Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Iranian Workers: Address Our Problems Instead of Nuclear Energy

Navid Ahmadi, Rooz Online:
A large group had come. People were moving to the former US embassy in Tehran from all directions. There was no end to the number of busses around. They came from Islam Shahr, Qazvin, Ardebil, Qom, Karaj, Zanjan, Kashan, Fars etc. Government buses has brought in workers to demonstrate their support for nuclear energy. But it did not turn out that way!

The procession of the workers on May 1, the international workers day, was initially calm. So much that some of the police even made fun of them asking,How come you have become so polite this year?” There were also placards in support of workers rights, Iran’s nuclear rights, and portraits of the leader of the Islamic regime and those of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Workers from different industries such as textiles from Qom, Mazandaran, and Kurdistan too participated in the march.

The march began from two points in the capital: Palestine square and Shariati avenue, both converged at the former US embassy. This site had been pre-selected by the ministry of interior. But as the workers came to the embassy, their cries were different from what the officials had planned. So much that nobody heard the cries of the official leaders, i.e. Mahjoob and Ali Rabii. Because they were not speaking the minds of the workers. Workers called them “traitors” and “government men.”

And as each of the two began a speech to the crowds, many shouted them down with different slogans and calls: Workers representatives must come from amid workers.” But Ali Reza Mahjoob who is the official appointee to the Khane Kargar (House of Workers, an organization created by the government to organize supportive labor, which is questioned by workers) disregarded what the participants were calling for and instead praised the nuclear achievements and policies of the government, while condemning the insulting Danish cartoons of prophet Mohammad. “Ms Condoleezza Rice and some organizations opposing Khane Kargar are striving to weaken Khane Kargar,” he said, adding that if those who criticized this organization genuinely desired to improve the labor laws, they would support them, but if not then they would be confronted.

At this point parts of the crowd called slogans in support of nuclear energy and others supported the Khane Kargar. But then suddenly things began to change. Some in the crowd broke away and started an argument leading to scuffles. Someone shouted, “Workers who are here today were selected by the government to come and have given promises of not violate the plans, but there are also others who have come here, and who have not been selected but have come here despite the wishes of their employers and managers so that they can voice their concerns.”

With those words, a division gradually grew between what initially appeared to be a homogenous group. A group that broke away which was large in numbers chanted slogans criticizing employment and selection procedures while others protested being asked to give pledge of participating in the march. Still others made calls for improving their professional and trade terms and conditions.

And as is usual under the circumstances, then came the security forces and began to disperse the crowds. They used loud speakers to request the crowds to break up. One police man was heard saying, “What a shame that they have instructed us not to do anything that would make you angry.”

And as the crowds arrived at Palestine square, workers were clearly unanimous in their shouts oftoday is a day of mourning, because Iran’s workers are mourning.” By this point, the workers were completely surrounded by security forces that had ringed around them. Someone heard parts of the communications that went on between security force commanders and their supporters. In one instant a person heard the radio of a commander say, “Try to disperse them but do not do anything violent.” But the crowds were not dispersing and continued to walk on Taleghani avenue and to chant slogans calling for the workers rights and improvement of their living conditions.

At the former US embassy, which on Taleghani avenue, before the official ceremony ended, a group of workers chanted their own slogans, disrupting the event and moving towards the official speakers. Some called for the resignation of the minister of labor, while a few others climbed the stands where the podium was and stopped the event altogether for a while.

This is when some plain-clothes men approached those on the stand and forcefully removed them from there, inflicting injuries on them. The protesting workers then rushed to the area that was reserved for reporters and there chanted their slogans, and called for greater media attention to their problems and criticized them for failing to do so.

At the end of the ceremony, a communiqué was read out which referenced some issues of workers while also making supportive statements on the nuclear energy issue. The statement also was supportive of Khane Kargar and said, “Any measure against this organization is condemned by workers and would be reciprocated by them.”
When will the rest of the mainstream media report on this?