Iranian Laborers Need Our Help

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Alireza Nader & Benjamin Weinthal (Newsweek)

With the celebration of American employees on Labor Day in early September, U.S. workers enjoy what their counterparts in the highly repressive Islamic Republic of Iran cannot: the right to form and join a democratic and independent trade union.

Iranians are fighting back. In recent weeks, dozens of worker groups have gone on strike, especially across the crucial energy sector in the south, dealing a blow to an already overstretched regime. Tehran fears economic strikes, in particular, as they have been a powerful political weapon in recent history. Economic and energy strikes played an important role in spurring the fall of the shah and the rise of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

Iran’s labor relations mirror the plight of workers in the former communist states dominated by the Soviet Union, where they toiled under horrible working conditions and political repression. Moscow promised that the Soviet Union would serve the working class, yet it did anything but. In response to sham unions controlled by the Soviet communist ruling class, independent unions emerged in the late 1980s. Similarly, in defiance of Iranian law, Iranian workers have organized ad hoc labor unions to demand their rights.

The current round of energy strikes in Iran started on July 28, when Ebrahim Arabzadeh, a contract worker at Mahshahr petrochemical complex, died from heat exhaustion at work. Soon, workers had walked out of energy plants across Fars province, Khuzestan, Qeshm Island and even Isfahan further to the north. Many oil, natural gas and petrochemical facilities have shut or slowed down in recent weeks as a result of Iranian workers walking off the job due to unsafe working conditions and low or unpaid wages.

he strikes have gradually spread throughout the entire country. The striking workers do not appear to have explicit political goals, such as the overthrow of the regime. Many may hate the regime and want it gone, much like the wider Iranian society, but they are focused on receiving fair and just treatment by their employers.

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