Recent events have shown that Iran’s working class is willing and able to fight consistently against the capitalist class, the regime and the state. By the end of the current Iranian year (on 20 March) the number of workers’ strikes and protests in the course of the year could reach the 1,000 mark.
Recent struggles or issues include: Esfahan Kashi (tiles) where production has come to a halt and workers are threatened with unemployment; Iran Chooka (wood and paper) where jobs are under threat; Palood Dairy, five months’ unpaid wages; Tabriz Combine Sazi, where workers prevented plant equipment from being removed; increased workloads for nurses; Foolad Shafagh (steel) where 100 workers were on strike for over four days; oil workers demanding the removal of the new cap on their end of service bonus; Jahan Electric, five months’ unpaid wages; Sad Siazakh (water network), nine months’ pay; Vahed Bus Company workers protesting about a housing co-operative that should have delivered their flats five years ago!
The two most important strikes were firstly the workers of HEPCO (Heavy Equipment Production Company), a company producing road construction equipment, went on strike and gathered in a big square in Arak demanding eight months’ wage arrears. And secondly, a new strike by Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane complex’s workers. On 6 February, the seventh day of their strike, the workers closed the sugar warehouse and prevented any sugar from being taken out of the complex.
They emptied the lorry that had already been loaded with sugar. A few days into the strike over 30 Tappeh workers were arrested (but released quite quickly). Those arrested included Esmail Bakhshi, a representative of the Haft Tappeh workers, who said in a speech on 15 January the following: “They [the management] claim that they don’t have any money. Neither have we! But we differ from them in that we have the expertise to produce sugar, so we’ll manage it ourselves.”
There was also the very welcome news of Reza Shahabi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company, being released on medical leave earlier of five days on 8 February. Earlier 32 lawyers had demanded his release. It is vital that he now stays out of prison. He has served his sentence and his latest stretch in jail led to two strokes!
Is pay a purely economic demand? Pay is a big problem for Iranian workers. On the surface strikes and protests demanding unpaid wages — or even higher pay — might look like purely economic struggles. However, given the explosive situation in Iran any such demand, no matter how meek or defensive it might appear, leads to direct confrontation with the repressive forces of the capitalist state. In addition, the state sector and what many call the quasi-state sector (e.g., the Pasdaran and religious foundations), control the overwhelming majority of the Iranian economy. So when workers take action against their employer for very basic demands they are effectively taking action against the regime and the capitalist state.
We have seen how the Haft Tappeh workers have raised the issue of taking over production and have prevented the distribution of sugar. They are talking about workers’ control of production and distribution while also issuing a joint statement with the Vahed Bus Company workers and retired workers about the minimum wage that will be set for next year (the regime decides what is the poverty line, the minimum wages and so on)! The Haft Tappeh workers don’t see these as separate struggles, especially in today’s Iran.
Workers’ control of production and distribution should be coupled with opening the books so that workers can see why their bosses and the regime are not paying them on time, how much profit is being made, and so on.