Mass protests in Iran: Is the working class awakening?

Mass protests in Iran: Is the working class awakening?

Now the mullahs are taking targeted action against the Kurds, whom they apparently see as a major contributor to the protests. But now a number of oil workers are joining the mass protests by young people, students and women. Maybe there will be a general strike after all.

 “Iran is stepping up action against demonstrators in Kurdish areas A human rights group reports a large number of security forces in Kurdish cities and other deaths. Oil workers join the protests.

Updated October 10, 2022 8:11 p.m Source: ZEIT ONLINE, Reuters, AP,

 Iran is apparently taking tougher action against anti-government demonstrators in the Kurdish regions. This emerges from unconfirmed reports in social media and videos. These showed protests in a dozen cities and serious clashes between protesters and police. The human rights group Hengaw reported a large presence of security forces in the Kurdish cities of Sanandaj, Seqiz and Diwandareh. According to this, at least five Kurdish residents of the region have died since Saturday. The information could not be independently verified.

Protests spread to oil and gas industries According to other unconfirmed reports, oil workers at the Abadan and Kangan refineries and the Bushehr Petrochemical Project are now taking part in the protests. Video recordings showed dozens of men, some of whom were masked, shouting protest slogans such as „Death to the dictator“ in Assaluje on the Persian Gulf. No problems in the plant were reported by the Iranian side. The semi-official news agency Tasnim reported that the background to the protests was a dispute over wages. There was no comment from the Ministry of Oil. In long-sanctioned Iran, the oil and gas industry is an enormously important source of income. Should the protest movement gain more and more support among the workers in the industry, that would pose a serious threat to the leadership in Tehran. So far, students and schoolchildren have played a central role in protests. The seizure of power by the clergy in Iran four decades ago was fueled in part by mass protests and strikes by oil workers and traders.

While the German newspaper ZEIT brings this up as a detail to be reported shortly, the Jerusalem Post sees this as a development that could bring the Iranian system to a collapse should there be strikes in the oil industry, especially as these have previously played a major role in the overthrow of the Shah.

Oil workers join Iran protests: ‚We’ll destroy everything we built‘

Oil worker strikes were pivotal in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which led to the fall of the Shah.

By Tzvi Joffre

Published: OCTOBER 11, 2022 16:38

Updated: OCTOBER 11, 2022 19:56

Contract workers at petrochemical plants and oil refineries across Iran went on strike on Monday and Tuesday, as protests following the killing of Mahsa Amini continued across the country for a fourth week.

Workers at the South Pars Phase 14 Conventional Gas Field stated in a video shared on social media that they were giving Iranian forces attacking protesters three days to lay down their weapons, warning that otherwise „we will destroy everything we have built.“ Another video reportedly from the South Pars platform showed a worker announcing his cooperation with striking oil workers and repeating the warning that workers would „destroy everything“ they built if the suppression of protesters did not cease.

«منم بختیاری منم مرد جنگ، بمیرم به نام و نمانم به ننگ»هشدار کارگران سکوهای پارس جنوبی به نیروهای سرکوبگرکارگران پارس جنوبی امروز طی پیامی ویدئویی خطاب به نظامیان مزدور هشدار داده بودند: اگر اسلحه را زمین نگذارید، هر چه ساختیم، تخریب می‌کنیم!#اعتصابات_سراسری #اعتراضات_سراسری

— Iranworkers (@iranworkers) October 11, 2022

The Organizing Council for Protests of Oil Contract Workers had warned late last month that petrochemical workers would strike if the suppression of protesters continued.

ادامه‌ی اعتصابات و اعتراضات کارگران پالایشگاه آبادان، امروز ۱۹ مهر ۱۴۰۱#مهسا_امینی

— +۱۵۰۰تصویر (@1500tasvir) October 11, 2022

Starting on Monday, workers at the Hengam and Bushehr petrochemical facilities launched strikes in support of the protests taking place across the country. Workers at the Kangan petrochemical company and the Abadan Refinery joined the strikes later in the day.

The organizing council addressed oil and petrochemical workers across the country on Monday, stressing that „now is the time to protest widely and prepare ourselves for nationwide and back-breaking strikes.“

The council demanded that the government release all arrested protesters and stop attacking protesters. At least 11 striking oil workers have been since Monday, according to the council.

Footage reportedly from a petrochemical facility in Asaluyeh showed workers chanting „death to the dictator.“ Additional footage showed workers gathering outside additional facilities, including in Abadan.

Oil worker strikes were pivotal in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which led to the fall of the Shah. If the strike by oil workers continues for an extended period, it could cause significant damage to the stability of the current regime, although that would depend on a number of different issues, including who joins the strike, how the workers organize and other issues.

Governor of Bushehr, Ahmad Mohammadizadeh, called for the demands of striking workers to be given priority on Tuesday, according to Iranian media.

„All labor groups, including the government sector and employers, must protect the dignity of workers,“ said the governor. „The trade union demands of the workers of South Pars region should be followed seriously and in a special way.“

Strikes have been reported in additional sectors as well amid the protests, including in markets in Tehran and in universities across the country.

The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industrial Complex Labor Syndicate trade union has called on additional sectors and businesses to join the nationwide strike. „Freedom from oppression and exploitation, from discrimination and inequalities is possible with unity and solidarity,“ said the union.

Protests continue across Iran

Extensive protests across Iran continued on Tuesday, with Iranian forces intensifying their crackdown on the demonstrators in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj and other cities.

تیراندازی مستقیم نیروهای سرکوبگر به سوی منازل شهروندان در شهرک نایسر سنندجشامگاه دوشنبه ۱۸ مهر ۱۴۰۱#مهسا_امینی #kurdistan#MahsaAmini

— Hengaw Human Rights Organization (@HengawO) October 10, 2022

Heavy machine gun fire has reportedly been used to target residential buildings in Sanandaj, according to the Hengaw Human Rights Organization. Videos from Sanandaj have shown security forces shooting at homes.

درگیری شدید مردم معترض با نیروهای سرکوبگر در محله بهارستان سنندجشامگاه دوشنبه ۱۸ مهر ۱۴۰۱ #مهسا_امینی #سنندج#MahsaAmini

— Hengaw Human Rights Organization (@HengawO) October 10, 2022

On Tuesday, Hengaw reported that 32 civilians have been killed in Kurdish communities since the protests began. More casualties have been reported in other cities, although the exact number remains unclear.

Activists across Iran called for largescale protests in support of Sanandaj for Wednesday and Thursday, including protests in Tehran.

On Monday night, protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the office of the Friday Prayer Imam in Fuladshahr near Isfahan, according to footage shared on social media.

ویدیو با این توضیح فرستاده شده است: به‌یاد تمام دختران ایرانم در روز جهانی دختر، دفتر امام‌جمعه‌ی فولادشهر را با کوکتل مولوتف آتش زدیم.#مهسا_امینی

— +۱۵۰۰تصویر (@1500tasvir) October 11, 2022

Additionally on Monday, at the Tehran University of Art, protesting students formed the shape of the word „blood“ and chanted „Women, freedom, life,“ a slogan which has become popular among protesters in recent weeks.

دانشجویان دانشگاه هنر تهران به شکل کلمه‌ی «خون» ایستاده و شعار زن زندگی آزادی میدهند.۱۸ مهر ۱۴۰۱#مهسا_امینی

— +۱۵۰۰تصویر (@1500tasvir) October 11, 2022

A number of videos published on social media in recent days have shown security forces fleeing as crowds of protesters chase them.

The communist unions close to Tudeh were both persecuted by the Shah, even though their strikes contributed to his downfall, and smashed by Khomeini, and after the collapse of the SU they no longer played a role. Then there is an outdated website of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, who supported the green revolution of Khatami and Mousavi at the time, but made more unionist wage demands, but after that there is nothing to read about and the website is also very minimalistic and not updated for a long time. About the FUIW you can read:

“The Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW) was initially formed in December 2006 as the National Union of Expelled and Unemployed Workers but changed its name in April 2008. Since the establishment of the union, its members have consistently been harassed and persecuted by Iranian authorities.

The FUIW advocates for workers’ rights, focusing in particular on the issue of wages. In 2012, the union launched a petition for increased wages which was signed by 30,000 workers and submitted to the parliament. The FUIW is not officially recognised by the Iranian Ministry of Labour which makes its peaceful labour rights work particularly difficult”.

Hope for political reform in Iran surfaced when President Hassan Rouhani assumed office in 2013 and dozens of opposition political figures and human rights defenders were released. However, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement of HRDs continue to be prevalent.

Human rights defenders and journalists are arrested, detained and prosecuted in unfair trials. HRDs continue to receive death threats and are subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention. They are refused bail or receive extreme bail conditions. HRDs are additionally subjected to systematic surveillance and their family members are targeted. Journalists have been subjected to flogging for criticising the government.

Judicial harassment is one of the most common tactic used to silence HRDs and independent voices. Vaguely-worded charges of “acting against national security“, “propaganda against the regime” or “enmity against God” are often used. Many are convicted in the absence of their lawyers, on the basis of „confessions“ extracted under torture. In a number of cases the targeting of HRDs is ostensibly linked to their actual or perceived religious affiliation.

Detained HRDs are ill-treated, subjected to solitary confinement, denied adequate medical treatment and visits by family members, and forced to confess their alleged crimes under duress.

Apparently, new trade union and labor organizations have formed or are forming, as it seems to be no longer just primary unemployed or expelled workers, but workers still working and active centrally in production and in the oil industry.

In addition to the oil workers, there is also the Iranian metal industry union, the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI), which has since organized itself internationally.

“IRAN – IndustriALL talks to Jamshid Ahmadi Iranian activist

20 November, 2014 Watch this IndustriALL Global Union video about the violations faced by workers in Iran and their struggle to create independent trade unions in a country where they are banned.

For IndustriALL Global Union it is now an important priority and duty to support these unions in their struggle to form democratic organizations to defend and advance trade union rights,

says Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL’s Assistant General Secretary.

Iran is an important country in the MENA region in the gas, oil and manufacturing sectors. However, there is little respect for fundamental human and trade union rights.

IndustriALL speaks to Jamshid Ahmadi an Iranian activist working with the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI). He helps to raise international awareness of UMMI’s activities and forge links with independent trade unions globally.

Trade unions are not recognized in Iran. The Iranian labour law currently forbids and prevents the formation of trade unions. In Iran only Islamic labour councils are accepted but they are not trade unions – they are tripartite organizations bringing together the Ministry of Labour, the employers and some selected workers based on their loyalties and religious affiliations to the government. As a result they are inappropriate and ill-equipped to deal with the demands and needs of Iranian workers,

says Jamshid.

The operations of unionists in Iran are very, very difficult. They are in effect paying with their liberty and their lives and their security for engaging with trade union activities,

he continues.

In Iran, arrests and detentions take place on a regular basis; workers are frequently arrested for supporting the right to organize workers and for building independent trade union structures. Torture is routinely used to extract confessions, and political prisoners are systematically denied medical care.

In 2016, the Iranian Metalworkers‘ Union also joined the international trade union organization IndustriALL.

“Free and independent trade unions fight for workers’ rights in Iran

15 December, 2016 In October, the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI) became the first affiliate from Iran to join IndustriALL. The affiliation is a significant step in a country where unions are persecuted and trade unionists imprisoned. 


Union: Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI)

Country: Iran

Text: Walton Pantland

The Iranian free and independent union movement fights for fundamental labour rights, despite repression, imprisonment, executions, and extrajudicial murder.

UMMI was originally formed in 1960. After 1983 the union was forced to operate underground for more than two decades, but since 2005, it has operated openly. Although not officially recognized by the state or employers, UMMI represents a considerable number of workers in vehicle assembly, components factories, steel plants and detergent companies.

The union is not able to operate openly in the workplace, as workers suspected of being union members are dismissed and arrested. Despite this, the union is able to mobilize workers, who are inspired by UMMI’s independence, militancy and resistance.

Iran is ruled by an authoritarian theocratic regime, and is considerably behind international standards on labour rights. It has yet to ratify the core International Labour Organization Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining.

In theory, workers have the right to organize, but union organization in the workplace is not allowed. Strikes are suppressed by the security forces, militia and riot police. Earlier this year, 17 workers from the Agh Darreh gold mine in West Azerbaijan were publicly flogged for protesting the firing of 350 of their colleagues.

Iran was ruled by a Western-backed monarch, the Shah, until the revolution of 1979. The revolution had leftist and anti-imperialist tendencies aspiring for fundamental reform of the economic, social and political order, and was supported by general strikes in the oil industry and many other sectors. Many Iranians hoped it would improve the lives of ordinary people.

Islamists took control of the movement under Ayatollah Khomeini, who promised socio-economic reforms. These promises were betrayed, and independent workers’ organizations were repressed, leading to UMMI operating underground.

The government has a monopoly on workplace organization, and the labour ministry supports the Workers’ House of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It sponsors pro-regime Islamic Labour Councils, tripartite organizations containing worker and employer representatives and government appointees. It is nominally a national labour centre, affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions, but is in reality controlled and funded by the Iranian government.

Islamic Labour Councils manage industrial relations and discourage industrial action,  operating as instruments of the state in the workplace. They are hugely unpopular in the Iranian labour movement and violently oppose independent trade unions.

UMMI leader Maziyar Gilaninejhad says:

“In the thirty years that these institutions have been active, they have been controlled by the ministry and have no independent function. They are not worker organizations as they are ideologically exclusive – belief in Islam is a pre-condition of membership. They are state-controlled religious organizations. They have never done anything positive for workers.”

Iranian workers face a new challenge: the influx of foreign capital and further liberalization of the labour market. Since the revolution, Iran has faced sanctions and international isolation. But after the country signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – also known as the Iran nuclear deal – with the great powers, sanctions have been lifted, and foreign companies are investing.

To make the country more attractive to investors, the government has moved to further weaken labour law and remove protections for workers. On 15 November workers’ representatives and trade union activists protested against these changes outside the Iranian parliament (Majlis) in Tehran. 

All independent trade unions participated in the protest, called by the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. UMMI has said that the removal of minimum protections for workers is the red line which, if crossed, will be confronted by the determined response of the Iranian working class.   

Gilaninejhad says:

“If the government keeps conceding to finance capital, we will not benefit from foreign investment. The IMF wants Iran to provide cheap and deregulated labour for foreign investors. Iran’s government has created special trade and commerce zones that are excluded them from coverage by the labour law.

 “Will the influx of foreign investment lead to the import of modern technology into the country, or would we continue fastening nuts and bolts only?”

“Taking Iran’s free and independent trade unions into the family of the global movement is an important step for the country’s workers. International affiliation will help to strengthen UMMI’s position in Iran, and offer protection to its members,” says Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.

IndustriALL is a global association of international trade unions that want a different, socially just form of globalization. Still a relatively small organization with 50 million trade unionists in 140 countries. In its self-portrayal it says:

“IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors and is a force in global solidarity taking up the fight for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world.

IndustriALL challenges the power of multinational companies and negotiates with them on a global level. IndustriALL fights for another model of globalization and a new economic and social model that puts people first, based on democracy and social justice.

Founded on 19 June 2012, the organization brings together affiliates of the former global union federations: International Metalworkers‘ Federation (IMF), International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers‘ Unions (ICEM) and International Textiles Garment and Leather Workers‘ Federation (ITGLWF).

IndustriALL Global Union represents workers in a wide range of sectors:

  • extraction of oil and gas
  • mining, diamonds and gems
  • generation and distribution of electric power  
  • base metals
  • shipbuilding and shipbreaking
  • automotive
  • aerospace
  • mechanical engineering
  • ICT, electrical and electronics
  • chemicals
  • rubber
  • pulp and paper
  • building materials
  • textiles, garments, leather and footwear“

The Iranian working class seems to be awakening.

Furthermore, one must also observe to what extent conservative businessmen, bazaar traders and small and medium-sized companies will join the movement. At that time, the bazaar traders were also an important factor in the overthrow of the Shah, although at that time they were more inclined towards the Islamist forces. Because the bazaars are often grouped around the mosques, where believers flock to pray and shop. Mosques and their clergy are also often arbitrators in commercial disputes and unethical and irreligious behavior and business practices, as well as a social meeting place for the rural population, which the land reform of the Shah, the White Revolution, in which clerics who owned large estates were also expropriated and with parts of the rural population fled to the cities and brought their agrarian – brought religious villager attitudes to the urban society. At that time, urbanization did not necessarily bring a modern change in values, but rather a backlash that Khomeini was able to use, just as he had his cassettes and propaganda material distributed through the mosques and bazaars. Especially since the very conservative rural migrants and their wives felt that the Western, secular and luxurious way of life of the modern Iranian middle and upper classes and their wives was morally reprehensible, decadent and corrupt, which the Islamists under the leadership of Khomeini knew used for propaganda purposes. So it remains to be seen how the working class and petty merchant class will respond to the protests and perhaps they will be the decisive factor in turning the youth and women´s  protests into a people’s movement. It also remains to be seen how the military will behave if the Basiji and Iranian Revolutionary Guards are no longer sufficient for suppression. In an interview, the Shah’s son, who is exiled in the USA, appealed to the Iranian military to stand on the right side of history.

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