Sunday, January 29, 2006

Bus Drivers Protest Crackdown

Rooz Online:
Iranian security forces violently cracked down the second protest by Tehran’s bus drivers last which in which hundreds of workers and their families were severely beaten up and many were detained and imprisoned at the notorious Evin prison last week. Last week’s strike had been organized by the syndicate of bus drivers to protest the promised but unfulfilled measures of the judiciary and Tehran's municipalities. The latest figures indicate that between 300 to 400 drivers have been arrested.

Despite the tight security measures, syndicate workers and bus drivers' walked off their work on Saturday morning. But soon after that security and military forces attacked the workers, severely beating up and arresting them. The assaults on workers had in fact begun well before Saturday. The first wave of arrests started on Jan 25 when the members of the bus syndicate were arrested. According to the workers' syndicate activists, six of members of the board of directors (BOD) of the syndicate were summoned to a Revolutionary Court by phone. Four of them were arrested in their houses the same night. All six members of the syndicate BOD were interrogated in the Revolutionary Court, then arrested and subsequently transferred to notorious Evin. By Friday Jan 27, more than 60 other members of the syndicate had been arrested and treated as if they were a threat to national security and the military of the country.

After the 1979 revolution, the bus syndicate was ruled to be an illegal association, as were many other workers unions. In response, the government created its own government unions and demanded that workers work with them. This forced the bus syndicate underground, and the civil and trade demands of the workers for all practical purposes were put on hold as the government did not meet the demands of the workers. So the intensification of the workers demands is an understandable event.

In the current atmosphere of the country when Iran is under severe international pressure over its nuclear activities, the government has instructed the press to be cautious in what it prints. Therefore it is not surprising that the local media did not cover the strike and the crackdown. Only a number of independent internet sites and non -government news agencies carried the news. READ MORE

The bus drivers syndicate in Iran is one of the oldest workers organization that was founded in 1968. A year after that, the syndicate recorded the biggest and most memorable strike in its history which was later supported by students, an event that turned into a massive protest movement. It therefore enjoys a special place among workers and civil protests in general. This is another reason why the government is so sensitive and very concerned about the implications of the strike when it began, as it could quickly be joined by other strikers or even a larger bus strike. In fact, last week’s protests were immediately verbally supported by other professional groups. Some issued statements of sympathy, calling on the government to release the imprisoned workers, while others strongly condemned the police. This made the government respond in different ways. Reports from Tehran on Friday suggested that some officials of the bus drivers syndicate in Islamshahr where striking workers had called off work, asked the strikers to call off their strike. Some of the other measures the government tried to break the effect of the strikers was to invite volunteers to sign up to replace the striking bus drivers. It also changed the routes of some of the busses in the capital.

Despite all this, support for the strikers has been growing. Student activists and other professional groups have issued statements of support. Even a number of political prisoners issued such statements from inside prisons, indicating the seriousness of the issue.

As soon as president Ahmadinejad began naming individuals for his cabinet, political observers had warned that the cabinet is going to comprise people from security and military backgrounds, and thus looking at all civil issues from that perspective. They feared that this development would lead to more violent and physical responses to the civic demands of workers and other professionals. So the events of last week in this sense are not completely unpredictable. Some public officials have actually expressed their understanding for the strikers, and Tehran’s municipality is just one.