Esmail Bakhshi is one of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane workers’ representatives. The following is the English transcript of his speech during the strike on August 18th 2018.
“My greetings to you all. First of all, well-done to you all for being together, as always. I thank you all and before anything else ask that you don’t argue with each other. We’re all saying the same thing. We workers all have the same demands. Whichever worker you talk to, all the workers of Haft Tappeh have everywhere shown that our speech, our work, our aim, our progress and our demands are the same thing. So don’t get into these virtual quarrels that have been made-up by the people that we know. So keep your togetherness. If you have differences with me, that’s not a problem. Come and have a discussion but don’t turn it into a quarrel.
“Today, I’m not [speaking] as a workers’ representative, but first of all I’m speaking as a protesting worker and then second, I am speaking as a workers’ rep. […] /I haven’t come here to say that we have had discussions … and that you shouldn’t go on strike. The right to strike is your legal right. […]
“After the New Year, they said that we’ve had too many strikes, that Haft Tappeh is in a bad state, Mr Bakhshi and his crew … want to wreck Haft Tappeh … Let’s develop Haft Tappeh, workers don’t go on strike. So we said OK. They said Mr Bakhshi don’t make any speeches and I said OK. Provide workers with these things … we don’t want to do something that ruins the company.
“For four or five months the workers have worked their jobs. For four or five months there are no managers. We said hand over the management of Haft Tappeh to us. My point was proved right. For four or five months there are no managers, we haven’t gone on strike. Workers themselves have been running things. There was no strike, no conflict, no sabotage, in 60 degrees heat all workers worked their jobs perfectly. So, if Haft Tappeh has lasted until now it was only, and only, and only the workers’ enthusiasm and nothing else. So if a manager comes and wants to act as my highfalutin manager [I’d say] where were you to be doing any managing …
“On top of our demands, since 2015 and 2016 there is the day-workers’ insurance, the unpaid wages, there’s the insurance situation – so that it’s not clear under whose name it’s authorised, we have these uncertainties about the insurance. They have pocketed two years’ cultivation bonus for themselves … They didn’t give [us] the Ramadan rations … and now the workers’ situation … has become ten times worse … But today, apart from wages, insurance and our other benefits, we have gone beyond these. We’ve seen that the future of Haft Tappeh is in danger. This situation has uncertainties. With this management, for nine months the Managing Director hasn’t set foot in the company. … There’s no manager there. It’s now four months that there’s officially no other manager in the company.
“With this management situation, this way of managing that these gentlemen have been following, is Haft Tappeh moving towards progress or towards collapse. The workers have felt this. This gathering is merely because of caring [about the company]. If they say that the workers’ have come to close things down [we say] no, the workers’ gathering is because of the future of Haft Tappeh. …
“They said elect reps so that there won’t be any strikes. So we elected reps, from all the offices … there would be reps, so we uphold justice. We elected reps. For a whole a month, day and night the reps have been going to the office that has nobody in it. No response. Every day somebody representing the employer comes, it’s not clear what he has come as. What position does he hold? What executive management [position] does he have? He says: ‘I don’t have the power to do what you want.’ So where is the employer so that we can talk to him. It’s not clear.
“We went and protested and said pay the wages on one day. [They did] the exact opposite, they paid over 20 days.
“The safety situation of workers’ work environment is scandalous. The animal feed factory caught fire. The firefighters came but there were no masks, no gloves, no [protective] clothing, the poor guys didn’t even protest. They put the fire out. […]
“I’ll count out the uncertainties for you. The situation of the lands and the breaking-up of Haft Tappeh. There’s been no response about this. […]
“A workers’ representative has to supervise everything, from the employer to the bottom – both their work and their behaviour. No manager has the right to mistreat a worker. No manager has the right to humiliate a worker. If see any case tell the rep. If the rep doesn’t follow it up … even the workers’ reps … we elected two inspectors so [the reps] don’t veer from their real track. Even the reps have supervisors.
“The only way to save the country from its economic situation today is workers’ councils, independent workers’ councils, the formation of people’s independent councils to oversee the government’s performance and government institutions. Given the corruption that exists, the only way is this.
