Free Mansour Osanloo, Mahmoud Salehi & all jailed union activists.
The Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a neo-liberal, free market, pro-privatisation, anti-trade union regime. It is the mirror image of George Bush’s neo-con USA – only many times worse. Independent unions are banned, workers have few legal rights or protections, and union activists are regularly beaten, arrested, jailed and tortured.
Today, Thursday 9 August, is the International Day of Action in solidarity with Iran’s embattled trade union movement. Protests will take place in more than 30 countries across the world, including at lunchtime outside the Iranian Embassy in London. This day of global action is organised by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), with the backing of many individual unions and of Amnesty International.
The protests will highlight the recent re-arrest and jailing of Mansour Osanloo, President of the Tehran bus workers’ union, Sandikaye Kargarane Sherkate Vahed. This is the third time in less than two years that Osanloo has been put behind bars, invariably on faked charges such as “conspiring against national security”. Each time he has been jailed, international campaigns have helped secure his release. Osanloo’s latest arrest took place on 10 July. He is being held in Tehran’s notorious torture centre, Evin prison, without charge and without legal representation. His crime? Campaigning for better wages and conditions for his fellow bus workers.
Another leading Iranian trade unionist who is also suffering state victimisation is Mahmoud Salehi. A founding member of the Saqez Bakery Workers’ Association and of the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organisations, he was originally imprisoned in 2005 for organising a workers rally on 1 May 2004 in the city of Saqez. He was sentenced to five years jail and three years internal exile. Eventually, he and his six co-defendants, collectively known as the Saqez Seven, won their appeals – only to be slapped with new trumped up charges in 2006. In April this year, Salehi was again seized and is now incarcerated in Sanandaj jail. Despite a serious kidney condition, the Iranian authorities refused to allow him to bring his medication into prison and are not providing him with the dialysis he needs to survive. As a result, Salehi’s health is deteriorating to the point where he is now in danger of dying, which seems to be Tehran’s desired outcome. Ahmadinejad realises that he doesn’t need to shoot or hang Salehi. Medical neglect will do the job. It is a de facto death sentence.
Osanloo and Salehi are not isolated victims of Tehran’s union-bashing. Eleven other worker activists were recently sentenced to three months imprisonment, plus flogging, merely for taking part in a May Day rally in Sanandaj city.
Anti-union repression has intensified since 2003, when a wave of strikes and demonstrations by workers and students was violently suppressed, with over 4,000 arrests. The following year, during a copper mine strike, police shot dead four workers and wounded 40 others in the village of Khatoonabad and the city of Shahr-e Babak, in Kerman Province. In January 2006, over 800 striking Tehran bus workers – and some of their wives and children – were arrested and ill-treated.
President Ahmadinejad won the 2005 election on a promise of defending the poor. He hasn’t delivered. Iran’s unemployment rate is now 15 percent, compared to only 11 percent in 2006. Of young people aged 15 to 19 years old, a third of those who want a job don’t have one, and around 20,000 homeless youths sleep rough on the streets of the major cities. In 2005, lawmaker Mohammad Abbasspour calculated that “90 percent of the population are living under the poverty line and only ten percent of the people have access to social services provided by the government”. In the last two years, poverty and deprivation have got worse, despite the country’s fabulous oil wealth.
The repression of trade unions is par for the course in Iran. The theocratic dictatorship is proudly pro-business and pro-privatisation. It regards free trade unions as unIslamic. Under the 1990 labour law, independent trade unions are banned in favour of state-controlled Islamic Labour Councils – a corporate unionism not dissimilar to the labour laws of Hitler and Mussolini.
According to Mohammad Maljoo, a lecturer in the Faculty of Economics at Allameh Tabatabae University in Tehran, the far-reaching extent of state control over officially-sanctioned worker’s organisations and representatives is evident under section 130 of chapter six of the 1990 law. It states that “in order to propagate and disseminate Islamic culture and to defend the achievements of the Islamic Revolution,” workers in industrial, agricultural, service and craft establishments may establish Islamic associations whose duties, powers and functions shall be drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Islamic Propagation Organization, and approved by the Council of Ministries. In other words, no autonomy and no independence.
As if this was not bad enough, plans have been drafted to amend the 1990 labour law to make it even easier for employers to dismiss workers, including on the grounds that there is a decline in the company’s productivity and that the firm needs to restructure or technologically upgrade. This would tip the balance of power in the labour market further in favour of capital; leaving employees weaker and more vulnerable than ever before.
President Ahmadinejad may pose as the great anti-American crusader, but his economic and union policies are not a million miles from the far right of the US Republican Party and the neo-liberal diktats of international financial institutions. Very Islamic, not!