Workers’ Rights are Human Rights: Support Iran’s Union Activists this May Day

Apr 19, 20110 comments

What is May Day? Across the world on May 1 (May Day), unions and labor groups will mark International Workers’ Day (sometimes called Labor Day) with demonstrations and celebrations. To commemorate May Day and the international labor movement, workers and their labor unions often organize marches and rallies. Workers’ Rights in Iran Iranian workers are deprived of many protections of basic workers’ rights, as defined under international labor standards and of the fundamental rights listed under Iran’s own labor laws. As a result of the lack of independent organizations to protect workers’ rights, many laborers have lost their jobs and are forced to accept work under temporary contracts or without contracts – effectively allowing employers to evade labor law. The government frequently arrests and prosecutes workers demanding their most basic rights. The state’s security forces attack peaceful gatherings organized by workers and often harass their families. Iran’s teachers continue to attempt to organize and engage in collective bargaining, but the government has punished many teachers by firing them, forcing them into early retirement, cutting wages, or suspending them. Despite Iran being one of the oldest member states of the International Labor Organization (ILO), today’s workers’ still cannot form independent trade unions. One major goal of the Iranian workers’ movement is to educate workers and raise awareness of their rights. As a member of the ILO, Iran is obligated to respect and institute the basic workers’ rights standards, but it has not ratified the core conventions relating to freedom of association and the right to organize. According to conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) workers’ are entitled to

  • legal protections such as freedom of association and the right to organize;
  • the right to collective bargaining;
  • the prohibition of employment and occupation related discrimination; and
  • standards that regulate wages and conditions of work.

Union Activist, Mansour Ossanlou Mansour Ossanlou, a leading workers’ rights activist and trade union leader for Syndicate of Workers’ of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC), has been the target of government oppression and brutality for several years. He has endured numerous attacks, including stabbings, and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence. He suffers from eye injuries due to earlier beatings, remains in danger of going blind, and according to his family, is in dire need of medical treatment. Even the prison’s medical examiner has recommended Ossanlou’s sentence be “discontinued” due to his heart condition. In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Ossanlou’s sister detailed his deteriorating health in prison and immediate need for heart surgery: “There is very little left of his prison term. He should be freed in two or three months. But his heart condition is dangerous now. Last month, when the prison infirmary was unable to treat him, he was transferred to a hospital outside for an angiography. Doctors there determined that three of his arteries are blocked and that he needs immediate surgery. We requested that they help him to be sent outside the prison for treatment, but so far we have not heard anything.” She added: “He has been in prison for 4.5 years without being allowed furlough even once. Now that he has a dire need for treatment, it is his right to be able to leave the prison. His doctors have said this numerous times and results of his angiography have been sent to the Prosecutor’s Office. Is he not entitled to medical treatment just like any other prisoner?” Read on to see how you can get involved with May Day and show support and solidarity with Mansour Ossanlou and Iran’s workers’ rights movement.

Make a Video / Stage a Photograph of Support Take action and make a video or stage a photo expressing solidarity with Mansour Ossanlou and Iran’s labor activists this May Day. Consider filming or photographing yourself or your network with posters and banners of solidarity. Videos and photographs will be compiled and edited into a final video of solidarity to be released around May 1. U4I has pre-designed May Day banners that are ready to  download-and-print. Banners are at the bottom of the post. Other suggested messages to use in your videos or for your materials include

  • Workers’ Rights are Human Rights
  • We stand with Iran’s Workers! (Or alternately “Workers’ Movement”; “Union Activists” etc.)
  • We stand with Mansour Ossanlou
  • Free Mansour Ossanlou
  • An injury to one is an injury to all. (This is a classic union slogan.)

You do not have to be a professional to make a video! Digital cameras, flip cams, and even cell phones are a great way to start. Many similarly made videos received thousands of hits and went viral quickly, with some of them making their way to Iran.  Some tips and guidelines for creating an effective video can be foundhere. Please try and have your video clips and photographs completed and submitted by the end of the day on April 30, 2011. If you miss the deadline, don’t worry! All footage can be used for future videos. Links to uploaded footage or (small sized) raw files can be e-mailed to Incorporate Tile-Printed Posters A really easy and inexpensive way to increase the impact of your video or photograph is by printing tile-style materials on a home printer to make one large banner/poster. Publicly assembling the tile-printed posters and filming or photographing the assembly is effective as well. You can either find a picture of your own to print, or download and use the pre-designed banner to tile-print.Below is an example video of some young activists putting together a tile-printed poster of prominent student activist, Behrouz Javid Tehrani. Learn more about how to make tile-printed posters here.  

Ready to Go? Once done, please e-mail your photograph or link to your uploaded video to Make sure to check back on May Day too see the complete, edited compilation! If you have any questions, please feel free to-email us at

Download Banner (PDF – 44MB – Hosted on MediaFire)