Dissident Watch: Mansour Osanlou
by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2007, p. 96
On December 22, 2005, several thousand Tehran bus drivers belonging to the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (sharkat-e vahed) went out on strike paralyzing the capital. Their leader, Mansour Osanlou, called the job action to protest government refusal to discuss housing and education benefits, working conditions, and recognition of the union. The strike was the first major independent strike in the Islamic Republic where, since the revolution, the government has served both as the largest employer and the regulator of organized labor representatives.
Iranian security forces responded by arresting Osanlou. They held him without charge, denied him access to a lawyer, and transferred him to Tehran's Evin Prison. Learning of planned protests calling for his release, security forces rounded up the union's board of directors and arrested several hundred workers. The Tehran municipality seized control of the company and dismissed many workers who refused to return to their jobs.
Students and other labor activists sided with the bus drivers. On January 31, the student union at Tehran's Amir Kabir University demanded the "unconditional release" of the arrested workers. To the bemusement of ordinary citizens prevented from riding buses by the refusal of drivers to work, the official daily Kayhan denied that there had been a strike.
The standoff continued for months as the bus drivers continued their protests. On May 1, 2006, several hundred police broke up a peaceful demonstration calling for Osanlou's release and arrested several more students and union activists. Ebrahim Yazdi, the Islamic Republic's first foreign minister, took President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to task for his actions. "Mr. Ahmadinejad, you talk about poverty in America … but they do not imprison workers for going on strike to increase their wages," he declared. "The Vahed bus company workers who strike to increase their wages, face a language of force."
The government crackdown continued into the summer. On July 15, 2006, the Labor Ministry invited six bus drivers and union representatives to negotiate a solution. When the six arrived at the ministry, security forces arrested them. Finally, on August 9, 2006, the Iranian government released Osanlou.
When Osanlou began organizing Tehran's bus drivers, a pro-government vigilante group affiliated with the officially-sanctioned labor organization attacked him and, while holding him down, severed part of his tongue. How ironic, then, that while Osanlou and his allies refused to be silenced, the White House failed to speak up.
Michael Rubin is editor of the Middle East Quarterly and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
 Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA, Tehran), Dec. 25, 2005.
 Shargh (Tehran), Jan. 2, 2006.
 "Iran: Release Workers Arrested for Strike," Human Rights Watch, Jan. 31, 2006; letter from Ebrahim Madadi, vice president of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, to Juan Somavia, director general, International Labor Organization, May 30, 2006.
 ILNA, Feb. 9, 2006.
 National Review Online, June 19, 2006.
 ILNA, Jan. 31, 2006.
 Kayhan (Tehran), Jan. 29, 2006.
 "Free Mansour Osanloo Now!," International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran, May 8, 2006.
 ILNA, May 12, 2006.
 E-mail from a Vahed Bus company representative, July 15, 2006.
 ILNA, Aug. 10, 2006.
 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 24, 2005.
Related Topics: Iran | Michael Rubin | Winter 2007 MEQ
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