Defend striking bus workers of Tehran!
Hundreds of striking bus workers of the state-owned Vahed bus company are still in detention in Tehran today, 30th January, following the vicious attack by thousands of members of the security forces on their strike last Saturday.
The exact number of the detainees is still unknown. Anywhere from 500 to 700 workers may have been arrested – according to union officials speaking on foreign-based radio stations. Further arrests have been reported today, with pressure being put on the detained workers to sign pledges to give up their fight or risk losing their jobs. In a statement issued today, the bus workers’ union has called for a stoppage on 3rd February.
The arrests started on Friday 27th January, the eve of the strike, during police raids on the homes of the strikers and union leaders. The management of the company and the Islamic Council (handmade organisations of the regime in the workplaces) worked hand in hand with the security forces to help identify the workers and assist in the arrests.
On Saturday, as the workers arrived at the picket lines, they were rounded up. Many were verbally abused, threatened and beaten up to force them to drive the buses. Those who refused were taken away. Some buses had been moved the night before, and replacement drivers had been enlisted from among the military and mercenary Baseej militia.
Union officials said the brutality of the security forces was indescribable. The wives and children of some union executive members were also arrested. They were taken out of bed and beaten up during raids on Friday night. The beatings continued in detention. 2-year-old daughter of Yaghoub Salimi, substitute member of the union’s executive board, was injured on her face in the attack, when she was thrown into a waiting patrol van. Her 12-year-old elder sister, Mahdiye, described the ordeal in detail in an interview yesterday with a radio station abroad.
She said they raided their home while they were asleep, pulled away the blankets and started hitting them with their “hands and feet”. They used their boots to kick their mother “around the heart” and Mrs Razavi too was badly beaten up. They tried to spray her sister in the face. Her mother still bears the bruises from the beatings she received.
Yaghoub Salimi gave a last interview to a radio station shortly before turning himself in. This was the condition for the release of his wife and children, who were being used as hostages.
The majority of the detainees are now in the high security Evin Prison, along with seven members of the union’s executive, including the leader of the union Mansoor Ossanlou. This prison is notorious for being the centre for the jailing, torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners.
‘Even greater resolve and unity’
In a letter to world labour and progressive organisations, issued on Saturday, the union said that in the light of what the Islamic Republic regime had done, they had no option but to continue their fight with even greater resolve and unity. It thanked international labour and progressive organisations for their solidarity so far and appealed for continued support:
“We ask you our colleagues and fellow workers throughout the world … to condemn this action of the Iranian state. We trust that you will call for the immediate and unconditional release of all the detainees, for the recognition of our union and for the meeting of our demands. We expect that you will condemn the assault on our strike and demand the prosecution and punishment of all those who stormed workers’ picket lines…. We have a hard and long battle ahead of us and urge you to continue your support”.
The Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI) has called for a powerful and immediate response to the bus workers’ appeal by all possible means.
A hard and long battle
The strike has had the overwhelming backing of the 17,000 employees of the state-owned company, who have been battling the management and authorities since last year. Their demands include a decent pay increase, introduction of collectively negotiated agreements and recognition of their union. Since the arrest of the leaders of the union, the bus workers have been fighting for their release too. The head of the union, Ossanlou, has been in jail for over five weeks.
The present protest was triggered when on 22nd December a dozen members of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat e Vahed) were arrested in armed police raids on their homes. The arrests led to a powerful strike on Sunday 25 December, widely supported by the people of the capital. Further arrests were made during the strike itself. In all, around 40 workers were detained. However, the workers succeeded in securing the release of all but Ossanlou.
The fight for the release of Ossanlou and all the original demands continued. In the meantime the workers were subjected to all kinds of harassment – from unpaid salaries and frozen bank accounts to direct threats made to individual activists by the Intelligence Ministry. Negotiations with the Mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, produced no results; all the demands remained unmet. Ghalibaf asked for 15 days by which time to respond. The deadline passed without any action.
On 7th January the bus workers held a day of action by putting up a poster on their screens with the words ‘Mansoor Ossanlou must be released’ and drove their buses with their lights on all day.
Meanwhile, concerns grew about Mansoor Ossanlou’s health, in particular the condition of one of his eyes, as he was due to be operated on before being arrested. He sustained the damage to his eye during a vicious attack in May 2005 on a meeting of the bus workers’ union by vigilante thugs of the Government-set up and run “Islamic Councils of Labour” and “Workers’ House”. Dissolution of these mercenary organisations has been a key demand of the workers throughout.
As the workers called for an all-out strike on Saturday 28th January, six more members of the union’s executive were summoned, questioned and then arrested. The government issued further threats and prepared to crush the strike.
A fight for all workers in Iran
The brave bus workers of Tehran are leading a fight that concerns all the workers in Iran. Their demands – the right to organise freely and independently of the state, dissolution of the hated Islamic Councils, introduction of collective bargaining and a substantial increase in the minimum wage (to US$600) – are the demands of all Iranian workers. The bus workers have put these demands high up on the banner of the whole labour movement in Iran. Despite coming under such a vicious and overwhelming attack, the strike has already shaken up the regime. Indeed the sheer scale of the Islamic regime’s reaction was an indication, not of its power and stability, but, rather, of its fear and vulnerability. The bus workers’ struggle is the prelude to more decisive battles to come.
All the detained workers must be immediately freed. The Islamic Republic must be condemned for this outrageous attack. Islamic councils – as anti-labour government-set up and run bodies in the workplaces – must be thrown out of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The bus workers’ union (Syndicate) must be recognised. All the workers’ demands must be met.
Support the Tehran bus workers! Send you protest letters to Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran at firstname.lastname@example.org.