Skip to content or view screen version

Trade Union Delegation To Iraq

Guy Smallman | 15.10.2003 15:15 | Iraq | Workers' Movements | London

On October 5th six trade unionists from the FBU, TSSA, RMT and NUJ travelled to Baghdad for a series of meetings with the newly formed democratic Iraqi trade unions. The trip organised by the Stop the War Coalition and hosted by the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions was the first of its kind since the war and occupation. The tour stopped at various workplaces including a Metalworks, a Fire Station, a Transport Depot, an Oil Refinery, and Baghdad University.

All agreed that the delegation had been a success and hopefully the first of many to forge links with Iraqi workers who will soon be fighting attempted privatisation by western companies.

bullet ridden Saddam mural
bullet ridden Saddam mural

Guy Smallman


Hide the following 7 comments

great report!

15.10.2003 18:27

thanks for the great photostories in this feature.


Al Muajaha- a grass roots iraqi project

15.10.2003 18:40

AL-MUAJAHA – Project Mission Statement

Al Muajaha is an independent newspaper that aims to represent all levels of Iraqi society. The staff is a group of Iraqi students with varied backgrounds, unconnected with either the previous Ba'athist regime, or with the successor American government. We represent no political party or faction, and are truly independent.

Al Muajaha aims to fill the information gap between Iraq and the rest of the world, to help the world understand Iraq and to help Iraqis understand the world – especially after the long period of isolation that Iraq has been through over recent years. For decades, almost all governments in the world, including our own, abused and terribly ignored the basic humanity of the Iraqi people. Al-Muajaha aims to provide an open forum for all Iraqis to freely debate current issues, and in so doing educate themselves and the world. We aim to support the legitimate desires of the Iraqi people by providing a voice for them that can reach the world, and we hope to promote understanding of the fundamental equality of all peoples and nations under both human and Divine law.

Al Muajaha aims to have an open editorial policy for all Iraqi people to discuss important issues freely. All Iraqis are welcome to participate in all aspects of this project.

Al Muajaha wishes for all Iraqis the right to live in freedom and peace, and to be able to benefit from all the resources in their country.

Al Muajaha contains the kind of subjects that fit this critical time that Iraq is going through, by covering the most important events and news. Not forgetting Al Muajaha also covers subjects from religion, culture and art. It also offers an open opinion section that does not necessarily reflect the newspaper’s point of view. It will also advertise goods that reflect people’s needs.

Al Muajaha is a part of Iraqi society that has suffered from the presence of the educated and unrestricted pen, the end of that time has come. The pages of Al Muajaha are open for all Iraqi people, Arabs and other visitors to Iraq, to send the newspaper their opinions and essays. Again these do not need to reflect the view of paper.

We dedicate the effort that has been made to all our readers and we hope diving into this paper is useful. So enjoy it!

If you want to submit a news story or opinion piece, please come by our offices. Everyone is welcome!

Al-Muajaha – The Iraqi Witness
An Independent Weekly Newspaper
Karrada Dakhil
Mahala #901
Street #41
House #6 are supporting this project by hosting the website for the newspaper at :

We need Arabic translation help and those in Bagdad need funds to enable them to keep printing the paper

The funds are managed by Urbana Chamignon IMC, and the pay-pal donation site is here:

- Homepage:


18.10.2003 13:59

this is precisely the kind of posturing which gives imperialism its 'left' aspects. the trades unions are (despite appearances) still the main force which keeps labour in power. the unions couldnt be bothered to shout one rude remark at coriolanus blair when he harangued the party conference in berlin-on-sea. a bit of heckiling THEN wouldve meant much more than a danger-tourist trip to the middle-east now.
labour unions should stick to fighting for workers rights in their OWN country, not posing in the neo-colonies. when it comes to geopolitical complexities, they should leave it to those of we students who bothered to study it indepth...


Nice work!

20.10.2003 10:04

Thanks for this report, it is great to see people taking the time to cover these issues for IMC-UK.


The Most Powerful Men in the World, The Peroxide Spook and The 25c Armed Picket

20.10.2003 11:31

The Most Powerful Men in the World, The Peroxide Spook and The 25c
Picket Line

In the early morning rising smog, Baghdad's Daura Oil Refinery is a
warping shadow. In a car, crossing the Tigris, the concrete suspension
pillars of Daurra bridge axe my vision into rapid black and white
box-frames; the smogged city; the Daura flame; the filfth river; the
refinery warped. Nothing would be what it seemed today. I'm on my way
meet freshly 'liberated' and unionized workers, with an Occupation
delegation of US Labour Against the War and French Trade Union
Cameras click as our cars swerve through the rickety front gate and
straight down a two-lane time-warp into a 1950s oil community

Daura was constructed in 1955 by British company Forstwheeler and
Kellogg, a neat precedent to the current reconstruction handover of
to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Halliburton
the bomb-paved goldrush, securing an immediate no-bid $71.3million
contract to repair and operate oil wells in Iraq. Daura was fiercely
bombed in the 1991 war and burned for 41 days. This war round it
damage thanks to the protection of plucky delegations of international
human shields. Post blitz it was protected from looters by the
General Director Dathar 'God Father' Khashab's personal 300-strong

What capital creates, it destroys and re-delivers. The moneyspin of the
destruction and reconstruction industry is an appetite re-gorged by
Its jaws were most recently re-oiled by the 1999 Kosovo war and the
ensuing $10bn reconstruction scramble whereby several thousand
facilities (with workers still inside them – the Zastavka industrial
complex in Kragujevac being the most well-covered example) plus tens of
bridges where obliterated. And of course Afghanistan, the country the
empire expected to roll over. 25 years of cold war contortion and
conflict had left Afghanistan in a hand-rubbingly reconstruction-ready
levelled state of infrastructural ground zero. However, quick-profit
forcasts fell as the Afghani resistance escalated, resulting in
reconstruction costs of well over the $15-20bn projected over the next
five years. Meanwhile, the killing, and the (re)-making of it,

The first I heard of Dathar Khashab, Daurra refinery's 58-year-old
Director General, was from the nervous lips of a just-clocked in worker
in the refinery's rickety admissions office. It was 8am, buses were
wheezing in, workers were trooping out, and the 14 hour day-shift at
was just beginning. He began by telling me of the Plant's most recent
wildcat strike, one of three in the past few weeks, catalysed by an
anonymous engineer independently from the refinery's new union. On
October 10th, over 150 workers walked out in protest at long hours,
pay and bad working conditions. Most workers are still on CPA labelled
'emergency pay' of $60 a month. The 30% wage rise of $18, plus the
and land promised by Bremer 3 months ago have yet to materialize. A
minute or two into our conversation, an unseen gesture from an unseen
source collared him back onto pro-boss track and he suddenly began to
talk about the worthless risk of the strike, how the manager was a
man, a man who recognized and supported the organization of the
refinery's first independent trade union (*Alarm Bells*) and that if
anything was to happen to the manger himself, well then they'd all
in support of Him. He was trying, said the man, words tumbling, hands
pressing down his blue overalls unconsciously, to secure more money for
the workers but he was limited by the CPA, and he was good, all good.

Khashab's office is situated in the large, Texan white ranch-like
Management house, surrounded by palm trees. Taken up a white walled,
winding stairwell, we enter, through three doors, his long, deep, lofty
room, equipped with glass coffee tables, long couches and wirey men who
dart in and out with trays of murkey sweet tea and water and more tea.

He mans a large mahogany desk, swathed in his own smoke, with thuraya,
CPA mobile and landline phones keeping him in touch of all and
he needs to know. A sunset oil painting of Daurra at dusk, a perfect
black industrial skeleton against a cummullous sky of burnt orange and
purple adornes the wall above his head. It’s a fantasy interpretation
the now battered, broken, monoxide flifth and steam seething complex,
unrenovated since the 50s, conditions inside the boiler room like a
prison, a swealtering factorium of grime and heat and steam and motion
and ecological suicide in the making. There is no canteen, rest rooms
respite for the 3000 workers who work there.

