Iranian workers in action for democratic rights

Tehran's bus drivers have joined the struggle for democratic and trade union rights.

Introduction by Robert Johnson and John Riddell

June 29, 2009 -- Socialist Voice -- The mass protests in Iran, sparked by charges of fraud in the June 12 presidential elections, express deeply felt demands for expanded democratic rights. The establishment press has been silent on the aspirations of rank-and-file protesters. Socialist Voice is therefore pleased to be able to publish several statements by components of Iran's vigorous trade union movement, which has been a major target of repression by Iran's security forces. We have provided the titles and some introductory comments.

The US government and its allies hypocritically claim to be "pro-democracy", a lie exposed by their enthusiastic support of repressive dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and their alliance with the apartheid regime in Israel. For 30 years they have raged against Iran, jealous of the sovereignty established by its great revolution in 1979. Now they hope that the protest movement can provide an opening for them to undermine Iranian sovereignty and return the country to their sphere of influence. They hope to break Iran's alignment with the Palestinian freedom struggle and with the progressive nations of Latin America's Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA).

By repressing mass protests, the Iranian government is weakening the country's defences against such imperialist attacks. Continued social progress in Iran depends on the expansion of democratic rights, and the strengthening the working class and other popular forces that are the main pillar of national sovereignty.

Progressive activists in Canada should not take sides between the competing factions in Iran's capitalist class, nor should we try to instruct the Iranian people on how the present crisis might be resolved. These questions can only be settled by the Iranian people themselves.

We should, however, support the right of the Iranian people to communicate freely, to demonstrate, and to form trade unions and other popular associations independent of government supervision or control. We should support calls for freeing political prisoners and for an end to the repression.

At the same time, we should strongly oppose attempts by imperialism to take advantage of this crisis, and call for an end to sanctions and other forms of foreign oppression of the Iranian people.

The position adopted by the Vancouver antiwar coalition provides a good example of this approach. Its resolution also appears below.

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Tehran bus drivers' union: General prosperity depends on general cooperation, and we must not let others make decisions for us. We must take the initiative ourselves.

[In 2005-2006, the strike movement of Tehran's bus drivers won respect among working people in Iran and worldwide. The movement was repressed and hundreds of drivers were arrested, but the union continues to function.

[Mansour Osanloo, the president of the bus drivers' union, has been in jail since July 2007, serving a five-year sentence for "threatening national security "and "propaganda against the state". He has suffered gross mistreatment at the hands of his jailers. He is being denied appropriate medical treatment and his health is failing. Other leaders and activists of the bus drivers' union have suffered arbitrary arrests, beatings, and loss of their jobs.

[The union issued the following statement during the campaign for Iran's tenth presidential election, before the outbreak of the national crisis.]

The Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union is purely a trade and workers' organisation. This trade union was formed in 2005 based on the consciousness of the workers and the broad support and involvement of workers, and despite its ups and downs and many problems, has continued its activity as before until today.

The Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union does not support any candidate in the tenth presidential election and does not view supporting any candidate as within the scope of the activities of independent workers' organisations. With the absence of freedom [of activity] for parties, naturally our organisation is also deprived of a social association that would protect it. While the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union views political intervention and activity as the absolute right of every single person in society, it believes that if the presidential candidates present workers' manifestoes and give practical guarantees about their electoral slogans, workers throughout Iran can either participate or not participate in the election.

But the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union, as a workers' association, sees it as its duty to ask all candidates [some questions], so that in case there is a logical answer, workers can make a decision about these [replies]. But unfortunately, until now the presidential candidates have not expressed any views about workers, the unemployed, and their demands in the press, at conferences, in press conferences or during provincial trips.

Today, for workers and their families, encouragement about participation in the election is one of the most meaningless of existing debates, because during the past three decades the workers have experienced all the presidents from the time of the [Iran-Iraq] war and the [post-war] reconstruction and reform, and also the affection-cultivating president.

We want all our workmates and people of our class, if there is a discussion about the election in their place of work or study, home or neighbourhood, to not forget to ask themselves and others what is the programme of the presidential pretenders for workers?

1. What is the clear position of the candidates of the tenth presidential election on the formation of independent workers' organisations without the interference of the government and employers?

2. How do you justify the suppression of independent workers' organisations like the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union?

3. Considering the accumulated demands of workers and that the poverty line announced for this year is 850,000 tomans [$874], but on the other hand the monthly wage has been set at 263,000 tomans [$270], will you accept the demand of workers' organisations that the minimum wage should be one million tomans [$1021]? This was what the signatures of factory workers throughout the country have proclaimed.

4. To announce their opinion on international conventions on labour rights, children's rights, women's and human rights, and to say how they will adhere to them?

5. To say what their opinion and programme is on job security, job creation, housing, and unemployment insurance for people over 18 years old, medical insurance for everyone, and scrapping temporary contracts that are the cause of hardship and poverty for working class families?

During these past years, the workers have been told to make sacrifices and to accept their hardship and their lack of rights. While the workers can neither go to work with security or hope, nor to their homes for rest, thousands of plainclothes and security force [officers] -- forces that perform no productive work and are used everywhere and for any deed that is necessary, with any level of violence and use of force -- are kept to deprive and detain workers from a free life. Yet [the candidates] refuse to [devote] one day to talking about the workers' demands and needs.

These are not issues specific to the time of the election. These problems depend on the co-operation of all toilers who see this dam in front of them.

We must strive to go past this dam and reach a society where the solving of social problems is not handed over to the president and parliament only.

General prosperity depends on general cooperation, and we must not let others make decisions for us. We must take the initiative ourselves.

-- Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union, May 2009

Tehran bus drivers' union: We `fully support this movement of [the] Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemn any violence and oppression'

[In this later statement, the union states its position on the post-election crisis.]

In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders, and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights -- particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception -- be recognised. These rights are not only constitutional in most of the countries, but also have been protected against all odds.

Amid such turmoil, one witnesses threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression that one fears only to escalate on all its aspects, resulting in more innocent bloodshed, more protests, and certainly no retreats. Iranian society is facing a deep political-economical crisis. Million-strong silent protests, ironically loud with unspoken words, have turned into iconic stature and are expanding from all sides. These protests demand reaction from each and every responsible individual and institution.

As previously expressed in a statement published on-line in May of this year, since the Vahed Syndicate does not view any of the candidates support the activities of the workers' organisations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.

Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group. In the past, we have emphasised that [so long as] the freedom of choice and right to organize are not recognised, talk of any social or particular right would be more of a mockery than a reality.

The Syndicate [Union] of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company fully supports this movement of [the] Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemns any violence and oppression.

In line with the recognition of the labour rights, the Syndicate requests that June 26, which has been called by the International Trade Unions Organisation "Day of Action" for justice for Iranian workers, include the human rights of all Iranians who have been deprived of their rights.

With hope for freedom and equality.

-- The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company, June 18, 2009

Workers at Iran Khodro organise 30-minute protest strike; `it is our duty to join this people's movement'

[Khodro, Iran's leading car company and the largest producer of automobiles in the Middle East, has a strong recent history of labour militancy, strikes and protests against repression. It employs more than 100,000 workers and produces more than half a million vehicles a year.

[A few weeks before Iran's June elections, a strike by the Khodro workers quickly won its two demands: for payment of unpaid wages and for Khodro itself to sign up employees previously supplied by third-party contractors.

[In a recent letter to the International Labour Organization, Khodro workers have also made their long-term demands clear, asking that ILO work to help ensure that Iran:

  • Observes workers rights.
  • Does not prevent the formation of free workers' organisations.
  • Does not arrest and jail workers for the offence of going on strikes and forming workers' organisations.
  • Respects the conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

[The following is the Khodro workers' response to the crisis.]

Autoworkers, fellow labourers: What we witness today, is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the Constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people's movement.

We the workers of Iran Khodro, Thursday 28/3/88 [June 18], in each working shift will stop working for half an hour to protest the suppression of students, workers, women, and the Constitution and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran. The morning and afternoon shifts from 10 to 10:30. The night shift from 3 to 3:30.

-- Labourers of Iran Khodro

Teachers' Organization of Iran: `Honour the will and the vote of the people'

[We have been unable to find an English translation of the statement by the teachers' union. Below is a summary and partial translation of the statement as it appeared on the LaborNerd website June 19.]

Sazman-e Moalleman-e Iran (Teachers' Organization of Iran) is writing a statement protesting the arrest three days ago of its leader, Ali-Reza Hashemi. It expresses the view that the wave of arrests by the government will only serve to unite the people. It says, "The only way out of this situation is to accept the request of the candidates and to honour the will and the vote of the people." It expresses extreme objection to the arrest of Hashemi and other activists and says that freeing those who have been arrested will serve to decrease the amount of conflict in the country. It also says, "The Teachers' Organization of Iran, further, supports the goals of Messrs. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and calls on the election authorities to annul this election and undertake a free election."

Stopwar Coalition (Vancouver, Canada) statement on the Iran crisis

[The Vancouver antiwar coalition StopWar adopted the following statement at its June 24 monthly membership meeting.]

StopWar, the broad-based anti-war coalition which has been active in the Vancouver area since 2002, sends warm greetings and solidarity to all those who are rallying for democracy and justice in Iran and abroad this week. We share your commitment to a peaceful and just resolution of the disputes brought to the surface by the recent presidential election in Iran, and your desire for Iranians themselves to determine the future of their country.

We condemn the regime's killing of protesters and we join with others in demanding the right to organize, strike and protest, and to free speech and assembly for all Iranians. We demand the release of all arrested workers, students, and political leaders.

We condemn any attempt by pro-war forces in the United States, Canada, and other countries to take advantage of this situation to push for 'regime change' imposed by outside powers. The drumbeat of threats against Iran should remind all peace-loving people of the build-up for war against Iraq seven years ago, which brought a terrible tragedy to that country without advancing the rights of the Iraqi people.

StopWar expresses our full confidence that the people of Iran will achieve their goals without the interference of governments such as that of Canada, which has only hindered genuine progress towards democracy, social justice and gender equality with the ongoing military mission in Afghanistan.


1. Tehran bus drivers' union (pre-election statement). Translated by Iranian Workers' Solidarity Network.

2. Tehran bus drivers' union (post-election statement).

3. Iran Khodro autoworker. Translated for The Field by Iraj Omidvar.

4. Teachers' Organization of Iran. Summary and partial translation posted on LaborNerd website.

5. Stopwar Coalition (Vancouver, Canada).


The Right won't be satisfied until our children are working 20 hour days in dirty factories and our elderly are dragging their half-dead starving carcasses to the soup kitchens for a shot at some bone soup. Then they'll tell us what they tell us now which is that "no one is starving in America." They'd love to see us clawing each others eyes out, licking our chops just for the chance to work for rotten scraps. The proponents of social Darwinism will never give up until they've made their sick capitalist utopia a reality. Therefore we, the People, can never give up. Get off the couch and fight against them today or be prepared to fight for your very life come 20 years from now.