Reports

Iran: Ahvaz Steel Workers Against Privatization

Last week marked a significant escalation in the ongoing conflict between the steel workers of the National Steel Factory in Ahvaz and their management. This report delves into the intricate layers of this dispute, highlighting the workers’ struggle for fair compensation and job classification in line with industry standards. Faced with an unyielding management, the workers confronted threats and deceptive tactics, including the proposed privatization of Oxin Steel and its transfer to Khuzestan Steel Company, a move that threatened to undermine their salary alignment and job security.

The workers, recognizing a pattern of stalling and empty promises from the management, especially regarding the implementation of the job classification plan, took a firm stand. Their demands, including full and fair job classification, salary alignment with Oxin Steel, reinstatement of a key labor leader, and the withdrawal of employer’s complaints, reflect a broader struggle for rights and recognition. The refusal of the management to engage in meaningful negotiations led to a halt in operations, as workers resorted to striking to make their voices heard.

Slogan: Steelworker, shout out loud for your right!


Background

The workers of the National Industrial Steel Group of Iran (Ahvaz) are well-known for their populous and striking strikes and protests in the labor movement and politics of Iran. The subsidiaries of the National Industrial Steel Group of Iran include: Steelmaking Factory, Kowsar Rolling Mill, I-beam Rolling Mill, Pipe Manufacturing Factory, Machine Manufacturing Factory, Rebar and Wire Rod Rolling Mills, employing over 4,000 workers.

Additionally, Shafaq Rahian Oxin and Oxin Steel are companies affiliated with the National Steel Group of Iran. In the decades before, the National Group was referred to as one of the largest conglomerates and “the most important hub of steel production in the country,” producing the majority of the country’s steel consumption needs. Due to the inactivity of the Isfahan Steel smelting production lines and other production lines operating under capacity, currently, this industrial complex employs about 3,000 workers.

In the process of privatization, in 2008, Mahafarid Amir Khosravi became the owner of the National Industrial Steel Group of Iran. Mahafarid Amir Khosravi and his brothers were involved in dairy farming in 2005 and 2006, and suddenly, in a short period, he was mentioned as the “290th richest person in the world.” In 2010, under the implementation of Article 44 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, “Amir Mansour Aria Investment Development Company” astonishingly managed to purchase 95.2% of the shares of the Iran Steel Industrial Group, 94.96% of the shares of Lorestan Machine Manufacturing, 95% of the shares of Rail Technical Engineering and Infrastructure (Traverse), and 39.5% of the shares of Oxin Steel of Khuzestan. The capital of this company was 50 million tomans in June 2006 and increased to 20 billion tomans by February 2009! Amir Mansour Aria owned more than twenty manufacturing companies, banks, service, and commercial complexes.

His name became well-known with the embezzlement of 3,000 billion tomans, and his rapid execution in June 2014 hid the governmental partners of corruption from sight. Since 2011, the National Steel Group was under the control of the judiciary and, under the guise of “returning property,” was looted and officially brought to a halt in production in various sections and completely shut down, to be sold at a low price in 2016 as a loss-making company with high debt. In 2016, in the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office, 63% of the shares of Ahvaz Steel were transferred to the National Bank, 4% to Sepah Bank, and 2% to Refah Bank. This time, the National Bank became the bane of the workers. The large and prolonged protests and strikes of the National Group workers in November and December 2017 followed this trend. The government’s response to the workers’ demands in December, after 38 days of strikes and protests, was a night raid on the homes of workers and the arrest of 31 of them.

What now?

Last week, steel workers faced a new round of conflict with management and were called to a meeting to negotiate the agreed-upon amount regarding the alignment of salaries with other steel companies and the implementation of a job classification plan. The threats from the CEO of the steel factory (who has the support of the police and government) regarding complaints against protesting workers and the workers’ demand to withdraw these complaints, which he linked to reducing financial compensation from previous agreements with the workers, have left him in a tangle of promises and efforts to arrange a meeting with worker representatives.

As anticipated, and as most workers correctly believed, the CEO was stalling the implementation of the job classification plan and salary alignment, wanting to postpone it to the following year under the guise of “account rights.” This indeed happened. Additionally, the CEO’s introduction of the plan to separate and privatize one of the branches of the steel factory (Oxin Steel) and its transfer to Khuzestan Steel Company opened another front. This issue has two aspects: first, the alignment of salaries of the National Group is supposed to be based on the salaries of Oxin Steel. Second, the discussion of transferring Oxin Steel both negates the alignment of salaries and puts the workers of the National Steel Group of Ahvaz in a defensive position.

