June 30, 2004

The Iraq Jobs Crisis

A Special Report by EPIC

For many of Iraq’s working families the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime has not improved economic conditions . The challenges facing Iraq’s workers are grave. Working families in Iraq, already severely stressed by Saddam Hussein’s misrule, wars, and sanctions, have lost more ground in economic terms since the U.S. invasion.

If Iraq can combine the know-how of educated exiles with the inventiveness of those who endured such deprivations, its future will be bright. The reemergence and growth of independent trade unions is one of the few optimistic trends of the past year, one that presages a healthier and less divided civil society that permits the participation of women and gives ordinary Iraqis a voice in decisions that affect their economic security.

To learn more about Iraq's Jobs Crisis read EPIC's Labor report .

Executive Summary
Widespread poverty and catastrophic levels of unemployment
threaten the well-being of families and weaken
the social fabric in Iraq, undermining prospects for
stability and a democratic transition. U.S. mismanagement
of reconstruction has made the situation worse.
Experienced Iraqi workers and managers sit idle while
foreign firms and workers profit from exorbitant, U.S.-
taxpayer-funded contracts.
Restructuring Iraq’s economy poses many risks. Key
determinations, including those on the development of
the oil sector and on the fate of state-owned enterprises,
must be made by a legitimate and representative
government in consultation with independent and
democratic trade unions. Iraqi workers have an important
role to play in securing their country’s future.
The reemergence and growth of independent trade
unions is one of the few optimistic trends of the past
year, one that presages a healthier and less divided civil
society that permits the participation of women and
gives ordinary Iraqis a voice in decisions that affect
their economic security.
>> Create jobs now: Give contracting jobs to Iraqi companies,
not foreign ones. Stabilize existing employment, create new jobs
for Iraqis, and postpone layoffs.
>> Build civil society: Foster the creation of associations, civic
groups, political parties, and trade unions in all sectors of society.
>> Assist Iraqi trade unions: Aid to Iraq’s fledgling union
movement from international organizations, governments and
coordinated with the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU).
>> Promote human and labor rights: International economic
assistance to Iraq should prioritize human and labor rights, in
consultation with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Iraq’s most valuable asset is not its oil, but its people — people
of talent, bravery, and determination who have withstood
decades of dictatorship compounded by wars and sanctions. If
Iraq can combine the know-how of educated exiles with the
inventiveness of those who endured such deprivations, its future
will be bright. But this vision has dimmed under a year of occupation
that has kept Iraqis from having a voice in both the shaping
and implementation of national economic policy.
The challenges facing Iraq’s workers are grave. Working families
in Iraq, already severely stressed by Saddam Hussein’s misrule,
wars, and sanctions, have lost more ground in economic terms
since the U.S. invasion. With high levels of unemployment and
widespread poverty, all aspects of society are threatened.
Political stability is undermined and prospects for democracy
in Iraq diminished. Furthermore, ongoing violence, breakdown
of law and order, frequent shortages of electricity, and poor
health conditions hold Iraqis back from fully returning to work
and rebuilding their country.
Iraqi Workers Today
Iraq was among the more prosperous, well-educated, healthy
nations in the Arab world just two decades ago. Infant mortality
was declining rapidly because of targeted health programs and a
modest investment in health care and education. Since then, successive
wars, rampant corruption, comprehensive economic sanctions,
and neglected health services have reversed those gains.1
Following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the UN-imposed
sanctions that followed, Iraq’s modern, progressive economy
epic Education for Peace in Iraq Center
Issue Brief No. 1 • June 2004 • www.epic-usa.org
The Iraq Jobs Crisis: Workers Seek Their Own Voice by John Howley
Iraq’s Economy by the Numbers
Population: 27.1 million (2004)
Oil reserves: 112 billion barrels
Per capita income: US$480-$630 (2003)
Unemployment rate: 50%
Employment in State-Owned Enterprises: 500,000
Total external debt: $121-152 billion
Share of population dependent on food rations: 60%
Source: World Bank Interim Strategy Note of the World Bank Group
for Iraq, January 14, 2004
buckled. By the end of the 1990s employment in key industrial
sectors had fallen by half. By 2001 per capita national income
had dropped to less than one-third of its peak in the late 1970s.2
The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime has not improved
economic conditions for Iraq’s working families. Under U.S. occupation,
the Iraqi formal economy shrank again by one-third in
2003.3 Workers who are fortunate enough to be employed are
still paid according to the wage scale that was imposed by Saddam
Hussein’s regime, but actual take-home pay for some workers has
been halved due to lost bonuses, benefits, and profit-sharing payments.
Iraqis previously employed by the government under
Hussein complain that they have not been paid on a regular basis
since the U.S. occupation began. Most households continue to
receive monthly in-kind food rations, but these are not enough to
sustain a typical family for a whole month.4
Some Iraqis have seen improvements. Commercial activity
is up because import restrictions are gone. Teachers and other
civil servants have received significant raises.5 Before April
2004, increased pilgrimage to Shiite holy sites brought economic
benefits.6 And some Iraqi entrepreneurs are finding ways to
take advantage of an economy where few laws and regulations
are being enforced. But none of this activity has been sufficient
to ease the unemployment crisis.
Major delays in the disbursement of reconstruction funds
and growing instability, among other problems, have created
serious setbacks in creating jobs. As of early April only $2 billion
of the $18 billion allocated by Congress last October had
been disbursed.7 As of April the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) had only been able to create an estimated
395,000 jobs, falling well below the Bush administration’s
announced target of 850,000 jobs.8 More than half of these
jobs are in law enforcement or related to security and defense.
Recognizing this, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. presidential
envoy to Iraq and administrator of the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA), said in Baghdad on March 29, 2004, “By the
time Iraq is ‘sovereign’ on June 30th, 50,000 Iraqis will be
working on jobs funded by the ‘Partnership for Prosperity.’”
Bremer further claimed, “Tens of thousands of additional jobs
will be created for Iraqis as the 2,300 projects of the
‘Partnership’ get under way.”9 Such a development would certainly
be welcome, but with half of the 7 to 8 million work-eligible
Iraqis currently unemployed, even Bremer’s best-case scenario
would be a mere drop in the bucket.10
Job security is also a problem. Throughout occupied Iraq, far
too many of the jobs that have been created are short-term,
dependent on foreign aid dollars and private security contracts.11
Iraqis know this, with 70 percent expressing fears over their job
security according to an ABC News poll conducted in February
2004.12 For those who have not received an increase in wages,
they have watched their real income decline with inflation. And
for the majority of Iraqis the fact of mass unemployment remains.
The absence of a legitimate, democratic government discourages
the fortunate employed Iraqis from organizing effective
independent unions. Continued instability and political
violence hinder workers from building political, civic, and
union organizations to give voice to their needs and interests.
Under present conditions, public meetings and demonstrations
associated with normal union activity are risky. Furthermore,
there are no legal mechanisms for workers to establish collective
bargaining or defend their workplace rights. The lack of
such rights suppresses Iraqis’ ability to negotiate fair wages and
better working conditions vital steps for workers to play a role
in a vibrant Iraq.
The World Bank on Unions’ Positive Role
A recent World Bank report argues that union membership can be a boon to workers and to a nation’s economy. In
Unions and Collective Bargaining: Economic Effects in a Global Environment (2002), World Bank researchers Toke Aidt
and Zafiris Tzannatos found that workers who belong to trade unions earn higher wages, work fewer hours, and receive
more training than their nonunion counterparts. Economies benefit because high union membership leads to lower unemployment
and inflation rates, higher productivity, and faster adjustment to economic shocks.
Union membership also reduces wage differences between skilled and unskilled workers and between men and women.
Women account for 70 percent of the world’s poor. Consequently, the wage advantage for unionized women offers one of
the most effective ways to combat poverty.
In the past, structural reforms forced upon developing countries have included measures like privatization, sudden tariff
reduction, and cutting social spending. The resulting poverty, social dislocation, and political instability have done more to
hinder growth than promote it. Economists are beginning to recognize the beneficial effects that improving social conditions,
labor protections including unionization, and democratic institutions can have on fostering growth.
In a paper published by the World Bank, Moroccan trade unionist Fouad Benseddik argues, “It is no longer enough to
eliminate economic rigidities and remove excessive protectionism to promote growth: democracy must be seen as fundamental
to economic change.”
Source: http://worldbank.org/wbi/mdf/mdf1/democra.htm
Unemployment Undermines the
Prospects for Stability and Democracy
Unemployment tears at the fabric of society by depriving
families of economic security. Most workers support not only
themselves but also children, spouses and other relatives in
extended families. In the United States, unemployment peaked
at 25 percent during the Great Depression. Once that level is
reached where every fourth economically active adult is searching
unsuccessfully for work, then we have a social catastrophe
on our hands. Therefore, whether the measured unemployment
rate is 30 percent or 50 percent (as reported by numerous news
organizations), it doesn’t make much difference.13
