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Protesting Sugar Factory Workers Invade Friday Prayer Site

Iran--Shoush, Haft Tapah workers attended Friday Prayer ceremony on November 16 to protest delayed wages.
Iran--Shoush, Haft Tapah workers attended Friday Prayer ceremony on November 16 to protest delayed wages.

Enraged workers of Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory in Shush, southwest Iran, occupied the Friday prayer site of the city on Friday, November 16, chanting slogans to protest overdue wages.

The infuriated workers have been on intermittent strikes since November 4.

Footages circulated in the social media show angry workers chanting, "A huge army is here, for the love of the labor".

In 2018, the venues for Friday Prayer have become focal points for people protesting a myriad of issues, including a lack of potable water and water mismanagement, overdue wages and unemployment.

Protesters say they have lost hope and decided to present their complaints at the weekly gatherings hosted by Friday Prayer leaders, who are chosen under the direct supervision of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Angry farmers, protesting a controversial water distribution project in Isfahan, on March 16 turned their backs to the prayer leader, as they chanted, “Turning away from the enemy, eying the motherland.”

On April 13, the prayer leader chided the protesters, saying repeated protests and their slogans show that the protesters are after “unrest and sedition.”

Invading Friday Prayers site repeated on April 20 in the city of Kazeroun, southern Iran.

Protesters chanted angry slogans against the city’s MP as well as the state-run radio and TV, which aired developments in Gaza instead of covering their protests.

Kazerooni protestors, assembled in front of the city's Friday Prayer site, turned the four-decades-old Islamic Republic slogan “Death to America” on its head by chanting “Our enemy’s right here; they lie saying it’s America!”

In the most recent case, the workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory symbolically carried the "dead body" of their plant at the Friday Prayer site and across the city of Shush (ancient Susa) in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan.

According to the Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers, Haft Tapeh employees have not been paid for months, while struggling with "endless problems".

Nevertheless, the angry workers of the plant insist that they have reached an unbearable situation created by the new owner of the industrial complex.

Earlier reports suggested the company’s largest shareholder and director general had either fled Iran or detained by the authorities for violating the new strict regulations on foreign exchange transactions.

Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic's authorities have preferred to avoid making comments on the case.

On October 23, Tehran's Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi in an enigmatic remark announced, "An individual in Khuzestan has bought a company and received $800 million [at subsidized rate] during 2015-2017, without respecting his commitments. And currently, he is on the run."

Channels on Telegram messaging app affiliated with Haft Tapeh workers have maintained that the company and its fugitive director mentioned by Dolatabadi are indeed the sugar plant and its managing director.

“Our investigation and collected documents” show that Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory is on the list of companies that received subsidized dollars without respecting their commitments over it, the Channels reported, adding, "Reportedly, the managing director of the factory is currently detained under the order of the Prosecutor-General."

The Justice Department has not yet reacted to the allegation.

The Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Mill is the only factory of its kind in Iran. It was built nearly half a century ago during the reign of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The agro-industrial complex was always lucrative until the Islamic Republic decided to sell it to the private sector in a murky transaction in 2015. The complex, built on a 2-hectare area, was sold to the private sector for a down payment of roughly two million dollars. It is not clear if any further payments have been made.

It wasn’t long before the privatized company had accrued large debts (over $90 million in 2017), mostly owed to public utilities and tax authorities. To address the problem, the private owners of the complex decided to withhold salaries, wages, and pensions. This decision triggered strikes, making sugar production increasingly unreliable, to the extent that the Iranian government poured imported sugar into the local markets.

Meanwhile, the private owners of the complex complain that the government has stopped buying the mill's products, forcing it into a deeper crisis.

Nevertheless, The Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly said he believes the unrest among the Iranian labor force is a "foreign plot" to overthrow the regime.

“One of the major activities of our enemies [US] has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our labor groups -- particularly the big ones -- so they can provoke the workers,” Khamenei said in a gathering on February 5.