Iraq's legal code may be in disarray. The streets of Baghdad may be filled with thieves and hijackers who seem to have little fear of being arrested. But US occupation authorities seem to have no trouble identifying one crime, at least. For the four million people out of work in Iraq, protest is against the law.
On July 29, US occupation forces in Iraq arrested a leader of Iraq's new emerging labor movement, Kacem Madi, along with 20 other members of the Union of the Unemployed. The unionists had been conducting a sit-in to protest the treatment of unemployed Iraqi workers by the US occupation authority, and the fact that contracts for work rebuilding the country have been given overwhelmingly to US corporations.
Their protest started when hundreds of unemployed workers gathered in front of an old bank building on Abu Nawas Street.. From there they marched to the office of the ruling occupation council. According to Zehira Houfani, a member of the Iraq Solidarity Project in Canada, who witnessed the protest, workers in similar demonstrations in the past had normally dispersed at that point. Each time, however, Madi told Houfani, "the representatives of the occupation forces meet and discuss with us, promise to solve the problem, but each time their promises are not fulfilled and we are forced to take to the streets again."
On this occasion they decided to step up the pressure on US authorities. In the time-honored tradition of workers from Mexico to the Philippines, they set up a planton, or a tent encampment, outside the council gates. US soldiers on guard ordered them to disperse, but the workers refused. Night fell. Then, at one in the morning the soldiers returned, arrested 21 protesters, and took them inside the compound, where they were held until the following morning.