Please treat this as an open letter and feel free to circulate.
The head of the TUC European Union and International Department, Owen Tudor, has written a letter criticising Iraq's oil workers' union, for not building links with certain international union federations, and lambasting solidarity organisations for issuing statements alerting the trade unions and general public to the escalating anti-trade union measures and oil privatisation plans in Iraq. [Copies of Owen Tudor's statement, and the Naftana (Arabic for "our oil") and US Labour Against the War (USLAW) statements are reproduced below this email.]
Instead of directing his fire at the anti-trade union measures in occupied Iraq, Owen Tudor prefers to level a false accusation against a besieged trade union representing impoverished workers, languishing under a ruthless occupation. He also takes a swipe at "small" solidarity organisations in Britain and USA, and engages in diversionary nitpicking and making light of the grave problems facing the Iraqi people and trade unions.
But despite Owen Tudor's attempt to cloud the issues and downplay the seriousness of the problems facing Iraq's genuinely independent trade unionists, the facts are plain and simple to understand. The Iraqi government has, in the past few months, accelerated the implementation of decree 8750. The Iraqi Ministerial Council approved decree 8750 in August 2005 (probably not published in the official gazette till September) promising "a new paper on how trade unions should function, operate and organise," dissolving one government committee and replacing it with a new ministerial committee that includes the minister for National Security, to be in charge of Labour and Social Rights, and stating that the new committee would control all trade union funds. Using wording rivalling the deviousness of the Saddam regime's 1987 anti-trade union law, decree 8750 does not ban trade unions. In 2004 US administrator Paul Bremer issued a notorious directive, still in effect, reviving Saddam's 1987 anti-union decree, which also did not ban trade unions as such, but merely deemed all workers in the state sector to be civil servants. Civil servants were of course banned from joining trade unions.
Similarly, decree 8750 is worded such that it effectively makes all union activity illegal. The decree states that the new ministerial committee "must take control of all monies belonging to the trade unions and prevent them from dispensing any such monies." How trade unions can function legally when it is illegal to dispense a penny on their activities, only Owen Tudor knows. He also knows how to stay calm and not resort to "hyperbole" when "Unions in Iraq are clearly still functioning, and have been since the Decree was announced." In English, this means that his TUC department will not launch a serious campaign to defend Iraq's independent trade unionists until they all stop functioning.
While the country burned and cities were at the receiving end of trigger-happy US Marines, US air and land bombardment, and occupation-induced terrorist attacks, the government proceeded this year with the implementation of the anti-union policies and decrees. As if it was not bad enough that his TUC department did not campaign to defend the Iraqi lawyers' and writers' unions, Owen Tudor tries to downplay nakedly anti-union measures by describing properly constituted unions, with elected officers, as "more professional associations than trade unions."
In April the government accelerated the implementation of its 8750 anti-union decree. Contrary to Tudor Owen's accusations of "hyperbole," the Naftana statement below understates the scale of the problem facing Iraqi trade unions by highlighting the actual freezing of the accounts of only the oil workers' union. The government decree in fact ordered control over the accounts of all trade unions (including those close to the government).
I find it astonishing that he chooses to accuse the oil workers union, whom the TUC officially invited to Britain last year, of not communicating with international union federations. He knows very well that the oil workers' union has been trying very hard to establish such contacts in the face of insidious, but polite and patronising disregard. He also knows that this union is financially strapped -(the price of true independence under occupation)- and relies heavily on its supporters in Britain to communicate its news in English to the British and world trade union movement. Instead of publicly criticising the union, he should be writing to them expressing concern at the news of freezing their account, ascertaining the full facts and offering financial and other help. He should also be asking them how the TUC could help the union's planned second anti-privatisation conference in Basra.
It is deeply regrettable that some in the TUC international department prefer to turn a blind eye to certain international events, which are seriously threatening trade unionists abroad, if such events are deemed to be politically embarrassing to Blair's government. For them Iraq is building a democracy, and strangling independent trade union activity does not fit in with that fictitious Blairite image of Iraq, an image designed to lull trade unionists into silence about the gravity of the situation in Iraq, and thwart calls for the swift withdrawal of the US and British occupation forces.
In the name of supporting a fictitious democratic process, they are in effect helping to crush democratic activity. And by not exposing the consequences of the Blairite (Thatcherite) alliance with the Bush administration, some in the TUC international department are, probably with good intentions, helping prolong the occupation of Iraq and privatisation and theft of Iraqi oil and other wealth by the transnationals. In doing this, they are also damaging the reputation and proud record of most of Britain's unions, strongly opposed to the war and continuing occupation of Iraq. Instead, Tudor Owen should also be alerting Britain's unions to the fact that the Iraq's oil minister is preparing the ground for signing privatisation agreements, deceptively called Production Sharing Agreements, with the transnational oil barons.
The TUC is perhaps not aware that the occupation authorities have spent millions of dollars on so called civil society and other 'sweetheart' organisations to prop up activities designed to draw attention away from the war crimes of the occupation forces and plans to privatise Iraq's oil and main industries. The implementation, probably selectively, of decree 8750 will hit the genuinely independent organisations hardest, because they rely heavily on the pennies they collect from impoverished workers and donations collected by solidarity organisations .
Decree 8750 is aimed at strangling the truly independent trade unions and other mass organisations. International solidarity helps them stay independent and to resist pressures to turn them into 'sweetheart' unions, docile apologists of the occupation and the transnationals.
26 June 2006
Department of Applied Social Sciences,
London Metropolitan University, City Campus,
Old Castle Street, London, E1 7NT
Tel: 020 7320 1280
1. Statement by the TUC's Owen Tudor
"The TUC is unaware of what has happened to the Oil Workers Union (it
doesn't help that they seem only to communicate with small campaigning
organisations rather than the global oil workers federation (ICEM) or
the global trade union movement (ICFTU), but it is certainly true that
Decree 8750 has been used to intervene in the lawyers union and others
(note that this organisation and others affected are more professional
associations than trade unions, not that that makes the government's
actions any better).
However, it is a massive exaggeration to describe Decree 8750 as "the
September 2005 decree making all trade union activity illegal", and
things are bad enough without exaggerating and giving completely the
wrong impression. Unions in Iraq are clearly still functioning, and have
been since the Decree was announced (in August by the way).
This is not intended to stop people protesting about Decree 8750, as the
TUC, ICFTU and Iraqi unions have been for nearly a year. But hyperbole
doesn't help, it sends people off in the wrong direction.
Owen Tudor, Head of TUC European Union and International Relations
Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7467 1325 -- Fax: +44 (0) 20 7436 2830 -- Mobile: +44
(0) 7788 715261 "
2. Naftana Statement (a very similar statement was also issued by US Labor Against the War (USLWA))
OIL UNION BANK ACCOUNT FROZEN
IRAQI GOVERNMENT ATTACKS OPPONENTS OF OIL PRIVATISATION
We have just confirmed reports that the Iraqi regime has frozen all
the bank accounts of the Iraqi oil workers' union, both abroad and
Wave of anti-union activity by government
The Iraqi regime's decision comes in the wake of a series of anti-union measures,
including the disbanding of the council of the lawyers' union,
freezing the writers' union accounts and the September 2005 decree
making all trade union activity illegal. For that anti-union act the
regime used the pretext of promising the promulgation of a future law
to 'regulate' trade union organisations and their activities.
This action follows in the footsteps of US administrator Paul Bremer
In 2004 Paul Bremer, the occupation's then pro-consul in Iraq,
declared trade union activity in the state sector illegal. That
decision re-enacted Saddam Hussain's 1987 decree banning workers'
unions in the state sector by declaring them to be 'civil servants'
rather than 'workers'.
Hamstringing opponents of oil rip-off
Iraq's enormous oil wealth is being groomed for Production Sharing
Agreements, which would transfer effective control over all aspects
of oil policy, production and marketing to multination oil
companies. The oil workers' union is one of the most effective
opponents of this policy, organising an anti-privatisation conference
last year and another one to come this year.
Notes for journalistss
The GUOE organises over 23,000 oil and gas industry workers Naftana
(Arabic: 'our oil') was set up by UK activists after contact with the
GUOE. We are in regular contact with the leadership of the union.
In August 2003 the union halted oil exports for two days as a protest
over low wages.
The GUOE is independent of any political party or union federation.
GUOE executive committee members, including its President, were part
of the opposition against Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and many
were imprisoned by the regime. The GUOE is opposed to the military
occupation of Iraq and to the privatisation of the oil and industrial
sectors of Iraq.
The GUOE is a successor to the Southern Oil Company Union (SOCU), set
up immediately after the fall of the Saddam regime.
In October 2003 union activists kicked US company KBR out of oil
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