Last June, widespread steelworker protests broke out on the streets of Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan, over unpaid wages and social security premiums.
Many of the protesters, who came from the Iran National Steel Industrial Group, were arrested and several were fired from their jobs.
The steel complex has a long history of poor management. It was nationalized after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was later sold to Amir Mansour Aria, also known as Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, who was executed in 2011 on charges of embezzling nearly US$1 billion.
The court transferred the company to the National Bank of Iran, which in October 2017 sold it on to Abdolreza Mousavi. The Iranian tycoon owns a major soccer club in Ahvaz and two hotels on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. He is also the managing director of Zagros Airlines.
The factory soon became idle under the new owner and stopped paying salaries, which led to protests. Workers complained that Mousavi was not interested in running the steelworks and alleged that equipment was being removed from the complex.
Following the protests, the authorities announced that ownership would again be transferred to the National Bank.
Meysam Alemehdi was one of the steelworkers who lost his job after the second wave of demonstrations in December 2018. On the anniversary of the June protests, he posted the following note on his Instagram page, praising his colleagues and their supporters, and calling on them to stand firm.
Like all strikes, the strike of June 2018 started from inside the company and then spread to the streets. Yet this one was different from all previous strikes by steelworkers.
The highlight of this protest was the recognition of the “steel mafia” and the declaration that workers would not tolerate this mafia anymore.
You workers conquered the streets of Ahvaz and demonstrated your unity and power by going right to the front door of the provincial government in Palestine Avenue.
You moved shoulder to shoulder, in orderly lines, full of hope and passion. You chanted “workers will expose the mafia” and “workers would rather die than yield to misery.”
Your message was the message of workers everywhere: Workers of small workshops and big factories, freelance workers and everyone who wears the worker’s badge. We will not live under the yoke of capitalists, and we will not be exploited by them.
Look at the history of the labor movement and at your steelworker colleagues and at the workers of Haft-Tappeh [Sugar Factory]. This shows you what we can achieve if we stand together.
The Right to Independent Labor Associations
Do not fear the words “you are expelled!” Do not fear a system that has always plunged you into debt. We the workers believe that it is our right to have independent labor associations.
We struggle and shout to get our demands heard, but we will not sit still and be silent in the face of these injustices. Together, we are millions of suffering humans. Separately, we are only a few.
It has been a year since your strike. One of your biggest achievements was the expulsion of the capitalist Mousavi, who took ownership of the Ahvaz steel company with extensive support from the security and economic establishment.
Today, we have people who cannot bear to acknowledge your great achievements. They claim it was the National Bank that removed Mousavi and not the power of your collective voice.
They try to ignore your demands and humiliate workers whose voice has been heard by the whole of Iran and the world.
After Mousavi was expelled, the workers managed the company for a whole month. Throughout this time, the pipe production line worked effectively without the capitalists or their representatives.
This demonstrated your ability to empower yourselves through collective decision-making.
A New Outlook for Working People
Dear friends and colleagues: By writing these lines today, one year after the protests, I want to tell you that the eyes of Iranian workers are on you. You tore down many walls of capitalism and opened up new horizons for working people.
The same way that, during our strike, we learned lessons from the mistakes and victories of those before us, today you are the pioneers for the next generation with your cries for rights and freedoms.
Today, all of you are the leaders of a society where discrimination and injustice by the capitalists have wreaked havoc. The thoughts, ideas, and lessons we learned from our experiences are already making headway in society and will continue to do so in the future.
There are companies whose workers have lost patience with the injustices of the capitalists. They want the right to create independent councils and to enforce collective supervision, management, and decision-making.
Such associations will increase day by day, like those that were formed so quickly in our regions during the floods. They are our real achievements.
We are not the kind of hungry revolutionaries they can satisfy with a piece of bread. We are fighters determined to expose the corruption of capitalism.
We, the steelworkers, are fighting injustice. We are the voice of a silent nation exploited for too long. We are the voice of a suffering people denied their most basic rights.
Do Not Fall for Their Tricks
You have achieved so much. You have exposed the steel mafia and the foul-smelling face of capitalism. Rest assured they will not sit silently. They are thinking of taking revenge.
We must start all the factory’s production lines as soon as we can. We cannot afford any to fall idle. We must not give them an excuse to expel or transfer workers. We must not, under any circumstance, allow the solidarity of the workforce to be compromised.
My vanguards: Keep your eyes and ears wide open. Keep your perpetual weapon, the weapon of strike, ready to respond to any tricks.
Do not let them achieve their ghastly goals. Here, with steely resolve, I announce my support for imprisoned workers, for imprisoned teachers, and for the imprisoned people who bravely supported our city during the floods.
I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that the friends of steelworkers at the journal Gam are released as soon as possible and kept safe from harm.
Capitalists and steel mafia: Know that we will not give up. Our chests have been ready for your bullets for a long time.
Torture of Arrested Labor Activists and Their Families Continues, February 1, 2019
The Islamic Republic’s Shocking Hypocrisy over Workers’ Rights, December 20, 2018
Steelworkers Arrested in Night Raids, December 17, 2018
Labor Protests and Arrests Continue, December 12, 2018
Striking Steel Workers Tell Rouhani: "We Have Had it!", December 3, 2018
Arrest and Torture of Protesting Workers, November 29, 2018
The Plight of Iran’s Unpaid Workers, April 10, 2018