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Iraqi unions: “We want bread, not bullets”

By the time tens of thousands of protestors defied a government curfew to gather in Tahrir Square in Baghdad on 29 October, the death toll had reached the hundreds. Security forces have used live ammunition and snipers on rooftops to kill demonstrators. On the same day in Karbala, protestors were attacked by masked men, leading to 18 deaths.

This follows a month of demonstrations, led by working class youth, against official corruption, mass unemployment and failing public services. The demonstrations were triggered by the demotion of a popular general, hailed as a hero for defeating ISIS in Mosul. Protestors feel that the country’s vast oil wealth has not benefited citizens, many of whom lack access to adequate healthcare, education, clean water and electricity.

Iraq’s trade unions have been involved in the uprising. The Conference of Iraqi Federations and Workers Unions, an alliance of national centres, issued a statement supporting the demands of the protesters and blaming the political parties and government for the poverty, unemployment and corruption that sparked the protest, as well as for the violent response.

Iraqi unions “We want bread not bullets”

In Baghdad and Basra, leaders of IndustriALL Global Union affiliates joined the demonstrations. In Basra, union members joined protestors in a series of demonstrations that led to the shutting of the port. The unions highlighted the problem of unemployment, saying that Iraq’s industrial and agricultural capacity had been undermined, leaving the economy dependent on oil exports and imported goods.

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IndustriALL Executive Committee member Hashmeya Alsaadawe in Basra

“Our homeland is hurting and its youth are being slaughtered,” the Basra Federation of Trade Unions, which includes IndustriALL affiliates, said in a statement.

“The people of Iraq have demonstrated peacefully and have been met with live ammunition. Many of our children have been arrested or killed.”

The union issued a number of demands, including:

  • Address unemployment, reopen factories and improve working conditions
  • Bring corrupt officials to justice and confiscate the spoils of corruption
  • Revise electoral law and hold elections under international supervision
  • Improve public services, including electricity, water, health and education
  • Punish those guilty of assaulting, injuring and killing protestors.
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Hassan Jumaa Al Asadea of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions joins protests

IndustriALL affiliate the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions issued a statement, saying:

“We stand in solidarity with the demonstrations against corrupt rule in Iraq. The Iraqi people of all classes stand together as one to demand their rights.

“These rights have been taken away by an unjust government that uses violence, including sniper fire, against defenceless people who have nothing but their faith in God and in the justice of their cause.”

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“IndustriALL is horrified at the brutal repression in Iraq, including the killing of hundreds of people. Instead of responding with violence, the government should respect the right to freedom of assembly, and address the deep social problems that have sparked the protests. 

“The government and political parties in Iraq have acted in their own interests, and neglected the needs of the people. The result is corruption, poverty and unemployment.

“The people have responded in anger. Our affiliates in Iraq stand with them, and we in the international movement support them in their fight.”

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