Strikes in the [state-owned] leather industries were held on 1 February. The workers called for safety benefits and remunerations. They wanted to expose the lies of the administration about the bankruptcy of their company. They have more than one contract with the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Trade and other ministries to provide them with leather goods.
The third demand was against “self-financing”, which is a kind of privatisation. The strike continued for two weeks, until 14 February. The administration promised to answer the workers’ demands, except the demand safety benefits.
In Kut, there was a strike in a textile factory. Workers shut down all parts of the factory. Because of the situation in that factory, US troops came directly to the factory and surrounded it. The administration has promised to answer the workers’ demands, but there are no official or written documents — only a “promise”.
Oil workers employed by the Northern Oil Company in Kirkuk have also been protesting. They have a particular system of contracts; they want to be full-time employees and have full contracts with the company. They have been working on the current system of temporary contacts for more than 10 years, but the administration has refused their demands. They threatened to hold a strike and stop oil production.
There was a lot of support for them from the oil unions in Basra and other provinces. Their committees, especially those which affiliate to the FWCUI, threatened to hold a supportive strike in Basra. They are preparing for a strike in the event that the Ministry of Oil refuses to answer the demands of the Northern Oil Company. Two or three of the main workers’ committees in the south, at the pipelines and refineries in Basra, met on 11 February. I attended the meeting and they said they are prepared to take strike action in solidarity with the Northern Oil Company workers. There has been no action yet but I think the workers are very supportive.
There is also an issue around workers working for foreign companies earning more than workers working for Iraqi companies; the oil workers’ committees in the south are calling for a levelling-up to the same levels of pay and benefits. They are also prepared to strike over this issue.
The main committee organising workers at the Northern Oil Company is affiliated to the GFIW. I have spoken with the president of this committee and he is resolved to continue his struggle against the administration at the company and against the Ministry of Oil.
In Basra itself, electricity workers demonstrated for two days. Workers who work in high towers to connect electricity to other stations have risk payments, but the Ministry of Electricity are refusing to pay up. They held their first day of demonstration inside the electricity station, and the second day was in front of the government buildings in Basra.
Over the last two weeks, we have been in contact with workers in Egypt, including the leaders of the new independent unions. We are also in contact with workers’ organisations in Tunisia and Algeria. The participation and influence of workers and their unions in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is very clear. They were the leaders of the demonstrations. Our attitude is that we want the workers in Iraq to follow the same model and hold vast demonstrations and protests.
We are building for new strategies for the workers’ movement in Iraq, to be part of the changing political situation. There are mass demands calling for change in Iraq; most demonstrators are calling for an end to the existing parliament, and to elect a new one. It is a wave of change in Iraq.
To build support, activists worldwide can make sure these reports are spread as widely as possible to inform people of the realities inside Iraq.
The government has been saying the planned demonstration on 25 February is being organised by Ba’thists. We need to tell people that the workers themselves want to hold the demonstrations. It is the workers, the unemployed, students, young people — the freedom lovers — who want to change things, not the Ba’thists and fascist parties in Iraq. We need to widely distribute the reports of the workers in Iraq. We will take part in the demonstration on 25 February; it could be a very big step forward for workers’ struggle and the independent workers’ movement.