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Iran: Interview -- Trade union activists face repression as regime imposes austerity

Homayoun Poorzad interviewed by Bill Balderston

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Iran: democracy struggle continues

By Sholeh Irani

January 16, 2010

http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2010/822

Ashura, or mourning days for Shia Muslims, has deep historical roots in Iran. Mourning occurs through processions, passion plays and other such ceremonies dating back to pre-Islamic Iran.

In 1978, the Ashura days proved decisive in overthrowing the dictatorship of the US-backed Shah.

Ashura ceremonies gave the opposition a chance to gather in their thousands in 1978-79. The Shah’s police respected the holy Ashura and did not brutalise the protests.

However, that is not the case under the current regime.

Bloody Ashura

During the last days of December, the people of Iran shed their fears and took to the streets to demonstrate under the slogan “Down with supreme leader”. Riot police and pro-regime militias attacked them.

The protesters — including the young and old, workers and students — fought back. They threw stones and set garbage on fire, causing the police to run.

There was no international media presence and internet coverage was limited. The video clips that did reach YouTube surprised all and sundry.

Such scenes of people fighting the regime without fear have not been seen on Iranian streets since the 1979 revolution.

The regime hit back. At least 15 people were shot dead, among them the nephew of Mir Hussein Mousavi, the “reformist” candidate widely believed to have won the June presidential elections.

The regime’s answer was the mass arrest of protesters and political activists all over the country.

Since December 27, many people have been arrested from their homes. Gatherings of more than five people have been banned. The streets have been taken over by armed soldiers and military trucks.

The regime’s radio and TV stations began hectic propaganda against the resistance, declaring the protesters “foreign agents”.

Some members of parliament signed a letter demanding a state of emergency be declared so that all those found guilty of “war against Allah” could be hanged within five days of the verdict.

In reply, students at many big universities went on strike, boycotting classes and refusing to take exams. News of workers’ strikes have emerged and a proposal for a general strike is being discussed.

Opposition forces have hailed the people’s rediscovered confidence. Many commentators in the Iranian media have declared the “time of disempowerment is over”.

At the same time, a debate has started over “protester violence”. The radical wing of the movement argued it is not violent for the masses to defend themselves from attack.

The reformists and some from the liberal left, however, have argued that to avoid further state repression, it is necessary to apply the brakes on the mass movement.

Sahabi, a famous liberal known for years of opposition to the regime, wrote an open letter to exiled Iranians and asked them not to urge violent means of opposing the regime in protests. He warned of dangers from both the extreme left and right raising the level of tension between the religious and secular forces opposing the regime.

Mousavi’s compromise formula

Mousavi has presented a five-point plan for the movement. He argued that he was a supporter of the masses, not a leader. He pointed out that it was not him that urged people to take to the streets during Ashura, but rather a spontaneous people’s initiative.

At the same time, his statement expressed strong concern for Iran’s “Islamic order” and security.

His five points were: the state should be answerable to people and other institutions; electoral laws should be democratised; political prisoners should be freed; there should be freedom of expression in the media; and people should have the right to freedom of association and political organisation.

Mousavi’s proposals are being hotly debated by the regime as well as the opposition. Some in the regime welcomed them as a potential compromise formula.

The opposition has divided into two camps. The radical left, as well as many in the reform movement (religious as well as secular), have deemed the proposal an attempt to save the regime from the people’s rage. Many described it as an attempt to impede the revolution started spontaneously by the masses.

In general, reformists and the liberal left have welcomed the plan as the only way to avoid violence and chaos.

Some on the liberal left have argued that the process has unfolded so fast that, with the regime fearing for its life, a bloodbath could be the result. They think Mousavi’s initiative could lead to an “unhurried change”.

The counter-argument is that a lull in protests would weaken the people and strengthen the repression. The radical left has argued the more the people raise their voices, the stronger they become. They say the more people take to the streets, the less support there is for the regime

The Ahmedinejad regime has officially rejected Mousavi’s proposals, but opponents have said the split in the regime has widened as a result.

In the meantime, the regime continues arresting activists, who are receiving longer jail terms than in the past.

[Abridged from Swedish socialist publication Internationalen. Translated for Green Left Weekly by Farooq Sulehria.]

THE WORKING CLASS AND EMANCIPATORY STRUGGLES OF PEOPLE IN IRAN

· THE WORKING CLASS AND EMANCIPATORY STRUGGLES OF PEOPLE IN IRAN

· Stop killings and torture!

· Farzad Kamangar in danger of execution!

· Free Haft Tapeh labour leaders!

· Free Osanloo and Madadi now!

· The last of May Day 2009 detainees still in jail! Free Mehdi Farahi Shandiz now!

· Free Majid Hamidi now!

· Please use the Sample Protest letter and act now!

THE WORKING CLASS AND EMANCIPATORY STRUGGLES OF PEOPLE IN IRAN

As Islamic Republic (IR) continues its naked repression of Iranian people with full force, people’s protest movement has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it will settle for nothing less than true unconditional freedom. Workers and liberated people of Iran and world strongly condemn the vile repression, prosecution and incarceration of protesters and social and political activists and absolutely despise and denounce their torture, rape and execution by IR.