Eventually, after deceptive maneuvers by the National Bank Group and the CEO, and limited promises regarding agreements, Ahvaz steel workers announced that these meetings aimed to threaten and entice representatives and that their method is based on consultation in public assemblies. The steel workers gave the CEO two days to implement the previous agreements on job classification, but this did not happen. The CEO of Ahvaz Steel once again requested more time and called for another meeting. The workers declared that there is no more discussion to be had and they will not tolerate the employer’s stalling tactics, ultimately giving him until 2 PM on Tuesday, 3rd of Bahman, to make a final decision. Following the employer’s lack of response from Wednesday, various sections of the National Group stopped work and gathered at the company premises. The employer of the steel factory and the National Bank of Iran did not implement the terms of the last negotiations with the workers, and in protest, the workers of Ahvaz Steel entered a strike.

The demands of the National Group workers include: full and fair implementation of job classification, salary alignment according to the salaries of Oxin Steel, reinstatement of Karim Siyahi (one of the labor leaders of Ahvaz Steel), unfreezing items frozen in the salary slip, converting the status of twilight workers, and withdrawal of the employer’s complaint against the workers.

Moreover, the steel workers warned that Oxin Steel is part of the National Group’s integration and the National Bank of Iran cannot transfer it to the private sector. The workers of the National Group declared the transfer of Oxin Steel a red line and the start of a tough battle.

Massive demonstration by the workers of the National Steel Factory in Ahvaz.


Call for strike and protest

In the last week, only by relying on collective power, group brainstorming, and unity of action, we were able to conquer big trenches and take control of the company, which made them constantly come for negotiations and use all their power to deviate our brilliant strike and summon our justice-seeking colleagues every day to weaken the wills. An effort that in its last instance was this long meeting with the germs of corruption over nothing! We saw and had calculated that the partners sitting on the feast and wide spread of this industrial and national sector would not be willing to let even a piece of dry bread be the share of the workers. What was discussed in today’s meeting about our rights is something beyond insulting the noble workers of the national group and an impudent performance arising from an entirely corrupt and rogue collection.

The independent voice of the National Steel Workers Group

This passage is a powerful call to action from the independent workers of the National Steel Group, urging their colleagues, fellow workers, and retirees in the steel industry across Ahvaz and Iran to stand united against the greedy and capitalist steel mafia. It emphasizes the shared struggle of all workers in the industry, regardless of their specific company, whether it be Kavian Steel, Khuzestan Pipe Making, Isfahan Steel, Oxin Steel, Mobarakeh Steel, or others.

The message here is clear: the pain and challenges faced by the personnel of large and profitable companies are being squandered by thieves and oppressors. The workers recall past protests and assert their current stance with a resonating voice in Ahvaz, declaring, “Steelworker, shout out loud for your right!” This rallying cry embodies the sentiment that the industry should not prosper while the workers’ lives are stagnant and suffering.

The workers assert their belief in achieving fundamental demands for a dignified life for the working class through united and righteous action. They vow to inscribe their protest on the streets, aiming to eradicate injustice with collective strength. This is a declaration of solidarity and a commitment to a unified struggle for fair treatment, justice, and respect in the face of exploitation and corruption in the steel industry.

A recent strategy of the steel workers has been the removal of the CEO appointed by the National Bank, and dispossessing the National Bank as the factory owner, prominently displayed on a large banner at the forefront of the magnificent gatherings of steel workers. This workers’ demand has mainly been met with an odd silence, in which unspoken oppositions and disagreements are hidden but not explicitly expressed.

In the National Group, it’s not the first time that corrupt and embezzling managers and CEOs have been changed under the pressure of workers’ struggle. From the story of Mahafarid Amir Khosravi astronomical embezzlement to the next owner, workers have played a key role in the removal and dismissal of the CEO. In other words, independent of corruption cases and mafia wars within the regime’s bands over plundering society’s and workers’ properties, if an CEO or manager clashes with steel workers, they’re finished. In the National Group, CEOs face a legion of skilled, educated, experienced, and traditional workers, each capable as the entire board of directors. The current CEO, an insignificant and rude person, was never recognized by the workers from the start.

CEO Removal

As mentioned, there are whispers of current CEO’s dismissal in CEO circles around the National Bank. This issue undoubtedly stems from his incompetence in managing the National Group and, on the other hand, the magnificent protests and strikes of the workers. Steelworkers, in fact, ousted CEO from the company before the whispers of the CEO’s dismissal, declaring they were unwilling to work with this rude, incompetent, and ignorant individual about the steel industry and did not recognize him.

