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Labor Leaders Predict More Iraq Labor Strikes

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://electroniciraq.net/news/3467.shtml Action & Activism International Labor
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2006
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Action & Activism
      International Labor Leaders Predict More Iraq Labor Strikes
      by Kathlyn Stone
      Electronic Iraq
      29 August 2006

      A 48-hour strike led by oil and gas workers in Basra, Iraq,
      last week signals a growing impatience with the U.S.
      occupation of Iraq, said a spokesperson for the Iraq Freedom
      Congress. The strike shut down the country's main refined
      oil pipeline.

      The workers presented four demands to the Ministry of Oil:
      higher pay, wages must be paid when due, workers must be
      paid for overtime work and ambulances must be provided to
      transport injured workers. About 350 oil workers and 200 gas
      workers walked off the job the morning of Aug. 22.

      "Their basic demands for higher pay were met," said the
      IFC's Housan Mahmoud. "If the government doesn't deliver on
      the rest of the demands, the strikes will resume."

      Mahmoud is a women's and labor rights activist and chair of
      Iraq Freedom Congress Abroad, based in London.

      The IFC is a movement led by unions and human rights
      activists that is rapidly gaining in popularity among the
      general population. It is modeled after the African National
      Congress, which came into power following worldwide pressure
      to end the white minority rule of South Africa. The IFC is
      calling for a democratic, secular alternative to both the
      U.S. occupation and political Islam in Iraq. The IFC is also
      a major supporter of the strike.

      "The government and its administration have turned a blind
      eye to the demands raised by workers for months. Therefore
      the workers were forced to resort to a strike to impose
      their demands on the government and South Oil Company,"
      according to Amjad Aljawhary, North American representative
      of the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq
      (FWCUI). Union spokespeople said the strike "completely
      paralysed pumping oil from all Iraqi ports in Basra."

      The lack of electricity, running water and severe fuel
      shortages and widespread corruption have had an enormous
      impact on people's daily lives. Growing violence claimed the
      lives of more than 1,000 Iraqis in July, according to
      http://icasualties.org/ . The IFC said the people have a
      right through demonstrations and strikes to demand changes
      that will solve the mounting problems.

      "The strike is a very important development. It could
      encourage others to start demanding a day of reckoning,"
      said U.S. Labor Against the War Co-Convenor Bob Muehlenkamp.

      USLAW representatives have been communicating with the Iraq
      Freedom Congress and union leaders in Iraq for more than two
      years. USLAW organized a tour of some 20 U.S. cities by
      Iraqi labor leaders in 2005 to increase direct dialogue with
      U.S. unions and the general public. "They've been asking
      when the United States will leave and trying to figure out
      how long to put it [the strike] off," said Muehlenkamp.

      "Our job over here is to make sure the U.S. government stays
      out of this," said Muehlenkamp. The brevity of the strike
      "leaves open the possibility that the U.S. government may
      have been involved in a strike-breaking activity," he said.

      Underlying the struggles is the U.S. plan to transform the
      Iraqi economy from publicly-owned to privately held. This
      holds true for the publicly-owned oil industry that
      represents 70 percent of the Iraqi economy. The march toward
      privatization and neglect of Iraq's infrastructure
      contributes to massive unemployment, increased insecurity
      and violence, and a devastating impact on the average Iraqi
      working family.

      An American who is working to establish an Iraq Freedom
      Congress chapter in the United States said the corporate
      media in the United States is intentionally keeping
      Americans in the dark about the existence of the Iraq
      Freedom Congress and the strong labor movement in Iraq, both
      now and historically. The struggle in Iraq is presented by
      the media as an "either-or choice between the occupation and
      the resistance," said Martin Schreader. "If a third option,
      the IFC, was known by those outside of Iraq to be a real
      force, many of those who oppose the occupation, but do not
      want to see the 'resistance' come to power, would begin to
      think they finally have a side in the conflict."

      Schreader, who is on the U.S.-IFC streering committee,
      thinks the IFC offers a rallying point for international
      opposition to the war in Iraq. Greater awareness of the
      democratic and secular movement that opposes violence
      against civilians "would greatly erode the tenuous
      acceptance of the occupation by large sections of the
      population. It would embolden those who abstractly call for
      an immediate end to the occupation by giving them a rallying
      point. Finally, it would strip the Right of its chief
      talking point against withdrawal: if the United States
      leaves, the 'resistance' takes over," Schreader said.

      "People don't realize that Iraq has a long history of
      organized labor," Mahmoud said. Iraq's labor movement began
      in the 1920s and '30s with the formation of the oil workers
      and railway workers unions. Unions played an important role
      in the Revolution of 1958 which set up the first popular
      Iraqi government, according to USLAW.

      While the Saddam Hussein government crushed the Iraq trade
      union movement in the 1970s -- by murdering and imprisoning
      unionists, forcing union members underground or to flee the
      country, and by taking away pensions -- labor leaders say
      workers have not fared any better under the U.S. occupation.

      Most of the evidence points to worse working conditions
      under the U.S.-backed government. Unemployment is about 70
      percent nationally, and attacks against union leaders have
      continued under U.S. occupation. Hadi Saleh, a leader of the
      Iraqi Federation of Trade Unionists (IFTU), was assassinated
      in January of this year, and Ali Hassan Abd, a member of the
      General Union of Oil and Gas Workers (GUOW) was assassinated
      in February.

      Members of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of
      Iraq have been arrested and fired from their jobs, along
      with members and leaders of the Union of the Unemployed,
      according to the unions. In 2005, U.S. occupation forces
      arrested then later released eight members of the IFTU's
      governing board, without providing any explanation for their

      "For any workers, much less oil workers in Iraq, this takes
      tremendous vision and courage," Muehlenkamp said.

      Kathlyn Stone is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer
      covering science, health policy, the economy and
      international relations.


      Dan Clore

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