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August 25, 2004

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU): Outline History and Future Tasks


First I would like to offer a brief account of the state of the oil sector in Iraq. Then move on to provide a brief history of the Iraqi labour movement and of the emergence of the IFTU before I go on to discuss the current situation in Iraq and the challenges the IFTU faces.

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU): Outline History and Future Tasks


A paper by Abdullah Muhsin, United Kingdom based Representative of the IFTU.
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Introduction
First I would like to offer a brief account of the sate of the oil sector in Iraq. Then move on to provide a brief history of the Iraqi labour movement and of the emergence of the IFTU before I go on to discuss the current situation in Iraq and the challenges the IFTU faces.


Current state of the Oil sector In Iraq

The ousting of the Saddam dictatorship opened a long suppressed aspiration for the democratisation of state and society especially for those who embrace Iraq’s social, political and ethnic and national diversity, despite the complex and extremely difficult situation caused by the occupation.
Iraq has huge oil wealth and this will continue to be a key contributor in the future development of Iraq’s economic and human resources. The safeguarding of this oil wealth for the Iraqi people must be the prime objective of the new Iraqi interim government and any future democratically elected transitional government in early 2005.
Oil will remain the main backbone of the Iraqi economy in the near future; the way in which oil will be exploited and distributed will certainly determine the form and shape of the future social and political regime in Iraq.
Three scenarios are facing the oil industry in Iraq:
1. The privatisation of Iraq’s oil industry (the sell off oil wells and infrastructures to multinational companies).
2. Encouraging foreign international companies to invest in the development of Iraq’s oil industry using a new form of contracts that are different from those applied under the previous regime.
3. The oil industry remains under the control of the public sector, similar to other oil producing countries - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf States.
To provide an accurate account of the state of the oil sector in Iraq, one must look at the period of sanctions, the impact of the recent war and thereafter the occupation of the country.

Sanctions 1990-2003

The unjust UN sanctions starved the oil industry in Iraq. It was difficult for Iraq’s oil sector to obtain new machinery, spare parts or new advanced technologies. During the first half of the 1990-decade, the Iraqi Oil Ministry, in accordance with the UN “oil for food programme” experienced extreme difficulties in importing much needed spare parts for the industry heavy engineering machinery, tools and advanced technologies.
Furthermore, the implementation process of signed and agreed contracts was slow on both sides, the UN and the former dictatorial regime of Saddam, due to bureaucratic inefficiency and slow hierarchical procedures on both sides --the UN and former regime.
Many contracts were left open without precise completion date. But the recent war of March 2003 and thereafter the lack of security that prevail meant that many previously agreed contracts had to be postponed. But some goods had arrived at the end of last year (2003)
In addition to the above the war, the breakdown of social order that took place during the immediate aftermath of the war and the current lack of security have all intensified the difficulties the oil sector in Iraq. This is because much of the heavy oil machinery was stolen and many others were smuggled outside Iraq. Others were destroyed and damaged deliberately due to acts of sabotages or s a direct result of bombing. According to the current Oil Ministry goods that were stolen, damaged or smuggled from the oil sector are very expensive and the ministry lack funds— that till the second half of 2004. This has meant that the ministry was unable to buy new machinery and technology.
The former occupation authority (CPA) did not provide the Iraqi Oil Ministry with sufficient funds for it to invest in the development of the oil industry; but rather was given only enough money to run the ministry and pay wages and other bureaucratic structural cost.
Due to continuous pressure from the Oil Ministry, the occupation authority, and just before it was dissolved by UN Security Council resolution 1546, provided additional money to be spent on the development of the industry, digging new oil wells and improving the structure of others.
The Oil Ministry was allocated $2.1 Billion from the US 18.4 Billion that had been approved by US Congress for the reconstruction of Iraq. The $ 2.1 Billion was intended for the rebuilding of the outdated oil industry and to import oil components, which Iraq lacked as a result of the war and the sanctions. Please note that the decision on the expenditure of the $2.1 Billion remained in the hands of the CPA, and was made by the occupation authority and not the ministry.
Key oil industry plants such as the oil refineries were subjected to armed attacks, looting and sabotage soon after the war. Al Dora refinery and other major plants and key installations in Baghdad and Basra, and the Bejy oil refineries, were looted and severely damaged.
Major Southern Oil plants, such as Al Rumaila and Al Zubair were looted, vandalised and subjected to severe damage. The oil pipe line that transports oil from the south of the country to the north was attacked and damaged by smugglers and saboteurs.
Currently oil production stands at 2.8 million barrels a day. The Oil Ministry is aiming at increasing this level to 4 million barrels a day in four years. To achieve the level of production to 4 million barrel depends on the Ministry's ability to obtain new spare parts, using new structures to restore oil production levels and modernizing the transportation structures of oil (by means of road, sea and overland pipe lines).
The country has huge oil reserves that currently stand as the second in the world. It is possible that Iraq would have the biggest oil reserves in the world.
Oil revenues stand at 97% of Iraq national income in hard currency. Hence Iraq’s economy currently depends on oil and for this deserves a special attention from the current interim government, the future elected government in 2005 and key agencies of the state.
It has been proposed recently to establish an Oil and Gas Commission that would be responsible for overseeing, protecting and modernizing oil production and increasing investment. There is also a plan to establish a National Oil Commission and National Oil Company with many different specializing companies dealing with the production of oil components, including the production of gas.
The IFTU was informed by reliable sources at the Oil Ministry that the US and other countries that want to buy Iraqi oil will be able to buy it on open market at competitive prices. The sources said, “Nobody shall get a special rate”

