Systematic abuse of worker rights has been a hallmark of the regime in Iran since its very inception. At the heart of the attack against workers is subjection of workers to minimum wage levels, which by the government’s own admission, are one third of the official poverty line, and suppression of workers’ attempts to organise and strike.
The name ‘trade union’ is banned under the Islamic Republic, which has relied on its own handmade ‘Islamic councils of labour’ in workplaces to spy on and keep workers’ protests in check. So when, in 2006, the bus workers in the capital Tehran started reviving their trade union and took strike action for the right to organise and for better pay and conditions, over 1,000 were arrested. Only through powerful protests in Iran and through magnificent international support by workers’ and human rights organisations around the world could many of the arrested be eventually freed. However, Union leaders were subjected to years of persecution, including the executive board member Reza Shahabi, who is still serving a four-year sentence in jail, despite serious medical conditions.
The regime is clearly frightened by the ‘threat’ of worker protests, not only in its attempts to protect the rights of the capitalist class that it represents (the regime itself is made up of billionaire Ayatollahs), but in order to pre-empt it from developing into a political protest that can bring down the entire regime. The regime, which has survived only through mass executions, torture and jailing, is despised by virtually all sections of the society, especially workers who have been driven to abject poverty and subjected to brutal persecution. The regime’s dread of workers’ protests tends to reach its height in particular on such days as May Day and International Women’s Day, as workers start to organise and prepare for independent protests and rallies.
So again this year, in the build up to International Women’s Day, worker leaders were arrested and detained on trumped up charges, and as we are nearing May Day, the regime is stepping up its persecution of labour activists. Early April, two trade unionists, Sharif Saed Panah and Mozaffar Saleh Nia, were given six-month jail sentences each. Labour leaders Reza Shahabi and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, both on temporary medical leave from prison, are due to be returned to prison.
Given the scale of its economic crisis and the widespread poverty following the scrapping of most subsidies and implementation of austerity measures, the regime is clearly frightened by the prospect of mass social protests. The increased persecution of trade union leaders are happening in this context.
Union activists currently in detention (or about to be jailed) include:
• Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a labour and children’s rights activist, who has already served three years of a five-year sentence, while his 14-year old son is in hospital for leukaemia. The extension of his medical leave has been refused
• Mohammad Jarahi, serving a five-year sentence despite a serious medical condition
• Ghaleb Hosseini, detained February 2013
• Rasoul Bodaghi, serving a six-year sentence
• Abdolreza Ghanbari, on death row for taking part in anti-government protests in December 2009
• Shahrokh Zamani, serving an 11-year sentence