cross posted to dailyKos

Last night I attended a meeting with two Iraqi trade union leaders in Berkeley, CA. I tried to take notes, and listen to the questions and answers. Thanks to Juno for posting diaries on this @ dailyKos.

I encourage others out there to go meet with some Iraqis. You might learn something or have a few thoughts of your own… here’s the calendar:

For me, the lesson I took away from this is more confirmation that we must end the occupation now. We are NOT helping the Iraqi people. And I think the historical record and the record of the Bush administration is sufficient to prove that a BushCo run occupation will never help the Iraqi people.

Urge the AFL-CIO to take a position against the occupation:

Last night’s meeting in Berkeley had as headliners Hassan Jumaa Awad Al Asade, President of the Union (GUOW) which is an oil workers union based in Basra, and a union with a very long history dating back to the times of British occupation of Iraq. Hassan was accompanied by Faleh Abbood Umara, who is General Secretary of GUOW. I believe they said the union has 23,000 members.

Of the introductory material, I thought the most interesting talk was by Aimee Allison, a Gulf War I Conscientious Objector. She said she is hearing regularly from soldiers who object to this war.

The Berkeley City council passed a solidarity resolution declaring that the occupation should end and that ILO labor rights should be respected by the Iraqi government and all governments worldwide. (Nice bit of work!)

On to the main event, which included speeches by the union leaders (that were translated) that made a 2 key points:

Leave Our Country!

Privatization is a disease threatening Iraq

Other things I learned:

GUOW is a union with a long history, including strikes against the British occupiers of Iraq long ago. But in 1987 Saddam Hussein decided to pass a law that dissolved the unions representing public sector employees. Saddam set up his own unions in their place, which acted as (I’m shocked!) mouthpieces for Saddam.

Days after the invasion, the GUOW organized itself in secrecy, reformulating itself on April 20, 2003. The union wants to maintain the oil as a national resource, and they want to rebuild the infrastructure themselves. Immediately the Americans and British brought in large corporations like Halliburton (KBR) that brought with them thousands of foreign workers in spite of huge unemployment in Iraq. The occupation doesn’t permit Iraqis to decide. “We deserve the right to decide and we will not allow anyone to speak on our behalf.” The GUOW did manage to force KBR out of their area in Basra.

The union has had to face down British troops to get them to concede to a small permanent increase in wages (in a confrontation that involved British troops threatening to shoot and union workers threatening to blow up oil trucks). At times they had to confront military tanks when protesting. The GUOW is still not recognized by the government, and Saddam’s anti-union laws are still on the books. Furthermore, they clearly believe that the ultimate goal of the USA and the British is to steal the oil wealth and to support corporate interests — and who can blame them?

Saddam was once an employee of the White House… then they decided they had to remove him… After the invasion the basic infrastructure was destroyed.. schools, factories, workshops, universities, even hospitals… but the British and Americans first protected the oil.

They did ask for our support, just not our deciding things for them, which is what the occupation is all about:

You have been lied to by your media. You only see explosions, dead people, and destruction. You don’t see how we struggle to rebuild with no resources… education, health care, machinery, materials and spare parts. We need your support. We need your solidarity.

The Q&A time made me realize how the Iraqi labor movement would be a good choice for a partner, if one was truly interested in a democratic Iraq. We should be supporting them with money (instead of letting Halliburton loot it!) and expertise where requested. But we should be letting them decide, as they have asked us to do.

It was asked what should we say to people who claim: “Now that we are there, the US military is the best hope for maintaining stability, ending the violence, and preventing civil war.” The answer was: “Civil war is not going to happen!” In fact they expressed suspicions that a civil war would be welcomed by BushCo.

(I am forced to agree because I think, in their heart of hearts, Bush and Cheney would actually love to see a NEW SADDAM, only one who was happy to allow US interests to take primacy over the needs of the Iraqi people. That’s the only view one can have if you know anything at all about our ‘friend’ in Uzbekistan!)

The best part of the Q&A:

Q: What is the current role of women in the Iraqi union movement?

A: I hear this question a lot. (Laughter). We have women organizers. 35% of public workers in Iraq are women. The President of the Electrician’s Union is a woman in Basra, who is very courageous. We are proud of women’s contributions to the labor movement in Iraq.

What more could you wish for the leaders of a free and democratic Iraq? They are self-starters, self-organizing, and proud (“We want to rebuild our country! We will continue to serve our country even if it costs us our lives.”) They have democratic traditions and support women’s contributions. They are modern and internationalist in view (“Issues of working people are not issues of one country, but the concern of all people.”). They are multi-ethnic, making no distinction between Shiite or Sunni or Kurd or Turkman. And of course they opposed Saddam Hussein.

In short, the labor movement in Iraq is about the best hope for what the left would call a decent vision for Iraq. AND THEY WANT OUR TROOPS TO LEAVE. NOW. That’s good enough for me. THE OCCUPATION MUST END.

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