Opinion (David Bacon): Iraqi unions fight to keep oil out of corporate hands
Above: Hashimia Mohsen al Hussein, the president of the Basra engineering union that represents workers at electrical power stations, is the first woman to head a national union in Iraq. Left: Hassan Juma’a Awad, the head of the General Union of Oil Employees, the largest and most powerful union in Iraq
The Bush administration calls the Iraq occupation an exercise in democracy building. Yet from the beginning, many of the Iraqis who want democracy most are treated as its enemies - Iraq's unions.
Iraq has a long labor history. Union activists, banned and jailed under the British and its puppet monarchy, organized a labor movement that was the admiration of the Arab world when Iraq became independent after 1958. Saddam Hussein later drove its leaders underground, killing and jailing the ones he could catch.
When Saddam fell, Iraqi unionists came out of prison, up from underground and back from exile, determined to rebuild their labor movement. Miraculously, in the midst of war and bombings, they did. The oil workers union in the south is now one of the largest organizations in Iraq, with thousands of members on the rigs, pipelines and refineries. The electrical workers union is the first national labor organization headed by a woman, Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein.
Together with other unions in railroads, hotels, ports, schools and factories, they've gone on strike, held elections, won wage increases, and made democracy a living reality. Yet the Bush administration, and the Baghdad government it controls, has outlawed collective bargaining, impounded union funds and turned its back (or worse) on a wave of assassinations of Iraqi union leaders.
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