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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

US squelching trade unions in Iraq?

Liberation apparently doesn't mean free trade unions in Iraq. Pacific New Service reports that on Dec. 6, US troops arrested members of the executive board of the Iraqi Workers Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The trade unionists were handcuffed and detained until the following day.

"They gave no reason at all, despite being asked over and over," says IFTU spokesperson Abdullah Muhsin. Soldiers painted over the name of the federation on the front of the building with black paint, Muhsin says. The union had few resources, "but we did have a few files, and they took those," Muhsin adds. Ironically, the office had posters on the walls condemning terrorism, which soldiers tore down in the raid.

The US occupation government has not explained the detentions.

The arrests come against a background of massive unemployment in Iraq. The Union of the Unemployed says that up to 70 percent of the workforce is out of work. These workers can't collect unemployment checks because, quite simply, there's not system for unemployment benefits. And, as yet, none of Iraq's international donors have shown any interest in funding such a system.

Iraqi workers fear privatization will bring massive layoffs. "I'll have to fire 1,500 (of the refinery's 3,000) workers," says Dathar Al-Kashab, manager of the Al Daura oil refinery. "In America, when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance and they won't die from hunger. If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families."

At the refinery, as in most factories, those with jobs work 11- and 13-hour shifts. Al Daura workers earn $60 a month. They have no safety shoes, goggles, masks or other protective gear. The IFTU helped the refinery's workers organize a union and elect its leaders. In Basra, workers have formed a central labor council and mounted demonstrations. The Workers Unions and Councils group has helped workers elect committees in the State Leather Industry plant, the largest shoe factory in the Middle East, and the Mamoun Vegetable Oil enterprise, among others.

When these new unions try to talk with the plant managers, however, they're told that a 1987 law forbids workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) from forming unions. The CPA still enforces this Saddam-era law. Another order issued by the CPA on June 6 threatens that anyone who "incites civil disorder" will be detained as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:58 PM | Get permalink




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