WASHINGTON - December 19 - The Solidarity Center joins the global labor movement in condemning the indiscriminate and brutal violence that has led to the murders of hundreds of Iraqi day laborers over the last two weeks.
“Workers are desperate to provide the basic needs for their families,” said Ellie Larson, Executive Director of the Solidarity Center. “The very act of going to work has become a risk, a desperate act of survival. Despite the violence and continued division of the country along sectarian lines, workers and their unions are struggling to overcome these obstacles as they demand protection for fundamental worker rights.”
The Solidarity Center’s condemnation of the violence reinforces the findings of the Iraq Study Group, whose December 6 bipartisan report called the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating.” Unemployment ranges between 20 and 60 percent, inflation has topped 50 percent, and nearly 5,000 Iraqis leave the country each month, according to the report and UN figures. The Solidarity Center says the creation of good jobs is a critical first step toward stabilizing the country—and asserts that to date this has been neglected.
The Solidarity Center also points out that despite high unemployment among Iraqis, human trafficking of foreign workers into Iraq under false pretenses to work and live in substandard, exploitative and dangerous conditions is a growing problem. The recent U.S. government Trafficking in Persons Report shows that contractors supporting the U.S. military effort in Iraq have employed thousands of foreign workers who arrived in Iraq as victims of trafficking. Once in Iraq, their passports are often confiscated and they work in conditions akin to forced labor.
“This week’s attacks on day laborers represent continued repression and violence against workers and unions,” said Larson. “For many workers, workplaces do not represent a safe haven but rather a site of kidnappings and assassinations.” She pointed out that union leaders are targeted for torture and murder. In 2005, Hadi Saleh, International Representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was tortured to death, in his home, in Baghdad. He is one of nearly three dozen trade union leaders and thousands of workers who have been tortured and killed over the past three years.
The Iraqi government continues to oppress workers in many ways. It violates the fundamental human right to freedom of association by interfering in internal union elections. Through Decree 8750, it can freeze and appropriate the assets of trade unions, hindering daily operations. It has failed to adopt a new labor law that would bring it into compliance with international standards, and it has not been transparent in debating or writing the law, which will set the baseline for working conditions in the country for decades to come.
“Trade unions, refusing to divide among sectarian lines, stand united in their call for good jobs, protection of worker and trade union rights, transparency in governance and an end to the violence,” said Larson. The Solidarity Center’s programs with Iraqi workers provide practical trainings and specific technical assistance. The programs also provide the opportunity to network with other Arab trade unionists and with activists in the international labor movement. In cooperation with the global labor movement, the Solidarity Center supports an alliance of the five major Iraqi unions, which work together to advocate for new social safety nets, job policies, and economic reforms from the Iraqi government and international financial institutions.
“We stand in solidarity with Iraqi workers, their families and their union representatives in this time of extreme crisis,” said Larson.