A Brief History of Iraq’s Labour Movement

The labour movement in Iraq has a long history. Despite the impression that one gets from TV coverage, Iraq actually has long traditions of industrialisation and secularism and these have provided trade unions with fertile ground in which to grow. Oil production, transport, public utilities have all been centres of union organising since the 1940s. And a secular education system was developed in the 1940s. Though this system was ‘Ba'athised’ by Saddam it was not abolished.
The great crossroads of recent Iraqi history came in 1958. In 1932 Iraq had gained a nominal independence but the UK remained dominant behind the scenes. In 1958 the British-installed Hashemite monarchy was overthrown in a popular and nationalist Revolution that installed the Free Officers leader, Abdul-Karim Qassem in power. After the 1958 revolution Iraqi Communists, and Arab and Kurdish nationalists played a major role in the development of the Iraqi General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The GFTU enjoyed a measure of autonomy and power and organised 275,000 workers in 1959. In 1959 the unions mobilised half a million people for its May Day demonstration from a population of only 6.5 million.
1963 The Ba'ath Seize Power
However, in 1963 the Ba’ath party overthrew the Qassim government in a bloody coup and assumed control of Iraq. Opposition was repressed. Thousands of the independent leaders and activists of the GFTU were executed or imprisoned.
In the 1970s the Ba’ath Party, after seizing power once again through a palace coup in 1968, took the economy into state control. This was not for the benefit of the workers but a means to enable the ruling party and Saddam Hussein to become the sole source of power in Iraq.

