Strikes, Bosses Attacked and Fistfighting with British Soldiers - Workers struggle in Basra
Its 9.30 am in Najeebeeya Electricity Plant in British-Occupied Basra. Machine gun-armed English guards are ushering US Bechtel managers on five figure salaries into the boss's office. Tanks and jeeps – shudderingly similar to those used by Israeli troops in Occupied Palestine roll up into the serene sandbag- seiged airport – now a military base to the worlds most notorious squatters. The much lauded 'hearts and minds' British occupation spun as quieter and more humble compared to that of the war-combat and Baghdad-battered hunters and hunted US is supposed to be based on past Brit experience of occupation. Any kid off the street in Northern Ireland circa 1972 could tell you hearts and minds were more likely to be splattered over the pavement than won by 'our boys'. The comparative calm in Basra is more down to the recycling of the old fascist authorities – a common Brit tactic used in post war Nazi Germany where ministers, police and industrial overlords were quietly removed and their second or third in commands slipped in. Reliable Mercenary Ruling Elites. The Brits faced a riot when they tried to install Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al Tamimi, better known as Gen. Al Tamimi, a former brigadier in Saddam’s army, as civil administrator in April.
The old General Federation of Iraqi Workers, formerly led by Ali Hassan Majid – chemical Ali – is still active and supported by the CPA, trying to pressurize new unions to join up by promising them state salaries and perks (social housing, food subsidies, bonuses) as paid by the old regime, and by the new one too, so says Hussein Fadhil Hasan, Chairman of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Basrah. "We sent letters to the CPA many times, informing them of the Baathist mangers and union representatives but they did nothing', he says speaking out of the tired offices of the old Baathist Union offices, now the HQ of the Communist Party, Women's Union, and Federation, and home to 70 displaced families. The Airport is cited as the main location of former high ranking Baathist employees. The Union was barred from inspecting conditions there however the old Baathists were allowed to work freely. Pre-regime fall, Saddam Hussein advised all party activists and loyalists to join the occupiers, keep close to them, assimilate into their apparatuses, and collaborate in order to explode them from within at a later date. It is commonly perceived here that the Baathists were the first to come to the Occupying Authorities and offer their services as translators and informers (most of whom were Secret Service before the war) and that previously on-side and bought off Special Republican Guard members now secure military installations and bases and oversee some of the most sensitive sites of reconstruction. Most Baath party membership records were burned following the fall, proof of party membership is scant. The tactic now is to get close to the occupiers and wait for the appropriate time to turn – if such is the inclination, or simply to save ones skin from retribution or incarceration. But people’s justice is also being administered here. OW was told that 15 Baathists have been killed by the hands of the people in the past month alone here.
"Many many workers totally reject the very idea of unionization, so badly scarred are their memories of the Baathist formations, used as tools of oppression and intelligence gathering against the working class” tells us Samir Hanoon, head of the Transport Workers Union. Many reject even the idea of forming a union". The Union represents 10 unions in Basra including the Spinning and Sewing Laborer’s Union, Health Professionals Union, Oil and Gas Union and the Railway Union of Basra. The Union is also part of the all-Iraqi Federation of Iraqi Workers Unions, based in Baghdad. But the entire federation is devoid of funds - those of the old federation having been frozen by the CPA