In celebration of Mayday, the Slingers Collective will review Iran’s major labor activities of the past year. The year 2022 was a reminder of Lenin’s statement that “there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” We have seen a monumental advancement in Iranian class consciousness and participation in labor organizing. Some of the largest protests in the Islamic Republic’s history unfolded, new forms of grassroots organizations formed, and the Iranian proletariat announced the death of reformism. In addition to recognizing the domestic bourgeois as an enemy, the Iranian proletariat equally denounced the Imperialist-backed opposition, declaring: “Reformist, Conservative, the game is over” and “Death to the dictator, Shah or Supreme Leader.”
An extension of previous years, the common denominator of the 2022 uprisings was the harrowing decline of economic conditions, widespread poverty, and soaring inequality. Contrary to the differing accounts perpetuated by imperialists and the pseudo-anti-imperialist left, US sanctions have not been as damaging to the state as either would like to believe. The Iranian state used sanctions as a pretext for increasing the military budget and strengthening its implementation of the neoliberal project. Last year was a profitable year for the capitalist state of Iran. According to official accounts, in the last 8 months of 2022, oil exports doubled while non-oil exports were at their highest levels in decades.
Despite the considerable growth of the government’s revenue in 2022, the Rial’s value continued to collapse: by the end of 2022, it was worth less than half of what it was worth the year before (Exchange rate at the date of this report: 1 USD = 54,000 Tomans). This has caused inflation to reach a historic peak of 50% in 2022. By March 2023, the inflation rate exceeded 60 percent. Despite the record-high inflation rate, the minimum wage only increased by 20%. Having previously matched minimum wage increases to the inflation rate, the decision to raise wages lower than 50% represents an action by the government to suppress wages and worker power. The minimum daily wage for temporary workers in 1402 (March 21, 2023-March 21, 2024) has been set at 176,942 tomans (equal to $3.27/day). This wage suppression, unadjusted to the inflation rate, drew condemnation from organized labor.
In response to the soaring inflation, the neoliberal state doubled down on the austerity policies that caused the crisis. On May 1st, 2022, the government abruptly ended subsidies for essential items such as imported wheat, medicine, and gas. Unsurprisingly, this decision was presented as a preventive measure against corruption and price gouging. In reality, the removal of wheat subsidies increased the price of flour by 500 percent. Other flour-based goods such as bread and pasta, all staple foods of Iranian families, soared thirteenfold. The price of foodstuffs increased by 70% in February 2023 alone. Other “non-food goods and services” similarly increased by 43.5 percent. This means that in less than a year, the average Iranian working class families were forced to spend 70% more on basic goods and services. Likewise, the average rental rates skyrocketed by 48.4% in Tehran and 52.2% nationwide in 2022. According to the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, rents have increased by 880% and housing prices by 1,675 percent in the last decade.
The combination of record-breaking high inflation, the removal of food and medicine subsidies, the housing crisis, and the subsequent wage suppression has forced the Iranian working class deeper into poverty. This has led to an unprecedented increase in abject poverty, manifesting in phenomena such as “grave sleeping,” “bus sleeping,” “roof renting,” and “garbage scavenging,” and an alarming increase in the rate of labor suicides.
The culmination of neoliberal attacks on people’s livelihood and the state’s suppression served as the backdrop to some of the largest resistant protests in the recent history of Iran. The first was the nationwide teacher’s strike in Feb 2022, where teachers across 40 cities canceled classes and marched in the streets. The next major event was the revolt of hunger, which broke out in early May last year against the rise of foodstuffs. Similar to previous waves of uprisings in 2019 and 2021, the revolt of hunger broke out in the southern province of Khuzestan and expanded quickly to 40 other major cities across Iran and gained the support of organized labor.
The most widespread and significant uprising, however, came after the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini on September 16th, 2022. This episode, also known in Iran as the Jina uprising, quickly spread to hundreds of cities and villages and lasted more than 4 months, With the government violently suppressing the uprising. Over 500 people were killed, thousands were arrested and received long-term sentences, and dozens were executed or are awaiting execution. The majority of the victims were the marginalized working class. Mohammad Mehdi Karami, Majid Reza Rahnavard, Mohsen Shekari, and Mohammad Hosseini were among the first protestors to be executed. All were precarious temporary workers. The state’s repression continues in various forms, including the large-scale gas attacks on school children (mainly girls) and frequent internet shutdowns, which have targeted marginalized areas such as Sistan and Baluchestan province as well as small online businesses, mainly belonging to women.
