Iraqi workers' armed strike threat

Iraqi oil workers win pay increases with strikes and threats to take up arms.

Submitted by Freedom on February 9, 2004

The solidarity of oil sector workers in Kirkuk, Baaji and Baghdad's Daurra was key in achieving the victory. Coalition authorities are currently dependant on SOC - Iraq's biggest and most lucrative oil company - for supplies following the breakdown of Iraq's northern fields, which have suffered continuous attacks on their pipelines and stations.

In December last year, union representatives told independent human rights group 'Occupation Watch' that SOC workers were saving some of their wages for the possibility of strike action. When these workers saw their wages being cut by the Coalition below even the emergency payments they were earning at the time, they responded, insisting on a new wage scale hooked to market prices.

The union reinforced their demands by warning that workers would take militant action if demands were not met. This prompted the Minister of Oil to travel to Basra himself to begin immediate negotiations with union reps.

In early January this was followed by full scale walk-outs by workers from five major power plants, with representatives citing poor wages and long hours as the biggest reason for the action. In Najiheeba this went even further, with workers actually attacking Coalition buildings and officials in protest.

Two weeks later, oil workers in Basra joined the Electricity workers, threatening a total shut down of Iraq, infrastructure if demands weren't met.

The end result is that minimum wage has been set at 102,000 Iraqi Dinars per month - a rise of over 30% - though 102,000 is still barely enough. The lowest rent in Basra is 25,000 per month, leaving just under 20,000 per week (under £2 a day) to spend on food, school books, gas, fuel and clean water.

Other achievements included the introduction of risk and location payments to workers in hazardous or remote locations.

The Iraqi oil workers' direct action victory is the first step in the long journey. Life is still hand to mouth for the vast majority of Iraqi people and 10 million are unemployed - a staggering 70% of the total population.

By Ewa Jasiewicz