Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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This article, by Geoff Millard, was posted to the IVAW website, September 9, 2009
It has been nearly four years sense my return from Iraq and yet some days I feel like I am still in the ROC at FOB Speicher. Last night was one of those nights.
As I sat and listened to the Iraqi trade unionist talk during part one of last nights program I was trying to balance listening to what they were saying with preparing my own remarks. I listened as they talked about lack of power, clean water, and security much the same as was the case four years ago while I was in Iraq. I heard these things but it was not their words that put me back there.
I kept nervously shuffling through my pocket and playing with my Washington DC drivers license. I felt the smooth edges and ran my fingers across the face until it reached a corner whose own face has begun to peel. As I flicked the peeling facade of my ID with my finger I looked up and was bad in the ROC. I could hear MAJ M not the presenter. I strained to hear through the crackle of the radio, not the interpreter.
A few minutes later I had to take the stage and try to tell the audience in our nations capital what IVAW was doing to end the occupations. More over I had to look these Iraqis in the eyes and say; "I was one of those who occupied your country. I am one of those that helped to kill your people. And this is what I am doing to try and make sure it ends."
I talked about the Field Organizing Program, the work it is and will be doing. I talked about the unique place that IVAW has in the antiwar movement. But, the entire time that those Iraqis stared up at me from the front row all I wanted to do was to scream my apologies, beg forgiveness, and plead with them until I no longer was associated with the occupation. I wanted to but what good would it have done? I may feel a bit better in the moment if a small group of Iraqis tells me that "it's ok" but unless I am ending the war I am not making it right.
When it comes down to it the reason why I do this work is because the best thing that we as veterans can do to help the people of Iraq is to get our friends home alive. They are not wanted there and every Iraqi I have ever met in my travels wishes for the same thing. The work that IVAW does to bring our brothers and sisters in arms home alive is the most important thing any of us can be doing. The small things that sometimes distract us are gone in the moment when face to face with a group of Iraqis that smile and welcome you despite the fact that I have helped to ruin their lives.
To morrow night these same Iraqis will have dinner at the IVAW DC house. Maybe then they will see that what I do now is with as much sorrow and regret as it is with love and solidarity.
This announcement was posted top the IVAW website, September 2009
Iraqi Labor leaders hope to make their case about the lack of labor rights in Iraq to audience of U.S. union reps and war veterans in Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
In celebration of Labor Day, Five Iraqi labor federation leaders (bios below) representing the largest unions in Iraq will make their case for expanded labor rights in their country to U.S. Labor leaders, war veterans and peace groups. During the tour, they also will collect signatures on a petition to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, calling on her to speak out about Iraqi labor rights and press the Iraqi government to respect and protect the rights of workers and unions. The tour is being hosted by U.S. Labor Against the War and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
September 8, 7:00 - 9:00 PM at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street, SW, Washington, D.C.
September 17, 7:00 - 9:00 PM - 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 310 West 43rd Street, New York, NY
September 18, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 310 West 43rd Street, New York, NY
September 21, 7:00-9:00 pm at Friends Meeting House, Address: 4th & Arch Streets, Philadelphia, PA
Interpreters will be available at all events.
BRIEF BIOS on IRAQI LABOR LEADERS
Hassan Juma’a Awad, President, Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU)
Hassan Juma’a has worked in the Southern Oil Company's technical unit in Basra for 36 years. He was elected President of the General Union of Oil Employees in 2003, and became President of Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions in 2006. He was among 20 activists who formed the first union committee in the Southern Oil Company in the first 11 days after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Falah Alwan, President, Federation of Worker's Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI),
Falah Alwan was an underground labor activist throughout the 1990s, working in textile and factories and retail stores until the invasion in 2003. Alwan was among the founders of the Union of the Unemployed and subsequently of the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, of which he now serves as President. He is currently employed as a store keeper at the General Company of Cotton Industries in Baghdad (part of the Ministry of Industry).
Rasim Al-Awady, President, General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW)
Rasim Al Awady has served as President of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) since 2005. Prior to this post, Al Awady was President of one of the three federations created by workers after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that later merged to form the GFIW. In the 1970s he served as Vice President for the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) in Cairo, and later as International Affairs Officer for an Iraqi labor federation
Nabeel Mulhim, Foreign Affairs Officer, Kurdish General Workers Syndicates in Iraq (KGWSI)
Nabil Mulhim is a member of the Executive Committee of the Kurdish General Workers Syndicates in Iraq and also serves as the Foreign Affairs Officer at the federation. Born in Erbil, he speaks fluent Arabic along with Kurdish which is his mother tongue.
