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Iraqi Trade Union Movement Growing

by Green Left Weekly Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2004 at 8:46 AM

This was copied from an email from Australia. Iraqi trade unionists are looking for support from the west. The GFTU is a large bottom-up union competing with a Baathist union, and a top-down old-guard union.

From Green-Left Weekly

Seventy per cent of Iraqi workers — about 10 million people — are unemployed.
Many are now organising in the Unemployed Union of Iraq. In February, the UUI
appointed Jalal Mohamad its official representative in Australia. Socialist
Alliance member Janet Burstall spoke to Mohamad about the situation.Mohamad has
lived in Australia since 1996. Before that, he had worked for over 20 years
building the left in northern Iraq, writing for underground publications about
the workers' movement. He was jailed by the Baath regime for over two years.

Jalal spent two months late last year in Basra. His aim was to help strengthen
the working-class movement in Iraq. ``I worked with two unions in particular,
the Southern Oil Workers Union and the construction union...

``On my second day in Basra, I met up with a demonstration of unemployed
workers. The organisers of that demonstration agreed to form a sub-committee
for the purpose of building a branch of the UUI.’‘ The UUI has since grown

In January, four unemployed workers were killed during a protest demanding jobs
or social security. ``The unemployed workers were shot by British forces and
local Islamic groups. Since then, I have heard that the British forces and some
Islamic groups are working together in secret. There have been kidnappings of
left and worker activists.

``There are many other unions in Basra, for teachers, journalists and writers,
with which I developed strong relations. Since I left Basra I have heard that
they held a demonstration of thousands for human rights, women's rights,
workers' rights and for political freedom.’‘

``The most successful union is the Southern Oil Company union with about 19,000
members and seven sub-committees. Hassan Juma is the leader and it grows every
day. The latest news is they won an increase in their minimum wage.

``In Iraq there are three union federations. One is led by Salman Al Jiboorei,
who was a Baathist. He has very few supporters, because he was at the head of
the Baathist Workers' Federation and he has the support of the Iraqi Governing

``The second federation is the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, which has the
support of the Communist Party of Iraq. This is organised from the top down, it
is mainly a committee from the top with no clear demands for workers.

``The third federation is the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions and
Worker Councils (GFTU), which is being built from the bottom up. It includes
the Southern Oil Union, construction unions from Basra, vegetable oilworkers
from Baghdad, the Northern Oil Company union, leather unions, a sugar company
union and the textile workers union (which is very large with a long history),
as well as the UUI.’‘

The GFTU has a new newspaper called Workers' Councils.

``The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions sent a delegation to
Iraq in December. They said that they support the GFTU and the UUI. They
observed elections in some factories. They held a separate meeting in Amman in
Jordan with all three federations, and listened to representatives from each
one. They said they will send their findings to the international headquarters
to decide what support the ICFTU can give’‘, Mohamed explained.

When asked what support unions wanted, Mohamad was unambiguous. ``We want
support for our demands, for recognition of our unions, for progressive labour
laws, for social security for the unemployed of $100 per month or a job. We
would welcome financial support for the non-Baathist unions, and we will
welcome visits from unionists who have opposed the war on Iraq so that they can
see for themselves the problems of the workers' movement in Iraq.’‘

[Mohamad will be speaking at a public forum at 3.30pm on March 20 at Sydney’s
Gaelic Club, to discuss solidarity with unions in Iraq. Other speakers include
Layla Mohammed from the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Kassim Aboud
from the Communist Party of Iraq, Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, construction
union organiser Karen Iles and it will be moderated by Janet Burstall from
Workers Liberty. Email <contact@workersliberty.org> for more details.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 17, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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