International Workers’ Day in Iran: A History of Struggle and Oppression — Iran News Update

Masoud Dalvand
4 min readMay 1, 2024


Every year on May 1st, the world observes International Workers’ Day, commemorating the historic struggles of the working class. This day holds particular significance in Iran, where the fight for workers’ rights has been marked by both triumphs and brutal repression.

The roots of this struggle can be traced back to the global labor movement of the 19th century. On May 1, 1886, over 400,000 American workers went on strike demanding an eight-hour workday, a significant reduction from the grueling 14-hour shifts they were forced to endure.

This strike, tragically, culminated in violence when police fired upon the workers, leading to the deaths of five and injuries to many others.

However, the workers’ sacrifice was not in vain. The subsequent mass protests and widespread support eventually led to nearly 500,000 workers securing the eight-hour workday, marking a victory for the labor movement.

Three years later, in 1889, the International Socialist Congress in Paris established May 1st as International Workers’ Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of the working class and advocate for their rights across the globe.

In Iran, the first observance of May 1st took place in 1920. During the reign of the former monarchy, these celebrations were often held in secrecy due to government restrictions.

Following the fall of Reza Shah, public demonstrations on May 1st became more frequent, with historical records documenting significant gatherings in 1945 and 1946.

In 1952, Dr. Mosadeq officially declared May 1st as Labor Day, recognizing its importance. However, after the 1953 coup d’état, celebrations were once again forced underground.

The Shah subsequently replaced May 1st with his father’s birthday, March 15th, as Labor Day. However, the rising student movement, both within and outside Iran, pressured the Shah to revert to May 1st, which remains the official Labor Day to this day.

Despite the recognition of May 1st as Labor Day, the history of Iranian workers is marred by violent crackdowns on their attempts to exercise their rights.

The 1946 attack on the Kermanshah demonstration, resulting in 14 deaths and 120 injuries, stands as a grim reminder of the state’s brutality towards labor activism.

Similarly, the 1946 nationwide strike of 100,000 oil workers demanding political reforms was met with violence and suppression, leaving 46 dead and 170 injured.

The Shah’s regime continued to oppress workers throughout his rule. Strikes like the furnace workers’ strike in 1959 and the Jahanchit workers’ strike in 1971, both demanding better wages and working conditions, were brutally crushed, resulting in numerous casualties.

In the final years of the Shah’s rule, the regime even used the May 1st celebrations to propagate propaganda, praising the Shah’s supposed service to the workers, further alienating the working class.

However, the oil industry workers’ strike of 1979 proved to be a turning point. By disrupting oil exports, this strike dealt a significant blow to the Shah’s regime, ultimately contributing to its downfall.

Following the 1979 revolution, Iranian workers initially hoped for a new era of respect for their rights.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran organized the first post-revolution Labor Day ceremony in Karaj to honor the Jahanchit workers killed by the Shah’s forces. However, these early hopes were soon dashed.

Despite the recognition of May 1st, the current regime, the Velayat-e Faqih, has consistently failed to uphold the rights of workers.

Throughout its nearly 44 years in power, the regime has responded to labor protests with dismissals, beatings, arrests, and imprisonments.

Despite this repression, the Iranian working class has continued to fight for their rights. Strong strikes and protests by workers in various sectors, including HEPCO, Ahvaz Steel, and the Haft Tapeh sugarcane workers, demonstrate their unwavering resolve.

The sheer volume and intensity of labor protests in Iran stand as a testament to the systematic oppression faced by the working class under the Velayat-e Faqih system.

As we approach International Workers’ Day 2024, the situation in Iran remains dire. The mullahs have blatantly disregarded even their own labor laws, as evidenced by the recent announcement of the minimum wage for 2024, which falls far short of the actual cost of living.

This blatant disregard for workers’ well-being has further fueled anger and protests, highlighting the immense gap between the regime’s rhetoric and its actions.

The Iranian workers’ story on the eve of International Workers’ Day is one of continuous struggle against exploitation and oppression.

Their fight for basic rights, including fair wages, safe working conditions, and freedom from state-sanctioned violence, continues to be a beacon of hope for a better future.

Originally published at on May 1, 2024.



Masoud Dalvand

Human rights activist and advocate of democracy, freedom, and justice in Iran.