Sardar Mohammed, President, Iraqi Kurdish Workers Syndicates and Unions (IKWSU)
Sardar Mohammed, President of Iraqi Kurdish Workers Syndicates and Unions, lives in Suleimaniya. He has recently been elected to be a workers representative in the Kurdistan Parliament and is determined to play a role in promoting labor rights and raising awareness, especially for workers in the public sector.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s 1987 law barring labor unions and collective bargaining in all public sector and enterprise workplaces has remained in effect. Iraqi unions have organized without the protection of a basic labor law, even though the Iraqi constitution requires one and Iraq is signatory to the International Labor Organization Convention on the right to organize and bargain. Union leaders and activists have faced harassment, beatings, detention, torture and even assassination. Union offices have been raided and vandalized by US and Iraqi troops. Union bank accounts and assets have been frozen. Iraqi unions have managed to continue organizing despite these obstacles.
In March 2009, Iraq Veterans Against the War representative, Aaron Hughes, joined with a delegation organized by U.S. Labor Against the War to attend the First Iraqi Labor Conference in Erbil, Iraq. Over 200 labor leaders from labor unions representing various sectors of the Iraqi economy Iraq attended, including energy and agriculture. There, they heard first-hand about the conditions of workers in Iraq post-U.S. invasion, and the role of unions in re-building Iraqi infrastructure and promoting civil society and democracy while still under U.S. occupation.
This article was posted to the IVAW website, August 2009
Washington, DC – On Thursday, August 6 IVAW held a demonstration at the U.S. State Department concerning negotiations between the Iraqi government and international oil companies and related labor rights issues.
Several days prior, IVAW Board Member T.J. Buonomo spoke with an official representing the Iraq Office of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs regarding the U.S. government's position on foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry. Mr. Buonomo introduced himself as a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, upon which the official stated that the issue could not be discussed over an unsecured phone line. After Mr. Buonomo reiterated his civilian status, the official stated that the U.S. government has no involvement in the negotiations but continues to advise caution on investment in the Kurdistan region due to current legal ambiguities, citing a State Department Inspector General Report released last March.
Numerous attempts to contact the State Department's Office of International Labor and Corporate Social Responsibility by phone and email have not been responded to.
IVAW calls on U.S. diplomatic officials to discourage foreign investment in Iraq's energy industry without the establishment of a legal framework and accompanying oversight mechanisms, which are critical to long term political stability in the country. IVAW also presses U.S. officials to publicly champion labor rights in Iraq, which the State Department reported this year as contrasting sharply with International Labour Organization standards.
After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, U.S. officials transformed Iraq's legal system in order to open the country to virtually unregulated foreign investment- an act in contravention of international law. One of the Iraqi laws kept in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority, however, was a Saddam Hussein-era prohibition on free association and collective bargaining in the public sector. This legal measure has been used to suppress popular dissent against ongoing negotiations over the role of foreign companies in Iraq’s energy industry. These highly controversial negotiations have in turn contributed to political instability throughout the country, undermining the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.
IVAW recognizes that Iraq's control over its natural resource development is a prerequisite to long term political stability there and will continue to press the State Department to formulate and implement U.S. policy accordingly.
IVAW will be traveling with a U.S. labor delegation to participate in the First International Iraqi Labor Conference in Erbil, Iraq, which takes place from February 27-28. The conference will bring together trade unionists from across Iraq with international allies from labor movements around the world. The objectives of the conference are: (1) to unify the Iraqi labor movement; (2) to increase pressure on the Iraqi government to enact a labor rights law that conforms to all international standards in the International Labor Organization Conventions on the Rights of Workers; (3) to defend Iraqi national resources and public assets against foreign acquisition; and (4) to demand restoration of full sovereignty, which can only be accomplished by ending the occupation and removing all foreign troops and bases.
Since the U.S. occupation began, Iraqi workers have been targeted in an attempt to suppress the population and control Iraq's natural resources. The initial Coalition Provisional Authority upheld Saddam Hussein's law of banning unions; labor leaders have been killed, tortured, and imprisoned; worker's rights have been routinely violated; and union bank accounts have been frozen. In turn, Iraqi labor unions and workers have been among the leading non-sectarian forces defending Iraqi sovereignty and democracy by exercising their collective power through strikes to increase wages, resist privatization of Iraq's oil industry, and stand up to foreign contractors who threaten their livelihoods.
