Message to trade unionists independent of
governments and employers attending the International Labour Organization's 2023
I am Reza Shahabi, a bus driver in Iran, and a
member of the Board of Directors of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran ans
Suburbs Bus Company (VAHED). I send you my greetings from behind the walls and
bars of Evin prison.
Since 2004, i.e. since our union resumed
activity, my colleagues and I have been arrested, dismissed, imprisoned and
tortured on numerous occasions. From 2010 to 2017, I went to prison for
demanding my rights and fighting for a humane and dignified life. And this,
following false accusations. In prison, I underwent neck and back surgery, due
to beatings and torture.
In May 2022, repression was unleashed against
activists because of :
- Our union activities,
- Our fight for workers' rights,
- Our protests against the miserable level of
wages, for a better life such as for workers’' access to means of subsistence,
housing, healthcare, education...
After International Labour Day 2022, because
of our meetings and exchanges of views between two French teacher trade
unionists and Iranian activists (together with trade unionists, pensioners,
writers, women, students, etc.), we were arrested and as in the past, we had to
deal with false testimony, as well as fictitious and misleading accusations.
Some activists are currently either in prison
or awaiting sentencing:
- Reza Shahabi, Dawood Razavi, Hassan Saeedi
of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Workers' Union,
- Keyvan Mohtadi and Anisha Asdolahi, English
teachers and translators from the VAHED union,
- Reyhane Ansarinejad, union activist,
- Jaleh Roohzad, retired teacher-activist,
- Rasool Bodaghi, Jafar Ebrahimi, Mohammad
Habibi, Masoud Nikkhah, Eskander Lotfi, Sha'ban Mohammadi, members of education
- AS well as a number of sympathizers and
children of employees.
Comrades and dear colleagues,
Since its inception, the regime in power in
our country has resorted to open and brutal repression against the whole world
of working people.
Its first measure was to abolish the concepts
of trade union and independent trade union organization from the law. They
replaced them with state-subsidized organizations such as the Workers' House,
the Islamic Labour Council and the Assembly of Workers' Representatives.
All these organizations operate under the
supervision and direction of the government. They act as secret police in
factories and workshops, ensuring that workers' protests go unheard.
They identify protesting workers and report
them to the security forces or to management. In the provincial bus sector, for
example, Islamic labour councils have reported drivers taking part in
demonstrations to regional security institutions.
On the orders of the security forces, they
also report protesting workers who demand their rights and bring them to the
so-called "Labour Discipline Committees". These workers are then dismissed on
the orders of the security authorities, as is the case with us at the Tehran and
Suburbs Bus Company.
We ourselves are among the workers dismissed
in this way. We were dismissed, arrested and imprisoned by the security forces.
On the one hand for having organized an independent trade union, in accordance
with ILO conventions 87 and 98. On the other, because of our demands for a fair
life, the implementation of new classifications and pay scales, fair recognition
of the arduous nature of our jobs, and so on. We were dismissed on the basis of
false reports from members of the Islamic Labour Council and the Workers' House.
And now we are imprisoned again for the same reasons.
So-called Iranian trade unionists are also
attending your conference. They are not the legitimate representatives of the
workers of Iran. They were not chosen through a democratic process free from
interference by the security forces and employers, but out of fear of being
sacked by management. These people were not elected, or the vote was fictitious.
These so-called trade unionists do whatever
the employer and the government ask of them. And they do so solely in their own
interests, to take advantage of the privileges and facilities made available to
them by those in power.
They have never been on the side of the
workers; on the contrary, they have constantly acted against their interests.
It's no secret that they are an instrument in the hands of employers and the
government's security apparatus. They are a "signature machine" to confirm
dismissals and justify repressive legal proceedings against working-class
activists. The pain of Iran's workers is great and beyond comprehension.
Dear colleagues, our final message is as
The Iranian government has signed up to the
ILO's international conventions and covenants, including the fundamental ones
that are binding on all member states.
Not only does it fail to apply them, but it is
setting up harsher and more inhumane conditions for all employees, men and women
alike, in all workshops, schools, hospitals, temporary employment agencies and
private sector companies.
What's more, the government's speculative and
rentier policy has created galloping inflation, resulting in low purchasing
power for employees. And even when they have a job, wage labourers are unable to
pay certain monthly expenses, such as housing rent. The fear of dismissal,
imprisonment and whipping, in case of protesting, adds to these inhumane
Not only do workers have no say in world
summits on wage-earning, they also find that important positions in these
institutions are held by the very people responsible for their miserable lives.
The authorities do not allow the formation of
trade unions and independent organizations. It makes the right to strike a crime
against state security. It does not allow the election of employee
representatives within a democratic framework. Every time the voice of workers'
protest is raised, it responds with dismissal, imprisonment, whipping and
torture. This same security apparatus sends its own representatives, labelled as
trade unionists, to international forums, including ILO meetings.
Is it possible for the same person to remain
general secretary of the "Workers' House" for almost three decades, and at the
same time be a member of parliament for 6 terms? And all this while the
existence of rigid and selective electoral filters is common knowledge? And all
this time, Parliament has taken countless decisions against workers.
What about the members of the Workers' House
and Islamic Councils who played a direct role in the repression of the general
assembly of Tehran bus company staff? They consider it their honour and duty to
serve those in power. But how is it possible to claim that they can
simultaneously represent the workers of Iran? How can we trust these people who
would have been considered for election to the ILO Governing Body, its
committees or working groups?
I ask every independent trade unionist present
at the ILO summit to consider the demands of the oppressed and deprived workers
of Iran, who are trying to survive in unequal conditions with minimal
possibilities for action.
In recent times, the world has clearly
witnessed dramatic events concerning the oppression, exploitation and use of
endless violence against workers, young people, women and minorities in this
country. Repeated accusations have been levelled against us, such as that of
undermining state security and other false accusations. It is not possible to
wash the bloody hands of these people.
We ask you to stand by the workers of Iran:
- Not to accept the presence of those state
security agents who have been sent to the ILO assembly as representatives of the
workers of Iran, and who would have been expected to take up positions on the
Governing Body, its committees or working groups,
- Demand their departure,
- Openly call for the release of all
imprisoned workers and trade unionists,
- To demand the full implementation of
International Labour Organization conventions, notably those concerning the
right to strike, to organize, to bargain collectively and to freedom of
Evin Prison, Tehran