Category Archives: Labor

Podcast on the San Francisco General Strike (1934)

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sf general strike

[I realize it is a few days after Labor Day but here is a program on the 75th anniversary of the SF General Strike from Michael Krasny's Forum: Podcast is here. The image is from sfgeneralstrike.org]

The San Francisco General Strike
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco General Strike. The strike changed the face of organized labor in the Bay Area and throughout the United States, and had enormous impact on San Francisco city politics and culture. On this Labor Day, we present a pre-recorded broadcast assessing the legacy of the San Francisco General Strike.

Host: Michael Krasny

Guests:

  • Dick Meister, freelance writer, columnist and co-author of a history of farm labor titled “A Long Time Coming”
  • Harvey Schwartz, curator of the ILWU Oral History Collection and author of “Solidarity Stories: An Oral History of the ILWU”
  • William Issel, professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University, visiting professor of history at Mills College and coordinator of the Bay Area Labor History Workshop

Answering Martin’s Questions Regarding Anarchism

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CNT-Poster

H/t to Martin for tagging me on this. I added a question (A), How were you introduced to anarchism?

(A) How were you introduced to anarchism?

I was introduced to anarchism in my teens through the punk-rock and hardcore punk music scene. While my understanding of anarchism was neither deep nor broad, the anti-authoritarian and DIY elements really appealed to me. Here is a little classic anarcho-punk:

When I got a bit older (20s) I started reading some of the classical anarchist authors and texts after volunteering at an anarchist press that will remain nameless; “Bakunin on Anarchism” (translated by Sam Dolgoff), Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread,” Rudolf Rocker’s “Anarcho-Syndicalism,” Abel Paz’s “Durruti: The People Armed,” Murray Bookchin’s “The Spanish Anarchists” and loads of stuff by Paul Avrich including “Anarchist Portraits,” “Anarchist Voices,” “Sacco and Vanzetti,” and “The Haymarket Tragedy.”

1. What exactly do you mean by anarchism (which key ideas and thinkers are important to you)?

In its most simple formulation, libertarian socialism i.e. socialism that allows for a maximum of individual liberty. As Bakunin wrote, “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice and Socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”

Back in my anarchist days I moved from an anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-communist perspective to a much more individualist or mutualist position. It’s strange that my personal progression was the inverse of the historical development of anarchism as an ideology i.e from a form of mutualism influenced by Proudhon to Bakunin’s anarcho-collectivism to Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism.

As to which key ideas and thinkers are important to me, today I have moved rather far from my anarcho-roots. But back in the day I liked Benjamin Tucker and the American individualists, Errico Malatesta (anarcho-communist), Rudolf Rocker (anarcho-syndicalist), and especially Fernando Tarrida del Mármol and Ricardo Mella who advocated what they termed anarchismo sin adjetivos (anarchism without adjectives). These two authors found that anarchists shared more in common then all their hyphenated forms seemed to indicate.

I still have a lot of affinity for Carlo Tresca, who was able to work with anarchists, the syndicalists in the IWW and more mainstream trade-unionists. Like Mella, he was a bridge-builder between a variety of different leftwing movements and political perspectives. He was also a fierce opponent of Stalinists, fascists and the mob.

But the anarchists I felt I had the most in common with were people like Dolgoff or the working-class anarchist immigrants Avrich interviewed in “Anarchist Voices”. These people were activists and not traditional intellectuals. Their stories, their families, their struggles, their language, spoke to me and I found a lot of inspiration reading about their lives.

Sadly, I have found that anarchists in the U.S. have lost much of their willingness to actively fight against totalitarian socialism. Sure, they’ll diss the commies in their newspapers and journals. But when it comes to rallies and demonstrations, the anarchists and Stalinists, Maoists and other totalitarian socialists march side-by-side. In Tresca’s day, the anarchists would be fighting these scum in the streets, factories and neighborhoods. I have written a little about this here and here.

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2. Does the anarchist experiment in the Spanish Republic have any relevance today (and if so what), or is the continuing fascination with it simply rose-tinted leftist nostalgia?

Allowing my remnant of anarchist influence to show through, I prefer to refer to the Spanish Revolution. The main relevance of that event is anarchists and other liberty-minded individuals should never, ever, trust the communists. Even if that means working with liberals, non-radicals and—dare I say it—other advocates of capitalism.

As to the rose-tinted nostalgia, it is incredibly strong among anarchists. As I have mentioned elsewhere, CNT militants certainly resisted Communist attempts at destroying the anarchist collectives. But, at the same time, the anarchists also implemented pro-capitalist methods themselves.

