“Whenever the labor movement is divided, it is working people who pay the price.” Interview with Michael Eisenscher, national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW). Michael co-founded the Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace & Justice in 2001. He is a long time organizer and labor educator, having been active in the labor movement since 1962. Michael is an instructor in Labor Studies at Laney College in Oakland CA.
Q: What is the position of the USLAW on the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq? What significance do you believe the conference has?
Michael E.: USLAW wholeheartedly endorses and is co-sponsoring the conference. We are engaging with the U.S. labor movement in building support for the conference. We encourage individual unions and trade union federations in other countries to participate. We believe the conference is an important step toward unifying the Iraqi labor movement. It will increase pressure on the Iraqi government to adopt a basic labor law and respect the ILO conventions on workers’ rights, to defend Iraqi resources and public assets against privatization and to restore full Iraqi sovereignty by ending the occupation of the country by foreign troops.
Q: The USLAW steering committee recently held a meeting in Chicago and passed some resolutions. What were these resolutions?
Michael E.: You will �ind all the documents adopted at the Leadership Council meeting at http:// uslaboragainstwar.org/2008LC_documents.
Q: What support has USLAW managed to provide for this conference?
Michael E.: In addition to giving moral and political support, USLAW has at this stage raised over US$22,000 to contribute towards the costs of running the conference. We continue to seek additional contributions.
Q: Are you sending representative to attend the conference?
Michael E.: USLAW will be sending Michael Zweig me to the conference as of�icial delegates. Michael Zweig
represents United University Professions on the USLAW Steering Committee. He is a member of AFT Local 2190 at the State University of New York.
Q: What message would you like to send to those federations which have not yet agreed to participate in this conference, like the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI)?
Michael E.: We continue to work toward the objective of having all of the major union organizations in Iraq and those allied with them in other countries, attend the conference. We hope that the overriding interests they share in common - to demand full restoration and respect for internationally recognized labor rights, to defend Iraq>s national resources and public assets against privatization, to fully restore Iraqi sovereignty by ending the occupation - will prove more powerful than the differences that divide them. USLAW, from its very founding, has maintained a principled commitment to work with all legitimate labor forces in Iraq, without regard to af�iliation. It was on that basis that we hosted representatives of three federations: the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions (now GFIW) and the Federation of Oil Unions when they toured the US together in 2005. Whenever the labor movement is divided, it is working people who pay the price. We have been witness to that reality in our own country.
Q: What is you message to trade unions and labour organization in other countries who have not yet become involved?
Michael E.: Ending the illegal and immoral military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is in the interests of the entire working class of the world. The failure of the Iraqi government to fully respect internationally recognized labor rights and to recognize and deal with the unions organized and chosen by Iraqi workers is an affront to unions everywhere.
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We all have a duty in accord with our principles of international labor solidarity to stand with the labor movement and working people of Iraq. The labor movements in those countries whose governments have been responsible for devastating Iraq have a special obligation to do whatever they can to ful�ill their international solidarity responsibilities.
This conference offers labor movements around the world an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the courageous workers of Iraq and to show the Iraqi government and the occupation forces that you are not alone: that you have our solidarity. It is our hope that every major labor federation and union will send delegates and offer support to this important conference.
STATEMENT BY OIL UNION LEADER Toward the 2009, International Labour Conference in Erbil, Iraq Dear friends and freedom-loving people worldwide In case you are unaware of what the Iraqi working class and its courageous trade unions have gone through, here are some historic highlights. Our trade unions have struggled since the early 1900s for the rights and gains of workers. And we have done so under some extremely dif�icult conditions. We founded our unions in the period of the British occupation (19141958-). We maintained the �ight for wages and conditions during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and have continued it under the US occupation which has torched everything in Mesopotamia. Today, even though the government has attempted to suppress and marginalize them, workers have not given in. On the contrary, they have made many gains. And so it is, with many challenges before them, that trade unionists have resolved to hold the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq. This conference represents an opportunity to unite the workers in Iraq (and, hopefully, workers in many countries) against the aims of the US: for example its desire to impose war on the peaceloving peoples of the world. In holding this �irst-ever Iraq trade union conference, we look forward to your support and your participation. Occupiers and the warmongers be warned: the workers of the world will have their say on how
society is to be run, we are an active force for change because we are the heirs of those enlightened labour leaders who went before us. Long live the brave Iraqi working class! Long live workers worldwide
Hassan Jomaa Awad Asadi President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions Deputy President of the Central Council of Federation of Oil Unions Adil Abod Maatoq Aljabri Deputy president of the Central Council of the Federation of Oil Unions. Member of the Executive Committee, Southern Oil Union of Iraq
Member of the Preparatory Committee attends Chicago meeting with leaders and activists from US Labor Against the War.
