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Section: Labour Geography: Middle East Iraq Topics: labour

September 30, 2004

Labour News

by Dru Oja Jay

Iraqi Unions Fighting for Recognition

A 1987 law, put in place by the regime of Saddam Hussein, bans most Iraqis from forming unions and bargaining collectively. Today, the law is still in place, and Iraqi unions are struggling to be recognized by their government.

Abdullah Muhsin, Foreign Representative of the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFWT), commented that "[former Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul] Bremer's decrees are still in place... when they managed to abolish certain laws, why can't they abolish a 1987 law that is being applied in Iraq?"

When in power, Bremer repealed all laws restricting freedom of association, and abolished the death penalty.

Jassim Mashkoul, the IFWT director of Communications, was quoted as saying that "at the beginning, we thought our situation might get better after we got rid of Saddam. But it hasn't."

Under the laws, Iraqi enterprises that Hussein classified as part of Iraq's public sector--including oil and gas--are not legally allowed to sign contracts with unions, though individual plant chiefs have been willing to talk to union representatives. "It is a fundamentalist market agenda" imposed by the Bush Administration, said Muhsin.

Muhsin said that the fight for sovereignty is just as important to the unions as the struggle for legal recognition.  "While there are foreign troops in our country--particularly from the US and the UK--the sense of a country having sovereignty is not complete."

"In addition to struggling for [better] working conditions, wages, and collective bargaining, we are campaigning for a full and real sovereignty for Iraq."

» The Progressive: Saddam's Labor Laws Live On

» Building Bridges (radio): The Other Iraq

* * *

Israel Shut Down by General Strike

On September 21, Israel's Histadrut labor federation began an open-ended general strike that shut down international airports, seaports, government offices, banks, financial markets, hospitals, fire departments, postal services, trains, courts and cemeteries. With 400,000 workers and members of religious councils participating, it was the third such walkout since April of 2003.

The strike targeted the non-payment of salaries to many municipal workers in the past months, but was also part of a larger effort to combat Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans for sweeping budget cuts and privatization.

The strike was called off after the National Labour Court ordered the strikers back to work, and ordered the government to pay the back wages owed to thousands of municipal workers.

» Reuters: General Strike Paralyzes Israel

» Knight-Ridder: General strike shuts down Israel days before holidays

» Ha'aretz: Why the banks supported the great strike

* * *

"Slave Labour" in Haiti's Sweatshops

Since the removal of elected President Aristide by US forces, the abject conditions of Haiti's sweatshop workers have further deteriorated, according to a recent report in Le Monde Diplomatique. Long hours, mysterious forced injections for female workers and unattainable quotas are the hallmark of factories on the Massacre river.

At a factory run by Grupo M (which has received loans of $20 million from the World Bank), workers are expected to produce 1,000 pairs of Levi's jeans per day. "No one can meet these targets," said one organizer, "and you only get [$12 USD per week] if you don't manage it."

Montreal-based t-shirt manufacturer Gildan is one of the largest foreign companies using sweatshops in Haiti.

» Le Monde Diplomatique: Slave labour along the Massacre river

» Centrale des syndicats du Québec: Urgence Haiti - La CSQ participe ˆ la Coalition et lance un appel ˆ ses syndicats affiliés

* * *

CLC Accuses CanWest Global of "Deliberate Falsification"

CanWest News Service coverage of a speech by Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti opened with the claim that the CLC was "officially abandoning its position" on free trade. The next day, Georgetti filed a memo accusing the National Post (where the story was originally published) of "deliberate falsification". "We are not going to allow the National Post to get away with this," wrote Georgetti.

CanWest Global owns dozens of Canadian newspapers and television stations, including the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, and Ottawa Citizen. The story itself alternated quotes from a discussion paper that was submitted to the conference at which Georgetti was speaking with quotes from Georgetti himself.

Georgetti ended his speech by asserting that "we continue to oppose NAFTA and other similar trade deals."

While the quotes published in the story match CLC documentation of Georgetti's speech, the story makes little effort to distinguish official CLC policy, which is established as the subject of the story, and subsequent quotes from a paper presented at a conference where members of the CLC were in attendance.

The headline--"we were wrong about free trade"--which appeared on the front page of the National Post appears to be the main source of the accusation of "falsification", as the CLC never said as much. Instead, the headline refers to an inference drawn by the writer, who compares statements made by a CLC representative in 1987 to those made last week.

Georgetti said the the CLC would investigate possible avenues of legal action.

» Memo from Ken Georgetti: National Post maliciously falsified CLC position on trade

» CanWest News Service: We were wrong about free trade: CLC: Mulroney didn't put Canada 'in the grave'

» CLC: Full text of Georgetti's Speech

» CLC Press Release: Georgetti urges union leadership to embrace new thinking on industrial policy to ensure labour influence over national economic strategies

» Murray Dobbin: Unscrambling the free trade omelette

* * *

In brief

More than 70,000 workers demonstrated in the Netherlands against planned spending cuts by the right-wing government led by Jan Peter Balkenende. Riot police fired live bullets at protesting tea workers in Malawi. In France, postal workers went on strike to oppose a government plan that would close half of the country's post offices and cut 10,000 jobs. 400 Bangladeshi workers were deported from Namibia after they complained about subhuman conditions at a factory run by Malaysian textile company Ramatex. What would have been the largest strike in South African history was called off after a last-minute deal.

In Toronto, school support staff staged a work-to-rule slowdown, fighting against continuation of Tory cuts, which eliminated 5,000 school jobs in the last decade. A report by the British Columbia Federation of Labour said that many berry pickers are paid less than minimum wage, and child labour laws are not being enforced. Quebec unions called off plans for a general strike to oppose the policies of Jean Charest's Liberals, saying it was too late to oppose the laws that were passed in the past year. Maple Leaf Foods is hiring Ukrainian workers to staff its meat processing plants in Manitoba, as there are a shortage of Canadians willing to do the job. The National Union of Public and General Employees called Public Works Minister Scott Brison's plan to sell off government buildings "legalized theft". A fish processing plant in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia fired 93 workers, citing competition from China. The musicians of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra are threatening to strike over wages that they say threaten the orchestra's artistic quality.

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