Islamic Repression in Iran - Tehran Bus Workers' Gaoled

Tehran Bus Workers’ struggle

In January bus drivers in Tehran carried out an unusual protest. They displayed photographs of various arrested union members in the windows of their buses and kept their headlights on all day. The workers were demanding freedom to organise and wage increases which had been expected for more than 4 years.

When the security agents of the company and the special government forces tried to block the busses and remove the photographs from the windows and intimidate the drivers brawls broke out. 3 Workers were arrested but released after a few hours. Another 2 workers were later detained.

Earlier on 22nd December 12 union activists were arrested and only 4 released. On 24th during a union meeting other workers were attacked by thugs of the bourgeoisie, probably members of Ansar Hezbollah, and after the incident 14 were arrested. At present they are still in gaol. The following day other workers who protested to obtain the release of their colleagues were also arrested.

The Iranian government is certainly not noted for its respect of human rights, on the contrary it is quick to stamp on the most elementary demand of workers and to accuse them of subversion. But while is necessary to denounce the attitude of the Iranian government, it is also necessary to stress that the principal countries of capitalism have given themselves such legislation that they have no need to envy the laws of Iran in regard to the repression of protests in the name of national interests. At the head of these countries is the US, which, at the same time is the principal supporter of the democratic opposition groups opposing the Iranian regime.

Hundreds Arrested

There are 17,000 bus drivers in Greater Tehran and they get about €200 a month in a country where the poverty line is €270 a month. They began their wage campaign by petitioning the Islamic Council for a rise and were promised a sympathetic response but after years of waiting nothing happened so they organised a sit in in a bus depot last October. Almost immediately the Islamic regime’s “sympathy” turned to intimidation. Workers who were identified as participants in the sit-in received threatening phone calls, implying that they were the pawns of “foreigners”, or the Tudeh (the former Iranian Communist Party which no longer exists). Nothing was done to address the fact that their miserable wages were for very long hours in the appallingly polluted environment of Tehran’s streets.

However the workers did not give in. Instead about 5,000 united in the Union of Tehran Transport Workers and called a strike for January 28th. The repression of the regime now increased. A known leader of the drivers, Mansour Ossanlu, was arrested and put in the notorious Evin prison. This led to protests. More arrests followed these protests. At dawn on the 26th January, just two days before the strike, there was a round-up of more strike leaders by the secret police (Savem). Arriving at the house of Yaghub Salimi and finding him away they beat up his wife and young daughters before carting them off to gaol.

The strike still went ahead. There was a total stoppage in all depots as many of those who had not joined the union also came out. We understand that there were also expressions of solidarity from other workers but we do not have the details at present. The Islamic Regime did not hesitate to imprison workers in their hundreds (estimates vary from 600 to 1,000) denouncing them as tools of just about everybody under the sun but not once recognising that they were driven by their own economic needs.

Political Islam means Capitalist Exploitation

However what they have demonstrated by their struggle far transcends those immediate needs. They have shown that capitalism, whatever the political shape of the regime that it imposes upon us, remains capitalism. It has to force the price of our labour down so that the ruling class, both individually and collectively, can get its hands on the wealth we create. Unlike the students who protested in 1999 the transport workers of Tehran had no political axe to grind. But they have now. The myth that an Islamic republic does away with class divisions, class struggle and all the problems of capitalism has been exposed. Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist platform to look after those “mostazafin” (dispossessed) who were worse off even than under the Shah (see Iran - the Next Target for US Imperialism? in Revolutionary Perspectives 37). Although official unemployment is only 13% this is a gross underestimate. It discounts women, for example, and in European terms would be over 30%. But the repression of the Tehran transport workers does not simply expose the myth of Ahmadinejad “the People’s President”, it also exposes the claims of political Islam to be an alternative to capitalism and socialism. The “organic society” where there are no classes but the rich voluntary give 10% of their wealth to the poor is a society based on the same savage exploitation of human beings.

These strikes also show that the Islamic Republic deprives them of even the most basic rights which capitalism usually grants to the working class. Those who live in the West and claim to be socialist, who do not recognise that the Islamists around the world are not anti-imperialist but simply anti-American, should take note. You are lining up with the enemies of the working class and the working class will one day take its revenge on those who are today its most vicious exploiters. Our enemy is the capitalist mode of production everywhere, whether it wears a pin stripe suit or a mullah’s hat it is still capitalism.

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.