Ewa J | 08.10.2004 16:52
The Southern Oil Company trade union is the biggest and most powerful
union in the South and since the almost total paralysation of the Northern Oil fields in the North since last November, the only company regularly exporting.
The SOC Union is a leading force in the newly established Basra Oil Union, of which Hassan Jumaa, General Secretary of the SOC Union was unanimously voted President of in July.
The Basra Oil Union has stressed its autonomy and independence from any political parties and agendas and as such is a leading force in independent trade unionism in Iraq and against political party or governmental co-optation.
The Basra Oil Union represents over 30,000 oil sector workers in the British-occupied south.
The Union comprises:
> 1. Southern oil company- 15,000 workers
> 2. Southern gas company - 4,000 workers
> 3. Southern refinery company - 5,000 workers
> 4. Iraqi excavation company- 3,000 workers
> 5. The Oil carrier company - 1,750 workers
> 6. The Gas packing company - 750 workers
> 7. The oil production company - 2,500 workers
> 8. The oil projects company- 2,000 workers
> 9. The oil pipe lines company - 2,000 workers
Due to its’ size and pivotal, crucial role to the Iraqi economy and also the profits and privatisation motives of the Occupation and neo-Baathi government, the Union is on the front line of the struggle to keep Iraqi resources and reconstruction in the hands of Iraq workers and communities.
SOC workers have achieved the following since the fall of the regime:
They have collectively physically expelled a number of their Baathist
managers. Some however were brought back to work, albeit in different
oil company sectors by the Occupation Authority.
Last Autumn workers also threw out Kellogg Brown and Root employees -
both the imported Pakistani and Indian labourers and the top brass of
the company, declaring the SOC a no-go zone for all foreign
occupation-serving workers and interests.
KBR staff have been re-admitted now but their presence according to Hassan Jum'aa 'is very limited' and basically controlled by the Union.
Since the beginning of the Occupation, SOC workers have also carried out autonomous reconstruction of their workplaces, initially using spare parts from the local market and black market, before finally being offered and accepting parts from KBR. SOC workers reconstructed their own workplaces after the 1991 Gulf War. They see it as a matter of honour, pride, control over their workplaces and a way of smashing the Myth of 'West Knows Best' and western corporations rather than Iraqi working class people reconstructing their own country.
SOC Workers also succeded in raising their own wages. In December they threatened to 'Shut Down Iraq from North to South' and go on armed strike in over the Occupation's Order Number 30 decreed wagetable which set the minimum wage for all Iraq state sector employees at 69,000ID per month or £35.
The Union drew up its own wagetable in accordance with rent, water, fuel and market prices and demanded that 155,000ID be the minimum wage plus risk and location benefits - on pain of strike action.
The Occupation capitulated and agreed to a negotiated 102,000 ID per month minimum plus 30% total wage risk and location payments. This was a massive and inspirational victory for Iraq workers.
Southern Oil Company workers and Basra Pipeline workers also shut down all exports for a period during the siege and attack on Najaf this August in resistance to the Occupation forces' devastation of the holy city and in solidarity with the people of Najaf.
The Basra Oil Union (which comprises the SOC Union) needs your help.
How To Help?
*Please pass motions and resolutions of recognition, solidarity and support through your local union branches
*Write messages of solidarity direct to Basra oil workers. This can apply to unions or solidarity campaigns, NGOs, pressure groups, direct action groups, associations and organisations. Written collective messages or statements of solidarity make trade unionists in Iraq make feel much less isolated and vulnerable, and also show employers and occupation administration officials that there are people watching the backs of workers in struggle. In March 20004, the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) sent a letter of solidarity to workers at Umm Qasr, who were working for SSA Marine (formerly Stevedoring Services of America), ILWU workers’ main employer. The letter expressed the shared experiences of lock-outs and struggle against the same employer and the same dynamics of oppression at the hands of the United States government. ILWU workers encouraged Umm Qasr workers to form a union and pledged their full support to them. A few weeks later a union was at the docks was founded.
All messages of encouragement and support will be complied into an international solidarity portfolio and taken over to Iraq shortly.
