Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

In Iraq, Labor Protest is a Crime


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.

One arrested union member, 58-year old Ali Djaafri, told Houfani that the experience was “very humiliating. At no other time during the occupation,” he said, “has my resentment towards the US soldiers been that strong.”

The unemployment rate is over 50% in cities like Baghdad. Madi estimates that four million Iraqi workers have no jobs. Thousands of public-sector workers employed by the former government lost their jobs after the war. Many provided services from healthcare to education, and those services have yet to be restored. There is no money to pay those workers, nor an Iraqi government to employ them. Even the records of their employment went up in flames in the looting which followed the occupation of Baghdad.

Thousands more worked in former government-owned enterprises. Many of those have been closed down, and occupation authorities have announced their intention to privatize huge sections of the former economy.

That all adds up to thousands of working families facing an extreme economic crisis. The new union for unemployed workers has become the fastest-growing, largest labor organization in the country as a result.

At the same time, the issue of the foreign contracts has become a hot controversy among Iraqi workers because the US corporations bring workers into the country to work under those contracts. A Kuwaiti firm subcontracting to the US construction giant Kellogg, Brown and Root, for instance, was recently found to be bringing Asian workers into the port of Basra to perform repair and reconstruction work. Meanwhile, Iraqi workers with long years of experience sit idle.

Kacem Madi and other unemployed leaders led the sit-in protest over this discrimination, and announced that they would continue their demonstrations until they either received jobs or some kind of unemployment payment. But occupation authorities, instead of trying to address the problem, arrested them. International labor organizations, including the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (of which the AFL-CIO is a member) have sharply criticized the desperate situation of Iraqi workers. “Ensuring respect for workers’ rights, including freedom of association, must be central to building a democratic Iraq and to ensuring sustainable economic and social development,” the ICFTU said in a statement made May 30. “Democracy must have roots. It requires free elections, but also mass based, democratic trade unions that help secure it and protect it as well as being schools of democracy.”

Arab trade unionists are even more critical of the occupation’s effect on workers. According to Hacene Djemam, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, “war makes privatization easy: first you destroy the society and then you let the corporations rebuild it.” He emphasized that Iraqi workers must be able to form unions of their own choosing.

Unfortunately, the corporations who have been granted contracts for work in Iraq by the Bush administration have long records of fighting unions and violating labor rights. In May, Amy Newell, national coordinator of US Labor Against the War, and former executive secretary of the Monterey/Santa Cruz Central Labor Council, went to Geneva to present a report to international labor bodies, highlighting the record of 18 of those corporations.

USLAW is a network of unions and other labor organizations opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq. The organization charges that the U.S. government pays for a bloated military budget with severe cuts in domestic social programs. It grew out of the many demonstrations prior to the March 20 invasion, by which time unions representing almost one-third of all organized workers in the U.S. were on record against the war. At that time even the AFL-CIO itself publicly opposed the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

Companies highlighted in the report made in Geneva include:

* Stevedoring Services of America. SSA was a leader in last year’s efforts by Pacific Coast shippers to lock out west coast longshore workers, and worked with the Bush administration to threaten the International Longshore and Warehouse Union with breaking up its coastwise agreement and bringing troops onto the docks. ILWU spokesperson Steve Stallone called SSA “ideologically anti-union and anti-ILWU.”

* MCI Worldcom. Worldcom has a long record of opposing worker efforts to organize. It declared bankruptcy in 2002 after fraudulently claiming $11 billion in earnings. As a result, the retirement savings of thousands of workers were completely wiped out, along with $2.6 billion in public pension funds. The Iraq contract was awarded after the company was fined $500 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its illegal fraud.

* Eight of the eighteen companies with the major contracts are completely non-union. Almost all have records of fighting any union organizing effort.

The USLAW report also discusses the track record of social responsibility of the corporations involved. It found a long history of corporate corruption and bribery (Halliburton Corp., which still pays $1 million a year to former director Vice President Dick Cheney), organizing mercenary armies (Dyncorp/Computer Sciences Corp.), and years of cooperation with repressive governments, from Hussein’s regime itself (Halliburton again, and San Francisco’s Bechtel Corp.) to the former apartheid regime in South Africa (Fluor Corp.)

“Prior to its suppression by the Hussein regime, Iraq enjoyed a robust and broadly representative labor movement,” the report concludes. [The pre-Hussein government was overthrown in a 1956 cold-war coup organized by the Central Intelligence Agency. ed] “Its legacy provides the seedbed for reestablishing an independent labor movement with internationally recognized workers’ rights to organize, bargain and strike. However, the occupying powers have invited into Iraq private corporations with an established record of labor, environmental and human rights violations. These corporations were chosen by the Bush administration, which itself is considered by many as the most anti- worker, union-hostile administration in modern U.S. history. This does not bode well for respect of workers rights in Iraq.”

If the arrest of Madi and the unemployed workers last month in Baghdad is any indication, that concern is well deserved.

DAVID BACON is a reporter and photographer specializing in labor issues. He can be reached at:



More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians