LOS ANGELES - "U.S. troops are gone from my country but the war is not over for Iraqi workers," said a union leader from that country in an interview here Sept. 9.
Hassan Juma'a Awad, president of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions, was in town as a guest at the AFL-CIO's 2013 convention where he spoke at a special event organized by U.S. Labor Against the War.
Hassan Juma'a said that workers in his country are routinely denied their right to organize unions and to speak out about working conditions. And he said oil workers whom he represents are engaging in a full-fledged battle to prevent big multinational oil companies from completely taking over the nation's oil industry. Until the U.S. invasion of Iraq the oil companies were nationally owned. BP, ExxonMobil and others have systematically been grabbing control over the industry ever since the U.S. invasion, he said.
"They started out by coming in as consultants and in some cases now essentially control the major oil fields. There are $43 billion in oil profits that should be going to solve the lack of electric power and housing in the post-war cities and towns of Iraq," he said, "but the gangster element in control now after the U.S. invasion has ensured that the Iraqi people haven't seen a dime of that money."
"The situation is such that the people of Iraq gain very little from their own oil industry and in fact have to ask how does it benefit us at all?" he said. "We get environmental problems, higher cancer rates, but the money doesn't go to improving conditions for the people."
Iraq's Ministry of Oil, doing the bidding of the multinational oil companies, filed criminal charges against him earlier this year alleging that the strikes he has led undermined the Iraqi economy. But after the government failed to produce evidence, a judge threw out the case in July.
Previously, government charges against Hassan Juma'a were dropped after an international solidarity campaign organized by the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center and U.S. Labor Against the War. The campaign eventually garnered support from 150 organizations in 24 countries, and by winning dismissal of the charges he avoided three years in prison.
"I am happy to be back here with my brothers and sisters in American unions," he said. "When I visited in 2005 it was with good results."
His visit that year with other Iraqi union leaders was important in getting the AFL-CIO to pass a historic resolution calling for the end of U.S. participation in the war in Iraq. "Workers in Iraq were critical in the struggle to end the U.S. occupation of my country," Awad said. "We appreciate the support of the American unions and the American people. We need your continued help in our fight for union rights and democracy and we are well aware that many of the bad things that happened to our workers - the attacks on their right to organize, the privatization of their resources - these are now battles for you too."
Photo: Iraqi union leaders gather in Irbil, Iraq, for a meeting sponsored by Solidarity Center (Hassan Juma'a is wearing white shirt, row 1, third from left). U.S. Labor Against the War