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Iraq | Anti-War | Labor & Workers

Iraq-corporate take over of port by SSA
by tristan
Saturday Feb 7th, 2004 8:02 AM
I was arrested on April 7 protesting SSA at the port of Oakland, now I've come to Iraq to get the real story, but this is background
I am now in Iraq. I made it and I'm fine in Bagdad. Right now I'm with
British activists who have been here several times and have been here this
time for months. It seems calm here. US troops in many parts of town:
convoys, tank, Bradleys on the highways and bases everywhere. Tons of
armed people all over, police, soldiers gaurds. Many big bombed buildings
downtown. Lots of political offices: PUK and Communist party and islamic
ones. The US has taken over lots of monuments and Palaces for bases. I
got stuck in traffic due to an earlier mortar attack on a US base. Well,
actually, there seem to only be traffic jams. Many streets are damaged,
blocked due to car bomb fears, blcked for unknown reasons, breakdowns etc.
I went with the Brits to somewhere at the edge of the city where they
funded a drain for a poor squatter comunity. So many fun kids were all
over and they made us a big lunch. AK-47's seem to be everywhere. I
haven't actually heard a single shot yet, though.

Check out some cool people I know here: http://afamilyinbaghdad.blogspot.com

I have come to investigate economic aspects of the US occupation. I have
long known that economic policies can be a far more thorough, brutal, and
subtle way to totally dominate a people. The military invasion is easier
to see and thus to oppose but it only a step to the corporate invasion.
For instance, in the first Gulf War the US and allies killed 100-200,000
people but the sanctions killed more than 1 million. As a Nazi general
said “Bullets are all fine and good but starvation gives far better
results.”

I have wanted to come to Iraq for a long time. I remember clearly hearing
about Iraq when Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988. Then when the first Gulf
War came I protested it vigorously. In 1998 I traveled through the
Middle East and wanted to come here but couldn’t get a visa. In following
years I checked out Voices in the Wilderness, which sends delegations, but it
seemed a bit difficult to go with them. Also at this time the
Anti-Globalization movement burst forth. Finally, a movement based on
fighting the insidious exploitation of capitalism. I threw myself into it
and was soon working hard, at home and abroad, organizing many large and
small events.

February 15, 2003 found me in Argentina marching with 10,000 people against the
upcoming invasion of Iraq. While I wanted to be a human shield in Iraq,
family matters brought me home to the Bay Area. I joined Direct Action to
Stop the War (DASW). On March 20, the day after the war began, we had a
successful shut-down of San Francisco’s financial district. The next week
I organized marches every day. DASW decided that its main thrust should
be to target corporations that were set to make billions off the suffering
in Iraq. We had weekly direct action protests: at Bechtel’s world
headquarters, at Chevron's world headquarters and at a Lockheed weapons
plant. But the most memorable came on April 7 when we blockaded two
companies, APL and SSA, at the Port of Oakland. The Longshore workers
union, the ILWU, has a long history of fighting for social change, from
refusing to unload Apartheid cargo from South Africa to shutting down the
ports against the WTO during the Seattle meeting. In 2002 there had been
a dispute over a new contract. Many of us had come out to support them.
Unfortunately the ports, multinationals like Gap and Home Depot, and the
Bush Administration colluded against the union. Bush invoked national
security to threaten the workers and to impose the anti-worker Taft-Hartley
Act, which forced the workers to work with no recourse to a strike.

Now we talked with the ILWU and they said they would not cross our picket line.
Although the protest was scheduled for 7am we arrived at 5 and surprised
the police. We set up picket lines and blocked trucks. As the sun came
up we discussed how APL was shipping military supplies and how SSA had
received a no-bid contract on March 24 to run Iraq’s port, Umm Qasr. Note
that only four days after the war began the US was carving up the country
for US corporations. Some at the protest said we should not protest SSA
since they were working for USAID and would be shipping food. Many
pointed out that there is no more sure way to dominate a people than to
control the food supply, and that USAID has been used extensively to assist US
military policies. In Guatemala in the 80’s thousands of women and
children were forced into “strategic hamlets,” a strategy from the
Vietnam War. Those in the camps were forced to work all day for their
“free” USAID food.

