Message from Iraqi Trade Unionist:

“Leave Our Country Now!”

From the first days of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq, oil workers have resisted foreign occupation

by Hassan Juma’a Awad


Hassan Juma’a Awad is general secretary of Iraq’s Southern Oil Company Union and president of the Basra Oil Workers’ Union. His “message,” edited here for style and comprehension, is provided for the information of readers. It was originally published in The Guardian (London) on February 18, 2005.

We lived through dark days under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. When the regime fell, people wanted a new life: a life without shackles and terror; a life where we could rebuild our country and enjoy its natural wealth. Instead, our communities have been attacked with chemicals and cluster bombs, and our people tortured, raped, and killed in our homes.

Saddam’s secret police used to creep over the roofs into our homes at night; occupation troops now break down our doors in broad daylight. The media do not show even a fraction of the devastation that has engulfed Iraq. Journalists who dare to report the truth of what is happening have been kidnapped by terrorists. This serves the agenda of the occupation, which aims to eliminate witnesses to its crimes.

Workers in Iraq’s southern oilfields began organizing soon after British occupying forces invaded Basra. We founded our union, the Southern Oil Company Union, just 11 days after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. When the occupation troops stood back and allowed Basra’s hospitals, universities, and public services to be burned and looted, while they defended only the oil ministry and oilfields, we knew we were dealing with a brutal force prepared to impose its will without regard for human suffering. From the beginning, we were left in no doubt that the U.S. and its allies had come to take control of our oil resources.

The occupation authorities have maintained many of Saddam’s repressive laws, including the 1987 order which robbed us of basic union rights, including the right to strike. Today, we still have no official recognition as a trade union, despite having 23,000 members in 10 oil and gas companies in Basra, Amara, Nassiriya, and up to Anbar province.

However, we draw our legitimacy from the workers, not the government. We believe unions should operate regardless of the government’s wishes, until the people are able finally to elect a genuinely accountable and independent Iraqi government, which represents our interests and not those of American imperialism.

Our union is independent of any political party. Most trade unions in Britain only seem to be aware of one union federation in Iraq, the regime-authorized Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, whose president, Rassim Awadi, is deputy leader of U.S.-imposed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s party. The IFTU’s leadership is carved up between the pro-government Communist Party, Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord, and their satellites. In fact, there are two other union federations, which are linked to political parties, as well as our own organization.

Our union has already shown it is able to stand its ground against one of the most powerful U.S. companies, Dick Cheney’s KBR [the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root], which tried to take over our workplaces with the protection of occupation forces.

We forced them out and compelled their Kuwaiti subcontractor, Al Khourafi, to replace with Iraqi workers 1,000 of the 1,200 employees it brought with it [from Kuwait]. Meanwhile, 70% of Iraqi workers today are unemployed. We also fought U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer’s wage schedule, which dictated that Iraqi public sector workers could earn [no more than] ID 69,000 ($35) per month, while thousands of foreign mercenaries are paid up to $1,000 a day. In August 2003 we took strike action and shut down all oil production for three days. As a result, the occupation authorities had to raise wages to a minimum of ID 150,000.

We see it as our duty to defend the country’s resources. We reject and will oppose all moves to privatize our oil industry and national resources. We regard this privatization as a form of neo-colonialism, an attempt to impose a permanent economic occupation to follow the military occupation.

The occupation has deliberately fomented a sectarian division of Sunni and Shia. We never knew this sort of division before. Our families intermarried, we lived and worked together. And today we are resisting this brutal occupation together, from Falluja to Najaf to Sadr City. The resistance to the occupation forces is a God-given right of Iraqis, and we, as a union, see ourselves as a necessary part of this resistance—although we will fight using our industrial power, our collective strength as a union, and as a part of civil society which needs to grow in order to defeat both still-powerful Saddamist elites and the foreign occupation of our country.

Bush and Blair should remember that those who voted in last month’s elections in Iraq are as hostile to the occupation as those who boycotted them. Those who claim to represent the Iraqi working class while calling for the occupation to stay a bit longer, due to “fears of civil war”, are in fact speaking only for themselves and the minority of Iraqis whose interests are dependent on the occupation.

We as a union call for the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces and their military bases. We don’t want a timetable — that is a stalling tactic. We will solve our own problems. We are Iraqis, we know our country, and we can take care of ourselves. We have the means, the skills, and the resources to rebuild and create our own democratic society.