Cablegate: Tense Icftu Conference for Iraqi Trade Unionists

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU) held a training seminar on core labor standards for
Iraqi sectoral unions in Amman October 3-5. While rival union
leaders at least sat down in the same room, a marked
improvement over the previous conference, an atmosphere of
tension and mutual animosity prevailed. The ICFTU and the
AFL-CIO affiliated Solidarity Center plan to hold future
conferences in Amman that will provide more explicitly
targeted training for working-level Iraqi trade unionists.
End Summary.


2. (SBU) According to Kheireddine Bouslah, a former ICFTU and
Solidarity Center Senior Program Officer, trade union
leadership from the former Ba'athist regime has split in two,
but remains influential among workers in Iraq. The two groups
have adopted similar monikers: the General Federation of
Trade Unions (GFTU) and the General Federation of Iraqi Trade
Unions (GFITU). Policy divisions between the GFTU and the
GFITU appear minimal and sources participating in the
conference expect a public announcement of a reconciliation
in the next few days. Both groups are competing with the new
IIG-recognized federation, known as the Iraqi Federation of
Trade Unions (IFTU), which is closely aligned with interim PM
Allawi's Wiqaf party. The IFTU has reportedly been granted
access to funds formerly in control of the GFTU under the old
regime, but according to Bouslah, does not enjoy much
legitimacy in the eyes of workers.

3. (SBU) IFTU relations with the GFTU and GFITU are far from
cordial. ICFTU's Amman Office Director, Nezam Qahoush, told
us that a conference ICFTU organized in Amman fell apart this
summer as members of the opposing federations refused to sit
down in the same room with each other. This animosity carried
over into the most recent conference as tempers almost
brought the two factions to blows during one of the morning
sessions. ICFTU and Solidarity Center interlocutors commented
that the factions remained separate during small group
sessions, but managed to occupy the same rooms and engage in
dialogue during general sessions. The ICFTU deliberately
organized the seminar on a sectoral basis hoping to
circumvent political hostilities and to attract more local
activists at a working level. This strategy appeared to have
met with some success, but unfortunately only union leaders
from the main federations participated. None of the local
activists who were targeted by conference organizers

4. (U) To help build the capacity of the unions, the ICFTU
seminar provided instruction on core labor standards as
defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and how
to implement them. The ILO also presented the Draft Iraqi
Labor Code at the seminar. According to the Solidarity
Center's Regional Program Director, Heba El-Shazli, this
spurred positive discussions but many groups found the draft
labor code to be incomplete.


5. (SBU) The Solidarity Center's Regional Field
Representative in Amman, Jim Mangan, told PolOff that the
leaders of the Iraqi labor sectors are still nowhere near
sitting down together for real discussions. Mangan felt that
the Iraqi participants currently see no need to cooperate as
they compete for power. Mangan and ICFTU's Amman Office
Director, Nezam Qahoush, both stated that organized labor in
Iraq needed to break the standard model of labor unions in
the Middle East - unions with self-interested leaderships,
cozy with the political and business elite, that provide few
real benefits to workers. Mangan and Qahoush both saw an
opportunity in Iraq to form truly democratic labor unions
that engage in real negotiations for worker rights. Movement
toward this goal in the short term, however, is unlikely in
their view, as the historical precedent in Iraq leans heavily
towards the standard Middle East model as do the IFTU
newcomers. Mangan and Qahoush plan to use conferences like
last week's to learn more about the Iraqi labor movement.
This will help them determine how to implement effective


6. (SBU) The Solidarity Center and ICFTU plan to hold similar
conferences over the next few months that focus on raising
the level of awareness of international labor standards and
building the capacity of Iraqi trade unions to act on behalf
of worker rights. The Solidarity Center also plans to open a
training center in Amman for Iraqi labor unionists.
Solidarity would prefer to conduct training in Baghdad, but
given ongoing security challenges, views Amman as the most
logical site. In order to avoid more political fighting like
last week's, future invitations will clarify that these
conferences are not intended for union leaders. The
Solidarity Center and ICFTU want to focus on working-level
trade unionists in order to foster the basic structures of
the unions and to help them develop into democratic

7. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.

Visit Embassy Amman's classified web site at or access the site
through the State Department's SIPRNET home page.

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