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Shahanshah Aryameher


Iranian Freedom Fighters UNITE

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why Iran Needs Osanloo

July 14, 2007 Arab News Amir Taheri
One of Iran’s most popular civil society leaders was abducted in Tehran on Tuesday after chairing a meeting of trade unionists. The scene was reminiscent of spy stories about the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Mansour Osanloo, the 48-year-old president of the Union of Bus Drivers (SKSV), had just stepped off a bus when a group of bearded men emerged from a gray metallic Peugeot car and attacked him with clubs and knuckle-dusters. Shouting, “You are an enemy of Islam”, the attackers pushed Osanloo into the Peugeot and drove away. Passengers on the bus, which had stopped as the scene started, tried to restrain the attackers but were held back at gunpoint. According to Osanloo’s friends and relatives, secret service agents had followed him round the clock since his return from a visit to Europe last month. During that visit, Osanloo addressed a number of international labor meetings in London, Brussels and Geneva. According to witnesses, Osanloo was severely beaten, and his attackers continued to beat him even after they had forced him into their car. Osanloo revealed his leadership capacities in 2004 when he helped create one of the first independent trade unions in Iran since the seizure of power by the mullahs in 1979. Later, he led two successful strikes by transport workers and forced the management of the state-owned bus company to offer concessions. The example he set has been followed by other workers who have created over 400 independent trade unions with an estimated membership of 1.5 million. Earlier this year, the independent unions set up a new mechanism known as Workers’ Organizations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) to foster unity of action. On May 1, International Labor Day, WOACC succeeded in holding the first independent workers’ march in Tehran and 11 other major cities since 1979. This is not the first time that Osanloo, regarded by some as “Iran’s Lech Walesa”, after the Polish trade union leader who helped end Communist rule in his country, is abducted by paramilitaries working for the government. Osanloo has also been imprisoned on two occasions, including a spell at the notorious Evin prison. While Osanloo has been careful not to give Iran’s emerging labor movement a political coloring, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regards the union leader as a potential threat. Workers organized in independent trade unions still represent no more than five percent of wage earners in Iran. The majority of Iranian workers are either not unionized or drafted as members of unions controlled by government through so-called “Islamic Committees.” Nevertheless, the authorities are concerned that more workers might join independent unions or set up new free unions, shaking off government control. One key demand of workers is that the “Islamic Committees” set up in workshops and offices be abolished and the mullahs that head them returned to the mosques. The authorities are especially angry with Osanloo because of his success in mobilizing international support for the Iranian labor movement. Earlier this year the authorities released Osanloo from prison and allowed him to travel to Europe to attend the annual conference of the International Transport Workers Federation. According to Osanloo’s friends, the authorities had hoped that he would seize the opportunity to stay in Europe and join former internal dissidents who have become exiles. However, Osanloo had no intention of disappearing in exile. In London, he made a passionate appeal to workers throughout the world to support their Iranian counterparts in their quest for decent wages, human working conditions and freedom of association. In Brussels he met the leaders of the General Council of the International Trades Union Conference and managed to “open their eyes to the realities of the workers’ conditions in the Islamic Republic”, according to one of his friends in Tehran. Since the mullahs seized power in Tehran, Western trade unions have been reluctant to support Iranian workers. For almost a quarter of a century appeals to Western labor leaders, including those in the United States, to support their Iranian working class brethren had fallen on deaf ears, because the Tehran regime was regarded as a revolutionary setup backed by the “toiling masses.” Osanloo’s success was to alter that perception and persuade at least some Western trade unionists not to support the Khomeinist regime in its repression of Iranian workers. (David Cockroft, general secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation to which the SKSV is affiliated, has called on the Islamic republic to “secure the immediate release of Mansour Osanloo”.) Osanloo also succeeded in persuading the leadership of the International Labor Organization (ILO) of which Iran is full member, to oppose the new draft Labor Code presented by Ahmadinejad. The draft abolishes virtually every right won by Iranian workers over decades of struggle, and imposes rules that WOACC has described as “conditions for slave labor, not employment in a free society.” Is Osanloo’s abduction related to the meeting he had just chaired? It is too early to tell. However, the meeting did two things that the authorities do not like. First, it condemned an announcement by the government that six members of the SKSV leadership have been “dismissed” and taken into custody. Secondly, it refused a government demand that bus drivers assume responsibility for imposing stricter “hijab” rules by keeping women passengers limited to the two back seats of the bus and forcing women “not dressed according Islamic codes” to disembark. Osanloo told the meeting that it was not up to the government to decide who should lead the union, and called for the immediate release of his colleagues. He also recalled that a bus driver’s task was to drive his passengers to their destinations safely and not to select them according to what they wear. All those who know Osanloo know that he is a voice for wisdom, moderation and peaceful change in a society ridden by potentially explosive contradictions. To silence that voice would be a tragic loss for anyone interested in Iran’s future.

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