52 days have gone by since the start of the strike, which began when thousands of Iranian oil workers downed tools on 19 June and walked off oilfields across Iran. The Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers has issued 11 statements so far. In our previous article we published parts of their first 6 statements (see leftcom.org) as well as giving a short explanation of their full context.
Here we have made complete translations of statements no. 7 and 11 and will follow this up shortly with new articles on recent developments in both the general workers’ movement (Haft Tappeh sugar workers have now been on strike again for almost a month) and the general political situation in Iran following the protests in Khuzestan and other provinces last month.
10 August 2021
4 Immediate demands, our response to the contractors, “the strike continues”
Friends! We all know that oilfields are vast and scattered across the country. Each of these fields is in the hands of several contractors. And because of the absence of a national organisation, appointing national representatives and nationally agreed contracts is currently a problem. We have to build its basis step by step. Meanwhile, contractors try to use our dispersed situation to their own advantage, at times offering to take some of us on with better conditions, at others trying to push the rest of us bit by bit to work on the same terms as before. We must also consciously declare that, although it is true that our companies are scattered, our demands are common. As we have maintained a united strike of tens of thousands, we can also achieve our demands. We are aware of what they are trying to do, we consider the doubling of wages that they have proposed to be the result of our strike and our achievement, and we will use it as a basis and will not accept anything less than that.
In some firms, contractors, in order to complete their unfinished projects and prevent further losses, have been forced to offer double wages, and accept the Twenty-Ten Plan. Some workers have agreed to return to work by formalising this agreement and imposing it in writing on the contractors. In accordance with the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers, as previously stated, this degree of contractors’ retreat is itself the result of a solid strike by oil workers, and we declare that these agreements must be the basis for all striking workers at the national level and no further consent should be made for anything less than this anywhere. In particular, according to news that we have received, other contractors contacting strikers has also increased. The first step is to avoid reaching agreements without a worked out plan and in isolation. Therefore, we have announced the list of 4 urgent demands, which, if they are imposed on contractors, will be the first step in the strike succeeding, and it will be a formal agreement with us, in the following order:
1. Doubling wages at all levels so that the minimum wage of any worker is not less than 12 million tomans. As some of our colleagues have returned to work by accepting an increase of double their wages, all striking workers should demand an increase of double wages. In addition, in many places our co-workers’ demands for their previous months’ outstanding wages have yet to be settled.
2. Twenty working days and ten days off must be implemented from the first day.
3. Accommodation should be improved, a proper canteen should be available for the workers and their work environment should be made safe. Therefore, contractors must clearly state what action will be taken in this regard.
4. Agreements must be made in writing and formally. The government has the obligation to pursue their implementation by contractors.
According to these four clauses (demands), wherever these demands can be raised, like the workers’ assembly in Hafshejan where it was done by collective decision, these demands could be declared as preconditions for returning to work, and if the contractors wish to negotiate, a delegate of an assembly could choose to enter into negotiations. Also, wherever contractors call and pressure workers to return to work, these demands must be met as a condition of returning to work.
Maintaining the strike is our powerful tool to impose these demands, in order to confront them from a position of strength when we are put under pressure to return to work.
Furthermore, a number of our colleagues have had their contracts terminated and have been fired during the strike. Wherever these dismissals have taken place, like in Abadan Petrochemical, our colleagues got together against the dismissals and forced contractors to reinstate the fired colleagues. The return to work of fired colleagues should be stressed by all sections.
Similarly, in some places we have unpaid/delayed wages. In some places, the unpaid wages have been used to blackmail us in order to weaken our strike, forcing us to get back to work under the pretext of settlement. In such places we have to stick together to demand for the settlement of unpaid wages, as our colleagues have done in other places.
The Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers requests that colleagues provide us with a copy of the agreement that they make with the contractors, so we are aware of what is happening and where contractors are pushed to withdrawal at the national level. Naturally, your copy of the agreement will not be published, and will be reserved with us.
Let us declare that we, the oil workers, are organised and united today, and that our demands link our unity across the entire country. As we have stated before, we are for the dismantling of sub-contracting and we consider fulfillment of these demands will be an important step towards weakening them. We will act against militarisation of our workplace and therefore will not allow the Islamic Councils to function in the oil centres. The Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers calls on all colleagues in a contract project to become active members of the council.
Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers
13 July 2021
Where exactly are we in our strike?
A few words for dear striking colleagues:
You have probably heard in the news by now that a number of contractors have started working. Furthermore, the main petrochemical firms have given an ultimatum to a number of contractors to complete their work within the next ten days. According to the same reports, a number of striking workers have returned to work. But most of them are still on strike. Employers began negotiating with the skilled workers and, by doubling their wages and accepting the Twenty-Ten Plan, got them to return to work. But auxiliary workers and daily paid wage labourers hardly got any wage increases, though they were included in the Twenty-Ten Plan too. At the same time, it has been reported that contractors have been using welders’ assistants in place of welders to launch their project. As we mentioned in our previous statement, the withdrawals of these contractors were the result of our strike. In some places, fraudulent contractors have gotten workers to return to work by doubling their wages and accepting the Twenty-Ten Plan, sometimes even defining their working hours as eight hours a day. But their contract is only for one month, as we have warned about on previous occasions.
As the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers warned in Statement No. 10, the call for an end to the strike by leaders of the piping management groups could lead to a split in the ranks of the striking workers. According to some reports, this plan has made many workers angry and led to grumbling that we should appoint a representative by ourselves and pursue our own demands, we should enter into negotiations through our elected representatives, and so on. This is exactly the solution that the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers put forward in the previous statements, including Statement No. 10. After a month of strike, we are in a stronger position today to negotiate a return to work. Now, given the state of emergency that we are facing and by relying on the achievements of our strike so far, the Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers emphasises the following urgent points:
1. We should elect our representatives immediately. This is a key link in preventing our array of protests from splitting up and also in order to enter into negotiations from a position of strength. We should not let them take us on one by one and bully us. Elements such as the leaders of the piping groups, who manoeuvred to quell our protests and announce the end of the strike or try to end it, who always try to prevent any kind of gathering and protest, act as an obstacle so should be cleared out of our way. We have to proceed with maximum involvement. The election of a real representative is an important step in organising our protests and is now very necessary. At the same time, it is necessary and vital to pursue our demands to take the next steps of protest.
2. We should base our negotiation to return to work on the four immediate demands that we have already announced. Wages increased to the maximum level agreed with the other workers who showed willingness to return to work (reportedly it is double the current wages) plus timely payment of wages, arrears, 20 working days and ten days off and serious improvement of camps and food quality as well as making the contract valid till the end of the project. Contracts must be in writing and formal. We can impose these basic demands with the strength of our one-month strike, and by emphasising that we will not be satisfied with anything less than these minimums.
3. Anywhere that workers have agreed to return to work, they must, in addition to the agreement they are making, make sure that the agreement is to last until the end of the project. One-month contracts are just a hoax. In addition, concluding a contract and returning to work does not mean accepting the continued deplorable state of the camps and food, and these standards must be raised to an acceptable level. While we are at work, together we can protest and push for these basic demands. At the same time, from now on, we must choose our real representatives in all sections so that we can continue to pursue the rest of our demands in an organised manner.
4. A large number of our colleagues have outstanding wages that they are demanding be settled. Employees who have returned to work and are still not being paid can get together, issue an ultimatum, and demand their pay. Contractors must know, and see, that returning to work does not mean the end of the protest so they cannot continue to bully us and ignore the settlement of outstanding wages.
5. A number of our colleagues have been fired, and these are workers who also have unpaid wages. They must go to their workplace, and collectively demand to return to work, and push the contractors to settle their unpaid wages.
6. In some places, elements of the Islamic Council have geared themselves up to establish the Islamic Council in oilfield centres. An example is the Abadan Petrochemical Complex. While the workers are protesting against the dismissals there, some people have come forward to form an Islamic Council, aiming to divert these protests. We should not allow Islamic Councils to establish a base for themselves. One of our objections is to the militarisation of the oilfield. As the Islamic Council is linked to the security forces, the atmosphere will be even more militarised. We must stop this aggression by exposing and criticising this conspiracy.
So far, during our one-month strike, we have achieved a lot, which is important both for today and for the further progress and future of our struggle. For example, with our nationwide strike, we have forced contractors to come forward with proposals for doubling of wages, as well as accepting twenty days of work and ten days leave, which will affect other contracts nationally. We have pushed forward the discourse on living accommodation and food improvement, which have now become an important issue with the authorities, and we think that they have no choice but to improve the living and working conditions of workers. In addition, to an even greater degree with our strikes over the last two years, we have been able to break the atmosphere of militarisation and push the contractors back, and these successes have paved the way for the pursuit of our rightful claims. And more importantly, in these strikes we have experienced and realised our enormous power, and this puts us in a much stronger position to pursue our demands. Above all, we have succeeded in setting up our Organising Council so that the workers have their genuine spokesmen, and finally, in the midst of a difficult struggle, we have been able to expose the compromising elements to workers. By relying on these advances, we will carry out our strikes and protests in various forms so that our demands are met.
We are happy that our nationwide strike has become a point of hope for everyone and has brought much solidarity, for which we are very grateful. In short, we emphasise that we will not stop protesting and fighting together until our demands are met. This should be known to all contractors and officials.
Long live the nationwide strike of oil contract workers.
Council for Organising Protests by Oil Contract Workers
25 July 2021