See these pictures of recent demonstration in Baghdad
You can see here the Report of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq.
It is too soon to know how events in Egypt will develop but we should certainly hope that the outcome is a form of democracy that protects pluralism, is based on transparent and independent institutions and which allows groups like the trade unions to flourish.
Iraq is ahead of the pack in that it is slowly rebuilding a federal democracy. The physical and psychological weight of its tragic past under decades of fascism doesn’t evaporate overnight.
There are fears that an inability to provide basic necessities such as electricity will convince people that democracy doesn’t deliver but a strong man and stability could.
Events in Tunisia and Egypt are concentrating minds elsewhere. Hundreds have staged protests in Baghdad against poor services and corruption with the reported slogan – ‘Remember the fate of Arab dictatorship regimes and how their people revolted.’
The fear of democracy slipping back lay behind the nine-month long haggle to form a new coalition government in Baghdad. Many were afraid that the victors would never be turfed out.
We should welcome, therefore, the PM Nouri al Maliki’s decision to waive half his salary and to make it clear that he will only serve for the next four years as well as seeking to put a two term limit on future prime ministers.
LFIQ Joint President Dave Anderson tabled a written question in the Commons to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his Iraqi counterpart on the role of trades unions in Iraq.
This is the reply
Alistair Burt: Our ambassador in Baghdad discussed concerns over the treatment of unions in the Ministry of Electricity with the Electricity Minister in August 2010. The right to form and join trade unions in Iraq is embodied in the Iraqi constitution, a principle to which this Government attaches great importance. Embassy officials maintain a regular dialogue with Iraqi union representatives
Iraq: Trade Unions
Mr Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make representations to the government of Iraq on the effect of its recent ministerial decree regarding trade unions in the electricity industry.
Alistair Burt: Our ambassador to Iraq met the Acting Electricity Minister on 1 August 2010 to discuss the Ministerial Order of 20 July 2010 relating to activities of unions at the Ministry of Electricity and its departments and sites. Officials from our embassy in Baghdad also raised the issue with the Inspector General of the Ministry of Electricity on 5 August 2010. The UK will continue to encourage the Government of Iraq to ensure a just, fair and International Labour Organisation-compliant union law. The right to form and join trade unions in Iraq is embodied in Article 22 of the Iraqi constitution. This is a principle to which the Government attach great importance and take very seriously.
Mr Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the position of trade unions in Iraq in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement.
Alistair Burt: Officials from our embassy in Baghdad and Consulate General in Erbil have discussed the situation of unions with union representatives in Iraq in the last 12 months. These include representatives from the Electricity, Journalists, Teachers and Kurdish Workers Unions. The right to form and join trade unions in Iraq is embodied in Article 22 of the Iraqi constitution. This is a principle to which the Government attach great importance. The draft Iraqi Labour Code, which will include regulations affecting unions, remains with the Council of Ministers for comment. The UK will continue to encourage the Government of Iraq to ensure a just, fair and International Labour Organisation-compliant union law.
Mr Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information his Department holds on the position of trade unions in the electricity sector in Iraq; and if he will make a statement.
Alistair Burt: Officials from our embassy in Baghdad held discussions with the Leader of the Electricity Workers and Employees Union in July and they expressed concern about the current situation relating to unions in Iraq. The Ministry of Electricity has informed officials at our embassy that an investigation into the conduct of activities relating to unions at the Ministry of Electricity is being carried out. The results of the investigation will be made public. We await the outcome of this investigation. We will continue to discuss the situation with Iraqi officials and US and EU colleagues.
6 Sep 2010 : Column 219W
In a debate in the Mirror Jabbar Hasan, of the Iraqi Association with which LFIQ is proud to work, says that since 2003, we have seen a huge change in the country. Iraq is no longer ruled by a dictator. There is now a president, parliament and judicial system.
If only more people who talk about Iraq whilst ignoring Iraqis would listen to people like Jabbar and work with him and others in supporting the new Iraq, including helping unions to overcome the legacy of Saddam Hussein which is being sustained by somehardliners.
LFIQ Joint President Dave Anderson MP urges support for the Iraqi labour movement
The position of trade unions has deteriorated significantly in Iraq. Unions in the electricity sector have been banned in a move that echoes Saddam Husseins old ways. The Iraqi police raided and shut down trade union offices following a draconian ministerial decree.
The order, issued on 20 July, “prohibits all trade union activities at the [electricity] ministry and its departments and sites”. It orders the police “to close all trade union offices and bases and to take control of the union’s assets, properties and documents, furniture and computers”. It also instructs the ministry to take legal action against trade union officials under anti-terrorism laws.
This decree follows an earlier one that means that Iraqi trade unionists who travel abroad to international events could face jail when they return.
I have tabled several commons motions alerting MPs and others to these developments and have joined forces with Tony Baldry, the chairman of Conservative Friends of Iraq. Our joint motion recalls the near-liquidation of a once strong and non-sectarian trade union movement by the dictatorial regime of Saddam and salutes those who have devoted themselves to rebuilding a labour movement in Iraq. It congratulates the TUC and others for their important moral and material support for the Iraqi unions. We believe that the right to free association is a key element of a vibrant democracy and social justice, and back a labour code that would enshrine such rights.
We join the International Trade Union Confederation in criticising the Iraqi ministerial decision to prohibit all travel by trade union delegations to international meetings or conferences without official approval.
I have directly raised labour rights in Baghdad with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and his party colleagues, and I have also tabled parliamentary questions encouraging the British government to lobby for free unions, which the previous Labour government often did.
A cross-party approach is necessary in exposing this scandalous attack on free trade unionism in a country with a proud and long tradition of labour movement activity. The Iraqi movement was once the biggest between Europe and Australia. In 1959 the May Day march in Baghdad brought together at least half a million people out of a population of about 10 million.
Saddam’s Ba’athist dictatorship liquidated the movement and banned public-sector unions in a country dominated by the public sector. Iraqi activists have been rebuilding the movement since Saddam’s overthrow, from a base of just a few hundred to many hundreds of thousands.
Iraq’s non-sectarian unions have the ability to bring working people together despite sharp tensions between different parts of the country. They also emphasise the need for women’s involvement in public affairs.
Their brave and hard work has been complemented by moral and material support from the TUC and British unions including Unison. In 2006 a Labour Friends of Iraq delegation, including myself, met 22 union leaders who had come from all over Iraq for a summit with us in Kurdistan. They outlined their hopes and asked us “to help us stand on our two feet”.
The British labour movement remains divided over the military intervention in 2003 but those differences can be parked in favour of helping the unions, women’s groups and other civil society bodies in Iraq.
The main priority is to persuade the new Iraqi government, when it is finally formed, to overturn Saddam’s laws and end meddling in internal union affairs. Together with the TUC and other national and global union federations, the Kurdistan United Workers’ Union and the General Federation of Iraqi Workers have launched a campaign for labour rights. This is also personally backed by President Talabani.
Earlier this year, the Iraqi labour minister published a draft law that went in the right direction. However, in May the hardline civil society minister announced a new approach that keeps the public-sector union ban. It also prohibits travel by trade union delegations to international meetings or conferences without approval.
The conflict between the two ministers’ approaches has been amplified by the power vacuum in Baghdad as the parties move at a snail’s pace to form a new coalition.
This is an opportunity to maximise support for the Iraqi labour movement. The basis of liberal democracy is not just representative government but also a vibrant civil society.
Iraq is a rich country and will become more and more prosperous. It may become the world’s largest oil and gas producer. Experience elsewhere in the Middle East shows that such wealth can be hoarded by autocratic elites with a well-oiled military and security apparatus but without much benefit for working people or civil society.
A strong trade union movement in Iraq could help ensure that Iraq does not follow or rather revert to that pattern. It could make sure that social justice in health, education and pensions are part of the new Iraq. This can help Iraq provide a positive example to other countries.
But that means Iraqi unions have to be free and independent. This cause should be taken up by all. A decent democracy in Iraq is in everyone’s interests.
See this powerful plea for solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement
LFIQ Director Gary Kent outlines at the Fabian Society blog Next Left how the Labour leadership candidates could help the Iraqi unions.
LFIQ Joint President Dave Anderson has today tabled a Commons motion on the Iraqi trade unions
That this House supports the work of the new and independent trade union movement in Iraq; deplores the barbaric terrorist attack on a textile factory in Hilla in May 2010 which killed 40 workers and injured dozens of other people; agrees with the Trades Union Congress that this is a tragic reminder of just how urgently Iraq needs a stable, non-sectarian government which can put in place the laws and policies to enable ordinary Iraqis to live and work in dignity, peace and freedom; and extends its solidarity to the General Federation of Iraqi Workers in its efforts, and those of many others around the world, to urge the Iraqi government and Parliament to overturn the continuing ban on public sector trade unions and implement a fair and just labour law.