“We ask: ‘Why is the situation like this?’ They say: ‘The economy of the whole country is in ruin.’ We ask: ‘Did the working class ruin the economy?’ Another class ruined the economy like this. Does the working class have to pay the price? They are sacking the workforce. … We ask: ‘Why are you firing the workforce.’ They say: ‘All companies have a ruined economy.’ Meaning that if someone has ruined the economy then workers have to pay the price? We are opposed to the firing of even one person. The workers of the Pest Control Unit, you all know, they have the hardest job in Haft Tappeh. They brought them in with thousands of promises. Without any protective clothes, without gloves, without special protective masks, they sprayed thousands of hectares of land. They got respiratory problems, they got skin problems, then when their work was done they were sacked.
“I went and asked why they were sacked. He said: ‘You know how it is, every year they get fired. I said: ‘They were wrong to sack them every year.’ [Workers applaud.] ‘Just because there was injustice every year then it means they have to be sacked.’ Let me tell you, all the reps are supporting the Pest Control guys until they return [to work]. It’s their right to return.
“He hasn’t done the job classification for you. […] Hasn’t given job titles. Someone becomes a skilled worker his wages stay at 1500, the wage of a basic worker. That means that each worker is benefiting him by one million. In this situation, crisis, inflation, a worker’s real wages have to be at least six to seven million tomans. […] With all the bonuses and overtime a worker get 1500 only.
“With all that the workers have put up with what’s his response. He cuts overtime! Then he says we want to look out for workers in this economic situation. With all the hardship … 60 degrees heat … he cuts overtime. We’re opposed to this.
“The other situation: our red line is the private ownership of the Haft Tappeh lands. The real shareholders of Haft Tappeh are the people of Haft Tappeh and the workers of Haft Tappeh. Once upon a time they gave their land to the company so that jobs could be created for their children. Our first step was to agree on four representatives to [look into] … the situation of the lands of Haft Tappeh … These four reps are responsible for investigating and disclosing [the situation of] the lands. If any official who doesn’t respond, from the town officials to the employer, we’ll tell the workers that we enquired from him and didn’t get any answers.
“Our red line is the ownership of the Haft Tappeh lands. The lands of Haft Tappeh belong to the workers. If the government has sold them, it must come and say this, give the money to the workers. This is our right. The first investigation, the government must come and make things transparent. On what conditions did they hand Haft Tappeh over? I don’t know why in this country there is no transparency. On what conditions did they hand [the lands] over. There was no talk of ownership until two years ago. Gradually they’re posing the ownership. For example, if N billion money … is paid then they become the owners. … The lands of Haft Tappeh, the estate of Haft Tappeh, are the workers’ property. … These are unclear [questions]. They must be accountable. Who is accountable? …
“Who is going to be accountable? The employer is absent. The factory caught fire … it’s your own factory. The employer is nowhere to be seen. … After a whole week he hasn’t come to see what’s become of the factory. If you’re the owner, then come and have a look at the situation.
“The reps are overseering everything, from the employer to the bottom. If you see any suspicious case, any improper conduct by a manager, you now have reps.
“To control the institutionalised corruption in the country the only way is to form people’s councils and workers’ councils, to oversee the government and government institutions. We’ve started this in Haft Tappeh. We have four reps to investigate and disclose the situation of the lands of Haft Tappeh. If any manager, any official from town, was not accountable, we’ll straight-away tell you that this man was not accountable. These are our unclear [issues].
“Wages must be paid on one day. We’re three months behind [with wage payments]. We went and said to them pay the wage on one day, they paid them over 20 days! The cane cutters still haven’t been paid.
“If we want to reach our demands, and someone comes and solves the ambiguities … Today, our demands have gone beyond wages, it’s the future situation of Haft Tappeh … We care, it’s our own.
“We have to stick together. … We shouldn’t get into the virtual quarrels that the employer has made-up. We’re all saying the same thing. Our demands are clear and these unclear [issues] I mentioned. … The question of the Haft Tappeh lands and Haft Tappeh’s future. … How can a company not have a manager for four months? How can it progress? Someone must be accountable. The reps are all ready. …
“These unclear [questions] have to be cleared up, from the employer to the town’s officials, have to explain them for workers.
“That’s it. Greetings to you all.”
Source: Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers’ Union.
Translation: Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign.
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