Apart from street protests and uprisings, we also witnessed a hike in labor activity organized by outlawed labor organizations. In parallel with the widespread suppression and the attack by the capitalist state on the social life and economic and political livelihood of the working class, workers have organized protests and strikes in workplaces and the streets. We wrote about the importance of labor organizing for the direction and the eventual fate of the popular uprising in Iran. By bringing the class struggle to the forefront, organized labor has the potential to challenge the reactionary and anti-proletariat tendencies of the popular uprising. Labor protests introduced class-based themes such as the necessity of forming an independent trade union, labor self-management, and council administration of the workplace [and living space] into the political space and, consequently, to the organization of mass uprising.
In what follows, we review some of the most prominent labor activities between May 2022 and May 2023.
Only 33.2% of Iranian workers are employed in the industrial and mining sector. A multitude of reasons, including deindustrialization and financialization of the economy, economic recession, and the depreciation of the national currency, have made industrial workers particularly vulnerable to layoffs. As a norm, employers most likely resort to non-payment of wages and layoffs to reduce costs. Between spring 2021 and spring 2022, more than 13% of industrial workers who had lost their jobs moved to the service sector, making it the largest economic sector in Iran, with a 54% employment share.
Oil and Petrochemical
One of the most important labor activities in the Industrial sector was the oil strike. Over the past two years, oil workers organized some of the largest industrial strikes, demanding the dissolution of contractor corporations, wage increases, and work reductions. This strike is also known as the “10-20 campaign,” with the central demand of reducing working days to 20 per month (instead of 24) and increasing rest days to 10 (instead of 6). The “10-20 campaign” initially launched in the summer of 2021 and lasted for 2 months, including a large body of workers from more than 100 different petrochemical sites. Many of the participating workers were able to force these demands to be met.
The oil, gas, and petrochemical industries are located in the FTZ (Free Trade Zone). The Pars Special Economic Energy Zone (PSEEZ) in Asaluyeh, one of the world’s largest gas fields, has been at the center of oil strikes in the past 2 years. In our report last year we detailed the employment conditions in this region. Workers in the PSEEZ are exempt from the few legal protections and labor rights provided by the state. Hired by subcontracting companies, the mostly non-native migrant workers live and work under extremely difficult conditions with no workplace safety measures. In addition to the draconian work conditions, the PSEEZ is one of the most securitized areas in the country, having been named a national security priority. This makes organizing exceptionally difficult for workers.
Despite the extreme securitization of the PSEEZ, the project workers had one of the largest shares of protests and strikes in the industrial sector in 2022. In July and August 2022, project and contract workers at PSEEZ repeated the 2021 10-20 strike campaign, going on strike to protest poor housing and food services, low wages, and long working hours under harsh conditions, which has cost workers’ lives. The strikes forced management to implement 20 days of work followed by 10 days off.
Shortly after the beginning of Jina’s uprising, oil workers organized a political strike. On October 10th, 2022, the contract and project workers of several petrochemical sites and refineries in Asaluyeh, Gengan, and Abadan announced a strike in support of the uprising. This time their demands were political, linking their workplace issues to the larger political struggle.
The striking workers had a clear message, the overthrow of the political and economic system. Chanting anti-regime slogans, such as “Death to the dictator” and “Death to Khamenei ”, workers went further to blockade the highways and the main passage for fuel tankers. This attempt was to prevent the transportation of oil products, as well as the expansion of the strike to other sections of the PSEEZ. Oil worker strikes faced violent repression, with more than 200 people being detained and many losing their jobs. Despite the government’s violent backlash, oil workers’ ability to link political radicalism to the workplace, in addition to creative resistance strategies, in one of the most aggressively policed zones and the largest economic hub of the country, was a significant gain for the Iranian labor movement.
