Feb 19, 2018
On February 5, in the city of Arak located in central Iran, hundreds of striking workers made a human chain around the city’s main square in order to demand many months of back pay they say they’re owed. The workers had not received their salary for eight months, and many have still not received their full salaries for 2016.
The workers also directed their anger at the government. They chanted, “We will not live under the burden of tyranny.” Addressing Minister of Labor Ali Rabiei, they sarcastically shouted, “Down with labor, hail to the tyrant.”
In the middle of the demonstration, special anti-riot police arrested a 15-year-old teenager while he was filming the workers’ protest with his mobile phone. In response, the workers seized the parking lot where the teenager was being held and demanded the boy’s release. Confronting the police, one worker was heard to say, “We will stand here and not allow you to take this young person to a detention center, and then later on hand over his dead body to his family, saying that he was an addict and committed suicide in prison.”
Eventually, the workers were able to force the special police to release the teenager and also to return his mobile phone.
These workers were striking HEPCO (Heavy Equipment Production Company), an Iranian company with about 1,500 workers that partners with major companies outside the country, like Volvo, Komatsu, Case IH and Ingersoll Rand, to produce heavy equipment for road construction, mining and other industrial projects in Iran and the Middle East.
Workers told reporters that after the Iranian government had privatized HEPCO in 2007, the new owners often stopped paying workers, and the workers have had to go on strike repeatedly in order to get back pay.
These kinds of strikes are not unusual in Iran. For several years, workers throughout the country have had to fight for everything – even just to get paid. These fights were a prelude to mass demonstrations that swept through 40 cities in Iran over several days in late December and early January. Thousands of young people, workers, unemployed and retirees throughout the country took to the streets to protest against worsening misery, widespread corruption, as well as against the religious fundamentalist dictatorship of the mullahs that has dominated the country for the last 40 years.
The Iranian regime tried to smash this movement. Police arrested thousands of demonstrators. There have also been reports of torture and executions. But this latest strike at HEPCO in Arak shows that despite the dictatorship and repression, workers in Iran continue to fight.