1979: Saddam Seizes Power

In 1979 Saddam, already a vice-President became President after a bloody internal coup in the Ba’ath party. His regime immediately arrested many leaders of the official GFTU, which he turned into a yellow union, appointing his own stooges.
Independent trade unions leaders were executed or imprisoned in a systematic campaign of repression waged by the regime against democratic focres in the late 1970s. The IFTU remembers our comrades Badran Risan (Tobacco workers), Abdul Razzak Ahmed (mechanic), Fa'iq Mustafa Abdul Karim (mechanic), Abdul Khaliq Tahir (Dock workers union), Radhi Atiyya (printworker), NatiqAl-Shakily (electrician) and Nasr-allah Al-Nabawi (post office worker). And we recall the trade union leader, Hindal Jader Al-Sawadi, from Basra’s oil industry. He disappeared in 1979, and in 1983 a London-based human rights organisation (CARDRI) reported that he had been killed.
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In short, the GFTU became a tool of control for Saddam’s totalitarian state. It spied on workers and its offices became centres of interrogation and torture. The very term ‘trade union’ became associated with oppression for many Iraqis. A leading member of Saddam’s 'yellow unions' was a close collaborator of Chemical Ali, the monster who gassed the Kurds at Halabja, as well as the Marsh Arabs, Iranian soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi democrats including communists.
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On 11 March 1987, Saddam’s regime introduced a new Labour Code, which redefined public sector workers as “employees” and removed their right to form or join trade unions. He abolished the eight-hour day and handed over workers pension fund to the treasury without compensation. The relatively progressive Labour Law passed in 1970 was also abolished.
Saddam actually announced these measures during a televised meeting with the GFTU leadership and members of the "Central Workers Office" of the Ba’ath party. He said:
"From now on, the title 'worker' is abolished and all workers shall become official employees by the State. As everybody is now a government employee, there is no more need for trade unions. Workers in the private sector will have a special labour law decreed for them".
The GFTU applauded all these measures. And, when Saddam launched his war against Iran from 1980 to 1988 and his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 the GFTU acted as Saddam’s recruiting sergeants.

The Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement (WDTUN)

As a reaction to this political repression and to the violation of workers rights to form or join real trade unions, an illegal underground trade union movement emerged. Formed inside Iraq in 1980, the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement (WDTUM) existed throughout the 24 years of rule of Saddam’s Ba’ath party. The WDTUM was composed of trade unionists, intellectuals, liberals and communists, and women, youth and students advocates.
Abroad the WDTUM played a significant role in exposing Saddam’s atrocities and genocide against Iraqis. Inside Iraq its members worked to collect information - at great risk- about summary executions, torture and imprisonment and send them to trade union centres around the world.
In Britain, in 1982, as a result of information passed on by the WDTUM to Tobacco Workers Union leader Dougie Grieve, the TUC conference passed a motion condemning the atrocities against workers in Iraq. The WDTUM helped to organize a strike of four thousand tobacco workers in Iraqi Kurdistan (Sulaimaniyah) in open defiance of the regime. Saddam’s security apparatus crushed the strike and four workers were executed.
The Formation of the IFTU on 16 May 2003
The clandestine trade union movement, the WDTUM, organized an open meeting on 16 May 2003, after the collapse of Saddam's regime, attended by 350 Iraqi trade unionists (liberals, communists, and nationalists, including Arabs, Kurds and other national minorities). It was at this meeting that the IFTU was formed. Some of these founding organisers had been in exile. Some had been imprisoned. Some had been working underground. They came together on 16 May to form the backbone of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).
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IFTU Achievements

The IFTU has achieved some great things against the odds. In just over a year, 12 national unions in key sectors of the Iraq’s economy have been established. The IFTU now includes the following unions: The Oil and Gas Union, the Railway Union, The Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanics, Printing and Metal Union. The Textile and Leather products Union, the Construction and Wood Workers' Union, the Electricians' Union, the Service Industry Union and the Agriculture and Food Staff Workers' Union.
These unions organise in Baghdad and across Iraq’s 15 provinces such as Basra, Kirkuk, Mosul, Kurbala, al Najif, Babel and Mesan.
I am pleased to report that during June 2004 six of the IFTU’s constituent unions held their first open and free workers’ conferences in Baghdad and each had elected a leading committee of 15 members. These unions are: The Service Union, the Agriculture and Food Staff Workers Union and Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanic, Printing and Metal Workers Union, the Construction and Wood Workers Union and the Leather Products and Textile Workers Union.
The IFTU has welcomed a series of fact-finding missions from the international trade union movement. The reports of these missions can be consulted at the IFTU website [http://www.iraqitradeunions.org/].
The ICFTU visited Iraq on a fact-finding mission in February of 2004. The mission was led by P Kamalam, Asia officer of the ICFTU, and consisted of representatives of the TUC, the AFL-CIO, the UGTT of Tunisia (with the support of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions ICATU), and two global union confederations the ITF (transport) and the EI (education).
The TUC representative, Owen Tudor (Head of the TUC European Union and International Relations Department) wrote a report on Iraq and the IFTU that can be read at http://www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-7859-f0.cfm.

