Strike wave marks new stage in revival of Iranian workers’ movement

Jafar Azimzadeh, jailed chairman of the Free Trade Union of Iran

Since the beginning of August, Iran has seen more and more workers from different sectors follow the example of the Haft Tappeh sugar cane workers who went on strike on 14 June. These workers started to struggle because it is part of the sad normality for workers across Iran that they are cheated of their wages and social benefits.

At the peak of the industrial action, workers at more than 40 companies were on strike. This was a new stage in the emergence of an independent workers’ movement in Iran, a process which has been developing since 2017. The August 12 solidarity declaration (see below), initially signed by 50 trade union, student and other organisations in Iran, indicated the scale of and support for this movement.

The Iranian government employed different tactics to answer this growing unrest, including repression, arrests and long prison sentences for worker activists.

Free Iranian trade union leader Jafar Azimazadeh and other jailed workers!

Amongst those workers persecuted is Jafar Azimazadeh, chairman of the Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW). In this role, Azimazadeh supported workers all over the country who have been organising to fight for higher wages and better working conditions, as well as campaigning for these demands in the company that employs him. In the recent period a number of other FUIW leaders have been jailed.

Azimazadeh was recently sentenced to five years in prison for his trade union activity and from 17 August went on hunger strike. Despite the fact that he has heart and lung disease from his last time in prison and recently contracted coronavirus, Azimazadeh was immediately transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison. With this manoeuvre, the Iranian regime is both depriving Azimazadeh of the health care he needs and showing, once again, how brutally it deals with every form of resistance. This again underlines how necessary it is to fight inside and outside Iran for the democratic right of Iranian workers to organize and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran.

Currently the vanguard of this strike wave has been the Haft Tappeh workers, who have been on strike for over two months. For years, the Haft Tappeh workers have been building their collective strength, including developing solidarity networks among the local population living around their workplace and who now provide them with food and other help.

On 30 August, after 11 weeks of struggle, the workers at Haft Tappeh ended their strike, although the workers who have lost their jobs are continuing their protests. The workforce as a whole decided to give the national government 15 days to meet all their demands. If the government does not meet their demands they plan to occupy the privatised workplace and run it as a ‘workers’ council’. This would definitely mean a new stage of escalation in the struggles around Haft Tappeh. This could lead to a very hard confrontation with the Iranian regime and its apparatus of repression. A key question is support that such a step would get from other workers and others, such as young people, who have been in opposition to the regime. International solidarity would also be important from trade unions and the left. This is is particularly important because western powers could attempt to hypocritically pretend to support the workers as part of their work to establish a friendly regime in Iran.

The support which the Haft Tappeh workers have built is an example for workers in other sectors to follow. The creation of local, regional and national support or action committees, with real roots in the workplaces, would enable the discussion and organisation of the struggles and building solidarity with them.

Next steps?

The co-ordination of both struggles and solidarity activity is needed now. The question of what next steps are needed have to be discussed. Joint demonstrations of strikers in different regions (socially distanced because of coronavirus) would bring both strikers and supporters together. General strike action, possibly initially for 24 or 48 hours on a regional basis, can be both a show of strength and a step towards the next stage of struggle. When the strikes were increasing a few weeks ago, a call for national action could have got a real response. Even if, for now, such a call is not immediately on the table it can quickly return, as conditions change. Such collective action could both help win the workers’ immediate demands and show that the working class is an independent force fighting for all the oppressed.

As has been previously reported, the fact that the Haft Tappeh workers have demanded the renationalisation of their privatised enterprise, and that it must be managed by a workers’ council with decisions made collectively, is very significant. Such demands boldly raise the question of who controls Iranian society.

These ideas pose the question of the need for the working class to have its own party. Committees formed to support and organise struggle could become the basis of such a party and how it could be formed and its initial programme. A workers’ party would need to take up both democratic demands, like the right organise and free elections, combined with economic and social demands. Nationalisation and workers’ control over the economy, which the Haft Tappeh workers raised, would be a significant part of socialist policies to transform society. A party with such a socialist programme could unite the struggles of all workers, as well as the struggles of the social and environmental movements, and provide them with a clear path to break with oppression and capitalism.

Joint Statement by Independent Workers Organizations, Teachers’ Associations, Students’ Associations & Publications & Retirees’ associations in #Iran in support of strikes & protests by workers at #HaftTapeh, #Hepco & the oil, gas & petrochemical industries:

August 12, 2020

In a continuation of the heroic and indefatigable struggles and resistance of Haft Tapeh workers through their street protests and strikes, thousands of workers in oil, gas and petrochemical complexes in Ahvaz, Abadan, Esfahan, Gheshm, Maahshahr, Kongaan, Laamord, Mohr, Jafir, Dasht Azadegan, Sablan and Ardebil power plants have gone on strike. In addition, workers at the heavy equipment factory of Hepco in Araak have also joined these striking workers. This wave of workers’ strikes is the most extensive and substantial series of labour unrest in Iran in the past few years.

For years, workers in Iran have been subjected to some of the most exploitive, oppressive and anti-labour working conditions, while being mercilessly exploited by a host of governmental and private sectors employers.

In all these years in Iran, workers’ most basic rights have been denied; workers suffer from below poverty wages, unpaid wages, large scale lay-offs and expulsions. They are at the mercy of contractors and sub-contractors, subjected to temporary work contracts, forced to sign ‘blank work’ (zero hour) contracts,and face de-regulation of prices, extensive privatization of education, health care services and housing. These are just some instances of the inhuman circumstances imposed on workers by the owners of capital and the capital-oriented government in Iran.

