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Iran: IndustriALL escalates union building and solidarity with UMMI

9 August, 2018IndustriALL Global Union opens a new period in supporting its Iranian affiliate the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI) through a leadership capacity building session in Sapanca, Turkey, on 6-8 August, to develop a plan for further cooperation and solidarity. IndustriALL’s Turkish metal affiliate United Metalworkers’ Union (Birleşik Metal-İş) provides essential input.

The session, organized by IndustriALL, also aims to strengthen cooperation between the two unions, among others. UMMI organizes metal workers and technicians in industrial sectors in extremely difficult conditions and must keep its activities underground. Birleşik-Metal-İş has experience of this because its predecessor organization was banned after the military coup of 1980.

The meeting was opened by Birleşik-Metal-İş general secretary Özkan Atar, who explained that although his union was banned for 13 years, it now has 32,000 members and 100 collective agreements. He welcomed his guests to the metalworkers’ training facility, saying:

“The unity of the working class everywhere, and solidarity with those in oppressed nations is our principle. We believe that joint struggle is important and we are ready to provide all our solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters in Iran.”

Representatives from UMMI explained how they operate despite severe pressure from authorities. Union president Maziyar Gilaninejad, a technician in a metal factory, said that he had grown up visiting his father in prison for his union activities, and joined UMMI in 1982. The union was forced to operate underground from 1983. Since 2001, it has worked more openly, but is still not allowed to open bank accounts or a union office, and activists are frequently detained.

In June, dozens of protesting steelworkers were arrested. Because some were holding signs with IndustriALL logos, they were subject to intense interrogation from the security forces to find out what IndustriALL is. Despite the repression, the union is able to organize action from workers that wins improvements. Protests and publicizing the behaviour of bad employers has led to the payment of unpaid wages.

The union publishes information for workers in a magazine, which is distributed in workplaces, as well as on its website, Facebook page and through a channel on the secure message app Telegram. The union places a very high priority on education, and trains members in workers’ rights, including international trade union structures and ILO Conventions.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“International capital has moved into Iran, especially in our sectors of automotive and oil and gas. Workers are being exploited by companies we have agreements with in other countries. The affiliation of UMMI is politically important to us, as it can help bring about a change in human and labour rights in Iran. Solidarity between metal workers unions in the region and with IndustriALL is crucial.”

The delegation visited the Bekaert steel cord factory in Izmit. There is a collective bargaining agreement signed by Birleşik-Metal-İş with a very high union density. After conflict in the past, labour relations are now reported to be positive. The UMMI delegation spoke to workers, to the union convenor and the human resources manager to learn how effective industrial relations function.