Socialist Worker

Iraqi oil workers defy threats to win strike

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2055

Iraqi oil workers have won a victory in their strike against the US-backed government.

The workers, part of the 26,000-strong Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), defied military threats and an order to arrest strike leaders in their dispute about wages, benefits and the future of the oil industry.

Their rolling strike action began on Monday of last week after the government reneged on promises to improve terms and conditions of work, health and safety, and bonuses.

In the first days of the strike the union closed down two key pipelines feeding power stations in the south.

They threatened to cut off supplies of oil for export and supplies to the capital.

The government responded by issuing arrest warrants for four organisers of the union, including its leader Hassan Jumaa Awad.

The government accused the union leaders of 'sabotaging the Iraqi economy'.

Prime minster Nouri al-Maliki sent thousands of troops to surround the strikers at Sheiba, near Basra in the south, while US warplanes buzzed demonstrations organised by the strikers and their supporters.

The rolling action was put on hold as a strike delegation travelled to Baghdad to present their demands to the government. Strike leaders made it clear that they would not give in to intimidation, and issued a deadline for a new wave of strikes.

The government was forced to accept key demands over pay, and promised talks over 'outstanding issues'.

Future

These issues go to the heart of the future of the oil industry. The oil workers have been campaigning against the oil privatisation bill that would see the industry hived off to multinationals at bargain prices.

They were demanding that control of the industry be taken out the hands of the government and put into local control.

According to the union the government backed down over 'the issues within the remit of the prime minister'. This is a reference to the fact that the Iraqi government has little control over the privatisation.

The US made the sell off of Iraq's oil one of the 'benchmarks' of its 'surge' and threatened to depose the prime minister if the plans are blocked.

The proposed law will allow global companies to grab huge profits by developing Iraq's untapped oil fields under contracts lasting up to 30 years. The bill has yet to pass through the Iraqi parliament.

The strike is a small victory in a long struggle over control of oil that has united Iraqis.

'Finally the workers have won their legitimate rights,' Hassan Jumaa Awad said in a statement issued on 11 June.

'The workers can achieve what they want by means of their strength, and the oil workers are very strong.'


Confined to barracks

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Tony Blair's man in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, is the latest former high ranking official to wave the white flag and admit defeat.

Greenstock told an independent Iraq Commission investigation that 'British forces shouldn't come out [of their bases] if there's an equal battle between political militias in the southern provinces.

'They should only come out if there's a legitimate request by the local governor.'

The former British ambassador to the UN – who tried unsuccessfully to get the UN security council to rubber stamp the invasion – said, 'We are in a condition now, and have been probably since 2003, where the foreigner on the ground is progressively more unpopular.'

His comments come as British troops are under increasing attack in the south of Iraq.

This month marked the death of the 150th British soldier in Iraq.

US troops also reached a grim milestone this month with the numbers killed passing 3,500. Over 650,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion.

Hassan Jumaa Awad will be speaking at Marxism 2007 festival of resistance in central London 5-9 July. For more details go to » www.marxismfestival.org.uk, or for more on the Iraqi oil workers' union go to » www.handsoffiraqioil.org


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Article information

International
Tue 12 Jun 2007, 19:56 BST
Issue No. 2055
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