The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Iraqi oil workers on strike

Between some of the most preposterously neo-liberal economic laws anywhere in the world and attempts to give oil companies some of the most generous formulas for production sharing, Iraq has suffered plenty at the hands of US-led efforts to remodel its economy. Now it's the Maliki government that's threatening to come down "with an iron fist" on striking oil workers:

WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- On the third day of an oil strike in southern Iraq, the Iraqi military has surrounded oil workers and the prime minister has issued arrest warrants for the union leaders, sparking an outcry from supporters and international unions.

"This will not stop us because we are defending people's rights," said Hassan Jumaa Awad, president of IFOU. As of Wednesday morning, when United Press International spoke to Awad via mobile phone in Basra at the site of one of the strikes, no arrests had been made, "but regardless, the arrest warrant is still active." He said the "Iraqi Security Forces," who were present at the strike scenes, told him of the warrants and said they would be making any arrests.

The arrest warrant accuses the union leaders of "sabotaging the economy," according a statement from British-based organization Naftana, and said Maliki warned his "iron fist" would be used against those who stopped the flow of oil.

IFOU called a strike early last month but put it on hold twice after overtures from the government. Awad said that at a May 16 meeting, Maliki agreed to set up a committee to address the unions' demands.

The demands include union entry to negotiations over the oil law they fear will allow foreign oil companies too much access to Iraq's oil, as well as a variety of improved working conditions.

"Apparently they promise but they never do anything," Awad said, confirming reports the Iraqi Oil Ministry would send a delegation to Basra.

"One person from the Ministry of Oil accompanied by an Iraqi military figure came to negotiate the demands. Instead it was all about threats. It was all about trying to shut us up, to marginalize our actions," Awad said. "The actions we are taking now are continuing with the strike until our demands are taken in concentration."
While you might say Iraq has bigger problems than labor woes at the moment, and that keep the oil flowing should be a national priority. Fine. But then how about giving oil workers their fair dues and not resorting to the thuggish violence characteristic of the previous regime? Or is this about keeping them off the negotiating table for the already controversial oil law?