Massive May Day Labor Protests in Iran



May 1st, which is Labor Day in Iran and most other parts of the world, brought massive demonstrations to the streets of many Iranian cities, as the continuing workers’ rights and trade union movement struggles against the hardships Iranian workers face under a regime that has been unresponsive to their plight.

The largest demonstration was in Tehran, outside the Islamic Parliament (Majles) building. This protest, which was called for by a group of 20 independent labor unions, was not pre-authorized by the regime. Hossein Zolfaghari, the deputy minister of the interior, had even said on April 30th that anyone who demonstrated on May Day would be severely punished, but thousands of workers still came out to the streets.



Beginning at 10AM, the driving force leading the rally was the Tehran Bus Drivers union, but retirees and students also joined the labor activists as the day went on. The slogans chanted by the those who participated included “Bread, Work, Freedom, Our Right to Live!” “The thugs have astronomical wealth while we live in misery!” “There is no country without workers!” “Students, Teachers, Unions, we are all One!” and “We have the human right to go on strike!”


The regime quickly sent the police to crack down on the protestors. According to an eyewitness who was at the rally, Mohammad Khani, around 10:20 AM, “At first, the police led the crowd to an area in front of the Majles confined by metal barriers. They said, ‘Don’t go down the street, we’ve given you space here to demonstrate.’ But once all of the protestors were gathered into that area, the police and IRGC attacked them and began beating them up. Other people came in from the street to try to help them, some people even got out of their cars to try to save the demonstrators. A large number of people were punched and kicked, the clash was very intense. People started fleeing to the Baharestan subway, but the police followed them and kept beating people even on the subway platforms. In the Baharestan Square, another protest group gathered, in the market, and many of those walking by joined them. The police then came and also started attacking that group. Although no one was afraid, and the people fought back, the security forces were too strong.”

Another activist who was at the demonstration, Mohammad Javad Akbarein, remarked that “"Yesterday, Rouhani said our dear workers are on the front line of the fight against the United States. Today, dozens of those 'dear workers' were arrested by government agents because on Labor Day, instead of confronting the U.S., they gathered in front of parliament to demand their rights."

At the same time, another labor protest was going on in Tehran outside the regime-sponsored Workers House. This demonstration had received prior approval from the police to be held but, the IRGC also forcefully suppressed it, and made arrests there.

The exact number of those detained is not clear, but it was at least 35 labor activists and two journalists. Some of those arrested whose names we know include: Reza Shahabi, Hassan Saeedi, Vahid Fereydouni, Asadollah Soleymani, Nasser Moharramzadeh, Mohammad Ali Aslaghi, Seyyed Rasul Talib Moghadam, and a Ms. Shiri, all bus drivers from Tehran; journalists Keyvan Samimi and Marzieh Amiri, and workers Kamyar Fakour, Mardas Taheri, Soleimani Nejad, Abbas Shams, Hadi Soleimani, Seyyed Mahdi Azimi, Mahan Salehi, and Qassem Khalouee. They were all sent to Evin Prison, Iran’s most notorious prison for political detainees.

Amnesty International has condemned the arrests, saying they show the regime’s “utter contempt” for workers rights.

Other large protests occurred in other cities, such as Mashhad and Marivan.

Not intimated by what happened, teachers took to the streets the next day, May 2nd, in more than 30 cities, including Tehran, Mashhad, Kermanshah, Tabriz, Shiraz, Arak, Rasht, Ilam, Mahabad, Hamedan, Qazvin, Esfahan, Sanandaj, Yazd, Ardebil, Sari and Ourumieh.  Their slogans were “Teachers must be paid!” “Neither the government nor the parliament care about the nation” and “Free all imprisoned teachers!”

Within an hour of the Tehran teachers’ demonstration commencing, IRGC officers began forcibly dispersing them, and arrested two teachers; Mohammad Falahi and Rasoul Bodaghi.

 Despite the continual suppression by the regime, the Iranian workers movement has only grown and strengthened over the last year and a half. The issues that they are dealing with, nonpayment of wages, low wages when they are paid, increasing prices and rents, and the lack of collective bargaining, have not been addressed, and can be expected to worse as Iran’s economy is going into a downward spiral. According to Javanmir Moradi, a electrical workers union activist in Kermanshah, “Living conditions are worsening, not only for workers but also for the majority of the Iranian population. It is obvious that daily price hikes and intense pressure on livelihoods will lead to more and widespread protest…..It is very likely that we will see coordinated strikes and street protests by workers nationwide….The recent protests in 2018 and the support of workers for strikes by other workers, students, retired workers, and women, showed there are no obstacles to moving forward. As a matter of fact, now is the best time for the movement to get mobilized and have a more unified campaign in their agenda.”



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