Guess What Scott Walker and ISIS Have in Common
Last month, during an event that was overshadowed by Rudy Giuliani's remarks about Obama's supposed lack of love for America, Wisconsin's Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential contender Scott Walker claimed his restrictions of public employee collective bargaining rights would send a tough message to ISIS and Vladmir Putin:
"Noteworthy, Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin."
A week later, Walker doubled down, saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” again seeming to say that cracking down on labor unions is evidence of his foreign policy toughness.
But what's ironic about Walker's comments is that the foes he is posturing as being so tough against—chiefly, ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria—seem to agree with his loathing of labor unions.
ISIS Vs. Iraq's Unions
Iraq's labor unions have spent years under siege by a variety of actors. First, they faced off with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who undercut their bargaining rights by classifying most workers as civil servants, which prohibited them from directly forming unions. Many of these laws persisted after Hussein's fall, and the unions were particularly incensed by the waves of privatization that occurred in occupied Iraq.
The latest assault on Iraq's unions comes not from the Baath government or foreign occupiers but rather the extreme ISIS militants. The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center—which documents and agitates against labor abuses abroad—has the rundown on attacks on labor unionists since June 2014, when ISIS rapidly expanded in Northern Iraq. The group notes:
Iraqi workers and their families have faced unemployment, violence, displacement—and sometimes murder. Many businesses and work sites have closed due to violent clashes between ISIS and military forces, especially in cities such as Mosul, Tikrit, Ramadi and some parts of Diyala
In Mosul, ISIS broke into the main trade union's building; in September, they kidnapped and killed the wife of a union leader in the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.
ISIS kidnapped and killed “eight public service-sector workers after they questioned the group’s authority and protested arbitrary work policies," according to the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). In October, FWCUI reported that ISIS forced workers to work without pay, and responded to demands for wages with the kidnappings.
Additionally, “members from ISIS-controlled areas have reported receiving threats from ISIS because of their union involvement. ISIS militants stole cars and money from the GFIW branch in Mosul and also confiscated the house and car of the branch president, who discussed the situation with Solidarity Center staff. He said he was forced to leave with no belongings and was shot in his leg when he tried to save his family. He said that in addition to his union activity, his family likely was targeted because his wife planned to run for Parliament. Many union members report they fled Mosul and other ISIS-controlled areas, such as Salah el Din and Anbar, due to the threats and intimidation.”
In addition to fighting for decent wages and employment in both ISIS-controlled and government-controlled territories, the GFIW has been outspoken in support of women who are being mistreated and in some cases used as sex slaves by the ISIS militants. In a statement it put out in December, it denounced the organization's brutality toward women. Here's an excerpt:
Central office of working women and children’s affairs at the GFIW expresses its utmost rage and condemnation on the savage barbaric attack by the monsters of life and all times against our region, including some of our beloved governorates.
Enemies of humanity were not satisfied with all the destruction in the cities they invaded and devastation to all aspects of life that they caused, but went much further by savagely raping women in those cities under the name of (Jihad Al Nikah: marital (sexual) Jehad). Women were brutally taken as hostages and sold in the markets of slavery!
At the time we denounce those dirty acts, we salute the courageous women who denied to be sex slaves under that misleading name they gave to it, and rejected the orders of those barbarians. One hundred and fifty women from Fallujah refused the savages orders for Jihad Al Nikah: marital (sexual) Jehad, and based on that the dirty savages executed all of them.
This is how Iraqi women are, this is how we always knew them; strong and courageous, they never feared the swords of ISIS, and were inspired by their predecessors the great women in Arab history like Al Khansa’a and Um Al baneen.
It's worth also noting that Walker's original analogy to Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers is far from solid. Reviewing his claim that the Soviet Union increased its respect of the United States after the firings, Politifact gave Walker a “Pants On Fire." The fact is that Reagan himself understood that labor was actually an asset in dealing with Soviet rule; he was a supporter of the Polish union Solidarity, and condemned the Soviets' infringing on the “basic right of free trade unions and to strike.”
If anything, Reagan wanted to appear a supporter of labor unions abroad, and did little to mention his crackdown on labor at home.
But accuracy isn't exactly Walker's goal here. With a thin foreign policy resume, he is trying to capitalize on his crusade against labor unions, portraying it as a sign of toughness abroad. The reality is, however, that many of the same actors we rightly oppose abroad have been even harsher on labor unions than Walker has, because traditionally there is a link between those who oppose free association of laborers and those who oppose liberty.