Omid Rezai of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran reports on the Labourstart conference in Istanbul
‘One hundred unions. Thirty countries. One class.’ – Derrick Blackadder, of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, advanced this as the slogan for trade unionists to take home. It was an accurate summation of the discussions and workshops of the last two days. It was an exciting conference to be part of. The Internationale was sung in more languages than I had ever heard spoken before, by avowedly class-conscious trade unionists, who were calling for international solidarity against capitalist exploitation.
The conference began with participants taking part in a picket line with 62 locked-out members of Birlesik Metal-Is, outside GEA Klima Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş. (ATR) in Gebze. Members of the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran took part and reported a lot of good feeling on the picket line as links were made between Metal-Is workers and German comrades who work at related factories. Full details of the dispute can be found here.
The tone of the conference was very militant. People from all over the world had come to talk about responses to the wave of radicalisations that have taken place since the New Year. Comrades from North Africa and the Middle East (Morocco, Egypt andJordan) spoke on the first full day of the conference, to a packed main auditorium. What was apparent from the differing kinds of speeches given, was the differing levels of strength and political strength of the working class movements in each country. On the one hand a comrade from Egypt discussed what the biggest lessons to their movement should be from the Iranian Revolution of 1979, whilst on the other a Moroccan Trade Union leader argued that the Moroccan working class had no need to struggle for the overthrow of the King. Neither did the fate of the Sahrawi peoples get mentioned, with one African participant describing it as “Africa’s last colony.”
The theme of the conference linked questions around the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East to those around the autumn of riots and occupations in Europe and North America; “From social media to social revolution.” A workshop, “Echoes of the Arab Spring”, which featured an Israeli participant was criticised because of this, some Turkish comrades calling for a boycott and a “resolution” condemning [Labourstart founder] Eric Lee and some others as Zionists. As Eric Lee and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty point out, this is a nonsensical call, as the conference is not a decision making body. Whether this is an instance of “Jew hating”, as the same article calls it, is another question entirely. “Can someone, privileged by status as an occupier, participate in an authentic workers’ movement?” is as legitimate in regard to the situation in Western Sahara as it is inPalestine. The radical group of young Turkish militants, who are fighting for the unionisation of casual workers and who the article dismisses as in thrall to some English ex-pat, where not the only voices of concern over the inclusion of Israeli activists. Such views were expressed all through discussions in and around workshops.
The inclusion of the AFL-CIO backed Solidarity Centre, which has been linked to the coups in Haiti and Venezuela, was also a topic of debate. A debate we sought to galvanise, calling for organisations and activists to boycott it completely, as it is dependent on the aims, interests and financial support of the American ruling class.
The IASWI workshop itself was successful. To illustrate what can be achieved through genuine independent organisationsm messages from independent Iranian workers’ organisations were given to the conference.
Our workshop was made of three strands. I spoke on the history of the Iranian workers’ movement from the Iranian Revolution of 1979 to the present day. I stressed that this is a portion of Iranian history which is often scrubbed from the historical record, not fitting the ideological stereotypes of Iranian history, which benefit only Imperialism and the current regime. I discussed the high water tide of workers’ control of their lives and economies, as well as the rise of “Islamic Shoras” and “Workers’ Houses” ,the problems caused by these government backed and sponsored scab unions and, finally, moved onto the International Alliance’s campaign against them on the international level. I discussed the formation of new independent workers’ organisations inIran. We talked about organising solidarity actions for Reza Shahabi and other imprisoned workers, audience members being keen to join the call for the immediate release of all workers and activists from Iranian jails.
Sediq Esmaili spoke next on the need for the workers’ movement to organise independently of any capitalist government, outlining one of the fundamental arguments of our intervention inIstanbul. He argued that any link with a capitalist ruling class is a betrayal of international working class solidarity; you can’t finance the fight of one section of workers with value squeezed from another. He specifically attacked the Solidarity Centre’s history, funding sources and its pro-capitalist strategic policies and practices. He furthermore warned against the Solidarity Centre’s attempts to influence the newly free trade unions of Egypt and Tunisia. Sediq said that the Solidarity Centre have also sought to make overtures to the movement in Iran, but the historical development of the Iranian working class has necessitated the development of sharp analysis and they would not tolerate any group with links to this kind of organisation, tied to the capitalist super power. This is of special importance in the Iranian context, insofar as the so-called “right opposition” to the regime parrot the line of capitalist governments, even to the extent of supporting sanctions. No one in the Iranian labour movement wants anything to do with the Solidarity Centre, its associates, or similar organisations and neither should other genuine, independent, working-class organisations.
