Iran: Fight for free and independent organization of workers

By Mila Mossafer, Nader Sadeh | April 1, 2007

The 25th of December last year was the first anniversary of the grandiose, historic strike of the workers of the bus company Vahed in Tehran and the surrounding area. In the early morning of this day of strikes, the strikers were arrested. This strike has been remembered by many people as an organized, conscious, and independent action of part of the Iranian working class.

Anniversary of a strike
The 25th of December last year was the first anniversary of the grandiose, historic strike of the workers of the bus company Vahed in Tehran and the surrounding area. In the early morning of this day of strikes, the strikers were arrested. This strike has been remembered by many people as an organized, conscious, and independent action of part of the Iranian working class.

A year has passed since the persecution, intimidation and arrest of the workers’ activists, the dismissals into unemployment and the ensuing hardship that weighs on the workers and their families. But the continuation of the struggles of the Iranian workers, despite these terrible circumstances, has once again shown that the liberation of the workers in Iran is in their own hands. For this struggle arises from the most elementary experiences with the situation of the workers in Iranian capitalist society, and is directed against the lowering of the standard of living of the vast majority of society and against the absolute power of the capitalists – be they private capitalists or the Islamic State as the greatest labor”. For this reason, all struggles and every demand of the workers will meet with the resistance of political power. In this struggle, the workers grow daily awareness of the necessity of economic and political self-liberation. They will no longer be intimidated by the dismissals, arrests, convictions, and the setting of unaffordable bails used to prevent them from fighting them.

Until now, the Islamic regime has tried to prevent the establishment of independent trade unions by setting up the “Islamic councils”, the establishment of the “House of Workers” and with legal obstacles. In addition, the regime wants to interfere in the workers’ affairs and identify the workers’ activists by using its V-people from the ranks of the security police and the secret service in the workplace. The regime, with its self-staged workers’ organizations, wants to control the struggles of the workers, even their most elementary demands, and to manipulate the industrial struggle in its sense with the interference of its elements. The repressive policy has been weakened after three decades of conspiratorial and open struggle of the workers. Against this background, the labor movement in Iran, as a self-confident movement, is ready to usher in a new epoch in its class struggle against capital.

Tehran bus company

The Tehran Bus Operating Company was founded in 1927 and is now controlled by Tehran City Hall. This company has more than 5000 buses and is able to transport 4 million people a day. Today, there are already discussions about the privatization of the Tehran bus company. This was recommended in the five-year plan for 2001-2005. Three important factors are cited for the privatization of the company: property rights, management and control.

It appears that the state wants to privatize property rights and management, but not control. The mayor of Tehran, Mohamad Bagher Ghalibaf, said in a recent interview: “We want to privatize all buses in the future” … We must bear in mind that ‘management’ and then ‘ownership’ are left first. Ghalibaf first tried in a demagogic way last year to silence the striking workers. Shortly thereafter, he declared war on the Tehran bus trade union and declared that the union was illegal.

The workers and bus drivers have then re-created their union in order to increase their resilience against the state as an employer. This union is a trade union that has joined half of the workforce of 16 000 employees. Due to the struggle and resistance of the trade union activists against the secret service and the police, and as a result of the perseverance of the workers’ struggles for their demands at the national and international level, their trade union has been recognized. She is a member of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The trade union of the Tehran bus company

Ebrahim Madadi, the vice-president of the union, explained in a telephone conference with the chairman of the DGB in Lower Saxony, Sebastian Wertmüller, about the founding history of the union: “The union of workers of the Tehran bus company transports more than 4 million passengers every day as the largest inner-city transport organization in Tehran.

This transport organization was founded in 1951 with the help of the Germans, and their buses were built from the very beginning by the company Mercedes Benz. The German engineers have contributed to the training of the Iranian workforce and the installation of the technology. In the first years, they worked in Iran themselves. After the CIA-backed coup in 1953, the activities of independent trade unions were banned. But a few years later, thanks to the effect of pressure from home and abroad, trade union work was also legally accepted. At the end of the 1950s, the activity of the bus drivers’ union was resumed with the support of the old trade union activists. The union was headed by Sara Kharjan, an Iranian Armenian. During this time, activities began to defend the workers’ demands. However, this commitment lasted no longer than 5 to 6 years, and again the union’s activities were banned for reasons of state policy. Unfortunately, the idea of free trade union work in Iran has never been realized. Such activities, as are possible in other countries, have always been the target of the secret police.

