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Iraqi Oil Workers Expel KBR

renegado submits:

"Iraqi Oil Workers Throw Out KBR, Reconstruct Their Own Workplaces Autonomously"
Ewa Jasiewicz, Occupation Watch
Occupied Basra, 12/12/03

Southern Oil Company Trade Unionists have declared their workplaces a no-go zone for Halliburton, formerly headed by US Vice President Dick Cheny's, subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. KBR was give a no-bid contract by USAID to reconstruct bomb-shattered oil refineries and installations in Iraq. Included in the contracts was authorisation to export and market Iraqi Oil. The SOC Union however, representing over 10,000 workers has banned all KBR representatives and foreign workers from entering their sites. SOC Union Head Hassan Jum'a says, ''Till this moment we haven't needed any foreigners to come in. We can do everything ourselves'.

Worker unrest erupted in Bergeseeya oil refinery and control section in October following the employment of Indian and Pakistani labourers by Kuwaiti subcontractors Al Khorrafi Company. Workers staged a wildcat two-day strike, physically threw out the foreign workers and demanded a portion of the 70% unemployed population of Iraq be employed instead. The employment of foreign labourers was halted immediately.Occupation Watch visited SOC workers in the North Rumeilla crude oil pumping station, drilling and gas company and discovered that workers had been carrying out reconstruction work independently, using their own worn tools, canibalised spare parts from old equipment and parts purchased form the local market. Ali Mohammad Jowad, an engineer working in the water injection section of the station told OW, 'We haven't seen any KBR employee do any repair work whatsoever. They are not involved in any reconstruction in any way. KBR came and checked our equipment and promised to repair looted equipment but until this moment, nothing is repaired'.

Workers started autonomously reconstructing in June with cleaning and repairing what they could including water pumps and oil well safety gauges. 'During this preparing' recalls Ali Mohammad, 'We also considered that we need a place to rest and sleep so we built a place for ourselves to stay in too'. According to workers, Reconstruction is 40% of what it needs to be with regards to buildings and workers have rebuilt 50% of their equipment autonomously. 'KBR hasn't even seen our work, they've said Nothing about our repairs. All our work has been our own' says Ali Mohammad. Many of the same workers who rebuilt North Rumeilla following the devastation of the first gulf war 13 years ago also participated in reconstruction again this war-round.

Hassan Jum'a, Head of the SOC Union, father of 6,and living in a decrepit, crumbling house in the 1999 missile-blasted neighbourhood of Jhoomouria where piles of garbage rot in the street, is well respectedthroughout Basra, not only for his hardline position on workers rights
and refusal of any 'foreign interference' including Occupation administration orders and rulings, but also for bringing together both
communists and religious party members as location representatives in the Union. Uncompromising, direct and possessing a totally unreadable face, he presides over seven union councils in seven different locations.

He told OW that Bremer's June Public Notice (being implemented gleefully by bosses throughout Iraq like an Order) has had no effect on them. Bremer's notice declares that the CPA 'respects Iraqi law' including anti-worker Baath dictatorship law, chiefly 1987's order 151 which turned all Iraqi workers into civil servants – state employees, forbade independent trade unions and absorbed all workers into state-run Unions functioning as organs of surveillence and repression. 'Nothing has changed since Bremer's dictates' he states flatly.

The SOC union does however have full management backing. 'The GD meets all out demands', says Jum'a, 'sometimes he signs our orders without even looking at them'. And indeed the Union has members within all levels of the company from buying committee members to reward and bonuses
committees, plus its own minibuses and building and has been holding regular ceremonies marking the latest autonomous worker reconstruction
effort. The most recent was in Majnoon , two weeks ago which saw workers rebuild the damaged refinery independently, using KBR materials but refusing any KBR personnel involvement. KBR were furious at the barring.

'At first they refused to supply us with the materials but in the same time we were insisting in our demands – we insisted that Iraqi people made the repairs', Jum'a told us. ' Then they tried to negotiate 50% KBR, 50% Iraqis, we said no, they then bargained for 5% foreign workers, then 1% but we still refused. Drivers are the only foreigners allowed anywhere near'. 'Several times KBR engineers told us ' We are amused by the way you are working' and they were surprised at the fast results'.

Indeed, the mirage of the mystified 'West Knows Best' multibillion dollar reconstruction industry falls apart when undermined by the truth of ordinary Iraqi workers rebuilding their own country using the inventiveness, ingenuity and experimentality they learned throughout the 13-years of collectively punishing UN-US-UK enforced sanctions and refusing all moves to privatise their workplaces. However, despite these skills and talents borne under duress, further training and new technologies – with no strings attached - are deeply desired by workers at all levels of industry, in order to explore, diversify and build upon skills already acquired and foster greater autonomy and non-reliance on
foreign experts and corporations.

Ewa Jasiewicz is a Polish-English acitivist living in Baghdad and working with International organisaiton Occupation Watch.

e-mail: globalintifadas@yahoo.co.uk Homepage: http://www.occupationwatch.org