Hadi Saleh – ten years on
Today is the tenth anniversary of martyrdom of Hadi Saleh, international officer of the Iraqi trade union movement and my close friend.
The union centre he represented, now known as the GFITU, is holding a memorial event today in central Baghdad to remember Hadi as trade union leader, as a peace and democracy campaigner and as a resolute advocate of women’s rights.
Hadi was murdered in Baghdad January 2005 in his home barely one month after he retuned from attending the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (now ITUC) December 2004 Congress in Japan.
The TUC delegation to the that Congress met Hadi there and was impressed by his vision and bravery. In Saddam’s Iraq, Hadi faced extreme difficulties due his commitments to democracy, human and trade union rights. He endured Saddam’s dungeons in the 1970s. When in exile he worked tirelessly to expose the atrocities of Saddam’s regime against working people and in particular trade unionists. Brendan Barber, then TUC General Secretary, wrote in his foreword to the TUC publication Hadi Never Died that “Hadi faced exile, persecution and death.”
Hadi Never Died was launched jointly by Brendan and the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street in October 2006. When Hadi’s widow visited Britain later that autumn, Labour MP and former Unison President David Anderson, and former Labour MP Harry Barnes held a similar event for her in the House of Commons.
Sadly, ten years after his death, Hadi’s killers are still at large. And the trade union movement that he helped to establish then is facing a number of major challenges, including division, aggressive post-2003 state interference and the failure of Iraq’s new democratic rulers to legislate an ILO-compliant labour law that democratically and legally regulates industrial relations.
Hadi was a key figure in the history of the Iraqi trade union movement. He was the principle actor in the establishment of the underground trade union movement, the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement (WDTUM), that operated clandestinely under Saddam’s rule from 1980-2003. The aim was to keep the notion of free, independent and democratic trade unionism alive. The WDTUM under Hadi’s leadership became the back bone of the Iraqi Federation of Trade unions (IFTU) in May 2003.
And secondly Hadi was the driving force that brought together the WDTUM in May 2003 with hundreds of democratic trade unionists from across the political spectrum to establish Iraq’s first free and independent trade union movement in the wake of the fall of Saddam’s regime on 9 April 2003. The IFTU held its founding conference in Baghdad on 16 May 2003 and Hadi was elected overwhelmingly as the International Secretary.
The GFITU remembrance of Hadi must focus on reclaiming Hadi’s vision of a united, independent and democratic trade union movement that is mainly concerned with advocating and defending workers’ rights and open, parliamentary democracy in a federal and united Iraq.