Current Work of the IFTU

Despite the terrible security situation IFTU Unions affiliates are organizing on the industrial and legislative fronts. We have organised strikes, marches and entering into negotiation with both public and private enterprises in defence of workers rights to just wages and better working conditions. And we are campaigning for a labour code that adheres to the ILO conventions.
In Baghdad, the Mechanic, Printing and Metal Union organized industrial action in a bicycle factory near Baghdad. The president of the union committee Najim Al Daham called for a 24-hour strike and won pay increases from 17,000 to 60,000 Iraqi Dinars. The IFTU was able to bring solidarity delegations from seven Baghdad work places representing several unions, to demonstrate outside the main gate of the bicycle factory in support of the strikers’ demands.
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Let me talk briefly about the IFTU’s work with particular groups of workers.

Metalworkers

The Metalworkers, Mechanics & Printers’ Union has elected a new 15 member Baghdad Regional Committee and is planning its first national conference.
Some of its members are still employed in the public sector, for example the workers at the ‘Al Nassr’ (Victory) mouldings and car parts manufacturing plant. This factory was nationalised as part of Saddam Hussein’s militarisation of Iraqi industry. The Ministry of Industry now controls it and the wages are paid by the state. The IFTU has fought for and won a minimum wage of 150,000 Iraqi Dinars (ID) per month. We entered into negotiations with the Ministry at this and at other plants that they control, such as the paint manufacturing plant, where collective bargaining is now recognised.

Railway Workers

There have been excellent developments in the last year. The Railworkers’ Union has been created with an office at the Baghdad Central Railway Station. But we still have a lot of work to do. The Iraqi railway industry is still only partially operational. Railworkers have had to work in conditions of extreme danger (including armed attacks on train drivers) just to keep traffic moving. Passenger traffic was suspended 3 months ago because passengers were being robbed on trains.
The IFTU has established a national minimum wage rate across IRR (Railways of the Iraqi Republic) from Mosul in the north to Basra in the South and forced it up from ID 75,000 to ID 125,000 per month due to the inflationary pressures in the past year. We have won the same rate of pay for men and women. Women comprise between 10-15% of the workforce in IRR working with computers and office administration as well as cleaners and also some engineers. Traditionally train drivers of passenger and goods trains received a bonus based on the mileage over which they worked and we have achieved a compensatory package paid to them due to the suspension of so much of the traffic.
Finally, we are very proud to have achieved a scheme in Baghdad and elsewhere for the IRR to provide safe transport from residential areas to their place of work for railworkers. This last was very difficult to achieve but absolutely crucial because of the terrible security situation in Iraq. We had to threaten strike action in order to force the company to concede.

Dockers

What steps is the IFTU taking to organise dockers? Historically railway and dockworkers were crucial in building the trade unions in Iraq. Due to the fascist labour laws introduced by Saddam Hussein in 1987 we had to really rebuild the organisation of dockworkers. The former Port Director of Umm Qasr installed by the US firm Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) was a Ba’athist who was opposed to trade unions. He has now been removed. The delegation from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which visited the port in February 2004, was greeted by a demonstration of dockworkers demanding union recognition.
Soon after the ICFTU visit the IFTU met with the new Port Director who was appointed by the Ministry of Transport, who says he is not opposed to trade unions. However, we still do not have recognition. Nevertheless, on the docks there are Workers’ Committees sets up in defiance of the 1987 labour law. They operate openly and use the newsletter of the Basra Region of the IFTU. There are 6 such docks committees in the Iraqi ports. The minimum wage for dockworkers is currently only ID 75,000 rising to ID 100,000 after a year’s employment.

