American and Iraqi forces raid Iraqi trade unions in Baghdad
US and Iraqi forces raided the offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers on February 23, according to an official statement by the GFIW. This raid may be the latest episode in the long and adversarial relationship between American occupying forces and Iraq's secular, anti-Baathist trade union movement.
It is not surprising that Iraqi trade unions leaders have been targeted by both insurgents and occupying forces. Iraqi unions have undergone a resurgence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, union power is a potential threat to both fundamentalist clerics and the international corporations seeking to privatize Iraq's oil industry.
The US-backed Iraqi government approved a sweeping new privatization package for Iraq's oil industry last Monday. Labor leaders were shut out of the negotiations leading up to the new hydrocarbon law.
The law was prepared by a three-member Iraqi cabinet committee, dominated by the Kurds and the Shi'ites. It is now expected to be ratified by Parliament because the powerful faction leaders in the government have cleared it.
The first draft was seen only by the Iraqi technocrats who penned it, nine international oil companies, the British and US governments, and the International Monetary Fund. The Iraqi Parliament will get its first glimpse next week.
Concerns about the process are compounded because of the ongoing disputes in Iraq over the legitimacy of the cabinet and the Parliament, which have been constructed by the governing council, which itself was created in 2004 by occupation forces along sectarian lines.
In a speech last month by Hassan Juma, head of the Iraqi Oil Labor Union, posted on the union's website, he called on the Iraqi government to consult with Iraqi oil experts and "ask their opinion before sinking Iraq into an ocean of dark injustice".
The content of the law has also worried international campaigners and local Iraqi groups who say that it puts Iraqi oil wealth firmly on the path to full privatization. [Asia Times]
Kathlyn Stone has a fascinating article about Iraqi labor and the oil industry. Her reporting on the fight between the General Union of Oil Employees and Halliburton subsidiary KBR is of particular interest:
The General Union of Oil Employees in Basra has taken a strong stand against the proposed law. GUOE's courageous members booted KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, out of refinery workplaces shortly after the invasion despite Cheney's award of a 'no bid' contract. Members also went on a two-day strike last August, winning their demands for higher pay. From what one can glean from foreign press and unfiltered words from Iraq, so does every other union in Iraq. In his February 6 speech at a conference held at Basra University to debate the oil law, GUOE president Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi minced no words. "Among the objectives America wishes to achieve from the military occupation of Iraq, all the causes of which we do not want to return to, but simply to emphasize one central objective of the American political leaders who crossed oceans and wasted billions of dollars, that is Iraqi oil. Indeed we in the Federation of Oil Unions consider this the most important reason for this foul war."
Assadi, who was jailed three times for opposing the former Baath regime, called on Iraq's Parliament to "bear the Iraqis in mind, to protect the national wealth, and to look at the neighboring countries. Have they introduced such laws even when their relations with foreign companies are closer than in Iraq? If those calling for production-sharing agreements insist on acting against the will of Iraqis, we say to them that history will not forgive those who play recklessly with the wealth and destiny of a people and that the curse of heaven and the fury of Iraqis will not leave them."
The oil workers must be braced for a response. After GUOE's first anti-privatization conference last summer, the U.S. and Iraqi governments responded by freezing the union's bank accounts.
Union members have been arrested and fired from their jobs. At least two union leaders, Hadi Saleh, of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unionists (IFTU) and Ali Hassan Abd of the GUOE, were assassinated since the invasion.
Saddam Hussein's 1987 Law 150, banning unions and union organizing remains in effect. In 2004 U.S. administrator Paul Bremer declared them illegal. [Truthout]
A separate attack on the headquarters of an Iraqi journalists' union last month provoked international outrage from the International Federation of Journalists (the union's parent organization), Reporters Without Borders, and labor groups. Reporters Without Boarders says that US troops fired on the Baghdad building, but the US military denies that American troops were involved in the attack.