[Marxism] some labor news from Iraq

mekchi at verizon.net mekchi at verizon.net
Tue Mar 16 21:49:00 MST 2004


Iraqi Currency Exchange Comes Up Millions Short: Cashiers Held Responsible for Missing Funds.
By Ariana Eunjung Cha and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post Staff Writers, Thursday, March 11, 2004.  

Samir Adel, the head of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, accused the new Iraqi ministries of using "the same old Baathist ways." "They don't have evidence," he said, "but they imprison people."

 BAGHDAD -- For the past month, Nadhima Hussein and 12 other women have been locked inside a dark, fly-infested room at a police station here. The Iraqi Finance Ministry says Hussein, a bank manager, owes them millions of dollars to compensate for counterfeit or missing money her branch accepted during the currency exchange that ended in mid-January. She says she did nothing wrong.

The cash swap, designed to erase the image of former president Saddam Hussein from Iraqi bills, was among the most visible projects of the U.S.-led reconstruction, and, on the surface, things appeared to go smoothly. The transport trucks were not hijacked, the banks were not held up. The exchange, which took place between Oct. 15 and Jan. 15, was credited with helping to stabilize the economy. 

But a Finance Ministry audit that began a few weeks ago turned up a surprise: The amount of new money given out exceeded the amount of old money taken in by more than $22 million. The ministry has accused bank employees, almost all of whom are female cashiers, of stealing the money for themselves or for organized crime groups. It has sent out notices to hundreds of them, demanding that they repay the money or face imprisonment.
 
The accused say others had access to the money after it had been counted and that the new government, in a rush to judgment, is acting just like the old government, putting the blame for its own mistakes or corruption on rank-and-file workers. Demonstrations this month have called for the release of the cashiers, who are believed to be the largest group of women to be detained since Hussein was toppled last year. 

"They took these women as a sacrifice, so that their colleagues 

will be frightened to pay the money back and that their problem of the shortage will be solved," said Falih Maktuf, a lawyer who has volunteered to represent the women without pay. 
Suspects who maintain their innocence are eligible for release on bail, but few can afford it. Maktuf has asked that the women be released without bail pending trial. They will be tried by a special judge with expertise in economic crimes. 
 
Law is still a fluid concept in the new Iraq. On Monday, the Iraqi Governing Council approved an interim constitution with a bill of rights, but it is a legal framework that does not address the nitty-gritty of crime and punishment. Committees are drafting new foreign exchange laws and guidelines for the role of regulatory bodies. In the meantime, most of the laws in effect during Hussein's rule are still being followed.
 
The banking scandal is one of several examples of alleged government corruption in postwar Iraq that have hampered reconstruction efforts. The Oil Ministry spent months waiting for spare parts for pumping stations and then discovered forged records showing the equipment had been paid for but never shipped from Amman, Jordan. The Interior Ministry has fired border police who took bribes to let people enter the country from Iran without proper identification. Officials at Iraq's five ports have disciplined workers for stealing from humanitarian aid shipments.
 
The Governing Council and the U.S.-led occupation authority began a crackdown on corruption a few weeks ago, creating commissions with independent authority to investigate possible crimes in government ministries. A new law governing the operations of the Central Bank authorizes the creation of a financial services tribunal, which will determine the fate of the cashiers.
"In the past, employees did not have any respect for laws. We want to teach people this respect," said Sabah Nouri, head of the Finance Ministry's bank audit committee. 
 
One cashier has confessed to accepting counterfeit old dinars and exchanging them for new ones because she pitied the old man who brought them to the bank. Another said she inserted some white papers in place of old bills and paid herself in new Iraqi dinars. But the rest of the accused say they are innocent and that either someone else tampered with the money, they made an honest mistake in counting it or they unknowingly accepted counterfeit currency. 
Their attorneys said the women were arrested because they were easy targets. Samir Adel, the head of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, accused the new Iraqi ministries of using "the same old Baathist ways."

"They don't have evidence," he said, "but they imprison people."

Nadhima Hussein was summoned to the Finance Ministry in February for what she was told was urgent business. There, she recalled, a government representative laid out several bricks of forged money and told her they had come from the bank she manages -- a branch of Rafidain Bank in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles south of Baghdad. Hussein, 35, said she was called a thief and told to repay $6.9 million. 

"This is fiction," she said she replied. She told them she knew nothing about the fake money and therefore could not return it. A few hours later, she was in jail. 
 
The currency exchange followed months of planning by experts from the U.S. Treasury Department and other foreign government agencies. Occupation officials hoped to get rid of dinars with Hussein's portrait and replace them with bills carrying images from Iraq's history.

They devised an elaborate system for security. They flew the new money in on jumbo jets direct from the printers, paid for four armed escort vehicles for each truck carrying the money, and asked U.S.-led military forces to guard storage facilities. 
At each bank, a cashier counted and inspected old money, then dipped it in red ink so it couldn't be used again. With a rubber band, the cashier attached to the brick of money a credit card-sized piece of paper with her name on it. The money was sewn up in a bag and taken to be burned. But between the point where the cashiers signed off on their work and the time the money was destroyed, several other people handled the money, according to a description of the process by occupation officials.
Representatives from the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, Women's Freedom Organization and other workers' rights groups who have reviewed procedures for the cash exchange also said there were several vulnerable points. Maktuf, the lawyer, said the manager and other bank employees had access to the old cash before it was destroyed. Drivers who took the old cash to warehouses for eventual destruction -- and the Central Bank employees who accompanied each driver -- also could have tampered with the money, he said. Because the ink used to mark the obsolete bills could be washed away with special chemicals, he added, the old bills were not worthless.
But Nouri, of the Finance Ministry, said he believed it was impossible that anyone but the cashiers could have inserted forged bills or taken some of the money. 
 