Amjad Ali It was a freezing cold, windy day in the �irst week of December when Amjad Ali (a member of the Preparatory Committee for the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq) held talks with USLAW and friends. The 60 people present included USLAW coconvenors Kathy Black, Nancy Wolh�lorth and Fred Mason and national coordinator Michael Eisenacher along with leaders from many of the unions af�iliated with USLAW plus representatives from a number of NGOs. Amjad began by conveying the greetings of the Iraqi workers and masses to organized labor in the USA. He then presented a report by Samir Adil, coordinator of the Preparatory Committee of the 2009 International Labour Conference in Erbil, Iraq. Samir Adil praised USLAW for its role in defeating the Bush/McCain right-wing current in the recent US elections. In his comprehensive analysis of the current situation in Iraq, Amjad Ali referred to the negative impact of the security pact recently agreed on between the US-dominated Iraqi government and the Bush administration. Amjad Ali referred to the history of pacts between the government and Britain during the rule of the
monarchy in Iraq in 1922,1926,1930, 1948 and Baghdad alliance of 1955 which was ended on 14th July 1958. He stated that the recent agreement between Iraq and the US administration was similar in that it too aimed to subordinate the interests of the Iraqi people to the international cartels for as long as possible in order to secure maximum pro�its for these cartels. In Amjad Ali’s opinion this latest pact is the beginning of a series of agreements aimed at transforming Iraq into a major US military base. It’s what the British did in the �irst half of the 20th century. Amjad Ali discussed the role of the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq which everyone hopes will be held in Erbil in Iraq’s north during February. Amjad said he believed the conference had a pivotal
role in the labour movement, as Iraq is in the forefront of political developments worldwide. If
solidarity between workers of various countries and workers in Iraq brings about an end to the US occupation the workers’ movement everywhere will be strengthened. Amjad congratulated USLAW for being one of the pioneers in building international labour solidarity since it was establishment in 2003. He referred to USLAW’s opposition to the war against Iraq before it began and its role in raising the awareness of the general public in the US about the dangers of war for the workers of both countries. He thanked USLAW for inviting and hosting visits to the US by Iraqi labour leaders which allowed them to put their case for an end to the occupation directly to the American public, face to face. He also expressed gratitude for USLAW’s work in publicizing and raising money for the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq. Attendees at the meeting pledged to do their best to overcome the political and �inancial obstacles yet to be overcome in building for the Erbil conference. Amjad was assured that a delegation will attend the conference
USLAW LC Meeting 2008
Members of the Preparatory Committee of the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq: 1- Amjad Ali, representative of the Executive Bureau of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions abroad 2- Ilham Talabani, head of Women’s Affairs 3- Ara Aghjador, a labour leader and former president of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions 4- Ibrahim Rathi, deputy president of the Central Council of The Basra Oil Union 5- Hassan Juma’a, president of the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq 6- Said Noama, deputy president of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq 7- Samir Adil, president of the Iraq Freedom Congress 8- Subhi Albadri, president of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq 9- Sabah Alyassiri, president of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq- Babylon 10- Siba Qasim, in charge of Women’s Affairs Bureau in South Oil Unions 11- Falih Abod, deputy president of the South Oil Union 12- Ali Abass Gha�if, president of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq-Basra 13- Abdul Karim Abdul Sadda, deputy president of the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq 14- Awwad Salih, president of the Teachers Union in Sammara’a 15- Abdulla Abeed Najim, President of the Railway Union 16- Adil Aljabiri, Member of the Executive Bureau of the Federation of the Oil Unions in Iraq 17- Ghazi Mushatat, president of the General Union of Mechanics and Printings 18- Hirman Kathim, member of the Port Union 19- Nathim Rathi, president of the General Union of the Iraqi Ports 20- Michael Eisenscher, national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) 21- Karim Lafta Sindan, President of the General Union of Construction and Woodwork