Most recently, in April 2023, project oil workers launched a new wave of strikes which are ongoing at the time of this writing. According to the striking workers’ social media platforms, strikes have expanded across 110 centers and workshops, including oil and gas projects, power plants, steel and copper factories, and mines. Over 90% of oil and petrochemical projects across 20 cities joined. Most notable is that oil strikes expanded across the border into Iraq. The construction workers hired by Iranian contracting firms in charge of installing a power plant on the outskirts of Basra city have reportedly joined the strike as well.
These strikes target the inadequate minimum wage increase of 21%, failing to accommodate the high inflation rate of 50 percent. Relying on their 2 years of organizing experience, the project oil workers released a list of demands that included a 79% wage increase. Another notable demand is implementing the “10-20 campaign” in centers where employers continue to ignore workers. Other demands include full payment of overdue wages and bonuses, work benefits such as retirement and commuting, compensation for bad weather, the right to have a formal contract, the right to protest, and shorter work hours.
The Instagram page of the strike organizers shares pictures and videos of strikers leaving their workplaces and returning to their hometowns. This Instagram page also exposes and publicly shames the strikebreakers and updates on the status of contracting firms who accepted workers’ list of demands, thereby allowing their workers to return to work.
Another significant labor strike in the industrial sector was the Crouse workers’ strike. Crouse company is the largest auto parts manufacturer in Iran, and more than 70% of its workforce are women employed in temporary contracts. The company only recruits single women who are under 32, paying them less than their male counterparts. Among the abhorrent work conditions are long and physically demanding work days that must be done standing position and the punishment of workers who use cell phones, even in case of an emergency. In November 2022, more than 300 women workers organized a 3-day strike against these deplorable work conditions. In response, the company fired more than 200. Despite the immediate suppression, the Crouse strike marked a milestone for the labor movement as one of the first industrial strikes in Iran’s history to be organized by women workers. Given the company’s economic significance, the historical subjugation of women workers, and the absence of experienced women labor organizers, this strike was a significant achievement for Iranian women workers.
Esfahan Steel Company
Esfahan Steel Company strike was another major industrial strike in 2022. From October to November, workers organized several scattered strikes and marched on the factory, protesting low wages. In response, the private employer and the representative of the Labor Ministry appeared among the striking workers, promising to fulfill their demands. However, in November, after months of delay by the employer and Labor Ministry, more than 4000 workers from all sections joined this strike to protest low wages. In response, the strike was suppressed, and more than 20 workers were summoned to the court.
Last year saw several miners’ strikes and protests across different mining companies. In July, the contract workers of the Sungun Copper Mine located in East Azerbaijan province went on strike, demanding wage increases and better work conditions. The private owner of the mine responded by closing down the compound kitchen, denying the striking workers access to drinking water and food. When the strikes continued, the capitalist state came to the rescue by sending security forces to break the strike and arrest 20 workers.
Mining strikes in Iran continued during and after Jina’s uprising. In February, miners of the Takht Gonbad copper mine in Kerman province organized a 4-day-long strike. Among the demands was the full payment of overdue wages, wage increases, and health and safety insurance policies. The Chrome mine in Kerman province was another example where miners organized a rally protesting low wages and dangerous work conditions. Miners are forced to work for meager paychecks 700 meters underground with few safety protocols. This situation is exacerbated when private companies refuse to pay paltry salaries for months. The Esfandagh chromite mine in Kerman province is another example of miners forced to work with more than 3 months overdue wages. Yaqut Co., the sub-contractor company in charge, left the site unannounced after the end of the contract refusing to pay miners’ dues.
In addition to miners’ strikes and protest rallies, 2022 saw other creative forms of workplace disruption occur, this time not organized by workers. In several gold mines in Baluchistan, ordinary citizens entered the mine premises and destroyed tools to stop the extraction process. Anjarak, Marmarit, and Morfish mines were among the mines occupied by locals. In these cases, miners and other workers were outnumbered by locals, and because of the mine’s distance to the city, police could not arrive in time to break the occupation. The direct intervention of locals helped to reduce the cost of strikes for workers while causing financial damages to the private company by shutting down the extraction process.
