Scenes of a struggle? (A dispassionate eyewitness account)
Da Man speaks (NYTimes dispatch)
Ali Nejati, Feridoun Nikoufard, Mohammed Heydari Mehr, Ghorban Alipour and Jalil Ahmadi are leaders of the trade union of workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plantation and Industry Company in Shush, an affiliate of the IUF.
The 5,000 workers at Haft Tapeh have had to resort to repeated strike action over the past two years over failure to pay wages and in support of basic workplace rights. They have been ceaselessly harassed and victimized, with suspected militants subject to frequent arrests and public whippings.
On 20 December last year, the five leaders were charged with “acting against national security” as a result of their trade union activity. They face potentially lengthy prison sentences.
Click on the linked headline (above) to sign a letter in support of the jailed unionists.
University students, researchers, professors and staff are currently occupying the director’s floor in the building of the university administration of Helsinki University in Finland. This happened as an offshoot of a demonstration against a new draconian “reform” soon to be presented to the Finnish parliament. The new laws (more below) would change the choice of the governing councils of the university, essentially depriving the universities of autonomy, likely putting non-university board members in key positions (business people and politicians) and importantly, introducing the possibility of charging fees for non-EU students, which in Europe is used as a back-door precedent followed by demanding tuition fees from everyone—the failed free-market model.
Many words were heard in reference to other movements to Greece, France, Italy, India. And then the news came in that students at New York University (http://takebacknyu.com/) are practising direct democracy of the same sort.
Below is the statement from Helsinki.
Solidarity from the University of Helsinki to the occupants at NYU
Today on Thursday, February the 19th, we occupied the administration building of our university.
This took place after our demonstration against the new Universities Act proposed by the Finnish government. The parliament will decide about the law this Spring. We demand the law to be withdrawn. We want to reform our university from a totally different, more democratic perspective.
We are also protesting against the university leadership which has given its support to the law despite our opposition.
The law we are opposing would significantly increase the influence corporations have on our university and thus our science. We are defending the autonomy of knowledge and the freedom of research. We are also defending the free access to higher education as stated in the Finnish Constitution. We are not defending our university as it is, we want to create autonomous spaces for producing and sharing information.
Our demonstration today was participated by 1500 people. It was organised autonomously by students and university staff, independently of their unions. After the demonstration, a group of more than 100 demonstrators occupied this building. Today we have made our voices heard and we will keep doing so until we win!
We want to send you our solidarity. We share your struggle!
The local political opposition says the authorities are increasing the pressure on them as the March 1 municipal elections approach. City Hall refused to authorize a meeting that the Solidarity democratic movement was planning to hold on Saturday, and policemen were reported to have visited the homes of people who support oppositional candidates and asked them to retract their signatures.
Solidarity was planning to hold meetings against the deterioration of the social-economic situation both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but while the meeting was authorized by the mayor’s office in Moscow, St. Petersburg’s City Hall said it was not possible to hold a rally at any of the six locations suggested by the organizers.
According to a press release sent out last week by Yabloko Democratic Party, some of whose members are also members of Solidarity, City Hall said there would be maintenance work on Arts Square, a “military-patriotic meeting” on the Field of Mars and a “sports event dedicated to Defenders of the Fatherland Day” at the time of the planned opposition rally.
Three other sites subsequently suggested by the organizers — Ploshchad Lenina, Pionerskaya Ploshchad and Ploshchad Sakharova — were also rejected by City Hall on Wednesday.
“They’re afraid of everything,” said Olga Kurnosova, the local leader of Garry Kasparov’s United Civil Front (OGF) and a member of Solidarity’s Federal Political Council.
Solidarity is considering holding an unauthorized “art event” on Arts Square instead, Kurnosova said by phone on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Kurnosova won a case against the Chyornaya Rechka municipal district’s election commission, which had refused to register her as a candidate, claiming that the signatures she had collected had been fabricated. On Tuesday the judge ruled that the commission should register her as a candidate, but after a protest from the prosecutor’s office, the case will be heard at the city court next week.
However, three OGF activists who also initially failed to be registered as candidates won their cases in court this week, she said.
Olga Tsepilova, the deputy head of the Green Russia faction in Yabloko, made a complaint to the prosecutor’s office about policemen allegedly visiting and intimidating those who had signed documents supporting the candidates of ecological and preservationist groups in the Yuntolovo municipal district within the Primorsky district in the northeast of St. Petersburg.
“During the past two days there has been a massive police check,” Tsepilova said by phone on Thursday.
“It turns out that two days ago, the chairwoman of the Yuntolovo election commission wrote a complaint to Police Precinct 53 that all of our signatures were false. It’s amazing — two weeks after the checking of signatures was completed,” she said.
According to Tsepilova, the policemen visited people who had given their signatures at home, often late in the evening. According to her, it is a direct violation of the law.
“They took people’s signatures, asked them if they had signed their names themselves, showed them the collected signatures, and told them that they supported unworthy people who were trying to break into power, while they should support totally different people and retract their signatures, or say that the signatures were not theirs,” she said.
“There are people who are ready to confirm this, although most were simply intimidated. There were calls from people who said they had not thought that giving their signature would have such consequences.
The police visits lasted until late evening on Wednesday, she said.
“One person called us at 11.30 p.m. saying he had just been visited by the police,” she said. “At 11.30 p.m. you are visited by two policemen, who sternly ask you if you took part in such an activity… Many got scared and told us, ‘We’ll never sign anything again for the rest of our lives.’”
A police spokesman declined to comment when called on Thursday evening, but said he would have information on Friday.