An oil workers’ union leader will appear before a court in Basra on Sunday charged with organising strikes, reports from activists in Iraq say.
UPDATE (August): In July, this prosecution was dropped all together. Activists in Iraq sent a message to their supporters internationally saying “hopefully this will deter future malicious and repressive prosecutions”.
UPDATE (Friday 3 May): This hearing has been adjourned repeatedly, in part due to campaigning pressure. It was put back to 2 May, 9 May and the latest we have heard is that it is on Sunday 19 May. Activists in London are planning to picket the embassy if there is a guilty verdict: please follow the story on their facebook page.
Hassan Juma’a Awad, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, faces up to five years in prison, under a law banning strikes that was passed under Saddam Hussein and has not been repealed.
The charge arises from strikes and demonstrations in February by workers at the state-owned South Oil Company, the country’s largest “native” oil producer. Hundreds of workers had gathered at the SOC’s offices demanding the resignation of the director.
The union Hassan Juma’a heads “is still technically illegal: Saddam’s ban on public-sector unions was the sole Saddam-era dictate kept in place under the US occupation, and Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki hasn’t shown any interest in changing it since most US troops left”, according to the Toward Freedom web site here.
A protest letter by international human rights and labour groups, reported here and here, points out the oil ministry has banned union organisation at the companies it controls – despite that contravening ILO convention 98, which Iraq has ratified, and breaching the right to freedom of association included in the Iraqi constitution.
Several international trade unions have protested about the threats to Hassan Juma’a and other activists, including the British TUC here. And here are activists at the World Social Forum last week expressing their solidarity on YouTube. There is a good blog post by a UK-based activist who has worked with the Iraqi oil workers’ union here.
The international oil companies who are negotiating big contracts with the Iraqi government have predictably kept quiet about this threat to workers’ rights. Shell, which is planning a big gas-gathering project together with South Oil Company, is among them.
If you can do anything – write a letter to the Iraqi ambassador, demonstrate, get your trade union to kick up a fuss – it all helps.
And here’s what I think this sort of issue has to do with this site’s broad subject matter. What oil companies expropriate is not only thick, black liquid carrying energy, but also the hard work of workers who got it out of the ground. As well as owning and controlling the oil, those companies inflict hardship and humiliation on those workers – in “liberated” Iraq, with the help of Saddam’s labour laws. Solidarity with such workers is surely one of the many starting-pionts for any movement to supercede the dehumanised energy system and the social system of which it is part. GL.