Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.

More info ×

Interview: Iraq’s Union of the Unemployed

The sensation caused by the fights of the past weeks and the rhetoric about the deaths and kidnapping of Western guards and journalists are taking our minds away from the economic colonisation of Iraq and the increasingly dramatic life conditions of millions of Iraqis. While contracts for reconstruction proliferate, nothing has been done for those without a job or any subsidy, pension or health care. Even those with a job haven't received a salary for months.

May 1, 2004
4 min read

Among more than 200 associations created in Iraq during the past year, there is one lay and independent organisation, with its origins in a clandestine left movement which existed under Saddam, that is now challenging the Anglo-American authority. It stands for the rights of the unemployed in Iraq – almost the entire female and male workforce, 10 million out of 25 million inhabitants. Such are the side effects of the massive privatisation imposed by the occupation forces in their aim to deregulate an essentially state-ruled economy. Although it already has 300,000 members, the UUI (Union of the Unemployed in Iraq) is considered illegal by the coalition and by the provisional government, who, at the same time, recognise other associations less inclined to protest and more apt to cooperate. Aso Jabbar, the UUI representative in Europe, tells Red Pepper about his union’s fight for real democracy in the country and about the occupation forces’ attempts to control the rising Iraqi union movement.

What is your union’s position and role in the fight against occupation?

We are openly against the occupation but we are not part of the armed resistance. We are distant from the Islamic political groups that control the resistance. Their political programme is linked to the conservative Iraqi tradition and they are not interested in the improvement of people’s life conditions. We struggle directly – together with the other movements (of workers, progressive women and students) – to defend our rights and to establish a civil, lay, secular society. Our aim is to guarantee to our people safety, real social and political liberties, and the end of poverty created by wars, the regime and the embargo. In this phase of the occupation, our union’s representatives are fighting mainly to avoid the exploitation of Iraqi workers in the reconstruction work which is ruled by Western companies and military forces. The UUI is helping NGOs deliver and distribute aid and medicine to families and people hit by the attacks.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, different unions have been created in Iraq. Yours has a wide and popular support but is considered illegal by the provisional government, although it recognises other unions. What is the basis for this discrimination against the UUI?

The democratisation policy in Iraq proclaimed by the Anglo-American authorities also provides for the control of unions. Through the allocation of funds – more than $5m has been handled by the American confederation Afl-Cio for this purpose – the US and UK say that they want to reconstruct the union movement in our country. But this money might be given only to the associations that are closer to the provisional government, like IFTU (Iraqi Free Trade Unions). Composed mainly of old nationalists and the only union recognised by the coalition, IFTU is also the only candidate to have been accepted as a member of the international labour union confederation and to be recognised by all the other main labour federations, like the European TUC. But IFTU doesn’t seem to act as a real union, they don’t fight – like we do – for aid and subsidies for the poorest families. They are not so keen on the enshrinement in law of rights which are still denied, ranging from free association to the right to strike. Furthermore, their protest action is nearly non-existent; they say they are against foreign exploitation of our natural resources but seem more interested in helping foreign firms to reconstruct rather than defend workers’ rights. However, the fact that they are recognised by the new government is forcing many Iraqis to join them if they want a job.

UUI asked for affiliation to the international confederation (ICFTU) and the support of Arabic Unions (ICATU), and you also appealed to the International labour organisation (ILO) to have a real labour code. What answers did you get?

Apart from promises and good intentions, the international union movement hasn’t answered us yet. We are waiting for the ILO to take up a position against the violations denounced by us, by starting an inquiry into the Iraqi situation. But the ILO is an agency of the UN, which has showed it has no real power in Iraq. Therefore, until the occupation forces are replaced by UN forces, there can’t be any real improvement in civil, human and workers’ rights in Iraq. As far as the Arabic confederation ICATU is concerned, its official position is neutral but in reality the response changes according to the member country. For example, we are fully supported by the Lebanese Union, but others, such as Syria, Egypt or Libya have hesitations, since they fear political consequences for their governments.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero

The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava

France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati

This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help

PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to

We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS

Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank

Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland

Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones

The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya

The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency