Mar 10, 2008

Iran: Is The Constitution Worth Its Paper?

The continued incarceration of two trade union leaders show that not even lip service is being paid to Iran’s constitution.

The continued incarceration of two trade union leaders show that not even lip service is being paid to Iran’s constitution.

Below is an article written by Peter Tatchall and published by The Guardian:

Today [6 March 2008] is Free Osanloo Action Day, which will be marked by protests worldwide to demand the release of the imprisoned Iranian trade union leaders, Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi.

Independent trade unions are banned in Iran. Only state-sponsored labour councils are permitted and, to ensure their loyalty to the state, there are restrictions on who can stand for election to these councils. They are, in effect, instruments of the state for the purpose of controlling and pacifying worker discontent. This corporatist, anti-union character of the Iranian state bears many of the hallmarks of a fascist regime.

Osanloo and Salehi are not the only victims. In the last three weeks, several workers have been fined and flogged in the city of Sanandaj, according to a report by the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers of Iran. Their crime? Taking part in May Day celebrations in 2007, which the mullahs deem to be "anti-Islamic."

Today's protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London is a timely solidarity with Osanloo, Salehi and all the workers of Iran. It is coordinated by the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Trade Union Confederation, and supported by the Trades Union Congress and the unions Aslef, GMB, RMT, TSSA, Unison and Unite.

Similar protests are taking place in more than 40 countries worldwide, involving hundreds of thousands of trade union members.


Both Osanloo and Salehi have suffered sustained persecution by the Iranian authorities for campaigning peacefully and lawfully for workers' rights. They have been beaten, denied medical treatment and imprisoned because of their legitimate activities as trade union organisers.

Mansour Osanlu was jailed on 10 July 2007 and Mahmoud Salehi began his sentence on 9 April 2007.

Amnesty International has declared the men to be prisoners of conscience.

The trade union campaign group, LabourStart, is urging people worldwide to write to the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to urge their release. You can sign the LabourStart petition here:

Mansour Osanloo is the head of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company trade union. He spent nine months in detention in 2005 and 2006 for his union activities. Last July [2007], while bailed and awaiting trial, he was seized, beaten, abducted and incarcerated in Tehran's notorious hell-hole, Evin Prison. He has been refused medical treatment and his health is deteriorating.

Mansour Osanloo's union is not recognised by the Iranian authorities. It has been subject to repeated harassment. In January 2006, around 1,000 members were arrested for going on strike to demand union recognition and Osanloo's release from an earlier period of detention.

Mahmoud Salehi is spokesman for the Organisational Committee to Establish Trade Unions, a former President of the Saqez Bakery Workers' Association and co-founder of the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers' Organisations.

He was arrested after a peaceful demonstration to celebrate May Day 2004 but subsequently released on bail. In 2005 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment and three years internal exile. At his trial his union activities and meetings with foreign unions were cited as evidence against him. His conviction was then overturned but after a retrial he was sentenced on 11 November 2006 to four years' imprisonment for "conspiring to commit crimes against national security", later reduced to one year's imprisonment and a three-year suspended sentence. He was jailed again in April last year [2007].


Tehran stands accused of flagrant violation of its professed commitment to honour international labour and human rights law.

It is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 22 (1) states: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

Article 26 of Iran's Constitution states: "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."

Similar guarantees are provided under International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

Sadly, these are meaningless, ineffectual paper commitments by Tehran, not dissimilar to the democratic-in-name-only constitution of Stalin's USSR.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch documents the intensifying repression against trade union and other civil society activists.

Mirroring the way much of the world showed solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, today's protests strengthen global solidarity with Iran's heroic trade unionists.

What next? How about international solidarity with Iran's equally heroic human rights defenders, womens rights activists and oppressed national minorities - the Arabs, Baluchs and Kurds?