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Rail Workers Vow To Continue Strike Amid Widespread Labor Unrest

Iran - Neishabour: Railway Workers are striking over unpaid wages. The banner says "We want our unpaid wages".

A group representing rail workers in Iran has issued as statement promising to continue their strike and protests until their demands are met.

The rail workers went on strike July 20 demanding to be paid their overdue wages. They say they haven’t been paid in over two months.

Striking rail workers have held protest rallies across the country, including in Arak, Azarbaijan, Isfahan, Khorasan, Lorestan, and Zanjan.

The workers’ statement demands payment of overdue wages for seven thousand employees responsible for maintaining the country’s rail lines. It also calls for their temporary contracts to be replaced with permanent ones, insurance benefits, the right to form a union, and the right to protest. The statement also insists on an immediate end to layoffs.

President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has repeatedly promised to see to it that the overdue wages are paid, but so far the workers have not received their money.

Iran has been engulfed in mass demonstrations since last December when Iranians took to the streets to protest economic hardships, but a general anti-establishment sentiment soon came to the fore. The protests, which began months before the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Deal, spread to 100 cities across the country.

Workers, students, teachers, and activists have repeatedly criticized the Islamic Republic’s leaders for wasting national assets on their extraterritorial adventures including meddling in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, slowed growth, inflation, high unemployment and a nosediving currency have fueled discontent among other strata of Iranian society, including influential merchants who have traditionally been supporters of the conservative clerical ruling establishment.

Meanwhile, hundreds of workers at the Haf Tapeh sugar cane mill assembled for the second consecutive day August 4 outside the industrial complex’s management office to protest the privatization of the complex and unpaid wages.

In a statement issued in April, the Haf Tapeh workers union said, “Not only have the workers not received their salaries for months, they have also not received their New Year’s bonus. [In Iran the New Year begins in March].

Responding to the protests, the private owner of the complex has argued that since imported sugar has saturated the local market, the factory is unable to compete and carry on as a profitable business.

Workers have begged to differ. During a January protest in Ahvaz, one of the Haft Tapeh workers, Isma’eil Bakhshi, called on his colleagues to take over the operation lines at the complex.

“They say they have no money,” said Bakhshi. “The workers have no money either. But the difference is that we are experts in sugar cane processing, and we will manage the operations ourselves.”

Bakhshi was arrested along with several other protesters.

The financial situation for working class Iranians hasn’t improved much in the nearly four decades since the Islamic Revolution. Urban family incomes average around $800 a month, with a minimum wage of around $200 a month.

“Where else in the world is a worker whose wage is four times below the poverty line forced by the police to work?” activist Jafar Azimzadeh recently asked in a video posted on the messaging app Telegram. “This is a crime. This is slavery.”

While the workers’ protests continue across Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has said that “foreign enemies” [ a reference to the USA, Israel, and Saudi Arabia], as well as Iranian dissident groups are behind the labor unrest.