Résumé of the workshop "Water and Migration
in a Globalised World" at the Strasbourg Noborder Camp
The workshop consisted of a brainstorm session about different lines of analysis (subheadings in the "Concept" part) and then went on to think about the collective effort that we hope will derive from this workshop. The hope was to extend this résumé into a generally developed and shared document by discussing the already existing contents, developing new aspects
and spreading it out as widely as possible. So that many diverse points of views and experiences can find expression. This document then would turn into a collective document on water, possibly as part of the sustained campaign on water by People‘s Global Action. The collective orientation was put toward developing a first concept that can be presented and discussed at the PGA conference in Leiden at the end of August with the aim to create a wider network of social movements that share ideas and experiences about their waters.
In addition, great emphasis was put on extending this concept with actual practical tools. Tools that would permit an immediate exchange and support on water-related activities and put into action the common concepts around water. That this was a crucial part for any future activity became clear when we realised that even the water on the Noborder camp was provided by Vivendi, without us having any direct, practical response to that(apart from not paying it).
We also would like to remind that the concept and tools are fundamentally outcomes of Western-based experiences. This is why we hope that many people from all around the world will get involved and change this bias!
The idea behind this was to create a mutual exchange of experience from different realities that can lead to mutual aid between diverse realities, struggles and actors. A cunning, even though rather black and white, conception would be a two-way-exchange between North and South: From the South, the still existing social and cultural connection to natural resources in many spaces can be fundamental for struggles in the North, where people tend to be rather apathetic about their water resources as long as the tab keeps running and bottled water is available. The North could share the experiences with industrialisation of water in general, privatisation, and PPP. A few major themes of such a common concept on fresh water resources have been outlined and we have hoped that we can extend and enhance the following points by a future process of exchange, discussion, and consensus, in which we hope many more people will get involved.
The discourse on scarcity has to be evaluated critically for its domination by corporate-led research, standard-setting and solution-finding. The discourse might well be a trap put up by international water corporations to gain public acceptance for their activities. This discourse uses a needs approach to justify their practices; where there is millions thirsty (need), there should be a market to solve that (supply!). Apart from the critique about this, it must be of urgent interest to understand what actual scarcity, there is in different settings and localities, and how these are perceived. Only from such a deliberation can we hope to find methods to tackle the existing inequalities, mal-distributions and so forth that are so characteristic of today's picture of water scarcity.
In general, it seems as if there are three different types of scarcity. The first is the long-term, natural situation in a given geological area to which people have adopted over time. The next can be pinned down to climate change and its entailing change of local habitats, and the third can be named by its name: the global market with its corporate practices, misconduct and profiteering in the course of development practice.
It was acknowledged that the scarcity and the local perception of this need to be identified by social movements. Therefore, a few (not exhaustive) questions have been put forward:
What do indigenous people around the world think about their water situations?
Why do many local farmers, especially in India, actually support grandiose dam construction plans? Are they simply being misinformed or do they have stakes in the game?
Why do people in different regions of the world have different attitudes towards their waters?
In Western countries for example, the technological and financial situation permits to find new solutions to scarcity, like building two sets of tube systems, one for drinking water and another for utility uses. What approaches can be found in other, poorer settings?
An example mentioned during the workshop was that of a river in Colombia where a dam closed the possibility of local fishermen to sustain their families from the river. But not only was the food chain broken by the massive dam walls, but also did it make money necessary for the locals as they had to cross the river, whose access was privatised. So the local people were inevitable pushed away from their previous way of living, were made to use money where it was not needed before. A process that eventually will push them into the cities to find a job as wage labourer. Here, the general discussion focused on the consequences to local communities rather than the already well-known arguments against big dams.
France was seen as the prime example to show how corporate practices disadvantage the people and destroy the environment. The outcome is general overpricing, which in allows for investment into other sectors (Vivendi and its extension into the media). It was argued that the French model was not a social model but a model of empire. There are many different means and ways to privatise water resources and their provision. There will be a strong necessity to actually look at every single one of these in order to develop on overview picture of the situation. The German situation with its Stadtwerke was specifically mentioned and will need further deliberation. Cochabamba was discussed for its significance in the struggle against privatisation.
Example of Canada or Central and South America, where extensive Eucalyptus plantations are being forced onto the farmers, as they are heavily indebted. It is already clear that these Eucalyptuses will destroy the farmland. But Eucalyptus grows quickly and is therefore profitable even though it needs so much water that it is for example being used to dry up wetlands in Canada. So when planted in great quantities anywhere but their natural habitats, Eucalyptus destroys, dries out, the soil, for example in South America. As soon as international logging corporations have cashed in on the wood in a few years, the farmers will be left without means of livelihood as their land has become arid and unproductive and will have to move into the cities. This process is actually intended as it frees labour forces for industrialisation in maquiladoras.
The situation in South Africa, Johannesburg. Privatisation of city waters.
Concentration of power
Monopoly comes about via privatisation and state control and is very obvious in cases such as Monsanto's grasp for control over the food chain (seeds) and over fresh water resources. Clearly, the issues go beyond mechanisms of privatisation such as full-cost recovery and include transnational business practices, World Bank and IMF policies, international trade agreement such as the GATS, international trade in fresh water etc.
