Iran Reports

Iran: Basij paramilitary forces preparing to suppress workers’ protests

Iran: IRI is exploring new tactics to crackdown on workers

Basij paramilitary groups getting prepared to suppress workers’ protests is a local news agency linked to the ruling establishment in Iran. It publishes news concerning the city of Kalaleh, Golestan Province, north-east of Iran. On February 5, 2016, Kalaleh Khabar published an alarming news (please see the link and pictures below).

The news covers a mock operation conducted by Basij, which is a nation-wide paramilitary organization, formed in 1979 by the order of the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini. Basij’s leadership and its full-time forces are extremely notorious for their violent treatment of dissenters and bloody, savage attacks against activists of progressive social movements under the pretext of internal security and law enforcement.

The above exercise by Basij militias basically displays a group of protesting factory workers (labelled as “rioting workers”) being attacked by Basij members which results in arrest of these workers. The report proudly emphasizes that Basij conducted these exercises in order to become fully prepared in mobilizing its anti-riot forces against protesting workers in future.

These exercises, and other maneuvers like this, are taking place while millions of workers in Iran are working in precarious jobs and their families live in poverty. The minimum wage is currently four times below the poverty line and tens of thousands of workers are not regularly paid, and in total about 90 percent of the workforce in the country are employed under temporary contracts.

Currently a number of mine workers from Bafgh and Khatoon Abad are facing prosecution for demanding their most basic rights such as job security. Labour activists are targeted on daily basis and representatives of teachers are harassed and imprisoned. Tehran bus workers’ union (Vahed Syndicate) is under constant scrutiny by the intelligent forces and their activists are targeted, threatened and persecuted routinely.  Their leading representatives such as Ebrahim Madadi, Davood Razavi and Reza Shahabi have all been facing new charges in recent months, and there are fears that they may face new prison sentences. 

Veteran labour activist Mahmoud Salehi, despite all previous imprisonments and the loss of both kidneys because of intentional lack of medical care while he was incarcerated, is fighting back against a new nine-year jail term. Jafar Azimzadeh, chairperson of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, is serving a six year prison sentence since November 8, 2015. Behnam Ebrahimzadeh and Rasoul Bodaghi both received new prison sentences while already in jail. Mahmoud Beheshti Langroodi, who was temporarily released following his hunger strike in December 2015, was denied an extension of his furlough and was forced to return to Evin prison on January 14, 2016. The list of the targeted labour and union activists goes on and it’s ever growing.  

The public display of the anti-riot exercise of paramilitary groups like Basij against protesting workers is extremely alarming and must be faced with strong condemnations internationally.  It’s important to mention that “Basij” is the paramilitary force of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran includes its “conventional” army and law enforcement forces as well as “Guardians Corps. of Islamic Revolution.” In addition, IRI has numerous other forces including plain clothes agents who are not accountable even to armed forces. All of these forces, including Basij, have historically been used for suppressing demonstrations and social movements. 

However, Basij claims to be having millions of volunteers (although its numbers are contested) who are supposed to be ordinary civilians; and many of the people who are registered with Basij are under-aged and only do volunteer work for receiving certain benefits and privileges. In spite of this, IRI seems to be trying to use members of Basij against protesting workers in future. In the past, they have largely avoided confrontations between workers and Basij. The fact that Basij members are openly and publicly trained to confront workers’ strikes and protests need to be flagged and further analysed.

Currently many governments, including the European Union and various multinational corporations are seeking renewed economic partnerships with the IRI, following the post-Iran nuclear deal. The Iranian labour movement has always maintained a principled position that none of the confrontations and power struggles between the US and allies and the Iranian regime had anything to do with the human rights or the rights of the working people in Iran. Iranian working class suffered tremendously as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies; the Iranian regime and its rich and powerful authorities did not suffer a bit; the rich undeniably got much richer and more powerful in Iran in recent years, partially because of Western imposed sanctions. Now that a nuclear deal between western powers and IR has been reached and Iranian workers are seeking their legitimate demands and asking their inalienable rights to be met the neo-liberal Rouhani regime is viciously attacking them and preparing for further mass repression of workers’ movement in Iran.

The plight of workers in Iran and their most basic rights under international conventions are not a concern for the multinational corporations and their capitalist and neo-liberal governments. As workers, we can only rely on worker-to-worker solidarity on a global scale in order to counter such onslaughts against Iranian workers. The government of the IRI needs to notice and pay attention to strong condemnations regarding its intensifying attempts to intimidate and crack down on workers who are standing up for their inalienable rights, including the right to organize, strike and to a living wage. Armed forces and paramilitary groups like Basij and plain clothes officers must be pressured to leave workers alone, and workplaces must be immune from their interventions.

International Alliance in support of workers in Iran (IASWI)
February 11, 2016

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