IN THE repressive environment of Iran’s Islamic Republic, the working class is suffering from high levels of capitalist exploitation.
Industrial stagnation, leading to overcapacity in industry and factory closures, has meant sackings and job insecurity. In this economic climate employers have used high unemployment to cut wages and force workers to work long hours, often ruining their health in order to earn a basic wage. These problems are compounded by the regime of the so-called ’reformist’ president Khatami implementing anti-worker policies demanded by the World Bank.
In 1995 the parliament passed a law allowing employers to employ workers on short-term contracts. By agreeing 89-day contracts, workers are excluded from work legislation including unemployment benefit, which only applies to workers employed over 90 days.
Employment conditions can be so harsh that workers have acutally died at work. For example on 15 September in the Iran Pejeote car factory, workers walked out on strike after a 25-year-old worker died as a result of his hard work. (A few hours before this happened some workers, seeing his terrible condition, had asked the boss to relieve him but the boss refused).
In another case one worker from the Ahvaz steel plant attempted suicide. He had not received his wages for four months. His wife was sick and he had received a warrant paper evicting him from his rented flat.
To defend themselves against capitalists, the Iranian workers are struggling in different ways, eg taking strike action, arranging a rally in front of their workplace or a state building, blocking roads, marching and recently, going on hunger strike.
The most significant struggle occurring in previous months is the struggle of militant weaving workers in Behshahr (a city in the north of Iran). Not having received their wages for 25 months and a portion of them for five years, Behshahr workers had protested in different ways, several times.
Eventually, in May, after gaining strong support from other oppressed people in the city, the workers managed to organise an unprecedented demonstration. According to the official media 25,000 people participated in the demonstration supporting the workers’ demands.
However, as usual, the government refused to agree to their demands. At the end of May the workers went on hunger strike. Surprisingly, the officials did not pay any attention to this action. Nevertheless, the police surrounded the workers, preventing them from contacting anyone else, even their own family.
When the recent Iranian students’ protests and riots began, Behshahr workers joined them. The latest news about the workers of Behshahr is that the police attacked workers in their homes putting tear gas into the houses. Many were brutally arrested by the police.
The other important example is the strike of 5,000 workers in Iran Deezel car factory. According to a paper (kar and kargar) published in Iran, the reason for this action is that the employers are changing the previous long-term contract of the workers and offering them an 89-day deal. By doing this, as previously explained, the workers will be deprived of receiving any unemployment benefit.
Some workers have been working in this industry for 15 or even 19 years. These workers are under pressure from the managers to make themselves redundant.
The struggle of Gilan silk weavers (Gilan is the name of a province in the north of Iran) is a recent example: On 28 October, 300 sacked workers gathered in front of their workplace demanding to return to work. As the officials rejected their request, they took other action through blocking the road between two cities (Astra and Rasht) while chanting: "We are hungry, we want to return to work".
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales