Iraq: southern oil strike is on

From the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), June 4:

At 6:30 AM this morning, 4 June 2007, oil workers struck the pipeline company in Basra, Iraq, bringing an immediate stop to the free flow of oil products, including kerosene and gas through pipe number 42.

The pipe transfers oil and gas to Baghdad and the governorates of the central region of the country. The workers are members of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU).

The IFOU, previously known as the GUOE-Basra, and led by President Hassan Jumaa Awad Alasady, has over 26,000 members throughout the ten state oil companies operating in the south of Iraq. The union has a past history of strike action in defense of its members, and the oil industry as a whole of southern Iraq.

The ICEM, the global union federation of national energy unions throughout the world, supports the IFOU in their strike action today.

Earlier strike calls in May were postponed after the union gained a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. That meeting, on 16 May, resulted in the creation of a committee tasked with working on finding solutions acceptable to both sides. The ICEM understands that although several of the union demands have been fully agreed to by Iraqi authorities, the IFOU is still far from having all their demands fulfilled. This is what led to today’s strike.

The union is currently focussing on two core demands in its strike at the pipeline company:

• They demand that the Oil Ministry take action to force the general manager of the pipeline company to resign; and

• They demand that the company be financially and administratively independent from the Baghdad-based central ministry, and that the pipeline company be managed locally.

ICEM is informed that the reason for the first demand, and the catalyst for today’s action, is that the general manger of the pipeline company, Adel Aziz, who is based in Baghdad rather than in Basra, blocked the orders of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Mailiki to release delayed benefits due workers. Moreover, he stopped a Iraqi Dinar (IQD)50,000 allowance which the workers are regularly entitled to.

See our last posts on Iraq, and the struggle for the oil, labor struggles and the civil resistance.

  1. More on arrest orders for Iraq oil union leaders
    From US Labor Against the War, June 8:

    Iraq government orders arrest of oil workers’ leaders—solidarity needed

    Iraq’s powerful oil workers’ trade union today expressed alarm as an arrest warrant was issued for its leaders, in an attempt to clamp down on industrial action.

    Members of the union have been on strike since Monday 4th June, in protest at the government’s failure to meet any of its promises made in a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on 16th May. The union’s 16 demands included improvements to wages, health and other working and living conditions as well as consultation on the proposed oil law, which the union opposes. The union added a 17th demand yesterday demanding the sacking of the General Manager of the Southern Pipeline Company.

    On Tuesday, al-Maliki warned that he would meet threats to oil production “with an iron fist”.

    The arrest warrant, based on a charge of “sabotaging the economy” specifically names Hassan Juma’a Awad, the leader of the 26,000-strong Federation of Oil Unions, and three other leaders of the Federation.

    Hassan Juma’a commented, “the government is intimidating the union but we are determined to gain our legitimate rights.” He added that the strike would continue in accordance with the union’s plan.

    The strike entered its third day today and is in its “second phase,” which now includes the closure of the main distribution pipelines, including supplies to Baghdad. “Phase one” closed some of the smaller distribution pipelines. Phases one and two did not include production and exports.

    The union is calling on all its supporters and unions across the world to back the union at this critical juncture. Sami Ramadani from the union’s UK-based support committee, Naftana said: “Issuing a warrant for the arrest of the oil workers’ leaders is an outrageous attack on trade union and democratic freedoms.”

  2. Iraq: oil strike on hold
    From UPI, June 8:

    Iraq oil strike on hold, troops remain

    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.”

    Umara and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union, are touring the United States this month.