A survey conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of Labor at the
end of 2003 estimated a national unemployment rate of 28.1
percent.14 This means two million jobless Iraqis in a workforce
of seven to eight million. Unemployment was slightly higher in
urban areas and higher among men who make up the majority
of workers. There is great regional variation, ranging from 17
percent for men in the city of Basra to 36.5 percent for men in
urban Baghdad.15
Among young males, the unemployment rate is double the
average or more. These young men have been left with few
viable alternatives to joining a militia. This is a phenomenon
that has been witnessed in other collapsed economies from the
former Yugoslavia to Lebanon to Somalia. Ninety-one percent
of Iraqis surveyed in a March 15, 2004 poll conducted by ABC
News said that “creating job opportunities for the unemployed”
would be “very effective” for improving security, far ahead of
options such as hiring more police or increasing patrols.16
The poorly thought out decision to disband the Iraqi army
put half a million men on the street without income, supplying
a pool of ready recruits for terrorist and criminal organizations.
At the time, British military leaders opposed this decision,
which has since been characterized as a “huge mistake.”17
The unemployment crisis also threatens gains that have
been made by women in Iraq — gains that had already been
attacked by sanctions and earlier wars.18 A 1979 law that
required the eradication of illiteracy in the country had all but
closed the gender gap in literacy among children and youth.
But the disastrous Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) put tremendous
pressures on Iraq’s economy, and shortages of able-bodied men
drew many women into the workforce; by that war’s end,
women accounted for one-fifth of the formal workforce.19
The 1991 Gulf War and economic sanctions against Iraq
from 1991 until 2003 had a disproportionate impact on
women and children (especially girls). The gender gap in illiteracy
began to grow because of families’ economic need; when
given a choice to send a male child or female child to school,
most chose to keep the girl home. UNESCO reported that in
1987 about 75 percent of Iraqi women were literate, but by the
end of 2000 that number had shrunk to 25 percent and Iraq
had the lowest adult literacy levels in all of the Middle East.20
With the burdens of managing a household and caring for children
often placed on women, a security crisis that causes
women to fear leaving their homes, and a lack of meaningful
employment opportunities and training programs, the opportunities
for women to reengage in Iraq’s economy are bleak.
Mismanaged Reconstruction Fails to
Provide Needed Economic Boost
Rebuilding will be fueled by more than $18 billion from the
United States, $17 billion from international donors and projected
2004 oil revenues of $12 billion. How this money is
managed and spent will shape Iraq for the next decade.
The United States missed the opportunity offered by reconstruction
to create jobs on a large scale. The United Nations
Development Program earmarked $7 million ($6 million of it
contributed by Japan) for an employment program that is
employing some Iraqis in low level, labor intensive jobs — a
small but worthy effort. U.S. reconstruction activity has so far
concentrated on industries like oil production and public utilities
— which create few jobs — and has neglected housing renovation,
street repair, and other labor-intensive tasks that could
have quickly returned many eager Iraqis to the ranks of the
employed and helped to avoid the resentment now fostering
chaos in the streets.
Iraq is a country where health and education have eroded,
and where the vast majority of the population has been
dependent on its government for basic human needs for more
than a dozen years — a generation in terms of education. It
seems obvious that, if it were serious about creating opportunity
for Iraqis, the occupying power would place job-skills and
vocational training among its top priorities. Furthermore, over
reliance on U.S. contractors has denied opportunities to Iraqi
businesses and workers.
The security environment, corruption and delays are putting
U.S. efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq in grave danger.
According to a coalition source, 25 percent of contractors have
currently pulled out of Iraq and the other 75 percent have
pulled back to their bases.23 It is estimated that one-fifth of
reconstruction funds are being used to provide security for
contractors, though many contractors are still leaving Iraq.
Corruption has been imported along with insecurity and
mismanagement. According to a special investigation by
National Public Radio's Marketplace and the Center for
Investigative Reporting, it is estimated that 20 percent of Iraq
reconstruction funds are being lost to corruption.24 The report
documents the failure of the U.S. government to effectively
oversee expenditures in a reconstruction effort that is costing
10 times more per capita than the Marshall Plan.25
After more than two decades of war and sanctions, Iraqi
Workers at the state leather industry factory, the
largest shoe factory in the Middle East, Oct. 2003.
© David Bacon
workers have extensive experience with reconstruction and
rehabilitation. Instead of directing reconstruction work to Iraqi
firms that employ Iraqi workers, the U.S. occupation authorities
rig the process to favor big corporations from the United
States and its short list of selected countries. Adding to the
problem, most foreign companies now appear to be choosing
to return expatriate Iraqi workers for both skilled and unskilled
positions instead of hiring in-country. Some Iraqis are deeply
resentful of this.
As University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole said in
recent Senate testimony: “The giving of reconstruction bids has
been structured so that all small bids of $50,000 or less automatically
go to Iraqi firms. This ceiling should be raised, to
ensure that more Iraqis are involved in reconstruction and more
local jobs created. Shipping the money back to the U.S. by
employing mainly American firms will not greatly benefit Iraq
or address the deep unemployment problems there.”26
CPA rules forbid contracting with Iraqi “publicly owned
companies,” yet in many cases these are the only Iraqi-based
firms qualified to do the work. Qualified Iraqi water-system engineers
familiar with their own infrastructure sit idle while Bechtel
engineers struggle to repair the water systems — supposedly a
top priority of the U.S. occupation.27 In his recent report for the
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), military
strategist Anthony Cordesman wrote: “The U.S. reliance on contractors,
rather than Iraqis, makes everyone involved in aid and
reconstruction a natural target. The use of contract security has
created the image of mercenary forces, and efforts to win hearts
and minds in troubled areas have essentially collapsed, as they
have in some formerly ‘friendly areas’ as well. The flood of aid
that should have helped win hearts and minds during a critical
period of political transition is often little more than a trickle.”28
And now, with the increasingly dangerous situation in the country,
Bechtel, General Electric, Siemens, and other major U.S.
government contractors have withdrawn staff from Iraq, suspended
some or all of their operations, and in some cases threatened
to pull out altogether.29
Decisions about reconstruction priorities and control over
contracts remain in the hands of U.S. authorities and unelected
Iraqi officials. Decisions on reconstruction would be better
placed in the hands of elected local leaders who would be more
responsive to the needs of their communities.
It is generally accepted that to create a stable, prosperous and
democratic country, as the United States government’s claimed
objectives for Iraq, unemployment and poverty must be effectively
tackled and structures must be put in place to support sustainable
growth and employment. Iraqis are certainly aware of this
and are expressing increasingly deep resentment and outrage that
they are being kept from rebuilding their own country.
Iraq’s Shattered Economy:
the Risks of Restructuring
Distorted by oil dependence, Baathist ideology, strict governmental
control of key sectors, and years of wars and sanctions,
Iraq’s economy requires not only reconstruction but also
restructuring if the country is to successfully reintegrate into
the world economy. However, restructuring carries many dangers
and, if it leads to mass layoffs in state-owned enterprises,
could further undermine political stability.
The restructuring program begun by the CPA is risky and
has already proved misguided. The CPA initially proposed a
privatization “fire sale” of state assets to foreigners. This
approach would force the future Iraqi government to defend
the financial interests of foreign corporations over Iraqi workers
— a recipe for inequity and dissent. Strong Iraqi opposition
against privatization and the possibility of even greater unemployment
caused by the displacement of public employees has
stalled such plans. Furthermore, asset sales, long-term contracts,
or economic agreements that were concluded by the CPA have
a questionable status under international law and pose great
risks for investors.30
The political and economic future of Iraq depends upon
getting oil policy right. Above all, it must be accepted as legitimate
by Iraqis themselves. Critical to the issue of legitimacy is
that, perhaps for the first time in its history, the bounty of
Iraq’s natural resources should benefit Iraqis instead of fueling
the excesses of an undemocratic regime or fattening the profits
of multinational corporations.
Although it employs a relatively small number of workers,
oil accounts for more than half of the nation’s gross domestic
product and nearly all of the government’s revenue. If not properly
managed, heavy inflows of oil revenue can actually damage
domestic manufacturing and agriculture through an overvalued
exchange rate and other effects of the “oil curse.”31 While some
foreign expertise will be needed to restore production and
develop new oil fields (should Iraq’s government choose to follow
that path), multinational firms should play a minimal role
in shaping oil policy.
Despite the dangers, institutional restructuring of Iraq’s
economy is needed over the medium- and long-term. Under
Saddam Hussein, politics dominated policy. Overcentralization,
in which the state controlled all import and export, resulted in
severe inefficiencies in many sectors. For example, agriculture
and industry were heavily subsidized and now cannot compete
internationally. Some economic reforms, such as freeing many
prices, have already begun. But the most politically sensitive
reforms are still to come: (1) increasing domestic fuel prices,
currently about one-tenth of those in neighboring Gulf countries;
