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Rally at United Nations: "Stand for Freedom in Iran”

Stuart Appelbaum addressing rally in New York's Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
September 24, 2009: New York - Thousands of people, including New York Governor David Paterson and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, gathered outside the UN building on Thursday to protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's participation in the General Assembly session. The "Stand for Freedom in Iran” called for freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of the press; immediate cessation of human rights abuses, the release of demonstrators from prisons and protection for minority communities; prosecution of those responsible for the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan and the many other victims engaged in the recent protests; full compliance and cooperation by Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Security Council resolutions including an end to all uranium enrichment in Iran; an end to incitement to genocide and support for terrorism.
Speakers included Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW - and President of the Jewish Labor Committee - and J. David Cox, Sr., National Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO. Additional rallies are being held in Washington, DC; Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; and Chicago, Illinois; and in in Vienna, Paris, Germany, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Holland, and Norway. President Appelbaum's remarks appear below.

I’m Stuart Appelbaum. I'm president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and I'm also President of the Jewish Labor Committee.

And on behalf of the members of my union and the members of the JLC, I am proud to stand with you today.
Over the course of its history, the American labor movement has always fought for the rights of workers, not only here in America, but wherever men and women are denied their right to form unions.

That’s why I’m here today because, in contemporary Iran, worker rights simply do not exist.

But you don’t have to take my word for it: just ask Iranian workers who’ve tried to form free and independent unions and they’ll tell you the price people pay to organize.

They might tell you about Mansour Osanloo. He is a leader of the Tehran bus workers union. He was arrested in July 2007 and he is still in prison today.

Or they might tell you about Farzad Kamangar. Kamangar was a leader of Iran’s teachers’ union. After being arrested on trumped-up charges, he received a death sentence by the Tehran Revolutionary Court.

Or they might even tell you about Sussan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi who were convicted and flogged this past February in Sananadaj Central Prison for merely attending a labor celebration in 2008.

And that’s only where it begins. Journalists are routinely jailed. Metal workers, mechanics, sugar workers, bakery workers and others are arrested and their unions broken.

And at this May’s international labor-day demonstration, the police locked 2,000 workers in Iran in the park where they had gathered and violently attacked. Beaten with batons, tear-gassed, and kicked; and, their cameras and cell phones were broken by the police to try and stop the story from getting out. But the story did get out -- and we are determined to tell it.

Ahmedinajad has sought to ban unions, to abolish the minimum wage, and to maintain the ability to fire workers without cause or recourse to compensation.

In short, the Iranian regime seeks a lawless workplace environment for all Iranians. They have imposed a violent crackdown on all forms of labor protest. They are feverishly working to strip Iranian workers of their dignity.

But the cause of worker rights in Iran will never be extinguished.

To quote Osanloo, “All we are asking is for Iranian workers to be treated as free human beings, not as slaves.”

Today, we are demanding that the Iranian regime immediately release all imprisoned trade unionists, that it recognize independent labor unions, and that Iran ratify and adhere to the International Labor Organization conventions governing the right to organize unions, to collectively bargain labor agreements, and the freedom of association.

The bottom line is that there can be no true Freedom in Iran absent the freedom to organize.

Today, I am calling on labor unions throughout the world to stand with our brothers and sisters in Iran. The global labor movement must play an important role in advocating for union rights in Iran and preventing repression of trade unionists.

Ensuring basic labor rights means filling the words “Stand for Freedom in Iran” with content and meaning.

We in the labor movement have the immediate moral responsibility to tell working people in Iran that you are our brothers and sisters - and we will stand with you for freedom in Iran for all workers and for all people.