Monthly Archives: November 2011

Trade Unionist Reza Shahabi on Hunger Strike

Board member of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Reza Shahabi began a hunger strike on Tuesday 22 November. Shahabi is a leading trade unionist and a symbol of working class resistance to the theocratic regime and begun his strike in protest to the 18 months of imprisonment and legal limbo. Shahabi has been in prison since 12 June 2011 and has been subject to the regime’s tormenters in the notorious Evin Prison. Already Shahabi is suffering with from heart and kidney problems, severe kneck pain and it is possible he may lose control over his left and arm and leg because of the extreme pressure applied to his spine.

Hands Off the People of Iran calls for the release of all political prisoners from the torture houses of the theocratic regime.

 

The war against Iran has started

Hands Off the People of Iran unequivocally condemns the ratcheting up of sanctions on Iran in the aftermath of the much-heralded report of the International Atomic Energy Agency on that country’s nuclear capability on November 8. The report did little more than confirm the assessment that Hopi arrived at some time ago: that at worst Iran may be interested in the so-called ‘Japanese’ option. This is nuclear development that stops just short of the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon – but only by a month or so. But this is something that has been commented on many times before.

Despite the fact that this report contained little or nothing that was new (it was little more than a compilation of UK satellite pictures and the pre-existing reports of the CIA and other western intelligence agencies), imperialist leaders have fallen over themselves to express horror and outrage at these ‘new’ findings:

  • French president Nicolas Sarkozy urged “unprecedented” sanctions on the country.
  • Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne announced that from November 28, all UK credit and financial institutions were obliged to cease trading with Iran’s banks, a move that apparently represented “a further step to preventing the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons”. This is the first time the UK has cut off an entire country’s banking system from London’s financial sector.
  • US secretary of state Hillary Clinton welcomed the opportunity the report presented for a “significant ratcheting-up of pressure” on Iran through the imposition of new sanctions. US actions include measures to limit Tehran’s ability to refine its own fuel, as well as targeting the financial interest of the Revolutionary Guards.

Even this was not enough for the rabid Israeli regime, which frothed about Iran having a nuclear weapon within a year and made ominous noises about military action. Israel feels politically vulnerable, given the current upheavals in the Arab world. An Iran with nuclear capability challenges its regional hegemony in a broader sense, but there is also a very practical concern. Iran’s missile delivery system is sophisticated enough to deliver a conventional payload to Tel Aviv – hence the November 7 explosion/assassination at the military base in Bid Ganeh, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Tehran. Amongst others this killed major-general Hassan Moqaddam, a key figure in Iran’s ballistic missiles programme: according to Time magazine, a “western intelligence source” laid the blame at the door of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, and warned that “there are more bullets in the magazine”.

On one level, the western powers are in a weak position when it comes to convincing the wider population that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The debacle of Iraq – and farcical claims around Saddam’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” – have prompted many commentators to dub the IAEA’s report “Iran’s 45-minute moment” (a reference to the nonsense peddled about Iraq’s supposed capability to drop bombs on strategic European targets in that time frame). Of course, from the point of view of Iraq’s barbaric rulers, if such weapons had existed it would have been a fairly obvious military response to the invasion of their country to use them. Similar claims today about Iran’s nuclear ambitions will raise many a sceptical eyebrow.

The veracity of the report will also be called into question when it is recalled that the current IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano, has often been accused, on solid grounds, of pro-US bias. According to diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks last year, US diplomats favoured his nomination, as he was “in tune with the US position regarding Iran’s nuclear programme” – a revelation that will help undermine the US/Britain’s charges against the regime.

However, on another level the case for imperialist intervention has undoubtedly been bolstered by the relatively ‘clean’ regime change in Libya (so far …). The overthrow of Gaddafi by western-backed insurgents is widely perceived of as a ‘good war’, in stark contrast to the quagmire of Iraq; the inability of the anti-war movement in this country to mobilise large numbers onto the streets in opposition to the intervention is a mark of this.

The current low level of anti-war mobilisation is a big problem for all those who oppose the imperialist interference in the Middle East, for we should be clear that the war on Iran has already started. It is unlikely to take the form of military invasion and occupation at any stage – the experience of the running sore of Iraq has chastened the imperialists on that front. What we will see – are seeing – is war pursued by other means:

  • Cyber warfare with its unforeseen consequences (last year’s attack on Iran’s nuclear plants and a number of major industrial complexes by the sophisticated piece of malware, Stuxnet).
  • Political assassinations of Iranian physicists/scientists allegedly involved in the nuclear programme (murders that are used by the Iranian regime to justify its own political executions).
  • Swingeing sanctions that, while barely troubling the rich and powerful, dramatically impoverish ordinary Iranians and actually endanger their lives (sanctions have affected everything from aviation to surgery and dentistry).

