The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Iraq:
Friendly to Business, Hostile to Workers

Jan 24, 2011

Ten months after elections, Iraq’s government still doesn’t have all its posts filled. And terrorist bomb attacks, such as the ones against Shiites and Christians recently, prove that the specter of ethnic and religious bloodbath still hangs over Iraqi people.

Almost eight years after the U.S. invasion, and under ongoing U.S. military occupation, Iraq is a country in political disarray and social chaos. But, according to the business press, Iraq is also “wide open for business.”

Today, foreigners are allowed to own 100% of an Iraqi company – and, in exchange for a cut for themselves, Iraqi politicians are willing to sell off State assets to foreign corporations. After all, political chaos and lack of public accountability can make cheap “privatizations” – that is, plunder – easier.

Take electricity. The Iraqi government has been handing out billions of dollars to private contractors – including three billion dollars to GE alone – to rebuild the power plants that the U.S. military destroyed during the invasion. And yet, Iraqi cities are plagued by long blackouts. Local electricity “entrepreneurs” – people who own generators – sell electricity to households on the black market, charging up to 10 or 15 times the official price.

Construction projects are up for grabs – a port project on the Persian Gulf, for example, is supposed to cost 20 billion dollars. Last September the U.S. Commerce Department took representatives from GE, Boeing, American Cargo Transport and other U.S. companies on a trade mission to Iraq, to explore other contracts worth 80 billion dollars.

But Iraq’s big prize for the international “business community” is, of course, its oil. In 2009 alone, the Iraqi government awarded 12 oil contracts, worth 200 billion dollars. Oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Russia’s Gazprom and Lukoil, and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, all have secured contracts to extract oil from southern Iraq.

Despite political instability in Iraq, these oil companies and the big banks behind them are hoping that they will be able to produce large amounts of oil in Iraq, and take the profit from it out of there. And the billion-dollar dreams of these “investors” are certainly supported by the willingness of Iraqi officials to suppress popular opposition by any means necessary.

In particular, workers’ unions that oppose privatization of State-run companies are under attack. Following oil workers’ protests over low pay and their union’s illegal status last March, unionists were transferred hundreds of miles away from their homes. The president and general secretary of the Federation of Oil Employees of Iraq were summoned to court, and banned from traveling abroad. This union has a long history of organizing fights – including a strike in June 2007, which forced the government to announce the temporary suspension of a law that granted favorable contracts to foreign companies.

Another target of the Iraqi government has been the Electrical Utility Workers Union which, like the oil workers’ union, has publicly opposed privatizations. Last July, the Iraqi government kicked the officials of the union out of their offices in the southern city of Basra. Shortly before, the electricity workers’ union had helped organize demonstrations against electricity shortages in Basra – during which the police had opened fire, killing one protester and injuring several others.

The government and bosses have been attacking the leaders of other unions as well – especially those that have publicly opposed the government’s policies, such as the longshoremen’s and teachers’ unions. In fact, in the eight years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, all Iraqi governments, “elected” or otherwise, have kept in place – and consistently enforced – Saddam’s law banning unions in the public sector.

The war on Iraq, which the U.S. started eight years ago, is still going on, with all its consequences. Iraq today is segregated along ethnic and religious lines, and no end to ethnic attacks is in sight. Basic government services, such as electricity, water, sanitation, health care and education are severely inadequate, or simply don’t exist. Unemployment is very high, and workers’ wages are very low. And when Iraqi workers try to organize against these conditions, they face government repression.

Just like Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi governments that followed it have been vicious enemies of Iraqi workers. And that’s exactly why bosses and “investors” find Iraq so business-friendly!