JEDDAH: Anger has erupted in Iran’s restive Khuzestan province after security forces arrested dozens of striking steel workers.
More than 4,000 employees at the National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz stopped work on Nov. 9 in a dispute over unpaid wages and benefits.
After a series of rallies and protest meetings by the strikers, police raided workers’ homes overnight on Sunday and detained at least 30 men.
The arrests were described as a “mark of infamy” by Iran’s Free Labor Union, a banned workers’ rights group.
“Instead of considering the demands of the oppressed and desperate workers, the entire government apparatus raided their homes in the middle of the night, terrorized their wives and children, and arrested the breadwinners,” the group said on social media.
“All those who 40 years ago took the destiny of our people in their own hands by claiming to be on the side of the downtrodden now shamelessly raid the homes of workers and put them in chains.”
The arrests were also raised in the Iranian Parliament. “This is a violation of the constitution,” said Alireza Mahjoub, head of Parliament’s labor faction. He called on Parliament to intervene to free the arrested workers.
The Ahvaz protests started shortly after a strike by workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar factory in nearby Shush over wage arrears and alleged criminal activity by new private owners.
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.
Last month judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani warned workers against creating “disorder.” They “should not allow their demands to become an excuse and an instrument for the enemy,” he said.