While the discussion of labor unions in United States is controversial, the Iranian society under the Islamic Republic can benefit the cohesiveness it brings among a suppressed working class and presents a forefront imbued with strength in numbers. The Islamic Republic has come to recognize this strength in populace and has guarded against it.
On January 15, 2011, three labor Unions in Iran released the following statement: Reza Rakhshan, the head of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers Syndicate, commenced his 6 month jail term given to him by the District 13 Court of Appeals on January 3.
While all charges against Rakhshan were dropped by a lower court, the subsequent motion by the prosecutor’s office resulted in a six month jail term at an upper court on charges of “propagating lies” and “disturbance of public peace”.
We condemn the sentence on the head of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers Syndicate and call for the repeal of all sentences against labor activists and for the release of all jailed workers, including Behruz Nikufard, Alireza Saeedi, and Behruz Molazadeh. Wishing the spread of peace and justice throughout the world; Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate, Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers Syndicate, and Founding Board to Relaunch Metal and Mechanics Syndicate.
In 2005 Mansour Osanloo (see video) organized an independent trade union of bus workers, consisting of 17,000 members, called Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate. In doing so, he was able to negotiate a pay raise of $50 per month, owners providing uniforms for the workers, 2 year contract, and other concessions for women workers. On July 10, at a bus stop, he was abducted and dragged away into a car. While being taken away, he shouted his name, so others know who he was. He was taken to Evin prison. There, he was beaten and cut off portion of his tongue to set example for others. Osanloo had been in and out of prison in the past few years. His most recent detention came 3 weeks after he announced of his travel outside Iran. In June he joined fellow transport workers at the International Transport Federation in London, and told them he needed their support. He travelled to Brussels to meet with the International Trade Union Confederation and other similar organizations. He explained his goals were to obtain better salaries and improving the lives of workers in Iran. The International Labor Organization which is a United Nations agency urged the Iranian government to drop charges against Osanloo and other labor organizers and grant them right to independent Unions. The ITF reported in March 16, 2010 that he was moved again within the Rajai Shahr Prison system to ward 5, which is reserved for drug addicts and HIV positive inmates.
In September 2010 Barez Tires went on a 4-day strike. It ended when Kerman labor office gave them some assurances. In November a change in management level brought some willingness to discuss issues and provide answers in exchange of not to strike. Later with the pretext of subsidies cuts, the management did not meet the negotiated matters, prompting a new round of strikes in January 2011. The workers one by one shut down operation. By next day they had 3,500 workers on strike after the night-shift joined them. Among their demands: Permanent contract instead of month by month. To receive Full compensation for overtime. Calling for two days off per week instead of one every other week. Also, protesting production bonuses which have been reduced last October.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had foreseen the troubles ahead for his subsidies cut, and knew the organized opposition might be the unions that may cause disturbance. So he went on a preemptive strike at the beleaguered Unions. In early September 2010, he issued threats to all trade unions and labor activists across Iran against union organizing activity. Meanwhile labor leaders were detained; jail terms were added to those already in detention and placed restrictions on labor reporting. A communiqué were issued to all local and national Media by the Supreme National Security Council on October 5 that there will be no coverage of labor activity of any kind. The SNSC which is the Country’s highest decision-making body also issued a warning to ILNA (Iran Labor News Agency) for its previous labor reporting. By December, a massive security force was in place to crush anyone “disrupting” or protesting on behalf of the unions or individuals.
In the quest for freedom, an atmosphere where individual talents can blossom to productive essence to benefit all, we search for viable options. Unions have been an actor in the political scenes in Iran. They have conducted many strikes in the past decades, and participated in 2009 post-election demonstrations. The interwoven structure of a union with its profound grievances, make them a potent force that no revolution for change can do without them.
Islamic Republic allows only State approved unions that deals only on minor issues such as illegal use of temporary workers, layoffs, dispute over unpaid wages, pension etc. – negotiations on wages and working conditions are not on the table. These Unions exist within the recognized industries like oil, steel, and manufacturing plants. Many workers on construction and individual contractors do not have a union and cannot have one. The goal of having independent unions has been a contentious issue between the working force and the government.
Unions have a friend in Iran’s Majles, Ali Reza Mahjoub, and head of the Workers’ House. He has criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his subsidies plan, adversely affecting the working class. Labor activist wanted their agenda at the top of Greens Movements’ demands. Instead they have received statement of concern for their living standard and labor rights.
It is imperative the power of unions be employed along with other existing groups in a unified element to challenge the Islamic republic regime. It takes a broad coalition of all people, students, intellectuals, organizations and Women’s groups to unite with the working class, and support them in their pursuit of better life. In return receive the unions’ support, forming a united social front, with the power to bring a meaningful change.