2005-04 Fundamental developments in the labour movement in Iran [Karimi]
by Asqar Karimi, on WPI Briefing 175-6 (Weekly of the Worker-communist Party of Iran), April 27, 2005. Translated from Farsi into english by Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya.
Important developments are taking place in the labour movement in Iran, including a new wave of strikes and solidarity actions with a more radical and assertive working class coming to the fore of the political scene in Iran in the past year. This powerful movement deserves recognition and support.
Increase in labour protests
Labour strikes have increased in an unprecedented manner; in government-affiliated papers alone, there are daily reports of several small and large strikes. In recent weeks, strikes have permeated in important industrial and relatively key centres. Today, strikes are the most important and prevalent form of labour protest; at times they are accompanied by protest gatherings at government centres. In comparison to the recent past, where pre-strike methods of protest such as signing petitions and or letters to government officials were prevalent, today the strike and mass gatherings and meetings have become the main form of labour protest. Moreover, the duration of strikes is increasing in an astounding manner. One or two week long strikes and even at times 5-6 week long strikes are no longer rarities. In the past three months alone, there have been nearly ten one week or longer strikes. One needs to add the increase of strikes amongst teachers and nurses to these.
On the one hand, widespread labour strikes are a defence response vis-à-vis the unprecedented attack on workers’ livelihood, whilst on the other hand it reflects the reality of a growth in class consciousness amongst workers, and a heightening of their expectations and particularly the intellectual and political aspects of the progressive segment of the working class.
In defence of livelihood
The closure of many important manufacturing and production centres, waves of redundancy, along with uninhibited change of contract of employment to temporary and short-term contract which is expected at this rate to cover 90 percent of workers in a year or two’s time is hammering the working class in Iran to the point of crushing it.
The background of the labour movement in Iran is set by several million unemployed workers who have no access to any form of unemployment benefits. In addition those in employment face such low wages that according to official government statistics wages are one third of the formally defined poverty line. Even these meagre wages are not paid for months at a time and in some occasions for even 1-2 years. In addition to the above factors, to clearly show how the working class in Iran is surviving under indescribable conditions, one must point to the rise of addiction to hundred-fold compared to two decades ago, the rise of prostitution amongst women workers to make ends meet, the tearing apart of families, the rise of suicide, beggary among workers in city centres after the end of their work shift and even the sale of body parts for low prices are aspects of the painful picture that the Iranian bourgeoisie has imposed on the working class and Iranian society with the help of one of the most vicious capitalist governments.
The demands of workers vis-à-vis these conditions are extremely widespread and varied. Calls for increased wages several times higher than current wages, an end to temporary contract, the payment of unpaid wages, unemployment benefits, improved health and safety at the workplace, social benefits, improved retirement conditions, freedom of speech and organisation and strike are some of the demands that are expressed in strikes and in the efforts of labour activists. Despite conditions that one would expect would diminish the level of expectations among workers, to the contrary, the level of expectations of workers or at least the progressive segment of them for a human life has increased greatly.
The rise of the worker’s movement
The rise of the worker’s movement – before anything else – is the result of a powerful worker-communist movement and its strong media (24-hour socialist TV and radio stations), which millions have access to and is like water being poured over a parched earth. It is especially important for a society thirsty for freedom and prosperity, a society that is extremely political and non-religious and even anti-religious and a society with the deepest class rift. The workers’ response to this situation is extremely radical and socialist. There has been a great increase in workers sending in reports to our media over the past months with direct contact with TV International for the broadcast of the status of workers and their struggle and demands, despite any risks it may bear for labour activists. On certain days, workers gather in their comrades’ homes and access our TV via illegal satellite dishes to see the programmes and ask us beforehand to broadcast their reports on days they will have access to the TV. In every factory, striking workers compare their salaries to management’s and question the difference. Last year, teachers on national strike compared their salaries to those in the Islamic Assembly. Recently, workers in Foomenat textiles in northern Iran who were faced with the regime’s repressive forces put them under such pressure that they were forced to deny the assault on the workers and even albeit opportunistically place themselves alongside the workers rather than the usual attempts at continued suppression and intimidation. The workers’ expectations has so increased that even the Islamic Councils (the only permissible ‘labour’ organisation with an official Islamic ideology for creating divisions amongst workers) condemned the repression of the Foomenat textile workers and demanded the prosecution of the perpetrators. The High Association of Islamic Labour Councils which is part of the regime threatened that if the repression continued, it would file a complaint in international proceedings! This example reveals what is taking place in the labour movement in Iran.
An extremely important and hopeful phenomenon in the labour movement is its organising aspect. Efforts to organise have taken on widespread proportions. Alongside the establishment of general assemblies, which is a well-established tradition, we have witnessed a number of varied forms of organisation. The latest is the creation of a committee of thirty labour activists to follow up on independent labour organisations. In a very short period, they collected thousands of signatures from workers in various centres across Iran. This is an intra-factory step. The gathering of several thousand signatures and that too under conditions where any form of resistance and organising is met with the regime’s and the boss’s threats shows that the demand for freedom of association and the effort to make organising a reality has roots. Another organising method which can be observed in the last year in the labour movement is the expansion of solidarity actions across factories. The killing of protesting workers in Babak Shahr two years ago by the Islamic regime kick started solidarity protests in many production and manufacturing centres.
The road to victory
More recently, the successful strike of the textile workers of Kurdistan which has become a model amongst workers was met with the support of tens of workers’ centres throughout the country. The harassment of strike leaders resulted in protests from workers from many different industrial centres. The strike was so powerful that the striking workers even managed to obtain wages for the 17 days they were on strike despite the facts that strikes are illegal and that there was close cooperation between the factory’s management, the Labour Office, the Ministry of Intelligence and the security forces against the workers. From the beginning, the strikers contacted international labour organisations and made efforts to gain their support for their struggle, which shows a very new climate in the labour movement in Iran. This phenomenon will grow rapidly among workers and new models are being created. They are quickly changing the image of the Iranian labour movement.
A workers’ revolution
One must analyse the labour movement in the changing political situation and the all-encompassing crisis of the Islamic regime of Iran on the one hand and society’s turn to the Left on the other. The regime’s inability to control and manage the economic crisis and respond to the minimal economic needs of the working class has transformed the labour movement into that barrel of dynamite that can explode along with the rest of society.
It seems unlikely that there is anything to prevent the coming revolution. In light of various factors which are working to the benefit of workers, the possibility of a working class-led revolution in Iran is a very near possibility. Three important factors include: the existence of a large section of labour leaders who have the experience of the 1979 revolution and have a more class-oriented perspective on not just the labour movement but on all society and other progressive movements and have a more open vision. Another important factor is the presence of the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI) in the political centre, a factor that didn’t exist during the 1979 revolution, thereby the working class couldn’t enter the political scene with their independent banner and programme. The third factor, which before all else, is the product of the WPI’s presence in the political scene in Iran today – is the complete hegemony of the Left in all the social movements in Iran today. Despite the miserable conditions imposed on the working class and the people of Iran, these factors present a hopeful ray of light to the people and revolution of Iran. A revolution that will smash political Islam in Iran and the region, will liberate women, will make secularism a transformative social and political movement in the region, and will be a model of a human, prosperous, modern and socialist society before all of humanity.
The working class of Iran, the impending revolution, the basic and general demands of the working class and the people of Iran vis-à-vis the Islamic regime and political Islam and the dangers of the USA’s military threat against Iran deserve the greatest international support.