Our strike is spreading fast
This statement, translated from Persian, gives an insight into the many challenges faced by the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers in standing up to employers and the government
The strike has been going on for over three weeks and the workers are more determined than ever to continue their action.
Tens of thousands in at least 82 centres are taking part and they seem to have the support of large sections of the population - the majority of Iranians are well aware of the harsh conditions this crucial section of the working class has to live and work under.
This is an important factor in shielding the strikers from open state repression. They have encountered setbacks in, for example, failing to gain support from permanent employees of the National Iranian Oil Company, where apparently, post-privatisation, the majority of jobs have now gone to subcontractors. In this respect the government’s attempt to divide and rule - separating permanent workers from contract workers - has succeeded to a certain degree.
But there is no doubting that overall support is very real.
Statement from the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers
Below are a few important points. Given the fact that our strike is spreading fast and workers from other sections are joining it, and we have received great support and solidarity, we are in a good position to win important parts of our demands. Thanks to all those factors, there is great pressure on the exploitative contractors, and we have reached a situation where it is in their interests to end the strike soon.
It is clear that we need to make some decisions about what we are aiming for: how to achieve our demands and under what conditions we are going to negotiate. However, we must avoid hasty decisions and entering into negotiations too early.
The main dangers threatening our nationwide strike are the possibility that the enemy will create divisions amongst the workers and confusion over our plan of action. Employers and officials will try their best to create such divisions by, for example, accepting minimal demands from some workers and urging them to return to work, then forcing the rest of us to follow suit. We need to be vigilant against such plots.
The way the administrators of the Telegram groups, ‘Kariabi Piping’ and ‘Arkan She’, address the workers is like the way a commander would address soldiers: they give orders and forbid us to take this or that action, and clearly they are happy to accept minimum concessions and the end of the strike. That is why they campaigned to evacuate workplaces. They say: ‘Have fun with your family. We are here, so trust in us’. Wherever there is a protest or a rally, they come out against it and create a security ‘incident’.
Workers need to know that the time for trusting others is over. We have to decide for ourselves. Such groups want to control everything and label anyone who says something different as divisive or worse. We have to say clearly: we don’t need self-appointed representatives. Representatives of each section should be elected and must be involved at every level of decision-making.
Considering the fact that workers on strike in Assaluyeh and Kangan have left their bases, it is impossible to elect a representative or group of representatives tasked to negotiate with employers in those locations. In these areas, we should establish our own Telegram groups as soon as possible and elect our own representatives. This is our right. Gathering in a group, discussing our demands and choosing our genuine representatives is not controversial.
One way to maintain unity is to determine a single set of national demands, so that, once there are negotiations, we do not consent to less than those demands, which must provide a model for other sections. Meanwhile, right now as a first step, we must put pressure on the employers to state their position regarding workers’ demands with complete transparency and in a written public format (as stated in the 5th statement of our Organisational Council). On that basis, we too will announce our collective decisions.
We do not accept secret negotiations held behind closed doors, which ignore actual workers. Decisions made between negotiators, employers and contractors will only be recognised if the workers are notified and approve them.
The first negotiations or agreements that will probably take place between workers and employers in several contracting companies are important and can be the basis for negotiations with other companies. So we have to be careful about this, because, once these first agreements are signed and workers in those companies return to work, the goals of the strike will have been determined for the rest of the workforce. It is very important that we take the initiative in these cases and try to make sure our initial and immediate demands are clear and form the basis of negotiations with contractors.
Our demands are:
- Wage increases based on our suggested figures for different levels of skilled workers: no worker should be paid less than 12 million tomans (£2,000); there should be permanent work contracts and job security; and wages should be paid on time each month.
- The working environment should be safe and workplaces as well as workers’ dormitories should be air-conditioned. We call for a substantial improvement in the condition of workers’ dormitories, restrooms and bathrooms, the allocation of suitable food, plus the provision of medical facilities in workplaces, as well as free health insurance for workers.
- Our main demand is for an end to contract employment and the abolition of special economic zones, where employers can impose their own rules.
By fighting for these demands we can reduce the power of contractors and declare that from today the government must oversee the implementation of all agreements that are decided in negotiations with employers.
The local Council for Organising Protests must act as a channel for discussions regarding negotiations with the employers. Send your demands and ideas to the local council, introduce them to your friends and encourage them to become a member. At the same time, create networks wherever you can, so that we can regularly consider how to progress our protests.
We would like to thank all organisations, workers and other people who have supported our protests and demands. Our urgent duty is to cooperate with any group and institution that backs the interests of the striking workers. Our emphasis is on unity and the solidarity of labour. Here’s to victory!