These methods including tying wages to productivity, the implementation of the piece-rate system, harsh punitive measures for slackers, even forced collectivization which most anarchists fail to admit.

As Seidman writes, “A dispassionate examination of the charges and countercharges leads to the conclusion that both anarchist and Communists were correct. The former used illegal coercion to initiate collectives, and the latter used it to destroy them.” (126) (Michael Seidman “Republic of Egos: A Social History of the Spanish Civil War“. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002).

I highly recommend Seidman’s book as he does not have an ideological axe to grind and is trying to humanize our understanding of the conflict. Seidman argues for most Spaniards, the ideological struggles mattered less than day-to-day survival. What did they do? How did they survive? These are the questions Seidman seeks to answer, not which side had the proper ideological line. For most Spaniards, consumption was the primary consideration, not class-struggle.

Where we are today, I think the example of the Mondragon Cooperatives is more relevant than the Spanish anarchist collectives.

primitivists

3. What exactly would it mean to implement anarchist ideas in a twenty-first century, globalised economy and polity – and would it even be possible or practicable?

That depends on what sort of anarchist you ask. The anarcho-primitivists have different ideas than the anarcho-insurrectionists who have different ideas than the anarcho-syndicalists who have different ideas than the anarcho-communists.

Possible, no.

Practicable, no.

In the end, anarchism is a utopian ideology. In my teens and twenties, utopianism had a lot of appeal for me. Today, I find that when utopian ideals are implemented they lead to dystopian realities. In other words, Hobbes was right. Human beings need the State in order to have what we know as civilization. That does not mean we should refrain from being vigilant against the encroachment of the State in our personal lives but we should recognize the benefits the State provides to us as individuals, families, etc.

I also think it is important to point out that some of the most important anarchist thinkers were intensely anti-Semitic. I am thinking specifically of Bakunin and Proudhon. This usually is swept under the rug by anarchists, including Jewish anarchists. Jewish Marxists do the same thing with Marx.

UCLA Labor Center Faces Possible Closure

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ucla labor center

Regular readers know I can’t stand the Huffington Post or Ariana Huffington. Nevertheless, I received a link to this article about the possible closing of the UCLA Labor Center by political scientist Peter Dreier through the H-Labor listserv that I thought was worth sharing.

Our society is so dominated by corporate culture that we hardly notice it. Every daily newspaper has a “business section,” but not a single paper has a “labor” section. Politicians and pundits talk incessantly about what government should do to promote a healthy “business climate,” but few discuss how to improve the “labor climate.” Most economics courses treat businesses as the engines of the economy, workers as a “cost of production,” and unions as an impediment. Most universities in the country have a large, well-endowed “business school,” but only a handful of them have even a small “labor studies” program.

Among the small number of labor studies programs, the one at the University of California-Los Angeles is one of the best, and now it has been targeted for extinction by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UCLA administration. Allies of the UCLA Labor Center have mounted a letter-writing campaign to persuade Chancellor Gene Block to reverse this decision and restore funding for this cutting-edge program. Block can be reached at: chancellor@conet.ucla.edu.

Each year for the past five years, Schwarzenegger — egged on by the state’s corporate powerbrokers and right-wing Republicans — has tried to kill the University of California’s labor research and education programs at UCLA and Berkeley, but has been thwarted by resistance from its supporters and its allies in the state legislature.

This year, with the worst state budget crisis in memory, anti-labor forces think they can prevail. UC labor studies, a minuscule part of the state budget, is the only UC program that the Governor specifically targeted for elimination. The combined budgets for these programs is only $5.4 million a year. The UCLA Labor Center has 20 staff members involved in research, teaching, and community outreach.

UCLA Labor Center director Kent Wong learned about the administration’s plan to eliminate the Center from a July 11 article in the New York Times.

[read it all here]

More from the center’s website:

As part of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education plays a unique role as a bridge between the university and the labor community in Southern California.This role has grown in the past few years with the dramatic changes that have overtaken the Southern California economy.

As part of the university, the Labor Center serves as an important source of information about unions and workers to interested scholars and students. Through its extensive connections with unions and workers, the Labor Center also provides labor with important and clearly defined access to UCLA’s resources and programs. An advisory committee comprised of about forty Southern California labor and community leaders (representing more than one million members in the public and private sectors) provides advice and support for the center.

The Labor Center also hosts a downtown office just two blocks from the L.A. County Federation of Labor, amid the majority of L.A.’s union halls and worker centers and in the heart of a diverse immigrant community.

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[Mural image swiped from UCLA Labor Center website]

JLC Labor Seder

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[H/t to A.L.]

