Maliki Shuts Down Iraq’s Electrical Trade Unions

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The Iraqi Ministry of Oil was unscathed after the imperialists ‘shock and awe’ bombardment in 2003
The Iraqi Ministry of Oil was unscathed after the imperialists ‘shock and awe’ bombardment in 2003

THE International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions has expressed outrage at the banning last week of the Iraqi electrical trade unions by the Maliki puppet government, whose advent, and the previous overthrowal of the Saddam Hussein government, the federation had supported.

The Iraqi government, on 20 July, invoked a ministerial order to shut and seize all offices and property of the electrical workers’ trade unions.

Within a day of the order, police were carrying out inventories of equipment, furniture and files of several electrical workers’ union across Iraq, including those of two ICEM affiliates – the Electrical Power Workers’ Union of the Federation of Workers’ Council Unions (FWCUI) and the General Union of Electricity Workers and Technicians (GUEWT), affiliated to the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).

GUEWT President Hashmeya Muhsen Al-Saadawi said the police were polite, yet forceful in cataloguing and closing offices.

In Iraq, the issuance of the order and implementing it within a day is a record.

Normally, administrative orders can take weeks and months to put in place. In this case, the anti-union bias of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani is evident.

He has only recently been appointed Acting Minister of Electricity in a situation where an uprising against continuous power cuts is taking place.

The order states that trade union leaders who stand in the way of the closures will be charged under Iraq’s 2005 Terrorism Act.

Last week’s targeting of electrical trade unions stands as a malicious muscle-play by the government to keep a ban on all public-sector unions.

That ban, Order 8750, was imposed by the occupation forces in August 2005.

The electrical raids also serve as a stark reminder that meaningful labour law in Iraq will be very difficult under the leaders of this government.

The ICEM and many other unions and NGOs, including Amnesty International, immediately protested.

On July 22, ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki: ‘This order is a direct affront to all trade unions in Iraq, particularly trade unions such as the GUEWT that ICEM and its affiliated unions across the world have been working with in order to establish free and democratic institutions for the betterment of all Iraqi people.’

The full letter reads:

‘Dear Honourable Prime Minister al-Maliki:

‘The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), a global trade union federation representing millions of oil, gas, and electric workers, is deeply disturbed by Iraq Ministerial Order No. 30 of 20 July 2010 that effectively sent Iraqi police officers into all the offices of the Electricity Workers’ Union to halt all union activities.

‘The Ministerial Order “prohibits all trade union activities at the Ministry and its departments and sites”, and it orders the police “to close all trade union offices and bases and to take control of the union’s assets, properties and documents, furniture and computers.”

‘We have learned that one of our Iraqi trade unions affiliates, General Union of Electricity Workers and Technicians (GUEWT), has been severely impacted by this ill-advised order.

‘This order is a direct affront to all trade unions in Iraq, particularly trade unions such as the GUEWT that ICEM and its affiliated unions across the world have been working with in order to establish free and democratic institutions for the betterment of all Iraqi workers.

‘This order is a wilful violation of international core labour standards, standards that should instead form the basis of Iraqi labour law.

‘The ICEM sees this draconian action as coming directly from Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, who recently has taken over responsibility for the electric sector and someone we feel seeks to impede ordinary Iraqi workers and citizens from gaining participatory roles in democratic institutions and a democratic government. We find this reprehensible and a serious roadblock to reconstruction inside Iraq.

‘The ICEM is also disturbed by other recent actions that undermine the Iraqi trade union movement. We specifically refer to restrictions placed on Iraqi trade unionists to travel outside Iraq in order to engage in forums and workshops with trade unions, including the ICEM and activities, as well as the activities of our affiliated unions.

‘We are also deeply concerned about transfers of Iraqi trade union leaders away from enterprises around which their trade union activities are centred.

‘This violates universally recognised labour standards and we will continue to press your government when this happens.

‘The ICEM calls on the Iraqi Government, immediately, to withdraw Order 30 of 20 July 2010, and allow all trade unions to operate openly and freely in Iraq. We also again urge the Iraqi government to adopt and implement a fair and just labour law that grants rights that are commonly accepted throughout the world.

‘Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Manfred Warda

General Secretary.’

In another letter, this one to new UK Foreign Secretary William Hague from the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Brendan Barber, the decree was labelled ‘a violation of the Iraqi constitution, and one of the most draconian acts by the Iraqi Government since the fall of Saddam.

‘It comes from Hussain al-Shahristani, the Minister for Oil, who has recently taken over the electricity portfolio and has a worrying track record of using Saddam-era labour laws against trade unions.’

The TUC has begun a protest campaign against the union ban.

In Iraq last weekend there was also discrimination against trade union leaders who attempted to gather to discuss the sudden closures and seizures.

At one such gathering that took place outside the offices of an electric enterprise, police verbally assaulted trade unionists.

In Basra on July 22, union leaders did meet with some members of the Basra Governorate Council to discuss the aggressive and illegal action, under Article 22 of the Iraqi Constitution, ministerial order.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the International Federation of the ICEM also expressed concerns that in the rush to get copper production from the Cananea mine back on world markets, Grupo México is ‘disregarding the safety and health of contract workers’.

Unions are suspicious of an apparently undocumented rash of on-the-job accidents and injuries in the short six weeks since federal police opened the mine in Sonora State for the company.

Following a July 16 accident in which a sub-contracted worker was hospitalised after a five-metre fall, military police secured the perimeter of the hospital, not allowing anybody to enter. When leaders of Section 65 of the Mexican National Miners’ and Metalworkers’ Union (SNTMMSRM) tried to lend assistance to the injured worker, they were turned away by ‘a violent and arrogant grenadier,’ according to a report.

Workers of Los Mineros at Cananea claim there have been 20 such accidents with injuries since mine rehabilitation began following the military takeover on June 6th.

The workers say: ‘The pitiful irony is that Grupo México and federal police used brute force to reopen the Cananea mine on June 6th, crushing a strike that began over health and safety in 2007.

‘Now they are at breakneck pace, using disposable contract workers, to re-start Cananea at a time – during the first quarter of 2010 – that world copper supply fell short of refined usage.’

In a media interview in late June, Grupo México’s Isaac Lopez Arzola, the director-general of Southern Copper’s Mexicana de Cobre S.A., which functions as the company’s copper operating and servicing subsidiary, said 700 workers are now employed at the mine – all non-direct to Grupo México and Southern Copper, and therefore ‘the responsibility of individual contractors’.

That number is expected to climb to 1,700.

Compared to a global investment strategy totalling US$2.8 billion, Grupo México is spending only US$114 million to bring Cananea into production, rushing to get it done by the first quarter of 2011 to meet continued high copper prices.

In turn, Southern Copper will double its global copper output over the next few years, making it the world’s third largest copper producer.

The unions add that ‘with copper prices doubling in early 2010 over copper pricing in early 2009, and considering that every one per cent jump in the copper price equates to an estimated 1.3 per cent rise in Grupo México’s equity value, why should the company concern itself with safety, or the injuries of non-direct workers?’