'Trade Unionism reawakens in Iraq' (labourstart)

John M Cox coxj at email.unc.edu
Tue Nov 4 05:50:58 MST 2003



Trade unionism re-awakes in Iraq

A delegation of trade unionists from four British unions affiliated to the
Stop The War Coalition made a solidarity visit last month to Iraqs
emerging independent, democratic trade unions. The delegation from the
Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Union of Rail, Maritime &
Transport Workers (RMT), the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA)
and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) spent two and a half days in
Baghdad in a whirlwind series of workplace meetings and political
discussions with Iraqi workers, students and journalists.

Our hosts the newly formed Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) told us
how after 35 years of dictatorship; 12 years of sanctions; war and now
military occupation by the armies of Britain and the US they are
re-emerging. In less than six months since the collapse of Saddam Husseins
regime on 9th April 2003, 12 national unions, including crucially the Oil
and Gas Workers Union and the Railway Workers Union (historically the
militant, political leadership of the Iraqi labour movement) were
established along with trades councils in 11 Iraqi cities.

Re-founding the Unions

Many Iraqi trade unionists returned from exile as the top Baathist
leadership fled, others emerged from a clandestine and furtive existence
to help rebuild democratic, independent trade unions. By 17th May a
Conference of 380 well-known union activists had convened to elect a
Preparatory Committee and publish a Statement of Trade Union Foundation.
Open Meetings were called at workplaces for the first time in 35 years for
democratic, workplace elections of union representatives. To judge from
their enthusiasm the Iraqi workers we met are resurrecting independent
unions out of the ashes of the illegal war and the ensuing disastrous
military occupation.

Visiting the National Metal Industries & Bicycle Factory, we met newly
elected Union reps and were taken to meet shop floor workers by the
President of the Union Committee Najim Abu Dahm and Nuria Fahyadh at trade
union representative from an Electronics Engineering factory. Most of the
workers are women in her factory; in Iraqs war economy male workers were
conscripted into the army. She is a skilled worker with 23 years work
experience and has organised an independent union that won a pay increase
from 42,000 to 90,000 Iraqi Dinar (about 45) a month.

On 27th September 2003, 100,000 demonstrators in London marched against
the continued British and US illegal occupation of Iraq. Najim Abu Dahm
and trade unionists at the bicycle factory called a 24-hour strike the
same day and won pay increases from 17,000 to 60,000 Iraqi Dinar (about
30) a month. The IFTU brought solidarity delegations from 7 other Baghdad
factories to demonstrate outside the gates in support of the strikers
demands.

At the Central Baghdad Railway Workshops of IRR (the Railways of the Iraqi
Republic) Train Drivers and Fitters and their Trade Union Committee
welcomed us warmly. Here, 600 rail workers held a mass meeting several
weeks previously when representatives of the American-run Coalition
Provisional Authority (who put US multinational, Bechtel in charge of
Iraqs rail industry) turned up at the Managers Office to meet with
representatives of the former Baathist regimes yellow union....

The shareef don't like it

The rail workers tell us proudly how they elected three representatives to
tell the Americans that Iraqi rail workers wont tolerate Saddam Husseins
appointed officials negotiating for them. A full and frank exchange of
views followed, during which US troops defended the presence of Baathist
officials and threatened the elected reps with guns, but they stood their
ground and won the argument becoming de facto the recognised trade
union....


full: http://lnn.labourstart.org/more.php?id=79_0_1_0


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