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Iraq Union Leaders Speak About Labor Movement (2)

Iraq Union Leaders Speak about Labor Movement - Part II of II


By Sonia Nettnin
See also… Iraqi Union Leaders Speak About Occupation (1)


Iraq Union Leaders Falah Awan (left) and Amjad Ali Aljawhry (right) pause before the question and answer session with the audience. They are speakers on the Iraq Labor Solidarity Tour sponsored by U.S. Labor Against the War."

(Chicago) – Iraqi labor leaders Falah Awan and Amjad Ali Aljawhry spoke about the current state of Iraq and the challenges Iraqi workers face with an outdated labor code.

Awan is president of the Federation of Workers Councils and the Union of Iraq (FWCUI) and Aljawhry is representative of the FWCUI and the Union of the Unemployed in Iraq (UUI) for North America. Both workers’ organizations want independent, democratic unions free of government control.

As president of FWCUI, Awan said that the principles of Iraq’s labor organizations have humanitarian goals.

“We fight for participation in writing the constitution,” he said. “We fight the domination of the right-wing powers of Iraq.” He believes the millions of people around the world who marched against the war need to reorganize so they can end the occupation. Through the empowerment of the workers’ movement, Iraqis can restore pro-civil society.

When asked about the overwhelming violence in Iraq, Awan and Aljawhry, (who translated Awan’s responses to the audience) explained that people have to distinguish between the current forms of violence. With regards to gangs and thieves, they existed before and after the occupation, as they exist everywhere in the world. With support from neighboring countries, car bombings, targeted killings and assassinations from reactionary groups causes devastation and disunity.

“The question is going to be the balance of power and who will take the lead after withdrawal,” Awan said. From the FWCUI’s standpoint, the solution to the problem lies within the democratic, secular society, which cannot allow the gangs into power. If the labor movement is successful, the violent groups will lose their ground.

Security deteriorated after January’s elections, according to the speakers. The occupation set these groups free who now face the troops, which caused catastrophe.

In response, an audience member who declared he was a social progressive said he had issues with the speakers’ beliefs. He contended that resisters have a right to fight and he left his definition of resistance groups open-ended throughout his five-minute speech. The audience gasped and murmured.

Aljawhry took off his glasses, wiped his face and retorted that bombing a school bus with 25 children has nothing to do with the occupation. He mentioned a suicide bomber who entered a market and injured over 100 people. “What does that have to do with occupation?” Aljawhry asked.

Awan explained that although we (the speakers) did not say we are against resistance and the Geneva Charter (Conventions) allows for armed resistance if people are occupied; people carry guns because there is a tendency to drive out the occupation.

He mentioned an extremist group that did not have a clear political agenda and “…these groups took matters into their own hands,” so the speakers answered the audience with several responses about Iraqi resistance. Then Awan addressed it from an economic perspective.

Security problems within devastated districts either diverted contracts to foreign companies or postponed several restoration projects, which solidified some urban areas into ghost cities. Rerouted contract agreements mean other companies lost opportunities to present their bid proposals, which translates into missed job prospects for unemployed Iraqi workers.

Deals signed in secret for long-term projects, such as hotels and airports, have ramifications beyond the crossfire. The political instability of occupation and the violence caused by it prohibits Iraqis from participation in their country’s economic development.

While the labor code remains out of date, contract negotiations for labor agreements between unions and potential employers, which can span several years, are nonexistent. These contract agreements detail issues such as wage scales for job titles, job requirements, skills training, health and safety standards, insurance benefits, holiday pay, expectations, and procedures.

For example, the average wage for an Iraqi worker is $45 U.S. dollars per month. It was $35 U.S. dollars per month. Despite a recent ten-dollar increase, the average worker who earns a living cannot pay one month’s rent. In the current economic conditions, clothing is a luxury. Skyrocketing fuel prices make utilities and transportation expensive for the average Iraqi family.

According to the organization Chicago Labor for Peace, Prosperity and Justice, the Coalition Provisional Authority Head Paul Bremer “…decreed Iraqi workers can be arrested and interned as prisoners of war for leading union protests.” Even though 40 – 70 per cent of Iraqi workers are without jobs, there is neither a decrease in the unemployment rate nor humanitarian relief in sight.

Awan emphasized that they do not want their speeches and projects to be just hopes and dreams - they want their action plan to become reality. Soon after the FWCUI’s inception in December 2003, the federation established strong ties with the progressive labor movement in countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Korea, and Japan.

“We try to empower these relationships and ties,” he said, “to give a framework to this action plan.” On a global scale, he assessed that the occupation imposes a model on Iraq for the creation of the global empire, until countries around the world become separate, unstable provinces.

Another audience member asked the speakers if they would tell the Iraqis back home that the war is not the fault of terrorists but a covert action of the administration to create an unstable Iraq.

Awan responded: “let’s not go through the theory of conspiracy.” Then, he proceeded to talk about Iraqi workers.

When asked whether their labor organizations accept Kurds, “Our federation includes so many members,” they said, “we don’t identify our workers as Kurds or Arabs, we identify them as workers.”

The audience applauded.

Earlier in the program, they expressed their organizations are free of religious, political, gender, and ethnic discrimination.

When asked about their position on foreign workers, they said “…as a union we don’t believe kicking out the foreign workers is the solution to our problems, this means racism against other workers.” The rebuilding of Iraq will need Iraqis employed and it will require more workers outside of Iraq.

At this crucial juncture, Iraq’s reconstruction has daily challenges.

U.S. Labor Against the War sponsored the Iraq Labor Tour. USLAW consists of: 5 national labor organizations; 29 central labor councils; 13 regional labor organizations; 19 large locals; 40 small local unions; 3 allied labor organizations; 13 labor antiwar groups; and 6 unclassified labor organizations.

***

Special coverage brought to you by journalist Sonia Nettnin.

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