✻ Update on Strikes and Labor Protests in Iran – February 20th thru April 6th

By The Free Iranian Staff
This is The Free Iranian’s eighth report on the ongoing national workers uprising; for all previous reports please click here.


February 20: Relatives of Esmail Bakhshi, the imprisoned leader of the workers’ union at the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Cane Complex, and Sepideh Gholian, a journalist covering the strike at Haft Tappeh who was arrested with Bakhshi, protested outside the Shush city courthouse demanding that they be freed. Security forces physically assaulted the protestors, and Bakhshi’s mother fainted as she was being arrested.  The Haft Tappeh workers’ union also stated today that they believe the regime is torturing Bakhshi in order to make him appear in a “video confession.”

Bakhshi’s family outside the Shush courthouse

The Union of Retirees and Social Security Pensioners in Tehran issued an open letter to regime president Hassan Rouhani demanding that Social Security monthly payments be increased in the next Iranian year, starting March 21st, to a level allowing all retirees the means to provide basic necessities for themselves.

February 22: Family members and friends of Bakhshi and Gholian said today that they received threatening phone calls from persons identifying themselves as

Intelligence Ministry agents, telling them to not speak about Bakhshi’s and Gholian’s case to anyone, or face consequences. Relatives of another imprisoned union leader, Jafar Azimzadeh, also reported receiving threatening phone calls from the Intelligence Ministry today.

February 24: Thousands of retirees protested today in both Tehran and Esfahan, demanding higher pensions. With the purchasing power of their Social Security payments eroded due to hyperinflations, many of Iran’s seniors are unable to survive on their current incomes.  

Retired women protesting in Tehran

Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian were finally allowed to meet with their families and attorneys today. According to Bakhshi’s lawyer, Farzaneh Zilabi, Bakhshi was so weak and frail that he fainted during their meeting. Bakhshi and Gholian both mentioned that the prison staff at the Ahvaz Intelligence Ministry detention center were withholding medical treatment from them.

March 2: Teachers went on their monthly, three day sit in strike across Iran. This month, teachers in over 40 Iranian cities participated.

March 3: Railway workers all over Iran are on strike, after not having been paid for several months. The workers had gone on strike twice before over the past year, with the regime-owned railway company each time promising to pay the owed back wages and then reneging. Reports say workers are picketing in Karaj, Neyshabour, Zagros, Khorasan, Azarbaijan, Hormozgan, Shahroud, Sirjan, Andimeshk, and Lorestan.

Picketing Workers in Neyshabour

March 5: Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian were transferred from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Ahvaz to regular prisons in the city, Sheyban Prison for Bakhshi, and Sepidar Prison for Gholian. Neither of them has yet been allowed to speak to an attorney, receive visitors, or receive medical treatment. 

Hundreds of employees of the Ministry of Agriculture protested outside the Ministry’s Tehran headquarters today. The picketing workers said they are representing 40,000 Agriculture Ministry employees across Iran who have been irregularly paid over the last two years.

Agricultural workers demonstrating

Rail travel in Tabriz ground to a complete halt today, as picketing railway workers sat on the tracks, forcing trains already in transit to stop and let their passengers out, while other departures were all cancelled. The Tabriz railway employees say they haven’t been paid in four months. Regime state media, however, did not report on the sit-in.

Tabriz Railway Workers Occupying the Tracks

March 6: Hundreds of retired employees of the Mobarkeh Steel Plant in Esfahan protested outside the provincial governor’s office because their pensions hadn’t been paid. They chanted slogans such as “Resign, Liar Rouhani!” and “We made the revolution, and we made a mistake!”

March 9: Workers at the Masjed’e Soleyman petrochemical factory in Khuzestan went on strike today on account of their wages not having been paid. The factory’s director, who is Chinese, claims that the factory’s Iranian subcontractors are responsible for the nonpayment, but the Iranian companies claim that it is the Chinese who have been withholding the funds for employees’ salaries.

Retired workers protesting in Esfahan

March 10:  Esmail Bakhshi’s mother went to Haft Tappeh today and sat outside, holding up a placard with her son’s face. Eyewitnesses said many of the complex’s workers were moved to tears.

A labor activist, Mohammad Reza Rahbarzadeh, said in an interview today that the newly-raised minimum wage still only pays one third of the amount an Iranian needs to afford a decent, minimum standard of living.

Two workers living in south Tehran, aged 42 and 46, respectively, hung themselves today. Both left suicide notes stating that they no longer wanted to keep living in extreme poverty on their meager wages.

March 11: Bakhshi’s mother returned to Haft Tappeh, stating that she will continue to protest until her son is released. The complex’s management officially fired him today, cutting off his family’s only source of income. 200 workers walked out and joined Bakhshi’s mother in her protest.

March 13: The privately-owned Pirouzi oil and gas refinery in Shahroud went out of business today, leaving its 680 employees without a job.

As the Iranian New Year approaches, next week, the pace of strikes and protests is increasing. More than 20 cities saw convulsions today, including Tehran, Tabriz, Ahvaz, and Abadan, with workers, students, and retirees all joining together.

Taxi Drivers on Strike in Ardebil


Oil Workers Picketing at the South Pars Field in Kangan


Firefighters On Strike in Abadan


Municipal Workers who Haven’t Been Paid in Months on Strike in Ahvaz

Notably, workers at the Abadan oil refinery went on strike, after not being paid, and having been forced to work longer hours and days than agreed to in their employment contract.

A group of former Haft-Tappeh workers, who had retired during 2017 and 2018, protested outside the complex over not still having received their owed back pay from those years. Work inside stopped as employees walked out and joined the retirees’ protest in solidarity.  

March 16: Picketing Bus Drivers protested outside the Ministry of Justice in Tehran today, over their continued refusal to negotiate with the drivers’ union over owed pay.

Workers at a slaughterhouse in Nahavand went on strike today after not being paid in four months.

March 19: Work at the Haft Tappeh complex stopped again today, as retired workers continued their protest and current employees walked out to join them.

March 20:  An underground group of activist teachers, calling themselves “Teachers for Justice,” issued a stinging statement calling the new minimum wage rate “an atrocity,” and severely criticizing Rouhani and the clerical regime as corrupt and undemocratic.

It was announced today that Esmail Bakhshi, Sepideh Gholian, and all other imprisoned labor activists from the Haft Tappeh strike would be tried by the Tehran Revolutionary Courts.

March 23: Eid Ali Karimi, a secretary at the Workers House in Qazvin, stated that the regime’s official unemployment and wage statistics were inaccurate, and that by his count, about 5,000 workers per month lost their jobs in Qazvin province alone, during 2018, with the rate of job losses moving upwards in 2019. Karimi also said that most companies in the province were nearly bankrupt, and the average worker in Qazvin hadn’t received pay in three months.

March 25: The Sahand Combine Company in Tabriz, a noted agricultural tool manufacturer for many years, shut down and went out of business today. The formerly state-owned factory had been privatized several years, and activists among its now-unemployed former workers say that owners and executives embezzled from the company’s funds, leading to its bankruptcy.

March 27: Garbage collectors in Kot-Abdullah, a subsection of Ahvaz, went on strike today after not having been paid in several months. This is the first strike of the new Iranian year. Garbage and sewage are collecting on the streets, and the municipality’s police has begun to force some of the workers to return to their jobs. One of the leaders of the garbage workers’ union was arrested, and another was fired.

Garbage piled up in Kot-Abdullah

April 6: Workers on the Ahvaz Metro construction project resumed picketing today, demanding payment of all owed back wages, and the rehiring of five of their colleagues who were fired at the end of the Iranian year three weeks ago.  The workers are employees of Kayson, a private company subcontracted to the city of Ahvaz. The municipal government claims that they have paid Kayson all of the requisite funds in order for the workers to get paid, but Kayson disputes this. This is the third time in a year that Kayson’s employees have gone on strike, and they are now owed one year’s worth of wages and benefits.

Kayson employees picketing in Ahvaz

Teachers at schools in Tehran and Qazvin refused to go to work today, after not being paid for six months. Reports say that teachers in several small villages are also going on strike. Teachers have been holding repeated, monthly, two-day sit-in strikes for several months in an effort to reclaim their unpaid salaries, but the Ministry of Education claims that it doesn’t have the money to pay all teachers’ salaries.

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