From Gdansk to Tehran

According to reports coming out of Tehran, security forces last weekend began arresting hundreds of striking bus workers employed by the state-owned Vahed bus company.
The majority of the union leadership is already in jail, and have now been joined by large numbers of ordinary bus workers who refused to return to work.
Most of the detainees are being held in the high-security Evin Prison, notorious for its torture chambers and for the execution of thousands of political prisoners.
In my view, these developments mark an extraordinarily important moment not only for Iran, but for the entire Middle East.

Media coverage of Iran here in the West tends to focus on one thing and one thing only: the possibility of the Islamic regime getting hold of nuclear weapons.
The debate so far has been a sterile one. Is it possible to stop the Tehran regime from becoming a nuclear power by peaceful or military means? Neither seems particularly likely at this moment. A third possibility — the disappearance of that regime — is rarely mentioned.
Up in the stratosphere of great power politics, everyone is watching the IAEA, the UN Security Council, the questions of sanctions and a possible military strike by the US or Israel.
But down on the ground in Tehran, in the bus depots of the Vahed company, the issues are somewhat different.
According to union officials, the brutality of local security forces was “indescribable”. Wives and children of union executive members were arrested, dragged out of bed, beaten up during raids on Friday night. The two-year-old daughter of Yaghoub Salimi was injured in her face in the attack, when she was thrown into a waiting patrol van. Her 12-year-old sister, Mahdiye, described the ordeal in detail in an interview with a foreign radio station.
On Saturday morning, as the workers arrived at the picket lines, they were rounded up, verbally abused, threatened and beaten up to force them to drive the buses.
The international labour movement reacted with widespread condemnation of the arrests. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) issued strong statements. Pickets were held at Iranian embassies in Ottawa and London. National trade union centers like Britain’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) helped organize these events.
LabourStart launched an online campaign at the request of the Iranian workers. Five days after its launch, it has already managed to send off some 4,000 messages to the Iranian president demandin the release of the strikers.
Meanwhile, in Tehran and across Iran, something historic is beginning to happen.
In the bus depots of Tehran and in Evin prison, we may be seeing the beginning of a process which could end with an entirely new kind of society emerging in Iran.
It would not be the first time that strikers triggered a much larger upheaval than anyone was planning on. Think of the ship builders of Gdansk in 1980, or for that matter, the workers of Petrograd in 1917.
Those who want to see democratic regime change in Iran should learn some of the lessons from Iraq. It would have been better had the Iraqis themselves overthrown the Saddam regime.
With Western military intervention in Iran an unlikely scenario, it seems that workers of Tehran may find themselves playing an historic role.
In their struggle for the basic human right to join and form trade unions — recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — they have found themselves in an extraordinary position, confronting the full power of the Islamic regime.
It is not too much to say that the fate of Iran, and of the region as a whole, depends on what happens next.