(2) converting in-kind food rations to a monetary income
Unemployed men demonstrate outside the office of
a contractor who promised them work, Oct. 2003.
© David Bacon
support; and (3) restructuring state-owned enterprises, which
may involve privatization but should be offered to Iraqi businesses
or entrepreneurial ventures first and must include strict
worker protection guidelines no matter who runs them.
Restructuring poses critical questions for workers. The
majority of Iraqis in the workforce are public employees,
whether they work in factories, hospitals, schools, utilities, or
government offices. Investors who buy privatized assets will
insist on the right to lay off workers. Changes in ownership
combined with the shrinkage of some sectors and expansion of
others would mean large-scale dislocation and the potential for
lengthy unemployment and/or retraining for many people.
State enterprises now employ about 500,000 workers in critical
sectors such as oil, rail transport, and electricity.32
Iraqi workers have good reason to fear privatization.
Examples are rare of privatization schemes that do not harm
workers. Typically, when private owners take over, they rehire
only a minority of the previous workforce, wages and working
conditions deteriorate, and union representation is rendered
ineffective. This underscores the importantace of avoiding rapid
wholesale privatization of state assets and economic “shock
therapy” if Iraqis are to regain confidence in their own economic
future. Democracy and political legitimacy are preconditions
for carrying out the economic changes and restructuring that
Iraq so sorely needs.
A Way Forward: Giving Workers a Voice
All the bad news coming out of Iraq overwhelms the good
news — such as union organizing. Iraq has a long history of
trade union activity stretching back to the early days of British
investment in the petroleum sector. Many exiled or underground
veterans of the anti-Saddam Hussein struggle remember
the days when legal unions thrived. Along with younger
activists they are organizing workers, most of whom have little
experience of unionism except, perhaps, under extremely difficult
conditions. An international trade union delegation recently
visited Iraq and reported, “We came across lively, muscular
(even argumentative) trade union grassroots.”33
While Iraq’s workers began reorganizing their unions as soon
as initial major hostilities ceased in May 2003, the labor situation
has varied by region. In northern Iraq trade unions affiliated
with various Kurdish national movements were active in the
context of regional autonomy even before the fall of Hussein.
Around the city of Basra, where political violence has been less
frequent, union activity including street demonstrations has
been robust. In the industrial heart of the country around
Baghdad, unions have organized in many state and private
industries, including the oil sector and the railroads. Workers
have engaged in strikes, walkouts, and other concerted activity.
Economic policy decisions and the drafting of new labor
laws, along with political, regional, and sectarian considerations,
will all influence the shaping of Iraq’s trade unions. In
February 2004, the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU) “welcomed news that the current draft
Transitional Administrative Law [drafted by the CPA and IGC
as an “interim constitution”] includes freedom of association,
free speech, and the right to strike.”34
Labor Movement in Transition
Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU): After the fall of Saddam Hussein the IFTU began robustly organizing in
industrial enterprises across the country. Led by trade unionists who had been forced underground by the old regime, the
IFTU was granted recognition by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and seeks access to the assets of the
Hussein-era union federation.
General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU): Legal under the Hussein regime, the GFTU represented workers in the
private sector only; public employees were forbidden to unionize. GFTU administrative offices were mostly disrupted and
bank accounts frozen after the regime’s fall. The GFTU’s future is uncertain, as it has been discredited by collaboration
with the Hussein regime.
Professional associations: Iraq’s 400,000 teachers have had their own professional union since the 1930s. Journalists and
other professionals also have associations.
Kurdish unions: Two umbrella labor confederations are linked to the two Kurdish political movements. In some sectors
such as construction, individual unions are strong and independent. The Kurdistan Teachers Union (KTU) is separate from
its Iraqi counterpart.
Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) and the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq (UUI):
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, these two closely-affiliated organizations have organized workers in many parts of the
country and issued a proposed new labor law for Iraq. The UUI has concentrated on organizing demonstrations of unemployed
Iraqis and other antioccupations activities.
For more information on the current state of Iraqi unions, see “Iraq: Unions and the Law,” a report on the ICFTU recent fact-finding visit to
Iraq, published March 2004 by the Trades Union Congress (UK). The full report can be found at www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-7859-f0.cfm.
Iraq needs a new labor law to replace the Hussein-era code.
The sensitivity of amending existing labor code is heightened by
the fact that it covers not only union rights but also sets wages,
benefits, and working conditions for all Iraqi workers. Unions
must be integrally involved in the process of developing a new
labor code. As the AFL-CIO has urged, this should be done in
the context of a tripartite process including the Iraqi Labor
Ministry, Iraqi employer organizations, and Iraqi unions in consultation
with the International Labor Organization. Thus far,
Iraqi unions have been largely sidelined from the CPA-dominated
process of drafting a new labor code; the results of discussions
between the U.S. officials and the Iraqi Labor Ministry regarding
a new labor code to implement workers’ rights remain unclear.
Democratic government and effective trade unions are necessary
preconditions for any discussion of major restructuring —
including privatization. The 500,000 people employed in the
state-owned enterprises are precisely the workers who were
deprived of their union rights under Hussein’s 1987 labor code
amendments. Proponents of privatization would prefer to carry
that process out quickly, before unions can organize themselves
effectively. This would make the restructuring process more difficult
and cause instability — but would likely mean quicker
profits for insiders. It should not be allowed to happen.
Lasting economic change cannot happen without worker
participation. Trade unions give workers a voice in economic
policy decisions, reassuring them that their interests are being
protected in decisions about such critical topics as, for example,
privatization and assistance for laid-off workers. Industrial
restructuring in both developed and less developed countries has
illustrated that when workers have a voice at the enterprise level
and in national-policy making, the process goes more smoothly
and benefits are more broadly shared.
Democracy, stability, and independent trade unions are
inseparable. The growth of vibrant independent unions must be
protected and encouraged. In the words of an ICFTU statement:
“Ensuring respect for workers’ rights, including freedom
of association, must be central to building a democratic Iraq and
to ensuring sustainable economic and social development.”35
What Needs to Be Done
Economic reforms must be designed and implemented with
an emphasis on increasing employment levels, reducing poverty,
and promoting democratic governance. Reforms of the foodrationing
system and increases in fuel prices must wait until economic
stabilization. These meaningful labor and economic
reforms must be undertaken by a sovereign Iraqi government.
Comprehensive labor reform must wait for a government
elected by the Iraqi people. Meanwhile, worker rights promised
by the Transition Administration Law (TAL) must be respected
and extended to public employees, especially those in stateowned
enterprises. The CPA and interim government should
take no action that diminishes the rights of Iraqi workers or
undermines existing labor standards.
Labor law reform must be conducted in a tripartite process
reflecting the interests of workers, employers, and the public.
The process must allow Iraqi worker organizations a significant
role in drafting a new labor code.
International funding should be directed to a UN-supervised
public works project that will put people to work immediately.
Reconstruction should emphasize the employment of
Iraqi managers and workers to build institutional capacity and
promote employment.
Iraqi workers must be full partners in the country’s economic
restructuring through independent trade unions of their
own choosing. Terrorist violence, guerrilla warfare, lawlessness,
and military occupation are anathema to the development of
independent trade unions. Democracy, respect for human
rights, and stability are essential preconditions for an independent
trade union movement.
Immediate steps must be taken to promote the economic
and social participation of women. Trade unions provide
opportunities for women to develop leadership skills.
Iraqi trade unionists need material support and advice,
not interference or manipulation. International trade unions
should aim for solidarity that is transparent, multilateral, and
For More Information
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial
Organizations (AFL-CIO), www.aflcio.org
Foreign Policy in Focus, www.fpif.org
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, www.icftu.org
International Labor Organization, www.ilo.org
Iraq Occupation Watch, www.occupationwatch.org
Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, www.iraqitradeunions.org
Union of the Unemployed of Iraq, www.uuiraq.org
U.S. Labor Against the War, www.uslaboragainstwar.org
1. “Joint Iraq Needs Assessment.” United Nations and World Bank,
October 2003. http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/mna/mena.nsf/Attachments/
“Portrait of the Current Socio-Economic Developmental Situation and
Implications in Iraq based on Specified Scenarios.” United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP), January 20, 2003.
Workers at the state leather industry factory, the
largest shoe factory in the Middle East, Oct. 2003.
© David Bacon
2. “Despite the country’s rich resource endowment, Iraq’s human development
indicators are now among the lowest in the region. Income per
capita, which rose to over US $3,600 in the early 1980s following sharp