'Privatisation is good because it keeps workers in fear'. The
blue-overalls wearing, Galoise chain-smoking, deep throat rasping,
shark-like oil don is sharing his thoughts with us on the privatization
of Iraq's oil industry. 'It keeps workers in fear of their jobs'.
worker here knows I control his life. If I sack him I ruin his life,
family's life'. A good whip to crack on the backbone of Iraq's most
critical industry, the most powerful men in the world, the working men
keeping Iraq's black gold pumping, Europe's industrial appetite sated,
and the American Occupation Administration's hands full. An unruly
shut down the country's biggest refinery in Basra last week in a solid
one-day strike. The story went unreported in the international media.
Little is known on the ground here about it either or the methods used
repress or resolve it. The strikes at Daurra, totaling three in the
2 weeks did not happen according to Khashab. 'The protests you mean?
These were not strikes. A strike is when you shut down the whole plant.
This happened in Basra, it didn’t happen here' he rasped. 'I wish I
have solved the protest by peaceful means but, well..' he shrugged and
laughed raspily and never elaborated on the means he did use, but, his
faithful unionists backed him up. 'We can't have any more stoppages.
stoppages will harm the country' they said. National interest before
class interest, government interests before human interests, the key to
class submission, the key to all class empowerment suppression.

Khashab's throat is sore from 'all my talking with the workers the
day he he he'. He laughs throatily. Khashab is well known in worker
circles as a former Baathist. Any worker hoping to rise through the
had to capitulate to the Baath. Any worker holding any position in the
oil industry crucial to its physical operation, its technological
survival – had to be loyal to the party. Noone outside the party or
any potential to revolt, to seize the means of the regime's wealth
production, could know how to operate the key parts of any refinery.
Technicians were trained in camps in Kuwait. If allegiance was pledged,
promotion was rocket-swift. It's unclear what position Khashab held in
1972 and 1978 when 20 and 18 workers were shot dead at Daurra,
respectively. But Worker Communist Party members widely refer to him as
'a fascist'.

The Daurra Oil Refinery Trade Union was rig-voted into existence 2
ago (as two workers told us, far from the plant sat in the safety of a
barbed wire and concrete block surrounded Karrada hotel). Not only is
welcomed by the boss, but it is also recognized by the General
Confederation of Iraqi Worker Trades – a body of revamped (or not,
will tell) unions, some still allegedly led by former Baathists, and
currently controlled by the Communist Party of Iraq. The union is
recognized 'unofficially' by the Ministry of Oil and the CPA. This is
anomaly seeing as neither the Confederation nor any trade union in Iraq
has been officially recognized by the Occupation Authorites because
officially, in law, they do not exist.

Representatives at the Confederation's squatted simple, deskless, and
almost chair-less office in the middle of Alawi Hilla Bus Garage,
Baghdad, told us they'd submitted requests for recognition to the CPA
three times but to no avail. Furthermore, the CPA (referred to from
on as the OA – Occupation Authorities) deny the existence of workers in
Iraq full-stop, just as their predecessors did.

In 1987, the Baath passed a law which banned strikes and officially
deleted the existence of 'workers' in Iraq, redefining them as 'civil
servents' – employees of the state. Trade unions were no longer
necessary, the socialist state was taking care of workers' rights so
need was there to create unions or strike? The CPA has deliberately
not to repeal this law, leaving workers in a legal and industrial
identity limbo - just the way a newly asserting itself regime likes it.

The Occupation Watch delegation visited the Ministry of Labour and
Affairs to enquire precisely as to what had become of this law and the
status of working people in Iraq. The Minister himself left for Kuwait
the day beforehand, allegedly due to death threats following the
Hotel bombing, which was aimed at killing the entire cabinet. Instead
were treated to the two-man show of Dr Noori, the Ministry's internal
co-ordinator and external affairs man and the surprise presence of a
peroxide-haired, slender, glasses-donned 30-something English
Irene Findley was her name and she said she was an adviser to the
Ministry. What to say, what not to say? Public Affairs. Damage
Limitation. Policy Control. She sat and wrote down all our names and
everything we said before giving us a speech on how the Ministries are
working Very closely with the CPA (indistinguishable it seems),
everything from the setting up of Trade Unions to Child Protection.
However democracy takes time to deliver, the CPA is concentrating on
restoring power and water supplies (6 months on and still trying) and
also (curiously) how so many TU representatives from all over the world
had been visiting the ministry that they didn't know quite wahat to do
with them all. But 'My advice is that I don't want the minister to
all his time discussing trade union matters' she said. Finally. And
a few more well-rehersed non-committal, non-informative statements on
enforcement, democracy, security and how the Ministry has succeeded in
creating an application form for unemployment benefit –cash benefits
still so far being confined just to ex regime cops and soldiers whilst
the ordinary 10 million unemployed continue to suffer - the peroxide
'spook', job done, boundaries set, Minister briefed, got up and left.

