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Iraqi Unions Tell Their Story

By Susan Schwartz, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

The ongoing war in Iraq and the brutal occupation captures front pages daily in virtually every newspaper and is headlined in the other media as well. While focusing on the war and the occupation, reports often miss other occurrences in Iraq such as the brutal repression of trade unions under the Nouri al-Maliki government.

Iraq’s powerful Oil Worker’s Union has been under attack by the Iraqi government since the early morning of June 4. At that time workers struck the pipeline company in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The action resulted in the immediate issuance of arrest warrants for the union’s leaders and a statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that such resistance would not be tolerated and would be countered with “an iron fist.” The union has made demands which include improvements in wages, health care and other working and living conditions.

The union also opposes a newly proposed oil law and has asked to be consulted in relevant discussions.

The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) has 26,000 members. The strike was called when al-Maliki failed to meet any of the demands he had agreed to in a previous meeting held in mid May.

The arrest warrant which charges the union with sabotaging the economy, names the President Hassan Juma’a Awad and three others.

Two union members toured Los Angeles in early June as part of a 12 city tour. Faleh Abood Umara is a founding member of the oil workers union and has worked for the Southern Oil Company in Basra for 28 years. He is one of the union’s leaders named in the arrest warrant and serves in the post of General Secretary. He has been a leader in opposition to outsourcing to foreign workers and in privatizing the oil sector. Hashmeya al Hussein is the first woman to head a national union in Iraq. She is president of the electrical utilities workers. She has worked tirelessly to secure her members better living and working conditions. One of the Los Angeles venues was the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) headquarters where they addressed an excited crowd that gave both standing ovations and contributed generously to their cause.

“The occupiers must leave” said Umara. He urged Americans – as he has urged Iraqis – to put pressure on President Bush. “The occupiers have destroyed everything beautiful,” Mr. Umara continued. He said that the war has replaced a tyrant with a devastating occupation.

Mr. Umara said that the United States started the war when it entered Iraq. The occupation is for oil and seeks to control the oil industry. He insisted.

He asked for and received labor solidarity.

“As Muslims we love peace and want to spread it over the globe.”

Hashmeya al Hussein said that Iraq suffered many dark years under Saddam Hussein. “The embargo hurt us” she said. Saddam created rubber stamp unions that hurt workers. After the occupation began matters actually got worse.

“’We did not want the occupation to substitute for Saddam.” Iraq, she continued, is living a miserable reality without basic needs. The media gives a distorted view of the situation in Iraq. She and Mr. Umara came here to spread the truth, to tell their story, and to ask for labor solidarity and the help of the American people.

After the question and answer session Andy Griggs of Los Angeles Labor Against the War (LAUSLAW), the primary sponsor of the event, called for contributions. He pledged solidarity with Iraqi labor, particularly the oil workers union. He proposed a standing group within USLAW which would visit Iraq and bring union leaders to the United States establishing unbreakable bands of solidarity.

Emma Rosenthal, an activist and advocate for disabled rights, the founder of Cafe Intifada, and a former leader in the UTLA read a moving poem that she had composed and spoke eloquently of labor solidarity.

USLAW was founded with a mission to promote the following: a just foreign policy; an end to occupation of foreign lands; a redirection of United States resources; supporting the troops and their families by bringing the troops home; protecting the rights or workers, protecting civil rights, protecting civil liberties and protecting immigrant rights.

USLAW may be accessed at: _www.uslaboragainstwar.org_ (http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org) . The Los Angeles affiliate may be reached at: _LAUSLAW1@aol.com_ (mailto:LAUSLAW1@aol.com) . Andy Griggs may be reached by telephone at: 310-704-3217.


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