The workers at the Haft Tappeh sugar cane complex in south-west Iran, who have struck repeatedly in recent years, are now in the 8th week of a new strike. Their action has been joined by a rash of strikes over unpaid wages in Iran’s oil and gas industry.
Iran is in deep economic trouble, with high inflation and unemployment. The oil price is low, and US sanctions are hurting. Despite the new power which Iran’s rulers have gained over the last decade or so in Syria and in Iraq, domestically they are more and more seen as a corrupt robber regime.
On top of that comes the rulers’ incapacity to limit the spread of Covid-19. Iran had a rapid rise of infections early on, starting late February. After an initial lockdown, infections declined in April. The government wound back the lockdown ineptly, with infections still high, and since May cases, followed with a lag by deaths, have risen again.
On official figures, infections and deaths have now plateaued, at a high level, but many sources say the real toll is much higher yet.
Unlike in other countries overwhelmed by the virus, in Iran many workers are fighting back, with industrial action.
The regime has stepped up executions of its political prisoners, including of protesters from late 2019 and early 2020, but workers remain militant.
The Haft Tappeh workers’ main demand is to revoke the privatisation of the sugar-cane complex.
Their demands include:
• Immediate payment of unpaid wages and renewal of insurance booklets.
• Immediate reinstatement of all sacked workmates.
• Immediate arrest of Omid Asadbeigi (former CEO of Haft Tappeh) and life sentences for Asadbeigi and Mehrdad Rostami (chair of the board: both are currently on trial for fraud reaching $1.4 billion)
• Return all embezzled wealth to the workers immediately
Since April or May there have been hundreds of strikes in sectors including coal mines, steel, rail, power, heavy machinery, textiles, timber, domestic gas, hospitals and local councils. There have been protests by teachers, nurses, university lecturers, retirees, copper miners, and other workers.
In early August, workers at many sites in Iran’s petrochemical industry, its main revenue-earner, joined them.
Workers of Kangan, Parsian, Sepehr Lamerd and Exir companies in phase 13 of the South Pars gas field, have stopped work three days in a row and gathered at their workplaces.
More than 10,000 workers are said to have lost their jobs at refineries across Iran. On 4 August, Petropalayesh workers in the South Pars Energy Special Economic Zone joined the strike. The protesters are demanding job security, revoking blank-sheet contracts, the payment of wage arrears, as well as a pay rise.
Workers of Qeshm Heavy Oil Refinery stopped work on 1 August in protest at non-payment of their wages.
Workers of the Abadan refinery stopped work the same day, to protest at non-payment of five to six months arrears of wages.
At the Lamerd refinery workers struck, on 1 August again, over four months’ wage arrears.
At the Parsian refinery, on the same day yet again, the strike was over lack of job security and non-payment of wages.
The protesting workers say that four years ago, in order to implement a government decree, they became “contractors”, but since then, the status of payment of some of their wage benefits has remained unknown. The protesting workers added: “While the employment contracts are all based on a bachelor’s degree or higher and the bad weather conditions at the workshop, these benefits have not been taken into account so far.”
There have also been strikes in phases 22 and 24 of the Kangan South Pars refinery, and at Pars Phenol Petrochemical in Assaluyeh.
• The Shahrokh Zamani Action Committee works in Britain to get news of these workers’ struggle and promote solidarity. More here