Iraqi Dock Workers, Unions Salute
ILWU May Day Antiwar Port Shutdown
Iraqi dock workers under the gun of U.S. occupation forces. Above: "Iraqi" navy patrols Basra harbor. (Photo: Kevin Frayer/AP)
The May 1 strike by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) against the U.S. war on, and colonial occupation of, Iraq and Afghanistan was fervently greeted by Iraqi trade unions. The General Union of Port Workers in Iraq, affiliated to the General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (GFWCUI), sent a message of solidarity and itself called a one-hour May Day work stoppage on the docks at the ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Alzubair (see below). In addition, a solidarity motion was sent by a number of Iraqi unionists, many of them affiliated with the GFWCUI (also printed below).
While a number of labor bodies endorsed the ILWU action, the Iraqi port workers’ stoppage was one of the few concrete labor actions against the war/occupation – and taking place literally under the guns of the U.S. occupation forces. The recent offensive by troops of the Iraqi puppet “government” against the southern Iraqi city of Basra had as a particular target the dock workers union. An article, “Iraqi Troops May Move to Reclaim Basra’s Port,” in the New York Times (13 March), published just prior to the attack, listed as a central objective “to seize control of this city’s decrepit but vital port from politically connected militias known more for corruption and inciting terrorism than for their skill in moving freight.” In particular, the article singled out for attack “a militia-controlled union that will load and unload ships only eight hours a day – rather than the 24 hours a day typical of modern ports – and a general air of seediness.”
Horrors! A union that will only load and unload ships eight hours a day – what a crime! This must be what the military and their media mouthpieces call “corruption” and “terrorism,” not to mention the “general air of seediness.” It should be noted that dock operations at the port at Umm Qasr have been contracted out to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), the same labor-hating outfit that handles a lot of the war cargo shipped from California ports, and which was picketed by unionists and antiwar protesters last May (see “Longshore Workers Honor Picket Line, Shut Down War Cargo Shipper in Oakland,” in The Internationalist No. 26, July 2007). Another objective of the recent U.S./“Iraqi” army offensive is to go after the Southern Oil Company Union, headquartered in Basra, which stands in the way of the imperialists’ plans to hand over Iraqi oil to “multinational” companies like Exxon, BP and Shell.
In order to disguise the fact that the recent military offensive was specially targeted against labor, the New York Times article claims that “Shiite militias controlled by ... Fadhila,” a split-off from the Shiite movement led by Moktada al-Sadr, are “widely considered to be in control of the dock workers’ union.” The message from the port workers union to the ILWU gives the lie to this fabrication, notably rejecting “the sectarian gangs who are the product of the occupation, [and] have been trying to transfer their conflicts into our ranks.” In fact, the GFWCUI federation to which the port workers and Southern Oil Company workers are affiliated is linked to the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), which has taken a position equally opposed to both the imperialist occupiers and the Islamist militias.
The stance of the WCPI and GFWCUI places them well to the left of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), led by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which was for years part of U.S.-sponsored Iraqi exile coalitions and joined the puppet “governing council” set up by the U.S. after the 2003 invasion. While the affiliates of the ICP’s GFIW are outright “yellow (scab) unions,” the policy of the GFWCUI and WCPI (and the Iraq Freedom Congress, a popular front they support) has meant that they do not support military resistance against the colonial occupation forces, nor did they call for resisting the U.S.-led invasion. This leaves the field open to Islamic fundamentalist and Iraqi nationalist forces to lead resistance. While rejecting any political collaboration with Baathists and Islamists, class-conscious workers in Iraq would seek to undermine the occupation with industrial and, where possible, proletarian military action.
Particularly in view of the Iraqi port workers’ courageous action in solidarity with the ILWU, American labor has a special obligation to defend the Iraqi dock union against union-busting by the U.S. military, its war-profiteering contractors and the quisling Iraqi government. Action against SSA and other war cargo shippers on the West Coast docks can stop them cold in Umm Qasr. Further information about the recent military action in southern Iraq is provided in a video, “The Attack on Basra Is an Attack on Labor,” available on the Internet (http://youtube.com/watch?v=W2vtOsGEy-I)
May Day Message From Iraqi Docks Union
From: The General Union of Port Workers in Iraq
To: The International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States
Dear Brothers and Sisters of ILWU in California:
The courageous decision you made to carry out a strike on May Day to protest against the war and occupation of Iraq advances our struggle against occupation to bring a better future for us and for the rest of the world as well.
We are certain that a better world will only be created by the workers and what you are doing is an example and proof of what we say. The labor movement is the only element in the society that is able to change the political equations for the benefit of mankind. We in Iraq are looking up to you and support you until the victory over the US administration’ s barbarism is achieved.
Over the past five years, the sectarian gangs who are the product of the occupation, have been trying to transfer their conflicts into our ranks. Targeting workers, including their residential and shopping areas, indiscriminately using all sorts of explosive devices, mortar shells, and random shooting, were part of a bigger scheme that was aiming to tear up the society but they miserably failed to achieve their hellish goal. We are struggling today to defeat both the occupation and sectarian militias’ agenda.
The pro-occupation government has been attempting to intervene into the workers affairs by imposing a single government-certified labor union. Furthermore it has been promoting privatization and an oil and gas law to use the occupation against the interests of the workers.
We the port workers view that our interests are inseparable from the interests of workers in Iraq and the world; therefore we are determined to continue our struggle to improve the living conditions of the workers and overpower all plots of the occupation, its economic and political projects.
Let us hold hands for the victory of our struggle.
Long live the port workers in California!
Long live May Day!
Long live International solidarity!
The General Union of Port Workers in Iraq An Affiliate Union with General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (GFWCUI)
May Day 2008 Statement from the Iraqi Labour Movement
To the Workers and All Peace Loving People of the World
April 29th, 2008
On this day of international labour solidarity we call on our fellow trade unionists and all those worldwide who have stood against war and occupation to increase support for our struggle for freedom from occupation - both the military and economic.
We call upon the governments, corporations and institutions behind the ongoing occupation of Iraq to respond to our demands for real democracy, true sovereignty and self-determination free of all foreign interference.
Five years of invasion, war and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery and suffering to our people. In the name of our “liberation,” the invaders have destroyed our nation’s infrastructure, bombed our neighbourhoods, broken into our homes, traumatized our children, assaulted and arrested many of our family members and neighbours, permitted the looting of our national treasures, and turned nearly twenty percent of our people into refugees.
The invaders helped to foment and then exploit sectarian divisions and terror attacks where there had been none. Our union offices have been raided. Union property has been seized and destroyed. Our bank accounts have been frozen. Our leaders have been beaten, arrested, abducted and assassinated. Our rights as workers have been routinely violated.
The Ba’athist legislation of 1987, which banned trade unions in the public sector and public enterprises (80% of all workers), is still in effect, enforced by Paul Bremer’s post-invasion Occupation Authority and then by all subsequent Iraqi administrations. This is an attack on our rights and basic precepts of a democratic society, and is a grim reminder of the shadow of dictatorship still stalking our country.
Despite the horrific conditions in our country, we continue to organise and protest against the occupation, against workplaces abuses, and for better treatment and safer conditions.
Despite the sectarian plots around us, we believe in unity and solidarity and a common aim of public service, equality, and freedom to organise without external intrusions and coercion.
Our legitimacy comes from our members. Our principles of organisation are based on transparent and internationally recognised International Labour Organisation standards.
We call upon our allies and all the world’s peace-loving peoples to help us to end the nightmare of occupation and restore our sovereignty and national independence so that we can chart our own course to the future.
1) We demand an immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from our country, and utterly reject the agreement being negotiated with the USA for long-term bases and a military presence. The continued occupation fuels the violence in Iraq rather than alleviating it. Iraq must be returned to full sovereignty.
2) We demand the passage of a labour law promised by our Constitution, which adheres to ILO principles and on which Iraqi trade unionists have been fully consulted, to protect the rights of workers to organize, bargain and strike, independent of state control and interference.
3) We demand an end to meddling in our sovereign economic affairs by the International Monetary Fund, USA and UK. We demand withdrawal of all economic conditionalities attached to the IMF’s agreements with Iraq, removal of US and UK economic “advisers” from the corridors of Iraqi government, and a recognition by those bodies that no major economic decisions concerning our services and resources can be made while foreign troops occupy the country.
4) We demand that the US government and others immediately cease lobbying for the oil law, which would fracture the country and hand control over our oil to multinational companies like Exxon, BP and Shell. We demand that all oil companies be prevented from entering into any long-term agreement concerning oil while Iraq remains occupied. We demand that the Iraqi government tear up the current draft of the oil law, and begin to develop a legitimate oil policy based on full and genuine consultation with the Iraqi people. Only after all occupation forces are gone should a long term plan for the development of our oil resources be adopted.
We seek your support and solidarity to help us end the military and economic occupation of our country. We ask for your solidarity for our right to organise and strike in defence of our interests as workers and of our public services and resources. Our public services are the legacy of generations before us and the inheritance of all future generations and must not be privatised.
We thank you for standing by us. We too stand with you in your own struggles for real democracy which we know you also struggle for, and against privatisation, exploitation and daily disempowerment in your workplaces and lives.
We commend those of you who have organised strikes and demonstrations to end the occupation in solidarity with us and we hope these actions will continue.
We look forward to the day when we have a world based on co-operation and solidarity. We look forward to a world free from war, sectarianism, competition and exploitation.
Endorsed by: (signers as of 4/29/08)
Hassan Juma’a Awad, President, Iraqi
Federation of Oil
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