Appeal for support for Iraqi labour movement

LFIQ Vice-President Harry Barnes pens a passionate appeal for support for Iraqi trade unions.
The General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the Kurdish Federation of Workers (from Iraqi Kurdistan) have met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq to press for the repeal of Iraq’s Anti-Trade Union Legislation.
Still in operation (and use) is Law 150 passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 banning the operation of Trade Unions in the public sector of the economy, which covers some 80% of those who manage to have jobs.
Decree 8750 adopted in August 2005 by the transitional Government is also still in operation. Under it the Iraqi Government have sequestrated Trade Union funds, pending a decision in which they will determine who is to be recognised as a Trade Union. So much for free Trade Unionism.
It is, therefore, good to see that the Deputy Prime Minister has not dismissed the Trade Unions representations out-of-hand as has occurred in the past. This is, therefore, a key time for the Trade Movement throughout the world to press the Iraqi Government on this issue. It is an urgent and key matter to raise within one’s own Trade Union.
I need to declare an interest, I am an honorary member of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions which form a key part of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and the bulk of the delegation shown on the above link are friends of mine.

Books are weapons

LFIQ Vice-President Harry Barnes remembers not being allowed to buy Das Kapital in Basra in the mid 50s and links to a story about which he says: The Baghdad booksellers love of books as shown in the video, shows just why Iraq can still have a future.

Survey of union rights in Iraq and worldwide

The International Trade Union Confederation has just published its first Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights covering 138 countries, which shows an alarming rise in the number of people killed as a result of their trade union activities, from 115 in 2005 to 144 in 2006. On Iraq, it says: In addition to the many trade unionists who fell victim to untargeted violence, at least two trade union leaders were assassinated on account of their union activities and there were countless other violations of trade union rights. The authorities increased their interference. After taking control of trade union finances they decided to supervise all aspects of the trade union elections. No progress was made in introducing the new draft labour code. Old laws are still in force as a result, denying public sector workers the right to organise.

To the Finland Station?

Details of high-level private talks to find a settlement in Iraq
Press release Monday 3 September
Leading representatives of Iraqi political parties and others linked to a range of groups close to the conflict completed four days of discussions in Finland
Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement. Those present agreed to a set of recommendations to start negotiations to reach national reconciliation. These recommendations are contained in the attached Helsinki Agreement. The principles of inclusivity, power-sharing and a commitment to removing the use of violence as a means of resolving political differences were among the most urgent concerns agreed.
Brought together by the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts – Boston, with the assistance of the Crisis Management Initiative, sixteen Iraqi delegates were aided by senior representatives of peace processes of Northern Ireland and South Africa to explore the current situation in Iraq.
No further information can be offered at this stage.
Helsinki Agreement
Representatives of Iraqi parties and blocs held discussions in Finland from August 31 through September 3, 2007 and agreed to consult further on the following recommendations to start negotiations to reach national reconciliation:
1. To resolve all political issues through non-violence and democracy.
2. To prohibit the use of arms for all armed groups during the process of
negotiations.
3. To form an independent commission approved by all parties, its task being to
supervise the process of disarmament of non-governmental armed groups in a
verifiable manner.
4. All parties will commit to accept the results of the negotiations and no party
can be subject to a threat of force from any groups that reject all or part of any
agreement reached.
5. To work to end international and regional interference in internal Iraqi affairs.
6. To commit to protect human rights.
7. To assure the independence and efficiency of the legal and justice systems,
especially the constitutional court.
8. To ensure the full participation of all Iraqi parties and blocs in the political
process and agreed governance arrangements.
9. To take all necessary steps to end all violence, killings, forced displacement
and any further damage to infrastructure.
10. To establish an independent consultative body to explore ways to deal with the
legacy of the past in a way that will unite the nation.
11. All Iraqi parties and blocs have to build Iraq and contribute efficiently to
support all the efforts that would make the political process and Iraqi unity
successful and to preserve its sovereignty.
12. All participating groups must commit to all of the principles listed here as a
complete system of rules.

TUC Fringe Meeting

17.30, Wednesday 12th September, Brighton Conference Centre
Solidarity with Iraqi Workers
Speakers: Gary Kent, Director, Labour Friends of Iraq; Abdullah Muhsin, International representative, General Federation of Iraqi Workers; Sue Rogers, Chair TUC Iraqi Solidarity Committee/NASUWT; Norma Stephenson, Unison President; Councillor Mushtaq Laharie, Chairman, Third World Solidarity
Chair: Dave Anderson, MP
Venue: Meeting Room 1, Brighton Centre
Refreshments provided. Open to all TUC delegates and visitors