rises in the real price of oil, is estimated to have fallen to the range of US
$770 –1,020 by 2001, with continued decline thereafter.” Interim
Strategy Note, World Bank Group for Iraq, January 14, 2004.
3. “Preliminary estimates indicate that Iraq’s gross domestic product
(GDP) declined by about 4% in 2002 and a further 31% in 2003,
amounting to an estimated US $13 – 17 billion in 2003, or US $480 –
630 per capita. GDP is projected to increase by about 33% in 2004,
bringing it to US $17 – 22 billion, or US $620 – 810 per capita."
Interim Strategy Note, World Bank Group for Iraq, January 14, 2004.
4. Bacon, David. “Report From Iraq: Working Conditions and Labor
Rights Under the Occupation.” Washington, DC: U.S. Labor Against the
War, October 2003.
5. “The new year brings little hope of relief for the estimated 8.5 million
Iraqis who are without jobs. Though salaries for some civil servants, such
as teachers, have increased greatly under the occupation, inflation and a
slow economic recovery have put increasing strains on most of the populace…
Isam al-Khafaji, a former CPA employee who now heads Iraq
Revenue Watch, is skeptical that even once the government is up and running
the problem will be solved. ‘Job creation is being left to the bankrupt
state, and wealth creation is going to people who don't employ. The
[$19.5 billion] supplemental [foreign aid] should be a one-time injection,
but it is not being used to lay the groundwork for a vigorous, autonomous
economy. We are headed toward the mafia capitalism of [Boris] Yeltsin's
Russia,’ said al-Khafaji.” Enders, David. “Fighting for a job in Iraq.” Asia
Times, January 16, 2004.
6. With the end of Saddam Hussein’s restrictions on religious freedoms
and the opening up of Iraq’s borders, millions of Muslims from throughout
the region have made the pilgrimage to Iraq’s holy cities of Karbala
and Najaf. More than 35,000 pilgrims from Iran alone visited Najaf each
day. But since the outbreak of violence between U.S. forces and followers
of Muqtada al-Sadr, most pilgrims are staying away from Iraq’s holy cities.
According to Faisal Mathbob, deputy head of Najaf's Chamber of
Commerce, Najaf lost around $1 billion in April. Karbala has reported
similar losses. When the violence subsides, pilgrims are expected to return.
“Standoff hits business in holy city.” AP, May 6, 2004.
7. Cronin, Patrick. “Iraq: On the Precipice of Failure?” Transcript from
panel discussion. Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS), April 14, 2004.
8. “Iraq Status.” Draft Working Papers of the Department of Defense,
April 2004. www.americanprogress.org/atf/cf/{E9245FE4-9A2B-43C7-
9. “Bremer Announces Tens of Thousands of Jobs to Be Created in Iraq.”
U.S. Department of State, Press Release, March 29, 2004.
10. “Although the absence of data hampers analysis, it is clear that unemployment
is high and there is severe poverty and vulnerability stemming
from decades of economic decline combined with the consequences of the
recent war." Interim Strategy Note, World Bank Group for Iraq, January
14, 2004.
11. Cordesman, Anthony H. “Iraq: What is to Be Done.” Washington
DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 5, 2004.
12. “Iraq: Where Things Stand.” ABC News poll, March 15, 2004.
13. “It is estimated that unemployment and underemployment in Iraq is
currently at about 50 percent of the labor force.” United Nations and
World Bank, “Joint Iraq Needs Assessment,” October 2003.
14. Spear, Chris, Deputy Representative, Coalition Provisional Authority.
Letter to Congressman Sam Farr (from Office of the Secretary of
Defense), May 18, 2004.
15. “Report of the Employment and Unemployment Survey Results
2003.” Baghdad: Labor and Social Insurance Office, Ministry of Labor
and Social Affairs (MOLSA), January 2004.
16. “Iraq: Where Things Stand.” ABC News poll, March 15, 2004.
17. Norton-Taylor, Richard. “Violence blamed on US decision to disband
Iraq army” in The Guardian, April 7, 2004.
18. UN "Occasional Paper: Situation of Women in Iraq" in Human
Rights Watch Briefing Paper, “Background on Women’s Status in Iraq
Prior to the Fall of the Saddam Hussein Government,” November 2003.
19. “Women represent around 52 percent of Iraq’s population, but constitute
only 23 percent of the formal work force, mostly as middle level professionals
in the public and service sectors and in rural areas as seasonal
agricultural workers....Historically, Iraq has made social investments in
women, and its legislation gives them equal rights to education and
employment. In the 1990s, a number of official decisions was taken with
negative impacts on the status of women including limiting access of
women to senior decision-making positions and restrictions on their freedom
of movement. The aggressive military policies of the past regime created
additional burdens for women, creating large numbers of womenheaded
families and compelling women to assume de facto responsibility
for the economic survival of their families. As a result, past gains were
reversed and women were made more vulnerable and now face high rates
of illiteracy and unemployment, as well as low wages and low participation
in political life.” United Nations and World Bank, “Joint Iraq Needs
Assessment,” October 2003.
20. UN “Occasional Paper: Situation of Women in Iraq” in Human
Rights Watch Briefing Paper.
21 “How to get ahead in Bremer’s Iraq” in The Economist Global Agenda,
February 10, 2004.
22. “After the war in early 2003, UNDP began the Iraq Reconstruction
and Employment Programme (IREP), a $7 million programme of which
$6 million was contributed by the Government of Japan. IREP facilitates
access for the poor and disadvantaged to jobs in labour-intensive repair
and reconstruction work, including basic social infrastructure repairs such
as the removal of rubble and debris and other urban sanitation work. The
programme is focusing on poor neighborhoods in Baghdad and Basrah,
with local residents deciding on work priorities and then being employed
to get it done. It is expected that, under a second phase, the programme
will extend to the establishment or improvement of community facilities,
such as sports centres and public spaces. To date, over 200,000 days of
paid work have been completed by local residents employed through
IREP.” United Nations Development Program in Iraq, “Reconstruction
and job creation,” March 2003. www.iq.undp.org.
23. Wilson, Jamie. “Attacks Halt Rebuilding of Iraq” in The Guardian,
April 27, 2004. www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4911034-
24. “At least 20 percent of U.S. spending in Iraq is lost to corruption, says
Charles Adwan of the Lebanon [office] of Transparency International.”
Davidson, Adam and Mark Schapiro, “Spoils of War,” Marketplace,
National Public Radio (NPR), April 22, 2004. http://marketplace.publicradio.
25. Davidson, Adam and Mark Schapiro. www.muckraker.org/one_investigation.
26. Cole, Juan. “Iraqi Transition: Civil War or Civil Society?” Testimony
before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
Washington DC, April 20, 2004. http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/
27. Eunjung Cha, Ariana. “Iraqi Experts Tossed with the Water Workers
Ineligible to Fix Polluted Systems” in Washington Post, February 27, 2004.
28. Cordesman, Anthony H.
29. Wilson, Jamie.
30. See CPA Order 39, issued September 21, 2003, as amended by
Order 46, issued December, 21 2003.
31. Palley, Thomas I. “Combating the Natural Resource Curse with
Citizen Revenue Distribution Funds: Oil and the Case of Iraq.”
Washington DC: Foreign Policy in Focus Special Report, December 2003.
32. Interim Strategy Note, World Bank Group for Iraq, January, 21 2004.
33. Tudor, Owen. “Iraq: Unions and the Law.” United Kingdom: Trades
Union Congress, March 2004. www.tuc.org.uk/international/tuc-7859-
34. “International Trade Union Mission Returns from Iraq.” Brussels:
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) Online,
February 27, 2004.
35. “Ensuring respect for workers’ rights including freedom of association
must be central to building a democratic Iraq and to ensuring sustainable
economic and social development. Democracy must have roots. It requires
free elections, but also mass based, democratic trade unions that help
secure it and protect it as well as being schools of democracy. Free trade
unions, an irreplaceable pillar of civil society, also bring together people of
different backgrounds to promote and defend their interests at work, an
essential feature of democratic stability. The UN’s International Labour
Organisation (ILO) must play a central role in supporting economic
reconstruction, in generating decent employment and in supporting the
development of tripartite processes and social dialogue. The work of other
agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
should support and complement that work.” “Iraq: International Trade
Unions to Help Iraqi Workers Build Their Trade Union Movement.”
Brussels: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU),
May 30, 2003.
About the author:
John Howley serves on the board of the Education for Peace
in Iraq Center (EPIC). He has over 16 years of experience in
government relations in the U.S. labor movement and he advocates
for the peaceful prevention of violent conflict. Reach him
at john@epic-usa.org.
Special thanks to Maura Stephens for her editing and assistance
and to Mark Hanna, Lynn Fredriksson, Colin Rowat,
Juan Cole,and Erik Leaver for their comments.
About the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC):
EPIC works to defend human rights, support genuine
democracy, and improve humanitarian conditions in Iraq. The
foreign policy of the United States has played a tremendously
influential role in the lives of ordinary Iraqis, particularly since
the 1991 Gulf War. EPIC believes that with widespread citizen
participation in the democratic process, this policy and influence
can be affected in positive ways.
EPIC is the only Iraq-focused organization of its kind in
Washington, DC. EPIC works to inform Americans, policymakers,
and the media about the humanitarian and human
rights consequences of current U.S. Iraq policy and promote
improvements in policy, oversight and accountability.
Today EPIC works for a successful political transition in Iraq,
the safe return of U.S. soldiers, and a better future for all Iraqis.
EPIC staff:
Erik Gustafson, Executive Director
Ashianna Esmail, Communications
Sara Willi, Outreach
For more information, contact:
EPIC, 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20003 USA
e-mail: info@epic-usa.org web: www.epic-usa.org
Photography by: David Bacon*
Design by: James Decker
* The photographs featured in this report are part of EPIC’s
Faces of Iraq, a traveling photo exhibition depicting the
humanity and diversity of Iraq’s people.
Photo on pg.1: Workers in the power plant of the Al Daura
oil refinery, Oct. 2003.
Copyright © 2004 Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
All rights reserved.

