Hear our voices from behind prison walls and the streets

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علی نجاتی

Open Letter on the occasion of the Annual Meeting of the International Labour Organization in Geneva

Ali Nejati

I am a retired worker who has spent a lifetime in suffering, labour, and hardship. My life and fate, like millions of other workers, have been marked by injustice, exploitation, and poverty. During the time when I worked as a labourer in workplaces and production centres, offering my labour to the capitalists in order to earn a meagre living, I experienced injustice, exploitation, and servitude with all my being.

Today, speaking as a retired worker, a forced retirement, I am a worker who, alongside thousands of other workers, raised our voices during the protests for our rights at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company. We cried out, hoping that our voices would be heard, taking to the streets in order to attain the bare minimum.

Following the glorious protests of the Haft Tapeh workers in 2008 (1387 in the Persian calendar), through the efforts and determination of the fighting and rights-seeking workers, we were able to establish our own independent workers’ organization through voting.

I and a group of other workers were elected and entrusted with the responsibility as the board of directors of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Workers’ Syndicate. However, the government, which defends the interests of capitalists in Iran, did not tolerate us and began its onslaught. From conspiracy to sowing discord, from threats and intimidation to arrests and imprisonment, from solitary confinement to ultimately being expelled from the workplace.

This is the fate of all workers in Iran who dare to establish independent organizations separate from the government and employers under the rule of those who advocate injustice and exploitation.

Myself and all members of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Workers’ Syndicate, along with other workers who are advocates for their rights and strive to establish independent labour organizations, have been and continue to be subjected to expulsion and imprisonment.

Security and police institutions unjustly accuse and attack us of being agitators, posing a threat to national security, and acting as foreign spies.

Interestingly, in the past few days, several individuals with dual citizenship who were accused of espionage and had received verdicts against them, were returned to foreign countries by plane with a gesture of goodwill. However, respected workers such as Reza Shahabi, Davood Razavi, and Hassan Saeedi, who have been unjustly detained under completely baseless accusations of espionage allegedly for meeting two French individuals, continue to endure extremely dire and unfavourable conditions in government prisons.

It is a great falsehood that our comrades have been detained and imprisoned under such pretext. The only “crime” of these dear individuals has been and continues to be their efforts in establishing, promoting, and advocating for independent labour organizations and fighting for the rights of oppressed workers.

In Iran, workers who have gone months without receiving their wages and are compelled to protest against this blatant injustice are arrested. In many cases, they are fined or subjected to flogging sentences. One example of such injustice is the case of the workers at the Agh Darreh gold mine, where 16 of them were flogged based on a court ruling

These are just small glimpses of a larger reality that workers in Iran struggle with. Poverty and deprivation, exploitation, discrimination, inequality, unemployment, and the plundering of workers’ rights are not hidden from anyone.

Establishing independent labour organizations in Iran is considered forbidden and a punishable crime. It is an unforgivable offense. The ruling powers have no tolerance for hearing the voice of workers demanding their rights, and they suppress any independent labour organization that emerges, right from its inception.

According to the usual procedure at the annual meeting of the International Labour Organization, this year, individuals under the title of representatives of Iranian workers will be present at this meeting.

This is a blatant lie that these individuals are representatives of workers. As you, the participants, are aware, these individuals are representatives of capital owners and the government in Iran, and they have no connection to the interests of workers in Iran.

As you are aware, labour homes (khaneye kargar), Islamic labour councils, and other government-created organizations, as well as police and security institutions, exist within the work environment and are led and guided by repressive police and agencies.

The representatives of government-affiliated organizations, selected labour actors, and police and security institutions have no connection to the workers because these individuals are not chosen by the workers themselves. In the best case scenario, during the workers’ voting, they manipulate and coerce workers to vote for individuals approved and selected by repressive institutions.

I and other workers in Iran know that there is no existing voice for us, and we must be our own voice. We understand that currently there is no capable independent workers’ institution at the international level for us to collaborate with and collectively defend our interests as a global class against capitalists.

However, today I felt compelled to publish this open letter on the occasion of the annual meeting of the International Labour Organization, in order to once again declare that the individuals participating in the annual conference under the title of representatives of Iranian workers are not our representatives. Instead, these individuals represent the anti-worker government, capital owners, and employers in Iran.

The true representatives of the workers are either expelled from the workplace, imprisoned, or have their cases openly discussed in courts.

The permission for the presence of representatives of employers and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the annual meeting of the International Labour Organization indicates that the majority of the participating members in this conference cannot be true and independent representatives of the workers. If the true representatives of the workers were present at this annual conference, they would certainly oppose the presence of representatives of the Iranian regime and protest against the oppression carried out by this regime.

Hear our voice, the voice of workers, from behind prison bars and from the streets. Despite the atmosphere of repression and suffocation, persistent protests by retirees, workers, nurses, teachers, and various sectors of labour, production, and services are ongoing every day in Iran.

Hear the voices of the representatives of workers from behind prison bars. Hear the voices of Reza Shahabi, Hassan Saeedi, and Davood Razavi, members of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, who have been imprisoned for their involvement in the establishment and defence of independent workers’ organizations. Also, hear the voice of Sepideh Gholian, who is imprisoned for advocating workers’ rights in Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company. Additionally, there are the voices of tens, hundreds, and thousands of others who are behind prison bars.

Hear the voices of student activists, journalists, environmental defenders, LGBTQ+ communities, oppressed minorities, and more, on the streets and behind prison bars.

The individuals sent by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, under the title of representatives of workers, invited to the annual meeting of the International Labour Organization, are not our true representatives as workers. They are representatives of the government and capital owners who respond to protests with bullets.

Indeed, I have heard the voice of the Jiná uprising with the slogan of “Jin Jiyan Azadî” (Women, Life, and Freedom). You are definitely aware of the tragic killings of 500 people on the streets, the arrests of tens of thousands, and the daily executions of prisoners. You are aware of the very low wages, absolute poverty, and destitution. You are aware of everything. You are definitely aware that the envoys of the Islamic Republic’s government at your annual conference are not of our kind, the workers. On the contrary, they are anti-worker, anti-independent workers’ organizations, anti-freedom, and suppressors of any voice demanding workers’ rights and justice. They fight against those who struggle for liberation.

Hear our voice from behind prison bars and on the streets!

Long live the nationwide unity and solidarity of the working class against the capitalists.

Ali Nejati, retired worker of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Union

03 June 2023

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