Workers at Hepco, a manufacturer of railroad cars and mining machinery in a central province of Iran, have resumed their protests over unpaid wages after months of uncertainty about the future of their plant.
The struggle of Hepco’s workers dates back to 2015 when production was reduced after the factory, previously state-owned, was sold off to the private sector. The workers were not paid for months and many were fired, bosses citing the bankruptcy of the factory. Since 2015, the workers have protested against their situation in various ways, such as strikes, demonstrations in the city, blocking roads and railway lines, which in some cases led to clashes with police and the detention of workers.
In 2019, after four years of continuous struggle, the government sought to prevent protesting workers in different sectors from connecting with each other, the government took back the Hepco factory from the private owner, but returned it to the Privatisation Organisation, to find a new owner. Meanwhile, pro-government militias known as the “Seekers of Justice” tried to stop the protests continuing by infiltrating themselves among the workers, and encouraging them to wait for the factory to be handed over to a new “competent” owner.
Eventually, after much dispute, the government transferred the ownership of the factory to the Social Security Organisation, which became responsible for paying off its debt. An organisation that is responsible for providing social services to workers and people on low incomes, but after several large-scale embezzlements and general economic crisis, the Social Security Organisation itself has gone bankrupt.
As a result, despite promises by government officials, including the First Vice President and the Minister of Labour, to pay wage arrears and reopen the production line, none of the promises are fulfilled, months after the Hepco factory was handed over to the Social Security Organisation.
On Monday, February 15th, workers at the Hepco factory blocked the railway for several hours, and rallied again at the Arak railway station two days later. This could be the beginning of a new round of struggles for Hepco workers.