In 1933, the world’s trade unions forced Germany out of the ILO – let’s do the same today to Iran

Nazi 'labour leader' Robert Ley. Iran's 'worker delegates' to the ILO are his successors today.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a clerical fascist regime. It is essentially no different from the fascist regimes we know from history – Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and most infamously, Hitler’s Germany. It is a regime that has no claim to legitimacy as it does not rule with the consent of its people. It rules by terror and terror alone.

In 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power, he crushed the German trade union movement and set up a state-controlled labour front instead. Only a few days after his thugs seized control of union buildings and jailed trade unionists, the International Labour Conference convened in Geneva. This conference, which is the decision making body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), is filled with representatives of governments, employers and trade unions.

That year, the Germans attempted to seat a delegation from the newly-created state labour front. The international trade union movement united to fight against this. While governments, including the British government, had no objection to Hitler’s Nazis being seated at the conference, the trade unionists blocked the seating of the so-called worker delegates from Germany.

As the leader of the French trade unions said at the time, “jailers never have the right to represent prisoners”. The entire German delegation was forced to return to Berlin, and the country withdrew from the ILO later that year.

As a recent book put it, “The ILO was the first international organization to refuse recognition to the Nazi dictatorship.” And this was done through the Workers Group of the ILO, without relying on governments or employers.

Which brings me to the present day.

The ILO still exists, the International Labour Conference still convenes every June in Geneva, and every year, the clerical fascist regime in Iran sends a delegation of so-called workers’ representatives to take their seats as part of the Workers Group. These delegates do not represent the workers; they represent the regime.

They are today, as were the German delegates back in 1933, jailers being given the right to represent prisoners.

This cannot continue. I believe the time has come to launch a massive grassroots campaign in the world’s trade unions, to demand that the Workers Group in the ILO — which is dominated by unions affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation — repeat now what our comrades did in 1933.

We must demand that the Iranian regime free all political prisoners, and recognise the rights of workers to join and form unions of their own choosing, to strike and to bargain collectively.

Until that happens, that regime must not be given legitimacy, and its so called worker representatives must be turned away.

This is the text of my presentation to the online event sponsored by Free Them Now on Sunday, 12 September 2021.