-off in the Middle East.

International: World War
Europe has suddenly come aflame with industrial action, Andrew Casey reports.

Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Neale Towart looks at the influence of German immigration on Australian industry policy in the post-war period.

Review: Jack High
Mick Molloy�s new flick Crackerjack tells the tale of a traditional bowling club struggling to stay afloat in an industry dominated by pokies, pokies and more pokies, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Culture: Duffy�s Song
Former Labor Council official Mark Duffy�s Sydney super band Sundial clocks in a bit of a corker.

Satire: A Nation of Sooks
The Strewth Institute's Tony Moore looks at the spate of defo suits and wonders if Australia has gone soft.

Poetry: Mr Flexibility
One of the key challenges facing unions, as the ACTU celebrates its 75th anniversary, is confronting the problems of increasing working hours and work intensity under the guise of "flexibility". Our resident bard, David Peetz, takes up that theme this week.


The Soapbox
Economic Migrants
A man - a worker - risks death by machine gun to escape what he is told is a 'workers' state'. He flees East Berlin through a tunnel, dug beneath a cemetery.

And the Winner Is �
It�s that time of the year when we honour the best. In the past week, both the IR Writers fraternity and ACTU have got in the act with more to come.

The Locker Room
More Post-Colonial Madness
Phil Doyle joins the fools and Englishmen out in the midday sun, and finds that it all comes at a price.

Call Waiting
The Howard Government backs off its plans to privatise the rest of Telstra under market pressure. But it�s nothing like the pressure that former HIH directors are under.

Month In Review
Way Down
As Elvis might have said, if he had had a longer-term perspective �ooh, what a month it was, it really was such a month ��


Lessons from History
History has a seemingly infinite capacity to create and debunk myths, as the latest offering from the Journal of Labour and Social History shows.


 And On the Seventh Day � Satan Joins Union

 Security Masks Political Bans

 Members Offered Spotters' Fee

 Casuals Written Out of the Script

 New Mining Bully On the Block

 ACTU Examines The Cap Option On Hours

 No Sweetener for Diabetic Workers

 Pressure Goes on Apartheid Employers

 ASIC Turns Blind Eye on Dodgy Boss

 Family Test Case a Priority Campaign

 Echoes of Prestige Hit Home

 Brutal Bashing Sparks Prison Strike

 Minister Challenged by Cleaners

 ABC Journos Off The Air

 Union Says RSCPA "Kills"...

 Guards Demand Campus Security

 Uni Backs Down On Regional Review

 Peace Returns to US Docks

 Activists Notebook

 Oh Bugger Me!
 State Based Organising
 Gino on the Gong
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Regime Change for Saddam

Labour lawyer Jim Nolan looks at the challenge for the Left in the current geopolitical stand-off in the Middle East.

The prospect of a war against the fascist Ba'ath clique in Iraq has seen a predictable reaction by many in the political left in the United States, the United Kingdom Europe and now in Australia. It is well past time however for the knee jerk reaction to the prospect of 'regime change' in Iraq to be re-assessed. The rationale behind opposition to intervention in Iraq needs to be carefully considered.

Australians (and in particular the left) acted honourably in pressing for regime change in East Timor - even when the United Nations seemed to falter in its commitment to the East Timorese. Similarly, the intervention of the United Nations in Bosnia should have been welcomed by anyone who felt deeply about human rights. The actions of NATO in Kosovo - to rescue the most significant Muslim community in Europe from ethnic cleansing at the hands of the stalinist orthodox fascist - must also be regarded as a great humanitarian intervention. The same can be said for the British intervention in Sierra Leone. On the other hand, the international community can be condemned for its failure to intervene in a timely fashion in Rwanda.

These examples are sufficient to show that a blanket principle of non-intervention cannot rationally be sustained. The international community is and should be, obliged to act in the face of human tragedy and widespread human rights abuses. It has long been regarded as an important task for the left to take their own governments to task positively to require intervention in the name of human rights and democratic values. Campaigns against the racist regimes in South Africa and Zimbabwe and more recently, Cambodia, East Timor, Burma and Tibet bear this out.

Opposition to regime change in Iraq stands in stark contrast to these principled campaigns. It can only - objectively considered - lend aid and comfort to one of the most brutal and murderous regimes on earth. Anyone considering action which could lead to the prolongation of Saddam regime should be reminded of the ugly brutality of this fascist regime.