Farkhonde Ashena spoke about present working conditions in Iran, as well as the most pressing demands of the labour movement. She enumerated the attacks on pay and conditions at work, as well the social problems that blight the lives of poor and working people more broadly. It was interesting to note that the attacks on subsidies for the poor are embarked upon in language similar to that employed in Europe. The rest of this litany also struck a chord with labour militants from all over the world, as she spoke of advances in technology leading to deskilling, casualisation, child labour, immigrant workers and racism as well as a phenomenon, as far as I am aware unique to Iran in degree only, of the so-called “white signature” contract, signed by a worker with terms to be amended and made up as and when the boss says so.
Finally, a communiqué to the conference was read by Parvin Mohammadi, a representative of the Free Union of Workers in Iran. Many of the same themes that emerged from these had been echoed by militant participants in different workshops and discussions. Most clearly, came the ringing call for new international workers organisations, globalising the struggle. With the occupations on one side and the revolutions on the other, these messages spoke of the beginning of a new phase of struggle. In Europe, North America, the Middle East and Africa, whole new generations have had to teach themselves the methods of mass organisation and, in doing so, have brought a whole arsenal of new technologies and techniques into working class politics.
During the final plenary session, participants spoke to the whole conference to provide a summary workshops. A quick summary of our discussion was made by a supporter of IASWI who underlined what the workshop had discussed. He called for the creation of international solidarity independent of any government or capitalist body, claiming that such links are contrary to actual workers’ solidarity. He also talked about the situation of workers in Iran and their inspiring fight and messages, participants showing a lot of interest in the cases of renewed militancy, as well the issue of imprisoned workers.
The message given from the Free Union of Workers in Iran [see below] struck a chord with a lot of what had been discussed in the conference and was, for me an inspiration. At its best, this conference was not a place to call for solidarity, it was a place to put it together.
Message of the Free Union of Iranian Workers to the Conference
With a warm welcome to all who participate in the conference…..
Friends and comrades. We are very happy to present at this conference. We are sure in the opinion that the more such conferences take place, the more the international working class will be brought to the stage through social movements, as important as it is necessary. We offer the handshake of friendship to the friends who have organised this conference.
The world today is the tiny world of the global village, the world of the information explosion and the world of the globalisation of life and technology. The coming to be of such an exciting world, more than at any other point in human history, at the same time as the increase in dynamism of the social pressure from below, has put, more than at any other point in human history, the potential of the working and poverty stricken classes in a position to be the decision makers and builders of the world to the fore.
The revolutions in the Middle Eastand the occupy Wall Street movement show the reality of another world. A world in which, whether in the Middle East or in the developed and industrialised west, a minority of one percent govern the lives and fates of the ninety nine percent of humans, can not maintain the powerful structures and roots that it has shown up till now. In our view, the capitalist comprador landlord states of the Middle Eastcan only resist the desire for freedom and equality of their people, to the extent that the governments in the west can theirs. Both of these events, the revolutions in the Middle East and the occupation sin the West, result from the new conditions of a no longer bipolar world.
Eighty years after the October Revolution and its defeat, in a different situation with a world that has modernised a long way since, a generation of humans has taken to the international level to struggle and institute a better world. Again the world expresses massive social and political turmoil. But the social contradictions at the heart of this, in regard to workers and one hand and the capitalist system on the other, show more contradictions that any other time in human history. In the shadow of great technological advancement live billions of people live in abject poverty. Whilst rich and poor countries and individuals alike are caught in the shock waves of the information and communication explosion, it is natural that the managers of the world struggle to keep the social, economic and political structures in place, whose roots were laid two centuries ago. Today the capitalist system whether in its backwards or modernised forms, has turned life into a hell for all human beings, whether in places like the Middle East or in the west. A great majority of people lack the material means of happiness, liberty and security necessary to live life. The relationship of the standard of living of millions in comparison with a tiny minority of one percent takes more and more obscene forms; unbelievable defence spending continues while millions upon millions of human beings could live happily for a small percent of these sums. The capitalist order, predicated on profit and accumulation is pushing towards an environmental disaster and the destruction of all life on earth, seeking that great tragedy; the genocidal suicide of all human beings, every day, at every moment. In conclusion, this tiny minority of one percent has taken the social wealth of all (including technological and scientific advances), which should and could have been in the service of the security, ease and development of all human beings, transforming it into a weapon which could erase the human species.
