Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quiet Heroes Of Baghdad

Iraqi Teachers

Yesterday evening I met up with the fine group of teachers from Baghdad whom I referred to in the last item I posted - which is, therefore, just below this one. They are a delegation from Iraq's largest individual Trade Union : their Teachers' Union. This Union caters for all associated with education, including University Lecturers and School Inspectors.

I last met the leader of the delegation, Mahdi Ali Lefta in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan last April when I was part of a visiting group from this country. He was then part of a delegation of Iraqi Trade Unionists who travelled to the Kurdish area to meet us. They included representatives of Trade Unions in Electricity, Oil and Gas, Construction and from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions; plus the co-ordinator of the UNISON-backed Trade Union Educational Project. Our own delegations having visited one of the latter's training courses.

Moses Supposes

The meeting was held in the Moses Room of the Lords and was chaired by Sue Rodgers, the Chair of the TUC's Iraq Solidarity Committee. She is also the Treasurer of the Teacher's Union NAS/UWT. The Iraqi Teachers had just attended her Unions Training Course in Birmingham.

Amongst those attending yesterday's meeting were the Education Minister Bill Rammell, other MPs and Peers. A suitable letter of solidarity was even read out at the close from Tony Blair, whilst an Early Day Motion on the Teacher's visit has been placed upon the Commons Order Paper. The room was booked by Baroness Royall. Those attending and participating included Baroness (Emma) Nicholson who is also an MEP and has close links with Iraq's Marsh Arabs.

From Belfast To Baghdad

Lord Davies (formerly Garfield Davies an ex-General Secretary of USDAW) pointed out that during the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between elements of the Protestant and Catholic communities, it was the Northern Ireland Trade Union Movement who had been the main influence at the workplace and in society generally in pointing to the shared interests of workers and in pressing for the need for co-operation and mutual support throughout society. He wished to know if the same was happening to counter those encouraging sectarianism between Sunni and Shia in Iraq.

The Iraqi Teachers were keen to show that Trade Unions in Iraq were playing a similiar role. The Teachers' Union in Baghdad playing a particularly important role in these endeavours, as traditionally the two avenues of Islam had intermarried. Intergration was a recent and powerful tradition, which the Teachers' Union pressed to protect and preserve.

Tackling Saddam's Inheritence

I said that when our group had met the area's Education Minister in Arbil, he had told us of a culture of dominance and violence by certain teachers on children which had arisen from the years of Saddam Hussain. This had been confirmed to me by a former Primary School Teacher who was acting as one of our interpretors.

The Education Minister had pointed to the work of Teacher Training Colleges and other educational reforms as a means of tackling the problem. I wondered what the delegations experiences were on this matter.

The Iraqi Teachers pointed out just how catastrophic education had been under Saddam. For dictatorship rests upon manipulative and superficial forms of what passes for education. Saddam's educational programme has impacted upon generations of school children and when political change came, it did not come from the Iraqi people themselves but via invasion.

The formation of the new Government had, however, impacted upon the entire nation and had given the new Teachers' Union the opportunity to press for many changes in educational practices, including an end to the culture of violence.

Sue Rogers (who had been part of our delegation in Arbil and visited a fine girls' school in the town) reminded me that the Minister of Education had also pointed to changes in the law to establish the dismissal of any teacher still found to be using bullying methods.

Order 8750

From the Chair, Sue raised the issue of Order 8750 under which the Iraqi Government has provisions to sequest Trade Union funds until it sorts out whom it is willing to recognise as Trade Unions and under what form of State controls.

The Iraqi Teachers informed us that they used to have 25 people employed in their Head Office in Baghdad, before the Order came into force. The removal of funds means that they only now have three people operating the office, who can barely cope. They previously had 5 centres with computers and other facilities, but they have been obliged to close these. Local officials can't be paid and are not now able to be in contact with each other.

At one time, the Union had been able to organise visits for members to Iraqi Kurdistan in association with that Region's own Teachers' Union, but the removal of the funds has ended this. It had involved mutual exchanges, training programmes and breaks from terrorist dangers.

How Can We Help ?

We were informed that a delegation from their Teachers' Trade Union has met with Nouri Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister to discuss the problems arising from Order 8750 and he had said that he would look into the matter. We need to add external pressure to see that the response is quick and favourable and allows for the running of free Trade Unions.

Specific avenues for individual support can be found via here, here and here. If we wish to be the friends of Iraq's Teachers, their Trade Union, their school children and students; then we also need to oppose those who seek to destroy and disrupt their daily lives.

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