On the 38th day of their strike, Ahvaz steelworkers received an answer to their demands — not from the government, but from security forces.

From the late hours of Sunday, December 16 to the small hours of Monday, December 17, security forces carried out raids on workers’ homes and arrested many people. They also carried out arrests on the streets, and the number of arrests continues to rise. First there were reports of 15 being arrested, then 28.

According to Radio Farda, as of 6pm Tehran time on December 17, 31 people had been arrested [Persian link].

Those arrested include: Karim Sayyahi, Meysam Ali Ghanavati, Yaser Ebrahimian, Isa Maraei, Amin Alvani, Morteza Akbarian, Taregh Khalafi, Masoud Afri, Jafar Sobhani, Mostafa Abyat, Gharib Hoveyzavi, Hamed Basseri, Hafez Kanani and Hamed Joudaki. The agents did not succeed in arresting two others, Meysam Alemehdi and Hossein Davoudi.

According to Iran’s Free Labor Union (IFLU), two workers, Hossein Davoudi and Kazem Heydari, were arrested during a rally by the steelworkers outside the Intelligence Bureau of Ahvaz, who demanded the release of their colleagues.

The security agents who raided the homes of steelworkers had no warrants for this action. In some instances, they raided workers’ homes but did not arrest anyone because the workers were not at home at the time and could not be located. They had apparently found out about the raids and, to escape arrest, spent the night on the streets of Ahvaz.

In their protest gathering a day earlier, the workers of the Iran National Steel Industrial Group called Khuzestan’s Governor Gholamreza Shariati “inept” and, in addition to their other demands, called for his dismissal.

Water Cannons and Ambulances At the Ready

IFLU reported that, following Sunday night’s arrests, from the early hours of the morning, officers from the Iranian Police Special Units and the commander of West Ahvaz Police Base went to the steel factory and told the protesting workers that if they continued with their rallies, more would face arrest. “Special police units have been deployed in force around the governor’s office and the provincial justice bureau,” the report said. “Ambulances and water cannons have also been deployed in the streets around to prevent steelworkers from gathering.”

The steelworkers have been demonstrating in the streets since November. Their chief demand is for the steel mill in Ahvaz to resume production at full capacity. If the mill is shut down, the main earners of more than 4,000 families in Khuzestan will lose their jobs. The workers are also demanding the payment of overdue salaries and benefits —  they have not received these for months.

Despite the massive deployment of riot police, the steelworkers gathered along Naderi Street in Ahvaz. They were soon surrounded by security and special police forces, but continued chanting their slogans.

According to the latest report, an officer who introduced himself as Colonel Bagheri from the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit told the assembled workers in Naderi Street: “The security of the city is our responsibility and we will spare no one.” He threatened them with arrest and “security action.” “We had warned you a few nights ago,” he told them. “Some of the arrestees will remain in custody and some will be released before the night is over.” In response, the workers announced that they would continue their protests until their colleagues were released and their demands are met.

The following 12 workers were arrested in the Naderi Street protests: Kurosh Esmaili, Majid Jondallah, Ali Oghaba, Mohsen Balouti, Mohammad Pour-Hasan, Mohsen Pahbati, Seyed Habib Tabatabaei, Jasem Roomzi, Ali Etmami, Seyed Ali Javad-Pour, Javad Gholami, Abdolreza Dasti.

Iran’s Free Labor Union, published a statement on its Telegram channel, which called the arrest a “mark of infamy” on those people who have occupied positions of management over the last few years. “Instead of considering the demands of the oppressed and desperate workers of Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group,” the statement read, “[Rouhani’s government], the pillagers and the entire government apparatus raided their homes in the middle of the night and, [while] terrorizing their wives and children, arrested the breadwinners…All those who 40 years ago took the destiny of our people in their own hands by claiming to be on the side of the downtrodden now shamelessly raid the homes of workers and put them in chains — workers who have no demands but to be paid for their hard work and want to prevent the extermination of a big industrial complex.”

A New Wave of Solidarity

The arrests have triggered a wave of support from workers, students and teachers across Iran — signaling a new phase in their solidarity. Condemning the arrests of the steelworkers, in its statement IFLU called on “all workers across the country, the people of Ahvaz, students, the public and all domestic and international labor and human rights organizations” to immediately respond to the situation and support the steelworkers. “Without any doubt,” the statement continued, “Neither these nighttime arrests nor any other repressive action will force the workers of Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group and all workers across Iran to submit to the wishes of a handful of thieves and plunderers…The victory of the workers of Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group is the victory of we the workers and the Iranian people over oppressors.”

A group of teachers and citizens under the banner “Support Imprisoned Teachers” have also issued a statement condemning the arrests and demanding the workers’ immediate release. “After 38 days of strikes and 24 days of nonstop rallies in the streets of Ahvaz, the response to the just demands of the steelworkers has been arrests and crackdown,” said the statement. “Rulers of the country see no other choice but arrests and repression to counter the just and ever-increasing protests by the people. But they should know that such desperate measures only fan the flames of fury for workers and other groups.”

The Truck Drivers Union also condemned the arrests and demanded the release of steel workers, as did laborers for the United Khuzestan Oil Workers.

The Iran National Steel Industrial Group has the capacity to produce 1.435 million tons of steel products and 430,000 tons of steel ingots per year. But starting three years ago, the company has been in a downward spiral. The production has been cut, many workers had been laid off and the payment of workers’ salaries and insurance has been irregular. Up until 2011, the company belonged to a venture capital group under Amir Mansour Aria. But in 2014, Aria was executed after being convicted of a $2.6 billion bank fraud and 70 percent of the shares went to Iran’s Bank Melli. However, Bank Melli has shown no ability or interest in solving the company’s problems.

Related Coverage:

Labor Activist Arrested “For no Reason”, December 13, 2018

Labor Protests and Arrests Continue, December 12, 2018

Crackdown on University Students for Supporting Striking Workers, December 10, 2018

Sugar Refinery Workers Face New Round of Harassment, December 5, 2018

Pro-Labor Student Protest Ends in Violence, December 5, 2018

Striking Steel Workers Tell Rouhani: "We Have Had it!", December 3, 2018

Arrest and Torture of Protesting Workers, November 29, 2018

Tehran Bus Drivers Beaten up During Protests, December 9, 2016

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