The General Federation of Iraqi Workers is the main national trade union centre in Iraq. It bring workers together regardless of gender, age religion and ethnicity in pursuit of commons aims of a free and democratic Iraq with a prosperous economy , where Iraqi workers enjoy better working condition, fair wages and safer environment for themselves and their families.
In September 2005 the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) signed a historic merger statement with the leaders of the General Federation of Trade Unions (the old official trade union movement of Iraq) and the GFITU, which had split from the GFTU after the invasion. (You can read the statement below.)
The GFIW is preparing for the founding unity Conference of the new organisation in summer 2007. The GFIW covers 15 provinces of Iraq’s 18 regions. The GFIW does not operate in Iraqi Kurdistan's three provinces ( Erbil, Duhok and Sulymania).
The GFIW conference will deal with the issues of unemployment, anti-union laws (both old ones from the Saddam era and new ones from the current government), the oil and gas law, privatization and foreign investment, the economy, the absence of a labour code that adhere to the ILO standards, and a social security code. The conference will debate means to strengthen the internal democracy of the federation on the basis of unity, pluralism and transparency. Key themes of the conference will be unity, democracy, and social justice, respect of human rights, progress in the economy, the restoring of Iraq sovereignty and the removing of foreign troops from the soil of a federal, united and democratic Iraq.
Here is the merger statement in full:
Agreement on the Unity of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement
Considering the efforts made by the General Secretary of the ICATU to monitor developments in the trade union situation in Iraq following the occupation.
Considering the resolutions of the ICATU Central Council and its Congress.
Considering the initiative by the General Secretary of the ICATU aimed at unifying the Iraqi trade union movement based on the following principles:
1. Rejection of the occupation in all its forms and with all its consequences.
2. Commitment to the independence of Iraq, to the unity of its territory and people, and to its place within the Arab world.
3. Autonomy, unity and democracy of the union movement.
4. Restructuring of the union movement based on healthy foundations free of racial, party political or religious influences.
5. Defence of the rights and interests of workers.
6. The holding of free and democratic general union elections once the circumstances allow it.
Considering all the contacts and meetings held by the General Secretary of the ICATU with various sections of the trade union movement in Iraq, and the initiatives and efforts made by international organisations.
Recalling the conclusions of the meeting in Damascus on 19/2/2004 chaired by Brother Hacene Djemam, General Secretary of the ICATU, which brought together two delegations of workers from Iraq, one of which was led by Djamil Al Jabbouri and the other by Rassem Al Aouadi, which noted the urgent need to rebuild the Iraqi trade union movement, and to organise democratic union elections overseen by the ICATU and relevant international organisations to ensure that all can participate in them.
Recalling the contacts and consultations by the General Secretariat with the President of the Central Council of the ICATU, the presidents and general secretaries of the affiliated organisations of the ICATU and international and national sister organisations, and in particular LO Norway in view of its support for this initiative by the Iraqi trade union federations to integrate and unite the trade union movement so as to work better towards achieving the shared goals of the movement and contributing to the rebuilding of Iraq.
Based on the conclusions of various meetings that led to the establishment of a joint coordination committee for the 3 existing federations and the agreement on certain issues, with support from the ICATU General Secretary.
Based on the goals of the ICATU Constitution:
Representatives of the following 3 trade union federations were invited to a meeting in Damascus on 19/9/2005 : the General Workers Federation of Iraq ( represented by Djabbar Al Tareche Fares and members of the coordination committee; the General Workers Federation of the Republic of Iraq represented by Khalil Ibrahim Mechhadani and members of the coordination committee; and the General Federation of Workers Unions in Iraq, represented by Rassem Hussein al Aouadi and members of the coordination committee. At that meeting the ILO was represented by Walid Hamdan of the Beirut Office. Following discussions on the circumstances and situation resulting from the occupation, the disastrous repression of working people and the prevailing insecurity, the participants reached agreement on:
1. The creation of a steering committee of the GFIW
The meeting created a steering committee
The task of this steering committee will be:
A. To unify the administrative bodies of the general and regional trade unions within a period of three months.
B. To conduct a survey aimed at identifying existing trade unions and integrating them.
C. To represent the GFIW in inspection committees and other such bodies and to negotiate with the government or any other authority.
D. To act as the legal representative of the Iraqi Federation in Arab organisations such as the ICATU, and in relations with industry federations, the ALO (Arab Labour Organization) and the ILO.
2. This steering committee of the GFIW will be in charge of conducting trade union activities until circumstances allow the holding of general union elections.
3. The ICATU General Secretary will present this body to the ICATU General Council with a view to the GFIW being reintegrated in the ICATU in accordance with the latter's constitution.
