Wednesday, February 01, 2006

While Iran Warns Diplomacy Will End, The Strike Continues

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
As Iran's top nuclear negotiator pushed back against international pressure over its uranium enrichment - threatening to block international weapons inspectors - bus drivers in Tehran were ratcheting up pressure from within.

The Sherkat-e Vahed trade union representing the Iranian capital's bus drivers have been on strike since Friday after at least 300 union members from the Tehran bus company and their families were arrested by the regime's security forces. Their efforts received some international attention yesterday with the State Department and Human Rights Watch both issuing harsh statements condemning the forceful crackdowns of the strike leaders. Those statements followed a letter last month from America's largest union, the AFL-CIO urging President Ahmadinejad to release leaders of the union arrested in December.

Iran's point man on its nuclear program, Ali Larijani, was defiant yesterday after learning of a new consensus to refer his country's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. "If the case was referred or reported to the Security Council, we will have to restart all voluntarily suspended work and stop the implementation of the additional protocol." The additional protocol allowed for spot inspections of enrichment facilities, laboratories, and other buildings associated with the program. It was a key factor in persuading Europe and America to forgo referral to the council in 2003, when Iran admitted to a secret enrichment program.

Tuesday morning, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - America, Britain, China, France, and Russia - reached a tentative agreement to refer Iran to the Security Council but not to consider any measures in that body until after the International Atomic Energy Agency releases its final report in Vienna in March. An internal report from that body noted Iran purchased technical outlines and drawings on the black market for the purposes of building a nuclear bomb, according to the Associated Press.

As diplomatic tensions between Iran and the world rise, the developments inside the country among workers, students, ethnic minorities, and disaffected clerics could become the decisive factor in ending the regime that is racing toward mastery of nuclear energy. If Iran's various opposition factors could present a sustained and unified front, then a strategy to support them in the interest of regime change could become a more attractive policy option for the West than bombing, sanctions, or more diplomacy.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the families of bus drivers detained in Evin Prison, Gholamreza Mirzaie, said, "Some have violated the sacred family union by arresting wives and the children of our drivers and in some cases the kids and the mothers were beaten ... This is totally unacceptable and we have tolerated this far and we will not let them violate our families' rights."

The roots of the strike go back to May 9, when the leader of the trade union, Massoud Osanlou, made his first demand for back wages not paid, more benefits, and increased pay. For this act of defiance he was badly beaten by anti-riot police and hospitalized.

According to a January 3 letter from the AFL-CIO's president, John Sweeney, to President Ahmadinejad, "Between March and June 2005, at least 17 workers, including Mansour Osanloo were fired." Seven more leaders were arrested in September protesting the failure to pay back wages. On Friday, the regime made its boldest move yet and arrested scores of potential strike leaders and their families.

An opposition news outlet, Rooz online, reported this week that between 300 and 400 workers have been arrested in the latest crackdown. In one particularly brutal case, security forces raided the home of Yaghub Salimi, another member of the union on January 28. He was not home, but his wife and 2-year-old daughter were. According to Human Rights Watch, Mr. Salimi said his daughter sustained facial injuries from the attack. Nonetheless, opposition figures in Iran say plans will proceed with its planned strike.

"The attempts of these Iranian workers to seek the redress of legitimate grievances and the right to collectively bargain have been met by the Iranian Government with arrests, threats, and intimidation," the State Department yesterday said in a statement.

A spokesman living in America for the Iranian opposition constitutional referendum movement, which has been monitoring the strike closely, Pooya Dayanim said that there are plans underway now for the entire union of 17,000 to go on strike Friday in solidarity with their co-workers now in prison. READ MORE

"The workers in Iran are denied the most basic of human rights. The right to work, to earn a living, and be able to negotiate their salaries. The fact they are asking for labor rights and being tortured and detained and their infant children are being dragged with them to prison is a dramatic example of human rights violations in Iran," he said.