Tehran Bus Workers challenge the authorities in Iran

 Javad Aslani

 For a brief period, before the Islamic counter revolutionaries consolidated their power, workers in Iran enjoyed a period of relative freedom. Workers’ councils, unions and syndicates sprung up in work places. These independent workers organisation exercised a great deal of power within their industries and work places. In certain places they went as far as taking over the control and management of their units. This situation lasted until summer of 1981 when the Islamic counter revolution seized the initiative and began a systematic offensive against the workers. In a bloody and ruthless onslaught, by arresting, torturing and murdering thousands of labour activists and leading figures within the labour movement they managed to destroy all the workers’ organisations and  install their own puppet Islamic councils. These agent organisations were instrumental in purging the workplaces of real and radical workers’ leaders. It took the regime many years and the pretext of a bloody war with Iraq to establish its authorities in workplaces.

For almost three years, from 1979 to 1981, workers at Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company were organised in an independent Syndicate. The syndicate was actively engaged in promoting workers trade rights and defending their wage and working conditions. Unfortunately the Islamic government disbanded the Syndicate and arrested its leaders and officials in 1981.

Twenty two years later, in 2003, a movement to resurrect the Syndicate was launched. After much painstaking and sacrifices finally in June 2005, in the face of a consorted campaign of intimidation, harassment and destruction of property and resources of the workers at the hands of the Iranian authorities, the first General Assembly of the Bus company’s workers was held and the activities of “Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company” launched. At the time of its first General assembly 8000 workers had signed up. Its membership has now exceeded 10,000 workers. The entire workforce of the Vahed Bus company, in Tehran and Suburbs, are in the region of 17,000. At its constituent General assembly, a Management Committee of 19 people -and 9 substitute members- as well as an inspection team comprising of three members with two substitute members were elected to manage the syndicate. This syndicate remained unrecognised by the government.

 The stand off between the workers and the authorities came to a head on December 22, 2005. In an early morning raid on the homes of seven members of the Management Committee including the secretary of the committee, Mr Mansour Osanlou, were arrested. Later that evening a further six people were arrested. The offices and properties of the Syndicate and the personal computers of some those arrested were also confiscated and taken away. Later that evening six more workers were arrested and imprisoned.

 The initial charges filed against these workers were stated as “setting up an illegal organisation and attempts to organise a strike”.

 The following day the Bus Company workers staged a protest sit-in and announced that they will go on strike if their colleagues are not freed immediately. The sit-in continued on Saturday December 24. By that time the news of the arrest of the Syndicate leaders had spread and a widespread support from different sections of the workers as well as members of the public and students had been generated. The protesting workers issued warnings of declaring a strike should their colleagues not be released immediately. The bus workers strike on Sunday December 25, seemed inevitable.

 The Bus workers’ strike began earlier in the morning of December 25. The strike ground the capital to a halt. It struck a panic in the heart of the authorities. All possible measures were taken to lessen the impact of the strike. They mobilised all the state’s vehicles and their militia forces. Unable to deal with the strike the regime resorted to their usual ploy and adopted a policy of partial retreat and compromise.

Later that day, at 11pm, the mayor of Tehran intervened and in a meeting attended by 4000 strong striking workers. The mayor announced that the director of the bus company has been sacked and he himself taken over the operation of the bus Company. The mayor undertook to meet all the demands of the workers by Thursday. On Wednesday 6 out of the 13 detainees were released. Further sit-in and gatherings in front of the notorious Even prison forced the authorities to release all but Mansour Osanlou, the Secretary of the Syndicate.

 As of today, January 6, 2006, Mansour Osanlou is still behind bars. The office of the syndicate is locked up and its properties confiscated.

 This struggle is still continuing. The workers did not achieve their goals. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this round of confrontation, the working class in Iran has registered an important victory. This was only a battle the war is yet to start.