To all candidates in the Labour Party leadership campaign
The campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party will involve discussion of Iraq.
Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) was established by those who either opposed or supported the intervention.
We put aside these deep differences to work together to provide moral and material support to the Iraqi labour movement and other parts of civil society as well as to help the democratic and federal political process in Iraq.
In regular discussions in Iraq and in the UK with a wide range of Iraqi political and social forces, we have also sought to boost commercial and cultural connections between our two countries as part of a deep and broad non-military strategic relationship.
We know from our visits to Iraq that this is keenly desired by Iraqis.
We are writing to ask you to agree with us on these points and, whatever your views on the intervention in 2003, to commit yourself to work for full trade union rights, increased women’s rights and better UK-Iraq links.
We ask that you give your backing to the International call for a fair and just labour law in Iraq.
This is supported by the TUC, the ITUC and many others around the world and calls on the Iraqi Government and Parliament to implement a fair and just labour law.
Full details of these issues can be found on our website. We would be happy to brief you in greater detail.
We are asking you to show leadership by going beyond discussion of the intervention to making concrete pledges to help Iraqis themselves stand on their own two feet. This was the overwhelming message given to LFIQ when we met 22 leaders of the Iraqi trade union movement in 2006 in Iraq. We hope that you will also support them.
Dave Anderson MP and Gary Kent
See LabourStart for how to help stop this.
After weeks of industrial action in the southern oil fields in Iraq, management are trying to prevent the Refinery Workers Union operating by sending four of its leaders to other workplaces. This is a standard management tactic in Iraq, and in the past has often meant sending union leaders to more hostile, violent areas of the country. But pressure from Iraqi trade unionists and trade unionists around the world has stopped this before, and we can do it again.
Refinery workers held rolling sit-ins on 25-26 February, 2 and 18 March, followed by a large demonstration on 28 March calling for wage increases, fair payment of allowances owed to workers, permanent jobs for temporary workers, monitoring of corruption and better local management to improve production.
The union leaders who received the transfer orders on 1 April were Ibrahim Radhi, President of the Refinery Workers Union and Vice President of the umbrella Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (an ICEM affiliate); Ala’ Sabah Miri’e, Refinery Workers Union Vice President and President of the Central Council of the IFOU; Faraj Rbat Mizba, Refinery Workers Union media officer and IFOU Central Council member; and Khez’al Kadhim: refinery union member and activist.
We want trade unionists from around the world to protest about this harassment, demand that the transfer orders are rescinded, and support the call for an ILO-compliant labour law in Iraq.
Labour Friends of Iraq gives its full support to this vital campaign in support of the rights and independence of the Iraqi labour movement. We have worked with our Iraqi brothers and sisters and many people in the UK for the last six years to do our bit to help the Iraqi trade unions stand on their own two feet, as they put it when a LFIQ delegation met 22 leaders of the movement in 2006 (see picture on the left).
The work of the Iraqi trade unions in helping to build a vibrant civil society, encouraging the participation of women and supporting the political and democratic process will, we think, do much to overcome the legacy of the previous regime whose crimes included the near annihilation of the trade unions. We hope that the widest range of labour and democratic organisations in the UK and internationally back this campaign.
We hope that Iraq regains its rightful position in the international community. Its undoubted natural and human resources means it will be prosperous. A strong trade union movement will ensure that this is combined with social justice for those who produce the wealth.
Dave Anderson MP and Gary Kent for Labour Friends of Iraq
Please support this new campaign
Seven years after the fall of Saddam, Iraqi workers are long due their fundamental rights at work. Support them in their call on the government to put in place a fair and just labour law.
Nearly seven years have passed since the fall of the Saddam’s regime, yet many of its laws continue to apply, making it impossible for Iraqi trade unions to organise and bargain on behalf of their members. Workers in the public sector can’t join unions, the Government has frozen trade union assets, and key parts of Government have attempted to take over trade unions. These laws are undermining the immense contribution democratic and independent trade unions can make to Iraq’s fledgling democracy.
While several versions of a new labour code have been drafted, political opposition and a gridlocked Parliament has seen them only gather dust.
In response workers and unions from across the country – from Basra to Iraqi Kurdistan – have come together to demand the government put in place a fair and just labour law. In the face of often tremendous personal risk, the campaign is also a pioneering effort in bridging religious, political, ethnic and geographic divides.
Since its launch in November last year the campaign has achieved significant early success. Some 85 members of Parliament have signed the campaign appeal, along with the then President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, the Oil Minister and many community organisations, businesses and other political leaders. The key parliamentary drafting committee has consulted with the campaign’s coordinating group, the National Labour Campaign Committee NLCC, and MPs are petitioning for the legislation to be debated in Parliament.
But in an alarming and recent reminder as to why fair and just labour laws are needed, a government committee entrusted with overseeing trade union elections is attempted replace the legitimate leadership of the Iraqi Teacher’s Union (ITU) with its own stooges. This is in clear violation of national court rulings, many parts of government, the Iraqi constitution and the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association.
With a new government currently being formed, Iraqi trade unions want to raise the profile of the campaign, to make it a top legislative priority – and that’s where international solidarity is critical. As key campaigner Hashmeya Muhsin from the Electricity Workers Union in Basra recently said in an interview with the International Trade Union Confederation: ‘international solidarity matters in such a campaign’. We need it to, ‘…pressure the Iraqi government to legislate a new, fair and just labour law’. The TUC, along with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has formally endorsed the campaign.
