Members of the new Iraqi National Union Council. Photo IndustriALL
Iraqi unions come closer together for union rights
The Iraqi trade union movement has suffered a series of splits since the invasion in 2003, some from circumstance such as the existence of a quasi-autonomous Kurdish region, some from tradition (professions like teaching and journalism have traditionally not been part of the predominantly blue collar trade union movement, as is the case in many countries) and most problematically because of the intervention of political parties (although this, also, is hardly unknown.) Interestingly, though, the various trade unions in Iraq have avoided the ethnic and religious splits that still bedevil the country
But now the Iraqi trade union movement is working together more than at any time in the last decade, to press for progress on labour law reform. The TUC has helped our colleagues in Iraq in the past with campaigns for reform, and all too often we have to ask for your support for campaigns which result from the continuing application of Saddam-era union laws. Those campaigns, however, have rarely united the different union movements, which is why the latest initiative is so positive.
On 13 July, leaders of the four main movements in Iraq agreed a statement calling on the Government to abandon interference in the trade union movement, and endorsing the concept of trade union pluralism. Although this may look like formalising the splits, it is actually a step towards unity, at last recognising that each organisation has a right to exist and operate, rather than insisting (as is common in many Middle East states, often because there is a single state trade union) that there can only be one national trade union centre.
The unions signing up to the deal included the General Federation of Trade Unions in Iraq; the General Federation of Workers’ Unions in Iraq; the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq; and the Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq, led by Hassan Juma’a Awad. The Kurdish union movement, which was at one stage split across political lines but has formally merged into one – the actual practicalities of unification are, as ever, taking time – already operates with a greater degree of autonomy from the Kurdish government although there are still political links forged in the national liberation struggle (again, not a new phenomenon), but works closely with Iraqi colleagues facing a more hostile political environment.
Perhaps even more significant – because closer to the ground where Iraqi workers are – was the formation on 10 July of a National Union Council under the global IndustriALL union, bringing together six Iraqi affiliates representing workers in oil, petrochemical and electricity.