The Working Class
The working class has been in the process of formation since
the early twentieth century. The industrialization programs of
the Pahlavi shahs provided the impetus for the expansion of this
class. By the 1970s, a distinct working-class identity, kargar,
had been established, although those who applied this term to
themselves did not actually constitute a unified group. The working
class was divided into various groups of workers: those in the
oil industry, manufacturing, construction, and transportation;
and mechanics and artisans in bazaar workshops. The most important
component, factory workers, numbered about 2.5 million on the
eve of the Revolution, double the number in 1965, and they accounted
for 25 percent of Iran's total employed labor force (see Labor
Force , ch. 3).
The workers within any one occupation, rather than sharing a
common identity, were divided according to perceived skills. For
example, skilled construction workers, such as carpenters, electricians,
and plumbers, earned significantly higher wages than the more
numerous unskilled workers and tended to look down upon them.
Similar status differences were common among workers in the oil
industry, textile manufacturing, and metal goods production. The
heaviest concentration of unskilled workers was in construction,
which on the eve of the Revolution employed 9 percent of the entire
labor force. In addition to relatively low wages, unskilled construction
workers had no job security.
The unions played only a passive role from the viewpoint of workers.
Under both the monarchy and the Republic, union activity was strictly
controlled by the government. Both the shah and the government
of the Islamic Republic considered strikes to be unpatriotic and
generally suppressed both strikes and independent efforts to organize
workers. Although strikes played an important role in undermining
the authority of the government during the final months of the
monarchy, once the Republic had been established the new government
embraced the view of its royalist predecessor regarding independent
labor activities. Thus the government has considered strikes to
be un-Islamic and has forcibly suppressed them. A long history
of factionalism among different working- class occupational groups
and between skilled and unskilled workers within an industry traditionally
has contributed to the relative success of governments in controlling
the working class.
Data as of December 1987