Fighting for the right to organise (Falah Alwan)

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Article [en anglais] de Falah Alwan, président de la Fédération des conseils ouvriers et syndicats en Irak (FWCUI), dans Solidarity n° 185 du 18 novembre 2010.

The biggest sector in Iraq is the public sector. According to the decrees of the former regime, public sector workers are prohibited from organising. The current Iraqi authorities still impose the same decisions.

For example, Shahristani, the Electricity Minister, has clamped down on unions organising in his sector. But they haven’t only prevented organisation; they’ve actively punished trade unionists. Shahristani was also in charge of the oil ministry and played a similar role.

On 17 October, leather workers in Baghdad held a strike calling for security benefit, which was one of the remunerations that the administration has refused to give them. They held a one day strike and the administration agreed to pay the money.

In a textile factory in Nasiriyah, 1,500 workers have signed a complaint against a manager because of his policies against workers and his failure to come up with a long-term plan for operating the factory.

Workers are worried about losing their jobs as production has now stopped. 1,500 out of a total of 1,900 workers have signed their petition. Many factories in Iraq are in the same situation. The management and the Ministry of Industry want to privatise profitable but this is just a pretext for privatising these factories. So the petition of the workers in Nasiriyah is focusing on refusing privatisation.

We have many examples that are similar. In Basra, after the decisions of Shahristani, the Ministry of Electricity issued new orders to punish workers who were involved in unions. We have copies of those orders. In factories 30km south of Baghdad, which include thousands of workers, you find conditions like those of the 19th century. It is very dangerous to work there.

In the Gas Company of Basra, I spoke to the president of the union. He spoke about foreign investment in the sector and how several companies, including the Gas Company and the Southern Oil Company, are working together in agreement with the Iraqi authorities to prevent the unionisation of the public sector.

There are also reports of huge wage differentials between workers employed by new foreign investors and the Iraqi workers who were already working there. That was the cause of huge protests amongst the workers, demanding the same opportunities for Iraqi workers to work.

Workers in the health sector in Sulaimaniyah tried to organise their own independent union, but the official union and the authorities prevented them. They’re trying to impose the same decrees as the Saddam era.

Lack of security is becoming a very important issue again. For workers who want to organise demonstrations or strikes, this is becoming a more important issue. A large number of the victims of terrorist attacks, especially in the private sector, received no compensation from the authorities because of this.

There are many issues we want to start international solidarity campaigns around, especially strategic issues facing the workers such as the attempts of the authorities to impose elections and committees on the workers. We need international solidarity to prevent the authorities from intervening and imposing their hegemony on the workers’ movement.

The second important issue is the attempt of the authorities to impose a new labour law which would disregard workers’ interests. The draft is worse than the one that existed in the Saddam era! We want a labour law that includes freedom of organisation; this is the main and most important issue for us. We need a very strong international solidarity campaign to put the Iraqi authorities under pressure.

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