Mansour Osanlou is one of the most famous trade union leaders of Iran, who was the head of the Tehran bus drivers union. He was emprisonned and tortured several times by the regime for his union activities, and finally released in 2011 for health reasons. He continued his activities underground, and after receiving serious threats, crossed the border illegally to seek refuge in Turkey last february. We met him with famous activist Kouhyar Goudarzi, in the streets of Ankara, on his way to meet friends in Istanbul. He continues to fight for Iranian workers rights from his exile.
“The government never allowed anything to form. It launched policies that degraded the country’s economy very badly during last few years. And as a result of that the most affected has been the working class
Big industries like petrochemistry, mining, metal industry, including steel and copper, which don’t depend so much on international markets, apart form the automotive industry, which is limited to assembly in Iran, were not as affected as much by the international sanctions as the small and medium size entreprises, which were badly hit by the sanctions in many other sectors.
That and the lack of clear economic planning, the lack of people’s contribution in the decision making process, and the lack of a common vision as to building the future, led our country to be more and more polarised day by day. The productive sector of the economy was no longer able to produce, which led to a high rate of redundancy, layoffs and unemployment in the working class
On the other hand, even before the sanctions and the unfruitful policies of the government
affected the country’s economy, there were massive imports of chinese products, both legally and illegally. Mr Ahmadinejad labeled the traffickers as “brother traffickers”. And as highlighted Mr Karoubi, the big commercial ports are controlled by the leaders of the guardians of the revolution. The mere fact of importing such products, especially textile and shoes, but also furniture, home appliances, has generated a lot of unemployment in small and medium entreprises of these sectors. Many went bankrupt and workers were made redundant.
Many people were laid off in the name of restructuring. Those who are still employed are under high economic pressure. Because of the sanctions, the bad economic policies of the government, and the change of subsidy policies.
They have replaced subsidies by small monthly allowances which are delivered to low income families. But they have cut subsidies for basic goods like sugar, rice, bread,or fuel. They have cut these subsidies for the basic needs of people. over the last four years.
Now even according to government statistics, I can claim that for some goods prices have gone up four times.
But the level of income for workers in Iran has risen at the most by 80 percent. So the buying power of working class has decreased by one fourth or one fifth.
And this applies only to employed workers whose employment contract is regulated by labour laws.
A big majority of the workers are working in services and small production companies. And for many of them, the working conditions are not even regulated by the Islamic labour law, and do not comply to minimum wage regulation.
I can strongly claim that a huge proportion or our workers, cannot afford to meet even 10 percent of their basic needs with their salary.
Despite the fact that from 2005 to 2007, and still today, the government has cracked down on workers’ unions, the original kernel of resistance is still there.
The arrests, expulsions, lay-offs, prison threats, lay offs of working class and the whole repression of the society inevitably will affect the dynamic and development of society as a whole and specifically the existence and development of labour movement.
But nevertheless, when people get arrested and are put in prison, they will meet others who are struggling, even though for different causes, they are resisting and they are standing for their rights, and they find themselves with a common and collective experience
This helps them reach the same understanding, and when they get out of prison, they are more mature and more knowledgeable than before.
Question: do you expect anything from these elections ?
In Iran you should always expect the unexpected. I’m saying this because of what has happened before. When nobody thought anything could happen, we say millions of people in the mass protests in 2009, and it lasted 6 months.
And even before that, nobody would predict that after the difficult years of Rasfanjani’s presidency, in 1997, we would have elections where people saw they could get some rights. The aftershock of that is still there. As a result, a large portion of the population became aware of their rights and they spoke for themselves. From then there was a debate about citizens rights, individual rights, the rule of law. We never had this before. And even today, this debate has influenced social, political, legal forums, and even had some weight in the discourse of the government and politicians, included in the political propaganda.
At the present time I wouldn’t say that the election itself can change anything. Or that people will get a chance to chose who they want. But it’s always been the case that in certain situations, like right now with the crisis that we have in the country, and while the government is facing a difficult time internally and internationally, people reached a level of new political awareness.
Bearing in mind there is so much dissatisfaction and pressure within the society, I could expect something to happen, not necessarily during the elections, or even not a little after the elections.
But when there is no stability and balance in the society and there’s a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and on the other hand a widespread and deep political repression, using excessive force in the streets, it creates a critical situation. And in critical situations things might happen than nobody can predict.
As a conclusion, in a society which is in a deep crisis, you could expect the unexpected.