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Attacks on unions in the Middle East

August 9, 2007

The Middle East – never a haven of democracy at the best of times – is seeing unprecedented attacks on trade unionists. We need to do everything we can to show our solidarity and support.

Firstly, there were the reports of attacks on the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Gaza, by Hamas gunmen.

This article spells out the difficulty of being a Palestinian trade unionist:

With 47 per cent of the potential Palestinian labour force unemployed and a per capita income 23 times less than that of Israel, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) has a difficult enough job.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, however, their job has become much more difficult.

The PGFTU, in the West Bank and Gaza, has been attacked from all sides – by Hamas, a Fatah militia and Israel – in acts that have included, they say, murder attempts, raids, shootings and rocket attacks.

Than came the news of a crack down on Iraqi unions, who have been at the forefront of resistance to Western attempts to pillage the country’s oil wealth:

Iraq’s energy ministry is using a Saddam-era decree to crack down on trade unions and stifle dissent against foreign exploitation of the country’s vast oil reserves, the Basra-based oil workers’ union claims.

Hassan Juma’a, the union’s leader, has been at the forefront of a public campaign against the signing of a controversial new oil law – demanded by Washington – that would lead to long-term profit-sharing contracts being signed with multinational oil giants.

Then, there’s the news that Iran, which is going through it’s own complicated process of tension between reaction and progress, has arrested the Iranian bus workers’ union leader Mansour Osanloo.

According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation,

Join the ITF/ITUC International Action Day on Thursday 9 August in solidarity with union leaders Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi.

Osanloo and his Tehran bus drivers’ union has seen meetings brutally broken up and he and his supporters repeatedly jailed and beaten over the last two years. Thursday 9 August will mark one year exactly since Mansour Osanloo was released from prison after an earlier period of imprisonment.

The action day also supports Mahmoud Salehi, co founder of the Saqez Bakery Workers’ Association and the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organisations, who has also been jailed for asserting the right to undertake the legal trade union activities guaranteed by Iran’s signing of ILO (International Labour Organization) conventions.

Today’s international day of action has been met with arrests and intimidation from the Iranian government. You can write a letter of protest to the Iranian government here.

The way to build democracy in the Middle East is not to bomb it, as Bush seems to think. You build democracy by supporting internal resistance to oppression.

Supporting trade unions in the Middle East is vital. They are a democratising force, and break the Manichean, for-us-or-against-us split that seems to dominate politics in the region.

Unions, along with women’s groups and other similar organisations, are opposed to both the oppressive regimes of the region, and the attempts by Empire to steal oil and other resources under the guise of bringing ‘democracy’.

Unions also have real power – by withdrawing their labour, Iraqi oil workers, for example, can shut off the flow of wealth that’s fueling the conflict.

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