"The labour movement in Iran is important in its own right: as the expression of the working class of Iran. And it is important as a central plank of Iran's repressed civil society and future democracy. The union
that Osanloo represents has 17,000 members: that represents a formidable force for change in Iran."
The "Osanloo" Bob is referring to is Mansour Osanloo, an Iranian labour activist who has been in and out of jail since 2005, after he and his 17,000-strong fellow members of the Syndicate of Workers of Teheran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) went on strike to protest an edict relegating female passengers to the back of the bus. You see, unlike the U.S., where unions might be be scorned by a certain sector of the government but not threatened, union members in countries like Iran are often jailed, harassed, beaten or killed. Osanloo has been beaten on several occasions and his tongue sliced as a warning to keep mum. This past July, 2007, he was sent back to prison, no specific charges, after he was beaten and abducted from a bus in Teheran. It is thought that what prompted this latest, unwarranted arrest was a recent trip to Europe to meet with officials from the International Transport Workers' Federation:
In Brussels, Mr Osanloo described the intimidation which union members had faced, with some members having been arrested 10 or more times, and family members, including children, being beaten, detained and subjected to inhumane treatment. Asked how he coped with arrests and harassment, he replied: "We decided it is better to die than to live like this."
While in jail this past month, Osanloo almost lost the sight in one of his eyes (as a result of his beating) because the government refused to give him medical treatment. Thanks to a major campaign by Amnesty International, some labour organizations and union members worldwide, Osanloo finally received the surgery he desperately needed. However, against doctor's orders, he was just sent back to prison and sentenced to 5 years, merely for exercising his right to be in a trade union. He has said that unlike other 'political prisoners' he has no political agenda, and has suffered all this harassment simply because he wants better working conditions for transport workers.
He's not the only labour activist in jail: Mahmoud Salehi and Ebrahim Madadi have also been incarcerated. And grocery worker and activist, Majid Hamidi, was recently attacked and shot seven times by several masked assailants. The attack is believed to have been government sanctioned. He is in critical condition.
Although Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization, they have no love or tolerance for labour organizations. Iranian hardliners obviously feel threatened, so are escalating their attacks and persecution of any group/s that might pose a threat to the Islamist status quo, from union activism to the recent student protests.
Regardless of how you feel about Unions, what is happening in Iran is shameful, though not surprising. We are so very fortunate, in the western world, to be able to exercise our right to belong to a Union or not, and to rest easy knowing we won't risk our lives by making that choice.
If you are a member of a any union you can click here to send an urgent message to the International Labour Organization (ILO) calling on Ahmadinejad and others to stop the persecution, harassment and attacks on workers. As I have.
Also blogging about: A second Hand Conjecture
H/T: Bob from Brockley