Refinery workers take up collection for Iraqi child

Sarah, the oldest daughter of Emad Mohsin Jafar, a leader of Iraq’s oil workers union, was burned during a bombing in the first Gulf War, and needs reconstructive surgery.

To help Sarah, oil workers at Conoco Phillips Los Angeles refinery recently raised $1,837 at a gate collection, with more pledges still coming in, said David Campbell, secretary-treasurer of Steelworkers PACE Local 8-675.

The idea for doing the collection came during a unit meeting following a Super Bowl barbecue at the local union hall in Carson Feb. 5, Campbell explained. The gathering was held in the midst of a dramatic photo exhibit about the conditions of Iraqi oil workers by labor photojournalist David Bacon. The exhibit “shows a little of what life is like for workers in our same industry in Iraq,” said Campbell.

“The subject came up from a member about what could be done to help Sarah,” said Campbell. “Two members were then asked to organize the gate collection at their refinery and they recruited others to help them.” A leaflet was distributed prior to and during the collection.

The union represents about 350 hourly production and maintenance workers at the refinery. “Naturally, we also took donations from nonunion workers too, including supervisors,” said Campbell. Members of the local are also working to find a doctor in the U.S. who can perform the operation Sarah needs.

This wasn’t the first time Local 675 reached out to their fellow refinery workers in Iraq. Campbell described a general membership meeting last spring where two leaders of the Basra-based Iraqi oil workers’ union spoke. “They let us know that Saddam, in the ’90s, had banned public sector unions, imprisoning and even killing some of the union leaders. The workers had expected to be able to resurface under the democracy being brought in by American and British troops. Instead, they found that they were still banned and the troops were followed by contractors with foreign workers trying to take their jobs.”

The unions in Basra fought back and won de-facto recognition from their employers, said Campbell. “Nevertheless, the unions in Basra have very little equipment with which to organize. The Iraqis asked us for and we gave them a laptop computer on which they can keep their membership records. ILWU Local 63 also donated a laptop.”

The local is an endorser of U.S. Labor Against the War, which co-sponsored the photo exhibit along with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, ILWU Local 63, and the United Teachers of Los Angeles.