Wave of Labor Strikes in Iran

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Following the labor strikes at Abadan’s oil refinery and municipality, the unrest has arrived in Tehran and Tabriz and months of unpaid wages to workers at Kian Tire Company and the lack of official employment at the Tabriz Petrochemical Plant has resulted in workers strikes in the two plants.

Analysts say that this wave of protests is the result of economic pressures stemming from the recent government lifting of subsidies and believe that these are the first sparks that link political and labor protests.

Kian Tire in Crisis

According to the BBC, a group of Kian Tire workers who have not received their wages for months have been gathering inside the plant and by hanging banners that depict their demands are making their voices heard. The workers engage in chants and have started bonfires inside the company compound. Among the chants the workers bellowed are Death to the Crueltor, End the Cruelty, and Death to the Liar.

These workers took to the streets of south west Tehran and would ask drivers to blow their horns in solidarity with them. Witnesses said many drivers did exactly that.

News sources had reported that on March 1, 2011 workers at Kian Tire Company had staged a sit in protest in solidarity with the other protests that were staged around Tehran in support of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi who had been arrested.

According to Saham News, Kian Tire workers had gathered outside the plant along with their family members and help up placards to display their demands. Agents from the special police forces were present near-by and prevented people from joining them. It should be noted that workers at this plant had also gone on strike about the same last year. Then too they were demanding their unpaid wages and calling for official employment.  That event resulted in the intervention of authorities from the ministry of industries. And even though workers attained their demands then, the company subsequently fired nine workers representatives.

In 2008, the management of this company was relegated to the special board that protects companies with poor management, the Setade Hemayat az Sanaye (Board to Support Industries) as seyed Mohsen Hashemi from the Revolutionary Guards was appointed as the new chief executive of the company.  According to workers at the plant, during the tenth presidential elections in 2009, the CEO turned the company into a campaign headquarters for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About the same time the company received 7 billion Toman (about $7 million) from SAIPA and Iran Khodro (both car manufacturing plants) as advance payments for sales of tires. But the health of the company continued to suffer and soon its management changed hands to Kamran, Fatemi Sarash and Ibrahimi. But even they could not stop or reverse the trend.

According to Tabnak new site closely tied to former Revolutionary Guards commander Rezai, a worker told the site, “This company has been having financial problems since bout a year ago which is about the time that workers filed complaints with the ministries of industries and labor and it was decided to put the company under the supervision of the Board to Support Industries as an effort to bring hope to the workers.”

“But even this board could not solve the problems of the company. It is now about a month and a half since the workers’ wages have not been in addition to the earlier unpaid wages for four months. In addition, all the benefits of these workers have been suspended. Ironically, the management has decided to employ between twenty to thirty new security guards, something that contradicts the economic situation of the plant. Because of this, a group of workers approached the ministry of industries and spoke with a deputy minister. Unfortunately this too did not result in meeting their needs,” he said.

Strikes at Tabriz Petrochemical Plant

According to Iran’s ILNA labor news agency, some 1,800 contractual workers at Tabriz’s Petrochemical Plant (TPL) have staged protests demanding to be officially contracted and sign official contracts.  According to ILNA, using un-contracted labor is a violation of specific government regulations by the management of the petrochemical plant. According to some unconfirmed reports, the workers had also been demanding a raise in their wages to match the inflation indicators in the country, and also to have more benefits including insurance.

No news about official response to these demands has been published.  In 2010 the TPL, which is registered among the top 100 companies from a financial perspective, was also designated as the third largest company with outstanding economic health in north-western Iran by Iran’s Industrial Management Organization, a respectable agency that monitors the activities of companies and provides training to them. Last year, TPL produced some 265,000 tons of different petrochemical products out of which some bringing in some 64 million USD through exports to 33 countries.

23 Million Under the Poverty Line

These labor strikes are picking up momentum in Iran as, according to Radio Farda, a report that was published on March 2, 2011, indicates that between 45 to 55 percent of urban dwellers live under the official poverty income line.

There are two standards for identifying the poverty line. In one (where a family comprises of 3.7 individuals) the minimum income stands at 650,000 Toman per month (i.e., about $650). Using this criteria, some 55 percent of Iran’s urban population lives under the poverty line. It should be noted that this family income is the average for the whole country. In Tehran, the minimum stands at 813,000 Toman a month (about $813) so the actual figures for the capital are even larger.

In the other method which uses the price of consumer products, the poverty line averages at 547,000 Toman per month (about $547). According to this yardstick, some 44.5 percent of the urban population lives under the poverty line, which accounts to 33 million people.

It should be noted that the minimum labor wage in Iran is 300,000 Toman per month (about $300).  The government has been against raising the minimum wage arguing that it is inflationary in nature.


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