Iraqi Unions Defy Privatization

Source: By David Bacon, The Progressive, October 2005

….. [Iraqi Oil] Unions occupy a critical but perilous position. As the most vocal opponents of privatization, they confront the occupation’s economic plan directly. So far, the oil union has successfully resisted privatization attempts in its own industry and helped other unions resist it, as well.

……….That oil union is one of Iraq’s oldest institutions. Originally organized under the British in the early 1920s, it has always been the heart of the country’s labor movement. “Iraq’s two biggest strikes, in 1946 and 1952, were organized by oil workers,” says Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the newly reorganized General Union of Oil Employees. After Saddam seized power, he persecuted unionists and banned independent organizing in the public sector, which includes the oil industry.

But today, the oil union is once again Iraq’s largest, most powerful labor organization, with 23,000 members in southern Iraq. Together with two other labor federations and a handful of independent professional associations, the labor movement is now the biggest secular institution in Iraqi civil society—and the one most opposed to Bush’s privatization schemes.