Read the full report:
Iraq Jobs Crisis (PDF)

Put $25 to work today in support of EPIC and our effort to bring attention to the jobs crisis in Iraq.

Posted by abdullah at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2004

UNISON's 11th National Conference extends the hand of friendship and solidarity to the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)

The IFTU was proud to accept an invitation to address the International Rally on 21 June organised by Britain's largest trade union, UNISON at their 11th National Conference.

The Camden Branch of UNISON had already taken the initiative of organising a fringe meeting at the Conference supported by UNISON's London Region, in defence of workers' rights in occupied Iraq on 23 June at which the IFTU were invited to speak.

At the 21 June UNISON International Rally, IFTU foreign representative Abdullah Muhsin addressed UNISON Conference alongside Dave Prentis UNISON General Secretary, Agnes Cser President of the Hungarian Democratic Trade Union of Health and Social Workers and Sam Maloka Treasurer of the South African Municipal Workers Union.

Roger Laxton Chair of the International Committee of UNISON and Nick Sigler Head of the International Relations of UNISON chaired the Rally.

Also present at the International Rally were delegates and guests of UNISON from:

Czech Republic, Jiri Schlanger, President of the Health Service and Social Care Trade Union.

Estonia, Kalle Livamagi President of the State and Local Government Workers' Union.

Serbia, Branislav Canak, President of the United Branch Trade Union Independence.

Ukraine Vasyl Shilov, Regional Officer of Public Services International.

Zimbabwe, Sekai Holland, Secretary of International Affairs of the Movement For Democratic Change.

Vadim Borrisov from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The IFTU's intervention was received by UNISON delegates and leadership with great appreciation and enthusiasm. UNISON expressed its readiness to help the new Iraqi independent labour movement and in particular the IFTU. Please see below the full text of the IFTU speech.

Debates and questions following the speeches showed significant support from UNISON delegates for Iraqi workers' struggle for the rights to join and build a free and independent trade union movement.

UNISON National President, Mr Dave Anderson invited the IFTU representative to a private meeting to discuss trade union organisation in Iraq and also extended his invitation to the IFTU to attend his reception for previous UNISON Presidents.

Due to the arrival in Britain of Mr Subhi Al Mashadani the IFTU's General Secretary to participate in the Annual General Meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT), the UNISON President also extended an extraordinary invitation to the IFTU General Secretary to address UNISON conference on Friday 25 June 2004 and sought the agreement of Conference to suspend Standing Orders to allow him to speak before the close. (see following report) Mr Subhi Al Mashadani spoke for about half an hour and received an emotional and warm reception being interrupted on several occasions by standing ovations from the UNISON delegates.

The vibrant fringe meeting in defence of Iraqi workers' rights to work and jobs, organised by Camden UNISON and supported by London Region was chaired by Fiona Monkman, a member of UNISON's National Executive Committee.

The IFTU representative Abdullah Muhsin said: "The occupation must end. This is an issue of principle for the IFTU. We want real and full sovereignty in our country."

Alex Gordon, Secretary of the South Wales and West of England Region of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union spoke alongside Abdullah Muhsin of the IFTU on the plight of Iraqi workers in their fight for jobs, security and democracy.

Fiona Monkman, UNISON NEC Member officially launched the 'Khalil Shawqri Appeal' (see report below) to purchase a touring bus for an Iraqi workers' theatre company that would figure in a campaign to dispel the lingering image amongst Iraqi workers from Saddam era of trade unions as an extension of the state and instruments of oppression.

Alex Gordon spoke of the heroic role that Iraqi trade unionists have played in forming the IFTU, an independent and democratic trade union movement with little or no support.

He called upon UNISON members at the meeting to support the IFTU and the 'Khalil Shawqri Appeal' to raise money for cultural and educational trade union projects in Iraq.

Posted by abdullah at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)

Subhi Al Mashadani, IFTU General Secretary addresses UNISON's 11th National Conference.

As a result of the IFTU’s increasingly close and friendly relations with the British labour movement and the warm reception received by the IFTU at UNISON's 11th National Conference, the UNISON Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnett and President, Dave Anderson invited the IFTU General Secretary, Subhi Al Mashadani to address the Conference in Bournemouth on 25 June 2004.

Mr Subhi Al Mashdani is in the UK as a guest of the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT) at their AGM in Portsmouth from 27-29 June 2004.

On his arrival at the UNISON Conference on the evening of 24 June UNISON's international department convened a meeting for the IFTU General Secretary with several of the international guests at conference.

On 25 June the IFTU General Secretary and IFTU foreign representative Abdullah Muhsin met with UNISON Deputy General Secretary, the head of UNISON's International Department and two of his staff. They explored a number of questions with the IFTU delegation; the latest developments with regards to the IFTU, what assistance the IFTU needs from UNISON immediately and the IFTU's relations with other Arab trade union bodies.

After discussing these points in some detail, UNISON's Deputy General Secretary outlined their union's position for the withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq, the dismantling of Israel's apartheid wall and to force Sharon to adhere to international law and to arrest him for crimes against humanity. UNISON also wants to see Iraq secure and to assist in the building of a strong and independent trade union movement.

At midday the IFTU General Secretary speaking through an interpreter, addressed Conference during which he received warm and continuous applause.

Shortly after the IFTU General Secretary's speech, UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis asked Conference to approve the invitation of a small IFTU delegation to visit UNISON for training in trade union representation. Conference carried the proposal with acclaim.

Posted by abdullah at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

IFTU's address to the International Rally at UNISON's 11th National Conference, 21st June 2004.

Sisters and Brothers,

It is great honour to address you today.

UNISON and its predecessor unions were known and respected by Iraqi trade unionists. It is therefore a pleasure for Iraqi workers to openly renew our friendship with your union through our trade union federation the IFTU that now organises legally in the post-Saddam Iraq.

UNISON's principled position against the war and occupation of our country and now its call for the end of occupation and the return of sovereignty to Iraqis is highly appreciated by the IFTU.

In my talk I want to deal with the way in which trade unions have developed through the dark years of fascist-style rule in Iraq, how they have taken off in the last year and how we can work together in the future.

I have been living in exile from my country for over a quarter of a century. Alongside many others I was forced to flee after Saddam Hussein assumed political power and initiated a campaign of terror against all independent trade unions, students and women organizations. He modelled the Iraq state and government explicitly on fascist lines in which all aspects of civil society became fronts for Saddam’s project and thus part of the state apparatus of terror.

So I fled in 1978 and after few years in Italy, have been living in England ever since. 24 years ago, I also helped, from exile, to take part in the newly formed clandestine trade union movement called the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement.

It’s important to understand that trade unions were once a major part of Iraqi society.

Over one Million people marched in London Last year to stop the war. An Iraqi friend of mine attended this but also remembered being part of a million-strong May Day march back in 1959 in Baghdad.

But Saddam abolished independent trade unionism and most of its leaders were tortured, jailed and murdered.

Trade union activity under the Saddam’s dictatorship was monopolised by the state, and the official trade unions were turned into an apparatus of repression against workers, i.e. 'yellow unions', unrepresentative of workers’ interests and incapable of fighting for their economic and political demands. The GFTU’s leadership was effectively appointed by the state.

Thus, the very term trade union has become associated with oppression for many Iraqis. A leading member of Saddam’s 'yellow unions' (GFTU) was a close collaborator of chemical Ali, who gassed the Kurds at Halabja, as well as the Marsh Arabs, Iranian soldiers and many thousands of Iraqi democrats including communists.

