The right of assembly — including the right to form labor unions — is under attack by the US both in Iraq and at home. During its occupation of Irak, the US kept in force Saddam Hussein's repressive labor laws, and so it comes as little surprise that similar repression of citizens' right to assemble and unite — whether in public squares or in union halls — are now being imposed in the US, as we saw last year in Wisconsin and increasingly even here in New York. Another case of imperialist chickens coming home to roost.. The right to assemble is fundamental to democracy, providing a peoples' counter-balance to the immense power of the state and the employer class. An injury to one is an injury to all.
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Ten thousand U.S. government employees working at the newly constructed Vatican-size embassy in Baghdad are guarded by 5000 combat equipped private security guards, for which the American taxpayers are footing the bill. Then there are thousands more security guards hired by foreign (including U.S.) oil companies and other businesses operating in Iraq.
The economic occupation of Iraq continues.
Most Iraqi workers still don't have the right to organize a union or negotiate over the terms and conditions of their labor. In the last year, the al Maliki regime has become even more repressive toward unions, especially in the oil sector. The Iraqi parliament still has not adopted a basic labor law, even though Iraq's new constitution requires one. The government ignores both its own constitution and the requirements of international conventions on labor rights to which Iraq is a signatory.
These violations continue without a word of criticism from our own government, which continues to fork over billions of dollars in aid and arms annually without requiring that the al Maliki government live up to its obligations to its constitution, its people or international law.
As citizens and residents of the country that illegally invaded, destroyed and then occupied Iraq for almost a decade, we bear a special responsibility not to turn our backs on the Iraqi people and labor movement. This is not a matter of charity or sympathy. It is in our own interests that Iraqis and workers in other countries fighting for their rights succeed. Their victories strengthen our own struggle for labor rights.
We face many of the same conditions and experience many of the same violations – often from the very same multinational corporations that abuse and exploit workers in other countries.
For millions of Americans, the right to organize free of harassment and firing is a fiction. Even for workers who are already in unions, the right to bargain is being subverted – or is stolen from us by the same cabal of corporations, union-busting consultants and rightwing politicians. As in Iraq, our government has been taken over by corporate interests that put their profits ahead of our rights and the welfare of the nation.
So, when we fight to support the rights of Iraqis, we are at the same time fighting in defense of those same rights here. That's why it is so important that our unions and union members treat international labor solidarity as something more than a resolution adopted at a meeting or convention.
USLAW will have more to say about this very soon as we will be rolling out a new campaign to demand that the Iraqi government recognize and respect the rights of all Iraqi workers and unions. Please watch for that and when it arrives share it widely with others.
Yours in solidarity,