'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Oil and Labor Rights in the Liberated Iraq 

From United Press International:

With an arrest warrant looming, an Iraqi union leader warned during a U.S. visit failed negotiations will escalate the standoff in Basra's oil sector.

Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions, said a five-day cooling off/negotiation period, which began Wednesday, is crucial to keep Iraq's oil sector pumping and 1.6 million barrels per day flowing to the global oil market.

IFOU, an umbrella group representing more than 26,000 workers, has threatened to strike since early May over the draft oil law and other working conditions.

It postponed the strike twice after meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki May 16. IFOU says Maliki agreed to their demands, which included union entry to negotiations over the oil law.

Citing a lack of response from Maliki, and sparked by the Iraq Pipeline Company's halt of regular bonus payments, the Iraq Pipelines Union began the strike Monday, shutting off oil products from Baghdad and the southern regions.

The situation in Basra, Iraq's main port city and oil export hub, escalated Tuesday as Iraqi armed forces surrounded striking workers and Maliki issued arrest warrants for union leaders.

"I am one of them," said Umara, waiting to talk to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in his office. "Luckily I was out of the country." Warrants were issued for 10 union leaders, he added.

While the strike is on hold until Monday, Naftana, a British solidarity group, reports union officials in Basra say troops are still surrounding workers in Sheiba, in Basra province, and the warrants are still active.

U.S. Labor Against the War, a large, anti-war faction of U.S. unions, reports a Iraqi general tasked with arresting protesters refused, threatening to resign and join the striking workers.

Umara said if no deal is reached, the warrants will likely be executed and the strike back on.

"Not just the oil unions are going to strike throughout the country," he said, "but all the other unions will be striking as well, in solidarity."

Of course, the draft oil law referenced in this article is the one that the US insists that the Iraqis implement, the one that, according to US Labor Against the War, would result in the stealth privatization of the Iraqi oil industry, a privatization on terms very favorable to transnational corporations:

The labor movement in Iraq is fighting to stop a proposed “hydrocarbon law” that would turn over the lion’s share of their country’s oil reserves to major foreign oil companies. U.S. Labor Against the War is calling on U.S. unionists to help the Iraq´s unions.

The oil law was drafted at the direction of eight major multinational oil companies, the Bush administration, the British government, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the summer of 2006. Members of the Iraqi parliament, who are being told to pass the bill, did not see it until March, after it was endorsed by the Iraqi cabinet, which was pressured to do so by the Bush administration and IMF.

The law as proposed would enable foreign oil companies to gain control Iraq’s undeveloped oil reserves – estimated to be two-thirds of Iraqi oil – for 30 years or longer, with most of the profits (as much as 87.5 percent) going to those companies.

Iraqi unionists have been speaking and organizing against this proposed law for months. Leaders from five major Iraqi labor federations met in Amman, Jordan last December, to analyze and discuss the draft oil law. In a joint statement they declared, “Iraqi public opinion strongly opposes the handing of authority and control over the oil to foreign companies, that aim to make big profits at the expense of the people. They aim to rob Iraq’s national wealth by virtue of unfair, long term oil contracts that undermine the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the Iraqi people.”

Under the proposed oil law, big oil companies would be awarded “production-sharing agreements.” These are very different from the service contracts under which oil companies operate in other Middle East countries. Under a service contract, control over oil resources and profits remains exclusively with the country’s government. But with production-sharing agreements, Iraq would give up control over its oil, and much of its national independence, to oil executives. Foreign oil companies could repatriate (take home) all the profits they make, reinvesting nothing in Iraq, and they would likely be given seats on the “Oil and Gas Council” that would award contracts. In other words, the fox will be in charge of the henhouse.

There is a strong possibility that the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, and perhaps other unions, will go on strike to try to stop the oil law. If that happens, what would the U.S. military do? That’s a legitimate question, because in late February, U.S. and Iraqi troops twice raided the Baghdad offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW.) UE President John Hovis wrote to the Iraqi embassy and the U.S. government at the time, protesting these attacks against a legitimate, democratic and non-violent labor union. It is widely suspected that the raids were an attempt to intimidate all Iraqi unions because of their active opposition to the proposed oil law.

Curiously enough (or it it predictably enough?), the adoption of the draft oil has been included among the Democratic benchmarks by which the success of the US occupation of Iraq should be measured:

Democrats in Congress passed a supplemental war funding bill, HR 1591, that calls on Pres. Bush to certify that the Iraq’s government is meeting certain “benchmarks” in order for full war funding to continue. Among those conditions the bill lists the enactment of “a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

U.S. Labor Against the War is demanding that Congress remove that particular “benchmark” be removed. “Athough HR 1591 makes no explicit reference to it,” says USLAW in an “Open Letter” to antiwar members of Congress, “inclusion of this provision for all practical purposes puts the Congressional stamp of approval on privatization of the vast majority of Iraq’s undeveloped oil reserves.”

“Equal sharing” among the conflicted groups in Iraq sounds good. But the oil law giving most of Iraq’s oil wealth to private foreign oil companies is the only “hydrocarbon law” under consideration by Iraq’s parliament. So all the talk by U.S. politicians and news media about “equitable distribution of oil revenue” between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions is really about “equitably sharing” the mere 12 or 13 percent of Iraqi oil revenues that would be left over after the big oil companies have fattened themselves.

USLAW is encouraging U.S. unions and union members to contact members of Congress, demanding that Congress stop pressuring the government of Iraq to hand over control of its oil to ExxonMobil, ChevronUnocal, Shell and BP.

Democrats in Congress acting adverse to the interests of Iraqi labor unions, and more broadly, the Iraqi people, by insisting upon the transfer of control of Iraqi oil resources to transnationals? Sounds strange, unless you visited this site earlier in the week, and read about Paul Baran's insight into the consequences of imperialism in regard to economic development in the Global South, especially the insistence of the US that underdeveloped countries allow multinational corporations to exploit their natural resources to their own detriment, a subsidy, in effect, from the poorer countries of the world to the capitalist engine of the global economy.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?