United as one – Iraqi Kurdistan federations unify to present one voice on workers' rights

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United as one - Iraqi Kurdistan federations unify to present one voice on workers' rights

'When we were two federations, we spoke with two voices. Now it is working people who will benefit from us having one voice'.

This is the verdict of Hangaw Abdullah Khan, co-President of the newly-created Kurdistan United Workers' Union on the merger between two old union federations in the Northern Iraq region of Kurdistan.

Kurdistan region flag

His fellow co-President Yassin Aziz Ali continues, 'With this new union, we have high hopes. We hope to have an increasing membership, women in leadership positions in the union, and more campaigning power, especially on our top priorities - new progressive labour laws in the Kurdistan region and across federal Iraq, and on social security too'.

For much of Saddam Hussein's despotic reign, in Kurdistan there were no unions. But after 1991 with the establishment of a no-fly zone and the expulsion of Iraqi troops, a Kurdistan union federation was created. But, subsequent civil war split Kurdish society and the trade union alike and the process of reconciliation has taken number of years. As of May Day 2010, the old Kurdistan Workers' Union and the General Workers and Crafts Syndicate Union have been formally unified, under a new name and logo.

Kurdistan United Workers' Union logo

As Yassin explains to me, in an interview conducted in a 4x4 as we travel across the Kurdistan mountains between the two main cities of Sulaimaniyah and Erbil, 'This has been a process that we all wanted. We started off as one union and it is right that we merge. As of today, 95 per cent of issues have been resolved and we are working on the remaining five per cent. It has been complex to unify our structures and our finances but we have taken it slowly and carefully. We are now in a transitional period of one year. During this time we will hold a conference and elect a new union leadership.'

Leaders of the newly united KUWU

I pass on the congratulations of the TUC on the exciting news of the unification and they were warmly received. 'We believe that the relationship between the TUC and Kurdish unions is very strong and is based on huge cooperation. We are pleased and happy about the new, strong relationship between the TUC and KUWU - a relationship based not just between two national union centres, but on the friendship between two peoples. Of course we also want to affiliate to the International Trade Union Confederation and we hope that this will be possible in the near future.'

And what about the future for working people in Kurdistan? 'We hope for an improved economy, more factories, more jobs and more prosperity for our people', says Yassin.

Hangaw adds, 'We hope that for the rest of Iraq, security will improve and there will be better opportunities for workers.' And after a week in which bombs were targeted at textile factory workers in the Iraqi city of Hilla killing at least 40 people, this was an issue that we could certainly all agree on.

Vicky Cann

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