Iraqi Oil Workers Fight Privatization and Occupation
Public sector unions in Iraq were outlawed by Saddam Hussein in 1987. Now, the Iraqi labor movement is protesting plans by U.S. occupation authorities to privatize state owned industries. We speak with the president of the General Union of Oil Workers.
Though we don't often hear about the labor movement in Iraq, the country has a long history of union activism that dates back to the 1920’s when the British first began exporting oil from the country. Saddam Hussein banned unions for public workers in 1987 because he feared a progressive movement would topple his dictatorship. When the U.S occupation of Iraq began, the U.S authorities refused to repeal that law. Instead in September of 2003, Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official overseeing the Iraqi occupation, issued an order to privatize the country’s state owned industries, which include its oil industry.
But the Iraqi people are speaking out against privatization. At the end of May, a large conference was held in Basra that focused on the threat of privatization of Iraq’s oil fields. Oil workers voiced their opposition to privatization and to selling their oil to foreign companies at discounted prices. They also called for an end to the occupation and a withdrawal of foreign troops.
Hassan Juma'a Awad al-Asade, president of the General Union of Oil Workers in Iraq. He is touring the U.S. along with five other trade unionists from Iraq. He joins us in our studio in D.C. Mohamed Taam is translating.
David Bacon, a veteran labor journalist who recently returned from Basra. He has an op-ed piece about Iraqi unions in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.
Full Interview with Hassan Juma’a Awad Al-Asade: Democracy Now!