Dr Noori, humiliated, nervously and protractedly followed his orders
dodged our question on whether the 1987 Baathist anti-Union,
law had been repealed no less than three times, spelling out to us
clearly, a resounding 'No'. Child Labour however, he told us proudly,
been made illegal. The country's most unthreatening and powerless
of the population has had (unenforceable on pain of parental revolt)
legislation delivered concerning it. The working class however,
to any regime or system when organized and conscious of its own power
seize, halt or reclaim the means of production and profit – remains

From the militancy absorbent and struggle-co-opting phoney union of
Daurra to the autonomous Nahrawhan Brick Factory Union, organized 2
months ago with the help of an activist from the Worker Communist
Members Fahed Owada, Shahel Ghatta, Farhan Hassan and Nizar Abdel
risked their jobs to come and speak to us about their ongoing struggle.
Nahrawahn, 30km east of Baghdad, is a complex of 150 factories,
15,000 workers, housing approximately 7,500, and churning out thousands
of bricks daily. Men, women and children are employed there, working 14
hour days for 3000 to 750 (child wage) per day - approximately $1.50 to
60c per day – the equivalent of the price of a melon smoothie at
Baghdad's gleaming mercenary and petrol yuppie frequenting Hamra Hotel,
20 falafel sandwiches, a 30min taxi ride to and from Baghdad Jadeed to
Kharadda Dakhil, 4 cans of Pepsi or a weeks worth of bread, just bread,
for a family.

Entire families are employed at Nahrwahn, ages 6 to 60 being
in the workforce. 7,500 workers live on site in dire Boss rented
accommodation. There are no health benefits, no holiday pay and no
medical aid for injuries. Boys under 14 load up trucks with bricks,
setting them in neat order. Boys aged 14-up work retrieving the bricks
from the factory's 30m tall, 15m wide, 750 degree raging furnace. Those
who enter the hell protect themselves with their own clothing – no
fireproof suits or overalls are provided. They wear 2 sets of
2 shirts, jumpers, two sets of trousers, a shirt and a keefayah around
the head, 4 or 5 pairs of socks, and gloves made from old punctured
tyere tubes. Those emerging usually drop to the ground on normal-air
impact. Hands placed in warm water are cooled cold instantly.

Black oil powers the furnace, 'the worst kind' we are told, wafting
chemical dioxides throughout the factory. Respiratory illnesses are
common, as are preventable accidents. One man lost seven children last
year when a part of the oven collapsed on top of them. As he was from a
powerful tribe, he was compensated commensurately ($900,000) by the
owner. Those from weaker families are not so fortunate. A 24-year-old
woman sleeping on her break during the nightshift was overcome by gas
died. The factory owner told her father – its not my problem, its

There is no clean water to drink, workers drink from the river, no air
conditioning (fans), no bathrooms (workers must walk out into the
to relieve themselves) and due to no contracts, any worker can be
dismissed at any time. 'You have to see it to believe it. You can't
as a human being in such a place', told us Shahel.

