Iraqi labour under fire as sectarianism grows

Submitted by Matthew on 22 January, 2014 - 10:27

Sectarian violence continues in Iraq, with 21 people killed in bombings in Baghdad on 20 January. The central government, dominated by Shi’ite Muslim parties and led by Nouri al-Maliki, recently launched a military counteroffensive against Sunni-Islamist militias which have taken control of areas in the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in western Iraq.

Falah Alwan, President of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI, one of Iraq’s main labour federations), spoke to Solidarity about the situation in the country.

There is enormous wastage on government salaries and other similar expenditure. There’s been no real public sector job creation in the last few years, except for military jobs, and there’s been enormous misappropriation of public funds by government bureaucracy.

There are ongoing tensions between the central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government, which has been directly exporting oil to Turkey for some time. The Prime Minister of Kurdistan was in Baghdad on 20 January to discuss this issue. The Minister of Oil has said explicitly that Iraq will boycott Turkish oil companies. So the al-Maliki government is putting pressure on the Kurds over this.

But there’s a pressure in the other direction, too, as the Kurds believe al-Maliki needs their support in his conflict with the Sunni nationalists and the Islamist militias.

The government and Shi’ite parties have been trying to stir up sectarian feeling amongst the people. Of course, people are against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS), which is affiliated to al-Qaeda. People in western Iraq consider themselves victims of both al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. There are reports of people creating neighbourhood patrols and militias to protect themselves against both ISIL and the Iraqi military.

In the south of Iraq, the Shi’ite parties and the government have been able to mobilise more support, with many people backing the army. Elsewhere, people see al-Maliki as the root cause of the current conflict due to his attempts to divide people by religion and ethnicity.

The main struggle for the Iraqi labour movement is still focused on winning a labour code which guarantees workers’ rights. The Parliament was due to vote on the latest draft on Thursday 16 January, but the vote was delayed. That’s fortunate for the unions, as the latest draft doesn’t include any of the unions’ demands or the International Labour Organisation’s recommendations.

The Iraqi government wants a labour law that will be responsive to its neo-liberal policies. The latest draft retains the prohibition of unions in the public sector, something leftover from Saddam Hussein’s 1987 labour law.

We are still campaigning for a labour law which includes the right to organise and the right to strike, workers’ compensation, and protection against job losses. The new labour law gives bosses enormous power to sack workers easily, without consulting the unions. This labour law represents the interests of the capitalists, not the workers. We don’t yet know when the law will come back to Parliament for ratification.

There is also a campaign against the government’s plan to abolish the Ministry of Industry and move 250,000 previously-nationalised jobs into the private sector. But it’s difficult to campaign effectively. Basic union organising is very difficult in the current situation. There is effectively martial law. Workers are prevented from organising even peaceful strikes and demonstrations. The government considers every activist a terrorist.

The Parliamentary elections are due on 30 April, although the war in western Iraq could delay them. The existing administration has created laws and regulations around the elections that allow them to control the process. There’ll be widespread fraud, election papers will be falsified, and voters will be intimidated by gangs. No serious changes will happen.

There is a coalition led by the Iraqi Communist Party, called “Democratic Trend”, which will participate in the elections as a left bloc. They might win one or two seats. But they cannot make serious changes to the policy of the regime.

The Worker-Communist Party advocates a boycott of the elections, because they are essentially rigged and held under conditions controlled by the existing political powers. This was the same in 2005 and 2009.

Workers and socialists internationally can support the campaigns coordinated by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Centre, and the industriALL union, which are supported by the unions in Iraq.

Socialists can demonstrate at Iraqi Embassies in their countries and hold meetings to raise awareness about our struggle for a pro-worker labour law and our struggles against neo-liberal policies.

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