Workers in Iran:

conditions, demands, struggles

Shahla Daneshfar

 

Workers in Iran have been the target of increasing attacks on their working and living conditions in the past few years. The Government’s own statistics speak of 16 million jobless, including 10 million young unemployed. This is at a time when each year one million more young workers enter the labour market.

 

Thousands of workers have lost their jobs in the last few years, and everyday workers are dismissed without the least benefits.

 

Replacement of permanent work by two to three-monthly contracts is becoming a norm in most of the workplaces in Iran. Workers with permanent jobs are being fired and the same workers or other unemployed workers are being hired as contract workers for the same position with the lowest possible wages and benefits. This is nothing other than open slavery.

 

The minimum wage that has been set by the Islamic Republic of Iran is $130 per month, while the official poverty line, announced by the same government, is $320. For more than one million workers even this minimum wage has not been paid - some for close to two years. Furthermore, in many workplaces workers are being hired as contract workers for wages around $65.00 a month.

 

This situation has forced workers into selling their body organs, prostitution and child labour, in order to survive. It has led to addiction, suicide, break-up of families and physical and mental destruction.

 

The workplaces in Iran are very unsafe, and workers’ representatives are not allowed to monitor the health and safety of the workplaces. In Iran Khodro car company alone - one of hundreds of unsafe workplaces in Iran - in the past two years nine workers have lost their lives. In two cases where the young workers in question did not have any history of illness, their hearts stopped due to excessive work and long working hours.

 

Workers in Iran are denied the right to free labour organizations, strike, collective bargaining and association. Any attempt to organize is met with persecution and repression. To achieve their demands, workers have to protest, and when they do so, they are confronted by the armed forces. Two years ago the police fired into an assembly of striking copper-mine workers in Khatoon Abad, resulting in four workers losing their lives. This past winter striking textile workers of Fomenat were attacked and beaten up by the security forces.

 

Labour activists have been daily threatened, intimidated, detained and interrogated. Only in the past month Sadegh Amiri, Parviz Salarvand, Mohsen Hassan Zadeh, Roya Doroodi, and many other labour activists have been arrested, but have later been released under the pressure of protests.

 

Workers are fighting back

 

Workers have not been onlookers to the attacks on their lives and livelihood. Protests are daily occurrences in the workplaces in Iran. Today, strikes, picket lines, demonstrations and issuing of ultimatums to the employers and government are becoming common forms of protest among Iranian workers.

 

Protest assemblies in front of government offices, growing efforts at organising, holding spectacular May Day rallies all over the country (the largest May Day in the last 26 years in spite of all these activities being illegal), passing resolutions at meetings, putting forward clear demands, making radical and sharp speeches against the conditions, workers taking part in various labour committees and centres, labour activists stepping forth publicly, writing letters and statements in their own names, workers’ spouses participating in the actions, and so on – these are all aspects of another picture of the Iranian working class today.

 

In response to the problems they encounter, workers have tried to build up strong solidarity and support both inside Iran and internationally. These efforts have played a major role in strengthening workers’ struggles in the last two years, and occasionally have succeeded in persuading the whole population of a town or city to support their cause, forcing the government and employers to give in to their demands. As an example, in the recent strike by Shahoo workers in the city of Sanandaj we witnessed a broad solidarity movement among the people, including by workers’ families. Also, around 30 workers in one part of Mahshahr petrochemical plant, in protest against non-payment of wages, built up a powerful movement, forcing the management to pay up the wages owed to workers.

 

In the current protests, international solidarity with Iranian workers and supporting their struggle and demands have been even more important. Sending supportive letters to Iranian workers and protest letters to the Iranian regime, sending delegations to visit the workplaces, supporting labour activists who are being targeted, etc., are just a few of the solidarity acts that in the last few years have been taking place, helping the workers in their fightback.

 

Workers’ immediate demands

 

The labour protests in Iran take place mainly around the following issues and demands:

 

1) Free labour organisations, independent of the government. Workers say they do not need permission from the government to set up their own organizations; it is their right, which must be recognized without any conditions whatsoever.

2) The right to strike. Workers say strikes and protest gatherings are their right and they must be free of any conditions or restrictions. Also, the wages for the days workers spend on strike must be paid in full.

3) Pay rise. A decent, comfortable and humane living condition for workers, and adequate unemployment insurance to every unemployed person. The call for a minimum wage of at least $550.00 is widespread among the workers in Iran. 3,000 workers in the city of Kashan, and also workers of Filver factory and Sadra shipbuilders have signed a petition demanding that minimum wage. The Metalworkers and Mechanics Union of Kermanshah have also joined the petition campaign. The petition is still being signed by workers of various industrial centres.

4) Payment of unpaid wages. Workers demand that their delayed or unpaid wages be paid immediately. Not paying workers for the work they have done must be treated as a crime. Both the employers and the government are responsible for this daylight robbery.

5) Workers of Iran demand that groups such as Islamic Councils (Shora-ye Eslami), Workers’ House (Khane-ye Kargar) and the Security of the factories (Herasat) be banned from the workplaces. They demand an immediate end to harassment, threatening, arrest and interrogation of labour activists. For instance in the past few months, Farshid Beheshti Zad and Sheis Amani from Kurdistan Textile company, Sadegh Amiry, an activist of the Follow-up Committee for the Formation of Free Workers’ Organizations, Parviz Salarvand, a worker from Iran Khodro car plant, seven activists from the city of Saqez 2004 May Day celebration, and Mohsen Hassan Zadeh from Kashan Textile have been arrested and interrogated, and some have been put on trial.

6) Workers of Iran demand direct control and monitoring of health and safety in their workplaces. They demand a ban on old, worn-out and substandard machines. They also demand a ban on hazardous substances that are already banned internationally, and which are endangering workers’ health and wellbeing. Workers are especially calling for an international body of delegates to be sent to monitor the situation in Iran Khodro car plant, where in less than two years nine workers have lost their lives.

7) Workers of Iran object to the presence of Islamic Council and Workers’ House officials and thugs at the meetings of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the name of Iranian workers’ representatives. They must be thrown out of the ILO and its annual conferences.

 

Workers’ House and Islamic Councils tried to use this year’s May Day as a presidential campaign for Rafsanjani. 12,000 workers left Azadi stadium in Tehran when they found out that Rafsanjani was scheduled to speak there, turning the event into a fiasco for the government and the Workers’ House. Also on May 9 this year, Workers’ House and Islamic Council hooligans, with Hassan Sadeghi and Parviz Ahmadi Panjaki as ringleaders, attacked Vahed Bus Drivers’ Union centre, beating up its leaders and wrecking the centre and its property. This barbaric attack shows the true nature of these organisations, which are rightly hated by workers. In this connection, the Follow-up Committee for the Formation of Free Workers’ Organizations and other workers’ groups have written protest letters to the ILO.   

 

These are some of the immediate demands of workers in Iran. Workers in Iran fight for a better life, for welfare, for freedom of expression and organisation, and other political rights recognized internationally.