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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

American Democracy Comes to Iraq as Oil Strike Leader Arrested

The price of Iraqi oil: union leader in court for organising strike

Hassan Juma’a Awad
Federation of Iraqi Oil Unions

An oil workers’ union leader will appear before a court in Basra on Sunday charged with organising strikes, reports from activists in Iraq say.
The real purpose of the UN invasion
UPDATE (Sunday 7 April): The hearing has now been adjourned to 15 April, activists have heard.

Hassan Juma’a Awad, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, faces up to five years in prison, under a law banning strikes that was passed under Saddam Hussein and has not been repealed.

The charge arises from strikes and demonstrations in February by workers at the state-owned South Oil Company, the country’s largest “native” oil producer. Hundreds of workers had gathered at the SOC’s offices demanding the resignation of the director.
Hashmeya Muhsin, head of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union, at a Basra union meeting. Photo: David Bacon.

The union Hassan Juma’a heads “is still technically illegal: Saddam’s ban on public-sector unions was the sole Saddam-era dictate kept in place under the US occupation, and Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki hasn’t shown any interest in changing it since most US troops left”, according to the Toward Freedom web site here. A protest letter by international human rights and labour groups, reported here  and here, points out the oil ministry has banned union organisation at the companies it controls – despite that contravening ILO convention 98, which Iraq has ratified, and breaching the right to freedom of association included in the Iraqi constitution.
Hassan Jumaa speaking into the megaphone
AddHassan Juma
eral international trade unions have protested about the threats to Hassan Juma’a and other activists, including the British TUC here. And here are activists at the World Social Forum last week expressing their solidarity on YouTube. There is a good blog post by a UK-based activist who has worked with the Iraqi oil workers’ union here.

The international oil companies who are negotiating big contracts with the Iraqi government have predictably kept quiet about this threat to workers’ rights. Shell, which is planning a big gas-gathering project together with South Oil Company, is among

If you can do anything – write a letter to the Iraqi ambassador, demonstrate, get your trade union to kick up a fuss – it all helps.

And here’s what I think this sort of issue has to do with this site’s broad subject matter. What oil companies expropriate is not only thick, black liquid carrying energy, but also the hard work of workers who got it out of the ground. As well as owning and controlling the oil, those companies inflict hardship and humiliation on those workers – in “liberated” Iraq, with the help of Saddam’s labour laws. Solidarity with such workers is surely one of the many starting-pionts for any movement to supercede the dehumanised energy system and the social system of which it is part. 

TUC Statement - Solidarity with Iraqi workers

Harassment of oil union leader

March 2013

Drop charges against Iraqi oil union leader, says TUC

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady has urged the Iraqi government to desist from persecuting and harassing trade unionists in the oil industry. Union leaders from the sector globally - IndustriALL - and UNITE in the UK have also called for the case against Hassan Juma'a Awad, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), IndustriALL's affiliate, to be dropped.

In a clear reprisal for trade union activism at the state-owned Southern Oil Company (SOC), Hassan Juma'a was summoned before the Basra Court on 20 March accused of organising a strike and demonstration by SOC workers in February. He is due to stand trial in April, and this is far from the first time he has been targeted by the authorities.

Frances' letter reads:

25 Mar 2013

Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in London
21 Queen's Gate
London SW7 5JE

Your Excellency

We are deeply concerned about the continuing violations of union rights and freedoms in Iraq, in particular in the oil sector.

Most recently, Hassan Juma'a Awad, Chairman of the Federation of Oil Unions, has been charged of organising an entirely legitimate strike at the Southern Oil Company. We also understand that eight Southern Oil Company workers have been summoned to the General Inspector's Office in the Ministry of Oil in order for the Ministry to investigate their role in recent demonstrations in Basra, where workers engaged in peaceful protest.

The Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of association and peaceful demonstrations, and the Iraqi Government is, by virtue of its membership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) bound to uphold freedom of association and free collective bargaining. Yet for years, we have had to complain that the Ministry of Oil has repeatedly harassed union activists, including transferring them to distant work sites, reprimanding them, filing criminal complaints against them and imposing heavy fines and penalties on them.

The Ministry has banned union organizing at the companies affiliated to it, which is also a violation of ILO convention 98, which Iraq has ratified. These attacks on freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively maintain the repressive laws and policies of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Iraqi government should cease forthwith the continued repression of freedom of association and worker rights, based on laws issued under a dictatorship. We further believe that the government you represent should immediately cancel the orders issued by the Ministry of Oil to union activists, including all transfer orders, reprimands and arbitrary penalties against union activists. Charges against Hassan Juma'a Awad, and any other workers who have had retaliatory legal action taken against them, should be dropped.

Finally, we urge you to encourage your government to expedite the passage of a new, ILO-compliant labour law, allowing all workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively.

I would be grateful if you could convey our concerns to your government, and I look forward to your positive response on these urgent and important matters.

Yours sincerely


General Secretary

1 comment:

Gert said...

On AlJiz they're currently running a series called 'The Secret of the Seven Sisters'. Despite it's slightly conspiracy theory style title, it an excellent expose of what is being done by oil companies and the governments of countries to which they supply oil, to poor 'oil rich' countries around the Globe. Shocking but hardly surprising: in the struggle for resources (read 'grand theft') the West truly excels.