Our protest continued peacefully but the police feared us and so
pre-emptively attacked. We were shot with wooden bullets, beanbags and
concussion grenades and rammed by motorcycles. Some of us continued to
picket SSA and 33, including me, were arrested. After a day in jail a long
process began as our lawyers tried to uncover what has become so common
these days: government and corporate collusion. After almost a year in
court and a trial tentatively set for March, I decided to head to Iraq to
see what I could learn firsthand. While I have just arrived in Baghdad
and don’t have much first-hand info yet, here is more background:

In 1958, Iraqis threw out the British-imposed king, and started a planned economy with many factories and a new port in Umm Qasr. When the US occupied Iraq the
port was the first thing turned over to a private company: SSA. Their
original contract is for $4.8 million but could rise to $14 million. On
July 16th they began accepting commercial cargo. While they are still
under the control of USAID and not profiting directly, SSA is in a prime
place to take over the port when it is privatized. SSA would then profit
directly from the impoverished Iraqis. There are many critics: from
anti-corporate activists, to British shipping giant P and O. P and O
feels that since Umm Qasr is in the British zone of control it should be
theirs.

None of this affects a Bush Administration that sees unilateralism as the only way forward. On September 19 the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) who run the occupation published Orders No. 37 and 39. Order No. 37 suspends corporate taxes for the year, limits future corporate taxes to 15% and import tariffs to 5%. Order No. 39 announces that 200 state owned enterprises will be privatize, permits 100% foreign ownership of all companies except oil and allows all profits to be sent
out of the country. The Economist called this a “capitalist dream.”
Under Saddam 70% of Iraqis were employed in state run enterprises. Now
the Bush Administration is planning to sell these, the property of all
Iraqis, to the highest bidder or non bidder as the case may be. Tens of
thousands will be laid off in a country already suffering from 70%
unemployment. Thousands of foreign workers are now in Iraq making at
least 300 dollars a month while Iraqis make 60.

Labor activists have begun the hard struggle for justice. In June, 400
gathered in Baghdad to form the Workers' Democratic Trade Union Federation
and have begun organizing. One of their biggest obstacles is a 1987 law
passed by Saddam. The law states that workers in state enterprises are
not workers but “civil servants.” As such they have no right to strike
or bargain collectively. While most of Saddam’s laws have been thrown out
by the US occupiers, this one is enforced by them. On June 5 Paul Bremmer
(CPA head) issued Public Notice Number One that prohibits “pronouncements
and material that incite civil disorder, rioting or damage to property.”

So now workers exercising free speech can find themselves prisoners of
war. Even if the US military leaves Iraq the country will still be
occupied by US-passed laws and owned by US corporations.

P. S. Here is more about the port protest:
On April 7, 2003 the Oakland Police Dept. opened fire on a peaceful
anti-war picket line in the port of Oakland protesting the Iraq war
profiteers.

The demonstration was called by Direct Action to Stop the War. Dozens of
demonstrators and 9 longshore workers, members of ILWU Local 10 (who were
honoring the picket line) were seriously injured by the indiscriminate
police use of so-called ''less-than-lethal '' weaponry, including wooden
dowels, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and ''bean bag ''
projectiles.

Twenty-five were also arrested, including Jack Heyman, the Local 10 business
agent, who was dragged from his car, roughed up and arrested for the
''crime'' of trying to warn his members of the violent police attack.

Demonstrators are now facing bogus criminal charges for exercising their
democratic right to protest. Also, union rights of representation and the
right to honor a picket line are threatened.

SUPPORT THE RIGHTS OF ANTI-WAR PROTESTERS AND THE ILWU!

for more information call 415-273-1649 or visit http://www.defendilwuba.com

Committee to Defend ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Jack Heyman
opeiu3/aflcio/ab