More than 4 million Iraqis have lost their jobs following the invasion of their country by the United States.
To take the measure of the drama represented by this figure, it must be multiplied by five to obtain the 20 million Iraqis (women and children) who survive on little bits of nothing under the indifference of the new masters of Iraq, all too busy with their looting strategy and subcontracting of power in this country.
From the first bombardment to this day, that is almost six months, workers and their families have been without resources and their situation is deteriorating day by day.
To make their demands in what is now pompously called ‘The New Iraq’, they have created the Union of the Unemployed. This organisation has made repeated requests to the occupation forces, without any result whatsoever. Once again, it mobilized its members for another demonstration on Abu Nawas street, Tuesday July 29th. The rallying point was an old bank building, burned down during the war, which was now home to the Communist Party of Iraq.
Actually, unemployed workers were not the only ones gathering there. Other action groups such as the Organisation for the Freedom of the Iraqi Women, the Union of Iraqi Workers, among others, had come to show their support. There was a lot of activity all around the offices of the party. The street was alive with approximately 800 persons, in small groups, while interviews and other meetings with journalists covering the event were taking place in the offices inside the building. The preparation of placards and slogans was being completed.
“This is the 8th demonstration we’ve had since May 1st, 2003”, declares Kacem Madi, secretary-general of the Union of the Unemployed. But he maintains that this action will be different from the previous seven. The demonstrators are ready to continue their action until they obtain their rights, which mean either a job or an unemployment allowance. In reality, they all know that they will not have a job, since all the infrastructures destroyed by the US army have remained in that state. And even salesmen can no longer work because of the bandits and other thieves who steal their merchandise before they reach their sales point. For all these workers, the Union is asking an unemployment allowance, until the occupation forces restore security and employment in Iraq.
There are still no statistics to know exactly how many Iraqi men and women have lost their employment because of the war. According to Kacem, there are around four million.
Among them, a large majority has had no income over the last six months. “This is truly a tragedy for these families who have already lost so much in this war”, stresses Kacem Madi.
The Union that he represents has organised 8 demonstrations for the same demands: a job or an unemployment allowance. “At each demonstration, he recounts, 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”. From Major Patterson to David Jones (of the Oil for Food programme) as well as from other US military and civilian people in charge, the Union has obtained nothing but empty promises. This situation lead to a decision to change their program of action.
This Tuesday’s demonstration takes place in torrid heat and the demonstrators, not the least discouraged, are shouting slogans calling for democracy, employment and the end of the occupation. The demonstration then proceeds to the headquarters of the Council commonly called El-Beit Al-madani. For nearly one hour, the demonstrators shout slogans in front of the building guarded by US soldiers equipped with heavy artillery.
Later, the demonstration becomes a sit-in. This was the new initiative introduced in the protest programme of the Union of the Unemployed. They had adopted a resolution to set up a tent in front of the building to establish a permanent presence. They call this action “civil disobedience”. But all they got back from the Americans was a “Bush style” ultimatum: Disperse the demonstration; otherwise there will be no talks!
But the Iraqi workers are encouraged by the presence of the media and by the messages of support they have received from outside; and they have drawn the lessons from the preceding fruitless meetings. So they refuse to submit and decide to continue their action and to camp on location, as planned. After all, isn’t peaceful demonstration a democratic right? But things will quickly take a turn towards dictatorship.
At 8:30 pm, there is a first visit from soldiers who come to ask the demonstrators to leave the premises. But the latter show the permit to demonstrate that was granted to them and refuse to comply. The 3 soldiers leave, only to return later in stronger numbers around 1:00 am, during the curfew. And they have not come to discuss.
They invade the tent and arrest all the coordinating team, 21 persons in total, who are taken away and locked up in a room. They are regrouped together in a corner of the room, forced to sit on the floor, and then isolated with barbed wire. They were detained in these conditions, without water and without food, until 11:00 am the following day.
” We could not even move, declares Ali Djaafri, aged over fifty, my knees and legs were really aching but each time I was trying to stand to alleviate my pain, the soldiers were shouting ‘sit down!’ It was very humiliating. At no other time during the occupation has my resentment towards the US soldiers been that strong. I became fully conscious of my colonised situation and I was ashamed in front of the younger Iraqis in our group. I would have preferred death rather than having to live through this at 58 years old”.
Amar Djaafri is one the 120,000 members of the Union of the Unemployed. He has worked all his life in a local administration, which was totally burned down, after being looted and vandalised like the vast majority of the infrastructures of the Iraqi state.
The country was no longer keeping up with technology. Almost everything was operating on paper, not computers: universities, administrations, hospitals, etc. All the archives have vanished in the fires. Which makes Khaled, another unemployed worker, say: “No other country has known the kind of colonisation that we are living in Iraq. The US army has torn down everything which Iraqi life was made of. We have no references anymore, anywhere.”
By burning the archives of a State, and destroying the history and culture of a people, the United States have truly committed an unprecedented crime. All in Iraq, workers, students, or any other sector of Iraqi society are unanimous in saying that the future does not look promising. And all are preparing for it, notably by organising the struggle against the occupation of their country.
‘There are 35 million American citizens living in poverty an
d injustice in the United States, it is unthinkable that the US authorities establish a democracy for the Iraqis!” declares Kacem of the Union of the Unemployed.
Zehira Houfani (writer and journalist), Montreal member of Iraq Solidarity Project. For more information about the International Occupation Watch Center, visit www.occupationwatch.org