My wife and I went to a labor Seder earlier in the week that was organized by the organized by the United Hebrew Trades – New York Division of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC). It was the first labor Seder for either of us and we had a nice time. The labor Seders were organized to provide an opportunity for “members of the Jewish community and members of the trade union movement to sit down together for a Seder meal and explore the relationships between the traditional story of Pesach and more recent struggles for freedom and dignity”. Labor Seders were held across the country from San Francisco to NYC.

Participants read from a Haggadah published by the JLC which made connections between the Jewish experience of slavery and Diaspora and contemporary immigration reform, the working conditions of Jewish sweatshop workers and those toiling in sweatshops today and anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and prejudice. In addition to spilling wine to remember the plagues meted out against the ancient Egyptians, we also spilled to acknowledge hunger, slave labor and ethnic cleansing.

We had to leave before the end of the Seder as my wife is getting tired rather early in the evening. The baby is due in about two months and staying out past 8:30 is a stretch. Hope to see all of you (old friends and new) again next year.

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Remembering the 98th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire

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triangle-fire

[H/t A.L.]

On March 25, 1911, 146 young immigrant workers died in a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes the fire spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firefighters who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those workers trapped inside because the doors were locked and their ladders could not reach the factory floor.

This tragedy galvanized a city to fight for labor reform and safety in the workplace. In 2006, 99 NYC workers were killed on the job, one-third of them from a fall. Today, unions are desperately fighting to prevent the senseless deaths of workers.

Join us as we honor those who were killed on the job and fight to prevent the killing of more workers in New York City.

WHEN Friday, March 27, 2009 • 12 – 1:00 pm

WHERE Corner of Washington Place & Greene Street—just east of Washington Square Park

More here.

triangle-factory

What Crisis in Guadeloupe?

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[The general strike in Guadeloupe has been completely off the radar screens of American media outlets. Labourstart is the exception.]

After a one-month general strike, the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe has descended into riots and civil unrest. French authorities have called for calm after Jacques Bino, a union activist, was caught in crossfire between armed youths and police in the capital Pointe-a-Pitre.

The strike and demonstrations were organized by the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of unions and leftists and began on January 20 with an immediate goal of increasing wages for low-income workers by 200 euro (£177) per month. The UGTG (General Union of Guadeloupe Workers) is the largest organization in the LKP.

The demands and grievances of the strikers have expanded over time to include a call for ending the domination of the economy by domination of the economy by “Bekes,” or local white families that trace their roots to the colonial landlords and sugar plantation slave owners of the 17th and 18th centuries. By some estimates these families own 90 per cent of the island’s wealth including productive land, food distribution networks, and many stores and shops.

Christiane Taubira, a French member of parliament for the overseas department of French Guiana on the south American continent notes:

“A caste holds economic power and abuses it.” She warned Sunday that the situation in Guadeloupe was “not far from social apartheid” but added that “the leaders of the LKP are not anti-white racists.

“They are exposing a reality,” she told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Rama Yade, the only black minister in President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s right-wing government, said that over and above the problem of the cost of living, there is “a problem with the distribution of wealth” on the islands.

The social discord is “exacerbating” racial tensions, she said.

“Guadeloupe, it’s ours, Guadeloupe, it doesn’t belong to them,” is the chant heard at recent protests on the island, with a similar refrain heard on Martinique, both referring to the Bekes.

That antipathy was heightened by recent remarks by one of Martinique’s richest men, Alain Huygues-Despointes, which scandalised many here.

Huygues-Despointes, a white, said in a documentary screened on French television late last month that one reason for avoiding inter-racial marriage was that he wanted to “preserve his race.”

Reuters reports:

The French government will make a new wage offer to unions on Guadeloupe where riot police have struggled to maintain control, a month into a general strike that is paralysing the Caribbean island.

”Mediators have come up with a proposal which I am going to approve and which will be submitted to employers and the unions,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon told French radio RTL on Thursday.

”This allows us to get very close to the financial goals of the workers.”

The alliance behind the protest movement, LKP, blames the government for letting the dispute drag on until frustrated young people beyond the control of LKP turned to violence.

They have blocked roads, torched businesses and cars, and looted shops this week.

While the government had offered numerous concessions to the protesters, it had until Thursday rejected their key demand, that it lower business taxes to give companies some room to increase workers’ pay by the desired 200 euros.

With discontent simmering in mainland France as well, Paris was wary of creating a precedent in Guadeloupe that it would have to extend to the mainland.

The proposed settlement would not involve cutting business taxes but would bring forward the implementation of a new benefit for low wage workers and unemployed people, according to Yves Jego, the minister in charge of overseas territories.