Control over the population
The French fresh water is a good example of how a monopoly can be used to sustain state control; this time, as so often, over "terrorists" who might attack the French population via the fresh water pipes. Possible biological attacks are prevented by putting Chlorine into the water. The population was not informed in any proper way. The question that is raised by this discussion about power relations around and through water, is in how far the States and corporations like Vivendi are effectively different, equal or even the very same agents struggling to get control over water, or not. Another case is bottled water and its relation with tab water. Where both are owned by the same corporation, the tab water is less profitable and so there is no "market" incentive for the corporation to actually improve the quality of fresh water services because it means that more people will buy bottled water instead, which has a very high profit margin indeed.
The situation in Palestine is also heavily determined by the distribution of fresh water resources. Allocation is determined by Israeli settlements and industry in the occupied territories. Compared to Israelis, Palestinians use only a tenth of the amount of water per capita. This is due to the imbalanced relations of power and military forces in the region.
Also, water control is a strong military tool in the hands of the Israelis. For example, as the recent occupation of Bethlehem and Ramallah proceeded, the Isrealis also cut of water supply for these cities in order to quench resistance.
such an unequal allocation and distribution of water can also be determined
between say, the city centres and the banlieues in France. So the actual
imbalanced distribution is happening everywhere, following the respective
logics of the place and moment. The poor and powerless get less, the powerful
and rich enjoy abundance. This disadvantages huge parts of the populations
which, as is the case in Palestine, have to struggle daily to get enough water,
not to speak about creating significant industry or so forth. Water Apartheid
is put in place, which divides people through this "low-level"
violence directed against Palestinians.
Drying out of dissent and resistance
It is fundamental to understand that total control over water resources means total control over groups of people as the monopoly can effectively dry them out. So threatens to happen in the Chiapas region of Mexico and so already is happening in Bio Alto in Chile! It was a notion of all participants that water is effectively a powerful tool to control social movements, indigenous, peoples and dissent.
A wet future
At the same time as water is a strong weapon to subjugate or suppress dissenting communities, it also can be a great tool for their liberation and emancipation. Water can be used as a theoretical and practical link between territorial control, autonomy over one’s resources and the collective and directly democratic allocation of those. The human rights approach (water as a human right) is only a very weak proposition as it does not challenge the market and requires States to act in favour of it. Instead, autonomy, self-governance, and mutual aid should be the basis for any future use of natural resources.
We have had a few initial ideas about what can be done right now. The first emphasis was put on interconnecting different struggles around the globe. A second issue was the urgent need to practically support struggles around the world. A first item there was pointed out as being the support for struggles against ALCA and the connected Plan Puebla Panama.
The Politics of Silence, the Voice of the
In a world where decisions are made behind the back of societies, it is encouraging to find resistance movements standing firmly. However, in order to identify them it is necessary to look beyond the (dis)information provided by market journalism.
In his letter to the II World Social Forum this year, read at its closing ceremony this year, José Saramago, Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate, pointed to the emptying of democracy in the era of neoliberal capitalism. Modern political systems, he stressed, have become a ritual, a kind of "lay mass". Citizens are summoned to the polls, but essential decisions are taken by the markets. Parliaments themselves are marginalized when the sacred interests of large corporations are at stake.
The media strives to divert attention of citizens from essential questions. Who, among the voters in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico or the U.S., was invited by its government to express an opinion about the convenience of entering the FTAA? Which commercial news publication provides in-depth information about negotiations taking place, at this very moment, in Geneva, the seat of the WTO, to deepen "free trade" policies that characterize exclusionist globalization? Which international institution takes into account the voice of the society, almost everywhere against a new imperial war, when analyzing the dispute between the U.S. and Iraq?
In view of this defacing of democracy, of the establishment of backroom and mute politics, the best choice is to listen to the voice of the streets. It echoed in the last few weeks, in different forms, in different corners of the planet. In Brazil, this past Sunday, large political demonstrations anticipated the landslide victories of the political forces that promised to govern giving priority to social rights, not the markets. In Europe, and in the heart of the Empire itself, thousands of people demonstrated against the war and its sequels: the attacks on civil rights, discrimination of immigrants, the attempt to turn brute force into the basic law of international relations. In Washington, part of the American youth expressed its solidarity with the peoples of the South of the planet, harmed by "structural adjustment" policies dictated by the White House, the IMF and the World Bank. In London, a creatively designed protest, that included donkeys parading though city streets, condemned the indigent conditions of coffee planters, robbed by the transnational firms who industrialize the product.
It is part of the process of erosion of democracy the fact that the "big" newspapers do not cover these facts.
How British charity was silenced on Iraq
Friday November 28, 2003
One of Britain’s most high-profile charities was ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors, a Guardian investigation has discovered.
Internal emails reveal how Save the Children UK came under enormous pressure after it accused coalition forces of breaching the Geneva convention by blocking humanitarian aid.
Senior figures at Save the Children US, based in Westport, Connecticut, demanded the withdrawal of the criticism and an effective veto on any future statements blaming the invasion for the plight of Iraqi civilians suffering malnourishment and shortages of medical supplies.
