Recently, AWL members in the UK and Australia (along with other activists) have been holding monthly web-conferences with Falah Alwan, leader of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq. This is an edited transcript of Falah's report to the December conference.
Because of the quality of the internet connection, this transcript is imperfect. It is edited and is therefore not a verbatim record of what Falah said.
The first issue is to do with a strike of railway workers. Workers of the railway in the south of Iraq – especially around Samawah, 270km south of Baghdad, which is a desert area and very dangerous – have been suffering from mines and explosions. The authorities instructed tribal gangs to provide security for the railways. Tribal gangs are getting huge amounts of money from the authorities but they don't really provide security; 8 train drivers have been killed in the last few months because of explosions.
The specific demands of the railway workers were, first, to ensure security and ask the authorities to take their responsibilities directly. The final demand was security benefits, because they are facing dangers in every day and every hour on their way from Baghdad to Basra.
Before the strike was held, the authorities agreed to negotiate with the workers so the workers didn't hold their strike. They are waiting for an answer from the administration.
The second important issue, which needs our intervention and especially international solidarity, is that the Iraqi authorities want to hold workers' elections in Iraq but only want to allow the GFIW to take part and stand to be the workers' representatives. The GFIW, the former IFTU, is the “official” union, so the authorities consider them the official representatives of the workers, so they can enter workplaces. The Ministry of Labour want to give legitimacy to the GFIW by holding these elections. We don't know what they mean by “elections”; according to the ILO and international norms, it's for the workers to decide their representatives. The Ministry of Labour wants to give the GFIW legal cover by promoting them as the only official union.
Unfortunately the international Arab unions have intervened by announcing overtly and frankly that they will give their backing to these elections and the GFIW. We consider that this is a very dangerous violation to workers' rights. They want to prevent any initiatives towards independent unions and demolish the new unions that emerged after 2003. It is a plot by the Ministry of Labour, by coordination with GFIW, to give GFIW legitimacy against the efforts of independent unions. We need international support. They plan to hold these elections in February 2011.