Monday, March 06, 2006

Workers take on the mullahs. Is the world listening?

Rocket's Brain Trust calls for a blog swarm in support of striking Iranian Bus Drivers,
A MUST READ! - A call for a Blogswarm!

RBT normally does not post articles in their entirity in respect for the intellectual property rights of the creator.

But in this case RBT is making an exception with this WSJ article because of it's important message to the American and Iranian people.
So here it is,
BY ROYA HAKAKIAN
Sunday, March 5, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

The bomb that Tehran's mullahs are allegedly building has already done its damage. For two years now, it has decimated the headlines. In the mushroom cloud of its anticipation, some of the most critical stories in Iran have vanished. "The bomb" is an ingenious design by which to divert any global interest in the country's domestic matters, giving the ruling clerics free rein to devastate opposition with all the brutality they can muster. Among the ruins is an event unprecedented in 27 years: a major strike by the workers of Sherkat-e Vahed, the Union of Workers of the United Bus Company of Tehran.

The union issued a call for a strike to be held on Jan. 28 to demand the release of their leader, Mansour Ossanloo, who has been in prison since December 2005, and to call for legal recognition of the union and a pay increase. The historic significance of the strikers' intentions becomes clear only in light of history: After the 1979 revolution, the regime banned the formation of all independent labor unions, and instead established Islamic guilds, run by the government itself. The guilds failed at gaining the workers' trust, and, therefore, never grew in membership. The bus union, conceived in 1968, disbanded in 1979 and reestablished in 2004, is one of Iran's truly labor-driven entities.

The executive committee's first meeting came under fire. Baton-wielding thugs shouting "The bus syndicate, the monarchs' hideout!" charged in, set their office on fire, beat everyone in attendance, and promised to cut off the tongue of Mr. Ossanloo if he continued his activities. As a sign of their seriousness, they ran a blade over his tongue, shaving a layer off. He has spoken with a lisp ever since.

In every flier and in every interview, the workers emphasized that they were apolitical and did not wish to topple the government, asking only to have some very basic demands met. And their initial demands, as posted on their Spartan Web site, moves even the most casual browser: the delivery of two sets of winter and summer uniforms, plus two pairs of shoes, basic stationary for record keeping, a raise of less than a dollar a day to subsidize lunches, and an assistant for every driver. "In the name of He who created justice," write the organizers, "we hope for the people of the world to hear our plea: Death or Syndicate!"

Days before the strike, several members of the executive committee were summoned to appear before the Revolutionary Court, where they were ordered to call off the strike. When they refused, they were arrested and taken to prison. The officials had declared the strike illegal and threatened to fire all participants. In the days that followed, security forces launched mass arrests of the union members. Those who showed up on the day of the strike were beaten while watching members of the security forces cross their picket line to take their places behind the wheels. In the last week of January, an estimated 1,000 workers were arrested and taken into prison. Though hundreds were released upon signing guarantees that they would not participate in any strikes again, and received permission from the Revolutionary Court to return to work, the company itself refuses to let them back. On the eve of the Iranian New Year, hundreds of these workers have become unemployed. The six union leaders remain in prison incommunicado.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who fashioned himself in the image of an Islamic Robin Hood during last year's presidential campaign, has profoundly betrayed the poor who rallied behind him in the hopes of better living standards. In the process, he has proved to have no regard for any convention, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is a signatory, or even Iran's own constitution, whose Article 26 allows "the formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations." This is the man who, some pundits would have us believe, will honor an agreement over the purpose of Iran's nuclear activities.
What did enlightened people do to support the strikers? Very little. Most Iranian intellectuals, former Marxist activists included, were consumed by polite electronic debates over the Dutch cartoons. Hundreds of striking drivers were arrested, as the cameras of the world's biggest news agencies shot images of the couple of dozen government-paid hoodlums throwing rocks at the Danish embassy in Tehran. Wives and children, even distant relatives of the activists, were hauled off into detention to force the union leaders to turn themselves in, as India's Communist Party threatened to leave the ruling coalition in New Delhi if India voted to refer Iran to the Security Council. Clearly, workers of the world ought to postpone uniting until other scores are settled.

The war against terror is, above all, a war of ideas. But if the terrorists' ideas, be they in the form of the 1979 hostage crisis, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the nuclear issue, or the fury over the depiction of Muhammad, so intensely occupy us--our headlines and our airwaves--doesn't geographical territory become irrelevant? Can we still say that the terrorists have not conquered us? Historians agree that the most significant blow to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was delivered by the 1978 strike of the oil workers, which sparked other unions to join, and ultimately brought Iran's economy to a halt. But when the current regime systematically suppresses information, and the free press of the free world cannot be cured of its chronic fetish for uranium, will Iran's movement for democracy have any hope of gathering momentum?

Ms. Hakakian is author, most recently, of "Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Crown, 2004).

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