Iran's clerical regime is cracking down on the country's growing labor movement.
In Tehran on International Labor Day, hundreds of workers separated themselves from a government-sanctioned rally and marched toward Haft Tir square shouting anti-regime slogans. They called for the resignation of the Labor Minister, Mohammad Jahromi, and demanded the release of imprisoned union leaders. Security forces clashed with the protestors, and scores were arrested. There was an attempt to detain Mansour Osanloo, president of Tehran's bus workers' union but he was released when security forces were confronted by an angry crowd. Mr. Osanloo spent months in prison in 2006 after several thousand bus-drivers went on strike in December 2005 protesting working conditions and low pay.
Amnesty International reported that May Day demonstrations were also violently broken up in the city of Sanandaj, the capital of Kordestan province in north-western Iran. According to Amnesty International, "Behzad Sohrabi and Hassan Qaderi, workers rights activists, were reportedly beaten and injured, while Sedigh Karimi, a member of the board of directors of the Union of Unemployed and Dismissed Workers, and Khaled Rasouli, deputy director of the same organization, were detained by Intelligence Ministry officials."
The May Day arrests were part of an on-going campaign of repression. In March, hundreds of protesting teachers and their union representatives were arrested. In April, Mahmoud Salehi, a leading labor activist and head of Bakery Workers Cooperative Society, was arrested and sentenced to a year in Sanandaj prison. Mr. Salehi has already spent close to five years in jail because of union activities.
President George W. Bush has spoken about the plight of such labor leaders when he commented on the struggle taking place in the Middle East between the forces of moderation and extremism. The extremists, said Mr. Bush, reject fundamental freedoms and seek to impose totalitarian rule:
"We see this struggle in Iran, where a reactionary regime subjugates its proud people, arrests free trade union leaders, and uses Iran's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue nuclear weapons."
The answer to such extremism, says Mr. Bush, is liberty. "It's necessary for free societies to emerge – free societies in the image of a country's own history and tradition."