Big Oil Clamps Down on Iraqi Unionists?

July 26, 2010

Part of Iraq's electricity network

Exhibit A: From Reuters, “Iraq tries to ease visa problems for oil firms

Iraq, trying to address complaints by oil majors about bureaucracy and infrastructure woes hampering efforts to bring staff and equipment into the country, will start issuing visas at airports, the oil minister said on Sunday.

“This obstacle has been overcome with the cooperation of the Ministry of Interior, which thankfully has agreed to issue visas at the Iraqi airports to employees working on the contracts to develop the fields,” Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said.

…”It is expected there will be problems, especially as we know that Iraqi infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, railways, airports and other things are not as they need to be at the current time,” he said in a news conference during a meeting in Baghdad between oil executives and the Oil Ministry.

Exhibit B: From Iraq Oil Report, “Shahristani clamps down on electricity unions

Weeks after taking office, acting Electricity Minister Hussain al-Shahristani over the weekend ordered all union organizing be banned from ministry facilities, and rounded up documents and computers in Basra.

..Shahristani, who also holds the office of oil minister where he has fought oil-field workers in like fashion, issued his directives after the inspector general declared illegal any union organizing on ministry property. The inspector general in a statement warned against workers using threats of violence and sabotage, which the government will consider equal to terrorism.

…Workers in the public sector have been banned for decades from forming independent unions. While the U.S.’s Coalition Provisional Authority and subsequent Iraqi governments overturned many Baathist-era diktats, the anti-union law remained.

The president of the Basra-based Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union, Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, said workers “were stunned this morning to see police forces raiding our union and confiscate all private files and documentations and emptying the contents of the office.”

“We are decrying and condemning such decisions made against us and we shall carry on our struggle through all peaceful means like protests and strikes,” she said.

[Could it be that the ministry is planning on a period of extreme labour abuses in order to make Iraq’s infrastructure “fit for purpose” and could it be that the oil companies are aware of, even applaud, the application of draconian anti-union laws against ministry workers? Could this be a means of defusing rising anger at electricity shortages while Big Oil gets its share? Heaven forbid.

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, trade unionists have organized courageously in Iraq to demand economic justice in whatever form of state develops, while the government has tried as hard as possible to prevent the entrenchment of workers’ rights.  Activists in the UK and U.S. have mobilized in support, but their campaigns have tailed off. Might be time for a resurgence, as both oil and electricity unions come under huge pressure.]

And, of course, if you don’t know: “Study: Fallujah’s health fallout ‘worse’ than Hiroshima, Nagasaki


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