Iraqi Oil Union Leader visits UK on anti-privatisation mission
KEEPING FIRM HAND ON THEIR CHILDREN'S FUTURE, BY KEEPING WESTERN FIRMS' HANDS OFF THEIR OIL.
Basra oil worker
Hassan Juma'a Awad, President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) formerly known as the General Union of Oil Employees, Basra (GUOE) will be touring the UK next month. Hassan has been invited to the UK for Iraq Occupation Focus’ ‘Voices from Occupied Iraq’ Teach-In on November 26th and the Stop The War Coalition’s International Peace Conference on December 10th
The Union has stated that ‘The privatisation of the oil and industrial sectors is the objective of all in the Iraqi state/government. We will stand firm against this imperialist plan that would hand over Iraq's wealth to international capitalism such that the deprived Iraqi people would not benefit from it…we are taking this path for the sake of Iraq's glory even if it costs us our lives.’
It was announced last month that the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra was being joined by other local based oil unions.
"In accordance with present experiences of Iraqis as part of embodying the practice of democracy for the new phase, we announce with God's blessing the formation of theFederation of Oil Unions in Iraq, with its centre in Basra, composed of unions representing the oil sector in Basra, Meisan, and DhiQar, as aFederation specialised in all aspects of the oil sector and part of themovement of Iraqi labour unions. At this moment as we announce the establishment of the Federation, its doors are open to all workers in the oil sector throughout Iraq from the north to the south and we welcome the support of all civil society organisations to this federation which is in the service of the publicinterest.God disposes,
The Executive Committee of the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq, Basra 12/10/2005"
If the invocation of the Almighty strikes us as strange for a modern trade union, we might recall that the Durham Miners Gala always includes a service in the cathedral. Trade unionists acknowledging religious beliefs need not necessarily mean letting the religious Establishment hold sway in the union, and having union leaders who pray to the Almighty is arguably better than having leaders who think they are the Supreme Being. Anyway, we have enough agreement on what needs doing in this world to agree to differ about the next one.
The call to unite oil workers north and south is plainly against the sectarianism and division which imperialism hoped would ennable it to carve up Iraq and its oil industry. It is reported that oilworkers at Kirkuk in the north are holding discussions with a view to joining the federated union. Already the IFOU claims to be the most powerful trade union in Iraq, with over 23,000 oil workers across 3 provinces in nine state oil and gas companies. It is independent of all current trade union federations in Iraq.
Those hacks who have flocked behind Blair's war with the excuse that British troops are Iraq's "liberators" from Saddam Hussein, and that those resisting occupation are all Ba'athists, will not like to get their head round statements from the oil union's supporters:
"The Union has consistently held a ‘Troops Out Now’ policy, calling for an immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces from Iraq. Many of the Union’s executive committee were persecuted by the Baath dictatorship. Awad himself was jailed three times by the regime.
It goes on:
"The Union has on two separate occasions halted oil exports through strike action over unpaid wages, repressive Baathist managers and officials in the Ministry of Oil and land allocations for employees. It has successfully reconstructed infrastructure, port equipment, drilling rigs and pipelines without the help of foreign companies. It also succeeded in cancelling the last two tiers of the Occupation’s Order 30 wage-table and raising the minimum wage for Iraqi oil workers from 69,000 Iraqi Dinar (£20) per month to 102,000 ID (£35) per month. It has also negotiated the return of 1000 foreign workers in favour of the employment of local Iraqi workers".
With mass unemployment in Iraq because of war and sanctions, these foreign workers were brought in by Halliburton, the US octopus, trying to replace regular staff with non-union, contract labour, and to make out that Iraqis could not run their own industry.
When Hassan Juma'a Awad came here before, I attended a TUC-run conference at Congress House where he was one of the speakers. Unfortunately much of the time in our workshop was taken up by some Communist Party members and allies challenging the right of another Iraqi union representative to be there, and wanting to know why Iraqi trade unionists had more than one federation. But in the afternoon session, which they did not attend, Hassan Juma'a managed to tell us about his union's battles with both old regime management and firms like Halliburtons, and their determination to oppose privatisation.
Pointing out that some of the same companies invading Iraq had already moved into British public services, I said we were all in the same struggle, and that instead of us telling Iraqi trade unionists how to do things, maybe when it came to chasing out the corporate invaders they could teach us a few things! In the final plenary Hassan Juma'a did not get to speak, and the privatisation issue was not mentioned.
I guess it had been an achievement getting the TUC to invite Hassan Juma'a. There was an election coming in Britain, and Labour needed the unions back in line. We heard from Harry Barnes of the Labour Friends of Iraq, which together with the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions has provided a cover for union leaders making their peace with Blair and the occupation. Any enthusiasm at the conference was provided with a safe outlet in union fundraising.
But Hassan Juma'a was able to meet a number of trade unionists on that visit, and made a rousing speech at the Stop the War Conference which helped wake the anti-war movement to pay more positive attention to trade unions. Iraq Occupation Focus, which hosted Hassan Juma'a's first visit has him lined up to speak at its "Voices from Iraq" teach in on 26 July at University of London Union. He will stay on for the big international peace conference in December.
Ewa Jasiewicz, Co-Convenor of the IFOU Support Committee ‘Naftana’ (meaning ‘Our Oil’) said, ‘Hassan’s second visit to the UK is a wake-up call. Iraq’s oil has not yet been privatised, and the IFOU are in a position, physically, strategically and historically to make sure that it never will be. This union needs our maximum support’.
Finally, whenever controversial speakers come from somewhere like Iraq, you can usually count on some opponent wanting to know "who is paying their fare, where is the money coming from for all this?" The organisers of course have to worry more seriously about the same questions! A number of left-wing or peace groups and trade union branches are sponsoring the IOF Teach In, but more sponsorship and donations will be welcomed. Meanwhile it is possible Hassan Juma'a will be available while he is here for other meetings.
Ewa Jasiewicz or Sabah Jawad, Naftana, UK Support Committee for the IFOU mailto:IFOUfreelance@mailworks.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
See http://www.basraoilunion.org/ for more information and background on the union.
For information on the Iraq Occupation Focus teach in, how to register and/ or make a donation, see www.iraqoccupationfocus.org.uk or e-mail email@example.com