Interview with Iraqi Labor Leaders

by Anne

Interview with Hassan Juma’a, President, Iraqi Federation  of Oil Unions, and Falah Alwan, President, Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq.

Click to watch

Juma’a and Alwan talk about the labor movement in Iraq, and their individual work with Iraqi unions. They go on to talk about what Americans need to understand about the situation in Iraq. Finally they describe some of their personal experiences of the US military operations there. The interview took place during Iraqi Labor Tour: Unplugged, September 19th 2009 – an event sponsored by US Labor Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, New York University Law Students for Human Rights Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, New York University Middle Eastern Law Students Association and United for Peace and Justice.

Last month I had the unusual opportunity to interview two Iraqi labor leaders, who were in the United States to attend the AFL/CIO convention. This interview came about because the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston put Krzysztof Wodizcko in touch with me, as he was preparing the Veterans Project, commissioned by the ICA. I assumed Krzysztof was interested in having me help him get in touch with veterans I knew from the Odysseus Project. But instead Krzysztof asked me if I knew any Iraqis. Other than one person – I didn’t, but I offered to contact some people I knew had worked with Iraqis and Afghans for their art and film projects. Around that time, I got an email from Aaron Hughes, an artist in the Odysseus Project exhibition and IVAW member, who was helping to organize the tour of Iraqi labor leaders with US Labor Against the War. They were looking for volunteers and I offered to help out if they could use me. I told Aaron about Krysztof’s project, and asked him if he thought the Iraqis would mind talking to me about some of their experiences. He graciously arranged time for an interview in NY, so I headed down to meet them.

I was unsure whether these Iraqi labor leaders would want to talk to me about an art project, but they were very generous and shared stories about their work with unions, as well as personal experiences of the war in Iraq. Apologies for the poor quality. I was especially reminded of the importance of hearing directly about the situation in Iraq when reading an article in last week’s New Yorker: “You can fight someone you don’t know, but you can’t make peace with him.” – Omar Shaban, quoted in Letter from Gaza, Captives (Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker, November 9, 2009).

{I will share my notes from this interview soon. I also want to add that this is part of the inspiration for a possible new direction for the Odysseus Project: an art exhibit and cultural exchange with Iraqi and Afghan artists – both civilians living within those countries, and from the Diasporas.}