Assault on the Labor Movement in Iraq
by Ralph Nader
Published on Monday, June 28, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
What is going on among Iraq's working classes? We do not hear about those workers except for the high number of unemployed.
Thanks to the Labor Party Press we learn that George W. Bush's top representative in Iraq, Paul Bremer, continues to enforce Saddam Hussein's decree banning unions using military force where necessary. Bush's coalition authority also would interpret "illegal" unions, demonstrations and strikes as inciting civil disorder which can result in the workers being arrested and treated as prisoners of war.
Labor Party Press reports that Bremer has lowered Saddam Hussein's minimum wage and has cutoff the dictator's welfare benefits of housing and food. Ironic! All this is depriving and embittering millions of Iraqi families and increasing their sympathy for the insurgency. The Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) has been working to keep both the occupying soldiers and the insurgents from remaining inside the cities and residential areas.
All kinds of political movements - secular and religious - are churning in Iraq. The secular populist associations - labor, women, self-help, civic - believe the U.S. occupation has attracted fundamentalist mobilizations from outside and inside the country. There is now a Union of the Unemployed (UUI) that in the past year has enrolled 300,000 members. Their desire is to get some of the 300,000 reconstruction jobs under the U.S. occupation. Apparently Labor Party Press reports UUI spokesman describing then meeting with the U.S. Coalition authority as follows:
"We went in with out [membership] records in our hands, and they said 'Who are you? Who do you represent? You are nobody. We are the power here." Well, at least, that is the impression by the UUI of the reception they received. So they demonstrated in front of the Coalition's Palace, followed by a sit-in. Fifty of the demonstrators were arrested.
Daily life is what concerns most Iraqis, not the politics of various religions and ethnic groups. The U.S. occupation still has not meet the people's needs for adequate water, food, cooking, oil and often electricity.
Before Saddam came to power, with U.S. help in 1979, there used to be a strong labor movement. Now two union federations are emerging. American labor journalist David Bacon is reporting on the struggles of Iraqi workers to restore their jobs in the oil industry that U.S. companies like Halliburton were replacing with foreign workers. Teachers and women workers are also engaging in labor activity, he says.
For more information, see www.laboragainstwar.org.