Yassamine Mather reports on the growing working class struggles within Iran
Every day the European press and media publishes information about plans for a military attack against Iran. Although many of these articles repeat previous ‘revelations’, there is no doubt that the threat of limited or extensive military action by the US cannot be ruled out. However inside Iran many ordinary people, although weary of the threat of war, seem more concerned with their daily struggles in a religious, capitalist state. The threat of sanctions has already increased the inflation rate to above 15%, while government officials still insist the annual rate of inflation will hover around 13% by the end of the current Iranian year on March 20th.
While supporters of US style regime change who are in exile hail sanctions, Ahmad Zahedi Langaroudi, a young activist/writer summarises the current effects of sanctions:
Sanctions have sunk the country into unprecedented stagnation and depression with direct consequences for Iranian society’s social and moral crises. Iran is today facing total economic devastation and dispersion. While the government is strengthened by the sanctions and gives it an excuse to spend on military exercises, ordinary people face serious economic pressures. The Iranian working class can hardly pay for its most basic needs and one can say with certainty that they just survive on eating plain bread (with nothing else). With no exaggeration this generation of workers must be facing one of the worst times in our country’s history. They are sacked in tens of thousands as factories follow ‘economic adjustment’ policies and the only way the state has found to stop their protests and rebellion is to make them drug addicts.
According to the spokesman for national accounts of Iran, unemployment reached 11% during March-June and 10.2% in June-September 2006. Most economists put the figure nearer to 15-18% amongst male job seekers. All factions of the regime are keen to pursue the ‘new’ interpretation’ of article 44 of the Islamic constitution which will allow further privatisation of what was deemed to be ‘major industries vital to national interests’. Tens of thousands of Iranian workers will loose their jobs and over the last week many left wing bloggers have concentrated on renewed attempts by the regime to precipitate the wholesale privatisation of major industries as well as the consequences of such policies. One young blogger reminds readers that contrary to claims by the supreme clerical leader, Ayatollah Khamneii, that:
privatisation will create a national will to generate wealth in reality it will only increase poverty and devastation for the workers and huge fortunes for factory owners who will buy state owned factories, sack the work force and sell the land of privatised industries. The government’s plans to sell off 80% of its stake in a range of state-run industrial companies in the banking, media, transportation and mineral sectors were so far reaching they amounted to a reversal of one of its own economic ‘principles’ as declared in the Iranian constitution.
According to the Islamic government’s own statistics, 7,467,000 Iranians live below the poverty line. The poorest sections of the population are in the countryside where 9.2% lived with incomes well below the poverty line in the Iranian year 1385 (March 2005-6). In the same year the income of the top 10% earners was 17 times that of the bottom 10%.
Despite populist promises, such as the fair distribution of the oil income, the current Iranian president has presided over one of the most pro-capitalist governments Iran has seen since the launch of the era of ‘reconstruction’ in 1988, when Iran first accepted IMF loans. Every spring the IMF sends a commission to Tehran to verify the country’s compliance with global capital’s requirements and every year by mid-summer the Central Bank and the government propose further privatisation in the industrial, banking and service sectors – bringing further misery to tens of thousands of workers, the victims of the subsequent job losses and casualisation. Of course Iranian workers fight daily against these policies, through demonstrations, sit ins and occupations of factories. However the anti war coalition in the UK has paid no attention to their protests and their demands for fear of losing a few Islamists in the UK.
Over the last few weeks, young bloggers in Iran have also addressed the issue of the collapse of ‘morality’ in Iran’s Islamic Republic. Prostitution, drug addiction, export of under aged sex workers to Gulf states are not usually associated with theocratic regimes, yet 28 years after coming to power, the realities of life in Iran contradict the stereotype of such states. Unprecedented corruption means that state officials and at times senior clerics are involved in trafficking of drugs or prostitution. One student blogger refers to unprecedented rise in drug addiction among youth and blames the regime for deliberately encouraging drug addiction as a way to avoid addressing political discontent.
The student groups in Iran are also busy organising a demonstration for International Women’s Day on 8th March. For the last 28 years the Iranian government has tried to force women in Iran to cover their hair. However a recent survey carried out by the paper Etemad Melli in Tehran shows that less than 5.5% of those questioned considered ‘the headscarf or hejab important or very important for the health of society’ . The wearing of the hejab was enforced by Ayatollah Khomeini in March 1979 and the protests planned for 8th March 2007 are likely to be amongst the most important manifestations of the failure of the religious state to influence the generation born since 1979, which today counts as more than 70 % of the population.
According to another blogger, the student movement of the 1990s was influenced by liberal ideology with illusions about Western democracy.
However the total failure of the ‘reformist’ faction of the regime, as well as the disastrous consequences of the US invasion of Iraq, have radicalised sections of the student/youth movement although inevitably it has also lead to forced exile for some student activists.
The slogans raised at student protests in December 2006 summarise the feeling of the radicalised youth towards the issue of war, US interference and the current regime in Iran. The slogans included: Socialism or Barbarism; Students, Workers, Teachers – Unite and Fight; Freedom for political prisoners and The way to human salvation, annihilation of the Taleban (students often refer to the Iranian regime as the Taleban).
The response of the government to all dissent has been to close down newspapers, arrest activist and ban websites. The latest victim of repression is a website associated with another faction of the Islamic regime. The site Baztab was closed on Feb 19th for posting video footage showing Ahmadinejad watching a female dance performance at the recent Asian Games in Qatar. This is in breach of Iran’s prohibition on women dancing in front of men, exposing once more the hypocrisy of Iran’s Islamic leaders.
The workers movement and the student movement inside Iran inspired us to set up the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. We have tried to remain faithful to their principle slogan: No to Imperialist war , No to Iran’s Islamic Regime.
We are trying to support the struggles of Iranian workers, students and women against war, against the neo liberal economic policies of the Iranian government and against imposition of medieval religious laws by the theocratic state in Iran. We will be holding regular meetings with direct contact to Iran so that we can hear the genuine anti war movement inside Iran. No doubt any military attack, however limited, will only strengthen the regime and the most reactionary forces inside Iran. We cannot let it happen; we cannot let down Iran’s workers and students.