Friday, November 14, 2003

Never Never Land

Iraq: Where Conservative Dreams are Realized

If you're paying attention, you may have noticed new articles the Bushistas' attempt to remake Iraq in the same conservative image that they are trying to impose on the folks back home. They're privatizing everything in sight and are even imposing a "flat tax."

And then there's one more sacred conservative icon: anti-unionism. David Bacon writes in the Los Angeles Times of the attempts by U.S. occupation authorities to squash any sign of union activity in Iraq.
In plants and factories all over Iraq, workers are quickly organizing unions. They want better wages. They want shorter hours (workers at the refinery and elsewhere often work 11- and 13-hour shifts without additional pay). They want safety shoes, goggles, masks and other protective gear. Most of all, they want a voice in the future of their jobs.

But in their quest for what they see as simple fairness in the workplace, they are encountering a determined foe: the Coalition Provisional Authority. Whenever the new unions try to talk with the managers or ministries that operate the plants, they're told that a law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 is still being enforced by the CPA. This law says that workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) have no right to form unions or to bargain for contracts.

The law violates at least two conventions of the United Nations' International Labor Organization. But on June 5, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer III backed up this decree with another that Iraqi union activists say bans strikes and demonstrations that would disrupt economic activity.

U.S. funding in Iraq seems primarily focused on two things — an overwhelming military presence and the transformation of the Iraqi economy from one in which the bulk of industry is state-owned to one in which it is in private hands. Both are key parts of a plan to make the country attractive to foreign investors, who, Bremer seems to feel, might find the presence of unions a disincentive to investment. And nothing can stand in the way of privatization.
Privatization of Iraqi industry is also not very popular among Iraqi workers:
Iraqi workers view the prospect of privatizing their workplaces with dread, fearing the sell-off will bring massive layoffs in order to maximize profits. Al Daura's manager, Dathar Al-Kashab, predicted that with privatization, "I'll have to fire 1,500 [of the refinery's 3,000] workers. In America, when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance, and they won't die from hunger. If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families."

Outside the gates, the unemployed go hungry and even homeless. Some 70% of Iraqi workers have no jobs. Though Congress may have appropriated billions for "reconstruction," Nuri Jafer, the deputy minister of labor and social affairs, says he can find "no country willing to fund our plans" for a minimal system of unemployment benefits. Reconstruction itself is invisible on the streets. Work may be proceeding on the pipelines and ports necessary to get oil exports restarted, but huge piles of the war's rubble lie untouched.
Well, if you can't find any weapons of mass destruction, you can always go after the weapons of mass organization.