On 17-19 December, an international workshop was held in Amman, Jordan by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to discuss the prospects for trade unionism in Iraq. The more than 20 delegations included, unfortunately, representatives of the General Federation of Trade Unions, the yellow trade unions of the Ba'th regime, but also of the Unemployed Union of Iraq (UUI) (see below) and the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) linked to the Iraqi Communist Party.
Topics discussed included the likely disastrous effects on workers of the proposed privatisation of Iraq's industries - but for the oil industry whose revenues the US government intends to use to pay for "reconstruction" and to defray its own considerable costs.
The conference also expressed opposition to harassment and detentions of working-class activists by the Iraqi administration.
On 23 November, US forces arrested two UUI leaders, releasing them 24 hours later with no charge. On 6 December US troops in armoured vehicles attacked the Baghdad headquarters of the IFTU, smashing it up and removing documents. They arrested eight IFTU leaders, again releasing them later without explanation.
Iraqi workers need practical solidarity as they try to organise after decades of brutal repression, to rebuild their lives and meet the new attacks posed by the new administration - whether the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) or any future administration, which is not likely in the near future to be an administration with working-class Iraqis' interests at heart.
Please raise in your trade union and other organisations the issues discussed on these pages. It was one thing - the right thing - to oppose the war. Now that the war is over, we must continue our solidarity with the people of Iraq.
Jobs or benefits: the fight of the unemployed
Up to 70 percent of Iraqis have no work and therefore no wages. The population is depending in large part on international aid to stay alive. But there is plenty of work to be done rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, public services, teaching its children.
The Unemployed Union of Iraq (UUI) was set up at the initiative of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq to fight for the needs of the unemployed.
Despite being in existence only a few months, it now represents tens of thousands of workers and organises regular demonstrations. Here is an abbreviated version of their founding statement.
"In the aftermath of the US devastating war on Iraq and on the following May Day, we, a group of activists in the labour movement, have founded the Union of the Unemployed in Iraq, UUI. Our decision to form this union was an essential response to the extraordinary circumstances in which Iraq has gone through.
"Rumours are widely being spread around that the US is thinking of privatising the public sector. This clearly means an increase in unemployment among workers. Millions of workers are out of work with absolutely no means of earning a living, threatened with hunger while the food ration, distributed by the previous regime, is rapidly running out.
"We have formed our union to bring all unemployed workers together and to push forward their basic demands. The UUI has currently around 15,000 members across the country, with centres in three major cities: Baghdad, Kirkuk and Nasiriya. Since founding our union we have organised weekly demonstrations to draw the attentions of the occupying forces to our status and conditions, but there has been no response to our demands so far. Our demands could be summarised: either jobs or unemployment insurance. We also demand: emergency allowances to all unemployed and full payments to all those who lost their jobs because of war.
"On July 30th  19 members of our organisation were arrested for demonstrating outside the headquarters of the US civil administration in Baghdad. Such actions show that the US Government and its allies are not interested in a democratic future for Iraq.
"We call on the workers of the US and Britain in particular to raise their voices against their governments which deny us our simplest demands. Your solidarity with us will certainly reinforce the impact of our protests to compel the occupation forces in Iraq to submit to our demands."
- Contact the UUI c/o its representative in the UK, Dashty Jamal: firstname.lastname@example.org, 07734 704742.
The struggle against privatisation
From the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions:
Under Saddam Hussein, union activists were forced underground or into exile - especially after a 1987 law banned unionisation in the public sector and state-owned enterprises. Although hundreds of Saddam-era laws have been repealed, the Anti-Union Law is still being enforced by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Union leaders say they believe they are being targeted because of their opposition to the Bush administration's decision to privatise Iraqi industry and to allow the immediate export of all profits. If workers have no legal union, no contracts and no right to bargain, they say, organised resistance to privatisation and the huge job losses that are expected to accompany it will be that much harder.
The first list of state enterprises to be sold off under CPA Order No. 39 of September 19 covered many of Iraq's most profitable sectors including cement and fertilizer plants, phosphate and sulfur mines, pharmaceutical factories and the national airline.
Iraqi workers have no unemployment benefits Because of the high unemployment, Iraqis are forced to accept wages that are only a quarter of those paid to foreign workers. They are appalled by the prospect of privatisation, which the manager of Baghdad's Al-Dawa oil refinery, Dathar al-Kashab, has estimated will force him to fire half his work force.
"In America, when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance, and they won't die from hunger," he told CorpWatch, a US watchdog. "If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families."
- More: www.iraqitradeunions.org or Abdullah Muhsin, 07958 224992.