In continuation of these whispers, on Saturday, 29th of January, the National Bank officials held a meeting with CEO, in which the “dismissal, transfer, and his resignation” were discussed. The change of the CEO of the National Group apparently has been justified with electoral issues and CEO’s candidacy for parliament. An issue that has the least connection with the real concerns of steel workers. The workers made their point clear on the same day in their massive street uproar; “We won’t vote anymore, we haven’t seen justice!” However, the more important reason for CEO’s dismissal from the position of the National Bank as a shareholder and owner of steel is the workers’ protests, as the CEO couldn’t guide and control the situation as they wanted, and the strike economically harmed the fat pockets of the National Bank’s freeloading lords. The National Bank’s tactic is to dismiss CEO both to prevent its loss and to appease dissatisfied steel workers. However, steel workers are more experienced than to be deceived by these employer maneuvers.

Workers say, “Our problem is the dirty politics and feudalistic approach of the National Bank towards the workers of a company that has no equivalent in the world.” The workers protest the politics of the National Bank officials who are immersed in corruption, creating positions and posts for elements of surrounding gangs, and appointing useless, ignorant, and uneducated people without expertise in the steel industry as rulers over workers. But they avoid ensuring basic worker rights and even implementing enacted laws, treating workers like slaves and, with the help of security institutions, fabricating cases against workers’ rightful protests.

Here, the discussion of dispossessing the National Bank, the flag of criticism and denial of managers unrelated to the steel industry, redefining the prevailing relations to labor relations, workers’ oversight over affairs and participation in management arises. Here, instead of minor and superficial changes, the steel worker wants dispossession to both better their current working conditions and ensure the future of the company, as well as to directly control production and the National Group. CEO must go. Whatever justification is carved for it, CEO was destroyed and finished by the steel hammer of the workers. But his dismissal and dispossession from the National Bank and the firm holders of gambling are a distance that must be covered.

An analysis and explanation in the long struggle of the Haft Tappeh workers with the owner tribe was that “the policy of dispossession is misguided,” “it’s the wrong tactic,” “the plan for additional wages is more important,” and some scholars even said, “dispossession is the policy of one government faction”!! A later assessment of this type of view is that “the tactic and policy of dispossession in Haft Tappeh failed and it is better for the steel worker to follow the alignment of salaries and implementation of the job classification.

Holding general assemblies and collective decision-making is one of the traditions of the workers of the Ahvaz Steel Factory.
Here, workers express their opinions. To prevent the identification of workers, the image is blurred.


Who is Karim Siyahi?

Karim Siyahi, one of the practical leaders of the National Steel Group of Ahvaz and a well-spoken and reputable worker in the steel protests, staged a two-day sit-in in front of the entrance of the National Industrial Steel Group of Iran in Ahvaz, following the employer’s and management’s prevention of his return to work.

Karim Siyahi was one of the workers who had been dismissed by the CEO through fabricated charges, but the dismissed workers managed to obtain a return-to-work order by filing a complaint with the labor office. However, the CEO, exerting indirect pressure, prevented Karim Siyahi’s return to work and called him to the company for settlement.

This solo sit-in received the support of steel workers and his colleagues, and the possibility of renewed protests and strikes existed. Therefore, efforts to end the sit-in began, and they turned to Mr. Siyahi’s parents for help. Out of respect for his mother and father’s request, Karim Siyahi ended his sit-in but declared that if arrangements for his return to work were not made, he would engage in unlimited protests next time.

Karim Siyahi addressed his colleagues during a previous strike, emphasizing the significance of unity and solidarity among workers.


Karim Siyahi’s case is very similar to that of Esmail Bakhshi, another well-known and leader among the workers of Haft Tappeh. The fear of employers and security forces from workers like Karim Siyahi and Esmail Bakhshi, and influential practical leaders among the workers, is boundless. Attacking Karim Siyahi means the CEO’s revenge against the iron unity of the National Group workers. The National Bank, and specifically the current CEO with this act, try to prevent the rise of leaders like Esmaeil and Karim and force the practical leaders of the workers into conservatism and silence.

In a country where corruption, bribery, and embezzlement are rampant, and specifically in the steel industry with thick case files, confronting honorable and fighting workers like Karim Siyahi, who have been the voice of thousands of steel workers for their trampled rights, means removing obstacles to the continuation of severe exploitation and suppression and plundering of workers’ properties.


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