4. The representatives reaffirm the autonomy and independence of the trade union movement and its united determination to refuse any domination by political parties or governments, and any form of external interference, so as to serve workers better and strengthen the organisation's role in society.
5. Under the supervision of the ICATU and with help from the ILO, the steering committee will draw up a draft constitution for the Federation, which must be in line with Arab and international labour standards; this will come into force on a provisional basis, on its adoption by the committee, subject to formal approval by the general congress of the Federation.
6. The assets of the three united federations will become the assets of theGFIW, including the bank accounts, fixed and movable property, vehicles, printing equipment, etc., and will be managed by the GFIW.
7. The signatories to this agreement strongly reject Ministerial Order no 8750 of 8 August 2005, which provides for interference in the internal affairs of the union movement and the confiscation of trade union assets and constitutes a threat to the very survival of the trade unions.
8. The signatories to this agreement call on the ILO, the ALO and all national trade union organisations, from the Arab world and the region, to provide material and moral solidarity to the Iraqi trade union movement.
9. All Iraqi trade union organisations are welcome to join this initiative.
10. In the event of disputes as to the interpretation of this agreement, recourse should be made to the ICATU for such interpretation.
11. An update on what has been achieved should be made in two months' time.
A US military helicopter indiscriminently attacked workers without any justification gathered in Alawi Al-Hilla district in Baghdad on 15 August 2005, where the Transport and Communication Workers' Union has its head office injuring 26 workers who were taken to hospital.
IFTU strongly condemns this act of violence and is calling on the American miliitary forces in iraq to issue an apology and compensate injured workers.
IFTU is also calling upon Iraq's transitional government to investigate this incident and demand that such incident must not be repeated again by US forces.
Baghdad 17 August 2005
US labour journalist David Bacon's interview with Ghasib Hussein, 'Iraqi Union Leader Opposes Occupation and Privatization' has been widely published on the internet. You can read it here.
By Matt Harwood, AlterNet. March 31, 2005.
The international representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions explains why his organization is being harrassed by U.S. forces, targeted by insurgents, and decried by some anti-war groups as a collaborator.
Abdullah Muhsin has recently returned from a two week visit to Iraq with a trade union delegation from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, the Education International, the International Transport Workers? Federation, the AFL-CIO and the British TUC. Here he speaks to Alex Gordon, a member of the RMT who took part in a delegation of British trade unionists to Iraq in October 2003.
Alex Gordon (RMT): Abdullah can you tell us what are your impressions of the latest developments in the Iraqi labour movement since we were last there in October 2003?
Abdullah Muhsin (IFTU): Certainly, since my previous visit (5th October to 1st November, 2003) I found the appetite for building trade unions amongst Iraqi workers has grown even more evident. This was especially true at the Al Dawra Oil refinery in Baghdad where we were invited to attend a meeting on 17th February 2004. This was a pre-arranged open meeting for all the various branch committees of the Oil Workers? Union in the refinery, which have grown from 9 to 16 since we were last there together. The meeting was open to all trade union members to discuss latest developments in Iraq such as the labour code, wages and working conditions.
The international trade union delegation that accompanied me to the meeting was keen to put questions to the Iraqi oil workers and their trade union committee representatives. They asked particularly about their experiences in building their union; the process they had gone through for elections to trade union committees and whether it was democratic and transparent; the role of women in the union and in the leadership of the union.
The Oil workers raised a number of issues with the ICFTU delegation, especially to the stance of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions? in relation to the former ?yellow union? of Saddam Hussein, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The Oil workers were very angry that in the past the Arab trade union movement had not shown enough support and solidarity with genuine Iraqi trade unionists and as they put it, continues to try to give the discredited GFTU some form of fake legitimacy.
Ms P. Kamalam (the ICFTU Asian desk representative) told them: ?We refused to work in the past with the GFTU because it was under the control of the state. We wish to work with you (trade unionists of the independent Oil and Gas Workers? Union) and we shall meet with other Iraqi trade union groups so as to have a clear picture of the growth of unions in Iraq today.?
Ms Kamalam also asked Thaer Khatheeri, directly how he had become President of the Al Dawra refinery trade union committee? He explained: ?I became President in July 2003 through an open election of trade union representatives in all of the nine trade union committees that existed at that time in the Al Dawra refinery. Since then we have built the union with the addition of seven more trade union committees representing workers outside the refinery (such as the oil tanker drivers) but in the same industry.?
He explained that the major issue for their trade union apart from consolidation and building of the union organisation is to campaign for an increase in the low wages of Iraqi oil workers currently earning 69,000 Iraqi Dinars a month. The union is demanding a minimum wage of IrD 150,000 a month.