In these circumstances, it might have been easy to support the war but I and the majority of Iraqis didn’t because we feared the bloodshed and the destruction of our country that would result. We believed that Saddam’s dictatorship could have been overthrown, through reliance on the people and their patrioitic forces, and with effective international solidarity, to bring about democratic change. This didn’t happen and now we are in a very different situation.

The dictatorship has gone but after three decades of internal repression, turmoil, wars, unjust economic sanctions, Iraqi society has been devastated.

The trade unions are essential to the fabric of civil society. This must now be reconstructed in Iraq.

However, Iraq’s new free and democratic unions are in need of your help.

The clandestine trade union movement, the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement, came to the open for the first time in April 2003 and eventually became the backbone of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

In just over a year we have established 12 national unions in key sectors of the Iraqi economy.

Since April 2003 the following unions have been established: The Oil and Gas Union, the Railway Union, The Vegetable and Food Staff Union, The Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanics, Printing and Metal Union. The Textile Union, the Construction and Wood Workers' Union, the Electricians' Union, the Service Industry Union and the Agriculture and Irrigation 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 3 unions (the Service Union, the Mechanics Printing & Metal Union and the Agricultural & Irrigation Workers’ Union) have in the past few weeks successfully held their first free and open conferences in Baghdad at which each elected a 15-member executive council.

Saddam’s old GFTU now only exists on paper and will disappear as time goes by.

Our hope that is that a large, organised and confident trade union movement could do a great deal to bring workers together regardless of their religious, ethnic or national origins.

As everywhere else the new trade unions in Iraq are secular. The IFTU is not Shia, Kurds or Sunni, Assyrian or Christian as such but come together to improve our working conditions, pay and social provision.

But the IFTU can also help in the rebuilding of vibrant civil society, a fundamental factor in the establishment of democracy.

The IFTU is independent of all political parties and the government too.

The IFTU campaigns for:

Workers' rights to organise freely, to join or form a union and have the right to strike and enjoy trade union representation.

To be actively involved in influencing economic and social policies in defence of workers' rights.

To be actively involved in rebuilding of civil society and ultimately democracy, together with other social movements.

To increase the role of women at all levels within the unions and in wider civil society.

To seek cooperation with Arab, regional and international labour movements and also to seek their help to equip Iraqi working people with new skills and knowledge.

Special attention to the social and economic needs of disabled people of whom there are many after several wars.

More than 50% of our people remain unemployed and the IFTU is actively campaigning to tackle this very serious problem.

However, 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, computers and faxes and other IT technologies.

So the IFTU has been asking our brothers and sisters in Britain, and more widely in the international labour movement to provide the IFTU with practical assistance. The IFTU also needs training in basic skills s such as health and Safety and Collective Bargaining.

The British trade union movement through the TUC has been very supportive. We have received practical support from many unions including the RMT, the FBU and the PCS. Such support has been very instrumental in our daily struggle. We are inspired by such gestures of solidarity.

The IFTU has good relations with international Labour movement like the ICFTU, many European federations such as the CCOO, CGT and CGIL and COSATO and AFL-CIO and many other trade union centres around the world like the Korean labour movement.

But it is crucial that occupation must end now and full and real sovereignty be restored to Iraqis, so that so the anti-people forces, made up of Saddam supporters anxious to keep their privileges and thus desperate to restore a fascist-type regime plus foreign fundamentalists - are isolated.

The UN must play a pivotal role in this and Iraqis must govern themselves. The recent UN resolution 1546 is positive development and will strengthen the Iraqi people's determination to regain full sovereignty. It is only few days before the handover of power on 30th June and the IFTU and Iraqis need your support and solidarity to make this happen and stop attempts by terrorists and Saddam’s supporters to derail the transfer of power to Iraqis. This is a crucial step forward to end the occupation, regain full sovereignty and enable the Iraqi people to determine their own political future through democratic elections.

Iraq is a potentially wealthy country. It would help a great deal if the "odious" 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, and left Iraq with a heavy debt burden. The international community should seek to abolish Iraq’s debt burden or reduce it substantially since the money borrowed was spent not on the development of Iraq but rather on its destruction.

But Iraq is rich in history, culture and education.

The scenes we see on television screens are awful but must not disguise the real possibility that a democratic, federal and secular Iraq can, as it must, emerge.

With the help of UNISON and international workers' solidarity, the IFTU can play its role in doing this.

Thank you

Abdullah Muhsin

IFTU Foreign Representative,
21 June 2004

Posted by abdullah at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

"Workers' conferences are a fundamental principle in building a democratic and united trade union movement in Iraq."

Three Unions affiliated to the IFTU have successfully held national Conferences recently in Iraq.

On 31 May 2004, the Mechanic, Printing and Metalworkers' union held its first open Conference in Baghdad.

IFTU President Rasem Alwady and first Vice President Hadi Ali attended the conference. Representatives of the Labour and Social Affairs and Justice Ministries were invited. The Conference was open to the media and other outside observers.

Conference was opened by the IFTU President, who said: "Conference is fundamental tool in building free and democratic unions, especially after three decades of the fascist-type rule that governed Iraq and transformed unions into a mouthpiece for Saddam's dictatorship regime."

The IFTU President also emphasized that Conference should unite to build a trade union that transcends political, religious, national and ethnic decisions. He called upon conference and the union to unite in order to consolidate the progress achieved so far but also to campaign for the betterment of the working people of Iraq.

The Union Preparation Committee also delivered a report on the committee's work to build the union's democratic internal structure, to expand the union's membership and to prepare for this, the founding first conference.

Conference then entered into discussion about employment, labour code and social provision.

At the end of Conference, an Iraqi judge who had attended as an observer, in order to witness that procedure, debate and conduct were democratic and transparent called upon participating delegates to put forward their names or those who they wish to elect as their choices for the union's executive committee and leadership positions. 18 names were put up for election. Conference elected 15 union officials including two women.

On 6 June 2004 the Agriculture Workers' Union held its first open conference in Baghdad.

The IFTU President also opened Conference with a speech appreciating the crucial role that the Preparatory Committee of the Agriculture Union had played in building the union and in preparing for the holding of conference. The IFTU President also called on conference to practice real democracy in the running of conference as this is the only guarantee that will ensure that competent, genuine and democratic trade unionists are elected to the union leadership.

The preparatory committee of the union also spoke on the struggle of trade unionists to build a free and democratic union.

24 delegates put their names for election and 15 of them were elected democratically by means of secret ballot.

On June 12 2004 the Service Union held its first conference in Baghdad, at the Central Railway Station Hall.

The President of the IFTU and representatives of both the Labour and Social Affairs and the Justice Ministry were also present. The IFTU president said that with out real democracy, real and independent unions cannot be built.

18 individuals put their names for the leadership of the union and 15
were democratically elected.

Posted by abdullah at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

The ‘Khalil Shawqi Appeal’ - trade unionists can help to Buy a Bus for an Iraqi Workers’ Travelling Theatre!

Khalil Shawqi, subject of Iraqi film director Koutaiba Al-Janabi’s "Khalil Shawqi: The Ever Restless Man" winner of the ‘Silver Hawk’ award for short documentary films, at the 4th Arab Film Festival in Rotterdam in June 2004 is co-sponsoring a cultural project with The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) to raise money for an Iraqi Workers’ Theatre Company.

Born in 1924, Khalil Shawqi was a railworker and a member of the Iraqi Railway Workers’ Union from 1959-1963. He later founded three theatre companies for railworkers. He is the author of many plays in Arabic and has made numerous films including 16 on the lives of railworkers. He has undertaken many theatrical and educational projects to advance arguments for social justice and workers’ rights.

Khalil Shawqi is very well known in Iraq and across the Arab world as a playwright and theatre actor as well as a representative of that generation of 1960s idealists and visionaries whose dreams of a better world were brutally smashed by the rise to power of Saddam Hussein. The diaspora of Iraqi intellectuals, artists, trade unionists and others who fled from persecution at the hands of the Ba’ath regime are able to renew their commitment to education and progressive social change through working with the newly emerging democratic trade union movements in Iraq.

The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions founded in April 2003 in just over a year has established 12 national unions.

The IFTU campaigns for:
Workers’ rights to organise freely, to join or form a union, to take strike action and to enjoy trade union representation;
To be actively involved in influencing economic and social policies;
To be actively involved in rebuilding of civil society and ultimately democracy, together with other social movements;
To increase the role of women at all levels within the unions and in wider civil society;
To seek co-operation with Arab, regional and international labour movements and also to seek their help to equip Iraqi working people with new skills and knowledge;
Special attention to the social and economic needs of disabled people of which there are many after several wars.

However, with more than 50% of our people unemployed, IFTU’s priority is to secure jobs and a living wage for Iraqi workers. To achieve this the urgent task of educating Iraqi workers about trade unionism, labour and democratic rights, health and safety and other issues becomes more and more urgent.

