At a Seattle labor gathering of anti-occupation activists with Iraqi union leaders, one participant opined that the U.S. could not leave Iraq before repairing the destruction it has wrought, and asked what the U.S. should do to correct the situation.
Hassan Juma’a Awad, president of the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE), stated flatly that the U.S. just needs to get out now. He continued: “There can be no democracy under occupation. The Iraqi people are … capable of rebuilding their own country. I don’t think there’ll be a civil war if the troops leave.”
President Awad and Faleh Abbood Umara, general secretary of the GUOE in Basra, were in Seattle on June 23. They were part of a 20-city tour by six labor leaders representing most of the unions in Iraq. The tour was organized by U.S. Labor Against the War.
The GUOE leaders consider privatization to be theft of public property. In an interview with the Freedom Socialist, Awad promised, “If the government ever allows privatization, we will do something about it.” And they support the insurgency. According to Awad, “Resisting occupation is a legitimate right. We shouldn’t confuse resisting occupation and terrorism. What causes casualties of innocent civilians is terrorism.” They support women’s rights, pointing out that the head of the electrical workers union is a woman and that women are 35 percent of the workforce.
What they ask of U.S. unions — besides solidarity against the occupation — is training. They have received no aid from the AFL-CIO, the major U.S. labor federation.
They would like unions abroad to hold educational conferences for Iraqis, even in neighboring countries. Iraqi youth know little of organized labor. Under Saddam Hussein, only unions controlled by the Baath Party were permitted; they were banned outright in the vast public sector. And, after the invasion, the U.S. retained the anti-union laws. “We need education to teach youth what organization means, what unions mean — their responsibilities, legitimacy and power,” said Awad.
And they need technology; the union owns just one computer.
They believe in global labor solidarity and invited American unionists to come to Iraq for an international conference of unions when safety allows. This invitation added anticipation to the thrill of meeting these brave men who are standing up to the U.S. occupation and the puppet government.
Shortly after the GUOE leaders returned to Iraq, the oil workers called a 24-hour strike demanding a greater share of oil revenues to benefit the poor and unemployed in Basra.
Contact or donate to GUOE at firstname.lastname@example.org.