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Iraqi workers seek TUC help to rebuild unions

Iraqi workers seek TUC help to rebuild unions

Iraqi trade unionists will call for British trade unions to support the rebuilding of the Iraqi trade union movement at a TUC conference in London today (Monday). The eight Iraqis will be asking for financial support, training for union representatives and leaders, and advice on recruitment, tackling unemployment and privatisation.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'Trade unions offer ordinary Iraqi and Kurdish workers a voice they are being denied by the continued military occupation and climate of fear perpetuated by ‘insurgents’. Unions represent the true spirit of a tolerant Iraq. And strong unions will be the measure of freedom.

'Iraqi and Kurdish workers need the rights and protections the unions have won for the UK workforce. Unions in Britain will work with Iraqi and Kurdish unions to help them rebuild themselves and help rebuild democracy, freedom and the Iraq economy.'

The eight Iraqis come from three union confederations in Baghdad: the Basra oil workers’ union, the teachers’ association and journalists’ union of Iraq, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Syndicate. Forty years ago, the Iraqi trade union movement had a million members and was the strongest trade union movement in the Middle East until it was smashed by Saddam Hussein.

The conference will be also be addressed by Harry Barnes MP who set up Labour Friends of Iraq and did his national service in Basra. The event will be chaired by TUC General Councillor and NASUWT Hon Treasurer Sue Rogers, who grew up in Kirkuk.

UNISON Deputy General Secretary Keith Sonnet will also speak alongside representatives of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the UN workplace organisation, the ILO. The conference will be attended by all the major British trade unions, and by the global unions covering oil workers and transport workers.

Unions at the conference will be urged to raise money for the TUC Aid for Iraq Appeal, and provide practical assistance in the form of training, material support and security. Initiatives could include paying for an IFTU (Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions) theatre bus to tour Iraqi workplaces and explain the case for joining trade unions; refurbishing damaged union buildings; providing mobile phones, faxes and laptop computers; and printing materials on subjects as diverse as labour law and improving the position of women in the unions. The TUC will also be proposing that British unions twin with their sister organisations in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Iraqi trade unionists, all of whom are available for interview (in translation from Arabic or Kurdish in most cases) on Monday and for the next few days, are:

• Ghasib Hassan, President of the Railway and Aviation Union (IFTU)

• Zuhar lal Jazairy, Journalists’ Union and Editor of Al Mahda newspaper

• Ali Shari Ali, Teachers’ Union

• Hassan Jumaa al Jawad, President of the Basra Oil Workers Union

• Hangaw Abdulla Khan, Head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Syndicate and Sdeeq Ramadhan Hassan, Executive Bureau member

• Falah Alwan, Federation of Works Councils and Trade Unions in Iraq

• Jabar Faris, General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions

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