Despite all the repression of the secret police, the workers tried to re-establish their independent union. Thus, the workers of the Tehran bus company have established syndicates of the various areas of the company, etc. the syndicates of technical workers, bus drivers’ assistants, ticket sellers and, above all, the syndicate of bus drivers. The regime sought to capture the syndicates and smuggle in
the SAVAK officials (SAVAK was the home of the Shah regime).

In the 1970s, at the same time as the growth of the economy and industry, the problems in the world of work grew once again, and again there were protests by the workers, which resulted in some strikes within the Tehran bus company. For a few days, even the striking bus drivers were replaced by military personnel of the Shah regime. In one of the strikes, the situation had become so acute that the Shah had to personally induce the military to be taken out of the game, and the demands of the workers were met. Despite all the police reprisals, the syndicate had succeeded in signing a collective bargaining agreement at that time. This coat tariff was such a pleasing point that it also attracted a lot of attention in other places.

During the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Iranian trade unions had tried to reinstall themselves in the absence of police repression. Unfortunately, three years after the revolution, trade union work was banned in Iran, and some of the leaders of the bus drivers’ union were arrested.

When the trade unions became active again, some bus drivers, including Mansour Ossanlou and Ebrahim Madadi, were targeted by the secret service. Their involvement was not even illegal. Some bus drivers were arrested or released. In May 2005, workers’ activists were beaten up by the members of the so-called “House of Workers” and in front of the police and intelligence officers. In this brawl, Ossanlou was stabbed in the tongue and face. Ebrahim Madadi and other union activists were beaten up. This brawl was organized and took place under the eyes of the police, who were still supporting the attackers. None of them were arrested, and they were all able to leave the scene of the brawl in good health. In contrast, Ossanlou was interrogated despite the injury. One of the attackers, Akbar Eyvasi, was recognized by the workers. He is a member of the Islamic Labour Councils and a member of the ILO’s workers’ delegation. In response to protests by the Tehran Bus Company Union, he was not accredited to THE ILO, but sent home.”

Ebrahim Madadi, vice-president of the trade union of the bus operating company of Tehran and the surrounding area, says: “At the beginning of 2005 we called for a 24-hour strike, after, among other things, our wage demands had not been taken into account. As a result of the strike, the leaders of the Tehran bus union Mansour Ossanlou and 16 other members of the union’s executive committee were arrested. Twenty-one months ago, the beaten-up union activists sued the attackers, and they have been waiting for their rights ever since. The attackers run around freely and are supported by the government.

In February 2006, a strike was held again for the trade union demands and for the release of Mansour Ossanlou. After that, 500 people were arrested and 50 of those arrested were suspended from work. Although the workers have the right to complain to the Ministry of Labor about their dismissals, this ministry has refused to accept the claims for 12 months. The secret police and the Ministry of Information play an active role in this matter. They intend to use psychological and financial pressure to force the union activists and their leaders to give up their struggle. The dismissed workers are shadowed by the secret police. Bus drivers and workers who contact the union activists are immediately summoned and threatened with dismissal.”

A union in the fight against its oppression

On February 15, 2007, the international day in support of Iranian workers, the trade union of the bus company Vahed thanked the ITUC, ILO, ITF, CGT, CLC, the DGB and other workers’ groups and activists, saying, among other things: “The dismissals of 360,000 workers in 2006 show that the Iranian Ministry of Labor does not comply with the international conventions of the ILO. The Vahed union is currently suffering worse intelligence, police and economic reprisals than ever before. Threats and intimidation of the workers by the secret police of the bus company Vahed continue. The representative of the Tehran mayor, Ahmadi Bafandeh, said to the workers of Vahed: “Recently, the union distributed appeals for donations among the workers. Reports those who have donated money to the union. We will sack them.” Workers are being pressured to cut off their contact with the union. The president of the union, Mansour Ossanlou, was summoned to the 14th Chamber of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on 24 February 2007. For a month after his release, he has been under constant pressure to resign from his position as president of the union. Judge Haddad threatened him that he would face two new charges every day.