More from AFP:

Strike leaders in Guadeloupe agreed to resume negotiations after an offer from the French president aimed at ending weeks of protests on the Caribbean island.

But Elie Domota, leader of a coalition of unions and leftist groups that launched the strike on January 20, did not call off the strike after French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered millions of euros in new subsidies.

“At the moment, the proposals seem particularly vague to us,” Domota said after meeting with the island’s prefect, Nicolas Desforges, and two French government envoys.

Domota, leader of the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP) coalition, said negotiations that had been officially suspended for a week would resume Friday at 1900 GMT.

A Domota confidant, Jean-Louis Nomertin, was not impressed by Sarkozy’s offer. “Nicolas Sarkozy did not say anything,” he said.

Sarkozy announced earlier more than half a billion euros in new subsidies for the Caribbean island, a tourist destination that suffers from the highest unemployment rates and most expensive living costs in France.

“Today we have a duty to listen to our fellow citizens and we have, at the same time, the duty to ensure the rapid return of civil order,” he said after holding crisis talks in Paris with lawmakers from the Caribbean.

He promised to fly to Guadeloupe to inaugurate a three-month exercise to gather opinions on how to reform mainland France’s relations with its overseas departments, former imperial outposts that now enjoy full political rights.

Sarkozy said 580 million euros (736 million dollars) would be put aside for action to raise living standards in the overseas departments.

Listen to a Radio France Internationale report here.

Robert Reich on Infrastructure Jobs: Skilled Workers and White Males Need Not Apply

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[I know this post is a bit dated. It has been hiding in my "drafts" folder for close to a month.]

Robert Reich is a very intelligent man. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Discussing President Obama’s Stimulus Plan, Reich notes it will repair and upgrade “the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools.” OK. Sounds good.

However, given the present labor market:

[T]he stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out.

His Solutions?

Many low-income and low-skilled workers — women as well as men — could be put directly to work providing homes and businesses with more efficient and renewable heating, lighting, cooling, and refrigeration systems; installing solar panels and efficient photovoltaic systems; rehabilitating and renovating old properties, and improving recycling systems.

and

I’d suggest that all contracts entered into with stimulus funds require contractors to provide at least 20 percent of jobs to the long-term unemployed and to people with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The first would be a boondoggle and the second suggestion is unworkable.

I can visualize unskilled workers doing some of the labor for these projects but how can Reich expect to exclude the skilled from more complicated tasks? Honestly, I have no idea of what the man was thinking. Infrastructure is not simply filling in potholes, it is building dams and bridges, projects that require a great deal of expertise and skill. Also notice that Reich does not say a certain percentage of federal money should go to independent contractors and other small businesses, he mandates that twenty percent of the workers must be of a specific demographic.

Many cities and states have programs that assist women and minorities in starting their own companies. These programs deserve to be supported and expanded. However, the federal government should not mandate the race and ethnicity of employees, whether in the private or public sector.

I used to find conservatives bawling about “left-wing social engineering” to be such a joke. But when liberals like Reich promote these sorts of policies, the conservatives may be on to something. Read all of Reich’s suggestions here.

nycempirestate

[Construction workers, Empire State Building, NYC. Photo by Lewis W. Hine. CORRECTION: as a reader "Ryan" informs me in the comments below, the proper attribution is Charles C. Ebbets.]

Petition to Protest Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Proposed Boycott of Israeli Academics

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spmelogo

[H/t Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)]

I received this email and thought you might be interested:

We, the undersigned university faculty members from around the world call upon the members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to oppose any resolution to ban Israeli academics from teaching in Ontario or anywhere else. The current resolution invokes, as justification for the proposed ban, bombing that damaged the Islamic University in Gaza on December 29. Sid Ryan of CUPE’s Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee says: “Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general.” No other country’s academics have been the targets of such union action before, whether or not their country was at war. Israel is engaged in a war to defend its people against an enemy that has been firing missiles at Israeli civilians for years. The enemy, Hamas, had been using the Islamic University as a training camp, launching pad, and weapons depot. Other universities in Gaza were not Hamas facilities and were therefore not bombed.

The proposed ban clearly represents ethnic discrimination, and the proposed ideological litmus test is a violation of free speech. The members of the University and College Union in England recently rejected a similar proposal because of its discriminatory nature, and we urge the Ontario CUPE members to reject the proposal now before them.

To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.

Visit Scholars For Peace in the Middle East website

To Sign this petition click here.

To see current signatures click here.

Please consider making a donation to SPME

Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario Pushes for Boycott of Israeli Academics

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[H/t Labourstart]

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The Canadian Union of Public Employees [CUPE--e.d.] in Ontario, the largest labor union representing staff members at the province’s universities, plans to introduce a resolution at its conference next month to ban Israeli academics from teaching, speaking, or doing research at Ontario universities if they do not first condemn Israeli actions in Gaza.

