By Falah Alwan, president of Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq
After the passing of the so-called Economic Reform Act, the privatisation programme is going ahead. The aim is to attract foreign corporations and investment into the country to take over sections of the economy which were previously state owned. There have been protests against this by electricity workers and oil workers, which have been met with victmisation from the authorities. 16 trade union activists in the oil sector have been victimised and there are threats against oil workers' leader Hassan Juma'a. We're pursuing a legal case against these victimisations.
The “politically-dismissed” workers are also continuing their protests. They held a demonstration last Tuesday. The authorities are still refusing to recognise their claims and they have not received compensation.
The companies involved in the privatisations are big corporations like Halliburton with a history of involvement in Iraq. But one problem is that often the privateers are operating through local sub-contractors so it's not always possible to know who's behind it. The authorities are claiming that the privatisation and investment will provide jobs, but as companies transfer from public to private ownership the bosses are often saying that there's no need for as many workers. In one factory 500 workers were made redundant.
Workers and workers' organisations were central to the recent social mobilisations. They began around basic social demands, particularly the demand for jobs. Unemployment is still very high. Workers' organisations were central to the February 25 mass mobilisation in al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad. Since then workers' organisations have remained involved but as the authorities clamp down on dissent it's become harder to organiser. Security forces loyal to al-Maliki have worn plain clothes to move amongst demonstrations and disrupt and sabotage them. It's very hard to mobilise. Workers can't rely on continuing mobilisations in al-Tahrir Square; they need to attempt to mobilise in their workplaces. It's difficult to hold strikes and sit-ins but that's where the struggle must focus now. As privatisation continues, the confrontation between workers and the government will sharpen as job losses increase.
Women have been very involved in the social movement, demonstrating for their rights. They want social equality and secularism. Consequently they've faced a lot of attacks and harassment from al-Maliki loyalists. Industrially speaking there is already formal wage equality in the public sector, but only in a few workplaces in the private sector.
As part of its reforms, the government wants to reduce the number of public ministries from 43 to 25. But the problem isn't the reduction of ministries as such. A lot of the ministries are functionally useless. The reduction itself won't cause job losses; the problem is cutting jobs within the ministries.
According to official government figures, the Iraqi economy is still overwhelmingly state-run. Officially, less than 10% of the economy is private. But there's a huge informal sector. There's a lot of sub-contracting and casualisation in industries like recycling and construction. A lot of agricultural work is also informal, almost feudal. There are a lot of homeworkers and part-time workers, which makes it very difficult to tell how big the informal sector is.