Why holding an international union Conference in Iraq? Part Two By: Toma Hamid While human society has made enormous advances in science and technology and while the productivity and social wealth created has reached colossal dimensions, the working class in some of the most advanced countries (e.g. the USA) has been deprived of fundamental rights like healthcare and economic security. While the working class created these social advances it has been denied many political and social rights and, most importantly, it has been denied the opportunity to participate in deciding society’s destiny. In the developing countries workers’ living and working condition are not much better than the conditions which prevailed during the Dark Ages. It is indeed ironic that progress in science and technology has meant unemployment and impoverishment for millions. It is well known that when the system goes into crisis it is the working class, which is forced to bear the consequences. The current world economic crisis is not going to disappear soon. If there is an upturn, it will only to be temporary. The fundamental reasons behind this crisis are an essential part of the capitalist economic system and cannot be removed unless capitalism is replaced with a planned economy under workers’ control. The ruling class only re-invests in the system if it can see ways of intensifying the exploitation of the workers and thereby raising its pro�it levels. It is likely that workers in the developed countries where pay rates are better will be hit even harder than workers in developing nations where wages are lower and working conditions are more hazardous. Why? Because the ruling elites in the low wage economies like China have a big advantage. The ruling elites in the developed countries will try and push wages and conditions down to the levels of their competitors like China. This is the route employers will try and take in their efforts to kick start another cycle of production and wealth accumulation. Their will be a struggle by western capitalists against
China, India and other emerging economies where the local businessmen enjoy cheap labour. There will attacks on the wages, conditions and union rights of workers in the advanced countries and not vis-versa. Each major crisis brings capitalist economies to a new stage which is more oppressive and exploitative than the previous stage. Major economic crises also create the possibility of wars and fascist regimes coming to power. We are in a time when the world is being re-divided amongst the major international players. The old divisions have collapsed. America is no longer the world’s only superpower. This raises the possibility of wars especially by proxy, through third and fourth parties. There is no necessity for the working class to be the victim in this Crisis. We can �ight back. One of the main weapons we can use in this �ight is to unite the workers across the world. The unity of the working class is fundamental if we want to thwart these attacks, protect our gains, prevent major wars and stop fascist regimes from coming to power. It is important for workers to be organized. Trade unions and labour organizations have an irreplaceable role in defending workers’ wages, allowances, conditions, working hours and so on. The working class needs to get more involved with ideological and political issues. Without this struggle it is dif�icult for the working class to protect its gains or achieve new gains. For example: it is not our system that is in crisis. It is the system invented and maintained by the capitalist class using the forces of the state. We cannot expect major changes to take place in society without challenging the capitalist system. The atmosphere has never been more suitable to advance the economic and political struggle of the working class. The gloves have now come off and it is easy to demonstrate to people that this crisis is a crisis of a whole economic system. It is not the crisis of humanity. The solution is NOT as it is presented in the media: as being simply a question of government bailouts. It is neither too much or to little state intervention.
Only the working class can through relentless struggle create better conations for itself and the masses of people in general. The capitalist system is a global system. The capitalist class and the working class are international classes and the struggle between them is a struggle that must be fought out on a global scale. The bourgeois class is globally organized and has many international organizations. Workersâ€™ struggle must be organized on a global basis too. Thatâ€™s why there is a need for cooperation and solidarity among workers and their organizations across national borders. The 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq is a step in this direction. Iraq is the focus of political events and an important front in the struggle of the global working class.
Workers in Iraq enjoy a high level of organization and have actively resisted combined attempts by the US administration, the Iraqi government and employers to cut wages and roll back trade unions rights. However the unions are fragmented between a number of federations. Our struggle for unity and minimum agreement on strategic goals will be instructive for all.
