As part of monthly web-conferences involving AWL members and other working-class activists in the UK and Australia, Iraqi workers' leader Falah Alwan has been giving regular updates on workers' struggle in the country.
(For updates from December's web-conference, which gives background to some of the issues reported on below, click here)
The new development on the issue of union elections is the intervention of Maliki himself. He held a meeting with a new group, calling them an official union. They carry the same name as the former IFTU. This meeting confused the situation with the elections in general. It's clear that there is a political agenda behind this meeting. One of the leaders of the GFIW is a former deputy of Allawi, the main candidate after Maliki to be the Prime Minister, so they were very shocked. The political struggle behind this meeting is very clear. We have issued a statement about this, and a call to protest. Unfortunately it's only in Arabic at the moment. We want to oblige the authorities not to hold these elections, which are due to be held in February.
Regarding the railways, the management of the railway agreed to negotiate with the workers. They agreed two main points; the first agreement was to pay security benefits to the workers, and the second was to increase the level of payments. The third demand was to provide security for the railway workers. This was initial done by agreement between the government and tribal gangs. Nowadays it is through a contractor but he doesn't do anything except take money from the authorities. This problem is as it was before; it has not been solved. The workers delayed their strike due to two of their demands being met.
The third issue is the former “politically-dismissed” workers. This is the workers who were dismissed during the Saddam era for their political views or for refusing to join the Ba'ath Party. After 2003, they were re-employed. But then the government created an “Committee of Inquiry” to oblige the workers to give official documents proving they were politically dismissed. It's impossible to do this, as the former regime arrested and tortured people with no official cover, so it's impossible to provide that kind of proof.
The authorities cut their pay, and many of them lost about one quarter of their salaries. That was the main reason for a demonstration they held last week in Baghdad. They had two main demands; firstly, to stop the procedures of the Committee of Inquiry, and to consider the politically-dismissed workers as full employees. After the demonstration, there was a negotiation with representatives of the politically-dismissed workers, but so far there are no decisions on stopping the procedures of the administration.
There has also been a demonstration of energy workers in Nasiryah. They called for remunerations and benefits for working in remote areas. Their remunerations from 2007-8 have still not been paid. They had a demonstration in front of the main energy station. Initially the management refused to negotiate with them, citing the illegitimacy of unions in the electricity sector according to Shahristani's decisions. The management called the police, who fired bullets to try and disperse the workers. But the workers insisted on meeting the management and finally they agreed to negotiate. They have promised to pay their remunerations.
In al-Kut, 180km south of Baghdad, there are workers working on a temporary system despite being in their jobs for 10 years or more. They want to be consider full-time workers, but management are refusing to consider them full-time workers and give them the benefits that goes with being full-time.
There was a struggle involving agricultural workers in Salahdin, who were arrested but later released. The agricultural workers' union has released a statement condemning this. There has also been a demonstration by graduates in Nasiryah calling for job creation. This demonstration was held last Tuesday. They gathered in front of the council of Nasiryah.