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Iraqi Union Activists Call for End of Occupation

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 12, 2005
http://www.btlonline.org/btl070805.html

Iraqi Union Activists Call for End of U.S. Occupation

- Interview with Adnan Rashed, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Labor, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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A network of more than 100 national, regional and local groups called U.S. Labor Against the War sponsored the first-ever U.S. tour of Iraqi labor activists in June. Six representatives of three Iraqi labor federations visited 20 American cities, with the goal of educating U.S. trade unionists about the conditions faced by Iraqi workers and their struggle to build direct worker-to-worker, union-to-union solidarity. The three federations represent a broad spectrum of the Iraqi labor movement, but all call for the withdrawal of U.S. and British occupation forces and all are working to build a democratic, secular society in Iraq.

Adnan Rashed, a mechanic and a leader of the Iraqi Federation of Labor, spoke in Hartford, Conn. on June 22 at the state headquarters of the Service Employees International Union/1199. While stating that repression of labor was at its worst under Saddam Hussein, Rashed describes how U.S. military forces occupied his union's offices for eight months last year, evidence he says that repression of unions continues. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Rashed through a translator. He discusses the history of repression, current economic conditions, and the support that Iraqi union activists seek from their brothers and sisters in the U.S. labor movement.

ADNAN RASHED: The unions in Iraq have a history of about 80 years, and they’ve never seen a worse period in history than they’ve seen under Saddam Hussein. There were 12 federations of unions, and Saddam Hussein cancelled six of them, and they were down to six federations. And the ones he cancelled were basically the public unions, and left only the private sector, and the public labor force is, of course, the larger and more important labor force, and the one that reflects the public.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, were you glad to see Saddam Hussein overthrown by U.S. forces?

ADNAN RASHED: The removal of Saddam Hussein was an important nationalistic goal that was accomplished. And this removal of Saddam Hussein was helpful for ending repression of the public in Iraq that has suffered significantly under his rule. If the change had happened through Iraqi public action, it would have been much, much more truthful to the nature of Iraq and to its interests, if it had happened naturally and endogenously in Iraq rather than by external forces.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you support the occupation presently?

ADNAN RASHED: We do not support the occupation. We never supported the occupation because it is an invasion of our country that had no reason and no justification.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I’d like to know a little bit about what the situation is in Iraq now, with the U.S. occupation.

ADNAN RASHED: Our biggest concern is the economic situation, which has deteriorated rapidly under the current administration, and we hope that there will be change in the economy such that we will reopen a lot of the workforce and allow more workers into the workforce. Most projects in Iraq actually employ half or less than half of the number of people they could employ, and production is half of what it could be if the situation were changed. Another problem — obstacles to our progress — has been the lack of electricity and water that’s under the current administration, and security which results in both private and public workforce not being as productive as it could be otherwise. Another problem that we face is this open borders to products and services from abroad, where many people are coming from abroad, and this affects local industries and local workforces and prevents them from developing fully locally. Examples of this are like, most of the clothes factories in Iraq are not functioning because of ready-made clothes coming from all over the world; the same with refrigerators and other products that are now flooding into Iraq, where the average Iraqi cannot afford them, but the average Iraqi is not working to be able to afford them.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What about privatization of resources? Has there been much privatization so far under the American occupation?

ADNAN RASHED: We believe that privatization is very harmful to the average Iraqi at this stage of the game. We think it is especially harmful when it deals with oil and public services such as health and education and so forth. So privatization is being prepared and being talked about, especially in line with the World Bank and the IMF coming into Iraq to provide loans conditional on privatization of these things, like oil or other important sectors. In addition, there are about $18 billion that we heard of that various countries are supposed to donate to Iraq, many of them may be conditional on being spent on private sector rather than public sector services. Most of these are programs that have not been implemented yet, awaiting basically an appointment of a new government that is supposed to be happening this year, with a new constitution, and privatization will kick in after that, that at least is what we hear is being planned.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You think things wouldn’t be any worse now than they are now, if the occupation were to end?

ADNAN RASHED: On the contrary, we believe the continuation of the occupation is what leads to further violence, and that there are many people who justify violence based on the presence of the occupation. We have our own institutions that can take care of our own problems subsequent to the end of the occupation, but the occupation certainly is not helpful in this regard.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And, what do you want the U.S. labor movement to do, to support the labor movement in Iraq?

ADNAN RASHED: We hope that they would help us end the occupation as soon as possible, and upon the end of the occupation, they would help us rebuild Iraq and the infrastructure of Iraq, which was devastated by this war.

Translation for this interview was provided by Mazin Qumsiyeh. Contact the sponsoring organization of the Iraqi labor tour, U.S. Labor Against the War, by visiting their website at http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org

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Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending July 8, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

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