by David Broder
On 22nd October striking workers at the Ashkan china factory occupied their workplace and seized control of the plant’s machinery in a bid to recover unpaid wages. This was just the latest of hundreds of militant strikes in Iran this year in protest at late wage payments, layoffs and casual employment contracts, most notably the 5,000 Haft-Tapeh sugar cane workers, who spent fifty days on strike in 2008 and recently established an independent union as opposed to the state labour fronts. The workers’ movement in Iran is raising its head and using imaginative tactics despite multiple obstacles, including terrible repression by the Islamist régime as well as sanctions and sabre-rattling by the United States government and its allies.
Protests against the régime are multi-form and not limited to the workplace: notably, a belligerent left-ward moving student movement is stirring discontent against a government presiding over a 25% inflation rate and soaring unemployment. It is also vehemently opposed to foreign intervention: organisations such as Freedom and Equality Seeking Students, two of whose activists are currently in Britain, have taken the lead from the liberal student movement of ten years ago, which was more “pro-Western”. Hopefully a fight against sexual repression, gender oppression and homophobia can also flourish.
Although liberal public opinion as well as groups such as Stop the War and the CASMII anti-war campaign have illusions in the democratic credentials of “reformists” in Iran such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani (president of the country from 1989 to 1997), such elements are no friendlier to the mass of ordinary people than the Islamists, looking for pragmatic and technocratic solutions to the economic malaise. Rafsanjani, himself probably Iran’s richest man and one of the richest people on Earth, is currently Chairman of the “Assembly of Experts”, and favours compromise and reconciliation with the United States government, all the better so that both are able to work together to exploit the Iranian working class. This is also the essence of the “National Peace Council” established this summer by pro-Khatami reformists such as Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi and backed by Iran’s major Stalinist formations, the Fedayeen majority and the Tudeh party.
It is a nonsense for the Socialist Workers’ Party-led Stop the War Coalition to extol the virtues of such pacifist initiatives by elements of the ruling class: they are not antiwar as such but rather seek reconciliation between different pro-imperialist forces (indeed, even the Islamist right of the Iranian ruling class supports the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan) and their ultimate aim is to stabilise Iranian capital in unison with the US government.
As things stand, sabre-rattling and the sanctions régime are a major boon to Iranian nationalists and religious conservatives at a time President Ahmedinejad’s populist administration should be coming unstuck under the weight of the IMF reforms it has imposed (so much for his supposed “anti-imperialism”) as well as crises such as the impeachment of Interior Minister Ali Kordan on November 4th. Previously a leading military and judicial figure, Kordan claimed to have received a law doctorate from Oxford University, but this was exposed as a fraud.
While the workers’ movement does not currently appear poised to take power, the régime’s credibility looks shaky, among young people in particular, and its social base is unsteady. In mid-October thousands of bazaar traders in Isfahan, Tabriz and Mashad, as well as in the capital Tehran, staged a week of strikes and demonstrations against a new sales tax. Given this state of flux and the opportunities offered, as part of our solidarity with the Iranian working class we must be unswervingly opposed to all sanctions and threats of war and bombing raids. These can only serve to give justification to Persian nationalism and buttress the Islamist right, retarding the organic development of class struggle. The British workers’ movement should mobilise resistance to stop any such attack: by this I do not mean pacifist protest marches proclaiming that it is “not in our name”, but rather, building a working class movement to stop the government in its tracks. Equally, we ought to build solidarity with the working-class struggle against the régime which exists in the here and now, as advocated by Hands Off the People of Iran, a campaign backed by ASLEF and the PCS.
These issues will be discussed at the HOPI conference in London on December 13th – see www.hopoi.org for details.