*Raise money for the Union – from official Union donations to bucket-shakes, benefit gigs or jumble-sales – funds will go towards further autonomous reconstruction, strike support funds, publicity and out-reach for the Union. This too will be taken directly to the Union in Iraq shortly
*Provide research on British companies currently actively privatising in the British-occupied south in terms of: corruption, corporate crime, ties to the British government and policy and practical response to unions, workers rights and strike activity. This information can be translated into Arabic and distributed amongst workers who have no information on the companies privatising their workplaces. US Labour Against the War compiled the excellent ‘The Corporate Invasion of Iraq’ which was translated into Arabic, distributed amongst trade unionists in Basra and earned USLAW a blessing from the Grand Ayatollah Sistani who also read it and said it would ‘influence (his) view of the corporations active in Iraq’. www.uslaboragainstwar.org
Please spread the word about the achievements of these workers and their representatives whose struggle is set to escalate in response to the escalation of privatisation policies, political repression and violence of the Occupation and the neo-Baathi Alawi government. The repression against the Basra Oil workers could be murderous if their struggle is not supported and widely publicised. This is a struggle which has the potential to undermine not just the Occupation’s free-market project in Iraq and the Middle East but the very occupation itself.
A kid on the street from Birmingham to Amman to Warsaw to Harare will articulate that the reason Britain and the US launched a war against Iraq was ‘for oil’. But what is behind the oil industry, the economic addiction to oil, what is its role and significance in perpetuating capitalism and global apartheid? And what are the conditions, experiences and capabilities of those who produce that wealth? What is their role in perpetuating or sabotaging the onslaught of occupation, the free market and neo-colonial agendas?
It’s necessary for us to expand and explore that reality, create practical solidarity with the producers of that wealth, and offer an informed class and ecological analysis of that industry and its role in the literal refuelling of global capitalism.
An understanding of, and solidarity with, the struggle of oil workers in Iraq is key to re-invigorating the international resistance to the occupation and vital in keeping grassroots forces practically capable of ending the occupation, alive. This is a part of the resistance movement we can support practically and with practical effect.
For more information or for speaking possibilities please contact:
Ewa Jasiewicz, UK Contact for the Southern Oil Company Trade Union and Iraq Occupation Focus activist. Ewa spent 9 months in Iraq, four of which were spent working with, supporting and reporting about the SOC and other Union struggles, including the Union of the Unemployed. She also organised the itinerary for and guided the US Labour Against the War delegation to Iraq in October 2003.
(0044) 7749 421 576
Below is a letter from Hassan Jumaa, the Head of the Basra Oil Trade Union, which was founded in July 2004. It calls for international support and recognition of the Union’s independent identity and role in struggling for justice and self-determination for the Iraqi people. The letter was read out at the Tolpuddle trade unionists commemoration festival in July and also at a Labour Against the War Labour Party Conference fringe meeting.
To Miss. Ewa
After 35 years of severe oppression by Saddam’s Regime on trade unions and with the help of God, and after the start of the British occupation to the Mesopotamian land, the land of history and civilisation, several worker activists from the Southern Iraq oil company put their first poster in the offices of the company and asked to rebuild the trade union organisation in Basra and particular in the government offices where it is needed the most. This organisation is needed to remove the oppression of the Baathist criminals. At the beginning we started with 30 activists and then we grew to several areas in Basra, including the deep port, north Rumaila and other places where we worked secretly as we were not sure what the occupying force would do. With the help of God we started organising our trade unions in places of work and we managed to establish democratic trade union organisations in 10 different places within the Southern oil company area.
After we established all our organisations, I was unanimously elected
the leader of the Basra oil company trade union. In last 31 years I have worked and leaved the criminal oppression of Saddam’s regime.
We have now identified our goals for our trade union works in this
critical time which are as following:
1. The trade union will work hard to improve the wages of the workers under these hard and difficult conditions.
2. To protect the oil installations from the terrorist attacks, as
these installations are needed to improve the standard of living for
3. Ensure that workers work in accordance to the agreed time in to not give excuses to the occupiers to take over our oil installation.
4. To ensure that the union will be involved in all company
activities to improve reconstruction.
5. To meet the managers within the ministry of oil, in order to
explain how to improve the working and living standards of the workers.
6. The union is working hard to return all the workers who have been sacked for political reasons*
Finally the trade unions in the Southern oil company are in a very difficult situation and we are asking all international trade unions to help and to co-operate with us, as we are a free trade union, which does not belong to any political party and we are an independent trade union.
We hope that God will help us all and will be with all of us.
Mr. Hassan Jumma AL-Assadi
Head of the Basra oil trade union
* This refers to workers sacked for activity against the Baath management under the regime and those active in various parties now
NEXT COMMUNIQUE: Violet Aissa, Secretary of the Southern Oil Company trade union and one of Basra’s highest ranking and most active women trade unionists speaks out about her struggle and life as a female trade unionist under both the Baath and occupation regimes in Iraq.