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IRAQ: Oil workers Defend Public Ownership

Iraqi workers, particularly the oil workers, are overwhelmingly opposed to any plans to privatise their country's oil industry.

by Marcus GrevilleGreen Left
July 13th, 2005

The US-led invasion of Iraq had as its central aim the installation of a pro-US Iraqi regime that would give international legitimacy to the takeover of Iraq's nationalised oil industry by the big Western, particularly US, oil corporations. Iraqi workers, particularly the oil workers, are overwhelmingly opposed to any plans to privatise their country's oil industry.

This was made very clear by the May 25-26 Basra Conference on Privatisation of the Public Sector organised by the 23,000-member General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE), according to accounts of the conference given by three British observers at a public forum held in London on June 21. Addressing the forum were Ewa Jasiewicz from Iraq Occupation Focus; Dr Martha Mundy, an anthropologist from the London School of Economics; and Greg Muttitt, a researcher from Platform, an organisation that campaigns for social justice and environmental protection.

The Basra conference adopted an uncompromising final resolution against the privatisation of not only the Iraqi oil industry, but the entire “public sector economy”.

The resolution stated: “The public sector economy of Iraq is one of the symbols of the achievement of Iraqis since the revolution of July 4, 1958, when it overthrew King Faisal II. It represents the common wealth of all Iraqis who built this sector. Hence, it is impermissible that a ministry or other party effect any change in this sector without consulting the people through the parliament or a general referendum.”

The oil industry accounts for 95% of Iraq's export revenues trade and has been rebuilt by the country's oil workers after three wars — Saddam Hussein's 1980-88 war against Iran, the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the US-led war against Iraq that began in March 2003.

The GUOE, formed by a merger of separate oil unions in 2004, including the Basra Oil Union, covers more than half of Iraq's oil workers. It is committed to cooperating with all progressive anti-occupation and anti-war forces that can help it combat the occupiers' privatisation agenda.

The unions that are now part of the GUOE have organised repeated strikes and other protest actions against the occupation regime's attempts to privatise Iraq's nationalised industries.

In August 2003, for example, when the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by US administrator Paul Bremer made the first attempt to privatise the Iraqi oil industry, the oil workers staged a 48-hour strike.

The CPA sought to promote privatisation through the backdoor by allowing the oil industry's infrastructure to be looted and thus to make the industry dependent upon foreign technical experts, spare parts and loans.

The oil workers' strike won significant victories, including gaining a livable wage (to be determined by the workers themselves) and a reduced role for foreign companies such as Halliburton in the reconstruction of war-damaged oil fields, pipelines and refineries. Halliburton's KBR subsidiary, for example, was restricted to supplying only spare parts.

It took Iraqi oil workers only 45 days to get the first pump going again in the Iraq Drilling Company.

All three speakers at the London forum stressed that the Iraqi trade union movement will be crucial to resisting the US occupiers' goal of dismantling the anti-imperialist gains of the 1958 revolution, particularly public ownership of the oil industry.

International solidarity messages were sent to the Basra conference from many trade unions and organisations campaigning against privatisation, including the South Africa Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the British UNISON public-sector union, Stop the War Coalition (Britain), Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (Canada), Pan-Hellenic Federation of Employees in Petroleum Products, Refineries and Chemical Industry (Greece) US Labor Against the War, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (South Africa), Transport and General Workers Union (Britain) and the National Union of Workers (UNT), Venezuela's main trade-union federation.

In its message of solidarity the UNT stated that it “has in the past expressed its solidarity with the Iraqi people who are suffering such terrible, foreign, military aggression. Today we are deeply disturbed to learn that the new authorities are seeking to privatise your most fundamental industry, the oil industry. We see this as yet another aggression against Iraq, and we express our solidarity with those who are bravely opposing this policy of privatising the Iraqi oil company...

“We offer you our help in taking up or extending any solidarity campaign and/or in putting to the Venezuelan government any demands in relation to such a campaign.”





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