The Struggle of the Iranian Oil Workers Goes On

A Little Background

As we report on the continuing struggle of oil workers in Iran it is worth reminding our readers of their wider context. The whole working class in Iran is currently facing a double whammy of a crisis: a combination of Covid-19 and severe economic crisis, only partially the consequence of the US economic embargo. At the same time global warming has led to droughts and water shortages from Khuzestan in the South, to Lake Urmia in Azerbaijan in the North.(1) Since Ebrahim Raisi was elected into power (last June) more than 141 people have been executed. State spies and undercover agents are infiltrating every aspect of life (including workers’ strike committees). Yet, the tremendous hardships faced daily (around 26.5 million people out of a population of 85 million live in absolute poverty, and inflation is now officially at least 45%) are impelling more and more workers to raise their heads. So far in October alone we know that the sugar processing workers of Haft Tapeh have renewed their fight(2) while teachers in Tehran and 44 other cities have held protests. Despite the continued global media blackout they have all taken inspiration from the oil workers’ struggle.

The Struggle Goes On

Following our last report on the Iranian oil workers' strike,(3) when the strike had reached its 81st day (it started on 19 June 2021), on 12 September, the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers issued statement no. 20, under the title of What have been our achievements?, which we are publishing here. However, since then there have been reports that sections of striking workers are going back on strike. In our introduction to statement no. 12, Solidarity with Iran’s Oil Workers,(4) we assessed the Council's approach towards this issue, as mature, expedient and in line with workers' unity. Even though there still can be no talk of victory in any shape or form, the Council's policy in dealing with the formation of a "split" in the strikers’ ranks, has now proved to be correct. Most workers are going back on strike in protest against the contractors who are not sticking to their promises, without any side issues having been created, which otherwise could have been the case. Below we list a number of these events, as reported by the Council.(5)

For all the gruelling problems these workers face on a daily basis, to the extent that several workers have attempted to commit suicide recently,(6) they have nevertheless been able to keep their ranks united and have not fallen into the traps that anti-working class currents try to set up on daily basis. An example is the recent visit of the new president, Ibrahim Raisi, to the southern region, where most of the strikers work. With the inauguration of the president, widespread propaganda by the regime's "anti-imperialist" reactionary forces began to present him as a workers’ friend. They claim the new government is in favour of ousting Haft Tapeh’s private owner and may even support the re-nationalisation of several factories previously privatised: factories that are bankrupt and have been the source of scandal and corruption, all well-known to the general public. However, gone are the days when workers fall for these sort of tricks. This is what strikers wrote to the Council in protest against any welcome to the president:

Ibrahim Raisi is scheduled to visit Bushehr by Friday and visit the Assaluyeh refinery and petrochemical sites. In fear of facing a protest rally, they are securing the space so that no one can shout out. While we, the workers of an oil contract project, have been protesting for more than three months for our most basic demands, the leaders of the so-called piping groups — by pretending they are in favour of our demands, are asking the workers to actually comply with this atmosphere and invite everyone to remain silent.
"We want all the artisans in Assaluyeh to be ready to meet with the president on Friday and convey the problems of the working class to the esteemed president," the group wrote in their posts. By listing some of our demands, in order to silence us, it continues:
… on Friday, we should not think about being present at work, or clocking in, we should all go to the president's meeting together and express our problems to the popular president of the republic, who is the Supreme Leader's acolyte, to plea for help to achieve our rights.(7)

The workers' Council responded as follows:

We do not go to greet, we go to demand
Ebrahim Raisi and officials from the government are supposed to travel to Bushehr and visit the Assaluyeh refinery and petrochemical sites on the 15th of October. We do not go to greet. We go to demand and our programme for this day is as follows:
1. Our plan is to hold protest rallies in Assaluyeh and Kangan and in all oil centres in Bushehr, because after more than three months, our demands have still remained unanswered.
2. Our plan is to write our demands on banners and raise them and our voices to protest against all these rights.
3. We do not negotiate. We have already announced our demands. Our wages should increase as we have demanded. There should be 20 working days and 10 days of leave, and in this regard, we especially support the protests of our colleagues in Assaluyeh and Kangan, who have not received any response. We emphasise that wages must be paid on time and that accommodation, food and workplace safety must be seriously improved. At the same time, we, in alliance with our third-party workmates at Mahshahr Petrochemical, emphasise the need for direct employment contracts as our inalienable right, along with the dismantling of temporary contracts.
Let us all be ready together and united. Our protests will continue until our demands are met.
Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers
26 October 2021(8)

Statement No. 20

What have been our achievements?
What is the situation of the striking workers? What have been our achievements?
Our strike over the oil workers’ contract has now been underway for more than eighty days. What is the current situation? These are the questions we are trying to answer.
According to some reports, many companies have already re-started their activities with minimum manpower. This is the case, since some fellow workers have returned to work on the basis of the promises that contractors have made.
However, when they return to work and find out that contractors are not keeping their promises, they leave work and re-join the strike. A clear example of this in recent days is the resumption of the strike at Kavian Petrochemical, in the ODCC company in Isfahan refinery as well as those workers that are working in Phase 14 of Tanavob company. In this regard, 130 of our fellow workers at Pome in Phase 13 demonstrated when faced with contractors' misconduct.
And thus, a large part of our striking workmates have not yet returned to work, and while taking temporary jobs during this strike, they are pressuring the contractors to accept their demands, so they can return to work.
Workers who had to go back to work due to hardship during the nationwide strike, are now going back on strike when promises are broken.
In the meantime, those who have returned and are working on the basis of their agreements, and insist on their demands being honoured, have been pursuing the implementation of demands such as vaccination of all workers, payment of wage arrears, improvement of camps and food, etc. And one of their demands is that no more than 4 people should be lodged in each room and their health and living facilities should be improved.
These days, the contractors hope that with the end of the scorching heat of summer, they will be able to hire new workers from October and carry out their projects with sufficient force.
But the important point is that the new workers who start their employment in the same protesting atmosphere of the workplace, and who, in practice, also participate in the protests of the workers who are pursuing their demands, have no choice but to join in. In this way, the contractors are no longer free to act as they wish in the workplace, and so far we have put them in a much weaker position with our strike. Up to this point, the strike itself has been an important achievement for us.
The outcome so far is that we will continue the strike until our demands are met. If they do not fulfil their promises, we will strike again and we will insist on our demands being met in the workplace; and as long as this is the case, the "oil" will not rest and the situation will not return to the conditions before our strikes. So what have we achieved?
By sticking to our strike, we have put the contractors in a weak position, and with our protest meetings and discussions and the emphasis on our demands and imposing them, we have moved step by step towards dismantling the temporary contracting and economic slavery laws, and will continue to do so.
We have been able to win a doubling of wages and 20 days of work and 10 days of leave, and our strike has so far brought a degree of wage increase in various occupations.
We have been able to put the question of improving the standard of camps and food seriously on the contractors' negotiating table, and so far a few improvements have been made, but we will continue to protest until all our environmental and health and safety issues are resolved.
One of our demands is about workplace insecurity, which we are still working on, for we must not let the profiteering of the arrogant contractors take its toll on us every day.
Finally, and most importantly, we have set up our own council to organise our protest.
Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers
12 September 2021


(1) Iran: On Oil and Troubled Water

(2) Workers' Strikes in Iran: This Time it is Different

(3) Iran: Oil Workers Reject Trade Unions

(4) Iran: On Oil and Troubled Water

(5) List of renewed strikes, as reported by the Council:

13 September 2021: On 13 September, eighty workmates in Steam Company, including welders, fitters, scaffolders, installers, joiners and concreters at a Bushehr petrochemical site, went on strike to protest the non-fulfilment of the contractor's promises.

18 September 2021: Today, Saturday, 18 September, our project partners at Pars Ghodrat Contracting Company, who work at Kangan Petroleum Refinery, went on strike in protest at the contractor's non-fulfillment of promises.

18 September 2021: Workers working for Exir Company in Phase 14 have been on strike since 18 September in protest against the contractors' unfulfilled promise.

22 September 2021: On September 22, our project partners at the West Karun Power Generation Company went out on strike again in protest against the employer's broken promise.

2 October 2021: By Saturday, the 2 October, the welders in Payndan emphasise they will resign over their demand for employment contracts. In addition, the contract workers of the Exir project in phase 14 of Assaluyeh are still on strike, declaring that they will not go to work until the contracts are formalised.

3 October 2012: Today, 3 October, our colleagues in IGC Company, located in the Assaluyeh Phase 14 projects, went on strike again to protest against the contractors' failed promise and to pursue their demands.

29 October 2021: On 29 October, a group of workers from the transportation unit of the South Zagros Oil and Gas Exploitation Company gathered at their workplace in the Parsian, Agar and Delan operational areas of Shiraz to pursue their demands.




Sunday, October 31, 2021