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Oil Workers Strike Back

Iraq’s workers hold summit against oil privatization plans

Monday 10 September 2007, by NAFTANA / OUR OIL

Opposition to Iraq’s controversial oil law intensifies this Sunday, as critics come together in a major conference in Basra, under the slogan “Oil wealth belongs to the Iraqi people.” Iraq’s oil workers, oil experts, and civil society leaders will meet to express their views on the law, and plan their campaign against it.

The summit takes place whilst the Iraqi Oil Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are meeting with international oil companies at the Iraq Petroleum 2007 summit [1], sponsored by Shell, Conoco Phillips, and Total, and whilst the Iraqi government comes under increasing pressure to pass the law before the US administration reports to Congress on 15 September, on the ’success’ of its troop surge. Passage of the law is one of the Bush administration’s “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government.

It is the first time that oil union leaders from all over the country have met together to form a united front.

Event organizers, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), are at the forefront of the national campaign for Iraq’s oil to stay under public sector control. Accounting for 95% of all government revenue, Iraq’s oil has been in the public sector for four decades.

The new Oil Law, currently before the Iraqi Parliament, would see foreign oil companies control the production, extraction and sale of much of Iraq’s oil for up to 30 years. There has been no public consultation on the plans.

IFOU president Hassan Jumaa Awad told Naftana: "This is the third conference held by the union to discuss the issue of privatization and the proposed oil law. Opponents of the oil law - trade unions, political parties, civil society groups, academics and activists - are gathering here in Basra, united in their belief that the oil law does not represent the interests of the Iraqi people."

The IFOU has faced severe repression for its stand on the oil law. Oil Minister Hussein al-Sharistani declared all oil unions illegal in July 2007, using a Ba’ath regime anti-union law [2]. He also ordered the closure of the IFOU’s office in Basra. In June, Iraqi troops were sent into oil facilities during a strike by the workers over unfulfilled agreements, and arrest warrants were issued against IFOU leaders . Industrial action by the Union has shut down Iraqi oil exports twice in the past three years, in protests over workers terms and conditions.


[1] Iraq Petroleum 2007: International Investment in the Iraqi Oil Industry

[2] Order 150 passed in 1987 by Saddam Hussein banned public sector workers from organizing trade unions. Sharistani’s Ministerial directive dated 18 July 2007, states: ‘The minister has directed that all members of all unions be banned from participating in any committee if they use their union identification, since these unions have no legal status to work within the state sector.’


Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is an independent UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq. It works in solidarity with the IFOU. It strives to publicise the union’s struggle for Iraqi social and economic rights and its stand against the privatisation of Iraqi oil demanded by the occupying powers.

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