These are some of the reasons why trade unions everywhere should: - donate money so that the Erbil conference can take place - send delegates to the conference
Why we are holding the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq? Jalal Mohammad The toppling of Sadam Hussein’s Baath regime and the occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies in 2003 resulted in the formation of a sectarian and ethnocentric government in Baghdad. These events also strengthened the hand of ethnocentric and tribal groups in the Kurdistan region of the country. This is because the US administration and the leaders of Iraq’s competing religious and ethnocentric groups are united in regarding the Iraqi society as being composed of nothing but religious, ethnic and racial groups. They all deny the basic reality: that Iraqi society, like every other contemporary civil society, is divided sharply on class and social basis into a working class, a capitalist class and middle strata between these two main classes. The current government in Baghdad and the tribal and ethnic militias operating in Kurdistan are there basically to implement US policy, which, generally speaking, satis�ies the interests of the Iraqi bourgeoisie. They believe that the immediate task is turning the current Iraqi society (sectarian and ethnic) to “a d e m o c ra t i c society” which according to the American point of view means: In the economic sphere, it means to open up Iraq’s market to exploitation by
international (primarily US) corporations. Their plan is in particular to pillage nationally owned oil resources, privatize the industries, which are still in public hands and to open new industrial projects according to these corporations’ standards and interests to bene�it from the cheap labor and high levels of unemployment, which prevails in Iraq and the region. It also means imposing the conditions of the International Monetary Fund and other international �inancial institutions on the population. If they get away with this, two of the immediate problems would be the ending of the subsidy on basic food items (which would put staple foods out of the reach of most families), which is a precondition to build Iraq according to the standards of “ free world” and its free-market economy. In the political sphere the US and its friends in Baghdad want to hold a form of elections among the parties, which accept the US policy, after a sectarian and ethnocentric constitution was: Set up. Having some small and powerless parties, which reject the US policy participating in these elections, is welcomed because the illusion of free and democratic elections has to be maintained. The US forces and the Iraqi army have had some victories in �ighting al-Qaeda and the remnants of Baathists. Next they will turn their attention to attacking the workers’ movement by trying to weaken the free, existing workers’ organizations and unions which were formed by workers in direct opposition to the US and Baghdad authorities. In fact these attacks have already begun. By sacking some oil union activists and transferring others so their in�luence is diluted, Oil Minister Ali al-Shahristani is making the front running. Such maneuvers can only be defeated if workers and their unions stand up to them. These measures are the opening shots in
a war to attack and oppress all political and civil freedoms. Important human rights issues like the Kurdish people’s right to independence (should they choose that path), unconditional political freedoms, an egalitarian women’s movement and separation of religion from the state are all under threat.
The constitution that Baghdad rati�ied is designed to suppress all of these freedoms. All the coming governments will have to do to justify its attacks on the working class is say it is implementing the constitution. Growing numbers of workers realize the danger this situation poses to their livelihood and to their families’ futures.
They know that to face this policy and foil it their needs to be more unity in the union movement than there is at present, as the main instrument of power workers can wield is their unity. We urgently need to build mass and powerful workers’ organizations based on policies that we all agree on to be able to face and thwart the anti-labor moves of the ruling elites. In
order to achieve this goal the Iraqi labour movement needs the support of the International workers’ movement, which has so far been a strong support for the Iraqi labour organizations in various �ields. This paragraph from the statement by the Preparatory Committee for convening the 2009 International Workers’ Conference of Iraq, Arbil on 1st November 2008 stress what we say. “The preparatory Committee will present a working paper and draft of proposed resolutions to the conference for endorsement. These proposal resolutions include: “* uniting the labour and union movement in Iraq * building an international workers’ front against wars and creating crises for the working class * strengthening international workers’ solidarity with the labour and unionist movement in Iraq * uniting the working class against privatization and against the policies of institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and so on”