IVAW board member, Aaron Hughes and organizer, TJ Buonomo will represent IVAW as the only non-labor union participants at this historic conference. We have accepted this special invitation as an important opportunity to powerfully demonstrate our solidarity with the Iraqi people's struggle for a truly democratic and sovereign Iraq, free of foreign domination, both military and economic.
This was originally posted to the US Labor Against the War Website. A link to make a donation will be posted at the end
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the global struggle for workers’ rights, peace and justice:
Plans are underway to hold an International Labor Conference in Iraq in August 2008. We see this as an important and urgent step toward strengthening and unifying the labor movement in Iraq. Only through increased solidarity in Iraq, and with workers in the region and around the world can we hope to impact the fate not only of workers but of all Iraqis.
We call upon all unions and labor organizations around the world to support this conference morally and financially. Your expressions of solidarity with workers in Iraq in the past have given us a lifeline of hope. Your continued participation and support for this conference will buoy and strengthen the Iraqi labor movement. Only through unity can we hope to achieve democracy, freedom, security and prosperity.
Iraq's labor movement is a force for unifying our nation. A strong labor movement is also essential to the future of any democracy in Iraq. Labor unions transcend the sectarian conflict unleashed by the U.S.-led occupation. The invasion and occupation turned Iraq into an arena for settling international accounts and a base for exporting terrorism to the world. Workers represent the majority of Iraqis who do not have any interest in the ongoing terrorist violence. When sectarian gangs have attempted to transfer their conflicts into the ranks of workers, they have been rejected.
Iraq's labor unions are the glue that binds Iraqi people in the north, center and south. In some areas, the glue is strong, but in other areas of the country unions are isolated. Our goal with the August conference is to strengthen the ties between all worker organizations and focus on our common priorities. Those who feel isolated need to know that they have support from the international labor movement.
Iraqi workers need your support if we are to speak in one voice to reclaim our sovereignty.
Five years of invasion, war and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery and suffering to our people. Millions of Iraqis, the majority of them workers, have been killed, wounded and displaced inside and outside of Iraq as a result of the U.S.-led occupation.
In the name of our “liberation,” the invaders have destroyed our nation's infrastructure, bombed our neighbourhoods, broken into our homes, traumatized our children, assaulted and arrested many of our family members and neighbours, permitted the looting of our national treasures, and turned nearly twenty percent of our people into refugees.
The occupation is determined to impose its economic and political will on Iraqis. The occupiers came with designs on our national riches - our oil - and schemes to privatize our industries, utilities, ports and public services and to put Iraq's national resources under the control of foreign corporations and international financial institutions.
All decisions, decrees and resolutions of the dictatorship have been nullified or changed except the ones that concern the working class. In fact, the occupation has added more unjust conditions to complement those created by the former regime.
In violation of every precept of internationally recognized labor rights, the occupation has banned trade unions in the public sector, privatized state-owned and run enterprises, intervened in workers’ affairs by proposing to recognize only one government-approved labor federation, and blocked any legislation that protects workers from poverty, disease and unjust employers. Our union offices have been raided. Union property has been seized and destroyed. Our bank accounts have been frozen.
In the last five years workers have been the target of terrorist acts in their workplaces and homes. Our leaders have been beaten, arrested, abducted and assassinated. Our rights as workers are routinely violated.
Now the U.S. administration attempts to provoke and threaten war with Iran. We condemn these actions and will struggle to prevent another disastrous war on Iran where the victims will always be the workers, their families and loved ones.
We believe that the workers of Iraq can form a strong front for social justice and peace if supported by our brothers and sisters in the region and around the world.
Please help us take a stand against this disastrous situation that will have catastrophic implications for the workers of Iraq and threatens the peace and security of the entire world.
We call on your support and ask for your presence at the conference.
We need your financial help to underwrite the high costs of this conference. We need to raise more than $150,000.
We want your participation. The conference will take place from August 22nd through to 24th, 2008 in the city of Erbil, a relatively stable area of Iraq in the north, in a secure location. Please let us know if your organization will send observers. Their safety can be assured.