Following the arrest of members of the Steering Committee of the Vahed Bus Company Trade Union around 3000 workers went on strike demanding their leaders' release, union recognition and improved pay and conditions.
At 6am on 22 December 2005 a number of Information Ministry personnel acting under orders from the Tehran prosecutor, a judge named Mortazavi, produced a search warrant at the home of Mr Mansour Ossanlou (the leader of the Steering Committee of the Vahed Bus Company Trade Union). After carrying out a search they arrested Mr Ossanlou and took him to an undisclosed place. At the same time other members of the Steering Committee were also arrested and are still in custody.
At 5am on 25 December 2005, after the nightshift returned their buses to the depots, drivers and other workers of the Vahed Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs went on strike. The strike involved drivers from 10 areas in Tehran with area 6, in west Tehran, acting as the hub.
This was a strike triggered by the arrest of members of the Steering Committee Vahed Bus Company Trade Union. Its roots, however, lie much deeper. The workers said that their demands were based on management's earlier promises on pay and conditions. Management had also agreed to meet workers' representatives every week or 10 days to discuss their issues and concerns. But they broke off these meetings.
Vahed Company strikers
The demand for an independent union
The workers' first demand was the right to form an independent union. The Vahed workers - like many other sections of the Iranian working class - do not want the Islamic Labour Councils to represent them. The authorities' response to this has been to say that the Majles (Islamic parliament) has not yet passed a trade union law!
The strikers also said that these demands are their just rights under the Labour Code and Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as international standards like the International Labour Organization conventions. Article 26 of Constitution says: "The formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations … is permitted provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic republic. No one may be prevented from participating in the aforementioned groups, or be compelled to participate in them." Workers interviewed by a radio station also mentioned ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise) and Convention 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining) as the bases for their demands.
Economic demands – not political
A number of activists and representatives of the Vahed union insisted all along that the strike did not involve any political demands. Ebrahim Madadi, one of the activists of the union, said that according to various economic institutes "compared to 1979 workers [real] wages have fallen by 45%" and what they are asking for are "basic demands".
The workers' economic demands are aimed at raising their wages. Their average wage is so low (around 2000-2500 rials a day) that they are forced to find second and third jobs. This also means that around 80% of them have to live outside Tehran. These economic pressures are disrupting family life and relations between workers and their wives and children. This situation is even contrary to Article 51 of the Labour Code of the Islamic Republic which stipulates that the working day should be limited to eight hours!
Other than pay rises and housing, the demands mentioned by workers' representatives included issues around the job classification schedule and health and safety concerns.
The authorities try to defuse the situation
At 10:30pm on 26 December, Dr Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, met the workers and agreed to hold a meeting with them in City Hall to resolve their issues. He promised that workers arrested during the strike would be released. Following this dozens of workers arrested during the strike by the security forces were released. This left over 17 others in the custody of the Interior Ministry – including the Steering Committee members arrested before the strike.
Later on workers were released in groups of five. During 27 December all workers, including Steering Committee members Said Torabian, Seyyed-Davood Razavi, Yaghoob Salimi, Nasser Gholami, Mostafa Amiri and Javad Kefayati, were released. At present Mansour Ossanlou, the leader of the trade union and the first to be detained is still behind bars.
Dr Ghalibaf also agreed that the management of the company be transferred back to the Mayor's Office (from the local councils) so that workers' grievances can be dealt with effectively. The strike was therefore provisionally ended at 4am on 27 December. It had taken the workers less than two days to secure the release of nearly all of their leaders.
But the strikers have said that they are prepared to go back on strike to make sure that all their just demands are met. They want the release of Mr Ossanlou, their union to be recognised and their pay and conditions improved.
We strongly condemn this anti-trade union and anti-working class act by the Iranian authorities who have yet again targeted this pioneering trade union. Not satisfied with using their thugs from the Islamic Labour Council to beat up these trade unionists and smash their offices, the regime is using all official and 'legal' means at its disposal to stop the unyielding drive by the Vahed workers to build an independent union. It is important to note that when the workers were taken to court the judge had no specific charges to press against them!
The attack on 9 May, when they tried to cut out Mr Ossanlou's tongue, did not deter him or his workmates. His illegal detention on 22 December is yet another move by the regime that will be defeated by mobilising international workers' solidarity for the Vahed Company workers.
Workers' Action Committee (Iran) and Iranian Workers' Solidarity Network
29 December 2005