Iraqi trade unions in action OCTOBER 19, 2008 Hundreds of workers from many of the workplaces and factories under the control of the Industrial Ministry demonstrated at al-Fardoos square in Baghdad on 19 October last against decisions of the Industrial and Financial Ministries. The decisions that most angered these workers were: 1. refusing to pay danger allowances 2. unpaid wages 3. back pay for increases that were to apply from January 1, 2008 but were never received The demonstration came after many attempts at negotiation between the workers’ leaders and staff at the abovementioned ministries. Soldiers from the Iraqi army cordoned off the demonstrators so that the media could not interview workers and cover the event properly. Their pretext: that the demonstration did not have “security permission”. This was a lie: the leaders of the demonstration did inform the authorities and did receive their permission to hold the demo. 20TH OCTOBER 2008 Workers at the General Company of Cotton Industries in Baghdad held a sit-in protesting that they still had not been paid their wages for the month of September. The sit-in continued right through day and only ended when the wages were received. 23RD OCTOBER 08 Workers employed by the General Company of Communications and Posts in the city of Nigeria demonstrated in front of the company’s of�ice. They demanded to be paid for agreed allowances and for back pay for increases that were agreed would apply from January but were not received. 26 OCTOBER, 2008 Workers at petrochemical plants and steel industries in
Basra held a demonstration. Their demands: • danger allowances • back pay for wage rise that were agreed to but never paid • accommodation to be provided • the re-opening of all plants and factories that had been shut down The demonstrators marched through the city then assembled in front of the city council building. A delegation of four workers met with of�icials who promised that all demands would be met within a week. Petrochemical workers have held many protests since 2006. Their demands have included the reinstatement of the subsidy on fuel used by industry and to re-open sections of the industry that have been closed down. 13 NOVEMBER 2008 Petrochemical workers went on strike because the city’s council did not honor promises it made on 23rd October 08. Protest actions in relation to this issue are continuing. 10,000 COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS THREATEN SITIN AGAINST PRIVATISATION The government of Iraq made known it was considering privatization. 10,000 communications workers in Baghdad threatened to stage an inde�inite sit-in against these moves. This forced the authorities to end negotiation that had begun with potential investors. WORKERS AT SHAHIR COMPANY RECEIVE BACK BAY Under pressure from the General Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq (GFWCUI), management of the Shahir Company in Basra agreed to bring the pay of all workers up to date. Before the union intervened the workers had not received any wages for the three months.
GFWCUI AND PORT WORKERS’ UNION GAIN ACCOMODATION FOR PORT WORKERS Under pressure from Ali Abass and Abo Watan, leaders of the GFWCUI in Basra and leaders of the Iraqi Port Union (including its president Nathim Rathi), the Iraqi Ports Company granted accommodation to 300 hundred workers who had been occupying Company
premises for a number of years. GFWCUI HELPS IN FORMATION OF NEW UNIONS GFWCUI of�icials in Basra have been active in past weeks forming preparatory committees to establish unions in the education and the irrigation sectors.
Statement by the Preparatory Committee of the 2009 International Labour Conference in Iraq On December 6, 2008 a meeting was held in Baghdad, which most members of the committee attended. Others present included labour movement activists and delegates from the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq, the Federation of Southern Oil Workers and leaders of trade unions in the city of Kut who were acting as monitors. After endorsing the agenda, the meeting began with a report by the Preparatory Committee, which outlined the main activities the committee is presently engaged in: • publication of an English language online newspaper paper • negotiating with the authorities in Erbil to obtain approval for the conference to be held there (yet to be con�irmed) • inviting Ara Aghajador (a well known �igure in the labour movement) to join the Preparatory Committee • issuing open letters to trade unionists worldwide The report highlighted the positive response of trade unions and labour organizations abroad to the statement issued by the Preparatory Committee when it met in Basra in October. It also discussed the participation of Amjad Ali, the Preparatory Committee’s overseas representative in a meeting with leaders of US Labor Against the War (USLAW) to talk about the conference. It heard details of Nadia Mahmood’s meeting with leaders of Worker Liberty in London, her invitations to Swedish trade unions to attend the conference and of donations made by trade unions in Australia and the intentions of some of these unions to send delegates. The meeting was critical of the slow tempo of work by the Preparatory Committee and emphasized the
Editor in Chief: Toma Hamid Subeditor: Lynn Smith Editor: Hiba Dawod
necessity to speed up this work. The meeting discussed letters and proposals sent to the Preparatory Committee. It then discussed the minutes of the PC’s previous meeting held in Basra. The decision of the PC to give the Federation of Iraqi Workers’ Unions places on the leading body of the conference was endorsed. The number of delegates allocated to this federation was increased from �ive to 10. The meeting decided that the conference include a session on labour laws and conduct a workshop on labour media. It was decided to expand the number of members on the committee in order to deal with these extra matters. The meeting decided to launch a publicity campaign for the conference inside Iraq and abroad.
For more information about the conference please contact Amjad Ali, the representative of the preparatory Committee abroad on: email@example.com
Published on Feb 7, 2009