new wave of arrests late Monday night into early Tuesday morning local time, arresting at least 10 more National Steel Group employees and bringing the total number to 41 detainees.
Iran’s Free Labor Union (FLU) reported that the security forces attacked the workers’ homes during the midnight hours, dragging workers out of their homes. Many other workers spent the night on the streets to evade arrest.
According to FLU, the 41 detained workers have been transferred to the Sheiban Prison in Ahvaz.
The Union also said that Ahvaz steel factory workers held a gathering yesterday to discuss their next steps and decided not to negotiate with officials until all the prisoners were released.
An Iranian member of parliament denounced the arrest of several striking workers following weeks of protests at a steel plant in southwestern Iran, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Wednesday.
“A number of workers of the National Steel Group who had work-related complaints were arrested two days ago,” Alireza Mahjoub, head of parliament’s labour faction, said in a speech to lawmakers.
“This is a violation of the constitution,” he added, calling on parliament to intervene to free the arrested workers.
Staff at the National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz in Khuzestan province have been on strike since November 9 over unpaid wages and benefits, said labor-focused news agency ILNA.
The steel factory in question, located in Ahvaz, capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province in the southwest, has witnessed labor strikes and protests for the past two months. Workers are demanding their unpaid wages.
People all over Iran have expressed support for the detained workers demanding their release.
Hundreds of pensioners protesting outside the regime’s Parliament in Tehran voiced their support for the striking Ahwaz steelworkers on Tuesday morning. The protesters shouted: “From Ahwaz to Tehran, workers are in jails”; “Free the steelworkers”; “Imprisoned workers must be freed”; “Imprisoned teachers must be freed”; “Government engages in crimes, parliament supports it”; “Free insurance is our right”; “The enemy is here, they lie to us that it’s America”.
The Tehran Vahed Bus Syndicate, which is a member of the International Transport Federation (ITF) also condemned the arrests in a statement.
The Farsi Twitter page of the US Department of State also translated their spokesperson’s tweet in support of the workers to Farsi.
“Yesterday, Iran’s regime arrested steelworkers who simply asked to get paid for their work. Sadly, this is how the regime has always mistreated the Iranian people. The U.S. supports their rightful demands. Iranians deserve to live in peace and dignity,” Robert J. Palladino, the State Departments Deputy Spokesperson tweeted.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department condemned the initial arrests in Ahvaz. Robert Palladino deputy spokesperson tweeted about the arrests and added, “Sadly, this is how the regime has always mistreated the Iranian people. The U.S. supports their rightful demands. Iranians deserve to live in peace and dignity.”
Labor unrest in the province has intermittently flared up since last December. Another major industrial complex, the sugar mill in Shush has also been on strike and large protests for weeks. Lately, some of their demands have been met and the situation is now relatively quiet.
Reports from Khuzestan indicate that Esmaeel Bakhshi, the representative of the Haft Tapeh sugarcane mill workers, who has recently been released, is currently held under house arrest. IRGC intelligence authorities have placed his house under intense surveillance and control.
The former head of the Haft Tappeh Union is also still in detention despite suffering from a heart condition. Ali Nejati was violently arrested in his home on November 29.
Iran has been hit by strikes over working conditions in several key sectors this year, including education, mines, transport and the steel industry, mainly outside Tehran.
Iran’s Labor Code does not grant citizens the right to form independent unions, despite Iran’s ratification of the UN’s International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and membership in the International Labor Organization.
Workers are regularly threatened, detained, tortured and even sentenced to flogging, despite their legitimate demands and protests to current conditions which has robbed them of more than 80% of their purchasing power.
In November the head of Iran’s judiciary warned restive workers against creating “disorder”.
“Workers should not allow their demands to become an excuse and an instrument for the enemy,” Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said, quoted by the judiciary’s news agency Mizan Online.