Henry Porter is entitled to reprise his arguments against the intervention in Iraq (“Those who say history will absolve the Iraq warmongers are deluded”, Comment).
Those in favour could also argue that a genocidal and fascistic regime can no longer murder its own people or menace its neighbours. But those who took opposing views could unite to assist the actually existing Iraq to overcome the legacy of dictatorship, war, sanctions and occupation.
It’s too soon to know whether their democratic experiment will succeed. In the meantime, surely it is important to support Iraqi trade unionists who remain saddled with Saddam’s restrictions, to support women’s groups and to respond to the appeals, which I have heard in six visits to Iraq since 2006, for increased trade, investment and other exchanges so that they can pull in external expertise and overcome their long isolation from modernity.
Yet many simply ignore Iraqis in favour of a bitter and largely domestic debate. Whatever history says about the intervention, it will also judge whether we did enough to help Iraq afterwards.
Director, Labour Friends of Iraq
Ranj Alaaldin examines the post-election horse-trading in Iraq
This article by Dave Anderson, Meg Munn and Gary Kent at Progress online urges action to improve and increase links between Iraq and the UK.
Ranj Alaaldin takes a gander at the runners and riders in the crucial second set of parliamentary elections in Iraq, concluding that no single bloc is expected to get a majority, meaning the outcome of the elections and the post-election coalition-building process will be critical in determining the future shape of politics in Iraq.
LFIQ fully supports the TUC on this issue and LFIQ supporter Dave Anderson aims to raise this in the Commons.
The TUC, representing people at work in Britain, and comprising 59 unions with other 6 million members, calls on the Iraqi Government and Iraqi political parties to cease their interference in the free and independent Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU).
In particular, the TUC calls on the Iraqi authorities to release Ibrahim al-Battat, the leader of the ITU in Basra, and withdraw the arrest warrant for Jasim Hussein Mohammed, the national leader of the ITU.
The Iraqi Government and the main political parties (ISCI, Al Dawa, Al Sadr Movement and the Iraqi Islamic Party) stand accused of trying to manipulate the ITU ahead of the General Election to try to win the support of Iraqi teachers.
The leadership of the Iraqi Teachers Union have refused to do what the political parties want, and have refused to hand over the union or its membership lists. Jasim, Abu Muhammad, was jailed by Saddam Hussein and will not be intimidated by threats of being jailed again! In a message to the TUC, he said ‘We are witnessing the dispossession of the union by the government and parties.’
Trade unions must be free of political and state interference. Freedom of association is a fundamental human right as set out in the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation, and that implies no outside interference in the internal democracy of the union. The Iraqi Constitution also guarantees the freedom of trade unions.
The TUC will be protesting to the ILO, to the Iraqi Government and its key Ministers and political parties, in solidarity with the Iraqi Teachers Union. We will also be urging the British Government to protest to the Iraqi regime, and will be encouraging our sister trade union movements around the world to join the campaign to free the ITU.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has issued the following message of solidarity to the leaders of the ITU:
‘British trade unions salute the bravery of the Iraqi Teachers Union and its leaders in resisting interference by the Government and political parties of Iraq. We call on Iraqi politicians to respect Iraqi teachers’ desire for a free and independent trade union to represent them, and abandon threats and intimidation against its leaders.’
The Iraqi Teachers Union is the representative organisation for teachers in Iraq. A sister organisation, the Kurdish Teachers Union, represents teachers in Iraqi Kurdistan. The TUC has close links with the ITU through its own teaching union affiliate, the NASUWT.
Like teachers’ unions in many other countries, the ITU is viewed with suspicion and envy by political parties because of the key leadership role played by teachers in local communities. The forthcoming elections in Iraq will be fiercely contested, and political parties clearly believe that the membership of the ITU will be an important electoral battleground. Under Saddam Hussein, unions were used to control the working population and tell them what to think and do – and political parties in Iraq don’t seem to have moved on from that conception of the role of trade unions.
Apart from fighting for better rights at work for teachers, the ITU stands for a secular, democratic, human rights-based education system. Its internal democracy is demonstrated by its two changes of leadership since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The ITU believes that it must be controlled by its members, and not the other way round. Article 22 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees trade unions independence.
The current leader, Jasim Hussein Mohammed, was jailed under Saddam Hussein for promoting religious freedom. He has led successful protests for higher wages for teachers as well as fighting off previous attempts by the Iraqi government to take over the union and impose its own leadership through a ministerial committee charged with organising elections in the union (contrary to the rules of the ITU). The ITU filed a lawsuit against the government at al Adhamiya court in Baghdad, and the court issued a ruling on May 2009 which said the government and its ministerial committee must stop interfering in the union.
The ministerial committee has held a number of elections in party headquarters, or without informing members of the union. Elections held at Baghdad University were called in a note where the signature of the official calling the vote was forged, and the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education in an official letter said that elections were fraudulent. Three days ago, on 18 February, the leader of the ITU in Basra, Ibrahim al-Battat, was arrested for refusing to hand over the ITU’s local membership lists to the authorities. Now the ITU’s overall leader, known as Abu Mohammed, faces an arrest warrant unless he does the same.
Ranj Alaaldin examines the latest in the Iraqi elections