Iraqi Unionists Visit Milwaukee
Denounce Occupation, Urge International Solidarity
by Mike McCallister

The U.S. occupation of Iraq must end in order for working people in that country to rebuild, two Iraqi trade union leaders said in Milwaukee.

“What is happening in Iraq is not just a local issue,” Falah Alwan said. Alwan is the president of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI). “It involves the international labor movement. Indeed, it involves all of humanity.”

Alwan and Amjad Aljawhry, the FWCUI’s North American representative, are participating in the first U.S. tour of Iraqi trade unionists since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The tour is reaching 21 cities across the country. Besides the FWCUI, two other Iraqi labor groups have representatives touring different cities—the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE). (For other reports about the Iraqi trade unionists’ speaking events, see the Labor Standard web site. The full schedule of the tour is on the US Labor Against the War web site.)

When Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown by the invasion, the occupiers “promised us many things,” Aljawhry said. “What we got was agonies, fears, deaths, instability, and insecurity.”

Two years after the invasion, most Iraqis have just four hours of electricity per day, and water only runs through the plumbing from 6 am to 8 am. “If you’re still in bed, you have to wait until the next day.” As it is, the water that runs is still not pure, Aljawhry said.

The FWCUI and other independent trade unions continue to struggle under the old regime’s labor code, which legalizes just one official federation. “After the war, workers find themselves in deeper trouble than they were before,” Alwan said. “In spite of the laws in Iraq, we represent hope.”

According to Alwan and Aljawhry, the working class and its unions are a third, secular pole contending for power in Iraq (the other two “poles,” in their view, being the occupation, on one hand, and the political forces led by Shia and Sunni religious officials, on the other). Alwan believes that the insurgents who carry out armed resistance to the occupation can be called terrorists. “They are thieves and thugs,” he said. (Many in the audience were surprised at this position. Other Iraqi unionists have defended the natural right of an occupied people to defend their country’s sovereignty by any means necessary.)

Aljawhry agreed with Alwan. He argued that no genuine “resistance force” would try “to destroy the country,” as he implied was being done by the current armed resistance. Aljawhry argued that if the occupation ends, it “removes the ground they stand on.” Alwan was not so sure that victory was certain. “We (the labor movement) may be too weak,” he said.

The occupation forces have been successful in dividing Iraqis along religious and ethnic lines, both men said. The old regime tried to promote these divisions, but the U.S. has succeeded, Aljawhry said.

The threat of civil war is increased the longer the occupation continues, Alwan suggested. “But with so many dying on a daily basis, what does civil war mean?”

Religious conflicts are a reality in today’s Iraq. For the first time in history, according to the two speakers, the Iraqi government is organized on the basis of religion and ethnicity. Though all the unions participating in the U.S. tour organize across religious and ethnic lines, other unions are being formed that line up Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The key to avoiding a civil war is a strong, united labor movement. “All workers must help write the constitution,” Alwan said.

“The international labor movement must put pressure on their governments to end the occupation,” Alwan said. “We don’t need any babysitters,” Aljawhry said. “We have all the abilities to run our country, and we will liberate our country.”

In Milwaukee, the Iraq labor tour was endorsed by the Milwaukee County Labor Council, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers District 10, Milwaukee Coalition for a Just Peace, Peace Action–Wisconsin, and several local unions and antiwar organizations.