On Thursday December 22, after staging a no-ticket action (when bus drivers refused to collect fares) against Sherkate Vahed, a state owned bus company, to demand higher wages, 14 leaders of Tehran’s transport workers’ union were arrested.
Following the arrests bus workers protested by striking on December 25. Previously, before the arrest, members of the Islamic militia, Ansar Hezbollah, used violence and threats to try to intimidate the workers. The December 25 protest was solid and the next day most of those arrested were released, but not the union’s leadership. Those arrested have been described by government intelligence services as "forces of popular disturbance" and face heavy jail sentences for organising the protests.
The December strike action was the culmination of a series of collective actions taken by public transport workers. In October, drivers on the public routes refused to collect tickets from passengers in protest at their working conditions and low wages. Wage rates for all transport workers have been frozen for the last four years while the prices of basic commodities have soared in Tehran. Transport workers have now threatened to call an indefinite strike action if their leadership is not released.
The mining and automobile workers unions have pledged to join this battle. The Tehran workers have received messages of support from, amongst others, workers of the oil and petrochemical industry of Khuzestan, the Shaho textile company, the Kermanshah Metal & Mechanical Workers’ Association, the Iran Khodro car plant, and the Kurdistan Textile company.
The heavy repression exercised by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demonstrates the increasing pressure his regime is coming under. While Ahmadinejad makes rhetorical challenges to Israel and the US on the international stage, his populist domestic promises to represent the poor and workers have proven so far to be false. Instead of the improvement of social and material conditions, his regime has enacted restrictions on Western music and fashion while wage stagnation continues. This increasingly unpopular regime is now relying on its security apparatus to suppress dissent and maintain order.
The Islamic clerics fully understand that an independent trade union movement in Iran could be a major force for social change. The ability of the Tehran transport workers union to organise strike action despite the clear threats of repression demonstrates a determination among the Iranian working class to improve their living standards at a time when oil revenues have massively increased. In the end, such class-based organisations possess the political potential to reject both the regime’s policies dressed in the clothes of Islam and the now failing US model of neo-liberal democracy through military occupation.
Thus far, the Iranian government has given little information about the arrests. While most of those arrested have now been released, the bus workers’ leader Mansour Osanlou remains in jail and the union’s bank account has been frozen. Monday January 2 saw a mass meeting in Tehran’s Azadi stadium where thousands of workers of Tehran Bus Company Sherkate Vahed workers called for Mansour Osanlou’s immediate release. Now a day of action to demand Osanlou’s immediate release from Evin prison has been called for January 7. Bus drivers plan to place posters on their bus’s windscreens saying "Mansour Ossanlou must be released" and drive with their lights on all day.
Internationally trade unionists, socialists and other activists are asked to support these workers. Resolutions should be passed by all organizations in support of:
- 1. Immediate release of the leader of the union, Mansour Osanlou
- 2. Drop all the charges against the members of the Tehran transport workers’ union
- 3. End on attacks on the Tehran transport workers’ union and all other genuine trade unions in Iran.
- 4. Agree to the transport workers’ demands for increased pay and better working conditions.
Emails of protest should be sent to the President of Islamic Republic of Iran at:
Letters of protest should be addressed Iranian Embassies or to:
The Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations
622 Third Ave. New York,
Tel: (212) 687-2020 / Fax: (212) 867-7086