Violence and intimidation against union May Day rallies in several countries

Once again, annual May Day celebrations in several countries have been met with repression and intimidation by the authorities.

Brussels, 2 May 2007: Once again, annual May Day celebrations in several countries have been met with repression and intimidation by the authorities. Rallies for workers’ rights in Iran, Turkey and Macao were subjected to violent reactions by police and security forces, while Zimbabwean trade unions were subjected to threats and coercion on the eve of the international workers’ day.

In Iran, thousands of workers took part in demonstrations throughout the country, calling for the right to strike, freedom of speech and the right to organise May Day activities without government control and police interference. Several of these demonstrations were violently attacked by the police. In Tehran, security agents from the Ministry of Information arrested, and tried to detain, Mansour Osanloo, President of the bus drivers’ union in the capital. Colleagues and passers-by managed to stop him being taken away, however another leader of the union, Yaghub Salimi, was arrested for allegedly helping Osanloo to escape detention. He was released after a few hours. Elsewhere in the country, numerous other trade unionists were arrested, including at least ten union representatives in Sanandaj. One of these, Shoeys Amani, President of the Trade Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers, was seriously injured by police. At the May Day rally in Kermanshah, workers prevented the security forces from arresting Javanmir Moradi, the main speaker at the event, and Faramarz Ghorbani, a leader of the Metal and Mechanical Workers’ Union, who was taking photos of the event. Workers ended the ceremony early as the police threats and harassment mounted.

In Turkey, with political tensions already high and early elections looming, some 600 people including several trade union leaders were arrested at a major rally in Istanbul. Police used gas and batons to stop the demonstration converging on Taksim Square to commemorate the 30th anniversary of a 1977 demonstration during which 34 persons had been killed by the military regime.

Zimbabwean trade unions, facing continuing repression by the Mugabe government, proceeded with May Day rallies despite threats and intimidation from government-linked forces. The Zimbabwean events focused on decent working conditions and wages (inflation in Zimbabwe is now over 2,000%) and the right to strike. The rallies went ahead in 27 locations following intensive negotiations with the country’s police.

In Macao, police fired shots into the air to disperse a demonstration demanding respect for workers’ rights and access to jobs. Several trade unionists were arrested and numerous demonstrators injured (see ITUC letter to Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah). On 29 April in Nepal, Sarjeet Tamang, a leader of the Building and Construction Workers’ union of the ITUC-affiliated Nepal Trade Union Congress was severely beaten by a group of Maoists while he was preparing May Day events, and subsequently admitted to hospital.

In the Burmese city of Chauk in Magwe division, the authorities ordered employers not to release workers for planned May Day events – previous such rallies had called for fundamental workers’ rights, including the right to independent trade unions. According to further reports, some 20 workers were arrested after attending a study session at the “American Centre” in Rangoon on the history of the workers’ movement and May Day. Several women workers from the textiles sector in Rangoon were detained and released the same evening, while 4 workers remain in prison – Thu Rein Aung, Kyaw Kyaw, Wai Lin and Shwe Gyo. The ITUC is extremely concerned for their safety, given the Burmese authorities’ track record of torture of imprisoned trade unionists.

The two ITUC affiliates in Nigeria, the NLC and TUC, went ahead with May Day rallies despite concerns that the authorities would intervene in light of strong union criticism of the conduct of parliamentary and presidential elections in April. Major failings in the running of the elections have been documented by Nigerian and international observers.

Five Moroccan trade unionists were arrested in Agadir, following a May 1st demonstration. Preliminary information indicates that these include Abderrahim Karrab, a leader of the agriculture affiliate of the UMT, an ITUC member organisation, two UMT teacher’s union members, Elhoussine Oulhouss and Mustapha Fathi, and two students, Elmehdi Elkerkouch and Mustapha Elgarouaz. The ITUC understands that three of the detained were released after having been maltreated, while two others, Karrab and Elkerkouch, remain in detention.

The ITUC firmly condemns these acts of repression against legitimate demonstrations on the 1st of May. “Workers in every country must have the right to participate in these events, and to call for decent work,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. “Repression of these rights shows just how anti-union repression is still the order of the day in many countries”, he added. The ITUC will take the necessary action concerning the governments responsible for these violations in the coming days, including, where relevant, taking formal complaints to the ILO.

Founded on 1 November 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018.