Iraq: Statement on the Violation of the Freedom to Organize

Part of the process of creating a so-called western style “democracy” in Iraq is the passing of laws that restrict trade union rights. One of these involves the direct intervention of the state to decide who can and who cannot represent the workers, imposing an official union over the tops of the existing unions created by the workers. Here we publish a statement of the FWCUI for the information of our readers.

Since mid-2008, Iraqi authorities have focused their energies and insist on violating union liberties, and work on what they call “elections” under the banner of “The General Federation of Iraqi Workers” which is the federation that the authorities consider the “official” union. But we don’t see the situation simply as a matter of elections, rather, we see it as an operation planned and built to confer legitimacy onto a group of unions chosen by the authorities in the beginning of 2004 as the official federation, through the passing of Resolution 16 in January. According to this resolution, there is one federation that represents the Iraqi worker’s movement in Iraq, and it considers all the possessions of the workers and the account balances acquired over the past decades to be that federation’s property. Passing this resolution closed the path to any independence for these unions, while claiming to be democratic and to support the freedom to organize. The efforts of the authorities are an extension of the oppressive policies, in that:

  • the authorities insist on holding narrow elections under their direct supervision
  • they also insist on excluding the public sector from the right to organize, and maintain the 1987 resolutions of Saddam’s regime which ban organizing in the public sector
  • finally, they consider “the elections” to be the elections of General Federation of Iraqi Workers, that is, the federation that the administration considers official and legal, which we consider not elections, but a legitimization of the federation that the administration has chosen to work with.

The wave of rejection to the current election project by Iraqi unions and federations comes from two sides:

First: the independent federations that reject government involvement and that confront the exclusion of other federations. There is also a possibility that these federations and unions could be banned after the so-called “elections” are held. Each federation expresses their opposition according to their situation and their particular abilities.

Second: The position of the federation that the administration considers official, which opposes the elections because they do not fit with their internal organization. In other words, they oppose from the perspective of wanting privilege, and wanting the “elections” to be loyal to them.

The campaign against governmental interference succeeded twice with the support of international worker’s federations, in frustrating the efforts of the regime: first in 2008 and then in February 2009. But since the regime persists in interfering and violating the right to organize and the independence of the unions, we require a new strategy to assert effective pressure on the authorities that do not know how to act other than to follow the resolutions of Saddam’s regime which oppress the workers.

The running of elections by the authorities and the dependence on the sanctioned federation, and the subjection of the independent worker’s unions, are policies the administration insists on imposing. In the event that the official federation is elected, workers in Iraq will be without an actual representative. The gap, or even complete disjunct, will then deepen, between the workers, the unionists, and the activists on the one hand, and the authorities on the other. Iraq’s membership in the International Labour Organization will then be in question.

We submitted a written complaint to the International Labour Organization ILO, in June of 2004 against Resolution 16 which referred back to the fundamental problem of the interference of the authorities. We will resubmit this complaint and the call for the suspension of Iraq from membership in the International Labour Organization ILO, if worker’s rights are not respected.

We ask the workers of Iraq to rally around the demand for the right to organize in the public sector, which has been a growing demand raised more and more in various workplaces.

And we ask international worker federations to support the movement that aims to prevent the interference of the authorities in the right to organize, and the suppression of worker’s rights.

The Federation of Worker’s Council and Unions in Iraq FWCUI,
November 22, 2009