Iraqi Police Col. Wahda Nasrrat, head of the new economic crimes section, said he expected more arrests but that people other than the cashiers may be involved in the forgeries and stealing. The system that was used to transport the money "is not a good system and can be broken," Nasrrat said.
 
Nadhima Hussein now shares a large, drafty room with a group of other suspects. They sleep on the concrete floor on piles of blankets and spend their time sharing stories about their families and crying. Among Hussein's roommates is Zainab Jabbar, 35, a cashier at a Rasheed Bank branch near the Shaab Stadium in Baghdad. Jabbar has been asked to pay $40,000. With her salary of about $180 a month, she calculated, it would take her 19 years to repay.


Bank Employees in Baghdad Hold a Conference
All Arrested Employees Are to Be Freed
 
The employees of banking sector in Baghdad, supported by the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq, held a conference on March 1, 2004 in Meridian Hotel in Baghdad. The conference, which was attended by 150 banking sector employees, was to coordinate and escalate the struggle against the attack by the authority on the employees of banking sector.

The Iraqi Finance Ministry accuses the employees of banking sector, almost all of whom are female cashiers, of steeling money during the Iraqi currency exchange that took place between Oct 15, 2003 and Jan 15, 2004. The exchange aimed to replace the Iraqi bills with Saddam Hussein’s portrait with new bills. A new audit has discovered that the amount of new money given out during the currency exchange exceeded the amount of old money taken in by more than $22 millions. These $22 millions are either missing or have been replaced with forged bills. The Finance Ministry has sent out notices to hundreds of employees, demanding that they should pay the money or face imprisonment. Later, some 17 employees, all female cashiers, were arrested. All the arrests took place without warrants from court. 

The employees insist that they are innocent and accuse the ministry of placing the blame on ranks-and files employees for its own corruption and failure. They insist that the money was handled by many others between the point it was signed off by cashiers and its final destructions. Falih Maktuf, a lawyer and the legal representative of WPIraq, who was appointed by the party to defend the employees accused the ministry of making the female employees scapegoats.
 
The conference was also to prepare for a general strike on scale of Iraq if the authorities failed to meet workers’ demands.  Bank employees demanded that all arrested employees should be released, workers must be asked to pay for the missing currency, and a commission has to be formed to investigate what went wrong during the exchange.  Samir Adil, the head of  the Executive Committee of WPIraq, Yanar Muhammad, the chairperson of the OWFI, Falah Alwan, the president of the FWCUI and Qasim Hadi, the president of Union of Unemployed in Iraq addressed the participants. Falah Alwan urged the workers to form their own organization to defend their rights. In this conference a delegation was elected to negotiate with the Coalition Provisional Authority. In the next day a delegation consisted of Samir Adil, Qasim Hadi, and Falah Maktuf, the legal representative of WPIraq visited and met with the arrested employees in jail. The delegation expressed its full support for the imprisoned workers and urged them to be patient. The delegation also told the arrested employees that the WPIraq will do its best to free them. 

On the same day, a delegation consisted of Falah Maktuf, Yanar Muhammad, and nine members of the Committee for Defending the Banking Sector’s Employees met with the officials including the representatives of Financial Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Justice Ministry and a few US generals at the Conference Palace. At the negotiations, the delegation presented all the infringements committed by the senior officials during the currency exchange, and after 3 hours of talks, it was agreed to free all arrested employees and investigate the issue. 
 
Worker-communist Party of Iraq-Organization of Baghdad
March 2, 2004


Statement of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq on the Governing Council’s Resolution that Appoints Representatives for the Iraqi Workers*
 
On January 27, 2004, the Governing Council passed its resolution number 3, which appoints an organization as the official representative of the Iraqi workers inside the country and internationally. This organization consists of the representatives of the parties grouped in the Governing Council

The Resolution 3 is a continuation of the Baathist tradition which appointed trade unions through orders and from above.  This resolution contradicts all international conventions, resolutions, and agreements which stress that establishing trade unions and labour organizations is the affair of workers themselves and that workers should elect their representatives freely from among their ranks.

We, in the FWCUI, believe that the Governing Council has no right to pass any resolution preventing workers from electing their representatives.  Therefore, we totally reject this resolution and regard it as an attempt to enforce the practices of the ousted Baath regime which denied workers any control over their own affairs and erected bureaucratic and repressive bodies which had nothing to do with the interests of workers.  The resolution number 3 is a part of the attempts by the state apparatus to control workers despite all rhetoric about freedom.  

The Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq calls for a general conference, which embraces all labour activists in Iraq. The FWCUI also calls on the international labour organizations to attend this conference.

Genuine and influential labour organizations, which represent workers, can only be established when workers themselves freely elect their own representatives. 

Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq
February 19, 2004

*In a resolution the US hand picked Iraqi Governing Council appointed Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) as representative of Iraqi workers. 


Teachers in Mosul Demand Unpaid Wages and
Threaten Authorities with Strike
 
Returning to work after the holidays, hundreds of teachers gathered to protest and demand restitution for unpaid wages.  Teachers gathered in front of the Education Directorate in Mosul, waving banners and placards demanding compensation for wages, which were already six months overdue. To avoid disrupting student exams, the teachers decided not to commence their protest until after the exam period.  The ongoing protests and threat of a major walkout by the teachers forced the Education Directorate to dispense 60 dollars as emergency pay for each teacher. In the case where state authorities refused to pay the overdue wages, tens of schools could potentially shutdown if these teachers were to make good on their threat to go on strike.






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