Iraqi Oil Workers Strike July 17—Oil Exports Shut Down

If the Iraqi government does not agree to the union’s demands, a general strike will ensue

by Ewa Jasiewicz


This article, posted on the Internet July 17, has been edited for Labor Standard. For earlier articles about the Iraqi oil workers union and its leaders, who recently toured the United States, see the many articles we have posted on this subject on the Labor Standard web site.

15,000 Southern Oil Company (SOC) workers from the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE), Iraq’s largest independent union, began a 24-hour strike today, cutting most oil exports from the south of Iraq.

The strike is in support of demands made by Basra Governor Mohammad al-Waili—reflective of the wishes of the vast majority of Basra’s residents—for a higher percentage of Southern Oil revenue to be plowed back into Basra’s local economy. Basra’s sewage system, electricity grid, and medical services are still damaged and running at limited capacity.

Despite being the capital of Iraq’s oil reserves, the governorate of Basra is still struggling with entrenched poverty, malnutrition, and an unemployment rate of 40%.

The GUOE has been involved in an industrial dispute with the Southern Oil Company administration, the Ministry of Oil, and the Iraqi central government since June 20 when workers at the Basra Oil Refinery staged protest action and a lockout. The union is demanding the removal of high-ranking Baathist managers in the SOC and regime loyalists serving in the Ministry of Oil.

The GUOE has given the Ministry of Oil until January 1, 2006, to comply. The union is calling for the removal of 15 managers and officials.

The GUOE is also calling for an increase in workers wages. According to Media and Culture Officer Faraj Rabat Mizbhan, the basic starting pay for an Iraqi soldier is 700,000 ID (£270) per month, while a senior oil worker with 30 years service is being paid on average 400,000 ID (£150).  The union is also calling for land allowances for workers—currently a provision limited to high-ranking managers.

The Union is also calling for an increase in risk payments—currently at the same level as workers employed in offices. Risk payments are allocated to workers working in dangerous locations usually situated far into desert regions.

Union President Hassan Juma’a Awad al-Assadi plus members of the union’s executive committee have been involved in negotiations with the Ministry of Oil and the Iraqi central government over the past month. The governor of Basra fully supports the demands of the GUOE.

Negotiations between the Ministry of Oil, the government, and the union have resumed in order to avert a full general strike, which would involve a further 8,000 union members included in Amara and Nassiriyeh provinces.

Nonunion workers have also been known to join GUOE strike action in the past.

If the Iraqi government does not agree to the union’s demands, a general strike will ensue.

Notes

Currently, the southern oil sector is providing the central and northern areas of Iraq with the vast majority of their petroleum, LPG, and oil, as well as providing the bulk of oil exports.

The GUOE held its first conference on privatization this May, which ended with a resolution against the privatization of Iraq’s oil industry, declaring that “privatization of the oil and industrial sectors, or of any part of them, will do great harm to the Iraqi people and their economy.”

It also called upon “members of Parliament to take a firm stand against political currents and directives calling for the privatization of the public sector in Iraq” and called upon “all States to remit [cancel] the odious debts undertaken by the previous regime, without condition and without infringing the independence, sovereignty, and economic self-governance of Iraq” (Final Conference Communiqué, May 25, 2005).

For further information, click here.

Or call: Faraj Rabat Mizbhan, Responsible for Culture and Media, GUOE 00964 7801

393 137 (Arabic only)

Nafutna—UK Support Committee for the General Union of Oil Employees:

Ewa Jasiewicz (0044) 07749 421 576 or Munir Chalabi (0044) 7952 683 415