“Blue is our symbol . . . the sky our color . . . freedom and hope our demands . . .” is how Iraqi cultural activist, Ahmad Hatif, begins his brief manifesto “A Blue Revolution for Change is Launched in Iraq.” Launching with it a network and discussion platform on facebook, which has been generating scads of commentary and reactions from Iraqi writers and bloggers across the board. Hatif’s call first appeared on December 16th on the website “Free Directions” (read it in Arabic here, and here in English translation) and then shortly thereafter showed up on one of the most popular and active repositories for independent Iraqi cultural and political writings: kitabat.com. Its posting immediately garnered enthusiastic (and often poetic) statements of support, analysis, and critical questioning (read them in Arabic here, here, and here.)

But what exactly is the “Iraqi Blue Revolution”? While at present still very much a budding and evolving project, seemingly limited to its 1,800 internet-enabled, though Iraq-based “members”, almost all participants express their desire “to declare their protest and refusal, and to announce the start of a popular revolution against corruption and politicians, and against the occupation and the occupiers” in the words of Hatif’s call.

Many involved have also explicitly stated their wish to avoid and offer an alternative to the manipulative, divisive, and often murderous politics of today’s Iraq. This mobilization, to again quote Hatif, will “declare a popular revolt, which is not supported by any official institution, or funded by any internal or external party, but rather is a kind of popular agitation . . . and an attempt to unify Iraqi cadres that have been torn apart, calling for a new Iraq . . .” And later: “[We] reject all attempts by politicians, and ‘allied’ states and ‘non-allied’ states, neighbors and ones distant, Arab or non-Arab to interfere with our internal affairs. We also reject the reelection of corrupt politicians without exception: from the Council of Ministers to the Presidency Council, to the ruling Iraqi parties and non-ruling parties, and consider all of these people and groups to be illegal. Not just because they lack any legal authorization, but also because they’ve proved in practice that they only serve their friends and political rivals.” This language demonstrates that these are more than just calls for reform, but are gropings towards some kind of fundamental or structural change.

What distinguishes these calls for unity from the hundreds made by political players over the years since the Iraq was invaded in 2003, are their notions of self-reliance and empowerment: “ . . .that you join hands together and reject ‘partyization’ of any kind, cast off fear and hesitation and don’t listen to those that only want to consolidate their interests, from the supporters of Saddam’s regime to the supporters of corruption and occupation . . .”

One supporter, Shakir al-Nasiry, writing on the 18th of December, notes that the selection of “blue” as a symbol comes in reaction to “the colors of the politician’s banners, which have now lost all credibility, and symbolize a narrow nationalism, sectarianism and racism . . .” seeing the form of this call as offering a new way of envisioning politics and social change, and injunctions to “wear blue” as a reengagement with the Iraqi public. al-Nasriy also describes the rhetoric of the contributors as a refreshing reminder of what may be possible, “that the logic of revolution, even if only dreamt, remains, and [still] has the power to attract [ . . . ] despite the fact that the most powerful institutions and media outlets work hard to erase the idea of revolution, and the logic of change from the global political dictionary, treating them as a passing memory in the imaginations of dreamers.”

Finally, al-Nasiry comments that “revolutions are easily launched in a hypothetical world . . . [where] they are dominated by hopes and dreams. In the case of the blue revolution, we must ask about the seriousness of those who began this ambitious project [ . . . ] about their future plans, their views on society [ . . . ] Of what horizon do they dream? [ . . . ] The true challenge is to take this revolution from a hypothetical world where there is no blood or exploding cars [ . . . ] to the world of lived reality . . .”

Thinking along similar lines, the group took a turn for the more concrete on January 2nd after the first “coordination meeting” was held on facebook, which included the comments and questions from about 80 of the about 1,800 members. The meeting produced a demand for “justice for blackwater victims” and an “appeals process” against the private mercenary army, in reaction to the January 1st decision of a US federal court judge to dismiss the charges against 5 blackwater employees who by several eye witness accounts, and their own testimony, are almost certainly responsible for the killing of 14 and wounding of 20 unarmed Iraqi civilians in an unprovoked, September 2007 attack.

Tame statements by Iraqi spokeman Ali al-Dabbagh that former Blackwater employees are not welcome in Iraq (even if they work for other companies) and more recent statements by Nuri al-Maliki that other methods of bringing these men to justice will be found, have not satisfied the Iraqi Blue Revolution, which wrote in a recent post:

“Let’s protest the spilled blood . . . and demand the justice the US courts hid, in the absence of an Iraqi demand and a real Iraqi voice, or of Iraqi judges . . . Let’s push our government and the victims to go to other courts . . . don’t depend on the politicians or the Ministry of Councils . . . because Blackwater was the instrument that each used to wipe out the other’s opponents. Blackwater was the expert killer in Iraq, and participated in dozens and dozens of night raids . . . charging very high prices. They have very dangerous documents . . . that can silence all opposition, except us, the people. Let’s build a blue wall, and write our protests on it . . .”

After a 53-day strike (the longest in Iraq since 1931) won workers in the leather industry the release of long promised safety benefits and back wages, FWCUI-affiliated unions are at it again, this time organizing Baghdad cotton factory workers and announcing a strike for similar demands, now entering its 19th day. There is yet a another strike, this one in the industrial area of Nahrawan (east of Baghdad) at al-Thalal brick factory. This strike began on the 23rd of December. If these actions are any indication, organizing in the industrial sector is really catching fire in Iraq. In the face of such effective and uncompromising direct action, the Iraqi authorities –surprise, surprise—have stepped up their attempts to interfere, by “relocating” organizers to out of the way offices, or simply firing them. The most threatening of these attempts though, takes the form of planned union federation elections, which the FWCUI considers to be a sham meant only to confer legitimacy on the state-backed federation. This then may lead to the very Ba’athi move of banning of all ‘unrecognized’ unions.

The Baghdad based  Federation of Worker’s Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) has called for an expansion of the now 41 day-old leather industries strike, into other industries and sectors across Iraq. In their call (which you can read in the original Arabic here, and in English translation here) they cite numerous wage and condition-related grievances, but also emphasize what Iraqi labor unions have for decades been struggling against:  a 1987 law, enforced to this day, which prohibits worker organizing in the public sector, in addition to various economic initiatives which they see as threatening the public sector’s very existence. The FWCUI’s analysis also has a broader reach, and considers these moves an expression of the desire on the part of the Iraqi Government, multi-nationals, and the US-led occupation, to privatize nearly all Iraqi industry.

In this short interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!,  Iraqi labor union organizers Rasim Awadi and Falah Alwan discuss present conditions in Iraq, and what to look for in the future [taped September 21st, 2009.]

 

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