Iraqi labor leaders visit Haymarket memorial

CHICAGO — Two leaders of Iraq’s labor movement placed a plaque at the Haymarket Memorial here June 23 as leaders of major U.S. labor organizations looked on.

The presentation was the Iraqis’ way of remembering both Iraqi and American workers who have been killed defending human rights. In Arabic and English, the plaque reads, in part, “May the bonds of international labor solidarity help us all in our struggles for justice, peace, democracy and workers’ rights.”

The irony of union leaders coming from Iraq, where the Bush administration says it is fighting for freedom, to the United States to support the struggle for democracy at the workplace here was not lost on the union leaders gathered at the event.

Cynthia Rodriguez, representing the Service Employees International Union, said, “Our fight is your fight — we can’t let Bush privatize your oil, just as we can’t let Bush privatize the public trust in this country.”

Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union and the first woman to lead a major union in Iraq, told the crowd, “It is time for your sons and daughters to come home to you, safe and sound.” She called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iraq and said, “The Iraqi people are capable of managing their own affairs.”

Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the 26,000-member Federation of Oil Unions, said the oil law being pushed by the Bush administration, and included by Congress as a “benchmark” in the recently passed war spending bill, would “steal from the Iraqi people what we need to rebuild our destroyed country.”

He said the Haymarket Memorial site, where 11 workers were killed in 1886 fighting for the eight-hour day, “touches me deeply because in Iraq today, as in America then, workers are killed just for trying to make a living.”

Nathan Mason, curator of cultural affairs for the city of Chicago, presented the Iraqis with a bouquet of flowers and accepted the plaque on behalf of the city.