March 19, 2007
Are Labor Unions Terrorists?
By Dale Allen Pfeiffer of Mountain Sentinel
Two recent news stories, taken together, could signal an ominous turn in the invasion of Iraq. The first story appeared on the Time website on February 28th.1 It discusses Iraqi opposition to government plans to privatize the oil industry and sell it off to foreign investors under very lucrative terms.
The new law would allow foreign companies to cut long-term deals for exploration and development. This is the first time foreign oil companies will be allowed to have a stake in Iraq's energy wealth since 1972, when the oil industry was nationalized.
While the potential profits for oil companies is enormous, they will also have to deal with resistance fighters (yes, the media persists in calling them insurgents) blowing up pipelines and equipment and murdering contractors. Over the long years of strict sanctions, the oil infrastructure had deteriorated to the point that the oil fields were being damaged by harmful drilling practices.
Prior to the invasion, a U.N. report in June 2001 said that Iraqi oil production capacity would fall sharply unless technical and infrastructure problems were addressed. And former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned of a possible "major breakdown" in Iraq's oil industry if spare parts and equipment were not forthcoming.2 Prior to the invasion, the US blocked any attempts to remedy these problems.
Solving these problems will require major investment from a consortium of international oil companies. It will take at least a decade to double output, providing there is no further damage done. It will take at least $7 billion worth of investment to bring Iraq back to its 3.5 million b/d production level. Pushing past that level to 5.5 million b/d will require at least $20 billion of investment.3 These estimates were made prior to the invasion, and so do not incorporate additional costs due to more recent damages.
It would appear that the company poised to enjoy the largest short-term profit from the rebuilding and policing of the Iraqi oil infrastructure would be Dick Cheney's Halliburton.
After the long Iraq-Iran War, two previous incursions led by the US, more than a decade of harsh sanctions, and finally this latest invasion and civil war, the Iraq economy and infrastructure are in a shambles. Virtually the only source of income that Iraq has with which it can repair all of this damage comes from its energy wealth. And now the government is poised to give the greatest percentage of this wealth to foreign investors.
Dissatisfaction with the new law has been expressed by some politicians. Yet it is to be wondered what they can do to stop legislation the details of which are being kept secret from parliament until time for a vote. Interestingly enough, the entire deal was known to US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who discussed it during a trip to the region in July of 2005.
The strongest opposition to the new law comes from the Iraq unions. Hassan Jum'ah Awwad Al-Asadi, head of Iraq's Federation of Oil Unions, has stated that if the law is not redraw to protect Iraqi interests, then the unions will stop production. He has explicitly warned foreign oil companies against coming to Iraq under the guise of production-sharing agreements.
At a December 14th meeting, senior officials of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers, the Federation of Oil Unions, the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, the Kurdistan General Workers Syndicate Union and the Iraqi Kurdistan Workers Syndicate Union met to discuss their opposition to the new oil law. In a joint statement, the unions likened the new law to a red line that they would not allow to be crossed.4
And this is where the second news item mentioned at the beginning of this essay gains added importance. According to labor sources, twice in the past week, US and Iraqi forces have raided the headquarters of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), the country's largest national trade union. They destroyed furniture and confiscated a computer and fax machine. One union security officer was arrested and later released unharmed.5 No reason has been given for the raids.
If Iraqi labor remains opposed to the privatization of Iraqi resources, will they increasingly become a target of coalition and Iraqi forces? Trade unionists in Iraq have long been victims of violence and assassination. Members of the Iraqi Federation of Worker's Trade Unions (IFTU) have been targeted in particular for assassinations and kidnappings, due to their strong stance against privatization and rigged elections.6
Should Iraqi unions back up their position against the new oil law by bringing Iraq oil production to a halt, is there any doubt that the violence against them will escalate. The raid on GFIW headquarters indicates that US forces would take action against striking workers. It is likely that in such a situation, the unions will be denounced as a hotbed of terrorists, and they will probably be accused of having ties to Iran and Syria.
If this happens, then the US public and US soldiers need to be aware that these are not terrorist insurgents we are fighting against, but workers struggling to protect their livelihood and their country. Should the invasion and occupation lead to an overt military campaign against striking unions, then this venture will be shown up for what it truly is: a conquest of fascist imperialism.
1 Troubles for the Iraq Oil Deal, Walt, Viviane. Time.com, February 28th, 2007. http://www.time.com/time/world
3 Iraqi Oilfields, Dev George. Oil & Gas International, 1/22/03. http://www.oilandgasinternation
4 Iraqi Unions Reject Foreign Control of Oil. People's World Weekly Newspaper, December 21st, 2006. http://www.pww.org/article
5 Iraq: raid on trade union offices. Labourstart, March 1st, 2007. http://www.labourstart.org/cgi