Currently millions of human beings struggle between life and death, suffering from the same ailment, its comparative forms varying from the common cold to any of the most lethal diseases. Organ selling, illegal drugs’ mafias, selling one’s self for a mouthful of bread, the eviction of thousands from their homes and shelters, the preventable deaths of millions of children and adults, the western companies who trade in the organs of Africans and Indians are, just like the way Middle Eastern regimes have defended themselves against the just desire of their people for freedom and equality, crimes against humanity.
The first wave of the attacks against the most obvious and clear rights of workers, which began with the collapse of the bi-polar world, will be replaced by appeal to economic arguments by a second and even more anti human wave. Over the past twenty years of technological so-called progress and terrifying attacks on the environment, workers have not seen any progress in their standard of living. In fact, specifically by the excuse of economic reasons, the last few years have given them their worst standards of life and work for decades. Without a doubt, this situation is not a result of a lack in technological progress or the power of human beings to achieve the highest standards of living, economically and socially. In fact, this is the result of the property relations of the capitalist system, a trap set by the one percent minority on the fates and lives of billions of human beings around the world.
Billions of people no longer have any interest in protecting the governance that capitalist organisations give to the wealth of society. Billions of people no longer have any interest in the preservation of the structures of capitalist property relations over social wealth, the price of this system including the police, courts and prisons, electronic surveillance systems, security forces and special guards, the media which engineers thought, commanders and managers and governors, groups who spy on the workers, self serving bureaucracies and power mafias of the world, gobble up social wealth so voraciously that there is nothing left for the ease and happiness of we millions, the millions who produce the wealth.
Friends, this world is upside down and an upside down world must be put right, back on to its feet. We workers have that power in our hands. More than everything else the history of the world has always been made up of contradictions, whether on the level of political economy or culture. Capital holds all political and geographic, ethnic and tribal, cultural and familial ties up to a light and shown their weaknesses. Today life and technology, are happiness and sadness, environmental disasters, sensations of pain or joy or freedom are all global in scope, as is every material and intellectual breakthrough. Nowadays no economic strategy can limit itself to a closed set of political geographical borders, like the American crisis of the nineteen thirties. Thanks to the information explosion, social networks and technological advances the lives of billions of workers around the world have changed; they live and communicate on an unprecedented, world wide stage. It always grows to the global level. In the same way, borders no longer play a role in defining the working and living conditions of American, European, African or Middle Eastern workers A necessary step from the creation of this world is the entrance of the working class on the stage of international action, no longer in theory or an idea to be put forward, but in the coordination of the life, continued struggle and drawing of breath of workers all over the world. This means that, across the world, present organisations and tactics, even those that have been powerful in keeping their standard of living work, are no longer be effective or useful. The signs of the ineffectiveness can be sign in many advanced western countries, for example in the demonstrations of French workers against the raising of the age of retirement.
Friends! The present world and the existing order has put terrifying impediments in the face of workers in our struggle against the capitalist regime for our most fundamental historical rights and historic freedom from tortures, struggles and oppressions of capitalism. In our view, the growth of conscious and, above all else, united workers’ organisations and working groups on an international level, through the coming together of networks of workers through information, communication and social networks on an international level, beyond the opinions and voices of the present organisations and parties, is precisely that which can right this upside down world, and it is around this which the working class should start to order and organise itself. In our view, these steps, and their development into new organisations of our class are the pressing issues for us, workers, when the openings of freedom seen in the Middle Eastern revolutions and theOccupy Wall Streetmovement are in danger of being shut.
Long Live the Revolution of the People of the Middle East! Long Live the Occupy Wall Street Movement!
Long Live International Working Class Solidarity!
The Free Union of Iranian Workers, 18 November 2011