Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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.

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook