Iraqi labor leaders tour US; striking oil workers face repression

Last Wednesday in Washington, I attended a meeting/rally addressed by Hashmeya Mushin Hussein, president of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union and the first woman to head a national union in Iraq.

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The meeting was hosted by the Washington, DC, Labor Council and US Labor Against the War, which is sponsoring an American tour by Mushin Hussein and Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Southern Oil Company Union of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, who arrived in the US after the meeting.

Mushin Hussein had earlier met with members of Congress, including Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Lynn Woolsey of California.

Singers and speakers at the meeting were strongly antiwar and called for bringing US troops home immediately. While Mushin Hussein (speaking through a translator) denounced the occupation of Iraq and the US and Iraqi governments’ actions against the country’s trade unions, she did not explicitly call for an immediate and total withdrawal of US forces. I wanted to ask her (as a matter of genuine interest) what she thought the effect of such a withdrawal would be on Iraq’s trade unions, and also about the prospects for a cross-sectarian labor party competing in the country’s next elections, but the question-and-answer period ended before I could.

Mushin Hussein discussed the repression of workers under Saddam Hussein and blamed most of the current violence in Iraq on forces other than the Americans. She also spoke movingly about the murder of Iraqi labor leader Hadi Saleh; I can only imagine what her reaction would be to someone who called the anger over that murder a hullabaloo or to those who glorify the “resistance” which killed him. She herself, and her 7-year-old son, have received death threats. (One can only shudder at what would have happened to her if she had tried to be as active under Saddam’s regime.)

Anyway I am sure most of those at the meeting, regardless of their attitudes toward the invasion and the war, genuinely want to see a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq with a strong trade union movement. I have my doubts about some of the others who have recently proclaimed their support of Iraq’s unions.

Mushin Hussein discussed the recent strike by oil workers in southern Iraq, which was halted last week after two days, but which could resume Monday after a “cooling-off” period. As the Independent reports:

Workers are unhappy over the controversial [proposed] hydrocarbon law, which they believe would cede too much control of the country’s reserves to foreign oil companies.

Iraqi troops last week surrounded the striking workers and the government issued arrest warrants for union leaders. UPI has more.

The American AFL-CIO and the British TUC have issued a joint statement calling on Iraq to “pull back its security and military forces and cease its menacing threats to arrest and attack these workers immediately.” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney wrote to Secretary of State Rice urging her to use diplomatic channels “to convey to the Iraqi government that military intervention is not the way to resolve this dispute.”

I believe in solidarity with striking oil workers, whether in Iraq or Venezuela.

Update: UPI reports:

Iraq’s oil unions ended their strike, which was to restart Monday and include oil exports, after a government committee was formed to address demands.