Iraqi unions launch united struggle

Iraq’s labor movement has formed a united permanent coordinating committee to “make its positions known” to the Iraqi government, and to challenge the dictates of international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Six union federations, including two Kurdish labor organizations, issued a joint statement, Jan. 16, stressing “the importance of complete sovereignty for Iraq over its petroleum and natural resources” to “develop them in a way that assures a complete reconstruction of the country” and to “provide a decent living standard for Iraqis.”

Just recently, complying with IMF/World Bank demands, the transitional government tripled the price of fuel, sparking street demonstrations and other protests throughout Iraq. Moves have also been made to privatize the country’s significant public sector, part of transnational-corporate-friendly “structural adjustment” measures demanded by the international agencies.

Responding to these moves, Iraq’s labor unions called for retraction of the oil price increase and “rejection of the reduction of spending on social services, especially the elimination of government support for the food distribution system or the reduction of the number of items covered.”

The global institutions must “stop imposing structural adjustment conditions for loans,” and must agree to “provide funding for public services and state-owned enterprises without demanding their privatization,” the unions declared. They called for cancellation of debts owed by Iraq that “resulted from the policies of the former [Saddam Hussein] regime,” and demanded that the international financial institutions “engage in dialogue, discussion and negotiations with the trade union federations regarding their policies in Iraq.”

The joint statement noted that “the Iraqi economy has been severely affected by decades of sanctions, wars and occupation” and that “the wars and occupation have caused a dramatic decrease in the living and social standards of Iraqis and especially of workers.”

The unions called for adoption of “a new labor law and a pension and social security law that assure workers’ rights and are in conformity with international labor standards and human rights conventions.”

Iraq Federation of Trade Unions spokesperson Abdullah Muhsin told the World the unified labor coordinating committee was formed “as a response to anti-union order no. 875 issued by the government of Prime Minister al Jafaari.”

Decree 875, announced last summer, revoked previous agreements permitting trade unions to function without government interference. Under the new decree, the government authorized itself to seize control of all trade union monies and prevent the unions from dispensing any funds.

“The notorious Decree 875” was issued “to try to prevent this united, democratic national trade union center emerging in Iraq, and we will not let him succeed,” IFTU President Rasem AlAwady told a British trade union conference last fall.

The IFTU, the largest of the country’s labor federations, was a key player in helping form the unified labor committee, Muhsin said. The IFTU has merged with other smaller federations to form the new General Federation of Iraqi Workers, which is now preparing to hold its first national conference.

The Jan. 16 statement was signed by the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, Oil Unions Federation in Iraq/Basra, Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, Kurdistan General Workers Syndicate Union/Erbil, and Iraqi Kurdistan Workers Syndicate Union.