Workers' Strikes in Iran: A New Wave of Struggle

In December 2018 we wrote an an article entitled Workers' Strikes in Iran: This Time it is Different (1) about the end of the magnificent strikes and demonstrations of the Haft Tapeh(2) sugarcane factory workers. The promises which were made to the workers then were once again broken, and when they had not been paid since March 2020 they resumed their strike on 15 June. As we write they have now been on strike for over 2 months.

They are not alone. With the Haft Tapeh workers' strike entering its 64th day, it is reported that from the first of August, a wave of strikes has spread in the oil and gas industries and petrochemical complexes in Ahvaz, Abadan, Isfahan, Qeshm, Mahshahr, Kangan, Lamerd, Mehr, Jafir and Dasht-e Azadegan, Sabalan power plant company in Ardabil, as well as Hepco in Arak, and marked one of the most important and widespread workers’ strikes in recent years. The protests in most cases are for their overdue wages, against the laying off of contract workers, improved working conditions, and greater job and livelihood security, against price hikes (the national currency has massively depreciated – it is the lowest in 35 years), removal of the Islamic Shura, and thus against militarisation of the workplace, etc.(3)

The Iranian economy is in deep crisis. As we have pointed out many times before, this is fundamentally due to the world capitalist crisis, however, the combination of ruling class corruption and incompetence, and international sanctions has exacerbated it. Some workers are demanding the re-nationalisation of their works since they hope that even a corrupt state will pay their wages more promptly whilst the crooks who got hold of the firms are given state grants to keep them operating. Grants which are not invested in the firm but in the bank accounts of the owners.

However to put things in their wider context let’s start where the Haft Tapeh workers left off in December 2018. In the course of their struggle the strikers of Haft Tapeh developed a wider vision than the immediate realisation of their necessary demands. This was voiced by the Haft Tapeh worker, Yousef Yar Ali, at the end of the strike. In response to the question of whether this was “the end of the struggle” he prophetically stated:

... it is a mistake if anyone thinks that we did not know that it would not be possible to conquer the factory or have workers’ control with this strike, we knew and know and the workers know too!!! In order to achieve a soviet way of life, factory conquests and worker's control require much larger struggles and a very wide-spread class solidarity, and in order to advance towards such goals, the working class needs to seize political power, but ... it has to start from somewhere ... It began in Haft Tapeh, and will continue in Haft Tapeh again, and no doubt will start soon in other factories. The struggle in the Haft Tapeh was just a first step to start to show what soviet life meant, so workers get to know where and how they can achieve their rights, we keep wanting a soviet life-style, and we will use every effort to achieve it and to do so we are not afraid of facing any problems. We are present where the struggle is and undoubtedly, in the near future, hand in hand with the rest of the workers, the streets and cities and the whole country under the feet of the workers will again tremble. We are the workers who have become aware of our own class rights and will not give up on our demands until the overthrow of capitalist government and establishment of workers' soviets, so we can have a soviet life-style to pave the way for the potential growth for workers and other members of the community and to bring it to all Iranian people ...

Perhaps now that wider movement is beginning, but to expand it faces a number of massive obstacles. We can see this just by examining all the tricks and pressures that the state has brought to bear on the workers' movement since December 2018. It is a story of great effort and courage in dealing with the problems posed by the regime. The workers did what they said they would do. They fought tooth and nail, risking their lives, not only in the face of torture, intimidation, arrests and imprisonment, they did not give up for a moment, and not only in the face of hundreds of arrests and imprisonments, they stood like a mountain and insisted on their demands, but also in the face of thousands of conspiracies and tricks, lies and blackmail and attempts to divert their struggles, they demonstrated their class consciousness. They thwarted the plans and betrayals of a few traitors in their ranks, and resisted the temptations of reformists and the deception of false friends. Just a day after the end of their strike in 2018, they started fighting again. A brief look, however, only at the headline of this resistances, on the one hand, shows the brutal and barbaric nature of this regime, and on the other hand, shines light on the nature of the militancy of a class that has no way to save itself except in resisting the barbarism of this system. In this turbulent course, not only did that glorious strike become a valuable experience for the Haft Tapeh workers themselves, but, as expected, it also had unprecedented effects on the struggles of other sections of the working class and at the same time benefited from their immediate support. Today, when Kerman coal workers go on strike in front of the governor's office in the city, and involve their families in the protests, they are doing exactly what their comrades did in Haft Tapeh when they took their protests to the governor's office in Shush with their families. In this brief overview, we will try to emphasize the strengths and achievements of this resistance and critique its weaknesses in order to contribute to its development.

What took place....