Uncovered documents expose tensions within an alliance that describes itself as “the world’s largest independent global organisation for children” but which is heavily reliant on governments and big business for cash.
Save the Children UK, which had an income of £122m in 2002-03, boasts the Queen as patron and Princess Anne as president, plus a phalanx of the great and the good lending their titles and time.
The row over Iraq erupted in April when the London statement said coalition forces had gone back on an earlier agreement to allow a relief plane, packed with emergency food and medical supplies for 40,000 people, to land in northern Iraq.
Rob MacGillivray, the UK wing’s emergency programme manager, released a statement which stated that the “lack of cooperation from the coalition forces is a breach of the Geneva conventions and its protocols, but more importantly the time now being wasted is costing children their lives”.
Within hours of the statement appearing, the US wing was demanding its withdrawal. Emails sent to staff in Britain by Dianne Sherman, associate vice-president for public affairs and communications in Connecticut, headed “Save/UK criticises US military”, expressed dismay and censured the UK operation.
Ms Sherman said the Americans were “really astonished at today’s release, which went out without our prior knowledge, that attacks the US military”.
Her email went on: “This is undermining all the great work we’ve done, much of it in collaboration with you. We’ll have to see the consequences of how this plays out - including affecting our future funding from the government.”
A number of less controversial “joint messages” were proposed by Ms Sherman, none of which criticised any aspect of the invasion or occupation. She instead wanted the UK and US groups to point out that humanitarian organisations were still not permitted access to most of Iraq, that delays harmed children and, on a positive note, that relief work was under way in Umm Qasr, Masul and northern Iraq.
“Safe, secure conditions must be created immediately to allow humanitarians to bring in essential supplies and expertise to the people of Iraq,” was her alternative version.
Accounts published by Save the Children US highlight its vulnerability
to political pressure from a Republican White House with “government grants and
contracts” generating some 60%, nearly £71m, of its £119m operating support and
revenue. The proportion is also high in the UK, where £60.1m
49% - of the organisation’s income is “grants and gifts in kind from institutional donors”, including the government.
Ms Sherman copied her broadside to US executives including Ann van Dusen, the executive vice-president, Rudy von Bernuth, vice-president and managing director of its children in emergencies section, and Andrea Williamson-Hughes, corporate secretary.
When she discovered the London statement had been posted on the UK organisation’s website, Ms Sherman also demanded the deletion of US press officer Nicole Amoroso’s name as a contact, adding in a second email: “I would also strongly suggest that the press release be removed until we have agreed upon language of the release.”
A well-placed source in the UK operation said “all hell let loose” over the US intervention, with telephone calls “flying across the Atlantic” and a series of high-level meetings called to discuss the crisis.
The removal of the US press officer’s name was agreed to placate Connecticut but the source confirmed the Americans were also assured they would be sent all future UK statements on Iraq before they were issued.
According to the source, the UK wing toned down later statements to avoid offending the US side of the operation. A statement issued in London on April 25, for example, was cleared in advance with the US, the source said.
Headed “The war is not over for the children of Iraq”, it made no mention let alone criticism of coalition forces. The looting of some hospitals was highlighted but not the widespread criticism at the time that troops were standing by and doing nothing.
Save the Children US concentrates on fundraising and is said by London insiders to be anxious to curb campaigning by the UK arm.
Ms Sherman was unavailable for comment until next week, her office said.
But in a statement to the Guardian, Save the Children UK said it had not retracted the release at the heart of the row but had removed the name of Ms Amoroso, saying it had been an error not to consult her.
Subsequent statements, it added, reflected the fact that the situation
“had moved on” as medical supplies had landed in Jordan to be moved to Baghdad.
“We do not agree news releases issued in Save the Children UK’s name with Save
the Children US or any other member of the International Save the Children
Alliance,” the London statement said. “Wherever possible we do share Save the
Children UK news releases before they are issued with other alliance members
working in the same area. If any changes are suggested
by other alliance members to Save the Children releases, they are made or not at our discretion.”
The tensions over potential donor influence are not limited to the Iraq crisis. Other internal emails and documents disclose how Save the Children UK was nervous about the reaction of a major donor company, Serco, which makes huge profits from outsourcing, when the charity prepared to criticise the impact of privatisation on children.
A number of staff were aghast in the summer of 2002 when a chapter critical of private finance initiatives, written for a report published ahead of the Johannesburg sustainable development summit, was deleted by senior figures in the charity just before it was printed.
There is nothing in the documents to suggest that Serco exerted any pressure, but according to the emails, the charity’s staff were anxious not to upset it. One email copied widely in the organisation admitted “underlying tensions” existed between the corporate fund-raising unit and campaigners arguing that Private Finance Initiatives in basic services did not benefit children.
Another warned that criticism of PFIs by the charity was “naturally making some of our corporate sponsors edgy”, and the director general, Mike Aaronson, wanted a full briefing ahead of a meeting with a big private donor.
As the internal debate raged, fundraiser Helen Barnes warned she was in a “tricky position” with Serco, which ran hospitals, prisons and schools for the government. Although about to cease being a corporate member, the firm, she said, “is still keen to support us” as she argued against portraying it as a company operating solely for profit.
“Serco takes its social responsibilities very seriously and invests in the communities in which it operates,” Ms Barnes said.
Serco, which is heavily involved in the defence sector, raised a total of £626,500 for the charity, as well as naming its yacht Save the Children in the BT Global Challenge race three years ago.
The charity’s statement yesterday said: “At no point [in] the relationship did Serco attempt to influence Save the Children UK policy on any issue.”
It continued: “We were able to edit most of the report to meet the required standard but one chapter required further work before it could be approved for publication. Because time was short we decided to drop this chapter to allow the rest of the report to be published in time for the conference.”
By David Bacon
The disaster that is the occupation of Iraq is much more than the suicide bombings and guerilla ambushes of U.S. troops which play nightly across U.S. television screens. The violence of grinding poverty, exacerbated by economic sanctions after the first Gulf War, has been deepened by the the latest invasion. Every day the economic policies of the occupying authorities create more hunger among Iraq's working people, transforming them into a pool of low-wage, semi-employed labor, desperate for jobs at almost any price.
While the effects of U.S. policy on daily life go largely unseen in the U.S. media, anyone walking the streets of Baghdad cannot miss them. Children sleep on the sidewalks. Buildings that once housed many of the city's four million residents, or the infrastructure that makes life in a modern city possible, like the telephone exchange, remain burned-out ruins months after the occupation started. Rubble fills the broad boulevards which were once the pride of a wealthy country, and the air has become gritty and brown as thousands of vehicles kick the resulting dust into the air.
In the meantime U.S. contractors get rich from the billions of taxpayer dollars supposedly appropriated for reconstruction. Iraq's national wealth -- factories, refineries, mines, docks, and other industrial facilities -- are being readied for sale to foreign companies by the occupation's bureaucracy, to whom democracy and the unrestrained free market are the same thing. But Iraqi workers, while facing bleak conditions, are not accepting their fate, at least as defined by corporate planners. They are organizing and making plans of their own.
Iraqi workers need a raise - desperately. For six months, they've been paid at an emergency level dictated by the US occupation authority, known as the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. Most workers get $60/month, a small percentage $120, and a tiny minority (mostly administrators and managers) $180. This is the same wage scale that prevailed under the last few years of the Saddam Hussein regime.
One worker at the General State Leather Industry Factory, the largest shoe factory in the Middle East, says she supports six people in her family with the emergency payment. With unemployment still at catastrophic levels, every working Iraqi is supporting many other people at home. As she explains her situation, she's surrounded by four other seamstresses, each wearing a hejab and worn tan tunic over their clothes. They stand protectively around her while she speaks for all of them. "The prices of food and clothing are going up rapidly, and the salary is very low. We work hard, and I've been here 10 years. I have to have a raise," she pleads.
Another worker at the Al Daura oil refinery just outside Baghdad, complaining anonymously for fear that he would lose his job, told me he'd spent 10 years fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, only to return home to his six children with nothing. "I still have no house or place to live," he said bitterly, "and the current emergency wage is totally incapable of supporting us."
In September and October, the refinery saw three work stoppages, in which workers demanded a regular salary, at a level higher than the emergency payments. Leather factory workers even stormed out of their plant, and marched to the Labor Ministry, complaining about their manager and the wages. Similar protests have been happening at workplaces throughout the country.
Those without jobs, estimated at about 70 percent of the workforce, or about 7-8 million people, have even less. Twenty years ago, most people living in Baghdad were supported by regular employment. Today the informal, or black economy, is the means of survival for an enormous part of the population. Since April, the CPA and the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs have rewritten all the country's job classifications, and their corresponding salaries, at least three times. But the actual pay received by workers has remained exactly the same. The $87 billion just appropriated by Congress for Iraqi "reconstruction" contains not a dime for workers or the unemployed.
Instead, the money will prepare the way for the transformation of the Iraqi economy, and the privatization of the state enterprises at its heart. In the process the Bush administration is not considering measures that would protect and reinforce labor rights. Instead, since April the CPA has essentially banned unions in Iraqi state enterprises, and even issued a decree prohibiting strikes.
In an October 8 phone press conference, Thomas Foley, director for private sector development for the CPA, announced a list of the first state enterprises to be sold off, including cement and fertilizer plants, phosphate and sulfur mines, pharmaceutical factories and the country's airline. Foley described his goal as a "fully thriving capitalist economy." On September 19 the CPA published Order No. 39, which permits 100% foreign ownership of businesses, except for the oil industry, and allows repatriation of profits. No. 37 suspends income and property taxes for the year, and limits taxes on individuals and corporations in the future to 15%.
Dathar Al-Kashab, manager of the Al Daura refinery, predicted that privatization would have an enormous effect. "A worker starting here today has a job for life, under the old system, and there's no law which permits me to lay him off. But if I put on the hat of privatization, I'll have to fire 1500 [of the refinery's 3000] workers. In America when a company lays people off, there's unemployment insurance, and they won't die from hunger. If I dismiss employees now, I'm killing them and their families." Al Kashab was formerly the manager of the maintenence department, and still wears his machinist's overalls as he sits behind the huge desk of the plant director, a position to which he was appointed when the occupation began.
