By Peter Tase
Iran has been gripped by a labour strike, rising inflation, and increasing poverty in recent months. In Iran, there is an extensive transportation and railroad infrastructure. There is a total of 1,500 kilometers of Iranian railroads built over the past 170 years, during the reign of several dictators, two revolutions, two coup d’etat and much sabotage was inflicted by foreign contractors. Now, it seems that the locomotives just pull the trains on tracks to get passengers to their destination. But, over time, what has been forgotten is the suffering of the workers and toilers who paved the way for the trains by working at the switch and repair work around the clock. Ignoring the suffering of these workers continues.
On Saturday, August 22, 2020, the news of a nationwide strike of workers and employees of the railroads and technical staff of Iran was published in official media and social networks. The state-run ILNA news agency and several official and social news outlets have also reported this news.
The resumption of strike by the workers, employees and technical staff of the railroads is considered very important as it involves one of the most indispensable segments of Iran’s railroads. This strike’s link to strikes by the Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers and Asaluyeh petrochemical workers, makes it even more significant.
On behalf of Eurasia Review Journal and Think Tank had a short interview with a 41-year-old Arak Railroad worker Majid (name has been changed for security reasons) and asked him to tell us more about the work conditions and elaborate on the ongoing strike:
Question 1. When did the strike of your team begin?
Response: On May 19, 2020 workers of the Arak railroad started a strike in the Joosh Gostar company, and I was one of them. We went on strike due to not receiving salaries and bonuses for Eid and the month of Ramadan. Then, on August 12, 2020, Karaj railroad workers joined our strike. Karaj railroad workers and the Traverse factory blocked the passenger train and disrupted train services. They said in their protest statement, “Traverse company harasses railroad workers and does not pay their salaries. Therefore, we declare Traverse company is an illegal railroad company. It is supported by state railroad authorities while it steals from its workers.”
These workers protested the non-payment of their wages, saying they had not been paid for four months and they were in harsh economic conditions, their families were hungry, and they could not feed them.
On August 23, 2020, a message of support and congratulations from the Khorasan Railroad workers to the Karaj and Qazvin railroad workers was sent. They wrote in their message, “Karaj railroad workers proved they were united until their demands were met. Today workers proved, the only way and shortest path to reach our goal is just to protest.
We, the railroad workers, have never had a peace of mind.
Question 2: What are your demands and goals?
Response: Railroad workers and Technical staff are demanding full payment of arrears of wages, health insurance, especially as Coronavirus has spread in various cities, modification of temporary labor contracts to permanent, and guarantee of permanent employment and job security. The right to have an independent union and the right to hold strikes and rallies to express our demands and to stop the dismissal of workers under various pretexts, to end threats and intimidation and stop the security forces putting pressure on the workers during rallies.
Question 3. What is the history of the railroad workers’ strikes?
Response: We have had three rounds of general strikes since 2018, and this is our fourth round of strikes, but I must add that, in the intervals, several local and regional strikes have been held by workers as well. But, due to poor living conditions and high inflation, we did not even achieve our minimum demands and requirements.
Question 4. What are the daily activities of railroad workers and Technical staff?
Response: Our job is classified in the tough and sometimes risky category. Our mandate is to ensure safe movement of passengers and cargo. Our duties include performing continuous repairs, inspections and specialized welding of damaged railroad tracks, protection of infrastructure including signs and switches, technical protection and maintenance of bridges and tunnels 24 hours a day.
Question 5. Can you explain a little bit about your and your colleagues economic and living conditions?
Response: We live in a very dire situation that is unbearable. All of us live in a painful condition, but we announced our collective condition in a statement as follows:
“We go to work at 6.30 am. If our machines break down, we must repair them ourselves, which may take up to 12 midnight, but we do not receive compensation for what we repair.
Our insurance coverage is shaky, and we are always worried whether our booklet is valid every time we get sick? We do not have supplementary insurance since our employers do not contribute to it.
With this increase of 200,000 Tomans ($10) that the government has approved, our salaries will barely reach 2700,000 Tomans ($135).
They used to pay us 100 hours of overtime when we travelled for work, now they do not even pay us 10 hours of overtime when we travel.
We pray to God they pay us one of our arrears. When it is time to replace a part of our machine, they tell us to work with it as it is as long as possible. They say that when the machine breaks down completely then it will be repaired.
So, a repair that can be done for 60,000 Tomans will not be done and then it will cause damage at a cost of 200 to 300 million Tomans.
Most of us are very tired and do not have time to sleep properly and we are like dead people walking. Our main problem is the non-payment of our salaries. We expect to receive our salaries that this company seems to believe is our right, on time!
They are really hurting us, so that when our colleagues are given leave they do not go to their homes out of embarrassment but start working as private taxis, because if they go home, everyone is waiting on them including their children, their wives, their fathers, their mothers, their sisters and brothers.
Dear compatriots, these are some of the problems that railroad workers face and these problems are not just one or two and the living conditions are getting worse day by day, and we believe silence is not permissible facing this injustice and we ask all our dear compatriots to pass our message to everyone and everywhere they can.”