These sorts of tactics betray the strategic goal the US and its allies have in mind. Ideally for them, a repetition – in a ‘tidier’ form – of the Libyan scenario. That is, that pressure from imperialism engenders splits in this deeply discredited regime and its possible collapse/paralysis. Then indigenous opposition forces spearhead regime change, with the active aid and encouragement of the west. Clinton has spoken openly of her administration’s hopes for the implosion of the regime. There is solid ground for her optimism. Fraught divisions exist at every level of the theocratic regime, most dramatically in its top echelons with the ongoing conflict between supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei and president Ahmadinejad, and continued joint conflict with timid reformists such as Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

The Obama administration would have been encouraged in this by recent developments in the Iranian opposition movement. A pro-war/anti-war-pro-sanctions debate is now dominating Iranian political discourse generally and has engendered a split into two major trends in this opposition. First there are those such as Mohammad Khatami who totally oppose the war, despite their criticisms of the regime. However, this does not flow from any sort of principled or consistently democratic position; rather, it is inspired by nationalism. Khatami has called for “national unity” in the face of this crisis and offers the supreme leader advice about ‘changing course’.

Far more worrying has been the significant section of the opposition (including some who could be politically designated as ‘soft left’, but mainly composed of liberals) who appear to be almost egging the Americans to launch a military strike. The example of the Nato bombing of Libya is looked to by these forces as a positive example of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Although there does not appear to be the appetite in Washington for air strikes, the US’s ally in the region, Israel, remains politically unstable and bellicose: witness the recent statement by Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak that “We do not expect any new UN sanctions on Tehran to persuade it to stop its nuclear defiance. We continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves not to take any option off the table.”

The stance of Hands Off the People of Iran is crystal-clear. We implacably oppose the sabre-rattling of the imperialists and demand that all sanctions on the country are lifted, that all threats of military action be rescinded. We call for this not because we have any illusions in the loathsome regime in Iran. It starves its own people; it denies them basic human rights; it endangers their lives through its elaborate games of brinkmanship with the US and its powerful allies. Unlike some politically demented leftists, we say that nuclear weapons in its hands would be a defeat for the forces of democracy and radical social change, as well as a profoundly destabilising development in the region.

No, we oppose the warmongering – whether it takes the hard form of assassinations, threats of military action, or the ‘soft’ option of sanctions – because we do not have any illusions in the loathsome regimes in place in Washington, London or Tel Aviv either. The intervention of these powers and their allies has nothing whatsoever to do with the promotion of ‘democracy’ – indeed, the regimes the imperialists impose often have features that are significantly worse than the previous team of oppressors of the people. Hopi insists that democracy can only come in Iran from below – from the struggles of the workers’, women’s and students’ movements. It will never fall from the sky in the tip of a US or Israeli bunker-buster.

We look to those like the working class and anti-capitalist activists, left intellectuals and students who met in an anti-capitalist conference in Iran on November 4. Many of the contributions emphasised the need to strengthen the workers’ struggles, the underground left/workers’ groups and the fight for left unity – “It is a shame that hero worship of certain intellectuals acting as semi-gods has harmed unity amongst the forces of the Iranian left,” said veteran labour activist NA. Military action against Iran, whether overt or covert, whether air strikes or sanctions, only acts to disorganise and disorientate these forces for change. This is why the threatening military backdrop to the conference was discussed by participants and Clinton’s bellicose statements noted. This is why Hopi contributes to their struggle for freedom by fighting against any imperialist attack on their country.

The imperialists want change in Iran via a palace coup or politically neutered opposition movement. Hopi says genuine democratic change must come from below, through the initiative, elan and thirst for change of the masses themselves! l

  • No war, no sanctions on Iran!
  • For a nuclear-free Middle East as a step to a nuclear-free world!

An Iranian suggests questions for a corrupt dictator

This article was commissioned and first published by http://tv.thestruggle.org/node/495

by Yassamine Mather

A number of comrades in the United States have asked if I could list questions one should have asked Ahmadinejad during his dinner with the US ‘Left’. How anyone who dines with a corrupt dictator championing neo-liberal anti-working class policies can be considered to be on the Left is beyond me so the following questions are hypothetical and I do not suggest anyone on the Left should accept future invitations to meet Iran’s discredited president.

suppose the two most topical issues to start with would have been the current scandal about financial fraud in the highest echelons of Ahmadinejad’s government and the strike in Mahshahr Petrochemical company as examples of corruption and neo liberal economic policies.

