Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Iraqi Labor Leaders Speak Out Across US

Those Iraqi labor leaders mentioned last week in the OD are continuing their tour across the US seeking help from US workers and unions.

In Pittsburg they joined with counterparts from the United Steelworkers to decry working conditions in Iraq and to call for international support. Falah Awan, president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI) said Iraqi workers are fired at will and have no control over their working hours. He said women and children are being exploited in the Iraqi economy and that the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is doing nothing about it. He said those in power, “…don't respect any human value in this society."

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times Amjad Ali Aljawhry, a FWCUI representative who lives in exile in Canada said Iraq’s economy is in shambles with unemployment, “…as high as 70 percent.” He added that workers in his country have no health or safety standards.

In Chicago, Amjad Ali Aljawhry told listeners, “After 27 months of occupation, “…our federation stands for immediate withdrawal of troops immediately.” He added, “Since day one of occupation Iraqi people have not seen one single moment of peace.” He told of the desperate living conditions of a people suffering from ethnic divisions, insurgent suicide bombers and with regards to the democracy the Bush Administration has proclaimed, “…we (have) never seen anything promised.”

Falah Awan shared similar sentiments when he explained “…the occupying troops have installed a government based on ethnic and religious divisions...”

Awani said it was bad under Saddam Hussein whom he in no way defended. However, he charged, “… the U.S. occupation set corruption free. As a result, poor and unsafe living conditions are the consequences. More than half of the country’s population – Iraqi women and children – cannot leave their homes without a male, family member escorting them. He adds, “This is the democracy we’ve been promised.”

Awan explained that he feels it is the workers of Iraq who must eventually restore civil society.

In Los Angeles Hassan Juma'a Awad and Faleh Abbood Umara spoke to labor leaders and activists at the Harry Bridges Institute & Community Labor Center in San Pedro. The Daily Breeze reports Umara, 48, general secretary of the oil union said, "I ask you to help us pressure your administration to remove its forces in Iraq so we can rebuild our country. If they mention the security situation, I say that we are brothers in Iraq. And brothers can fight, but brothers can reconcile."

Umara said people face extreme dangers just trying to get to work. He said it's common for American troops to shoot at Iraqi cars for driving too close. "It's like the occupation forces are the people of the land and we're the foreigners," Umara said. "If you complain, you may end up in Abu Ghraib, and you don't know what will happen to you there."

Awad dismissed the idea of an impending civil war between Shiites and minority Sunnis.” Who is talking about war?" Awad said. "I am 53 years old, and I didn't hear about Sunni and Shiite (divisions) before the occupation forces entered. I am Shiite, but I'm married to a Sunni woman."

The two men expressed concerns over the attacks on labor in the new Iraq and the push for privatization of state owned industries. "My understanding is that unions don't get their legitimacy from the government. Unions rely only on the workers," Awad, 53, said with a defiant tone. "We decided to organize ourselves without relying on the laws."

In San Jose on Sunday Hassan Juma'a Awad Al Asade, chief of the General Union of Oil Employees executive branch said, ``The American administration claims it is bringing democracy and freedom and human rights to Iraq,. This is the third year of occupation and we see no improvement in our situation.'' He told the San Jose Mercury News that while most Iraqis were glad to see Saddam out, they now viewed the Americans as occupiers.

Peace activists and union members attended a presentation at the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union Local 715 in San Jose.

Both Awad and Abbood Umara spoke out in San Jose against U.S. efforts to privatize all Iraqi businesses except for the oil industry. Among other things, workers fear privatization would drive high unemployment even higher.

``Privatization is a kind word but the substance of it is to transfer public property to private property,'' said Juma'a Awad Al Asade. ``People with wealth and capital will go up, and the rest of the classes will go down and there will be elimination of the middle class.''

The touring labor leaders have had harsh words for insurgents who they say are targeting union leaders. In fact, New Standard says, “Rebels have reportedly killed at least ten unionists, including Ali Hassan Abd, a member of the Oil and Gas Union, and Hadi Salih, international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.” There are also numerous reports of insurgents harassing workers trying to organize themselves and others while several labor leaders have been kidnapped. The insurgents accuse the union leaders of collaboration with the occupation and an illegitimate Iraqi government. Sources: San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburg Business Times, Scoop (NZ), Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA), New Standard

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