The state-owned Mamoun Factory of Vegetable Oils, which employs 771 workers is another prime candidate for sale to a private owner. "But there's no private person in Iraq with enough money to buy this place," said manager Amir Faraj Bhajet. "It would have to be a foreign owner. They would like the assets, but would they want the workers?" Production is low and many of the plant's injection molding machines, which make plastic bottles for the oil, are disabled. Replacement parts were unavailable during 12 years of sanctions, and the plant was inspected 20 times as a possible site for chemical weapons production, since the PVC used in making bottles has a dual possible use. Iraqi newspapers are already carrying stories on possible buyers.
Despite fear of privatization, however, the fall of the Saddam regime has led to an explosion of workplace organizing activity. Low wages are one motivation, but often working conditions are even more important. At the Al Daura refinery, Detrala Beshab, president of the refinery's new union, noted that while the workday is officially seven hours, the day shift is actually 11 hours long, and the night shift 13 hours. Since workers are paid by the month, there is no overtime pay.
"When we talked to the manager, he told us he had to talk to the Oil Ministry, which had to talk to the Finance Ministry, which had to get permission from the coalition forces," Beshab said. "The coalition forces control the finances and our wages." Beshab and the union committee are all older men, at least in their forties. The plant hasn't hired new workers in some time. Any job in Baghdad right now may be precarious, but it is a means of survival, so workers hang onto them by any means they can. An eleven hour shift is much better than no shift at all.
The workers' situation is so desperate the refinery gives them motor oil every month to make up for their low income. On the highway outside the plant, the sons of refinery workers have set up little roadside stands selling it to passing cars.
In Saddam's time no one could afford to retire - "the pension wasn't enough to pay a taxi to collect the check," Beshab laughs. But the refinery and every other state enterprise did pay other important benefits. There was a system of bonuses and profit-sharing, which often was as much as the salary itself, and a food subsidy as well. All those benefits disappeared when the occupation authorities took over. Workers have suffered a drastic cut in income since April as a result of CPA decisions. A skyrocketing exchange rate (2000 dinars to the dollar in mid-October) has made imports more expensive -- in effect, another cut in salary.
No one in the refinery, except the fire department, has boots or gloves. Safety glasses are unknown. "Lots of us have breathing problems, and there are accidents in which people get burned," explained another union member, Rajid Hassan. If anyone gets hurt or sick, they have to pay for their own medical care, and lose pay for the time they're out of work.
Two months ago, organizers came out to the plant from one of Iraq's two new labor federations, the Workers Democratic Trade Union Federation, the modern successor to the country's pre-Saddam labor movement. Iraq has a long history of labor and radical activity, born during the fight against the British during their 6-year occupation of the country at the end of World War One. Starting with oil, railroad and dock workers, unions mounted strikes, which the British suppressed at gunpoint, killing strikers.
The monarchy that the British installed, lasting until 1958, continued to make union organizing illegal. After the 1958 revolution overthrew the king, unions and radical political parties came aboveground for the first time. But in 1963, the CIA mounted a coup against the Kassem government, and installed the Baath Party. In 1977, Saddam Hussein, who became the Baath Party ruler, purged the unions and made radical parties illegal. Many activists were executed, and others fled Iraq into exile.
Following the fall of the Saddam regime in April, organizers of the old unions resurfaced. In Basra, they mounted a strike two days after the arrival of British troops, demanding the right to organize and protesting the appointment of a Baath Party member as the new mayor. Subsequently, 400 union activists met in Baghdad in June, forming the Workers Democratic Trade Union Federation, and laid plans to reorganize unions in twelve of the country's main industries.
After that meeting, organizers fanned out to workplaces, including the Al Daura refinery. There they encouraged workers in each of the nine departments to elect union committees, and to choose leaders for the entire installation. While the plant manager seemed very willing to talk with the union, he was not able to sign any kind of contract with the federation.
The refinery and all other state enterprises are still covered by the law issued by Saddam on March 11, 1987, which abolished Labour Law No. 151 of 1970, which guaranteed such rights as the 8 hour day. Saddam's 1987 decree turned workers in the public sector into "civil servants," thereby denying them the right to form or join unions or to bargain. The pension funds of these workers were handed to the treasury without compensation. At the same time that unions in the public sector were banned, new "unions" were created for the private sector which, according to Law 52 of 1987, would work with management to "increase efficiency and work discipline."
The 1987 law has a special effect on workers employed in enterprises set to be privatized-if they have no legal union, no right to bargain and no contracts, the privatization of the plants and the huge job losses that will come with it will face much less organized resistance.
On June 5 CPA head Paul Bremer issued a decree, called "Public Incitement to Violence and Disorder." In a paragraph about "prohibited pronouncements," section b) list those that "incite civil disorder, rioting or damage to property." Those who violate the decree "will be subject to immediate detention by CPA security forces and held as a security internee under the Fouth Geneva Convention of 1949 [which governs prisoners of war]." The phrase civil disorder can easily be interpreted as applying to people advocating or organizing strikes.