This is why the IFTU has launched the ‘Khalil Shawqi Appeal’. It is our modest aim with the assistance of the international labour movement here in Britain and elsewhere to take travelling theatre companies to every workplace in Iraq to explain through the medium of theatre, poetry and exhibitions. Theatre is a great popular tradition amongst the Iraqi people. Our initiative will take back the tradition of trade unionism from the discredited ‘state-run’ trade unionism of the Ba’ath regime. To do this we need the help of trade union branches, regions, conferences and national bodies in Britain. Education is a massive task and we are commencing this project by equipping a Bus as a travelling theatre to tour Iraqi workplaces and communities.

If you or your trade union organisation can help us please contact: Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) c/o UK Representative, Abdullah Muhsin: 07976846868 or by email to: abdullahmuhsin@iraqitradeunions.org

Posted by abdullah at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2004

the IFTU participates in ICTUR annual meeting in Geneva


June 16, 2004

IFTU attends British Trade Union conferences to strengthen our international links

The IFTU Foreign Representative, Abdullah Muhsin has attended two trade union conferences so far in June; the Construction workers' union (UCATT) and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS)


Abdullah Muhsin was invited by the construction workers' union, UCATT to attend their conference in Scarborough and by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to participate in their national conference in Brighton.

The executive Council of UCATT invited Abdullah Muhsin of the IFTU to speak at a fringe meeting on the current situation, the progress of the IFTU on the ground and the latest political developments in Iraq-UN resolution 1546 and the formation of Iraq`s interim government.

John Thompson, the President of UCATT chaired the meeting and said "UCATT will do what it can to help the IFTU to achieve its aim of creating an independent and democratic trade union movement".

Conference passed several motion supporting the struggle of the IFTU, calling for the end of occupation and restoring Iraq's full sovereignty and for the UN to take a greater role in the rebuilding of Iraq.


The PCS national conference passed several motions pledging support for the IFTU and the Iraqi labour movement.

The outgoing assistant general secretary of the PCS presented the executive's agreed position on the motion on Iraq and referred to a meeting that took place in May 2004 between the PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, himself and Abdullah Muhsin of the IFTU in which the Union pledged practical support for the IFTU.

The IFTU representative at the conference met briefly the newly-elected Assistant General Secretary, Chris Baugh, who is also responsible for international affairs to discuss further how to put into practice the conference motions. Also present at the meeting was Angela Maughan.

Chris Baugh and Abdullah Muhsin

Ms Pat Budu, PCS policy officer introduced the IFTU to Mr Vasi Nhlapo, the President of the South African Public Service Union which is part of COSATU. The meeting was warm and constructive

Posted by abdullah at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

Global survey charts the spread of anti-union repression

ICFTU OnLine...

Brussels, 9 June 2004 (ICFTU Online): With129 trade unionists killed worldwide and an upward swing in death threats, imprisonment and physical harassment; trade union rights continue to be violated across the world

This year's survey of trade union rights, published annually by the ICFTU, produces yet another catalogue of severe abuses of fundamental workers' rights in 2003. While the toll of 129 murdered trade unionists is less than the previous year, it still serves as a grim reminder of the dangers faced by trade unionists exercising their fundamental rights.

Painting a country by country account of trade union rights violations across the world, this year's survey covers 134 countries in total, highlighting assassinations, physical intimidation, arrests, death threats and dismissals for forming or joining trade unions, presenting collective demands or taking strike action.

Trade union rights continue to be undermined on two fronts - by employers and governments. The survey highlights how governments in numerous countries have installed complicated procedures to hamper trade union activity or strike action. The authorities' unwillingness even to enforce existing national and international legislation has further compounded the abuses. Equally, many employers have consistently resisted union organising and intimidated workers who dare take collective action to protect their rights.

The survey notes that growing global competition has been accompanied by deteriorating workers' rights. Governments, eager to secure short-term benefits that the global market may provide, see trade unions as an obstacle to their economic development. In Uganda, for example, President Musoveni publicly admitted to the mass dismissal of striking textile workers because their "action would scare off investors". Workers in Venezuela were also punished for striking - 19,000 oil workers were fired for participating in a general strike, serving as a warning to other Venezuelan workers.

At continental level, the figures are just as alarming. In Asia, over 300,000 workers were dismissed for their union activity, primarily for going on strike. Furthermore, as the survey points out, these figures doubtless fall short of reality. Such is the level of intimidation in many countries that workers are often too frightened to report violations of their rights.

In 2003, Colombia proved yet again to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, for which it is fast developing a reputation. A total of 90 people were killed for their trade union activity in the Latin American country, and their families were also caught up in the violence, in some cases murdered in cold blood together with their trade unionist partner. Disturbingly, 95% of reported cases remain unpunished and most murder cases are not properly investigated, if at all. The survey also notes that women have increasingly become targets for attack, as more and more women seek to join unions.

In 2003, Burma continued its total repression of trade union activity and in November sentenced three representatives of the Federation of Trade Unions- Burma (FTUB) to death. In China, economic development has not been accompanied by any sort of improvement in fundamental workers' rights. The Chinese authorities continued to suppress all signs of independent trade union activity, again sending individuals to prison for their trade union activities.

The report shows that a record 1,900 trade unionists were arrested in the Republic of Korea. A total of 201 of these arrests led to prosecution. The effects of new forms of repression were evident in the case of Bae Dal-ho, a 50-year-old boiler worker and union activist at the shipbuilding firm Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction (DHIC), who burnt himself to death in January 2003. A suicide note left in his car said, "due to the company's provisional seizure of my wage I have not received any pay for more than six months. No wage will be paid to me on this pay day either." His wages had been withheld and access to his bank account restricted by court order as a result of his role in a 47-day strike during the previous year.

The Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe continued to show its total intolerance of trade unionism. A total of 2,800 postal workers were fired for taking part in a jobs boycott, representing almost half of the 6,566 African workers dismissed in 2003 because of their union activities. Elsewhere in the continent, there were disturbing stories including a case of soldiers entering an electrician's house in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raping his 13 year old daughter and attacking an elderly neighbour following strike action to protest at the non-payment of salaries for eight months.

The Middle East remains the most restrictive region, placing limitations on trade union rights, however there has been a gradual thawing of intolerance of trade unions in some countries. Oman, for example, now allows workers to form representational committees and the United Arab Emirates drafted a bill for the creation of a national labour federation. Iraqis began to organise again, marking the end of total trade union repression under Saddam Hussein, holding the first democratic workplace elections of trade union representatives in 35 years. Yet the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the US-controlled body governing Iraq, had still not repealed any of Saddam-era labour laws which remained technically enforceable. Saudi Arabia maintained its total ban on trade unions.

Nine of the ten new European Union member states were cited in this year's survey, largely for disparities between labour legislation, which recognises trade union rights, and the reality. For example, employers in the Czech Republic withheld wages from trade union representatives. The management of a car depot in Lithuania forced each of their workers to sign a letter of resignation from their union or face dismissal. Outside the European Union, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of freedom of association in Belarus, where, for example, the authorities imprisoned trade union leaders such Aleksandr Yaroshuk, President of the independent Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU). Elsewhere, workers were pressured to leave their union organisations and join
puppet confederations, as in the case of Moldova and Georgia.

In the industrialised world, union busting is big business, notably in the United States where the use of union-busting consultants by employers is common practice. . The survey underlines that 40% of all public sector workers in the country are still denied basic collective bargaining rights, meaning that alongside to some 25 million private civilian workers, 6.9 million federal, state and local government employees do not have the right under any law to negotiate their wages, hours or employment terms. In Canada meanwhile, provincial labour legislation excludes entire sectors, leaving agricultural and
horticultural workers exposed to exploitation, and as this year's report shows, the rights of some public sector workers have been further restricted.

The ICFTU survey highlights how migrant workers are exposed to some of the worst forms of exploitation. In the Gulf States, for example, they have no trade union rights whatsoever. In countries such as the United Arab Emirates, migrants make up 85% of the workforce, many of them women working in domestic service.

The unrelenting attack on workers' rights in export processing zones shows no signs of abating this year. Multinational businesses operating in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) continued to contravene internationally recognised trade union rights, for example in the garment factories of Asia and Central America. Women form the majority of the 50 million workers worldwide in these factories, often subject to poverty wages, exhausting work schedules and hazardous working conditions, often without any opportunity to protest collectively or join a trade union. There were small breakthroughs, however, including for garment workers in Honduras and Sri Lanka who won union recognition, while the first and only collective agreement was signed in a Guatemalan EPZ.

Posted by abdullah at 11:13 PM | Comments (0)

The IFTU participates in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 92 conference, Geneva (June 2004)

A delegation of the IFTU participated in the 92nd ILO conference, which opened on 1 June 2004 in the ILO international Offices in Geneva.

