WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The main U.S. union representing oil workers has called on Congress to stop pressing Iraq to pass its oil law and support the rights of oil workers.
"To all appearances the labor movement is one of the few organizations structured on a secular basis, has genuine popular support, and has membership across the growing ethnic and sectarian divisions," United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard wrote in a letter to the leadership of key U.S. Senate and House committees.
"This suggests that the labor movement in Iraq is one of the few organizations capable of playing a significant role in lessening and hopefully ending the sectarian strife plaguing their country," Gerard added.
Iraq's unions, especially in the staple industry of oil, have been targeted of late by the Oil Ministry.
"There are no legal unions in Iraq," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told UPI last week by phone from Baghdad. "Those people who call themselves representatives of the oil workers have not been elected to the position."
The ministry has also ordered its sub-agencies and companies to cut dealings with the union.
Saddam Hussein outlawed worker organizing in the public sector; subsequent U.S. occupying powers and now the Iraqi government do not recognize the workers' rights to organize.
"Shahristani's decision has been rejected by the union because it is the same type of decision as used by the old regime regarding laborers and workers," Hassan Juma'a Awad, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
The union opposes Shahristani as well as a draft oil law they say will give foreign oil companies too much access to Iraq's oil reserves, the third largest in the world.
"The unions believe ... Iraq's oil is a national resource that should not be privatized, and specifically that oil privatization should not be used as any kind of 'benchmark' of the Iraqi government's success or failure," Gerard continued. "Therefore we ask that you do all you can to oppose the privatization of Iraq's oil resources, correct the inequities present in Iraqi labor policy, and continue to support an end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq."
Ben Lando, UPI Energy Correspondent