Thursday, June 07, 2007

Knowledge as counterleverage

The major Iraqi oil workers union in the producing southern oil field is on strike. Iraq Slogger is reporting that the genesis of the strike is concerning lack of payment of a customary expense allowance and benefits:

On Monday, the IFOU, which represents 26,000 oil workers in the south, announced it was shutting down two 14-inch oil and gas pipelines, and threatened to begin shutting down the 48-inch pipelines as a second phase of the protest if the government refuses to meet their demands.

According to a statement of support from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mining and General Workers Unions, the immediate the catalyst for the strike occurred when the general manger of the Oil Pipeline Company, Adel Aziz, who is based in Baghdad rather than in Basra, blocked orders of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Mailiki to release delayed benefits due workers. Moreover, Aziz reportedly withheld a Iraqi Dinar (IQD)50,000 allowance which the workers are regularly entitled to.

The striking workers are demanding that the Oil Ministry take action to force the general manager of the pipeline company to resign. Further, they ask that the company be financially and administratively independent from the Baghdad-based central ministry, and that the pipeline company be managed locally.

Prime Minister Maliki has to respond somehow, and he is responding with an "iron fist" as reported by UPI. Government security units are present with arrest warrants and are watching over the protests. This is really, really dumb.

Maliki's over-reaction to the threat of a strike and thus the loss or increased variability of realized oil income increases the probability that the Baghdad central government will actually lose that income. We know that small, reasonably smart and motivated teams are able to shut down Iraqi oil field systems as we have the long term example of the shut-in of the Kirkuk fields from the export market. The 26,000 men in the southern oil union are EXACTLY! the people who have the expertise to selectively sabotage the perfect pipe, valve, sensor station, control point etc.

If the police or army cracks down hard against the union, the fragmentation of group solidarity as expressed through the union combined with the highly probable Sadrist/Fadillah oil workers being attacked by probable SCIRISIIC/DAWA government units will remove some of the social constraints that has allowed for the southern oil export system to work reasonably well. The pipelines and storage systems are brittle, single point of failure systems that exist on the social agreement that they are a good thing for the relevant actors in the region. If the union decides that they are no longer receiving their just rewards, that social agreement could unravel.

UPDATE EDIT: Thanks to Fabian in comments for reminding me of the name change of SCIRI to SIIC.

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