Iraqi workers up against U.S. corporations

U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), a nationwide network of labor groups, recently presented an exposé of the U.S. corporate invasion of Iraq under cover of the U.S.-British occupation. The report was presented to the Workers’ Group of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, June 14-15.

The report’s introduction says, “If photos of corporate criminals were hung on post office walls, many firms identified in this report would find their profile prominently displayed there.”

Iraqi workers face a daunting challenge under the U.S.-British occupation’s open door policy for corporations with records of labor, environmental, and human rights violations as well as Wall Street finance scandals. The Bush administration’s prejudicial process for awarding contracts for Iraq has set off congressional calls for full disclosure. For example, MCI is receiving a $30 million deal to build a mobile telecommunications system. “MCI was found to have committed the largest corporate fraud in history, and that should be a major factor in determining the fitness of contractors to do business with the federal government,” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a letter questioning government contracts with this corporation. Kennedy continued, “The firm’s false and deceptive reports of earnings caused substantial harm to its employees and shareholders and to the telecommunications industry as a whole.”

Communication Workers of America, the union representing MCI workers, calls MCI “one of the most union-hostile corporations in the telecommunications industry.”

The USLAW report details the history of the 17 other U.S. corporations set to privatize Iraqi industries and services and be given full control of the development of a “free market economy.”

With visions of a Middle East Free Trade Zone, the Bush administration is steamrolling a privatization plan on a country in which 30 percent of the workers were employed by the state. Who will ultimately control the Iraqi economy is also a big worry for Iraqi business people and merchants. The Wall Street Journal reports Iraqi businesses are now fighting to survive under occupation without laws to protect their interests. Mohammed Al-Saraf, managing director of the Al-Saraf Group, a family-owned company, said, “The doors are closed just like under Saddam.”

The labor report also says, “We can be sure that [the Bush administration’s] definition of ‘democracy’ does not include workers’ rights and strong independent unions. Bush and his cohorts have waged a relentless assault against organized labor and working families in the U.S. We would expect nothing different in their treatment of unions and workers in Iraq.”

U.S. corporations are poised to reap huge profits while the Iraqi people lack essential human services and democratic rights. With an eye to winning fat corporate kickbacks to its 2004 election campaign, the Bush administration has pursued a plan for post-war Iraq, which can only bring more misery to the Iraqi people unless effective international support is given to their democratic right to organize against U.S. corporate control of the rebuilding of their country.

The USLAW report aims to mobilize U.S. working people to support the efforts of Iraqi workers, but also to challenge the Bush administration’s anti-worker, anti-labor policies at home.

Gerald Zero, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago, the union’s second largest local of UPS workers and a USLAW affiliate, said, “As Iraqis begin to rebuild their labor movement, they will confront not only U.S. authorities and their former Baathist managers, but also some of the most powerful multinational corporations in the world. This report serves as an important introduction to those employers.”

Amy Newell, USLAW national organizer, said USLAW plans to participate in an international labor delegation to Iraq, “with the aim of gathering facts about the state and needs of the workers in Iraq.” Newell added, “We will want to be part of this delegation and to build support for it widely among working people in the United States.”

The report says, “A strong, independent, free and democratic labor movement and respect for workers’ and human rights must be an essential pillar of a new democratic Iraq.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org