Have no doubt that the time will shortly come when this choice will have to be made. Saddam's authority is not just built on fear and lies. His conduct gives every indication that he has long since lost the capacity for honest dealing. A material breach of the UN resolution by Iraq is as inevitable. So too will be the intervention which will follow. Will the energies of the left then be spent in excoriating regime change or in championing the status quo of a fascist horror state which human rights advocates have described as having among the worst human rights records since world war 2.

The Ba'ath party's reign of terror

Early in its reign of terror, the Ba'athist regime liquidated communists, trade unionists and liberal democrats. Ever since it has systematically repressed and tortured its citizens- especially anyone suspected of opposition to the Ba'athist regime. Saddam continues to subject Iraqi citizens to forced relocation and deportation, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, "disappearance," and summary political execution. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq said as recently as November 1999 "Extreme and brutal force is threatened and applied without hesitation and with total impunity to control the population". The human rights situation inside Iraq is worse than any country since the end of World War II. Methods of torture used in Iraqi jails include using electric drills to mutilate hands, pulling out fingernails, knife cuts, sexual attacks and 'official rape'.

Some recent examples of human rights abuses are: 3000 prisoners executed at the Mahjar Prison between 1993 and 1998; About 2500 prisoners executed between 1997 and 1999 in a "prison cleansing" campaign; 122 male prisoners executed at Abu Ghraib prison in February/ March 2000, another 23 political prisoners executed there in October 2001; In October 2000, dozens of women accused of prostitution were beheaded without any judicial process. Some were accused for political reasons; Women prisoners at Mahjar are routinely raped by their guards; Prisoners at the Qurtiyya Prison in Baghdad and elsewhere have been kept in metal boxes the size of tea chests. If they do not confess they are left to die.

The Kurds

Opposition to regime change in Iraq also ignores and trivialises the plight of nearly thirty million Kurds - all of whom would dearly love regime change in Iraq. The Kurds are the largest disenfranchised Muslim community in the middle east - much larger than the Palestinians for example.

Iraq's 1988 Anfal campaign of extermination against the Kurdish people living within its borders resulted in the death of at least 50,000 and as many as 100,000 people, many of them women and children. The Anfal campaign has been widely recognised as a campaign of genocide against the Kurds. The Kurds hold the tragic distinction of being the only community to have been attacked with weapons of mass destruction by their own government.

Kurds in Northern Iraq currently enjoy significant freedom thanks to the protection against Saddam's army provided by the air forces of the United States and United Kingdom. An absolute non intervention policy would require withdrawal this air cover. This would serve only to permit Saddam to revive his campaign of genocide against the Kurds.

Saddam's Shria laws

In 1994 Saddam - supposedly a secular ruler - introduced amputations and branding.

Saddam issued a series of decrees establishing severe penalties for 'criminal' offences. These include amputation, branding, cutting off ears, and other forms of mutilation. Anyone found guilty of slandering the President has their tongue removed. The branding was useful to distinguish war wounded amputees from 'criminal' amputees.

[Information on the ugly truth of this regime is ready available on the web. Human Rights watch]

Saddam as Sponsor of Terror

These well chronicled human rights abuses should in themselves, be sufficient to persuade the left to argue passionately for regime change. The prospect of Saddam and his clique as the wholesalers of weapons of mass destruction represents a clear and present danger to the civilised world. It has been argued that there is no 'smoking gun' which associates Saddam with Al Qaeda. There is already clear evidence however that Saddam has long been an exporter of terror. Mostly this has taken the form of numerous assassinations of Iraqi dissidents living abroad who were opposed to the regime. However the Ba'athist regime was also notoriously the sponsor and protector of the Abu Nidal group of Palestinians terrorists who were involved in a campaign of assassination of Palestinian moderates. Abu Nidal died recently in Baghdad - apparently of natural causes.

Saddam Gets 'Religion'

In order to boost his credentials as a leading Muslim with theocratic fascists like Osama Bin Laden, Saddam is presently squandering his limited oil revenues in the construction of grand Mosques. This is only one of numerous gross examples of using precious resources to shore up his regime at the expense of the welfare of the Iraqi population. The grandest will feature a moat in which an island landscaped to reproduce Saddam's thumb print is to be built. An architect who worked on this bizarre project and gave a media interview about it recently died of 'poisoning'.

