Workers Day protests in Iran, photo Armin Karami/CC

Workers Day protests in Iran, photo Armin Karami/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Lukas Z-belein, Sozialistische Organisation Solidarität (CWI Germany)

Since the beginning of August, Iran has seen more and more workers from different sectors follow the example of the Haft Tappeh sugar cane workers who went on strike on 14 June. These workers engaged in class struggle because it is part of the harsh normality for workers across Iran that they are cheated of their wages and social benefits.

At the peak of the industrial action, workers at more than 40 companies were on strike. This was a new stage in the emergence of an independent workers’ movement in Iran, a process which has been developing since 2017.

On 12 August a solidarity declaration (see – initially signed by 50 trade union, student and other organisations in Iran – indicated the scale of support for this movement.

The Iranian government employed different tactics to answer this growing unrest, including repression, arrests and long prison sentences for worker activists.

Free jailed workers

Among those workers persecuted is Jafar Azimzadeh, chairman of the Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW). In this role, Azimzadeh supported workers all over the country who have been organising to fight for higher wages and better working conditions, as well as campaigning for these demands in the company that employs him. In the recent period a number of other FUIW leaders have been jailed.

Azimzadeh was recently sentenced to five years in prison for his trade union activity. From 17 August he went on hunger strike, despite the fact that he has heart and lung disease from his last time in prison, and recently contracted coronavirus,

Azimzadeh was immediately transferred to Rajai Shahr prison. With this manoeuvre, the Iranian regime is depriving Azimzadeh of the health care he needs. It shows, once again, how brutally the regime deals with every form of resistance. It underlines how necessary it is to fight inside and outside Iran for the democratic right of Iranian workers to organise, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Iran.

Currently, the vanguard of this strike wave has been the Haft Tappeh workers, who have been on strike for over two months. For years, they have been building their collective strength, including developing solidarity networks among the local population living around their workplace, and who now provide them with food and other help.

On 30 August, after eleven weeks of struggle, the workers at Haft Tappeh ended their strike, although the workers who have lost their jobs are continuing their protests.

The workforce as a whole decided to give the government 15 days to meet all their demands. If this doesn’t happen, they plan to occupy the privatised workplace and run it as a ‘workers’ council’.

This would definitely mean a new stage of escalation in the struggles. It could lead to a very hard confrontation with the Iranian regime and its apparatus of repression. A key question is what support such a step would get from other workers and young people who have been in opposition to the regime.

International solidarity would also be important from trade unions and the left. This is is particularly important because western powers could hypocritically pretend to support the workers as part of their work to establish a friendly regime in Iran.

The support which the Haft Tappeh workers have built is an example for workers in other sectors to follow. The creation of local, regional and national support or action committees, with real roots in the workplaces, would enable discussion and organisation of the struggles, and build solidarity with them.

Next steps?

The coordination of both struggles and solidarity activity is needed now. The question of what next steps are necessary has to be discussed.

Joint demonstrations of strikers in different regions (socially distanced because of coronavirus) would bring both strikers and supporters together. General strike action, possibly initially for 24 or 48 hours, on a regional basis, can be both a show of strength and a step towards the next stage of struggle.

When the strikes were increasing a few weeks ago, a call for national action could have got a real response. Even if, for now, such a call is not immediately on the table it can quickly return, as conditions change. Such collective action could both help win the workers’ immediate demands and show that the working class is an independent force fighting for all the oppressed.

We previously reported the significance of the fact that the Haft Tappeh workers had demanded the renationalisation of their privatised enterprise, and its management by a workers’ council, with decisions made collectively. Such demands boldly raise the question of who controls Iranian society.

These ideas pose the question of the need for the working class to have its own party. Committees formed to support and organise struggle could become the basis of such a party, discussing how it could be formed and its initial programme. A workers’ party would need to take up both democratic demands, like the right organise and free elections, combined with economic and social demands.

Nationalisation and democratic workers’ control over the economy, which the Haft Tappeh workers raised, would be a significant part of socialist policies to transform society. A party with such a socialist programme could unite the struggles of all workers, as well as the struggles of the social and environmental movements, and provide them with a clear path to break with oppression and capitalism.