American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Bob Muehlenkamp is co-convenor of US Labor Against the War, www.uslaboragainstwar.org.
The Campaign calls upon the Bush administration to nullify laws enacted by Saddam Hussein that barred workers in the public sector from joining unions and bargaining over the terms of their employment. The US-run Occupation Authority continues to enforce this Hussein-era labor law and has added a new prohibition against strikes in both the public and private sectors.
The Bush administration exhibited its own anti-labor bias by going beyond Hussein’s anti-labor laws to impose a decree that bans strikes and threatens any worker who encourages strike activity with being held as a prisoner of war.
The Assembly drew delegates from 100 US labor organizations, including 56 local unions, 14 regional and 8 national labor organizations.
In addition to making its decision to organize the Campaign for Iraqi Labor Rights, the Assembly heard a detailed account from two trade unionists sent by USLAW to Iraq as part of an international labor delegation that met with repre-sentatives of newly organized labor federations, union organizers, workers at a number of worksites, organizers of the -unemployed, and representatives of the Interim Governing Council. Clarence Thomas, former Secretary-Treasurer of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco and member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and David Bacon, a freelance photojournalist who specializes in labor issues, joined two European labor officials and an Iraqi exile living in France for the six-day fact-finding mission in October.
They reported that the US-led occupation forces have eliminated many of the social benefits workers had previously received, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the standard of living for those fortunate enough to have jobs, while further impoverishing the majority who remain unemployed or marginally employed.
Poverty and hunger, they said, are growing while the US is moving rapidly to sell off state enterprises that had employed the majority of Iraqi workers, an action that will result in hundreds of thousands more losing their jobs as a consequence of privatization.
"While billions of our tax dollars are being diverted from health care, education and other essential social services in the US to line the pockets of corporations like Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root, -Bechtel, and Stevedoring Services of America, none of the $87 billion authorized for Iraq is being spent to provide unemployment benefits or decent wages for Iraqi workers," Thomas said.
The Assembly adopted a mission statement that broadened the scope of USLAW’s concerns from responding to the war in Iraq to examining the broader impact of US foreign policy and military spending on the US economy, and the lives and jobs of working families. In addition to the Iraqi Labor Rights Campaign, USLAW is organizing to give voice to antiwar sentiment among union members who are veterans and members of military families. It has also launched a series of educational workshops, in collaboration with United for a Fair Economy, that elucidate the connection between a militarized economy and the welfare and liberties of working people.
The Assembly called for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and return of all US military forces, full restoration of labor and human rights there, and committed USLAW to organize other delegations to Iraq. USLAW will also help to build participation in the December 10 International Human Rights Day Campaign of the AFL-CIO for recognition, protection, and enforcement of labor rights. USLAW will make the connection between the assault on labor rights in the US and the attack on labor rights in Iraq.
Gene Bruskin, a Co-Convenor of USLAW, observed, "Workers’ rights around the world are under attack by corporations intent on maximizing -profits at workers’ expense. Iraqi workers have an internationally recognized right to organize into the unions of their choice, to bargain freely and to strike if necessary… but so do workers in this country.
Our fight for labor rights in Iraq and labor rights in the United States are one and the same fight against powerful multi-national corporations and the politicians like George W. Bush who do their bidding. Human rights are universal rights and the struggle for human rights is a global struggle."
A petition for union members to sign to support labor rights in Iraq is available at www.uslaboragainstwar.org/images/laborrightspetition.pdf.