The teachers’ movement is one of the largest, most organized, and most progressive labor groups in Iran. Similar to the previous years, in 2022, teachers were among the most militant and active labor groups in Iran. The May Day of last year (2022) began with an unsuccessful crackdown on the teachers’ movement and their subsequent 3 days of protest and a one-day nationwide strike. In last year’s labor report, we outlined the role and the historical development of the “Coordinating Council of Iran’s Teachers’ Trade Associations” (CCITTA) as the main organizing force of the teachers’ movement.
On April 29, 2022, the CCITTA issued a call and invited teachers across Iran to join a nationwide rally celebrating May Day and Teachers Day. (May 2nd is not recognized as the official international Teacher’s Day in Iran, but it is commemorated by radical teachers as Teachers’ Day since it marks the anniversary of Abul Hasan Khan Ali, a teacher who was killed by the Shah’s regime for peaceful protesting.) This call was praised by various labor organizations and was considered a sign of class-based unity. The CCITTA’s attempt to connect the teachers’ movement to the larger labor struggle instigated the immediate reaction of the state’s security apparatus. On April 30th, one day after the call to protest, security forces raided some of the key teachers’ activists’ homes and arrested at least 4 prominent militant teachers (including Jafar Ibrahimi, Mohammad Habibi, Rasoul Bodaqi, and Ali-Akbar Baqani,) and summoned and detained many more across the country.
Despite the state’s crackdown, the May Day rally was held successfully across at least 30 different cities. Protests continued for a month in support of the arrested teachers. On May 12th, the CCITTA called for another nationwide protest against the unlawful arrest of teachers. This rally coincided with the “hunger uprising” and was held in at least 23 cities. As a result, dozens of teachers and labor activists were arrested. Some of the arrested teachers and workers were later accused of working with “French spies” because of inviting and meeting with 2 French teachers’ unionists (who were also arrested). Other activists were accused of working for the left opposition parties and organizations abroad. Some were sentenced and are still in prison, some were fired, some had their wages reduced, and all CCITTA-affiliated teachers were formally excluded from further wage increases. By the end of summer 2022, more than 200 teachers were detained.
Following Jina Uprising in September, CCITTA was the first labor organization to call for a teacher’s strike to support the uprising. The CCITTA also encouraged teachers to cancel classes and instead discuss socio-political issues with students. Teachers’ resistance continued throughout winter. In November, the CCITTA called for another 2-day strike in response to the mass killing of 58 children, including 4 school children and a retired teacher named Abdol-Rahman Baqtiari, who was shot by police. On December 2nd, Rasoul Hadadi, another retired teacher, lost his life after 30 days in the hospital from a police gunshot to his neck. During the Jina uprising, dozens of teachers were arrested nationwide. Currently, almost all teacher unionists await court decisions on their cases.
As the Jina uprising subsided, the council, with heavy pressure from the intelligence services and many of its members and activists in jail, fell into silence. The silence was quickly broken. In February 2023, several rallies and protests were organized across the country against rising inflation and low wages. As the wave of chemical attacks began in March, the CCITTA called for a rally and invited teachers, students, their families, and the public to gather in front of departments of Education in each city. This call received widespread support from various labor and grassroots organizations in 28 cities and towns. These organizations included the pensioners’ union, students’ movement, and grassroots revolutionary committees, which were formed during the heat of the Jina uprising.
Protests continued throughout March and April 2023, with the CCITTA calling for a sit-in on April 6 in front of the departments of the Ministry of Education in 7 different cities. Just one day before this event, Mohammad Habibi, a prominent figure in the teachers’ movement, who was released in February, was arrested again. Fariba Zand-Karimi, a teacher unionist, was also arrested in Sanandaj (Kurdistan); within a few days, the prison sentences of three other union activists in the northern province of Gilan were implemented, and a teacher was arrested in the city of Arak.
Like public-sector workers, municipal workers have been protesting through various means: from gatherings and sit-ins in front of the municipal buildings to the refusal to collect garbage. However, the struggle against the municipalities is not limited to the municipal workers but is shared by the urban poor targeted by the privatization of public spaces.
