In condemnation of the slaughter of cross-border porters in Iranian Kurdistan
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s security forces have committed yet another crime and killed two innocent, hardworking cross-border porters (merchandise-carriers known in Iran as Kolbar). These two latest victims have joined the long list of other cross-border porters, who in order to earn a meager income resort to carrying heavy goods on their back or horseback, and cross borders between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, (or between Iran and Pakistan) but become targets of the Islamic regime’s criminal security forces and never return to their families and loved ones. The criminal cycle of killing innocent cross-border kolbars (or Kolbaran) has been in continuum for a long while now, and only recently the regime, under public pressures, had announced that it intends to “organize and regulate” cross-border porters’ working conditions. This most recent episode of directly shooting at cross-border porters and killing them is an alarming indication of exactly how the vile Iranian regime intends to “regulate” cross-border porters.
The tens of thousands of individuals who are currently working as merchandise-carriers, cross-border porters, constitute some of the most vulnerable, dispossessed sectors of the Iranian working class. Dire unemployment, mass poverty, utter lack of any social welfare or social safety net leaves them no choice but to resort to the extremely dangerous and demanding job of merchandise carrying on foot. These cross-border workers have zero benefits and lack any legal, occupational or medical assistance. These kolbars have no fixed schedules, no contracts and no occupational safety. Generally speaking cross-border porters suffer from a total lack of any rights in their demanding work. If they are “lucky” and don’t succumb to various illnesses caused by their physically over-demanding line of work, they routinely encounter lethal shooting by criminal security forces committed to protecting the “frontiers” of Capital, taking orders for fire-at-will from worse and bigger criminals than themselves. A very modest estimate reveals that last year alone, at least 40 kolbars were killed by direct shooting, 11 lost their lives, 30 were seriously injured, and scores of porters were arrested; 64% of those were 20 to 30 years old.
Kurdish border porters’ predicament is also seen in Iranian Baluchistan where thousands have no option other than earning a meager income as porters. All such nation-wide mass poverty is forced upon Iranian workers through a neoliberal theocratic state which flogs protesting workers, arrests striking workers and kills labour activists in jails through homicidal negligence or criminal design.
After the news of these last two victims was announced, on Tuesday 5 September 2017, a day after their killing, the city of Baneh (where the slain workers lived) witnessed a wave of mass protest. Since then there have also been protests in support of porters in Sanandaj and Kermanshah and other areas in Kurdistan province. Any mass protest in Kurdistan is automatically met with a totally militarized, overkill presence of security forces. There have also been activities in remembrance of the slain workers outside of Kurdistan.
Cross-border porters’ struggles are intersectional, covering an array of issues on multiple levels. Their immediate struggles revolve around issues of: a legal recognition of their line of work and attainment of human and workers’ rights; organizing into an organization representing their rights and concerns; immediate cessation of shootings, identifying the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. At the same time, “kolbar” is a super-harsh reality of an inhumane capitalist system that has been interlocked in Iran with a murderous and reactionary regime. The fight against the killings of the kolbars, and for their rights, must be linked to a united and comprehensive struggle against the totality of the capitalist system and the set of economic, political and systemic conditions that continue to make this terrible phenomenon possible.
We strongly condemn the killing of cross-border porters in Iranian Kurdistan and heartily urge all labour organizations, workers’ parties, progressive and human rights’ organizations and concerned individuals around the world to firmly support cross-border porters in Iran and vigorously defend their rights.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI)