Bus drivers’ strike over unpaid wages has created chaos across Tehran amid fears of anti-government protests in the capital. Several drivers have been arrested.

The strike came abruptly and without prior notification. After reports of the BRT bus services having come to a halt, the Tehran Bus company announced that the issue arose from “special circumstances” that it could not explain and promised to resolve theissue, but the news of the strike soon spread on social media.

The strike comes amid reports of considerable presence of security forces in the streets of the capital where the government fears possible eruption of protests triggered by soaring food prices.

Iranians in several smal towns and cities, particularly in the southwestern provinces of the country have been protesting the government decisionto raise food prices ten days ago. The government has tried to suppress the protests heavy-handedly. So far tens of protesters have been arrested and at least five protester deaths have been reported.

Social media users say massive blockage of streets in several of Tehran’s busiest districts and say authorities and police have resorted to using other vehicles including police vans to transport frustrated citizens stuck on the streets. The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC) said in an Instagram post that these included buses belonging to military organizations.

The strike started by BRT bus drivers Monday who were later joined by drivers of other bus companies throughout the city who left their vehicles at bus terminals and joined their BRT colleagues in front of the central offices of the Tehran Bus Company and several other locations. There are also reports of technicians of the company joining the drivers.

The striking drivers are demanding their two months of overdue wages and protesting a rumor that the municipality has decided to limit a promised 10 percent raise despite a much higher figure announced earlier by the Supreme Labor Council.

“We Want Our Wages,” drivers chanted and demanded the resignation of Tehran’s hardline Mayor, Alireza Zakani. “Incompetent Mayor, Resign, Resign,” they also chanted.

Zakani cancelled another scheduled meeting and rushed to the drivers’ gathering to talk with strikers’ representatives.

The Instagram account of SWTSBC, the bus drivers’ union which has over 17,000 members, reported that striking drivers refused to send their representatives inside the building and want him to join them outside at their rally. There is a photo on Twitter showing Zakani speaking at the gathering of the drivers but his remarks have not been reported yet.

SWTSBC also reported that police are present at their gathering in large numbers to force them to end their strike. “SWTSBC strongly condemns police interference to end the strike,” another post by SWTSBC said.

According to SWTSBC, security forces have arrested several drivers and other workers of the Tehran Bus Company, including Vahid Fereydouni, one of the union’s activists.

SWTSBC is one of the country’s oldest and largest unions. The government does not recognize the SWTSBC as a legitimate union which has nevertheless continued to organize several industrial actions since 2004.

The union’s leaders, including Mansour Osanlou and Fereydouni have been persecuted and jailed on several occasions since its reactivation in 2004.

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