Saddam is Iraq's Ceausescu

The only possible objection to intervention in the interests of regime change is the civilian casualties which might ensue. The Afghanistan campaign demonstrated that casualties could be minimised. The Gulf war showed that the Iraqi army was a paper tiger and that its largely press ganged ranks were eager to desert Saddam. The much vaunted 'republican guard' may be expected to collapse within days. So long as the Iraqi people are convinced that any intervention will be carried through with conviction - and not betrayed as it was in 1991 - they may be expected quickly to join the push to oust Saddam. Apart from some die hard Saddam loyalists, sensible army officers may be expected to surrender and defect.

Every rational indicator suggests that Saddam will sooner or later meet the same fate as that other joke dictator, Ceausescu. His recent farcical plebiscite and his amnesty for criminals (but not political prisoners) suggests that the regime is feeling the pressure. He has in the past few weeks reportedly recalled the children of Iraqi diplomats - no doubt as hostages against expected defections and denunciations.

When that time comes, if Saddam's republican guard is permitted to strike out at the population without hindrance, many of his brave opponents may be expected to meet the same fate which befell democratic forces in 1991. At the end of the Gulf war - at the urging principally of the corrupt Saudi oligarchy - the international community made the cowardly decision to permit Saddam to reassert his rule. The slaughter of his political opponents far exceeded the repression witnessed in East Timor. We in the west owe all these people and their families and comrades a significant debt which now waits to be repaid. The challenge for all of us is whether we are to be remembered as the supporters of those who will see Saddam off- or as having stood in their way.

None of the facts about the true horrors of the Ba'ath regime appear seriously to be challenged by anyone. What then (in the memorable phrase) is to be done? There are two principal reasons for hesitation about intervention. The first is concerned with potential casualties. Many of my political comrades say that if a targeted assassination of Saddam and his henchmen could be arranged, they would not object. This in itself is a tectonic shift in thinking about the conduct of international relations - to recall for a moment Guatemala, Mossadeq and Allende! Leaving that aside, what this concession means is that the approach to intervention requires only a judgment about the probable results which flow from intervention or non intervention not about the morality of regime change itself.

This is a grim calculus but not one which suggests that one option is automatically superior. What it necessitates is a deliberate decision that a prolongation of Saddam's regime will not lead to the murder, torture and further brutalisation and impoverishment of the Iraqi people on a scale which will exceed the human costs of intervention. In my judgment, another two or three (or more) years of brutality and its inevitable bloody and chaotic aftermath is too high a price for the Iraqi people to endure. It cannot be tolerated when the realistic alternative is a short sharp military intervention which can now confidently be predicted to topple the much hated Saddam in a matter of weeks if not days.

There is a second and perhaps in truth more substantial rationale against intervention. This is the visceral knee jerk anti americanism which still pervades political debate. America's past sins, it is argued, disqualify it from any legitimacy in a struggle like this. A case in point is the former support for Saddam by the US. Whereas the truth of this past alliance of convenience is incontrovertible, its justification to oppose US intervention now does not withstand analysis. Past sins to which the US and its allies were a party make the obligation to put things right all the more imperative, not otherwise. What better gesture to make amends to those who have suffered under the Ba'ath regime than to be their liberators - albeit belatedly. It is also worth reflecting upon the fact that that disqualification based on past conduct would have disqualified Australia from any role in East Timor.

The real campaign ahead will be to insist that the international community meets its obligations to the people of Iraq to rebuild the country, to develop democratic institutions based on tolerance and allow its people access to the benefits derived from its oil wealth. The price of that intervention must be that the international community is to be kept to its word in Iraq as much as in Afghanistan - even when more immediate issues distract the attention of decision makers. This task - to redouble the campaign for human rights, the rule of law, and secular democracy -is the far, far preferable call upon the left's energies.

[Resources on Iraq are readily available on the web, see for example; Christopher Hitchens; required reading - Kanan Makiya (an Iraqi exile) Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq University of California Press (1998)]

Jim Nolan is a barrister practicing in employment and industrial law. He was formerly an industrial officer and advocate for media unions and an Executive Member of the NSW Privacy Committee. He has also taught post graduate courses in Labour law. He is been a member of the Australian Labor Party which he first joined in 1968.


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