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Iraqi Unionists Speak Out Against U.S. Occupation and Privatization Schemes
by Paul Burton
Monday Jun 18th, 2007 5:01 PM
Two Iraqi labor leaders spoke in San Francisco June 12 about the situation facing working people and unions in Iraq, the effects of the U.S. occupation, and prospects for ending the occupation.

Iraqi Unionists Speak Out Against U.S. Occupation and Privatization Schemes

Two Iraqi labor leaders spoke in San Francisco June 12 about the situation facing working people and unions in Iraq, the effects of the U.S. occupation, and prospects for ending the occupation.

The San Francisco Labor Council and U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) sponsored a breakfast meeting and evening presentation by Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions and a representative of the Arab American Union Members Council, and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union and the first woman to lead a national union in Iraq. Other events were held around the Bay Area as part of the 26-day, 12-city Voices of Iraqi Workers Solidarity Tour sponsored by USLAW. Umara was also part of a USLAW-sponsored tour of the U.S. in 2005, along with two other Iraqi labor leaders.

“They showed the human face of the Iraqi people and brought a voice that wasn’t being heard in the U.S.,” said Michael Eisenscher, a co-founder of USLAW. During the 2005 tour, the Iraqis met with AFL-CIO leaders before the organization’s convention that passed a resolution calling for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

“Bringing that delegation helped get the resolution passed,” Eisenscher said. “It was the first time the AFL-CIO voted to oppose the government in time of war and call for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops.” The AFL-CIO has continued to actively oppose the Iraq war and occupation. Eisenscher said that the organization’s Solidarity Center in Jordan helped bring the Iraqis to the U.S.

Eisenscher also reminded the audience that after the US invasion in March, 2003, troops were stationed at the Iraq Oil Ministry while the Museum of Antiquity was looted of priceless historical artifacts. “Iraqis could see we were there for their oil,” Eisenscher said. “Now they have an oil law written in Texas, not in Iraq.” He said the law would never be enacted because of the strong opposition by the Iraqi union leaders.

Faleh Abood Umara of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) spoke about the efforts to resist privatization of Iraq’s oil and why unions oppose the proposed oil investment law. His comments were translated by Essan Elmahgoop of Arabic Translation Services.

“Iraq has the greatest oil reserves in the world,” Umara said. “Mr. Bush wants to steal Iraq’s oil.” Umara said that the oil workers in Basra had kicked out the American subcontractor and Haliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root in the fall of 2003 and would continue to resist privatization.

“We refuse any contracts that don’t allow us to have a say in production,” he said. “To the ones who want to steal our oil we say it will only cause more bloodshed. The oil workers and other union members are willing to die for the cause.” Umara said he had just received word that after a week on strike, the oil workers had won a victory in Basra.

Members of the IFOU struck the pipeline company in Basra, bringing a stop to the free flow of oil products, including kerosene and gasoline in one pipeline. The pipe transfers oil and gas to Baghdad and the central region of the country. The workers are demanding an end to control of the pipeline from Baghdad because of mismanagement.

Umara said that the Iraqi government had ordered the arrest of ten union leaders but that the army leader in Basra had refused to arrest them. Umara said the strike was successful because of the support from port workers, teachers, railroad workers and other unions in Basra, which he said has the strongest union activity in Iraq.

He called for solidarity among Iraqi and American workers. “We have to work together to end the bloodshed that is happening daily in our country so that the American youth can return home,” Umara said. He added that he wanted to give George Bush some advice: “Leave Iraq and let us build our own country.”

Electrical Utility Workers Union president Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein said that “Bush named many reasons for the invasion of Iraq—to get rid of Saddam, to find weapons of mass destruction and to bring us democracy. Saddam is gone; there were no WMD and the democracy he brought was nothing but a sea of blood. We have entered a new dark age under the shadow of occupation.”

Ms. Hussein said that Iraqis who opposed Saddam’s regime wanted to get rid of it but, “We never wanted occupation. We never applauded the invasion or welcomed them with flowers. The occupation was imposed on us.” She said that most of the country’s problems were due to a deteriorating security situation. The country has suffered from sectarian violence and almost daily bombings, a rise in terrorism since 2004, a civilian death toll that could be as high as 650,000, and the exodus of over three million Iraqis from the country.

Emissions from armaments, including shells hardened with depleted uranium, have so polluted the environment that workers are beginning to get sick and many are suffering from terminal illnesses, Hussein said.

“Most simple services are lacking,” Hussein said. “There’s no electricity and prices are high. We are under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to pay the debts [from the Saddam Hussein regime].” She said that over 60 percent of Iraq’s workforce is unemployed, including many youth, and that nine million people live below the poverty line.

She said that U.S.-backed laws have taken away trade unions’ property and made it hard to join unions. The government also has not repealed laws enacted under the Saddam regime that prohibit public employees from joining unions.

“After four years of occupation, the situation is deteriorating. The government is spending billions of dollars to improve electrical service, saying next year will be better. Billions are wasted every year but it never improves,” Hussein said. She said electricity is only on for one hour, then off for six hours. “Other sectors are also deteriorating—including labs, factories, and steel and petrochemical production.”

“Iraq’s soil is rich in resources and we have the workforce,” Hussein added, “But the U.S. plan is to transform our economy to a so-called liberal economy through privatization.” Privatization has been supported by the U.S. State Department since before the invasion in 2003, and has the backing of the IMF. The opening up of Iraqi oil for “private investment” is one of the benchmarks in the Iraq funding bill, which the Democratic Party majority Congress passed and President Bush signed recently.

The U.S.-backed government has proposed a new law in Iraq that would permit what the oil industry calls “production-sharing agreements” that could put 70 percent of the profits from oil sales in the hands of rich oil companies and leave the Iraqi people with little to run their country.

Hussein pointed out that “In the agricultural sector, we have the two rivers and fertile land; but it is not producing. The only products sold in the markets are foreign goods.”

“Our visit here is to explain to you and the American public what is really happening in Iraq and that the American media is misleading you,” Ms. Hussein said. “We ask for your solidarity and support to see that the occupation forces leave our country.”

Ms. Muhsin Hussein also met with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and addressed a group at the AFL-CIO in Washington. The San Francisco event was also sponsored by several Bay Area unions, as well as the Alameda and San Mateo Central Labor Councils.

USLAW is urging workers to write their members of Congress to support legislation that would:


• Not link military withdrawal from Iraq to adoption of the oil law;


• Demand that the Iraqi government and U.S. military authorities abide by recognized international labor standards, including the freedom to form unions;


• Remove all U.S. military forces from harm’s way by immediately withdrawing all troops and private contractors from Iraq; and


• Fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty.

For more information on USLAW, check http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/

- Paul Burton, with material from James Parks in Washington, D.C., http://blog.aflcio.org/.

See also: Iraqi Workers Strike to Keep Their Oil
http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/06/13/iraqi-workers-strike-to-keep-their-oil/

and David Bacon's website:
http://dbacon.igc.org/

Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union
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