Surge of solidarity needed

LFIQ Director Gary Kent argues in Progress that with or without foreign troops, a surge of solidarity with the unions and others in Iraq is needed.
No time to crow
We should all be reaching out to Iraqi trade unionists and democrats
31 August 2007
Why is sympathy for and solidarity with Iraqi democrats so muted? Al Qaeda followers in Iraq recently carried out their second worst atrocity after 9/11 by blowing hundreds of ordinary Yazidi Kurds to smithereens. Where were the vigils and the round-robin letters that would have been organised over, for example, the loss of hundreds of innocent people in, say, a US air attack.
Why can’t more progressives start seeing who are its real enemies and friends in Iraq? Instead, some seem stuck in a time-warp circa February 2003 when millions marched to prevent the invasion of Iraq. The war easily toppled Saddam which most Iraqis welcomed but the American military proceeded to start losing the peace with great stupidity.
One of the most important gains has been the renaissance of a new civil society after decades of fascist-type rule. Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) concentrates its efforts on supporting the Iraqi trade union movement.
The labour movement was all but extinguished by Saddam who put Ali Hassan al-Majid – ‘Chemical Ali’ – in charge of his regime-friendly yellow unions. It is reckoned that the combined strength of the clandestine and exiled movement was in its hundreds in 2003. It is now in its hundreds of thousands. The General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) brings together three union centres and its founding congress is shortly being held in Baghdad: itself a defiant response to extremists. The movement is deliberately non-sectarian, seeks to increase the participation of women in its ranks and to contribute to building ademocratic and federal Iraq.
Oil is the biggest issue in a country which derives 97% of its revenue from one resource. The oil industry is clapped out after years of under-investment and external expertise and investment are needed. But the unions insist that oil is a national resource and want to be part of the debate about a new national oil law.
The Iraqi labour movement faces grave dangers. Its leaders have been ruthlessly targeted by the insurgency and many of its leaders have been martyred. Its offices have on several times been raided by US troops who, on one occasion, trashed anti-terror posters. It also faces the hostility of parts of the central Iraqi Government ,which has not only maintained Saddam’s ban on public sector trade unions but has also frozen the movement’s funds.
The movement suffers, as much as the rest of Iraqi society, from decades of repression of independent political activity and its leaders are keen to catch up on discussions and technologies so long denied to them.
They enjoy the support of the TUC (which is running an appeal formobile phones for union organisers) as well as the Fire Brigades Union (which recently donated and drove two fire engines all the way to Iraq), Teachers Union NASUWT (which assists with training) and Unison. An LFIQ delegation last year visited Iraqi Kurdistan where we saw a Unison-sponsored training session in Erbil which only differed in language from such events here.
The delegation held a five-hour discussion with a score of union leaders from around Iraq. Their message was simple: help us to stand on our own two feet and contribute to defending social justice. International solidarity is often a minority pastime but there is something different about attitudes towards Iraq solidarity.
It’s perfectly understandable that those who opposed the invasion maintain the integrity of their arguments. It’s quite another to effectively adopt an “I told you so” stance and sit on one’s hands at the expense of the workers’ movement, women’s organisations and elected Iraqi parliamentarians and parties.
It’s obscene for a minority to back insurgents who murder union leaders and would destroy civil society. With or without foreign troops, a surge of solidarity with the unions and others is needed. It’s the very least one would expect from progressive internationalism.

Iraqi Oil Minister revives Saddams anti-union Law

Statement issued by the General Union of Oil Workers and Technicians (GUOWT), a GFIW affiliated union.
The oil workers unions sent a delegation to meet up with oil minister on the 6 August to discuss the current crisis but the minister refused to meet them.
The GUOWT issued a statement on the 2 August and again on the 7 August deploring the approach taken by the Oil Minister and called on him to withdraw the memo sent and signed by his legal adviser Mr Laith abd al Hussein, on 18 July 2007 under his personal instruction to the Iraqi oil companies in Baghdad, Bejy, Kirkuk and Basra ordering them not to deal with oil unions members, and instructed them not to allow oil unions members to be part of any committee formed at the work place.
On 6 August the GUOWT sent a delegation to meet the Oil Minister that sought to explain the union position on this issue, to persuade the minister to withdraw his memo and to inform the ministry that it is human right violation to deny Iraqi oil workers the right to organize and collective bargaining and it is a breach of ILO Convention 98 that Iraq has ratified.
The Oil Minister refused to meet the leadership of the GUOWT and sent the General Director of Information Bureau of the Oil Ministry to inform the oil workers delegation that the Oil Minister will not meet with people that represent unions in the oil sector for he said that there are no workers here but state employees. In this he is wittingly or unwittingly relying on Saddam’s decree of 150 that banned workers from organizing in the public sector.
The oil union delegation told the ministry’s officials that the GUOWT will not bow to such pressure and its recent history since it reformation in 2003 has been one of proud struggle in the defence of workers rights, the protection of Iraqi national assets (Oil and Gas) from looting, stealing and corruption. The union endeavoured to strengthen and progress in the production of oil and had very good relationships with so many state oil officials.
Baghdad 7 August 2007

Dave Aaronovitch tackles the troops out argument

See Dave Aaronovitch article in the Times, which examines a recent editorial in the New York Times. He says: But what could readers make of there being not one single word in the editorial about what Iraqis themselves wanted the US to do? Not one. Iraqi democrats were depicted merely as being people to be airlifted out of the green zone when the Saigon moment arrived. The calls from Iraqi politicians, local leaders in Anbar, the Kurds and many other groups for the Americans to stay on for the time being were not even referred to. That is true unilateralism.