Firefighters

The Civil Defence Corps fire fighters are still controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and are not allowed to join a recognised trade union. However, in the oil industry fire fighters have formed independent workers’ committees within the Oil & Gas Workers’ Union. Of course the recent solidarity visit to Basra by Brian Joyce of the UK Fire Brigades Union was very important and raised the morale of the Iraqi fire fighters. What is necessary now is to separate the civil defence fire fighters from the police force. Oil refinery fire fighters get much better paid (10-15% more) than the civil defence fire fighters.
Other Unions in Iraq since the fall of Saddam
Let me now say a few words about the other unions in post-Saddam Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan

What is the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan? Iraqi Kurdistan is a region in northern Iraq, which enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, outside the control of Saddam's regime, after the popular uprising, which had swept the region and most of Iraq in March 1991 the Gulf War. The situation there has helped civil society to flourish and the growth of trade unions has been a major part of that.
The removal of the Ba’ath regime in April 2003 opened up the possibility of fulfilling the aspirations of the region's population for a federal structure in which they have a unified, ethnically defined region of their own enjoying significant autonomy, based on national federalism. The Kurdish national question if mismanaged could fatally undermine the political transition and lead to renewed violent struggle. But the Interim Constitution (Transitional Administrative Law, TAL) signed on 8 March 2004 recognized a single autonomous region effectively equivalent to the three governrates the Kurds have governed in semi-independence since 1991.
There are two trade union federations in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are both independent although each is closely linked to one of the two major Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). These Unions are democratic and independent.
These two federations are merging, and the IFTU is helping in this necessary process.
Unions in Iraqi Kurdistan are working alongside patriotic political forces in Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq for the creation of federalism within a unified democratic Iraq. They are opposed to and refuse to have any links with either the GFTU or the ‘Union of Unemployed’.
Union federations in Kurdistan have a good and close relationship with the IFTU, but they do not wish to merge with the IFTU, a point the IFTU understands and supports. The Iraqi Kurdistan unions are, however, actively seeking an intimate relationship with the IFTU. We share the goal of a federal, democratic and fully sovereign Iraq.

The GFTU

Saddam’s stooge ‘union’, the GFTU still exists on paper. Former GFTU leaders who collaborated with Chemical Ali and Saddam’s regime are receiving some help from Arab and foreign elements, and are attempting to create fake unions around Islamic political groups. Others claim that the GFTU is reforming itself from within and will cleanse itself of the Ba’athists (Saddam’s supporters). This pretence will not work. The GFTU has not broken from the one party ideology. It has not renounced its authoritarian methods. It remains a tool for the anti-democratic political plans of others. It commands no support among Iraqi working people.
However, the ICATU internal constitution allows only one trade union centre per country to join its confederation. Because the GFTU has been affiliated to the ICATU for many years this has complicated matters.
The ICATU has proposed that the IFTU and GFTU should merge. This is a non-starter. The IFTU refuses to join with those who collaborated with Saddam’s bloody regime and oppressed workers for so long. The IFTU supports a pluralist trade union movement but it must be democratic and genuinely pro-worker. Hence we are firmly opposed to a merger with the GFTU. And we are fiercely opposed to the unilateral enforcement of a merger by law, which would be in breach of ILO conventions.

The Union of Unemployed in Iraq

The Union of Unemployed in Iraq - which now calls itself as the Federation of Workers Councils and Trade Unions. Like many other movements formed in Baghdad in the wake of Saddam’s demise it gained some international notoriety for organising protests outside Bremer’s offices. But the UUI is really a front organisation of the small Workers Communist Party of Iraq. It commands very little support among Iraqi working people. In fact the union had disappeared from the political and industrial scene of Iraqi Kurdistan because of its sectarianism. It is possible this experience will be repeated in the rest of Iraq. Though the UUI has capitalized on the strong anti-occupation feeling and on the despair of the high numbers of unemployed, it possesses few industrial credentials and is viewed with disdain by the Iraqi labour movement.
Our unions need to be places where all workers who support a democratic and secular, federalist Iraq can organise. That is as far as our Unions can go in political purity. The ‘Workers Communists’ Party have a far more detailed programme. This is their right but it is not a recipe for building a mass movement. Unions cannot be run as if they were political parties. Nevertheless, UUI cannot be summarily dismissed.