On an October 13 interview, Dr. Nuri Jafer, assistant to the Iraqi Minister of Labor, was asked whether the 1987 law would be repealed, and refused to answer the question. Sitting next to him in his ornate office was Leslie Findley, a British advisor assigned by the CPA to oversee the ministry. She was asked the same question, and also refused to answer. Then she complained about the number of union delegations visiting the ministry, making the same request. "I'm going to tell the minister that these are taking too much of his time, and recommend that he concentrate instead on doing his job," she warned.
Dr. Jafer spent a half-hour describing in glowing terms his idea for a new system of unemployment benefits, paying, he hoped, a survival income "without removing the motivation from people to go out and find jobs." Leaving aside the repetition of the free-marketeers' horror that poor people might lose their desire to work, Dr. Nuri's explanation had one other major problem. "As yet, unfortunately," he conceded, "we have yet to find any country willing to help us fund it."
At the shoe and vegetable oil factories, another new labor group began organizing workers this summer, called the Workers Unions and Councils. With its encouragement, shoe factory workers organized a union and demanded legal recognition. Like workers at the refinery, they complained about long hours without overtime pay, no vacations, and the disappearance of their extra pay when the occupation started.
At the factory this reporter was immediately surrounded by dozens of angry workers, each interrupting the other in their urgent efforts to describe their frustration. Dressed in the standard blue overalls of most Iraqi factory workers, they looked as if they had just taken a break from operating their machines. All seemed very willing to speak out within just a few yards of the manager's office, but hesitated at giving their names. They explained their reluctance by noting that workers whose names wound up on lists maintained by Saddam Hussein security police were fired and blacklisted, or even executed.
"We're demanding the right to form a union which must have full authority to represent workers here," explained one worker. "We must change this law that says we don't have to right to a union. If the law doesn't change, we'll change it anyway, like it or not. We are the people." When an assistant manager listening to the interview began to explain the reason why the factory director couldn't negotiate, this worker lost his patience and his loud, intense disagreement made the manager retreat back into the office. "Life has gotten much worse," said another, pointing emphatically into the air. "Everything is controlled by the coalition. We don't control anything."
Even without legal status, unions are finding a way to operate and win some demands. The vegetable oil factory's employees tried first to set up a union for the food products industry. The labor ministry then reminded them that they were civil servants, and therefore prohibited from collective bargaining. The workers and the Workers Councils responded by setting up a union for civil servants, defying the ban. The new union's demands include reclassifying the workers so that they can receive higher salaries, lifting the punishment of banned former employees, and the reinstatement of profit-sharing.
According to its general secretary Majeed Sahib Kareem, "a major reason for our existence is to eliminate the laws issued by the Baath regime." Kareem displayed a long list of workers at the plant who had been arrested and executed during the Saddam Hussein regime for belonging to the Al Daiwa Party, which is now part of the Iraqi Governing Council. The children of these workers were blacklisted and unable to find jobs. Kareem and his union seek to get the government and factory management to make restitution for the old crimes, and correct the harm done to workers' families.
The WDTUF also condemns the 1987 law and calls for its repeal, but doesn't organize mass demonstrations against it. "We think civil disobedience is a fertile ground for troublemakers to create havoc and endanger the lives of the people who participate," said Abdullah Muhsin, the federation's international representative.
Part of the Workers Councils network is the Union of the Unemployed, which for months marched and demonstrated in the streets for survival payments for people who often are starving. On July 29 they set up a tent encampment in front of the compound of the US occupation authorities, and the soldiers detained 21 of the union's leaders as a result. "The money they spent on just ten combat helicopters would be enough to meet the needs of all the unemployed workers in our country," charged Qasim Hadi, the union's general secretary, who has been arrested twice in protests.
In the face of extreme levels of unemployment, the occupation authorities have claimed that the contracts for reconstruction given to US corporations will result in jobs for large numbers of Iraqis. In an August 13 letter to the Union of the Unemployed, William B. Clatanoff, the then-CPA advisor to the Ministry of Labor, boasted that neighborhood councils throughout Baghdad would nominate projects "which will not only offer productive jobs, but also quickly impact neighborhoods in need of overdue improvements." Anyone driving through the city's streets in the following two months could easily see the absence of any such public works, however. Enormous piles of rubble from the war remain untouched. Clatanoff promised 300,000 jobs throughout Iraq, none of which have appeared.
Nevertheless, US corporations are actively providing some essential services to the occupation troops, maintaining prison compounds, and rebuilding those parts of the infrastructure, like ports and pipelines, needed to get oil exports restarted. But here the employment of Iraqi nationals is much less desired.
Highly paid technicians are brought in from outside, and housed in compounds surrounded by walls and razor wire, escorted by soldiers. According to the Financial Times of London, contractors preparing meals for troops on their bases use foreign nationals because they don't trust Iraqis. "Iraqis are a security threat," said a manager for the Tamimi Company, which provides food service for 60,000 soldiers. Instead, the firm brought in 1800 workers from Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Tamimi in turn is a contractor to US construction giant Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation. Halliburton's no-bid contract in Iraq is worth over $2 billion.