The active trade unionists, who have been suspended for a year, continue their activities and act very quickly when it comes to important events affecting the workers. The union’s homepage is quickly updated and includes all press and other statements that are simultaneously translated into other languages and made available to workers’ activists worldwide. In addition, broadly networked workers’ activists inside and outside the country are working in solidarity with Iranian workers.

All attempts by the Islamic regime to censor the news of the union’s national and international activities have not been successful. These messages are being disseminated. This is a new experience for the entire working class in Iran. In this country, daily protests are taking place against the delay in wage payments, against mass redundancies and for more wages. For the year 2006 etc.. 1200 strikes and protests of the workers were officially reported. It has been statistically proven that the protesting against employers and the state take place not only in Tehran, but throughout the major industrial cities. This explains why, in addition to the trade union of the Tehran bus company, dozens of groups and workers’ associations have been founded. The fact that it is not alone in its struggle can give the Vahed trade union even more strength.

These are the still unfulfilled demands of the Tehran bus drivers addressed to the employers:

  1. Return to work of all colleagues who have been suspended from work because of their commitment to the rights of their colleagues.
  2. Increase wages up to the level a family of four needs for a living.
  3. Termination of the temporary contracts of all bus drivers and workers, issue of milk and lunch.
  4. Periodic meeting of the trade union representatives with the mayor to plan and eliminate the general problems of the workers of the Tehran bus company.
  5. Elimination of the housing problems of the workers, establishment of building cooperatives and granting of building loans.
  6. Ensuring the livelihood of temporary drivers, setting up a driving service for early and late bus drivers.
  7. Standardization of the factory halls in terms of hygiene, road markings, etc.
  8. Abolition of the different treatment of the workers of the Tehran bus company and the city administration in housing benefit, child benefit and health insurance matters.
  9. Stop housing for Vahed workers on the old workshop site No. 2 opposite the central building of the Vahed.

The trade union activists are committed to the realization of these demands because they are part of the demands that the workers of Iran suffer from non-fulfilment.

Yousef Molaei, Mansour Ossanlou’s lawyer, has announced that his client has been charged with “activities against national security. On February 15, 2007, Mansour Ossanlou describes the catastrophic economic situation and the reprisals against the Iranian workers in his article “The Situation of the Working Class and the Workers’ Movement in Iran”:

“In recent years, the restriction of workers’ rights has increased. Temporary contracts even replace permanent employment contracts in contra-applicable employment law. The owners of capital and industry take advantage of the ruling circles and brutally exploit the workers. The policy of regulating the economy, in parallel with the dictated policies of international capitalism by its institutions, the World Bank and the IMF, which promote the policies of multinational cartels and international corporations, and the securities system, is planning the economies of developing countries in such a way that wage levels in these countries can be brutally lowered. This policy enables international capital to exploit cheap labor in the developing countries on the ground or in the industrialized countries themselves. Or transfer natural heavy industries and technologies – such as. B. steel, chemical or petrochemical industries, etc. – to Africa, Latin America, and South Asia to take advantage of cheap and unorganized labor and shift the crisis to these continents.

The policy of regulating the economy in our country ran in this direction of the imperialist international. This is the result of the destruction of hundreds of thousands of types of work and the unemployment of several million young and now well-educated people.

An analysis of the demands and elementary rights of the workers from a worker’s point of view

A workers’ activist, Kazem Faradschollahi, has demonstrated in an analysis of the professional and social rights of the workers that Iranian workers are forced to live below the poverty line. Economists have defined the poverty line in Iran at €240 per month, while the High Labor Council has set the minimum wage at just €150. In addition, workers must live with the problem of late wage payments.1

Further results of kazem Faradschollahi’s investigation: Since mid-March 2006, 118 violations of Section 37 of the Labor Act, which stipulates wage payments at regular intervals, have taken place. These violations are spread over delays in the payment of wages, salaries, other eligible monetary claims, special old-age or pension payments for more than 26 000 wage earners from 108 factories and industrial enterprises who had to wait up to 26 months between March and August 2006, and in one case even 36 months for their money.