Another member of the ICFTU delegation asked about accidents in the workplace and whether there existed any compensation scheme or welfare support for injured workers. He was told by the trade union committee that many accidents have occurred to oil industry workers, most recently those resulting from the breakdown in security under the occupation. Oil tanker drivers are targets for criminal gangs and other saboteurs who attack workers causing deaths and injuries.
The Oil and Gas Workers? Union through the IFTU is in consultation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Iraqi Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and representatives of Iraqi businesses and is demanding a Labour Law which will guarantee workers basic rights to employment, health & safety and legal compensation for injury at work.
AG: From the previous reports which we gave of the British trade union delegation to Baghdad in 2003, we know a little about the growth of new trade unions in the Iraqi capital. Can you tell us whether the picture is the same elsewhere in Iraq?
Abdullah Muhsin: The Railway Workers? Union held its national conference at the end of October 2003 with branches represented from Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Nasiriya, Hillah, Baji and Fallujah. They established at the Conference a national executive committee of 15 members which now has a permanent office at Baghdad Central Railway Station. Like the oil tanker drivers, their members have continued to be victims of criminal attacks, particularly against goods trains. The Railway Workers? Union is demanding that their members should be armed in order to protect themselves from these attacks. In addition they are calling for better conditions for workers to take food and rest in depots and train stations because of the very difficult and long hours worked by their members today.
On 20th February the ICFTU-led delegation divided up, some going north to Iraqi Kurdistan and the others who came with me to the south; Basra and Umm Qasr. In Basra the ICFTU met the executive of the Basra federation of the IFTU, its President Hussein F. Hussanii and the leaders of 10 trade unions in the Basra region including those for Mechanics, Construction, Transport, Oil, Railways, Dockers and Public Services; for workers in restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, public health and municipalities, water and cleaners. Each of these committees has a minimum of 7 members with two reserves.
In Umm Qasr which was taken over directly by the US and UK troops at the beginning of the war, USAID awarded the contract to repair, maintain and operate the port to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA). There is strong support for building independent trade unions amongst the dock workers in Umm Qasr. This was evident when the ICFTU went to Umm Qasr to meet the SSA?s representatives on the Port Authority; John Schaper and Steve Myrow.
Dockers gathered in front of the offices of the Port Administrators as soon as they heard the ICFTU delegation was visiting. According to the SSA representatives at the meeting, the former administrator of all the Iraqi Port Authorities, Abdul Razaq, appointed by the Occupation Authorities following the war, was unsympathetic to trade unions and it was he who was responsible for applying the 1987 Labour Law of Saddam Hussein to prevent independent dockers? unions from getting recognition.
The new Port Authority Director, Mahmood Saleh agreed to meet the ICFTU delegation and representatives of the IFTU Basra region. The meeting took place on 21st February at 19.30 at the main office of the Port Authorities, a massive imperial building dating from the British colonial period. Mr Saleh agreed at the meeting that trade unions should be free to organise in the docks and that this would enhance the process of building civil society and democracy. However, the US-appointed Port Authority Director said that in order to recognise trade unions their representatives should be democratically elected. The IFTU President of Basra region, Hussein F. Hussan, pointed out that he had been democratically elected by 10 trade union committees that between them represented tens of thousands of trade unionists. He further undertook to make the election of a recognised trade union port committee an urgent priority for the IFTU.
AG: This is very encouraging news. What actions would the IFTU like to see by trade unionists in Britain and elsewhere to assist their efforts to build democratic trade unionism in Iraq?
Abdullah Muhsin: As you may know although we have been working flat out to rebuild trade unions in Iraq, we have practically no resources. On 6th December 2003, US troops raided IFTU?s temporary headquarters (the Transport & Communication Union offices) and arrested 8 IFTU leaders who were subsequently released without charge. However the offices have been vandalised and closed down by the US troops and remain locked out of use. The IFTU currently has no permanent office premises for meetings or storage and its elected officials are unpaid. Apart from the generous donation of laptop computers by the British trade union movement we are in dire need of material resources; premises, financial assistance for travel, training and education.
The critical importance of the IFTU?s role in establishing a democratic society in Iraq has been underlined since my return this week, by the slaughter of innocent Iraqis in Baghdad and Karbala. This terrible mass murder will not deflect democratic forces such as the trade unions from building a new and secular society. The IFTU supports entirely Amnesty International?s strong condemnation of the bombings: "Deliberately attacking civilians can never be justified," said Amnesty International. "Targeting worshippers during religious observances betrays complete contempt for the most fundamental principles of humanity. To the extent that these bombings are part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population of Iraq in furtherance of an organization's policy, they would constitute crimes against humanity. As such they would be among the most serious crimes under international law. These attacks must be stopped immediately and those responsible must be brought to justice."