Iranian workers protest against government as U.S. sanctions take its toll

The protests come as Iran’s economy has been hard-hit by U.S. sanctions, which were reimposed November 5 after the United States withdrew from the 2016 Iran nuclear deal in May.

An Iranian vendor sells clothes at the Grand Bazaar in the center of Tehran, Iran, August 2, 2017 (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
An Iranian vendor sells clothes at the Grand Bazaar in the center of Tehran, Iran, August 2, 2017
(photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
“Our enemy is right here; they lie saying it’s America,” workers at the Haft Tapeh sugarcane factory in Shush, Iran, chanted during protests against unpaid wages during Friday prayers at city mosque, Radio Farda reported.
According to videos posted to social media, the enraged employees interrupted prayers, chanting “Death to the oppressor!” “Peace be upon the worker!” and “A huge army is here, for the love of the labor!”
State-run radio and TV chose to cover the protests in Gaza rather than the demonstrations in Shush, which further enraged the protesters, Farda reported.
The workers have been on strike for 12 days – on and off – over months of unpaid wages, according to Radio Farda.
Other Iranian cities and towns have recently seen protests erupting during Friday prayers, Farda reported. These protests have focused not only on wages, but also on the lack of clean drinking water and unequal water distribution.
The protests come as Iran’s economy has been hard-hit by US sanctions, which were reimposed November 5 after the United States withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May.
According to Radio Farda, the sugar cane complex has recently undergone a change in management. The previous owner is believed to have either fled the country or been detained, and the new ownership acquired a debt of over $90 million, mainly owed to government entities.
The company reported that the government has stopped buying the factory’s products, and in order to pay off its debt, the new management has been withholding the salaries of the employees.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claims that the unrest in the labor force is a “foreign plot” to bring down the government.
“One of the major activities of our enemies has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our labor groups – particularly the big ones – so they can provoke the workers,” Khamenei said.
While the protests and strikes are expected to continue, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani claimed that, together with Iraq, the Islamic Republic could raise their annual bilateral trade from $12 billion to $20 billion, thus offsetting the sanctions’ impact on Iran’s economy.
“Through bilateral efforts, we can raise this figure to $20b. in the near future,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on Iranian television Saturday.
Iraqi officials had previously told Reuters that Iraq will exchange food products with Iran in return for gas and energy supplies. Iraq is still, however, seeking US approval to allow the import of Iranian gas to power the country. Overall, Iraq still relies heavily on the Iranian economy.

Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.