In February 2022, the municipal workers of Ahvaz organized a five-day strike. Job security, implementation of the Job Classification Plan, and addressing health insurance problems were the central demands of the workers. The strike by municipal workers has left piles of garbage throughout the cities. In Ahvaz, for example, sanitation workers dumped garbage in front of the municipality’s building, blocking the entrance.
In March, Yasouj municipality workers gathered in front of the governor’s office to protest against their overdue wages of up to 13 months. Similarly, in May, Shush city workers organized a sit-in in front of the administrative buildings to protest months of overdue wages. Later on, in May, Shush Municipality’s workers organized a joint protest with pensioners. This protest was a marker of class unity against the Islamic capitalist state. In July, the workers of Visian Municipality (a city in Lorestan province) went on strike and sealed the municipality’s entrance in protest of 8 months of unpaid wages.
Tehran’s Subway/Bus Drivers
In May 2022, Tehran’s subway drivers protested against the meager wage increase. This was in violation of the set minimum wage the Supreme Labor Council announced. This was because the Employment Organization exempted public workers from this rule. Prior to this, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) drivers in Tehran organized a big strike protesting their arbitrary exemption from the law. The significance of the drivers’ strike was so great that Tehran’s mayor attended the protests and, in less than 2 days, increased their wages by 40 percent. These protests coincided with the revolt of hunger. As a result, buses from other departments, such as IRGC, were placed in Tehran to minimize disruption. They also closed down the school and public offices under the pretext of air pollution to prevent the spread of the strike to other sectors. In September, following several months of unpaid salaries and lack of insurance and benefits, the service workers of the Tehran Subway’s Third Line stopped working and marched towards the main building of Tehran Municipal Metro Company.
From October to December 2022, firefighters in Mashhad and Tabriz went on strike. In each case, firefighters gathered before the municipal building demanding wage increases and hard work compensation.
Bus and Truck Drivers
The struggle of bus drivers in Iran is mostly characterized by the activities of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (the Vahed Syndicate) over the past two decades. In January 2022, Tehran Bus drivers gathered in front of the City Council and Tehran Municipality to protest low wages. In doing so, drivers turned on the bus lights and drove slower than the legal speed. In addition to the workers’ economic demands, following the Jina Uprising, the Vahed Syndicate has been among the labor organizations actively supporting Jina uprising. The Vahed Syndicate and some of its leading figures, such as Reza Shahabi, Davoud Razavi, and Hasan Saidi, have been persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned over the past few years. In October 2022, Reza Shahabi and Hassan Saidi were charged with propaganda activities against the regime and were sentenced to a total of 6 years of imprisonment (5 years of enforcement) for the purpose of committing a crime against the national security of the country. In the verdict, they are banned for two years from leaving the country, membership in parties, activities in social networks, and residence in Tehran and neighboring provinces.
Over the past several years, truckers have protested on and off against fuel prices, tolls, and spare parts. However, the September mass uprising instigated an uproar of political strikes among them. In the cities of Qazvin, Bandar Abbas, Kermanshah, Babol, Shiraz, Marand, Isfahan, and Tehran, among others, truckers went on strike by turning the engines off at the cargo terminals, joining the nationwide strikes, and interrupting the delivery of goods for several days.
All the strikes, sit-ins, and various types of protests in different municipalities had taken place where their governments systematically targeted the poor, even outside of the working place. Across different cities in Iran, they raid street vendors, destroying buildings that were only the source of income for many. In an outrageous case, the contractors of Tehran Municipality went as far as to hire child labor to break the sanitation strike.
Platform workers (Snapp!)
Snapp is the largest rideshare and startup company in Iran. Despite the global sanctions, more than 80% of Snapp’s share comes from foreign investment capital. Modeled after Uber, Snapp functions on a peer-to-peer network connecting couriers/drivers to those in need of a ride or food delivery.
Until September 2022, Snapp workers had a slow/quiet year compared to previous years. With the start of the Jina uprising, the plain clothes (security forces) used Snapp bikes as a disguise to follow and arrest protestors. To deter this, Snapp drivers began publicly reporting the live locations of the suppressive forces with Snapp disguises. This prompted the arrest of many of the workers in the first few months of the uprising. The arrests and layoffs were more prevalent among Snapp workers with prior organizing backgrounds.