The Current Tasks of the IFTU

The IFTU faces three challenges today: to win a Labour Code we can work with, to build up the union and affiliate it to the international federations, and to achieve not just the end of the occupation but a sovereign and democratic Iraq.
Achieving a Labour Code
The Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law passed in 8 March 2004, despite its drawbacks, offers on paper a balanced system of governance, giving clear separation between the three state institutions, and it guarantees (in Article 13) the right to form and join a union and the right to strike. It also guarantees the role of women with the leadership of the state and its institutions, and recognizes Iraq as a federal state. However, there is no mention of social welfare provision.
The ILO declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work is regarded by the IFTU as a statement of fundamental human rights and freedoms, universally applicable.
In line with this, the IFTU is in consultation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Iraqi Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and representatives of Iraqi businesses, pushing hard for a Labour Law that will guarantee workers basic rights to employment, health & safety and legal compensation for injury at work. We are pressing hardest for the incorporation in the new labour Law of these ILO principles:
*Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining (conventions 87 and 98)
*Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour (conventions 29 and 105)
*Effective abolition of child labour (conventions 138 and 182)
*Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
At the 2004 ILO 92 Conference, held in Geneva in June, the IFTU met with two of the ILO governing body, the Arab coordinator and the ILO workers group secretary. Both assured us that a labour code is at final stage of completion. The proposed code (with the ILO endorsement) should be put for discussion among the Iraqi labour movement, media and those interests in the labour law for amendments and suggestion before being a binding law.
Building the Union
The dictatorship has gone but after three decades of internal repression, turmoil, wars, unjust economic sanctions, Iraqi society has been devastated. And we do not yet enjoy real sovereignty or democracy. The trade unions are essential to the fabric of the democratic civil society we must rebuild.
A large, organised and confident trade union movement could do a great deal to bring Iraqis together regardless of their religious, ethnic or national origins. The IFTU is not Arab, Shia, Kurd or Sunni, Assyrian or Christian, but brings all together to improve working conditions, pay and social provision.
The IFTU is independent of all political parties and of the government too.

What we campaign for

We must build the union by active campaigning work. We fight on many fronts:
* For workers' rights to organise freely, to join or form a union and have the right to strike and enjoy trade union representation.
Firefighters and Dockers were denied the right to join a union by the 1987 Labour laws of Saddam Hussein. Now, with the help of the IFTU, firefighters and dockers have their own unions committees and are voting for their representatives for the first time in three decades.
* For workers right to be actively involved in influencing economic and social policies.
The IFTU welcomes foreign investments that bring much-needed technology and jobs for Iraqis. But we oppose privatisation. The former occupation authority was pursuing a full privatisation policy. The IFTU succeeded, with help of progressive elements within the former Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) in keeping off the agenda the issue of privatising the economy until Iraq has an accountable government that is democratically elected by the people of Iraq.
* For organised workers to be actively involved in rebuilding of civil society and ultimately democracy, together with other social movements.
* For an increase in the role of women at all levels within the unions and in wider civil society.
* For cooperation with Arab, regional and international labour movements and to win their help to equip Iraqi working people with new skills and knowledge.
* For special attention to the social and economic needs of disabled people of whom there are many after several wars.
* For Jobs! More than 50% of our people remain unemployed.
The IFTU is actively seeking to develop our work among the unemployed. We plan to open centres for the unemployed and in particular the youth. In our view any serious programme of support would involve a range of training programmes (for example ICT); general educational programmes – including numeracy and literacy civic courses; leisure and recreational programmes. Due to our lack of resources we are unable to make this operational, but consultation with NGOs is underway to make this necessary project a reality in the near future.