A wave of arrests, torture and solid resistance

Ismail Bakhshi, who was arrested along with 17 other workers and the female social activist Sepideh Qalyan on 18 November 2018, after 25 days of detention and torture, was released on bail on 23 December 2018. In a short note, by saying, "Although I no longer understand the meaning of freedom, I felt a little free," he remained silent for a short time. His colleagues interpreted and understood his silence correctly and confidently. And with admirable confidence, they defended him wholeheartedly and demanded that the case against him be stopped. Prior to his release, on 2 December 2018, security forces raided the home of Ali Nejati without a warrant. This former workers’ representative, and member of the Syndicate of Haft Tapeh, was beaten mercilessly before being taken into custody. Asal Mohammadi, a female pharmaceutical student at the Azad University, was arrested as a member of the editorial board of Gam Magazine (which reported extensively on the strike) on 4 December 2018, on the eve of Student Day in Tehran, and was transferred to the Revolutionary Court of Evin Prison.

Sepideh Qalyan, who was arrested along with 17 Haft Tapeh workers after a month of detention, was released on bail on 18 December 2018. Less than two weeks after his release, on 4 January 2019, Ismail Bakhshi wrote an open letter to the Minister of Intelligence claiming that he had been severely tortured during his 25-day detention. He invited the Minister of Information to a televised debate. The very writing of such a letter showed his ingenuity and courage to challenge the power of this regime, as torture and intimidation have been the fundamental tools of this reactionary regime over the past 40 years. However, he wrote in his letter:

During the 25 days I was unjustly held in detention by your Ministry of Intelligence I was inflicted with pains and sufferings I am still grappling with.
First: during the first few days of detention I was tortured to the brink of death without hearing a single reason or even being spoken to a single word. The torrent of the kicks and punches was so harsh that afterwards, in my solitary cell, I could not even move a limb ...
The second problem that bugs me, Mr. Alavi, much more significant to me and my family than the physical and psychological tortures, is the tapping of my phone and eavesdropping on me and my family’s conversations by your intelligence services. I was told by my interrogator, "We know everything about you. We even know how many times your wife has argued with you about your struggles." When I asked, "How do you know?", he replied, "Your phone was tapped for a long time" ...
I, therefore, invite you, Mr. Alavi, to a live debate on national TV in order to hear your answers to the above questions.(4)

Ismael Bakhshi, 4 January 2019

As he wrote the open letter, pressure was mounted on him to deny the torture.

My client has been pressured to deny his allegations," Farzaneh Zilabi, Ismail Bakhshi's lawyer, told Event 24. Meanwhile, HRANA news agency wrote that "Mr. Bakhshi is contacted and threatened several times during the day.(5)

7 January 2019

But in the face of these pressures, the signs of class solidarity, albeit in small scales, presented to the public a magnificent manifestation of the potential of the working class to build a new society, and that the future belonged to those shuras (councils); Susan Razani, a member of the Sanandaj Women's Council and a labour activist who was also tortured, wrote an open letter of support to Ismail Bakhshi, a proud display of class unity from Kurdistan to Khuzestan. She wrote in her letter:

… On February 20, 2008, when I was sentenced to 75 lashes in Sanandaj court for participating in the International Workers' Day, I knew that this was neither the beginning nor the end. The struggle against inequality and discrimination, and the pursuit of a decent human world, will continue till the complete annihilation of the capitalist system ... I shake your hand warmly, I stand beside you and shout with you, I was also tortured.(6)

Susan Razani, 9 January 2019

Hereupon, Sepideh Qalyan and Asal Mohammadi announced that they were willing to testify about what they had heard and seen in the detention centre of the Ahwaz Intelligence Office.

Continuation of workers' struggle and the regime's desperation

The regime being desperate and concerned about the escalation of workers’ support, in order to prevent it from spreading, raided the homes and workplaces of those who showed the slightest sign of solidarity.

Despite these threats and arrests, the workers of different sections of Haft Tapeh sugar plant, in wildcat strikes and other work stoppages, insisted on their demands and constantly demanded the release of Ali Nejati and other detainees. In the universities, with the slogan of "We are all Bakhshi", his revelations and the struggle of the workers of Haft Tapeh was supported by holding demonstrations and sit-ins. In one of the proclamations we read:

... We have repeatedly chanted, "We are the children of the workers, we will stand by them," and today we, as ourselves the victims of "torture" and "imprisonment" for "Equality and Freedom," consider Ismail Bakhshi to be our comrade that we will always be on his side ... As we are united in resisting the waves of financialisation and privatisation, we are also united in enduring imprisonment and torture.(7)

Supported from various social groups for Bakhshi kept coming in. One hundred teachers showed their support by signing the following statement. It should be noted that putting signatures on such declarations in Iran carries a great risk. However, in parts of this announcement we read:

... After the violent arrest of justice seeker teacher, Mohammad Habibi, who was beaten and insulted, today we are witnessing the suffering of Ismail Bakhshi, who described the brutal torture during his detention in the Intelligence Detention Office ...
We believe the words of Ismail Bakhshi and demand the punishment of the perpetrators of torture. … We, the union activists, who have witnessed these barbaric and extra-legal behaviours many times, testify to the truth of Mr. Ismail Bakhshi's words and call for an end to the violence and torture of all prisoners and the release of union and political prisoners.(8)

Malicious TV broadcasts, the regime's trick to divert public opinion

Concerned about its failure to intimidate workers and political activists on the one hand, and the growth of support for them on the other, the regime was forced to find solutions, and to pursue something which its disgraceful record is replete with, which means:

  • Malicious TV broadcast of "Burnt Design" on the National Television
  • Denial of torture by the regime
  • Trapping labour activists in the maze of government bureaucracy

The reason for airing the "Burnt Design" documentary was primarily a reflection of the fact that the regime's first shot at intimidating worker activists had not worked. The arrest and torture of Ismail Bakhshi not only did not intimidate him, not only it did not deter the workers from their demands, but their courage and perseverance in forming their own shura (council) against the Islamic Shura, on the contrary had now become popular. In addition, Ismail Bakhshi, by publicising his own torture, had caused other victims of torture over the years to come forward so the issue of torture was publicly raised again. Therefore, in broadcasting "Burnt Design", the regime tried to counteract the effects of these revelations. but it failed miserably, as we wrote previously:

Only a few days after this malicious TV broadcast, the regime got egg on his face. A crowd of retired education and civil servant protesters gathered in front of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare on the morning of Tuesday 2 February, shouting the slogan "Torture! Documentaries! They no Longer Have Any Effect!"(9)

The regime's second ploy was to open "legal doors" to trap activists in the maze of the government apparatus. Motahhari, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, took the first step.

Ali Motahari, the Deputy Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, wrote in a note in the Etemad newspaper on Sunday, January 7, calling for the investigation into the "torture" of Ismail Bakhshi, a representative of the Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers, by Iranian intelligence agents and requested "a convincing response" from the Minister of Intelligence for this accusation that was made and he considered such a phenomenon, if this news is true, "a disgrace to the government of prudence and hope" ...
Referring to Mr. Bakhshi's remarks about "severe physical and mental torture in prison, as well as the wiretapping of his cell phone and conversations with his wife" by Ministry of Intelligence officials ... he added: "Is it not a disgrace to have such a claim on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution which in the third chapter of its constitution forbids any physical or mental torture to get a confession? Also, any eavesdropping is prohibited, except in special cases by law. "If Mr. Bakhshi's words are true, the perpetrators should be identified and punished as soon as possible."(10)

6 January 2019

Despite his outspoken gesture it only took a few days to retract and stutter this nonsense in an interview with Tasnim News Agency:

Ismail Bakhshi claims that he was tortured, but the Ministry of Intelligence says that he clashed with the agents and that there was some kind of confrontation between them … Ismail Bakhshi did not provide any proof to the deputies in line with this claim, in general, the judiciary is obliged to make a final judgment.

The same old song, the re-arresting of labour militants

The ineffectiveness of its tactics forced the regime to resort to arrest and intimidation once again. On 21 January 2019, Ismail Bakhshi was arrested again by plain cloth individuals. There were reports that a large number of armed forces, along with four patrol cars, stormed Ismail Bakhshi's home and detained him. Sepideh Qalyan, the social activist, was also arrested at her home at the same time. The three new charges were; spreading falsehoods, a national security offence and insulting the authorities. Instead of responding to Ismail Bakhshi's family, the prosecutor of Shush ordered the arrest of Ismail's mother! Instead of responding to Ismail Bakhshi's invitation to debate, the Minister of Intelligence accused him of spreading lies in filing his complaint!

From this date, that is from January to 1 May 2019, every day, the workers of Haft Tapeh, and their families, protested staging sit-ins in front of the factory, and the governor's office in Shush ... every day they made their demands and called for the release of those arrested. With the arrival of the New Year and the unprecedented floods, the pressure on workers and activists became even greater. As International Workers' Day approached, Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Syndicate, Pensioners Unity Group and Coordinating Committee To Help Workers' Organisations, in support of Ismail Bakhshi and other detainees, called for a rally in front of the parliament in Tehran on International Workers' Day. In this gathering, the protesters chanted “Bread, Freedom, are our divine right, Students Workers, Teachers unite”, and held up placards and photos, demanded the release of the detainees, Ismail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qalyan, among others. As always, security forces attacked the peaceful rally and arrested a large number of protesters.

The pressures mounted in various ways. An attempt was made to terminate Ismail Bakhshi's employment contract with the Haft Tapeh sugar factory. Farzaneh Zilabi, his lawyer, told Insaf News:

While my client, Mr. Ismail Bakhshi, was detained on security and non-security charges as reported by his employer and the Ministry of Intelligence, the employer of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Cultivation and Industry Company recently intended to unilaterally terminate his employment contract. After strong protests by workers and the family's concern as well as objections from some officials, it has been postponed. In case of termination of my client's contract, I will take the necessary legal action. (11)

8 July 2019

The detainees' telephones and contact with their families were cut off. In the face of these pressures, the detainees bravely resisted. Sanaz Al-Hayari and Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sepideh Qalyan, went on a hunger strike. Sepideh Qalyan announced that she would go on a hunger strike until her trial was held because of the atrocities committed against her and her parents, and her continuous transfers from one prison to another. Just a week before the date of the court hearing, in order to put pressure and threats on detainees, Farzaneh Zilabi, the workers' lawyer, was summoned to the Public and Revolutionary Court of Ahwaz!

3 August 2019, was the day of the trial. The Haft Tapeh Syndicate rightly called it a trial of “Bread, Jobs and Freedom”, because this court was putting the demands of Iranian workers and toilers on trial.

Trial of Bread, Work and Freedom

The significant presence of families and labour activists in front of the court in Tehran on the day of the trial, 3 August 2019, did not please the security forces, who tried to disperse them and prevent others from joining the rally, as a result of which 6 people were arrested by plain-clothes security men. The first session of the Haft Tapeh Workers' Court and the members of Gam Magazine was held in the Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Moghiseh. At first, the indictments of all the detainees were read. The men were then taken out of court. Ismail Bakhshi then went to court as the first defendant to defend himself. This illegal treatment was protested by Ismail and his lawyer. Judge Moghiseh did not even observe the legal minimums of the court and insulted Ismail Bakhshi's lawyer.

Judge Moghiseh's conduct showed that the trial was a mockery and that the verdict had already been handed down elsewhere. The trial showed that the judiciary is not only not an independent institution but also acts as a supportive arm for capitalism. Ismail Bakhshi, the representative of the Haft Tapeh workers, told the judge that:

My red line is the Haft Tapeh workers and my lawyer, and any insult to the Haft Tapeh workers and my lawyer will be answered decisively.

In one of the questions and answers from Ismail Bakhshi, Judge Moghiseh told Bakhshi:

The Slogan of Bread, Work, Freedom" is a communist slogan; Bakhshi told him that this was a slogan of livelihood and demands and defended the demands of the Haft Tapeh workers. In response to the defence of part of the slogan of the Haft Tapeh workers, Judge Moghiseh said: "The slogan of Bread, Jobs, Freedom is a slogan of above and below the abdomen.(12)

Sepideh Qalyan trial was held on Saturday, 10 August. She stated that she was pressured and tortured during the interrogation and was forced to confess, so she does not accept the verdicts.

Her defence lawyer, Jamaluddin Heidari Manesh, stated that “All the accusations were based on the statements of my client, because my client confessed under torture.” He further said that “My client, as the child of a worker, considered it her right to defend other workers and their rights, and this is not a crime.” The lawyer was then threatened with arrest and all his belongings were confiscated!

Finally, after months of pressure and violence against Ismail Bakhshi and Mohammad Khanifar, Sepideh Qalyan, Amir Hossein Mohammadi Fard, Sanaz Allahyari, Amir Amir Gholi and Asal Mohammadi, in the "Revolutionary Court", with the judgement of Judge Moghiseh, officially issued this verdict:

  • Ismail Bakhshi, worker: 14 years in prison
  • Sepideh Qalyan, supporter of Haft Tapeh workers: 18 years in prison
  • Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Editor-in-Chief of Gam Magazine: 18 years in prison
  • Asal Mohammadi, member of the editorial board of Gam Magazine: 18 years in prison
  • Sanaz Al-Hayari, editorial member of Gam Magazine: 18 years in prison
  • Amir Amirgholi, editorial member of Gam Magazine: 18 years in prison
  • Mohammad Khanifar, Haft Tapeh worker: 6 years in prison

Sepideh Qalyan, on her Instagram page, described the incident as follows:

In a short legal statement that determines our destiny and future, it is written that Sepideh Qalyan, Mohammad Khanifar, Amir Amir Gholi, Ismail Bakhshi, Amir Hossein Mohammadifard, Sanaz Al-Hayari and Asal Mohammadi are members of anti-regime groups for propaganda activities and spreading lies. All were examples of conspiracy and collusion, and we were all sentenced to five years in prison just like that ...
When I demanded the details of the verdicts from the secretary of the Revolutionary Court, they insulted me and told me that we are not telling you how many years of imprisonment you will get, so you do not get a chance to play the media game ...
Given the non-transparent process, I do not see these rulings as legitimate, and I knew from the beginning that our temporary release was nothing more than a show for the authorities.(13)

From Saturday, 7 September 2019, the full-time workers of Haft Tapeh in the industrial area of the company once again went on strike due to not receiving their July wages. On the fourth day of the gathering, 12 September 2019, coinciding after the release of the audio file which revealed the bribery of several members of the Islamic Labour Shura, workers protested against this blatant corruption. They demanded the dismissal and dissolution of the affiliated and bribe-taking organisation of the Islamic Labour Shura.

On September 8, the Judiciary-affiliated Mizan news agency reported that the new head of the judiciary, Ibrahim Ra'isi, had issued an order regarding the recent rulings of the Revolutionary Court, to be reviewed and reconsidered fairly. This time, instead of the Parliament and its deputies, who once dragged the workers into the corridors of the government and administrative deadlock, now one of the officials who had been part of the "death commissions" in the executions of the early years of the revolution, was playing the role of "Good Cop" claiming that the verdicts should be fair!

On 11 September 2019, it was announced that the CEO and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company were in custody for billions of Tomans in bribes to several government managers and misuse of hundreds of millions of dollars of government money.

As the strike continued, 40 Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers were summoned to report to the Shush security intelligence police. Meanwhile with the presence of the high-ranking commanders of the city, the commander of the police force and the head of intelligence protection of Shush (Bahmani) and the head of the police force (Baharvand) in the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company, along with the armed forces, threatened the workers. They told the workers that they should all return to work, otherwise they would be fired while filing a case.

On 7 October 2019, at a gathering of workers in the factory, the speaker for the meeting, Keramat Pam brought everyone’s attention to two issues.

First, he urged workers to keep supporting those who had been arrested at Khorramabad City by the security police when on their way to meet the social commission of Parliament. The content of his request shows that some workers had already opposed sending anyone to meet with the members of Parliament.

Second, he claimed that in his opinion, the request for ousting Asadbeigi, the owner of the plant, contradicts the demand for payment of arrears in wages. This, however brought objections from other workers in the meeting, who responded by saying that it makes no difference who is in charge of the factory, our demands are right and we must insist on them.(14) We have witnessed many such lively discussions in a general assembly in the last couple of years in many workplace, in particular Haft Tapeh, which is nothing but the reflection of the class struggle within the Syndicate or Shura. What is important is to move forward despite disagreement, which seems the militant workers of Haft Tapeh have done so well with admirable tactics without compromising their unity and integrity and also without falling into the trap of adventurous actions. We will get back to this issue when outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the movement at the end of this article.

With the strike entering its 28th day, the detainees, Sepideh Qalyan, Ismail Bakhshi and Asal Mohammadi, were released on bail within a week. However the strike continued, on Wednesday, 13 November 2019, more than a thousand Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers protested against the non-payment of their wages, as well as the lack of job security and for the return of their sacked colleagues.

On 16 November 2019, the unprecedented increase in the price of gasoline sparked the most widespread resistance to the regime in a decade. Demonstrators took to the streets spontaneously in many cities and towns.

At first the demonstrations were peaceful but when the Revolutionary Guard attacked them with live fire from the air and on the ground, anger erupted. Unemployed youths attacked police cars, banks (owned by the Revolutionary Guards), religious and government buildings, many of them disdaining to even hide their faces, in show of defiance born of desperation. The number of dead was at least 300 but since the Revolutionary Guards gathered up the bodies to hide the extent of those deaths (and shutting down the internet stopped photos of the massacres being relayed) it may be more. Relatives who asked for the bodies were arrested and cemeteries where funerals were being held were also attacked by the regime’s thugs. Thousands more were arrested and are now facing daily torture in prisons throughout Iran.(15)

The workers of Haft Tapeh, like the thousands of workers across Iran, participated in these demonstrations actively. The courageous presence of Sepideh Qalyan in the nationwide protests with photos, was reported in social media.(16)

On 6 December, it was announced that Ismail Bakhshi would return to work in Haft Tapeh. The union and other groups congratulated the Haft Tapeh workers on this success. Meanwhile, Ali Nehati, whose beating we mentioned above, a member of the Haft Tapeh Syndicate was sentenced by the Revolutionary Courts of Tehran to five years in prison on charges of conspiracy to act against national security through propaganda activities against the regime.

The continuation of deceptions and rumours

On 20 February 2020, the official ILNA news agency published the following text announcing the support of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company workers for the parliament candidacy of Alireza Mahjoub and Soheila Jelodarzadeh. The text and its content are a clear proof of the depth of the conspiracy and deception of false friends. Furthermore its misuse and seizure as desired of the workers' previous meeting with the members of Parliament.

... We have not forgotten that at the height of the events in Haft Tapeh, when no one could hear us, you were the only ones who invited our representatives to attend the parliament and gave us the opportunity to express our problems in the house of the nation.
… while we were looking for channels to convey our message to the state authorities, these two dear representatives of the working class community read the text of our letter in the open court of the Parliament ...
It goes without saying to expect that you could solve all the working class problems is a very irrational expectation, and in spite of all your loneliness ...
Finally, we, a group of Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers ... declared our support to the only voice of Iranian workers in the Parliament, we invite all trade unions, the dear workers of Tehran province to keep the voice of the workers in the Parliament by voting for these two candidates.(17)

The Syndicate of Haft Tapeh denied the news and announced that:

ILNA news agency has published a text which falsely claimed "a group of Haft Tapeh workers" supported Alireza Mahjoub and Soheila Jelodarzadeh, as their parliamentary candidates, and said that these are the only voices of the workers in Parliament ...
ILNA and the Workers' House are falsifying the news, and it is not clear which imaginary workers supported them. Declaring support for the election, surely does not lead to arrests, so why not publish the names of these workers? ...The declaration of support by the Haft Tapeh workers for these anti-working class individuals or any other candidate is a complete lie, and we hope that various media outlets will publish this letter in order to enlighten public opinion and prevent the misuse of the names of the Haft Tapeh workers.(18)

Another example of these kind of malicious tactics was the attempt to re-establish the Islamic Shura by using the return of an ex-member of the Syndicate of Haft Tapeh Board. They wrote in this regard:

Mr. Jalil Ahmadi was sentenced to prison in 1988 for his labour activities and was subsequently fired. But after nearly two years he returned to work with repeated follow-ups. We found out that Mr. Jalil Ahmadi voluntarily became a member of the Islamic Labour Council of his choice and is now working as its chairman!(19)

A new round of strikes and protests

After weeks and months of rallies, protests and strikes followed by trials and imprisonment ... and insisting their demands be met, as briefly described above, the workers went on a new round of strikes on 15 June, 2020, yet again to protest over the non-payment of their March wages, despite the distribution of pay slips. The other issue that was raised in this protest was renewal of health insurance booklets, which had been stopped and caused many problems for the workers and their families. In its list, there were demands for the expropriation of the privatised Haft Tapeh Company, the dismissal of pensioners who have been re-employed with salaries above 18 million to one hundred million Tomans, and as always, there was demand for Ismail Bakhshi, Mohammad Khanifar, Iman Akhzari and Salarbejni, to get their jobs back. Workers of all sections in the company, including, agriculture, factories, mechanical equipment, and administration, took part in the strike.

It should be noted that the strike took place during the trial of the CEO of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Complex, Omid Asadbeigi along with twenty other suspects. They were accused of "disrupting the country's currency and monetary system through major currency smuggling and unauthorised transactions using government's discounted hard currencies”. The very things that the workers of Haft Tapeh had been saying for the last few years and had been imprisoned for saying so. As expected, during the eight sessions of this trial, there was no mention of workers' demands.

Deceptions and rumours continued as before. Fars News Agency (close to the Revolutionary Guards) reported that the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company had been shut down, which was met with the Haft Tapeh Syndicate's response:

So far, whenever the workers of Haft Tapeh have protested for their rights and demands, they have tried to disperse the protesters in various ways. In a new example, Fars News Agency has claimed that Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company has been "shut down" in order to sow the seeds of despair and hopelessness among the striking workers.
If they think that the workers who have not been paid for three months will stop protesting just because of the "news" of their plan for the "closure" in order to destroy Haft Tapeh sugarcane and loot its resources by local and regional partners, they have no idea about the workers and have not learned from the protests of the Haft Tapeh workers.

To give some idea on how the state and its apparatus are gearing up to jump on the wagon and challenge workers’ strikes and in particular Haft Tapeh's protest, we only need to read the editorial in the national newspaper Kayhan on 20 July 2020:

These days, one of the courts of economic corruption is related to the buyers of Haft Tapeh Company. A young man who, along with his fugitive partner, bought a state-owned company in a bizarre process and, in simple terms, received $1.5 billion in government currency in the name of boosting production, but not a single penny was spent on the company and the workers. Rather, it was sold in the open market at many times the price. The Japanese are offering $5 billion to help us , and we asked for the same amount in loans from the International Monetary Fund – which did not happen because of US objections – meanwhile we are providing a young man with $1.5 billion in government currency!
… The oppressed workers of Haft Tapeh have to protest and march to get their salaries for several months ... A company whose buyers have pocketed such an amount of government currency, its workers have not been paid for several months. Haft Tapeh [Haft Tapeh in Farsi means Seven Hills] is just one of the hills of carelessness, and if we wanted to make a list of such carelessness, it will be a long one.

The fact that a newspaper so close to the Office of the Supreme Leader and, of course, very close to the security institutions (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) is attacking the private sector and defending the oppressed workers of Haft Tapeh, only shows the seriousness of what lies ahead and the danger the workers' struggles in general and Haft Tapeh in particular represent.

This faction of the Iranian state is the one that carries the title of "anti-imperialist". It is the same faction that beats the drums of war day in day out and talks about the enemy non-stop and ironically has a not-so-intelligent enemy who has repeatedly come to his aid, either out of stupidity or consciously, in the last two decades. The enemy that invaded Iraq which paved the way for Iran's influence up to the Mediterranean Sea. The enemy who, when the last protests took place in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon which had put the Islamic Republic in a very tight situation, by assassinating the Iranian general Soleimani, practically forced the masses to defend the Islamic Republic against their will.

This is the same faction that, by reviving the dead carcass of the "Resistance Economy"(20) that the leader of the Islamic Republic has been preaching for several years, is trying to ride on top of the workers' struggles with the ideas of nationalisation. The only way to counter these threats is to spread the strikes, which we have been growing in recent days, while maintaining class independence in the face of the manoeuvres of the various factions of the capitalist system which the workers' vanguard in Haft Tapeh has so far done very well to resist.

On the 53rd day of the strike, in the message of the pensioners to the striking workers of Haft Tapeh, we read:

The workers of Haft Tapeh have established a brilliant tradition in the movement of wages, salaries and pensioners of the country, which is extremely important and inspiring, and that is the pursuit and continuation of demand.
Neither summonses, threats, imprisonment, arrests and closures, nor the establishment of a starvation regime to disenfranchise the workers by ignoring their demands, nor the difficulties of forming supportive protest rallies in the coronavirus conditions, has deflected the steadfast will of the workers to pursue their rights. They did not succeed and remained in such a difficult situation that workers' protests have now erupted everywhere ...
We, the pensioners who, like other workers, teachers, nurses, and all other toilers, have been condemned to poverty and have suffered from meagre pensions, insufficient insurance, mass discrimination, and the conspiracies of those in power over our demands, support Haft Tapeh wholeheartedly.
The bright future of our children is tied to the victory of the workers and the unity of the toilers in the difficult struggle that is unfolding before all of us.(21)

All the evidence indicates that this time is different ...

Precious experiences that should be nurtured and cherished:

1. As can be seen from the videos on the Haft Tapeh Syndicate Telegram page, many different workers have been speaking at rallies and protests. In fact this has been encouraged by the Syndicate, which wrote:

Something that can be seen these days is that, every day one of our comrades despite having different ideas and opinion speaks at the rallies but with unifying ideas, and this is the strength of the recent strikes, and here we invite all fellow-workers who have the gift to speak publicly to do so, in the coming days. This will reduce the pressure on the others who have already done so. Dear workers it is necessary to remember that, if whoever takes this task, faces intimidation, but as the workers have shown in supporting 20 of their fired workmates, they will strongly defend you as well.

The only thing that needs to be emphasised in this case is what we addressed in our previous article, and that is:

In the bourgeois parliamentary system, being a representative just means passing power to one individual for many years, during which the elected representative is not bound to fulfil any obligations to voters. In contrast, in the workers movement, in the concept of soviet democracy, the delegate only has the authority for a specific action and practice, and is re-callable at any time, by those who elected her/him.

2. There are dangers. It is not clear what Ebrahim Abbasi's speech(22) in front of the protesting workers outside the management office on 1 October 2019, in which he held the Quran and the Iranian flag and demanded to be buried with it, could have to do with the strike. But whatever his intentions, whether short-term or long-term, such speeches will not only not help the struggle, but will also damage the unity of the working class. Contrary to the nonsense that the use of religious and national symbols causes all workers to participate in the struggle, it has been and will be the starting point of division and fragmentation of the working class.

3. Similarly, as mentioned above, on 7 October 2019, at a gathering of workers in the factory, in a speech to the workers, Keramat Pam raised two issues:

First, he called on workers to support the 11 Haft Tapeh workers who were supposed to meet with members of Parliament's social commission but were arrested by security police while travelling on the Khorramabad toll road. It is clear from the content of the talks that some workers have already opposed sending a number of workers to meet with members of parliament.

Secondly, in his opinion, the call to remove the current director, Omid Asadbeigi, and at the same time demand the payment of arrears of salaries was a contradiction. You could not do both. Some workers in this meeting rightly objected to this line of argument saying that it does not matter who is in charge of management, our demands are right and we must insist on them.

We gave our answer in our previous article that:

Under capitalism whether the state, through nationalisation, or a private individual owns a unit of production is immaterial and support for one or the other has no place in worker's demands. It seems that this is the biggest danger that threatens the recent protests. However the history of the company itself, and the past illusions of their representatives about subsidies under Ahmadinejad's government provides enough experience for militant workers not to fall to this trap again. Production can only be socialised once the workers have abolished the law of value and money.

4. One of the strengths of this strike and demonstration has been that the activists of Haft Tapeh have constantly emphasised the unity and integrity of their ranks in various fields of struggle, even when there is disagreement, and have admirably maintained it and avoided fragmentation. In the union's invitation to workers to remain vigilant, we read:

Let's defeat the "divide and rule" policy with unity!
Dear workers
As you are aware, for some time, the employers of Haft Tapeh, through their agents, puppets, have been trying to create division by stirring up discord between the Arab and Lor brothers and sisters and other nationalities living in the region. They promote the dirty "divide and rule".(23)

5. In one of the Telegram posts, some workers asked why Ismail Bakhshi and the workers' representatives of Haft Tapeh do not solve the workers' demands and problems through dialogue and consultation? Ismail Bakhshi responded as follows in his note:

During the Haft Tapeh workers' strikes in recent years, one of the criticisms that critics, and several veterans of the labour movement were unfortunately among them, made was why did Ismail Bakhshi and the Haft Tapeh workers' representatives not resolve workers' demands and problems through dialogue. Some even claimed that Bakhshi and his friends do not have the bargaining skill, so they tried to achieve their goals through strikes.
In response to these friends, the best example would be to refer them to the meetings on the minimum wage rate by labour representatives (of course, I do not know who appointed them representatives of the entire Iranian workforce) with the representatives of employers and the government. After two months of meetings and discussions, the result was the same as that of the employers and the government were pushing for. The so-called workers' representatives were not even taken seriously, and the minimum wage rose from one million five hundred to one million eight hundred in the year when inflation was officially 41 percent! Well, this is the result of trying to resolve workers’ problems through dialogue, in just one of the hundreds of workers' demands, the minimum wage.
Should this 41% wage increase be called the minimum wage or the minimum minimum wage?When they do not even take the representatives seriously, is there any choice left for the workers other than to organise and strike?
If, in addition to the minimum wage, we have had said the minimum share for the worker in production, the minimum share of the worker in profit, the minimum share of the worker in wealth, and tens of other minimum shares in labour and production and sales and profit and money should be included, what would they have done?(24)

Ismail Bakhshi, 11 April 2020

Ismail Bakhshi rightly points out the need to flex muscles in bargaining and rightly says that without the threat and shadow of a strike on the negotiating table, nothing will ever be done in favour of the workers. Nevertheless, it is essential that the demands of the workers be clearly articulated at every stage of the struggle, and that red lines that cannot be crossed be drawn, even at the cost of the defeat of the strike. In this strike, the return of the sacked workers to work was one of the red lines that has been adequately protected to this day. Finally, the nature of the current epoch of working class struggle requires that the negotiating organs of the struggle should be seen as a temporary bodies in order to avoid integration with capitalist management, as we have already written:

Naturally workers in struggle look to unite and many will look to trade unions for bargaining their labour power. However under modern capitalism any such organs are soon drawn into the legal apparatus of the state. Their representatives cease to represent the workers’ interests and instead become one further layer of management. Even if it is unavoidable and necessary in places like Iran for workers to form “unions” as part of their struggle, they will, if they are to remain organs of struggle, only have a temporary nature.

In conclusion, the spread of the struggle to other sections of the working class will not only determine the outcome of the strike, but it will also seal the fate of the post-coronavirus struggles. It is no exaggeration to say that this strike has had an impact on the strikes that are now taking place in 38 locations countrywide, and the slogan of “Bread, Jobs, Freedom – Soviet Organisation!” has now resonated in other strikes, and it will certainly affect other workers’ struggle in the region. Again, as we have said before:

In reality the call for shuras, whether the movement recognises it or not, will not be acceptable to the capitalists of Iran. This then poses the question of where the movement goes next. Ultimately the call to administer production is also a recognition that the old system is failing. However to go further the vanguard of the workers need to form themselves into a political fighting force which not only provides a programmatic direction for the class as a whole but also seeks to link with the wider international communist movement. Still, the only guarantee of any kind of success is the massive spread of the struggle right across Iran (and beyond, if it ignites the flame of resistance elsewhere)...

Damoon Saadati

17 August 2020

Notes

(1) For our past coverage of the struggles in Haft Tapeh, see: leftcom.org

(2) Haft Tapeh or Tappeh – both transliterations from Farsi are in common use. It means Seven Hills.

(3) Video links to the strikes can be found here:

  • Sixty days of Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers' strike. t.me
  • Strike of steel company workers in Khorramshahr demanding increase of salaries. t.me
  • Qeshm Green Space Workers Strike August 12, Protest Non-Payment Deferred Salaries and Benefits. t.me
  • Hepco Arak workers gathered August 14, due to job and livelihood uncertainty and false promises of officials in the factory. t.me
  • Gathering of private bus drivers in front of the Company, not been paid yet! t.me
  • Workers of the Ahwaz Recycling Company gathered in front of the municipality to protest the non-receipt of their salaries for three months. t.me
  • Continuation of the gathering of nurses in Mashhad hospitals in protest of discrimination in the payment of staff and non-implementation of nursing laws in front of the Khorasan Governor's Office. t.me

(4) t.me

(5) bbc.com

(6) dw.com

(7) t.me

(8) t.me

(9) leftcom.org

(10) dw.com

(11) ensafnews.com

(12) This comment by the judge was intended to be insulting the workers in the crudest terms meaning that they were only interested in the filling their bellies and having sex. t.me

(13) instagram.com

(14) t.me

(15) leftcom.org

(16) t.me

(17) ilna.news

(18) t.me

(19) t.me

(20) See leftcom.org

(21) t.me

(22) t.me

(23) The Lor is a person from Lorestan Province next to Khuzestan and one of the many minorities in Iran. t.me

(24) t.me

Monday, August 17, 2020