Workers and Employees of the Haft Tappeh sugar mill company in the ancient city of Shush, southwest Iran, continued their strike and protests on Monday for the 15th consecutive day, despite measures by authorities dispatching anti-riot units to prevent any such gatherings.
According to reliable sources, 19 sugar cane mill, and factory workers have been arrested by the plain cloth of mullah’s secret service on Sunday, November 18. Following the day of arrests, the angry protestors launched demonstration in front of governance of Shush city, chanting, “Down with tyrants, viva workers”, “Do not be afraid, we are all together!”, “Neither threat nor prison is effective anymore!”
The Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill Workers’ Union said that 19 workers were detained, identifying them by name.
Workers Union statement
In a statement issued today, the union also said that the labor activists were detained after the peaceful protests on their way back to the company.
It said that the families of the detainees were very concerned about their well-being and that they were demanding the immediate release of their loved ones.
Founded half a century ago in the southern city of Shush, in Khuzestan Province, the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill is the oldest sugar factory in Iran. Some 5,600 workers are currently working at the company.
State-run news sources said that only four people were detained.
IRNA state-run News Agency quoted the governor of Khuzestan as saying that he was informed that four people were arrested.
The strike on Tuesday was met with force by security forces who tried to prevent the gatherings in which thousands of workers and their families were participating, demanding the release of the arrested workers.
Women played a significant role in the protests and stood at the forefront of the gatherings.
Reports indicate that women’s participation in the protests drew national support from other workers and teachers in Iran. Merchants and shop owners in the Shush Bazaar also closed their shops in support of the workers.
The most well-known workers who were arrested on Saturday were Ismael Bakhshi and Moslem Armand, and they were both at the forefront of almost all the protests. Ismael Bakhshi is a labor activist and represents Haft Tappeh workers. In his last speech during one of the demonstrations, which was recorded and uploaded on social media, he said that the government did not listen to them despite two weeks of protests.
“We are angry but instead of carrying out specific measures, they bring in riot police and the filthy Seda and Sima (state TV) and film the clashes and say that they (the workers) are seditionists,” he said.
“They only lie instead of solving the problem. The governor and Minister say that this (Haft Tappeh) company was bankrupt even though they embezzled it themselves. Even if they pay our wages, the strike will continue while the company is privatized,” Bakhshi said.
A corrupt company
Since the privatization of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill in a questionable 2015 privatization deal, the condition of workers has worsened. They have said that since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent workforce.
Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers complain they have become poorer while the managers of the company have become richer.
Trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the leading member of the Free Union of Workers in Iran, described the workers’ condition as “slavery.”
“The families of some workers have to buy bread on credit, because of unpaid salaries and if this situation continues, even bakeries will refuse to sell bread to the workers on credit,” he said, explaining the plight of workers who have not received their wages for months.
Under such financial strain, some workers have even reached the point of committing suicide.
Ali Naghdi was the latest instance whose dead body was found afloat in a canal on February 27. It was said that Naghdi committed suicide due to his debts as the company refused to pay his wages.
Haft Tappeh workers have always had to fight for their wages, pensions and rights in the past years.
In recent months, they have been going on strikes periodically, protesting unfulfilled promises made by their employer.
The last time the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill workers went on strike was in mid-August when 500 workers protested not being paid for at least three months. Reports indicate that riot police attacked the striking workers with tear gas and beat the protesters. Five workers were also detained but were later released after being charged with “disrupting order”.
This was not an isolated case of persecution against these workers. Iranian officials have in the past also responded with force, arresting leaders and members of the Haft Tappeh Workers’Syndicate.
At least 100 workers of Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill have been summoned or detained only for speaking out and demanding their rights.
The Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill in Ahwaz announced on Sunday, February 4, that at least 34 of their workers were arrested by the police in their ongoing strike. Ismail Bakhshi, Karamat Pam, Rahim Besak and Ramadan Alipour were among the detainees.
A number of workers, including Hassan Alkasir, Amir Alkasir, Majid Amiri, and eight others were summoned to the Shush Intelligence Department via telephone on Tuesday, March 6. Earlier, Ramadan Alipour and Rahim Beshagh, labor activists and members of Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill Union were summoned by the 3rd Branch of the Shush Court.
Summonses were issued for about 20 Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill workers following a gathering outside of the governor’s office on March 28 in Ahwaz.
The summons said that the workers had to report to the Shush Prosecutor’s Office at 9am on Saturday, March 31. The workers who went to the Office on March 31 were told that it was closed for the holidays. According to reports, at 1pm on the same day, security forces came to the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill with arrest warrants for the workers and detained a number of them. The forces then went to the homes of other workers to detain them.