Iran: free jailed worker activists!

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2019 - 11:06

Esmail Bakhshi, a leader of the workers at the big Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane complex in south west Iran, has been in jail since 20 January.

His family says he is ill and not getting medical care. They fear for his life.

Sepideh Gholian, an activist and journalist who supported the sugar cane workers in a long-running series of strikes demanding unpaid wages and workers’ control over the enterprise, has also been jailed since 20 January.

Bakhshi and Gholian were jailed previously on 18 November last year, and released on 12 (Bakhshi) and 18 (Gholian) December. Several other Haft Tappeh workers were also jailed for varying periods, as were over 40 steelworkers in dispute in Ahvaz, also in south-west Iran.

Jail — and sometimes death in jail through ill-treatment and lack of medical care — is a standard response of the Iranian government to strikes and workers’ protests.

The most famous case is that of Mansoor Ossanloo, a Tehran bus workers’ leader, who was eventually freed and allowed to go into exile in 2013, after years of repeated jail terms and mistreatment which cost him the sight of one eye.

Other notable worker activists like Shahrokh Zamani have died in jail.

Iran is currently going through a new surge of worker protests in the run-up to the Iranian New Year on 21 March, when new budgets and a new minimum wage are set, and when workers are used to expecting a New Year’s bonus.

Many worker protests are about months of arrears of unpaid wages, in an economic climate where food prices are rising at over 50% a year.

Iranian school teachers staged a three-day sit-in strike at the start of March. Their demands included the release from jail of teachers jailed for their trade-union activity: Mohammad Habibi, Esmail Abdi, Mahmoud Beheshti, Ruhollah Mardani, Abdolreza Ghanbari, Mohammad Sani and Bakhtiar Arefi.

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