The Iranian Oil Workers’ Strike: An Internationalist View

by Alborz  Koosha and Ben Solidaridad
Since June 22, tens of thousands of Iranian oil and petrochemical workers have been on strike. The strikers are temporary contract workers, the most precarious workers in the industry. Despite working for a labyrinth of numerous private contracting companies mostly in the oil-rich south, they have joined together to demand the doubling of their wages, payment of delayed wages, increased time off, and improved conditions in the crowded camps that house workers. Many workers have also called for the right to form independent unions, an end to the use of temporary contracts, and an end to the privatization of the oil industry.
The use of temporary contracts is not unique to these workers, but exists across wide swathes of the Iranian economy and is a result of the neoliberal, hyper-exploitative reforms of previous administrations over the past three decades. Contracts are often as short as a month or even a day. A large majority of the Iranian workforce are employed under temporary contracts.
The Iranian working class faces enemies at home and abroad as part of a broader crisis in global capitalism. At home, they face a domestic ruling class, which has time and again implemented anti-worker, exploitative profit-oriented policies. The rich get richer while the situation of the majority worsens. This strike began days after a presidential election that saw the lowest voter turnout of any Iranian presidential election since the 1979 Revolution. Less than 50 percent of the electorate voted, according to the government’s own estimates. The president-elect is Ebrahim Raisi, a man who played a major role in the mass executions of 5,000 socialist and leftist political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Amidst this crisis of legitimacy, the incoming Raisi administration has offered no plans to address economic hardship, and is instead poised to continue neoliberal policies.
Abroad on the other hand, U.S. business elites continue to covet Iranian markets as part of a larger U.S. imperialist agenda. The U.S. policy of sanctions and warmongering is designed with the interests of these elites in mind and must be condemned, as these policies have caused havoc for millions of Iranians. Sanctions have increased the cost of basic necessities, most impacting poor and working-class people. At the same time, the Iranian state, despite its anti-imperialist rhetoric, is a thoroughly capitalist state that protects the extreme wealth of the few at the expense of the majority of the people. Two nationwide uprisings against austerity and the high cost of living have occurred in recent years, in December 2017 and November 2019, both met with deadly repression. Currently, Iranians in Khuzestan province are braving police violence to protest a water shortage, induced by government commodification of water through various development and water transfer projects. Climate change has also exacerbated the water crisis. Despite these recurring protests, Iranian leaders have thus far refused to implement even the most basic redistribution program to mitigate economic inequality.
The current oil workers’ strike must be understood in this context. International working-class solidarity is the only solution to the hardships wrought by both Iranian capitalist interests and US imperialism. In the last few years, the world has seen numerous uprisings for economic justice. It is no coincidence that at the same time that Iranian oil workers are on strike, many oil refinery workers in the United States are also engaged in their own struggles. These include refinery workers locked out of their jobs in Minnesota and Texas, who have been picketing around plant safety, fair wages, job security, and seniority. As a result of their struggle, workers at the Marathon refinery in St. Paul Park, Minnesota, who are organized through the Teamsters, just won an improved contract, though many of their concerns remain unaddressed. Meanwhile, some 650 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) have been locked out of their jobs at the ExxonMobil refinery and blending plant in Beaumont, Texas since May 1. These workers are fighting one of the most powerful, rapacious companies in the world, which is seeking to erode union seniority standards and cut jobs at the facility, thus undermining workplace safety. In the broader U.S. oil industry, contracts for workers at many other USW-organized refineries across the country will expire in February 2022. In 2015, the USW led a nationwide strike of 6,650 workers at fifteen refineries across the country, impacting more than a fifth of U.S. oil capacity. Bosses in the industry have constantly tried to cut jobs and put more work on less workers, increasing the risk for catastrophic accidents.
These U.S. oil workers have more in common with their counterparts in Iran than either group does with their bosses, political leaders, and the wealthy elites of their societies. In this time of increased popular uprisings worldwide and the breakdown of capitalist promises, international working-class solidarity remains the only way to a better world.

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