Ben Cohen (Z Word) rightly describes this as a “disloyalty oath.”

The push for an academic boycott is ostensibly in response to the bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza. However, CUPE-Ontario has a history of anti-Israel activities. In 2006 the union supported a boycott of goods made in Israel and CUPE president Sid Ryan let it slip that, “It’s a logical next step, building on policy adopted by our provincial convention in 2006.”

What Ryan and CUPE-Ontario do not mention is the Islamic University of Gaza is controlled by Hamas. The university is used to develop and store weapons, a sanctuary for wanted terrorists and a jail for enemies of the organization. In February of 2007, Israel Insider reported, “kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit spent most of his time in captivity imprisoned on the campus of the Islamic University in Gaza,” according to “senior Palestinian sources.”

B’nai B’rith Canada released a statement calling for the national union to distance itself from the noxious resolution supported by CUPE-Ontario:

CUPE-Ontario has betrayed a pattern of agitating against Israel that must be addressed at the national level by its parent body. We urge CUPE-National to take steps to immediately distance itself from this biased and discriminatory resolution and to undertake a wider review of CUPE-Ontario’s operational practices that have systematically tried to delegitimize the Jewish State and its right to self-defence.

Support Iranian Trade Unionists!

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[H/t to A.L., LabourStart and TUC]

From International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran:

According to various reports from Iran, including statements issued by The Coordinating Committee to Form Workers’ Organization, Mr. Mohsen Hakimi, a member of the aforementioned committee and a member of the Iranian Writers’ Association, was arrested by the plain-cloths security agents near midnight on December 22, 2008.

Also, Mr. Bijan Amiri, who is an auto worker and a member of workers’ mountain-climbing board, was arrested on December 22, 2008 in Iran Khodro factory by the security forces. Mr. Hakimi was arrested at Mr. Amiri’s residence the same night after he had gone for a visit along with his wife to Amiri’s residence following the news of Mr. Amiri’s arrest. Security forces brought back Mr. Amiri back to his home that night, and then they searched the house and arrested Mr. Hakimi as well without any arrest warrants. Mr. Hakimi protested against these actions but nevertheless he was taken to an unknown location along with Mr. Amiri. After going to the court, their families have been told to come back in a week to find out about the charges as they are being investigated and interrogated at this time. Mohsen Hakimi had been arrested a number of times before as the result of his labour activities. (Latest update: According to Hakimi’s lawyer, Mr. Mohammad Sharif, Hakimi has been transferred to the section 209 of the Evin Prison).

We condemn this repressive act of the Iranian government and demand Mohsen Hakimi’s and Bijan Amiri’s immediate and unconditional release.

Send protest letters to:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President
Islamic Republic of Iran
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir

Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
Leader of the Islamic Republic
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street -
Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran
Islamic Republic of Iran
E-mail: info@leader.ir
Fax: +98-21 649 5880

From the TUC website:

The TUC has today (Tuesday) joined Amnesty International in a campaign to defend Iranian teacher and union activist Farzad Kamangar, who has been sentenced to death for his political and union activities in Iran. The case against his sentence has also been backed by global teacher union federation Education International (EI).

Farzad Kamangar was arrested in Tehran around July 2006 and was sentenced to death on 25 February 2008, after being convicted of ‘moharebeh’ (or enmity towards God). This is a charge usually only levelled against those accused of taking up arms against the state. The trial took place in secret, lasted only a few minutes, and failed to meet Iranian and international standards of fairness.

When the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association considered Farzad Kamangar’s case earlier this year, they called for his sentence to be overturned immediately, and for claims that he had been tortured to be fully investigated.

The Committee said: ‘The Committee urges the Government to immediately stay the execution of Farzad Kamangar’s death sentence, annul his conviction and secure his release from detention.

‘It also requests the Government to undertake an independent inquiry into the allegations of torture inflicted upon Mr Kamangar during his detention and, if proven true, to compensate him for any damages suffered as a result of the said treatment.’

The TUC is urging union members in the UK to protest by sending a message to the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei and the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Iran’s record on the repression of union members is making it a pariah state. However, in spite of such violent oppression from the state, trade unionism in Iran continues to grow because of the bravery of people like Farzad Kamangar

‘The TUC and British union members will continue to show solidarity with our colleagues in Iran who are routinely sacked, imprisoned and tortured simply for doing what unionist members all over the world should be free to do.’

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- For more information and to take action, go to www.tuc.org.uk/urgentactionirankamangar