As a consequence, children of workers are subject to ever increasing privatization and monetization of the educational system, depriving them of a fair education and leaving them with ever widening social gaps and elimination of future opportunities.

In the face of all such brazen injustice and inequality, whenever workers have risen up to oppose such unjust circumstances the only reaction they have met has been nothing but intimidation, harassment, arrest and incarceration.

Despite such incredibly difficult state of affairs, workers have never stopped opposing such violations of their rights, and throughout all these years they have continuously fought for the realization of their overall demands “Bread, Work, Freedom” (Nan, Kar, Azadi).

A heavy price has been paid by workers in all these years for daring not to be silent, as has been witnesses in struggles of Vahed bus workers, Hepco and AzarAb workers from Arak, steel workers of Ahvaz, miners, teachers, retirees and the children of workers in the student organizations fighting against privatization of educational system. These struggles have been the defining moments of the last decade for workers in Iran.

While sugarcane workers of Haft Tapeh are continuing with their strike, ending its second month and resolutely maintaining their ranks despite the extremely hot temperatures in Khuzestan Province, and the corona virus crisis, workers from oil, gas and petrochemical industries, seeking their just demands have started their protests and strikes, as well. These massive protests occurring at the same time and with common demands are milestones in the history of workers’ struggles in Iran. This time workers have delivered their voices loud and clear to both capital and the state. In these strikes workers are pursuing the same goals and demands, such as: pay increases, payment of unpaid wages, guarantees of job security, elimination of sub-contracting system, annulment of temporary and blank work contracts, improvement of working conditions, and elimination of all privatizations. These goals have been workers’ demands for years and have now become a collective priority for all. We are at a historical moment in which the working class is confronting the ruling class.

We, the signatories of this statement, declare that in the current economic crisis of this land, it is very natural and expected that more and more workers and oppressed groups will join these strikes; the crisis causing all people to lose their patience are emanated by privatizations, de-regulation of prices, workers declining living conditions, pushing them to verges of death (and not just poverty), non-payment of even poverty wage, etc. It is clear that in order for these strikes to grow and achieve their demands in these critical circumstances, the striking workers must be able to organize and unit themselves more than anything else, and pursue the serious and high risk matter of forming autonomous organizations based on the will and ability of the workers.

We the signatories of this statement, while supporting workers’ protests and strikes, and their demands for pay increases, immediate payment of unpaid wages, elimination of sub-contractors, elimination of temporary and blank work contracts, and most important of all elimination of privatization in all spheres of society, declare that workers’ unity in action and strike and establishment of independent workers’ organizations is the most crucial element for working class advancement, and realization of this monumental task requires evermore support and unity of diverse social groupings.

The list of signatories:

1) Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company

2) Haft Tapeh Sugarcane workers’ Syndicate

3) Teachers’ Trade Association of Tehran

4) Teachers Trade Association of Kurdistan- Marivan

5) Teachers Trade Association of Islamshahr

6) Teachers Association of Hamedan

7) Teachers Trade Association of Gilan

8) Teachers Trade Association of Khuzestan

9) Teachers Trade Association of Aligoodarz

10) Trade Association of Teachers and Retirees of Kermanshah

11) Teachers Trade Association of Kurdistan- Saghez and zayvaieh

12) Guild Council of Shiraz Industrial University

13) Guild Council of Ghazvin International University

14) Guild Council of Pardis Fine Arts of Tehran

15) Guild Council of Babol Industrial University

16) Units of Guild Council of Bu-Ali Sina University of Hamedan

17) Guild Council of College of Social Sciences, Allameh Tabataba’i University

18) Guild Council of Tehran University Dormitories

19) Hami Journal, Babol Noshirvani University of Technology

20) Karan Journal, Amir Kabir University

21) Bom Ban Journal, International University of Ghazvin

22) CharChob Journal, International University of Ghazvin

23) Dayereh Journal, International University of Ghazvin

24) Zed Journal, University of Mazandaran

25) Bavar Journal, Medical University of Beheshti

26) Hala Journal, University of Tehran

27) Prometheus Journal, University of Tehran

28) BazroBaad Journal, Allameh Tabataba’i University

29) Parantez Journal, Industrial University of Shiraz

30) Istgaah Journal, Industrial University of Shiraz

31) Taghatoa Journal, Industrial University of Shiraz

32) Cheshmak Journal, Tehran University

33) National Alliance of Retirees in Iran

34) Coordinating Committee to Help Form Workers Organizations

35) Retirees’ Unity Group

36) Retirees’ Unity

37) Committee to Pursue the Establishment of Workers’ Organizations

38) Social Studies Association of Khajeh Nasir University

39) Cinema club of Tehran University

40) Guild Council of Persian Gulf University

41) Guild Council of Azarbaijan Shahid Madani University

42) Guild Council of Arak University of Technology

43) Guild Council of Physics College of Iran University of Science and Technology

44) Guild Council of Chemical Engineering College of Iran University of Science and Technology

45) Guild Council of Computer Engineering College of Iran University of Science and Technology

46) Guild Council of Hakimieh Dormitory of Iran University of Science and Technology

47) Khordad Journal, Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamedan

48) Bamdad Journal, Beheshti University

49) Independent Organization of Vanguard Students of Isfahan University

50) Council of Retirees of Iran

Translated and re-distributed by Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (This statement was issued in Farsi on August 12, 2020; since then, more labour, teachers’ and students’ organizations have signed on it. The link to the original Farsi version can be found our Telegram Channel).

Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Email: vsyndica@gmail.com Website: www.vahedsyndica.com

Telegram: @vahedsyndica

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