The Iranian working people is fighting back the economic hardships brought by both 30-year neoliberal policies and U.S. comprehensive criminal economic sanctions. The minimum wage is US$ 120, inflation is around 50% per year, unemployment is on the rise, job security is almost not existent, temporary contracts are widespread and half of the working people live on the poverty line. Nevertheless, workers resistance is met by strong State repression.
By Fabio Bosco
Haft Tappeh Workers Stand Up and Fight Back
The most important struggle has been at the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane complex in south-west Iran, with most of its 2900 workers going on strike six times between January and November 2018.
In November 2018 they were joined by the National Steel Company workers. They went on strike and marched in the streets together, demanding months of unpaid wages and an end to the privatization of the companies. The strikes and protests lasted for around one month. During the strike more than 50 striking workers were arrested. Many of the workers were violently assaulted by security forces during their arrest or by intelligence forces while in detention.
Two of those arrested, namely Esmail Bakhshi, a well-known representative of workers of Haft Tappeh, and Sepideh Gholian, a free-lance journalist and workers activist, were forced to make confessions in front of TV cameras. On 19 January 2019, the national TV broadcasted this so called “documentary” which was widely condemned in Iran and internationally by workers’ and human rights’ organizations. After their release on bail, Sepideh Gholian and Esmail Bakhshi publicly announced with great courage that they were severely tortured and demanded a public enquiry and punishment for the perpetrators. Following the announcement, both were rearrested and currently are in prison. Amnesty International on January 29, 2019 reported that Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian “are at grave risk of further torture” after being rearrested. (Amnesty international, index number: 13/9745/2019).
On top of Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, Sanaz Elahyari, Amir Amirgholi and Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, who are independent journalists and workers’ rights defenders, all arrested in connection with the Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers’ strikes and protests, are still in prison despite of the end of their interrogation procedure several months ago.
It is interesting to notice that this radical strike has brought the spirit of workers’ participation in the 1979 Iranian Revolution through independent councils and workers’ control of the production. Esmail Bakhshi has called for the formation of “independent workers’ councils … to oversee the government’s performance and government institutions” and has said that there are two solutions: either “Haft Tappeh is completely in the hands of the workers … [and their] council” or the government takes it over “but not like before … [but] from ‘zero to one hundred’ of affairs are under the supervision of workers’ councils and workers’ general opinion …”
2019 May Day Rally in Tehran
The gathering was called by the militant and independent Tehran Bus Workers Union and supported by other independent labor and student organizations. Hundreds of people attended the rally held in front of the Majles (Parliament) in Tehran.
Half an hour later, security and intelligence forces along with agents wearing plain clothes violently assaulted the protesters. More than 40 people were arrested and taken to different detention centers in Tehran. Many of them were charged with “actions against national security” and released on bail although four women are still in prison.
Labor rights activists Anisha Assadolahi, Atefeh Rangriz and Neda Naji and journalist Marzieh Amiri – are still in jail although their interrogation procedure ended more than one month ago, and they should have been released in accordance to the law and court proceedings. Currently there is an international campaign demanding their freedom.
Continued Teachers’ Strikes
In the last twelve months Iranian teachers staged four separate national strikes demanding pay rise, release of all imprisoned teachers, right to set up independent teachers’ organizations, free education for all and an end to the privatization of education.
Teachers’ protests and strikes have been ongoing events in recent years. The Iranian authorities have responded to teachers’ demands by threats, intimidations, prosecutions and sentencing more teacher labor activists to prison.
Esmail Abdi a member of the Iranian Teachers’ Association – Tehran board of directors, was arrested on July 27, 2015 because of his trade union activities and was sentence to 6 years in prison. He is currently detained in notorious Evin prison serving his jail term.
Mohammad Habibi, another member of the board of directors was violently attacked and arrested by security forces on May 20, 2018 at a peaceful teachers’ gathering. Later, on August 4, 2018, the Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced Habibi to ten years and half in prison; his sentence also includes 74 lashes. He is currently held in Tehran’s largest prison.
Mahmoud Beheshti Langroody, spokesperson of the association, was sentenced to 5 years in prison in summer of 2015 and currently held in prison.
Rohellah Mardani, another teacher activist, was arrested on June 9, 2019 and later sentenced to 2 years in prison and currently serving his term. And the list continues.
Mass Protests On New Year’s Eve
All these labor actions were preceded by a wave of street demonstration across the nation in late December 2017/early January 2018 when the working people held demonstrations in more than a hundred cities.
Economic and political slogans were a prominent feature of these demonstrations. Iranian authorities resorted to brutal force to suppress the protests: 20 demonstrators were killed by the security forces, and over 4000 demonstrators were arrested and imprisoned.
However, all this brutal repression did not prevent workers’ actions – strikes, rallies and street protests – which have been a constant since then.
On top of labor activists, there are many other political prisoners in Iranian jails. Just to name a couple of them:
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a women’s rights activist, was arrested on June 13, 2018 and sentenced to 38 years and six months in jail plus 148 lashes.
Narges Mohammadi, a human rights activist known for opposing death penalty sentences, was arrested on May 2015 and sentenced for 16 years in prison.
Currently there are ongoing international campaigns for their immediate freedom.
Another important international campaign is around the mass killings carried out by the Iranian regime on July-September, 1988, when around 5 thousand political prisoners were executed.
It is necessary to join the international campaigns in solidarity to all activists under persecution and/or arrest and to support the Iranian working class in their struggle against U.S. sanctions and for labor, social and democratic rights. Certainly, sooner or later, a new wave of struggles will grow into a full-fled new revolution against both the dictatorship and imperialism, as in 1979.