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Woolsey blasts threats to Iraq oil workers


By Ben Lando, UPI

WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said Iraqi threats to its striking oil workers are undemocratic during a briefing with a visiting Iraqi unionist.
"If they're working for a true democracy, working rights have to be front and center," Woolsey said during the briefing with Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Utility Workers Union.

Woolsey was responding to questions about the ongoing strike in Basra, in southern Iraq, where workers began striking Monday over frustrations that demands for better working conditions and inclusion in the negotiations over the draft oil law have not been met.

Earlier Wednesday, Iraqi troops surrounded the workers, who stopped oil and oil products flow inside Iraq and were starting to affect exports, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued arrest warrants for leaders, though none was arrested.

Though details aren't known, there is word from U.S. labor leaders that the workers agreed to a five-day pause in the strike as negotiations restarted.

It's "just the opposite of what we're supposed to be there for," Woolsey said in response to questions on the proper U.S. response as occupying power. "Our current administration doesn't support the workers rights we have in this country," said Woolsey, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and Labor's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

Hussein, the electric workers' leader, said her union isn't under the same federation of unions that struck, but expressed solidarity with them.

"We consider the oil law is a bad law and it needs significant changes," she said. The law, which is stuck in negotiations between Kurds and the central government, but backed by the U.S. government, is feared by the unions and others as giving too much access to and, possibly, control over Iraq's oil, the world's third-largest reserves.

Hussein began a U.S. tour Tuesday, sponsored by U.S. Labor Against the War, to talk about the law and other issues Iraqis face. Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Federation of Oil Unions, will join her Thursday.

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