In the second half of 2006, 20 549 workers from 91 companies and factories were made redundant. The Ministry of Labor reports 120,000 redundancies. According to official statistics, 2.4 million people are out of work. The free sources estimate the number of people without work at 3.6 million. Only 5% of the unemployed enjoy the right to unemployment benefit and health insurance. It is worth noting that 175 workers have been made redundant from 13 factories as a reason of their struggle for labor rights claims. Six working organizations have been dissolved. The last example relates to the dismissal of 35 workers of the Tehran bus company. The Iranian Ministry of Labor ordered the dismissal of 35 of the company’s 50 suspended workers. These workers had been suspended without pay for more than a year because of their union activities.

One of the leaders of the “House of Workers”, Esmail Haghparasti, said in an interview with the journalist of the pro-government employment news agency ILNA on 9 February 2007: “Labor and the economy are in crisis, and a very bad situation has arisen for the country’s workers, which can only be overcome with God’s help.” He added that the country’s factories and factories were either closed as a result of the catastrophic and destructive privatizations, or had to deal with 1001 problems, which consisted of unfulfilled demands of the workers and unredeemed slogans of those responsible. Haghparasti went on to say on the issue in Tehran that the province of Tehran is no exception. In 2006, tens of thousands of workers were unemployed as a result of the closure of several factories. Referring to a 25% unemployment rate in Tehran, he added that the Deputy Minister of Labor put the number of people made redundant from factories at 50,000 in the first half of the year. According to Haghparasti, the number of unemployed has increased due to the closure of factories and the problems of other factories.

The current situation and the perspective

This miserable economic situation certainly affects other social groups or the majority of the country’s people. People were in this situation when Ahmadi-Nejad was elected president with populist slogans and, thanks to the clashes within the authorities. He has promised people a good standard of living. But during his tenure, people are suffering from catastrophic living conditions despite the increase in oil revenues. Every resistance and protest is suppressed and punished in the strongest possible terms.

The workers’ activists are increasingly threatened with persecution and arrest. For the state and employers do
not tolerate free workers’ organizations. Nevertheless, as part of the social and class movements, the workers’ activists are aware that self-organization is the most important building block for mobilizing social protests for the elementary rights.

With organization, the balance of forces can be changed for the benefit of the workers’ front over capital. It’s a hard road, but there’s no escape. For this reason, the task of reorganizing trade union work is on the agenda of workers’ activists. It is a movement that has the experience of several generations. In recent times, international support has strengthened this movement and increased the awareness of the workers.

In many other countries, Iranians living in exile work together with leftist, socialist and other currents to organize this movement. In solidarity with the Iranian labor movement, they participate in the solidarity groups and committees. The central task of these bodies is to support the workers’ struggles in Iran and to connect with the workers’ activists worldwide.

In Germany, too, there are now solidarity committees in the cities of Berlin, Hanover, Hamburg and Cologne that are actively working. They spread some publications with proletarian messages. These activities are a clear sign that, at this stage, we are dealing with the qualitative progress of the labor movement in Iran – a development that has turned the renewed active commitment to the organization of workers in Iran as in other countries into a life task. It must definitely be possible to achieve this objective with an anti-capitalist strategy that rejects all unjust political and economic systems.

The Iranian workers’ activists very much welcome the exchange of information and cooperation. It is also clear that our fighting conditions and paths are not the same everywhere. But the labor movement is an international movement. The common interests of the world’s workers dictate to all of us to try our best to achieve an international union. The level of independent organization and struggle of the workers of the various branches of the economy in Iran as well as the course of the class struggle will determine how far the labor “donors” and the state will withdraw, and to what extent the demands of the workers in Iran can be realized. This will give rise to the situation and the role of the bus operator’s union in and around Tehran, and that will determine its future.


  1. In this context, it must be added that on 31 January this year the Deputy Minister for Social Affairs officially admitted that four million people were starving in Iran. On 4 February 2007, the regime’s news sources reported on the increase in poverty and the fact that 20 million people are now living below the poverty line.


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