As the escalating economic crisis is eroding the workers living standards and as the government of Mahmood Ahmadinejad is preparing to implement its draconian Subsidies Rationalization Law, the pace of resistance by workers is showing unmistakable signs of an upsurge. We are clearly witnessing the rebirth of the labor movement in Iran after nearly 25 years. Below is the text of a statement by a labor group in the Isfahan Steel Company, one of the country’s largest, which was issued last Sunday, January 17. The translation has been provided by Network of Iranian Labor Unions (NILU). It has to be noted that these workers are operating in complete secrecy and at a considerable risk to themselves. Iran Labor Report will continue reporting on such activities in the weeks and months to come as they are unfolding.
A Better Life is Every Worker’s Right
The Isfahan Steel Company (ISC) has been one of the largest industrial enterprises in all Iran. Nevertheless, despite many small and large efforts by workers throughout the years to improve their working condition, they have been strenuously deprived of the right to have a workers-led organization of their own to defend their rights and just demands.
In this connection, faced with an uncertain future and generally worsening conditions, and mindful of the crushing weight of the economic crisis on the workers’ shoulders, we, a group of ISC workers, have decided to form the “Ad Hoc Council of the Isfahan Steel Workers”,whose mission it is to unify the workers’ ranks and defend their rights.
Clearly, since the Council has commenced its work under conditions of underground activity and its members are by necessity not openly elected by the rank and file, it has decided to qualify itself as ad hoc. However, the Council pledges to have an open and free election encompassing the entire labor force the moment conditions allow for open activity. Up until that day, the Council, as the only existing representative of the ISC labor, will spare no effort to defend each and every worker’s right, while keeping everyone informed of its deliberations with periodic statements.
The Council’s guidelines, general outlook and positions are as follows:
1. The Council believes that all workers should be seen on equal footing and that blatant and/or subtle discrimination among the workers between the permanent and the temporary or subcontracted workers are artificial divisions created not by the workers themselves but by the country’s decision-makers. These people are the ones responsible for these problems and they are the ones who must answer for them. As a result, the Council believes that the discriminatory policies serve the express purpose of dividing the workers’ ranks.
2. The Council is of the opinion that strikes are an inalienable right of every worker. Under conditions where some workers have not been paid in well over 6 or 8 months, strikes are the only weapon in their hands. The Council states its unconditional solidarity with the courageous workers at Shoja Ehia Gostaran Espadan, Nasooz Azar, Isargaran Hadid, Nasir Bonyad, and all the other enterprises where strikes have taken place.
3. The Council would like to alert all permanent workers against the danger of decisions by management to delay or forgo the payment of their due wages, overtime pay and bonuses. In that event, the Council urges all workers to resort to hunger strike, “white strike” (such as slow-downs or limited disruption in production line) and finally a full strike as both defensible and legitimate initiatives.
4. The Council views the factory’s policy of blaming the workers for any and all safety mishaps in and around factory grounds – particularly those resulting in death or permanent disability – as cruel and inhumane. It believes that the primary cause of accidents are harsh working conditions, antiquated equipment and the management’s constant pressure on the workers for faster and larger production quotas.
5. The Council considers the minimum wage for “direct-contract” and sub-contractual workers set at 400,000 Tomans ($400)–at a time when the ‘poverty line’ for an urban family is officially set at 800,000 Tomans ($800) per month–to be patently unjust for workers and their families. The Council further calls for the gradual rollback of discrimination between all contractual workers and permanent workers.
6. The Council firmly believes that privatization of the Isfahan Steel will leave a ruinous and lasting effect on the workers’ lives and livelihood. The disastrous results of the reconstruction period is a constant reminder to us. Isfahan Steelworkers are witnessing them first-hand every day.
7. The Council strongly condemns the company’s multi-million-Toman venture in the soccer team while permanent workers’ wages and bonuses have been paid tardily, and while temporary/contractual wages are falling under the poverty level. The Council considers this gross injustice to all the workers.
8. The Council considers Atashkar, the management’s internal weekly journal, to be merely a forum for self-aggrandizement and peddling of the management’s ludicrous claims – such as the one about production and delivery of rails to the National Iranian Railroad—that absolutely fools no one. The Council therefore demands the publication of reports on workers’ wages, the workers’ strike actions, full coverage of shop-floor accidents resulting in death and disability, announcement of names of workers who have lost their lives on account of accidents and finally a tally of all monthly work-related incidents in the weekly Atashkar.
9. Considering the total absence of conditions for open activity, the Council calls upon all workers to set up autonomous labor cells throughout Isfahan Steel. It is our strong belief that without forming these cells, the workers will not be able to advance their aims in any meaningful way. The prime goals of these cells would be to disseminate news and information, to unify the rank and file, and to elect individuals who can represent them and provide leadership for their efforts. These cells could take form on the basis of friendship networks, sports and recreation links, in-house loan associations, etc.
We shake your hands in solidarity;
The Ad Hoc Council of the Isfahan Steel Workers