As far as the working class is concerned, the independent labour movement in Iran did not participate in the sham presidential “election,” since this movement had had no illusions about either faction of the ruling class. All four “candidate” fully supported capitalist and neo-liberal policies. Labour activists clearly recall the period from 1979 to 1988 during which every single genuine, autonomous workers’ council and independent syndicates created during the 79’ Revolution were most violently crushed. These autonomous workers’ organizations were forcibly replaced by sham state, management sponsored so called “Islamic Labour Councils.”

During 8 years of Khatemi’s “reformist” reign repression of workers was in full throttle. Khatoon Abad workers getting shot to death on the picket line, for merely demanding permanent job contracts, was the most brazen instance; a slaughter which led to a number of other protests. Ahmadinejad has elevated repression and lawlessness towards workers, students, women… to unprecedented levels.

What labour activists have encountered in the past 7 months is not only a struggle between factions of the ruling class, but an extensive and distinguishable social struggle against the entire establishment, a struggle in which workers and their families are fully participating, especially after December 27, 2009 with large-scale participation of working class neighborhoods in street demonstrations. This is a point fully understood even by both factions of the ruling class.

Though not all anti-government struggles are necessarily in line with class interests of working people, it must be noted that the despotic rule of IR is a Capitalist repressive order, combined with religious features and a thorough insertion of Islam in daily functions of government. In such a context even the most minuscule, basic democratic rights are nor tolerated and crushed. IR has been able to impose an astonishing level of poverty, insecurity, and general lawlessness upon workers, toiling masses and people.

Relentless repression of labour activists, especially in the past 5 years has clearly demonstrated IR’s hostility towards workers and its allegiance to Capitalism and capitalists. Less than two months after “election,” Ahmadinejad’s administration passed a bill in parliament to cut all state subsidies thus forcing more people living in poverty. Let’s not forget this has been an old demand of IMF, World Bank and WTO for more than two decades. IR has had nothing but harshest harassments, prosecution, incarceration, floggings, torture and execution for labour activists in Iran; many of whom are currently incarcerated under some of the worst unbearable conditions, suffering from premeditated homicidal neglect, while many others face pending bogus jail sentences.

Experience has shown that other than progressive sectors of students’ and women’s movement no other segment of society has seriously defended the rights and interests of the working class. It’s crystal clear for workers that only by a reliance on their own power of class unity they could ensure that their struggles will not be misused for the benefit of other classes.

Iran’s labour activists’ total lack of trust towards what is called “Green Movement” of Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami and Rafsanjani stems from such cognition. Not only their “ Green Movement” doesn’t belong to workers, but it is only an attempt by a fraction of the ruling class to force some very limited reforms within parameters of maintaining and augmenting the entire Islamic regime, which at best could lead to another round of presidential “elections.” However, there are profound differences between freedom-seeking struggles of the people and reformers’ “Green Movement.” The anti-government struggles of Iranian people is endowed with a distinct justice-seeking, freedom-seeking essence, which makes it incommensurable with any faction of the capitalist Islamic regime, be it “reformers” or “principalists.”

Consequently within the sphere of people’s struggle, propagation of unconditional freedoms of speech, thought, protests, assembly, strike and organizing; comprehensive equality between women and men in every and all spheres of life; a living standard worthy of human life, are all of high import. Actualization of comprehensive social and political freedoms for the working class is supremely significant. In the current context workers could organize more effectively and comprehensively against Capitalism and its state. Through creation and expansion of all types of autonomous workers’ councils, committees, syndicates and local, regional and national federations, workers could more preparedly fight towards realization of freedom and equality. Current struggles of people in Iran provide workers with the possibility of announcing their demands on a macro scale; thus attracting students’, women’s, and the youth movements towards collaborating with the labor movement. To the extent that workers are successful in this endeavor, path will be cleared for workers to express themselves as a powerful, organized and autonomous class. Such success would also ensure Iranian people’s struggle are directed towards a progressive, vanguard position, and minimizes the influences of the ruling classes, and reduces the possibility of workers’ movement becoming subservient of other classes.

On numerous occasions, freedom-seeking people of Iran have been calling for a greater involvement of the organized labour movement in the current struggles in Iran; yet, we all need to recognize that defending workers’ rights and the independent workers’ movement across the country is perhaps one of the most effective ways to achieve this objective. It is absolutely crucial to support workers’ struggles and demands and stand in defense of jailed workers and labour activists and their organizations. What the repressive, anti-worker and capitalist Islamic Republic must see is that the labour movement is a staunch defender of the freedom-seeking people of Iran, and similarly the main allies of Iranian labour movement are the freedom-loving and equality seeking people of Iran and other countries around the world.

International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI)—January 2010

info@workers-iran.org

www.etehadbinalmelali.com

www.workers-iran.org

*************************************************************************

Please use any part or the entire Sample Protest Letter: Updated January 21, 2010

I (we) am (are) writing this protest letter in support of workers’ and human rights in Iran.

· Firstly, I (we) strongly protest against the extreme use of violence and force against freedom and justice seeking people of Iran in recent months. All acts of violence by security and other government forces against people must stop immediately. I (we) demand justice for people who have been killed and injured by security forces in recent months.

All attacks on the labour movement in Iran must stop immediately:

· Five members of the board of directors of “Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Workers’ Syndicate” by names of Feridoun Nikoufard, Jalil Ahmadi, Ghorban Alipour, Mohammad Haydari Mehr and Ali Nejati have been sent to jail and are currently incarcerated in Dezfol prison. Feriadon Nikofard, Jalil Ahmadi, Ghorban Alipour and Ali Nejati were charged and condemned to six months imprisonment and six months suspended sentences and Mohammad Heydari Mehr has received four months prison and eight months suspended sentence; they have also been banned from involvement in any labour activities including running for any elected union positions for three years. All this only because of their efforts to form an independent labour organization.

· Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, president and vice president of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company, continue to be in jail and have been sentenced to 5 years and 3.5 years jail respectively.

· Mr. Farzad Kamangar, a teacher and human rights activist, has been sentenced to death, and there is a growing fear that he might get executed given the current repressive climate. See this link: http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/show.php?id=1170&theme=rights&country=iran

· Mr. Reza Rakhshan, a board member of the Haft Tapeh Workers’ Syndicate, was arrested on January 4, 2010 at his work and taken to the custody. He was released on January 20, 2010 after putting a very heavy bail (150 million toman). He will face a number of charges including “propaganda against the system”.

· The last of May Day 2009 detainees still in jail: According to his mother and a number of radio interviews as well as a report by the Laborer’s unit of HRA, Mr. Mehdi Farahi Shandiz, a labour activist imprisoned in Evin prison (Evin House of Detention), has been convicted of offending the supreme leader and sentenced to eight months in prison. Mr. Farahi Shandiz will be tried again for participating in a gathering on International Workers’ Day at the Laleh Park of Tehran on May 1, 2009. This would happen at the end of his sentence which means he may be kept in jail. This labour activist’s sentence will end on January 23rd, 2010 and thereafter Mr. Shandiz will again be tried for his participation in the gathering in Laleh Park. In addition, according to the Human Rights Activists (HRA), Mr. Shandiz is scheduled to be tried for another case on February 3rd by Branch 14 of the Revolutionary Court for gathering signatures in Khavaran Terminal to free Mansour Osanloo.

· Mr. Majid Hamidi, a labour activist and a member of the Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations, has been incarcerated since Thursday, January 14, 2010. Mr. Hamidi left his residence in the afternoon of January 14th but did not return home since then. At 11 PM, January 15th, agents of the Intelligence Ministry entered Mr. Hamidi’s home for search and took his notebook computer with them. Mr. Hamidi, who is a well-known labour activist in City of Sanandaj, received seven bullets into his body on October 18th, 2007. Witnesses and Mr. Hamidi himself reported that the assassins fired about 14 shots towards him. After getting the first shot, Mr. Hamidi tried to rescue himself but they followed him and fired more bullets at him but some were missed. They then escaped from the scene with a motorcycle. No one has yet been arrested or identified as the perpetrator of this crime. Mr. Hamidi’s surgery was not completely done because doctors were unable to remove one of the bullets that hit him in his neck, because by removing that bullet there would have been a great risk of damaging his nervous system around his eyes and mouth. He still has this bullet in his body. Mr. Hamidi issued a statement after his treatment in which he condemned the attempted assassination against himself as a cowardly act by those that are extremely scared of the rise of the Iranian labour movement. He vowed to continue his activities as a labour activist for the achievement of the working class demands.

· On December 31, 2009, a number of armed men entered in the residence of Mr. Jamal Karimpour and fired a number of shots at him, as the result of which he got injured in his left arm. After this terrorist act, the assassins witnessed the village’s residents and thus they escaped the scene. Mr. Jamal Karimpour is a member of the Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers’ Organizations.

I (we) condemn these continuous attacks on human and workers’ rights in Iran. I (we) demand the immediate and unconditional freedom of all political prisoners and the above incarcerated labour activists. We demand annulment of the death sentence against Farzad Kamangar.

I (we) would also like to let the Iranian government know that we stand in solidarity with people’s struggles in Iran for justice and freedom. I (we) ask the Iranian government to fully respect workers’ and human rights including freedom of speech and expression, and the rights to organize, protest, assemble and strike. We call on the IRI to put an end to persecution of labour activists and social justice organizations and not to impede their activities. No one should be persecuted, jailed and assaulted because of practicing their fundamental human rights. Torture and executions must be stopped immediately.

Name

Organization

Position

Send Copy of your Protest Letters to:

info@leader.ir, info@judiciary.ir, iran@un.int; ijpr@iranjudiciary.org, info@dadiran.ir, office@justice.ir, ilo@ilo.org; cabinet@ilo.org; eastgulf@amnesty.org; hrwgva@hrw.org

CC: info@workers-iran.org

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