May Day in IranMay 01, 2010
Iran Labor Report – While May Day, the International Workers Day, has never been an officially-sanctioned holiday in Iran, workers have nevertheless celebrated it throughout the years, often against heavy police repression. This year, the authorities have banned all gatherings by the independent labor organizations and threatened them with severe punishment. However, the old government-affiliated labor groups have announced a “labor week”, the Green supporters of labor have called for rallies and marches in Tehran and other cities, and, in what promises to be a highly eventful day, more and more labor and pro-labor groups are coming forward with new statements and plans of action for the occasion.
Last May Day, in 2009, independent labor organizations staged a joint gathering at the Park Laleh in Tehran. The gathering was violently broken up by the police and at least 120 people were arrested. The same day, five members of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Workers Syndicate were arrested and sentenced to prison terms while a number of cases were built against Vahed Bus Drivers Syndicate. Aside from these, several labor activists were called in to the intelligence and judiciary centers and were served notifications
This year, the experience of last May Day’s brutal clampdown—along with the unfortunate infighting that ensued from it—plus the admittedly heavy police presence in the country—has prompted most independent labor organizations to call off May Day gatherings. Instead, they are encouraging workers to celebrate the occasion in small numbers at factories and shop-floors. The Ministry of Intelligence, the regular Law Enforcement Agency and the workplace-based Basij militia have all been ordered to stay vigilant and at full alert for any unusual activity.
The government-sanctioned labor groups, meanwhile, have announced a week of ceremonies starting with a gathering at the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini and ending with a staged meeting with Ahmadinejad. Early reports on the first day of the “labor week” indicate that about three thousand workers did gather at the tomb but staged a silent protest with the signs they were carrying. The issues raised ranged from lack of unemployment insurance to the cutting of pensions to the lack of job security. While the gathering was supposed to be held inside the shrine, it was kept outside the shrine itself despite the rainy weather. The police presence was extremely heavy. Jafar Azimzadeh, head of the Free Assembly of the Workers in Iran, said in an interview that the independent labor organizations did not recognize the “week of labor” as legitimate and only considered May Day itself as a day for activity. He attributed the week-long events to the attempts by the government and government-affiliated organizations to put up a show and project a bogus vision of support for the occasion.
The Green supporters of the labor, on the other hand, have called for a march on the Labor Ministry in Tehran as well as gatherings in front of the “Workers Houses” in other cities. The “Organizing Council of the 2010 May Day Celebrations” in a communiqué issued yesterday which lists the workers’ demands, has called for a gathering on the steps of the Labor Ministry at 5:00 p.m. followed by a march to the Revolution Square about a kilometer away. In the provinces, the council has asked for gatherings in front of the labor offices as well. According to the Center of Solidarity with the Families of the Incarcerated and the Fallen, a total of 10 workers have lost their lives in the course of last year’s Green Movement protests following the fraudulent June 12 elections. The Center has called for putting flowers at the tombs of these worker martyrs
For its part, in a recent statement, the Network of Iranian Labor Unions, NILU, which publishes the Iran Labor Report, has called for the widest possible observance of the International Workers Day with a view of turning it into a major organizing drive and a show of unity between the democratic and labor movements. Iran Labor Report will continue to cover these developments on a daily basis as we close in on this potentially historic May Day in Iran.