On Saturday October 11th, 75% of the workforce decided enough was
and went on strike. 300-400 workers marched to the owners office and
demanded social security, retirement payment, onsite medical aid
facilities, contracts and a rise in wages. The owner had no idea that a
union had been formed and told them, 'Fine, strike, go, I will dismiss
you, others will come to take your place'. The workers responded by
to their homes, bringing out their guns and spontaneously forming an
armed picketline. Manned with machineguns and kalishnikovs, workers
guarded their factory and defended their strike from demolition by scab
labour. The owner, overpowered, ended up granting the workers a rise of
500 dinars – 25c, and agreed to enter into negotiations regarding
and health benefits. The strike was regarded all round as a massive

The unionized workers, empowered by their victory, have ideas about
improving their conditions and keeping the owners in check. 'The Union
must control the fuel in the ovens. Then the factory owner will obey
says Farhan. 'Each factory has its own share of gasoline from the
government. If we co-operate with the ministry of oil and the owner
breaks health and safety rules then the ministry must stop his supply
oil'. Whether the Ministry will be willing to recognize an independent
and militant union such as the Nahrwahn brickmakers and take their side
when there appear to be no laws whatsoever guaranteeing the rights of
safety of workers in Iraq is debatable. 'We know that we will be sacked
when we retunr to Nahrawahn', says Farhan, 'But we are willing to risk
this for the rights of the other workers'. One thing is certain though.
Undercurrents of resistance, solidarity, autonomous organizing and a
rejection of Occupation, ex-Baathist boss or unionist imposed authority
are alive and striking in Iraq right now and they need support

Further information available at


for info on labour rights and the corporate colonisation of Iraq

- Homepage: http://see

hitching a ride ?

20.10.2003 14:13

how odd that british trades unions should be heading off at this time. perhaps (as another comment above suggests) they should not be so eager to hitch a ride on the back of an army tank when they are subscribers to the labour party.
i put it to you that the principle of internationalism , properly understood, doesnt mean foreign adventures (a la hemingway or malraux) but acting in solidarity in your own country. perhaps taking strike action during the war would have been the best way to have registered that.

rent a rant

Urgent appeal: US soldiers raid Iraqi trade union HQ

10.12.2003 19:07


I've received two messages about this matter, both reproduced below.
Any information you or colleagues could provide would of course
be greatly appreciated.
>> Arieh Lebowitz -- see below

1. December 9, 2003 / Urgent appeal: US soldiers raid Iraqi trade union HQ

We have just received an urgent appeal from the Iraqi Federation of
Trade Unions which we feel needs to be passed on to the largest possible
number of trade unionists in the next several days.

On Saturday, dozens of US troops in ten armoured cars raided the IFTU
temporary headquarters in Baghdad, smashing windows, seizing documents,
and even tearing down posters and banners condemning terrorism. Eight
IFTU leaders were arrested, but were released the following day,

No reason or explanation was given for the raid.

The IFTU is calling on President Bush to conduct a full investigation
of the raid and to ensure that it will not be repeated. The United
States must respect the right of workers under international law to have
free and independent trade unions.

Please visit this page and send on your protest to the White House

Please pass on this message to all your lists. Thanks very much.

Eric Lee
2. December 10, 2003 / To all senior correspondents
Good news: Our Iraq campaign, which went live about 16 hours ago, has
already generated over 1,000 messages to the White House.

It is the fastest growing campaign we have ever had -- the previous
record having been our British Columbia campaign in May 2003, which
went from 0 to 1,000 messages in about 32 hours. This campaign is moving at
double that speed -- and most of North America, which is our primary
target audience on this one, isn't even awake yet.

No fewer than 271 of those people are new to us and have been added to
LabourStart's mailing list -- probably the largest increase our list
has ever seen in such a short period of time.

And the campaign continues to grow. In the House of Commons today, a
Labour MP presented an Early Day Motion on the subject -- using the
precise texts we drew up yesterday. I understand that an effort would
also be made to ask Tony Blair directly during Prime Minister's
Question Time.

COSATU issued a strong statement and I look forward to other unions
following in their footsteps. It is important that these be posted to
LabourStart with Iraq in the first country field.

Meanwhile, you will be happy to learn that we begin today the building
of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions website, which will be located

Finally, whatever you can do to help spread the news of the campaign,
to get unions and members of your country's parliaments involved, would be
great. Let's increase the pressure -- and grow LabourStart in the process.

For all contact details and other interesting stuff check out my blog:

Arieh Lebowitz
- Homepage: