Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Iran: Ongoing Labor Strikes, Women’s Protests and Ideas for International Solidarity

“The Free Union of Iranian Workers considers itself part of the movement for liberation from gender discrimination and any type of inequality in the social life of human beings.  Thus  we condemn the attacks on justice-seeking and freedom-loving women and men in front of the Ministry of Labor.  We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all who have been arrested in front of this ministry,  and the cancellation of  the judgments issued against the Daughters of Revolution Avenue,  an end to their prosecution and an end to all the forms of discrimination that have been forced upon the women of Iran during the past four decades.”


Frieda Afary
March 8, 2018
Ten weeks after a wave of nationwide popular demonstration called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime and an end to its military intervention in the region,  the  uprising is continuing in a different form:  Multiple labor strikes, labor actions,  women’s protests against the compulsory hijab and other discriminatory laws,  actions by families of political prisoners,  Sufi Dervishes, and  environmental protests.  The state has also stiffened its crackdown on women activists, workers, environmental activists and Sufis.   Several detainees,  including a professor and environmental activist, Kavous Seyed Emami,   a Sufi Dervish, Mohammad Raji,  and  young protesters such as Sina Ghanbari and Vahid Heydari   have been killed in state custody, and their deaths have been attributed to  “committing suicide.”
In this article, I would like to focus on labor protests, women’s protests, and ways in which international socialists and progressives might be able to  express their solidarity with them.
I. Labor Protests/Strikes Everywhere
Currently various labor protests and strikes in steel, sugarcane, oil and petrochemicals, machinery  production as well as telecommunications, railways,  construction, transportation,  education, healthcare, municipal services,  and carrying of cargo (by porters) are taking place on a daily basis.    The protests also involve retirees,  the young unemployed,  and the disabled.
These labor actions are mostly demanding the payment of back wages and benefits (anywhere from one month to two years)  and oppose the lack of job security in an economy in which the majority of those employed are contract-employees with few or no benefits.   The employers are mostly either directly part of the state and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other parastatal foundations, or indirectly related to the state in the form of  contractors.
The  protests have mostly taken place in the province of Khuzestan in the south.  Khuzestan is one of Iran’s  industrial centers,  has a majority Arab population and has been experiencing severe environmental problems related to  the drying up of bodies of water and marshes caused by government policies aimed at maximizing short-term profits and the monopolization of resources for the capital and the provinces of Central Iran.     Strikes and labor protests are also taking place in the provinces of Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Lorestan, Isfahan, Fars, Markazi and Tehran as well as others.
The most prominent strikes are currently the following:
  1. National Steel strike in Ahvaz, Khuzestan over the non-payment of wages/benefits involves 4000 workers and is in its seventeenth day.   On Thursday, March 1,  security police attacked the homes of ten workers, arrested them for “illegal” protest activities and later set a $10,000 bail for each.  The strikers have been marching around the city of Ahvaz  to demand their release and have been joined by their wives and other family members at a protest in front of the state house.
  2. The Haft-Tapeh Sugarcane strike in Khuzestan over the non-payment of wages/benefits and the precarious conditions of contract workers and day laborers. This strike also demands the legalization of independent unions.   It involves several thousand workers,  including retirees and has faced multiple attacks by security forces as well as arrests of workers.  The Haft Tapeh workers have been some of the most militant during the past several years.
  3. The Hepco machine workers’ strike in Arak, Central Province, over the non-payment of wages/benefits, massive lay offs (reducing the number of employees from 4000 to 1000) and a major cut in production.
Women’s  presence in the ongoing  labor strikes/actions has not been limited to supporting male family members.   Women have been actively involved in  the protests of  education, healthcare workers and retirees.   A new and promising development  is  the expression of support from some  male workers for the rights of women as women.   On January 30, the Association  of Electrical and Metal Workers of Kermanshah issued a statement in which  they defended the actions of women who have been protesting the compulsory hijab:  “There is no doubt that the girls and boys who have become knowns as “those from Revolution Avenue,” also  include women and men workers,  and those from the lower  layers of society.   Therefore,  the Iranian working class,  half of whom are women,  considers this current movement against the compulsory hijab as related to itself and is obligated to support it with determination.” (anjomanbfk.blogfa.com)
II. Women’s Protests Against the Compulsory Hijab and Other forms of Discrimination
Since December 7 when an individual woman,  Vida Movahed stood on top of a utility box in Tehran’s Revolution Avenue,  took off her headscarf and waved it on a stick as a sign of protest against the compulsory hijab,  at least 30 women have been arrested  for similar acts in Tehran and other cities throughout Iran.   Some were temporarily  released after posting heavy bails.  However, as these individual acts of protest continued to multiply,  the authorities became more and more violent.
Maryam Shariatmadari,  who was pushed off a utility box on February 22,  suffered a broken leg which requires operation.  She is currently being held in Gharchak prison (near Tehran)  where she has to climb up to the second level of a bunk bed in order to sleep at night.  Hamraz Sadeghi  who  stood on top of a utility box in Tehran on February 24,  was pushed off and  viciously beaten by a plainclothes officer,  arrested and taken to the Gharchak prison.   The  “Daughters of Revolution Avenue” as they have come to be known,  are now being charged with “inciting corruption and promoting prostitution” and face ten-year prison sentences.
On March 8, International Women’s Day,  following a call by some women’s rights activists,  at least a hundred women and men attempted to come together to protest in front of the Ministry of Labor in Tehran.  Before they could even gather,  they were attacked and beaten.  At least 84 people (59 women and 25 men)  were arrested by the police.  Those who were arrested  were taken to jail by vans which were already there to transport them.
The call for this International Women’s Day action, had  demanded an end to gender discrimination in the work place, family and society as a whole,  including an end to the compulsory hijab.   Following the attempted protest,  the organizers  still issued a  statement demanding an end to workplace discrimination and sexual segregation as well as equal rights at work,  in marriage,  and the right to choose one’s own clothing.
A welcome development was also a statement of solidarity from the  Free Union of Iranian Workers,  the most outspoken labor union in Iran,  the most critical of capitalism,  and jointly led by a man and a woman,   Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi.    In a statement in honor of  International Women’s Day,  the union stated:
“Women are not semi-humans.  They are human beings,  and for that reason,  the women’s movement is one of the most determinant social movements involved in the historical changes that  our country encounters.  It is a movement of millions and has a deep connection with human liberation.  That is why the women’s movement has had a continuous and unbreakable connection with the labor movement, its horizons and ideals in every era in modern history.”
“The Free Union of Iranian Workers considers itself part of the movement for liberation from gender discrimination and any type of inequality in the social life of human beings.  Thus  we condemn the attacks on justice-seeking and freedom-loving women and men in front of the Ministry of Labor.  We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all who have been arrested in front of this ministry,  and the cancellation of  the judgments issued against the daughters of Revolution Avenue,  an end to their prosecution and an end to all the forms of discrimination that have been forced upon the women of Iran during the past four decades.”
III.  How to Express Solidarity with Iranian Labor and Women’s Struggles?
For those socialists and progressives who wish to express their solidarity with these struggles, while also opposing any imperialist intervention in Iran, here are some ways in which you can make a difference:
  1. If you know someone who speaks Persian, ask them to help you follow  the website of the  Free Union of Iranian Workers  which has  been the best at reporting current labor struggles there.   Go to http://ettehad-e.com/
You can also go to the weblog of the Association of Electrical and Metal Workers of Kermanshah:  anjomanbfk.blogfa.com
or the website of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate

You can also contact the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran which is an organization of socialist and labor activists based in Canada:
  1. You can join the campaign in solidarity with Middle Eastern political prisoners which is being promoted by the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists and  a diverse group of socialist and labor activists around the world. https://www.allianceofmesocialists.org/14964/
Choose one or more of the political prisoners featured in this brochure and write about them in your individual or organizational website or blog.  At meetings or other actions related to labor, feminist and anti-racist causes,  bring up their names and talk about the connections between their struggles and those in your country or community.    Among Iranian labor activist political prisoners,  the most well-known  is  Reza Shahabi,  the leader of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate who has been in and out of prison for the past 8 years,  and is currently in the notorious Rajai Shahr prison,  suffering from a  prison-caused stroke.   Mohammad Habibi,  one of the leaders of the Tehran Teachers’ Union was  violently arrested in his classroom and in front of his students on March 3.  There is no information about where he is being held.  Two other imprisoned teachers,  Mahmoud Beheshti Langarudi and Esmail Abdi, are currently languishing in prison.   The above mentioned brochure   features two Iranian women political prisoners, feminist and human rights activists Narges Mohammadi and Kurdish women’s rights activist Zeynab Jalalian. You can also add the names of Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee, feminist and human rights activists who are currently on hunger strike.
  1. If you are interested in declaring your support for women’s protests against the compulsory hijab and other forms of gender discrimination, you can go to the socialist feminist statement below,  sign it, write about it on your website, demand the release of the women and men who have been arrested in the above mentioned protests:  https://www.allianceofmesocialists.org/statement-group-international-socialist-feminists-solidarity-iranian-women/

You can also reach out to other socialist feminists and progressives  and explain that solidarity with the Iranian women’s protests against the compulsory hijab in no way promotes  Islamophobia or hatred for Muslims.  This struggle is about the right to choose,  the right to autonomy,  the right to have control over one’s own body,  all of which are among the most fundamental rights demanded by the feminist movement around the world.
Frieda Afary
March 8, 2018
Originally published by the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists on March 9, 2018

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