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March 2005   

Interview: Dot.Com
Evan Thornley was a labour activist. Then he rode the tech wave. Now he's home with new ideas on how Labor can win the economic debate.

Workplace: Dirt Cheap
In her new book, Elizabeth Wynhausen learns how hard it is to live on the minimum wage.

Industrial: Daddy Doesnít Live With Us Anymore
Andreia Viegasí tells the story of the loss her young family has felt since her husband was killed at work, and the need for justice for families who fall victim to industrial manslaughter.

Economics: Who's Afraid of the BCA?
Big Business's agenda for Australia has gone from loopy to mainstream at the speed of light, writes Neale Towart

International: From the Wreckage
Working people across Iraq are struggling to build their own independent unions Ė and are successfully organising industrial action on the vital oil fields as well as in hotels, transport outlets and factories, Writes Andrew Casey

Politics: Infrastructure Blues
With much attention given belatedly to the shortage of infrastructure, little attention has been given to the structure of infrastructure, writes Evan Jones

History: Meat and Three Veg
A new book recounts the impact of the Depression on women workers, writes Neale Towart,

Savings: Super Seduction
Sharks are circling your super. From July 1, banks and financial planners will have access to the nesteggs of an extra four million workers, writes Jim Marr.

Politics: Popping the 'E-Word'
Federal shadow treasurer Wayne Swan unveils Labor's new economic doctrine.

Poetry: To Know Somebody
This week saw an appointment to the ABC Board that was even more breathtaking than that of Liberal Party figure Michael Kroger. Resident Bard David Peetz celebrates the occasion with a reworking of an old Bee Gees hit.

Review: Off the Rails
A new play on the impact of rail privatisation in Britain has a poignant message for Sydney commuters, writes Alex Mitchell


The Soapbox
The Big Picture
Think about this: It takes 150 tonnes of iron ore to buy a plasma TV, writes Doug Cameron.

The Locker Room
Reducto Ad Absurdo
Phil Doyle offers advice for the lovelorn, and finds that things are getting smaller

New Matilda
Work is In
The rise and fall of the working hours debate in france is relevent to Australian workers, writes Daniel Donahoo and Tim Martyn

The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP surveys the upcoming conservative centralist collective attack.

Postcard from Harvard
Australian union officials making the annual pilgrimage to the Harvard Trade Union Program learnt that, at least, they are not alone, says Natalie Bradbury.


Thatís Our Team
Hereís a test. Hands up all those who watched the news last night. Who can remember the weather forecast for tomorrow? What about the forecast in Perth?


 Rev Kev: Innocent Shall Be Guilty

 Itís Official - Taskforce "Hopeless"

 Hollywood For Tropfest Evictees

 Miner Problem for Feds

 Students Driven to Sleep

 Brogden Dances On Graves

 Let Them Drink Beer

 Traffic Fines Parked

 The Airline That Flew a Kite

 Hundreds Resist Porridge

 Experts Back Better Childcare Pay

 Mushroom Mums Win

 Rotten Fruit Exposed

 Workers Sue Rumsfeld

 Activistís Whatís On

 Stay Terra Firma on Tax
 Janetís Job No Victory
 Royal Finger Lickers
 Will $20 Restore Carr?
 Two Ideas
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From the Wreckage

Working people across Iraq are struggling to build their own independent unions Ė and are successfully organising industrial action on the vital oil fields as well as in hotels, transport outlets and factories, Writes Andrew Casey

At this moment 400 hundred hotel workers are on strike at one of Baghdad's top hotels, the Palestine Hotel, after negotiations with the hotel management for a wage increase had failed.

The Palestine Hotel houses many foreign journalists and diplomats. Workers at the nearby Sheraton 'Baghdad Hotel' also staged a successful strike recently in which they won a wage increase and better working conditions.

" The strike was very difficult for the management because many Americans stay at the hotel. They were very angry and disturbed that the hotel wasn't cleaned for 2 days," Muhsin Jasim, the regional secretary for the union representing the hotel workers, said.

" They tried to bribe us by inviting us to eat dinner with them, but we refused. In all 180 workers at the hotel took part in the strike - the entire workforce. Workers in other big hotels saw the strike and formed union committees as well."

There is very little reported about the fast growing, but fledgling, independent union movement - largely because it doesn't fit into an easy formula of " good guys and bad guys".

Nor do we hear much about the loud internal debates about how these new unions should relate to the rest of Iraqi civil society; relate to the US-led invaders, the Al-Qaeda aligned 'resistance' and the remnants of the old-Baathist regime.

The worst thing is that the mainstream media have ignored the deliberate targeting of union activists by all sides in the new Iraq.

The vicious torture and murder of a leading Iraqi trade union leader, Hadi Saleh, in early January was the lowest and ugliest point in the growing pattern of attacks on Iraqi trade union offices, and trade union members, over the last two years.

The attacks on the trade unions and workers come from everywhere - supporters of the Saddamists, the Al-Qaeda related Islamist resistance, as well as from the US-led occupiers.

A masked gang broke into Saleh's home bound him hand and foot and blindfolded him. They beat and burned his flesh. Once they had finished torturing him they strangled him with an electric cord and then riddled his body with bullets. The murder of Saleh bore all the hallmarks of the Saddamist regime's hated secret police the Mukhabarat.

Hadi Saleh's crime was that he had become a leading figure helping in the creation of an independent trade union movement in post-Saddam Iraq; campaigning for decent wages and basic health and safety conditions in the workplace.

Just weeks after his murder the President of the metal and printworkers union, Talib Khadim Al Tayee, was kidnapped threatened and then released. And in Mosul both the Secretary and President of the IFTU offices have been kidnapped, threatened, tortured and released in separate incidents in late January and, as I write, in late February.

Saleh had been active in reaching out to union people across the globe calling for their support for the creation of a democratic, socialist and secular society in which trade unions played a vital role.

He had addressed the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions Congress in Tokyo last year and called on them to play a role in helping to regenerate Iraq. He'd been to the UK, Europe and the USA where he had garnered significant support from the major Left and progressive unions.

On a visit to Europe last year, Saleh outlined the problems facing Iraqi trade unionists including lack of funds, the lack of training, the continued implementation of anti-union laws brought in by the Ba'athist dictatorship and attacks from US forces on IFTU offices.

The IFTU certainly seems to have received the most international support, across the political spectrum of trade unions in the developed world, but there are about a dozen different trade union groupings in Iraq now organising huge numbers of workers.

It was largely the work of Saleh which resulted in a major conference sponsored by the British TUC in mid-February this year, bringing together about 70 trade unionists from 16 British trade unions to discuss practical solidarity.

Importantly the Iraqi unions attending the conference represented all points of view : including Saleh's IFTU, the Kurdistan Workers Syndicate, the Iraqi Teachers Union, the Iraqi Journalists' Union, the Federation of Workers Councils and - Unions of Iraq, and - surprisingly - the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions (GFITU), the national trade union centre controlled by the former Saddamist dictatorship

The split between Iraqi union groupings in their response to the US-presence in Iraq was reflected at the conference.

The IFTU and the Kurdish Workers Syndicate, both of whom had opposed the invasion, supported participation in the recent election so as to build a new civil society. They saw the election as an important first step to ending the US-led occupation.

Their union opponents, such as the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq, damned the IFTU especially as collaborationists with the US-invaders.

The Basra Oil Workers' Union has also kept themselves at arms length from the IFTU. They argue their role is to be independent of all political factions and defend Iraq's oil bounty from the grasping hands of the US invaders.

This union, formed within two-weeks of the fall of the Saddam regime, has successfully organised wage and conditions strikes against the US-imposed administrators of the oil fields.

Unfortunately this split within the Iraqi unions is now also reflected in a number of progressive forums across the globe. At a recent meeting of the European Social Forum a far-left Trotskyite group orchestrated the booing, hissing and slow-handclapping effort ensuring an IFTU representative was forced off the stage.

There is a struggle to create independent unions going on now in Iraq - and there are real victories to be reported.

It should be the role of union people in Australia to support all groups who are legitimately organising among working people for free and independent unions - without picking sides based on political prejudices or fractional loyalties.


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