PHILADELPHIA — Over 100 Philadelphians gathered at a June 24 forum here hosted by this city’s Central Labor Council and UNITE-HERE Local 274 to welcome three Iraqi labor leaders. The visit was part of a 25-city, nationwide tour of Iraqi unionists organized by U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW).

Adnan A. Rashed, an executive officer of the Union of Mechanics, Printing and Metal Workers, representing the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), explained that Iraq has the resources and expertise to rebuild the country.

“We have a right to determine our future and build a democratic labor movement,” said Rashed. The IFTU claims 200,000 members from Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious population and many core industries.

Trade unions were dissolved under Saddam Hussein, Rashed said. Even though the U.S.-installed Coalition Provisional Authority and successor Iraqi governments have continued to enforce Hussein’s antiunion labor code and do not recognize many unions, the union movement continues to organize and grow stronger, he said.

Rashed questioned why Iraq, an oil-rich country, has been offered a conditional loan by the World Bank. He said he suspects the offer is a set-up for privatization.

The other two guests represented the General Union of Oil Workers (GUOW) with 23,000 members. Hassan Juma’a Awad Al Asade, GUOW president, described how its members successfully stopped Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, from taking over the work to rebuild their worksites with foreign workers. The U.S. had given KBR a no-bid contract. In southern Iraq, the union succeeded in raising oil workers’ wages by 48 percent. “We will not let multinational corporations take the bread out of the mouths of the Iraqi people,” said Hassam Juma’a Awad.

“Please pressure your government to leave Iraq,” said Faleh Abbood Umara, general secretary of GUOW. “Our civilization is 7,000 years old,” he continued. “We can govern ourselves. Please pressure your government to leave Iraq.”

Petitions were distributed to support a resolution that will be presented at the AFL-CIO convention calling for a rapid end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the return of U.S. troops to their homes and families, and the reordering of U.S. national priorities toward peace and meeting human needs.

Philadelphia’s share of what Congress has allocated for the Iraq war is $776.2 million. Pennsylvania has lost 79 soldiers and 519 have been wounded.

The event was co-sponsored by several unions and the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The site of the meeting, the Pallet Restaurant, held special significance for the labor movement in Philadelphia. Its workers had been fired by the previous owner, but with the support of other union members on their picket line for 18 months, they are back at work.