James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, January 15, 2004

As widely unreported in your local press....

The original excuses offered by the Bush Administration for invading Iraq were quickly shown to be lies, so the focus these days is on the belated claim that the real reason for the invasion was to rescue the Iraqi people from evil and present them with democracy and a peaceful life.

Oh yeah?

The Dec. 19, 2003, issue of The Guild Reporter, monthly publication of the Newspaper Guild, the union representing reporters, editors and others at many larger U.S. newspapers and magazines, carries an article you’re not likely to see in your daily newspaper, let alone on television. It speaks directly to the question of what “democracy” means to a Bush-led government.

The writer is freelance journalist David Bacon, a member of the Guild’s Northern California local, who spent some time late last year traveling and reporting in Iraq. He says flatly that U.S. forces in that country are being used by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) – the occupation government run by Americans – to forcefully suppress labor unions and any attempt to organize Iraq’s workers around causes, such as the establishment of unemployment benefits, that would improve their miserable lot.

A little aside: Seventy percent of the country’s work force is unemployed, Bacon says -- though some sources put the unemployment figure at only a bit above 60 percent -- and a high percentage of the jobless are homeless and without any regular source of income or even food.

On Dec. 6, 2003, Bacon says, U.S. troops conducted a series of arrests against would-be organizers. “A convoy of 10 humvees and personnel carriers descended on the old headquarters building of the Transport and Communications Workers union, in Baghdad’s central bus station,” which since last June has housed the Iraqi Workers Federation of Trade Unions. Twenty U.S. soldiers dashed into the building and handcuffed and hauled off eight members of the federation’s executive board. The place lacks even basic office furniture and machines, but the soldiers took what files there were, and ripped down the anti-terrorism posters in the offices, Bacon says.

The eight who were arrested were released the next day, but have never been told why they were picked up. The CPA has refused to explain the arrests, Bacon says.

He reports that two other trade union leaders were arrested Nov. 23 by U.S. troops, held a day and released, and another leader has been arrested and released twice. There’s more, but you get the idea.

One of the things that is driving Iraqi workers to organize is the widespread belief among both managers and workers that there will be massive layoffs among those who are employed when now government-owned enterprises are sold off to foreign buyers, Bacon says.

Another thing the American press isn’t bothering to tell the public is that the Bush Administration has a list of Iraqi state-owned enterprises – mines, pharmaceutical factories, fertilizer plants, the country’s one airline and others – that it intends to hawk to foreign companies. There have been a number of by-invitation meetings for potential buyers in Washington and London.

And another story your local newspaper almost certainly hasn’t told: By decree of Saddam Hussein in 1987, workers in Iraqi state-owned enterprises are forbidden to form or join unions. Our army, under Bush and the CPA, is enforcing that law, Bacon says, and people who try to organize either those or other enterprises are being threatened with detention as prisoners of war.

Bacon notes that under the Saddam regime, the workers made about $60 a month, on average, but they also got bonuses, profit sharing and food and housing subsidies. Under the CPA’s oh-so democratic rule, they still make about $60 a month, but the bonuses, profit sharing and subsidies have been eliminated, meaning that workers have much less than they had under Saddam. They’re still working the 11-hour or 13-hour shifts they did under Saddam, however. There are no unemployment benefits for Iraq workers so quitting isn’t an option, and layoffs are greatly feared.

The writer concludes, reasonably, that the pressure is being kept on the workers, and that unions are being suppressed in order to make the state-owned businesses more attractive to potential buyers, who will be much more interested if they don’t have to deal with unions, and can pay starvation wages to terribly overworked employees.

The Guild Reporter headlined Bacon’s article thus: “Is Iraq a dress-rehearsal for U.S.?”

But that’s far-fetched.

Isn’t it?

(Coming soon: Why the American press has become so feeble...)