Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, April 29, 2013

There are labor unions in Iran?

Well, there used to be unions in Iran. Unions supported the democracy movement in the last century. They were active supporters of the Islamic revolution. But now? Not so much.

It's worth reminding ourselves that the economy is now dominated by bonyads, those "charitable" foundations governed by clerics and managed by technocrats. They are fat sources of wealth for those who govern and run them.

Iran’s banned trade unions: Aya-toiling
DURING a Persian new year’s party (in late March) at Iran’s flagship South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, where the world’s largest known gasfield is being tapped, a labourer called on Iran’s workers to unite. Behnam Khodadadi demanded better pay and conditions, and a proper trade union. Around 1,500 workers stopped security guards from detaining Mr Khodadadi. A week later he was fired from his job at Iran Industrial Networks Development, a contractor for the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company… [D]isaffection is growing among Iranian workers as inflation outpaces wage rises and workers are laid off. At the same time attempts to organise labour are being suppressed in the run-up to June’s presidential elections…

Iran does not recognise independent unions, so workers have to make do with Islamic Labour Councils, which must be approved by employers and the security services. Reckoning that these councils are in cahoots with the government, workers tend to keep their grievances to themselves for fear of being sacked as troublemakers. Labour leaders are often imprisoned…

Despite the long history of Iran’s labour movement and the big part its oil workers played in deposing the shah in 1979, Iran’s workers have witnessed a steady erosion of their bargaining power. After the revolution, independent workers’ councils won rights to such things as a 40-hour week and lodging allowances. They got rid of people who had worked for the shah’s intelligence service. But during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the unions’ independence was destroyed…
Tehran street sweeper

“We are at the mercy of our employers,” says Mahmud, a Tehran street sweeper on his night shift, scraping rubbish out of an open gutter with a coarse wicker brush. “We almost never get the overtime pay we are entitled to but we can’t complain because we would be fired.” A senior municipal worker admits that thousands of non-unionised street sweepers, who clean the capital by night, often go months without pay.

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