Iran’s security agencies have intensified a crackdown against workers in the oil production industry after thousands went on strike this week. Workers have warned there will be further industrial action if security forces do not release workers arrested during mass anti-government protests taking place across Iran since last month.
Workers at the Hengam and Bushehr petrochemical facilities went on strike on Monday in support of the protests taking place across the country. Workers at the Kangan Petrochemical Company and the Abadan Refinery later joined the strikes.
Sources told IranWire these strikes were organised to protest the widespread arrest of workers on Tuesday.
Special forces and security agents stormed the protests, and more workers have been arrested since the strikes began. Sources also told IranWire security and riot police have a heavy presence in the southern industrial sites.
More than 30 workers in the oil production industry have so far been arrested, including Hadi Moulai, Ali Mahmoudi, Mehdi Jahanbakhshi, Noorali Bahadri, Farid Koravand, Kambiz Mohammadi, Shahin Najafi, Ahmed Pour, Farshid Moradi, Ali Shapouri and Omid Kuravand.
The Council of Oil Contract Workers announced earlier this week that more than 4,000 workers were planning to strike, affecting sites on the Persian Gulf coast including the Abada, Bushehr, Borzovieh, Hemgan and Asaluyeh petrochemical refineries. The second phase of Abadan refinery and several other companies were also affected by the action.
Abadan holds historic significance because it was the focal point of Iran’s efforts to nationalize its oil industry in 1951, which culminated in the US and UK staging a coup in 1953 to overthrow the country’s prime minister.
The Council addressed oil and petrochemical workers across the country, emphasizing that "now is the time to protest widely and prepare ourselves for nationwide and intensive strikes."
It warned security officials if they do not immediately release the arrested workers, there will be further industrial action.
"Not only have our arrested colleagues not been released, but more workers have been detained. Now more than 30 of our colleagues are in custody," the Council said in a statement on Friday, October 14.
The refinery and associated petrochemical industries at Asaluyeh are considered one of the most important economic infrastructures in the country and a central source of revenue for the government. But the Council warned the government last week they would go on strike if security forces continued to suppress the protests.
Peyman Shajirati, a workers’ rights activist, told IranWire that the current wave of strikes is politically motivated.
“They have taken a big step,” Shajirati told IranWire. "This is a union protest. They’re not striking for economic reasons – it’s a completely political strike.
“The government is worried that these industrial strikes may spread to other sectors of the country’s economy, which is why they have intensified the number of arrests,” he added.
Workers going on strike in a very sensitive industry like oil is unprecedented in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Oil worker strikes were pivotal in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which led to the fall of the Shah. If the oil workers’ strike continues for an extended period, it could cause significant damage to the stability of the current regime. However, this would depend on various issues, such as who joins the strike and how the workers organize.
"This industry is monitored, controlled and managed at the highest levels of security. Whether we like it or not, a strike in this industry is a huge advance for the labor movement. This section of oil workers has valuable practical experience from their previous actions. Even though they were not organized, they managed to form nationwide strikes,” Shajirati said.
Widespread industrial action has also been reported in cities across the country in recent days, particularly in Kurdistan province, the birthplace of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody last month sparked the ongoing nationwide protests.
Shajirati, a former worker of Khuzestan National Steel Industrial Group, said: "Based on what has happened in previous strikes, it’s quite possible that this action will expand and spread to other places.
“This is what the Islamic Republic is most afraid of. It never imagined this many workers would be able to carry out a strike in direct opposition to the government. The government thought there would never be a political strike.”
The Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Workers Syndicate trade union has called on other sectors and businesses to join the nationwide strike. It said: "Freedom from oppression and exploitation, from discrimination and inequality, is only made possible through unity and solidarity.”