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Iran: International Unions Highlight Solidarity With Jailed Labor Leaders

Mansur Osanlu in London in June, shortly before his beating and detention (Courtesy Photo) Thousands of trade unionists, transport workers, and other people around the world have united in a show of solidarity with jailed Iranian labor leaders Mansur Osanlu and Mahmud Salehi.

The "Global Day of Action" took place on March 6 and included rallies in front of Iranian embassies in Australia, Britain, Japan, Ukraine, and other counties.

The events were supported by the International Trade Union Confederation and International Transport Workers' Federation as (ITF) -- global confederations that represent unions in nearly 150 countries -- well as Amnesty International, all of whom have repeatedly called for the two men's release.

Osanlu's case has been compared to that of Lech Walesa and, for some, the international show of support in the case recalls the Cold War-era support by international labor organizations for Poland's Solidarity movement, which ultimately helped topple communism in Eastern Europe.

IFT Secretary-General David Cockroft tells Radio Farda that Osanlu's treatment has become a symbol of the Iranian workers' movement, which has come under intense government pressure.

"We are organizing a series of action days and we continue to organize these action days, because we are doing everything we can to persuade [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad, but also to persuade the entire regime within Iran, [that] their problems in the world are big enough already without concentrating on depriving democratic trade unions of the rights to present their members."

Osanlu is the founder and leader of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. Iranian authorities do not recognize the union, and its members have been harassed and the union's activities have always been restricted.

The 50-year-old Osanlu has been beaten and repeatedly arrested after being accused of acting against the government and national security. He currently is serving a five-year prison term. Rights activist say he is in danger of losing sight in one eye due to previous beatings.

Salehi, a former leader of the Saqez Baker's Union, has also been imprisoned over his labor activities. He too has been charged with acts against national security.

Salehi, who is serving his prison term in Iran's Kurdistan Province, has only one kidney and requires regular medical treatment, but authorities reportedly have not always provided it.

The organizers of the demonstrations and rallies tell Radio Farda that their main demands include the release of Osanlu and other jailed unionists and the free functioning of labor unions. They also want to raise awareness about the dire situation of trade unions in Iran.

Osanlu, who has led the Iranian trade union for two years, has paid a heavy price for his activities. He was first arrested in December 2005 and spent seven month in Tehran's Evin prison for organizing protests by bus drivers who complained of low wages.

The following month, trade unionists and bus drivers had been planning new protests to call for Osanlu's immediate release but authorities arrested several trade-unions activists on the eve of the planned strikes.

Trade unionists and rights activists in Iran and the West have repeatedly called on the Iranian government to free Osanlu and other workers jailed for their peaceful actions.

Although Osanlu was released from Evin under a heavy bail in summer 2006, the government pressure on him has never stopped.

He has been repeatedly detained by security agents. Then, in July 2007, Osanlu was beaten and abducted in Tehran. His family has subsequently been told that he was sent again to Evin.

"Osanlu is a genuine trade union leader who has been working very hard to defend the rights of his members. And the sooner that he is out of jail and allowed to conduct his work in freedom, the better it will be for all of the people of Iran and I would say the better it would be for international reputation of Iranian government."

Critics of the Iranian leadership say the case echoes Soviet officials' persecution of labor activists. Walesa and his Solidarity trade-union movement challenged Poland's former communist regime -- first by staging strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in August 1980. He led the series of nationwide strikes in 1988, a year before Solidarity was and allowed to campaign as a political party.

Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and was elected president of Poland in 1990.