by Staff writer, SF
In the southwestern province of Khuzestan, Iranian workers have gone on strike to protest their labor conditions at a steel-making company in Ahvaz. At the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation in Shush, workers are also striking. As well, workers for the Tehran Metro rapid transit system are on strike.
Reacting to the wave of labor unrest, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has labeled it a plot backed by the country’s enemies, just as he did last month, when anti-government protests swept through the country.
State-run news agency IRNA quoted Khamenei’s statement at a Tehran ceremony commemorating “martyrs” of Iran’s industrial community, as saying that Iran’s enemies have “provoked” Iranian workers into going on strike in order to drive the economy into recession. He added that the workers have “resisted” and “foiled” those attempts in recent years.
On Monday, the national representative of the Canadian Labour Congress and Iranian labor activist, Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, who maintains regular contact with his colleagues in Iran, disputed Khamenei’s assertions in an interview. He called them “totally unsubstantiated” and claimed that, “When you talk to these workers, they tell you that they come from a socio-economic class that has been loyal to Iran’s Islamic Revolution and that made sacrifices for the nation during the Iran-Iraq war.”
A main complaint for workers in Iran is the protracted nonpayment of their salaries. For instance, it’s reported that hundreds of steel workers of the Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz began a strike in January to protest three months of unpaid wages. The workers’ union posted a message on social media quoting a company board member as saying its owners have no money to pay wages until the Iranian New Year, which starts March 21st, according to Radio Farda.
Further, Iranian workers are “deprived of basic rights” to seek redress for their grievances, Kouhestaninejad said.
Iranian security forces often violently suppress these labor protests — still, they have been increasing in frequency in the past few years.
Security forces beat workers who were protesting at the Aqdareh gold mine in the northwestern province of West Azerbaijan in June 2017, Iranian opposition activists revealed. Some of the workers were allegedly sentenced to lashes by regime authorities as a warning to others of the consequences for going on strike.
An article published by The Washington Post last month regarding a study of Iran’s recent labor unrest by two Los Angeles-based sociologists at the University of California, said that escalations into violence have been rare. The sociologists wrote that local police have guided protesters off the streets and into negotiation with state officials, and that police across Iran have been trained in routine crowd control tactics since the deadly 2009 uprising over a disputed presidential election.
U.S. leaders expressed moral support for the protests, but did not provide any practical help for the protesters. However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed several nations, including the United States.