New opportunities on International Workers’ Day

5/1/2020 7:15:10 PM

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Mohammed Kamaran Shexany
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Today is International Workers’ Day, a celebration that traces its roots back to the late 19th-century wave of organizing by workers and social democratic unions for wage increases, reduced working hours, and better working conditions around the world. Marxist and Communist groups were integral in pushing the struggle along and, as far as Kurdish political movements in Bashur are concerned, many were inspired and shaped by leftist conceptions of freedom and independence. Yet, in only a few instances have Kurdish workers formed powerful and long-lasting unions to challenge the authority of the land-owning and capitalist classes. Those that exist are largely dependent on the ruling parties or nationalist organizations. Therefore, on this of all days, it is important to ask why workers and class consciousness are underplayed aspects of Kurdish political life.

Kurdish society has strong ties with pastoralism and agriculture, which means that, until relatively recently, factories, production, working hours, and wages did made little sense as areas around which to organize. Therefore, peasants and farmers usually took the place of industrial workers in the organizing that did take place. Unionizing or collectivizing of Kurdish peasants and farmers against aghas was difficult because of the physical distance between people in rural areas, making regular mass gatherings rare. Furthermore, for a Kurdish worker, tribal loyalties and loyalty to the aghas took precedence over the kind of class consciousness seen in other parts of the world that allowed rural workers to organize. Moreover, these loyalties, especially in the latter case, were often violently enforced.

In place of that, resentment of poverty and oppression often led people to join the Peshmerga, which was fueled more by national aspirations than class ones. Despite the fact that these movements were inspired by leftist ideas of freedom, they soon abandoned them or retained only rhetorical aspects. In other words, workers were assimilated into another cause. Assuredly, they were taught oversimplified lessons about Marxist concepts. But, for many, it was enough to engage in insurgency against his own landowner by joining a movement, even if that movement was led by another landowner. Additionally, nationalist sentiments flourished in response to the atrocities of the Anfal campaigns, which had the effect of subsuming other types of emancipatory struggle.

As Kurdish civil society reasserts itself, workers have new opportunities to spring from the peripheries into the center of political struggle. The time is better now than it has been for decades. Company owners have replaced the landowners, but active media and civil society organizations can now operate relatively independently to pressure the government to enact policies in their advantage and organize like-minded workers.


Mohammed Kamaran Shexany is an alumni of the The American University of Iraq - Sulaimani, where he majored in International Studies.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily reflect those of NRT.