Iraqi oil union members called off their strike in Basra today, easing concerns that the strike would end through military intervention.
Negotiations over pay, safety, and a role in the development of the hydrocarbon law being pushed by the Bush Administration (the union opposes oil privatization) have resumed with a different cabinet level ministry. Union leaders came to the agreement not with the Ministry of Oil, which the union accuses of failing to follow through on agreements reached during two previous negotiations, but with the Ministry of State for Parliament Affairs.
The latest strike began Monday, June 4, when pipeline workers of the 26,000-member Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) closed down one pipeline when informed by the Southern Oil Company that workers would not be receiving promised payments. Prior to the strike there had been weeks of negotiation over demands for better working conditions and a greater role for oil workers in the development of a proposed hydrocarbon law. The strike was expanded to another pipeline on June 5, stopping the flow of oil to Baghdad and southern regions of the country. The government responded by dispatching military troops that surrounded the strikers, and issuing arrest warrants for several union leaders.
Hassan Juma'a Awwad, president of the IFOU today issued the following statement (translated from Arabic by Naftana, a UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq.)
"Warm greetings, we would like to inform you of the latest developments in the oil workers strike in the south.
Finally the workers have won in demanding their legitimate rights. That is why an enlarged meeting was held with his excellency the minister of State for the Parliament Affairs lasting five hours resulting in the cessation of all the failings resulting from the conduct of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and the irresponsible stance of the oil minister. Most of the issues within the remit of the prime minister were dealt with.
The meeting was very successful, because the minister represented the prime minister. The activation of the committee formed by the prime minister to deal with the outstanding problems was affirmed. And after deliberations within our union, the two sides agreed to halt the strike and to use dialogue in dealings to resolve the outstanding issues. On the other hand, all problems were presented to His Eminence Sayyid Sistani, and the Iraqi ministry of oil was reprimanded for its improper conduct.
Therefore, we would like to say to all that the workers will is indestructible. The workers can achieve what they want by the means available to them and their strength. And the oil workers are very strong, because they have a legitimate right. The workers have scored a third victory in demanding their rights.
Long live the Iraqi working class.
Several international and national labor unions including the AFL-CIO and the British Trade Union Congress urged the Iraqi government to “pull back its security and military forces and cease its menacing threats to arrest and attack these workers immediately.” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney urged Secretary of State Rice to follow diplomatic channels “to convey to the Iraqi government that military intervention is not the way to resolve this dispute.”
The 20-million member ICEM based in Brussels also stepped up its support for the striking workers and contacted Iraqi government leaders to protest the military intervention and urged them to enter into "genuine negotiations over the workers’ legitimate grievances."
Several of the oil union leaders serve on the central committee of the Iraq Freedom Congress which enjoys growing global support for its efforts toward a democratic, progressive and secular future for Iraq. The IFC asked its members in the United States, across Europe, Canada, Japan and South Korea to support the striking workers.