Those Iraqis who do get hired to work for the Americans on the bases describe oppressive working conditions. Muiwafa al Saidy, who works for US contractors doing construction at the Baghdad airport, complained that "soldiers aim guns at us wherever we go, even to the toilet." Workers are paid $5 a day, but have to give $2 of that to a "translator" who threatens to tell the soldiers they're terrorists unless he gets paid off. They have to pass through three different gates to gain access to the area where they work, and al Saidy described instances in which they were held in a no-man's land between the gates all day, to punish them for arriving a few minutes late.
Adding to the tension are the presence of prisoners in the compound. Al Saidy said he's seen children brought in from the soccer fields, balls in hand, old men in their 80s, and even hospital patients carrying their drip bags. He described treatment bordering on contempt - food thrown on the ground, blows with sticks, and other forms of disrespect.
In August, a representative of the International Labor Organization, Walid Hamdan, visited Iraq. On his return, he made a report to the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU). Guy Ryder, the ICFTU's general secretary, called for an international labor delegation to visit Iraq to investigate conditions for 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 May 30 statement. "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 also 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.
Meanwhile, US Labor Against the War, which brought together unions and labor councils that opposed the Bush intervention before it took place, prepared a research paper after the occupation started, profiling the US corporations that were given reconstruction contracts. A USLAW delegation to Iraq in October took copies of the report, and offered to assist unions there if and when they confront the kind of union-busting activity for which some of those companies have become notorious. A British labor delegation also visited Iraq in September.
Labor support in the US for Iraqi unions will focus on the repeal of the 1987 Saddam law prohibiting collective bargaining for state-sector workers, and the removal of other legal barriers on labor activity. The US Labor Assembly for Peace, convened in Chicago on October 24 and 25 by USLAW, announced it was launching a national campaign to defend Iraqi labor rights under the occupation, and resolved to make this an issue in the 2004 election. It called for Congressional hearings into the enforcement of the 1987 law, and began circulating resolutions through unions around the country to build up pressure on Bush and the CPA.
Clarence Thomas, former secretary-treasurer of San Francisco longshore Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, was a member of the USLAW October delegation. He explained to a meeting of WDTUF leaders that his local had opposed the war even before it started, a position backed up by the International union at its convention in June. Jassim Mashkoul, the new federation's director for internal communications, thanked him for his opposition to the war and occupation. "At the beginning, we thought our situation might be better afterwards, since we got rid of Saddam Hussein. But it hasn't been." He cited the occupation authority's enforcement of the 1987 law as a major obstacle. In addition, he noted, the new federation has asked that the old union structure set up by Saddam Hussein be officially dissolved, and its buildings and the benefit funds it administered turned over to the new unions. The occupation authorities have turned a deaf ear to these appeals as well.
Both the WDTUF and the Workers Councils federations opposed the war and call for an end to the occupation. But according to another leader of the federation, Muhsen Mull Ali, who spent two long stints in prison for organizing unions in Basra, "they will reimpose capitalism on us, so our responsibility is to oppose privatization as much as possible, and fight for the welfare of our workers."
"We need Congressional hearings into the union-busting actions by US occupation authorities in Iraq," Thomas declared. "If unions here knew what's being done in our name over there, they'd be outraged."
Unwanted Refugees a Global Problem
By Charles Bowden
PROLOG: ...and UNHCR (the so called United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)?
Well, they (incl. top notch Ruud Lubbers himself) would be jobless and the money-spinning and money-eating machinery of the business with refugees would grind to a halt, if UNHCR and the other global players of this sad game would really fulfil their mandate and work towards a goal whereby we finally would have a world in which no human being is anymore targeted, tagged, assessed, investigated, processed while their eligibility and credibility is judged, counted, declared, fingerprinted, detained, settled, traded, transferred, smuggled, jailed, resettled or rejected, deported, “voluntarily” or forcefully repatriated etc. as refugee or displaced person, because there would be no more people fleeing their homelands or getting attracted to the troughs of commerce in countries, who mostly only allow some “aliens” in as refugees, if they are use- and/or beautiful. Or they even would not be any longer "displaced", because they would have found a new place to live - maybe with you!
But such visions are immediately and systematically earmarked as “idealistic wishful thinking”, because “nobody” (the infamous!) in that business actually wants it to stop, because “everybody” on the payroll of that so called humanitarian system makes his or her cut. So let's face the fact, that today’s world’s “humanity” ends, where the right- or wrongfully rich would have to really share the plight and the suffering of humankind and not just give some peanuts, which anyway only make those in the refugee agencies fat, and even in this sector let the “internal rate of return” to the extaxfunds providing donors be so high that it is not only a virtual but a real good business. Some “Mother Theresa” or their male look-a-likes are the - usually then at least award-receiving - exemption, but they only are permitted or tolerated if they are brave sub-contractors to UNHCR, who jealously – together with IOM, the so called International Office for Migration (UN’s slave, pardon refugee travel bureau) - watches over its monopoly to “deal” with refugees or that special brand, the IDPs (internally displaced people).
However, let’s face it also that the masses of people affected by the economic and subsequent real wars of this global sell-out of present times one (rather near) day will severely beat back, if no better solutions are implemented.
Remember what Bob Marley sung ?:
“You can fool somebody sometimes, but you can not fool everybody all the time.”
– and then ? What will happen when even the last refugees are giving up their humble hopes and switch to demanding the fulfillment of their desires ?
UNHCR and the administrators of the so called international community keep refugees in their camps in “stock” often for more than ten years and it is proven in many cases that across certain borders impoverished people are lured into these camps with the (mostly false) hope to “go to America” or the other Pseudo-Americas of their dreams or wrongly conditioned imagination. All in order to be able to just continue the UNnecessary claims for more money from the tax-coffins of member countries in order to keep the problems away from the daily lives of their capitals. Surely also some “professional refugees” thereby profit and serve a dual purpose: To lead a carefree – though dull - own life and to be counted for the fund-claiming statistics. But the majority of refugees simply is trapped in the vicious circle of global greediness, the interests of the refugee-monopolists, political powerplay, the destruction of the social human fabric and the apathy of the “normal citizen” of the corporate states of consumerism not confronting themselves with the horrors in remote lands – until these people arrive at their well guarded own doorstep.
The only feasible solution is that citizens of the countries of first asylum, as well as those in the so called third countries would open up and allow the refugees themselves to opt out of the dreadful system in order to not allow UNHCR any longer to be their master. But calls for such peaceful solutions - like asking the refugees to just to leave by all means their detention camps - provoke a persecution under today’s anti-terrorism laws, while the camps with their daily terror and horror persist. Typically homo insapiens alias cro magnon only waits then until Bob Marley’s line becomes obvious, and millions will jump the so carefully erected and maintained fences and will – then by force - try to take what they have been denied: To share the wealth and the peace on this earth – thereby destroying both and setting the game back to square one - but at what cost ?. Would it not be better to stop us all playing such stupid and dangerous games once and for all times and open up - not only our minds but also our hearts ?
In the last ten years, the number of displaced people has exploded. Known as refugees, asylum seekers, illegal aliens, or unauthorized economic migrants, many are the indigenous of their region and almost all are the poorest of the poor.
According to the 2002 World Refugee Survey, there are as many as 40 million displaced people throughout the world. 15 million are seeking asylum in other countries. In addition, there are at least 22 million “internally displaced” within their country of origin, who are not protected by international law and are therefore at even greater risk of oppression and abuse.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism launched by the United States and its allies have had a spillover effect on the lives of refugees worldwide.
Failed states, where warlords, gangsters and terrorists can operate with impunity, are producing hopeless and desperate people, who are often a dangerous breeding ground for political and religious fanaticism. Often, the international response to terrorist acts is to blame the refugees, even when they themselves are the victims.
The international community is unwilling to devote necessary resources to help resolve those conflicts, or at least to fully address the social and humanitarian issues.
Living in the margins of unwilling host communities, long-term refugees are victims not only of the war and persecution that forced them from their homes, but of the neglect that denies them hope of political settlements that would resolve the underlying causes of their affliction. Herded into huge refugee camps, where the prospect of emigration is slim, they can be deported at any time.
Corporate profiteers from developed countries are finding ways of benefiting from this global misfortune. Wackenhut, one of the largest operators of for-profit prisons is now setting up, with local subsidies, for-profit internment camps that charge penniless exiles a daily fee and then deport them when they are unable to pay.
The cycle of political upheaval, economic flight and expatriation that leads to international terrorism is unlikely to resolve itself if the people of the rich nations in the world continue the neglect the world’s homeless.
The story of how Australia has handled refugees (basically prison in Australia and then eventually, contracting incarceration out to Pacific island nations) is neither a story about Australia nor about one group of displaced people. It is a salvo announcing the future. War, poverty, overpopulation and the wrenching change caused by a global economy have hurled millions of people into a void, where they cannot stay put and cannot move without being perceived as illegal interlopers. Australia, one of the most fair minded nations on earth, has become the poster child for barbarism in its harsh reaction to these displaced people, but it is highly unlikely that other nations will react to the same problem with more kindness. I live sixty miles from the Mexican border in a desert where at least two hundred illegal immigrants will die of thirst and heat this summer and where the rest will be hunted like animals by U.S. law enforcement. Technically, they are not refugees, but then the category of refugee is one invented by the powerful to sort out the weak and to dismiss them into a legal limbo.
Since my story was published, Australia has witnessed the collapse of refugees seeking entry as a naval blockade and word of the harsh treatment has staunched the flow. Also, Australia has become a role model for European nations (Great Britain, Italy, Greece and Spain, for example) facing similar invasions of the poor. The movement of people, of course, has increased as war in the Middle East and the global chill in trade has made difficult living conditions lurch toward the impossible.
The mainstream press has reacted to the story with total silence. In part, this is because the war with Iraq has devoured news space. But I think in the main it is because the draconian laws passed by a panicked Congress after September 11, 2001 have made Australia’s policies look too much like our own imprisonment of people without open legal hearings both within the United States and at our base in Cuba. And of course, the folk movement of Mexicans (the largest such migration now occurring on the surface of the earth) cannot be really examined by the U.S. press without acknowledgement of decades of failure including both the 1986 reforms of our immigration laws and the passage of NAFTA.
Are you a tourist or an inhabitant of this earth?
Where is your habitat?