Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Iran's war on trade unions

President Ahmadinejad is intensifying the repression of labour
activists. We should support them in their fight for basic rights.

By Peter Tatchell

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 18 August 2008

The anti-worker dictatorship in Iran has stepped up its attacks on
labour activists, with a new wave of arrests and jailings.

Among those recently jailed were two workers' rights campaigners, Ms.
Sousan Razani and Ms. Shiva Kheirabadi. They have been sentenced to 15
lashes and four months in prison for the "crime" (under Iran's Islamic
law) of participating in a May Day celebration in the city of Sanandaj
earlier this year. The verdicts were issued by the Criminal Court of
Sanandaj – branch 101.

On the same charges the same court sentenced Mr. Abdullah Khani to 91
days prison and 40 lashes and Mr. Seyed Qaleb Hosseini to six months
imprisonment and 50 lashes.

In addition, Mr. Khaled Hosseini, a worker activist, was sentenced to
91 days suspended jail and 30 lashes because of his efforts to support
the trade union leader, Mahmoud Salehi, who was imprisoned at the time
and was being denied medical treatment. The charges against him
include "disturbing public order and agitation."

Meanwhile, Mr. Mansour Osanloo, leader of Tehran's bus workers
syndicate, remains in jail since he was sentenced to five years jail
in July 2007 for his union activities.

Nine of his union members have recently had their dismissal from their
jobs upheld by the Islamic courts, which do not recognise trade unions
or workers rights. The sacked men were all bus drivers, who had
suffered two years of harassment and victimisation for the 'crime' of
establishing a free and independent trade union.

Another labour activist, Mr. Afshin Shams, was arrested in July 2008.
He is a member of "Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers'
Organisations", and a member of the "Committee in Defence of Mahmoud

These arrests and jailings coincide with a wave of strikes and
demonstrations against profiteering, corruption and shady business
dealings by the country's political and religious elite, as reported
in The Guardian last month.

Many of the strikes are in response to President Ahmadinejad's
collusion with employers who are pushing through redundancies,
withholding pay and forcing down wages.

Alborz tire workers are owed two to five months pay. At the Shahryar
Dam in Mianeh, the staff have not been paid for four months. More than
40 workers of Mahloran company in Broojerd city been unpaid for seven
months. Last week, employees at the Sanandaj Textile Company were
violently attacked when they held a rally in Farvardin Square in
protest at the sudden shut down of plant operations and mass lay-offs.

The workforce at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company, which employs more
than five thousand workers, have been on strike too. The last time
they took industrial action, they won three months of unpaid wages.

The strikers have been buoyed by the success of the Khodro car workers
who walked out in June to demand wage increases and an end to
mandatory overtime – and won their demands.

The Tehran regime is increasingly hostile to rising working class
militancy, which it fears could become political and turn into a mass
movement against the government. The ruling Ayatollahs are
particularly nervous of the possibility that the unions might link up
with students, left-wingers, civic organisations and oppressed
national minorities (like the Arabs, Kurds and Baluchs) to form a
united front for a free and democratic federal state.

Information about the ethnic cleansing of Arab people in Iran can be
read here:

The prospects for regime change from within are discussed in my TV
interview with the Iranian activist Maryam Namazie.

Tehran's crackdown on union activists is, in fact, part of a broader
assault on civil society and campaign groups, as the right-wing
Islamist regime in Tehran seeks to stifle dissent and tighten its grip
on power.

This repression includes a rise in death sentences on opposition
activists. In Iranian occupied Baluchistan, an estimated 700
nationalist and human rights campaigners are on death row.

Even small, peaceful and lawful protests by women are violently
suppressed, which is more evidence of the regime's insecurity and

Typical is the persecution of Kurdish Iranians. On July 20 2008, Mr.
Farzad Kamangar was sentenced to death in a seven minute show trial,
where three minutes were taken up by the prosecutor reading the
allegations and the defence was given a mere four minutes to state its
case. Mr. Kamangar's lawyer was never notified prior to the trial of
the offence with which his client was charged.

Mr Kamangar, a young teacher, was originally incarcerated on 18 August
2006. He was tortured over allegations (probably trumped up) of
collaborating with the Pejak Party, being a member of Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK), transporting explosives and various other
doubtful accusations. Since then, he has been transferred from one
jail to another, from one city to another and from one judicial and
security jurisdiction to another. The Islamic Republic of Iran has
ignored all Iranian and international pleas for clemency.

Thirty people were executed on 27 July 2008 in Tehran. Saeed
Mortazavi, the attorney general, denounced them as "drug dealers,
murders and insurgents". A confidential source inside the public
prosecutor's office reported that some of them were people who had
participated in the mass protests against gas price increases last
year. "The execution of these people is in accordance with the new
regulations called the Social Security Enhancement Plan," Saeed
Mortazavi is reported to have said. This plan is the regime's hardline
strategy to crush criticism, dissent and protest.

Mohammad Mostafaee, a defence attorney, seemed to cast doubt on
official claims about the crimes of the executed men. He told Deutsche
Welle Broadcasting: "My understanding is that these so-called
insurgents are special people. The date of their execution is not a
routine practice. Normally, every last Wednesday of each month, the
Tehran criminal prosecutor's office carries out the executions, but in
this case they will be executed on Sunday. These are people who have
had their trial in either Enghelab Islami (the Islamic Revolutionary)
courts or in the special crimes' courts." This explanation implies
that at least some of those who were executed were probably not common
criminals, but deemed to be more serious and threatening political

While the people of Iran, including oppositionists, do not want a
western military attack on their country, growing numbers do want
democracy, human rights, social justice, trade union rights and an end
to Tehran's neo-colonial subjugation of ethnic minority peoples.

You can support Iran's heroic trade union activists by signing this
petition to the Tehran leaders,

and by supporting the International Alliance in Support of Workers in

You can also add your solidarity with the Iranian people by joining
Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi), which campaigns both against a
military attack on Iran and against the clerical and Tehran's
neo-liberal despotism.

Watch this online TV interview with the Hopi organisers.

Together, we can all do something to help our beleaguered sisters and
brothers in Iran. Like us, they want freedom and equality. And they
deserve it too.


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Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford
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