The delegation was composed of Mr Al Dlimi, Mahal Hardan, the second Vice-President, Mr Ali Kamel Aziz, an executive member and Abdullah Muhsin, the IFTU foreign representative based in London.

The Iraqi government delegation to the ILO conference consisted of Mr Nori Marza Jaafar, Under Secretary of the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry and a representative of the Employers' Body.

After the election of the President and two Vice-Presidents, the conference split into five committees: Standing Orders Committee, Committee on work in the fishing sector, Human Resources Committee, Resolution Committee and Committee on migrant workers. The IFTU actively participated in the Standing Orders and the Resolution Committees.

During the conference, the IFTU also met with several national trade union centres.

Mr Mahal Al Diliami and Abdullah Muhsin met Mr Yu Lae-Soub, Mr Kang, the Vice-President and the International Secretary of the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU).

The meeting focused on the presence of Korean troops in Iraq and the proposal for an additional 600 soldiers to go to Iraq to help with humanitarian needs for construction, and for medical aid. The meeting also discussed the 30 June transfer of power to the Iraqis, the role of the UN and the proposed draft UN resolution on Iraq.

Both sides agreed that the occupation of Iraq must now end, that the UN must take leading role in the rebuilding of Iraq and that real power and sovereignty must be handed to the transitional Iraqi government established on 30 June 2004.

The Korean Vice-President also discussed the FKTU’s invitation for the IFTU to send a delegation to South Korea, as had previously been raised with Hadi Ali, first Vice-President of the IFTU and Abdullah Muhsin during the Spanish CCOO conference .

The IFTU also met with Jim Catterson of the global oil union federation ICEM to follow up issues raised during the IFTU meeting with ICEM General Secretary, Mr Fred Higgs and Jim Catterson in Brussels on 30 May, including the invitation of four leaders of the Iraqi Oil and Gas Union and Abdullah Muhsin to meet the ICEM leadership and member unions in Brussels in August.

Both sides agreed on the importance of holding the August seminar. The ICEM also informed the IFTU of its wishes to follow up this seminar with a visit by the ICEM General Secretary to Iraq.

The IFTU delegation also met with Mr Randall Howered, the General Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (SATAWU) which is part of the South African COSATU trade union federation. Mr Mahal Al Delimi and Abdullah Muhsin outlined the latest developments.

The IFTU also met Mr Harry Kamberis of the AFL-CIO Solidarity Centre and Shwana Bader responsible for their Washington office. Also present were Mr Kheireddine Bouslah, Programme Officer of the Solidarity Centre in Amman, Jordan.

Mr Mahal Al Delimi, the second vice president met with Mr Benzi, the international officer of CGIL. Mr Mahal outlined the latest developments.

Abdullah Muhsin also held a brief meeting with Mr Benzi of the Italian confederation, the CGIL to discuss further issues raised in Rome Italy during the IFTU visit to CGIL and FIOM in April 2004, led by Hadi Ali and Abdullah Muhsin.

Mr Benzi informed Abdullah Muhsin of the wishes of CGIL to visit Iraq in September to increase their understanding of the IFTU’s situation.

The IFTU held several brief meetings with Walid Hamdon the ILO Regional Officer in Lebanon. Mr Hamdon said he was ready to help.

The International Centre of Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) invited the IFTU to speak at a meeting organized by the Centre on 12 June at the ILO Headquarters.

ICTUR also invited Mr Puertro Miguel, a Colombian human rights campaigner.

Mr Abdullah Muhsin will speak at the meeting referring to the IFTU’s progress on the ground and the current political process, including the formation of Iraq's transitional government and the restoration of Iraq's full sovereignty.

Posted by abdullah at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2004

Abdullah’s hopes for Iraq

Interview in the June edition of Autlook, the magazine of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) by Gary Kent

Abdullah Muhsin fled Iraq in the late 70s with $150 and a copy of Doestoevsky's Notes from the Underground.

His "crime" was that he was openly antagonistic towards Saddam Hussein’s Baath party: "I refused to join their bogus student union and openly put in a blank ballot paper in their fixed elections. My friends thought I was crazy but I was young. They planted dissident literature in my desk, called me a traitor and beat me. I was constantly followed." Like many of his contemporaries, he realised that the threat of execution could soon be visited upon him and eventually decided on exile..

He initially settled in Italy where he continued campaigning against Saddam. But the regime's long arm reached out to him: "Saddam's goons attacked me three times. A friend was stabbed when we were handing out leaflets at Rome University."

He married an English woman and moved to Kent, had two children and activism took a backseat for a while.

Abdullah is now the foreign representative in London for an organisation that calls itself the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

He opposed the invasion but says it is "time to move on and use our new freedoms to build a united and federal Iraq."

Twelve new unions have been established and the IFTU has won increasing international support in the last year.

"Independent unions have risen from the ashes of decades of repression, turmoil and war. Individual union conferences will culminate in a full national meeting to openly elect a national leadership and the IFTU has started a weekly newspaper. Our leaders have just met the UN Special Envoy who agreed that unions have a crucial role in Iraq's future."

Abdullah tirelessly criss-crosses the world to brief unions and opinion-formers to win political and practical support for the IFTU.

"Iraqi unions lack even basic office furniture, let alone computers, phones and faxes, and need training in simple things like negotiating skills. Several unions have been very generous. The Parliamentary branch of the TGWU is sponsoring mobile phones for union organisers. The Fire Brigades Union has just delivered hundreds of badly needed fire-resistant uniforms. The TUC and the Foreign Office are backing an independent labour movement in Iraq."

He is furious with the Americans for creating a climate that has been fertile for insurrection: "We warned that dark forces were roaming free, organising and buying arms but they were left alone while the borders were left open. We said that there with so many young men without jobs or hope that the devil makes work for idle hands. We stressed that non-sectarian trade unions could help build a vibrant civil society. But this was ignored."

As for the photos of alleged brutality against prisoners: "whether genuine or not, the only people who benefit are those pursuing a fascist agenda. If genuine, we completely condemn it. People are working flat out to create civil society in Iraq and this only makes things harder."

But Abdullah remains optimistic: "We cannot afford pessimism. It is essential that power is handed over to Iraqis, the UN plays a major role and that elections proceed quickly.”

Abdullah has travelled through Iraq, with union delegations, three times since the fall of Saddam and has extensive knowledge of conditions on the ground from meeting union members and ministers.

He made a point, on his last trip, of examining the education system: "Schools and colleges were ravaged by war and sanctions. Some primary schools in the south are still housed in mud huts because Saddam discriminated against the Shias there. Universities were isolated from the outside world, lack basic facilities because of sanctions and many were burnt and looted. We need overseas academics to help fundamentally rebuild and restructure our system. A decent education system is the key to both democracy and prosperity. The Saddam nightmare is over but we have a long way to go."

Abdullah Muhsin is happy to address AUT meetings and academic seminars. He can be contacted on 07931 416344 or at abdullahmuhsin@iraqitradeunions.org

Posted by abdullah at 09:09 PM | Comments (0)

IFTU addresses NATFHE National Conference fringe meeting, 30 May 2004 in Blackpool.

The IFTU Foreign Representative Abdullah Muhsin addressed a successful fringe meeting at the NATFHE conference and the conference also passed the following Emergency Motion supporting the IFTU.

“Conference condemns the application of crude military force by the US, the UK and their allies in Iraq, intensifying opposition to occupation. Conference notes the brutal actions of the occupying powers and the resultant breakdown of any trust by all sectors of Iraqi society.

In the light of recent developments in Iraq, in particular the massacre in Falluja and emerging revelations of systematic torture by the occupying forces, conference calls upon the British government to distance itself from morally bankrupt US government.

Conference is shocked by the mounting evidence of abuse of Iraqi prisoners carried out by US and UK troops. Conference notes the recent shocking photographs of torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by coalition troops, and allegations of murder of detainees and civilians. Conference wishes to register its disgust at the degrading treatment of Iraqis, which, it believes. Is not the result of improper behaviour by a few individuals, but reflects a deep-seated racist attitude by those responsible for prosecuting this war. It believes that only total withdrawal of all occupation troops will end such abuse.


- believes coalition should withdraw urgently and process of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, public services and education system should be in the hands of the Iraqis themselves, with aid from international agencies if requested.

- Support the rights of Iraqi people to crate their own democratic structure, free of outside interference, with Iraqi trade unionists playing a key role in rebuilding their country.

- Calls for an international authority to work with Iraqi representative structures, including the IFTU, on the re-building of Iraq and arranging for the establishment of civil society.

- Conference urges NATFHE and the TUC to make contact with Iraqi trade unionists and explore ways to encourage the rebirth of an independent trade union education movement in Iraq and urges branches to twin with Iraqi towns and educational institutions.

Posted by abdullah at 08:51 PM | Comments (0)