The need for international trade union solidarity

So, our goals are many and great. However, our resources are few. The IFTU lacks basic resources to carry out this ambitious but necessary programme. We have not had access to the funds of the official Saddam unions, which are frozen for now. Meanwhile we lack such basic essentials as desks, chairs and office equipment such as computers and faxes and other IT technologies.
So the IFTU has been asking our brothers and sisters in the international labour movement to provide the IFTU with practical assistance. The IFTU also needs training in basic skills such as Health and Safety and Collective Bargaining.
The British trade union movement, with strong TUC encouragement, has been very supportive. We have received practical support from many unions including the RMT, the FBU, Unison and the PCS and the GMB. Such support has been invaluable and we have been inspired by such gestures of solidarity. UNISON has invited 6 young Iraqi trade union leaders for training in trade union representation late October 2004. The FBU April 2004 delivered a large container of 600 essential life-saving fire kits (boots, leggings, tunic & helmet) including chemical suits to the IFTU and Iraqi firefighters all made it from the port in Umm Qasr and are planning new delegation.
The IFTU has good relations with international Labour movement like the ICFTU, with many European federations such as the CCOO, CGT and CGIL and with COSATO, the AFL-CIO and with many other trade union centres around the world, such as the Korean labour movement. The Swedish unions have also provided financial support to run basic courses in Trade Unionism.
Achieving a Sovereign and Democratic Iraq
Our third and most difficult task of all is to help achieve a sovereign and democratic Iraq. It is crucial that occupation ends and full and real sovereignty is restored to Iraqis.
Only in this way can the anti-people forces be isolated. The so-called ‘resistance’ is no ‘national liberation movement’. Let me give you one example of the work of this so-called ‘resistance’. On Monday July 26 five Iraqi workers, all women, all cleaners, were waiting for a bus to their cleaning job at Basra airport. Elements of the 'resistance' drove past and sprayed them with bullets. Samar Muhammad, (18 years old) and Nidal Abdullah (20 years old) were killed instantly. Two more, Rasmiya Khalil, (39 years old) and Bushra Sabri (45 years old), were seriously injured and taken to hospital. Kahlil told Reuters 'I was covered in the blood of my friends'.
These murderers are either Saddam supporters anxious to keep their privileges, and who wish to restore a fascist-type regime, or they are fundamentalists. Neither can offer any hope to Iraqi workers.
Of course, the ‘resistance’ exploits anti-US sentiment. That is why the UN must play a pivotal role in the transition to a new democratic and federal Iraq. But most importantly, Iraqis must govern themselves. Yes, the recent UN resolution 1546 is a positive development and will strengthen the Iraqi people's determination to regain full sovereignty. Yes, the transfer of some power to an Iraqi government is a crucial step forward to end the occupation. But the road to full sovereignty and self-determination is signposted ‘Free, Open and Democratic Elections!’. Nothing less is acceptable.
Iraq is potentially a very wealthy country. But we are crippled by debt. It would help a great deal if the debts run by Saddam and his cronies were cancelled or substantially reduced. We may be an oil-rich country but Saddam squandered much of that wealth on wars and arms. The international community should seek to abolish Iraq’s debt burden or reduce it substantially. This was money borrowed not for the development of Iraq but for its destruction (see Jubilee Iraq website for details).
But there is much cause for hope. Iraq is rich in history, culture and education. And, as I hope I have made clear, it is rich in traditions of popular struggle, of secular and progressive politics, and of worker organisation. You know Iraqi historical vocabulary is rich in the language of protest. ‘Al-Wathba’ (The Leap) comes from the 1948 revolt against the British. ‘Al-Intifada’ (the Uprising) from the student protests of 1952. And ‘al-Thawra’, or revolution, from the 14 July1958 Revolution. It is our job to reclaim these traditions of popular democratic protest.
The scenes we see on television screens are indeed awful. But they cannot be allowed to disguise the people’s fervent hope for a democratic Iraq. That Iraq can and must, emerge. We cannot afford pessimism.
With the help of the international workers' solidarity, the IFTU can play its role in winning these goals. We can win a Labour Code that we can work with. We can build the IFTU into a powerful force for good in Iraq. And we can help a sovereign and democratic Iraq to emerge from the long night of Saddam. In all these tasks we are appealing for your solidarity.

Abdullah Muhsin
IFTU, August 2004

Posted at August 25, 2004 12:40 PM