What does the Iranain president say about the $2.6 billion financial fraud that has shaken his government in the last few weeks? How does he explain the ousting of the heads of three of the country’s major banks , his appointees? So far 19 people have been arrested for a scam involving the fraudulent opening of bank letters of credit by the Amir Mansour Aria investment group. What is his response to members of Iran’s Islamic parliament who have signed a petition to impeach Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini over the affair?

How does he respond to accusations by the conservative Islamic paper Kayhan, that a letter written by Ahmadinejad’s chief of staff and principal adviser, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, to the economy minister is at the root of this fraud and that Mashaei instructed
the minister to facilitate the group’s operation.

What would I ask of Mr Ahmadinejad? I would ask him to explain why his government and security services under his authority resort to torture when dealing with young students arrested for their political opinions? Can he explain the rising rate of suicides amongst these former political prisoners?

What has he to say about claims by the religious establishment that Abbas Ghaffari, a close ally, is his “exorcist” or “jinn-catcher”? The website Ayandeh described one president ally as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds”.

Can he explain his involvement in the production of the Iranian documentary “The appearance is imminent” celebrating the expected ‘return’ of the Mahdi – the 12th or ‘hidden’ imam of the 9th century and naming Ahmadinejad as his earthly ally?

Can he explain why he is called ‘Ahmadi the liar’ in Iran and why two years into his second term Iran’s Supreme Religious Leader , Khamneii is considering ‘abolishing’ the post of president?

Iran’s president might pretend he is on the side of the poor and the disinherited when he is in New York, but in Iran people would laugh at such claims.   In his second term as president he presides over a country where the gap between the rich and the poor was never as wide as it has been. The divide is so obvious that even visitors passing through Tehran can’t miss it.

“Gold-flecked ice cream wasn’t part of the picture that Shiite Muslim clerics painted during the Iranian Revolution, when they promised to lift the poor by distributing the country’s vast oil income equally across society. But more than three decades later, record oil profits have brought in billions, and some people here are enjoying that decadent dessert. The trouble is, it’s just a small group of wealthy Iranians.” reporter Thomas Erdbrink, Friday, August 5 2011.

Last month saw the start of another major strike in Bandar Imam Petrochemical Complex in Mahshahr . Strikes are illegal in Iran. However, according to reports from Iran workers from Arvand, Amirkabir, and Tondguyan Petrochemical plants  have joined this strike, making this the first nationwide strike by ‘oil’ workers since 1980.   6,000 workers employed in separate shifts are now participating in the Mahshahr protest, gathering every day in front of the company’s headquarters chanting their demands.

The main demand of the petrochemical workers in Mahshahr’s Special Economic Zone is an end to ‘contract employment’. Contractors impose inhumane conditions on workers in this and other sectors. The Iranian government has privatized most of Iran’s manufacturing and many sector of the oil industry. Privatisation plans are notoriously corrupt and generally benefit the factions in power in the Islamic state. But in the oil industry it is different from elsewhere. Privatisation has been undertaken with the aim of dividing workers and hampering national negotiations over wages and conditions, in the knowledge that for oil workers deployed in various sectors of the industry, working for so many different contractors, it would be impossible to negotiate common terms and conditions.

Private ownership of some oil functions is still prohibited under the Iranian constitution, but the government has permitted buy-back contracts, allowing international oil companies to participate in exploration and development through an Iranian affiliate. The contractor receives a remuneration fee, usually an entitlement to oil or gas from the developed operation. Last year Ahmadinejad’s minister of Labour announced that by the end of 2010, 100% of Iran’s workers will be employed on contracts. Although Iran hasn’t achived this ‘goal’ , more than 90% of Iran’s workers are employed by contractors. Many workers are employed with “white contracts”. These are contracts where the worker signs his/her name on a white piece of paper and the employer adds the conditions of employment during the contract or at the time of sacking a worker.

Iranian workers constantly complain of systematic non payment of wages by unscrupulous capitalists supported by the regime. There is on average 4-5 industrial disputes every week on the issue of non payment of wages. Protesting workers and their supporters face the brutal repression of the Islamic guards and Bassij called by factory owners.

Unemployment is around 25% according to the government figure. The Iranian left believes this figure to be much higher especially amongst youth where there is apparently 50%   unemployment and this figure is higher amongst women especially graduate women.

The terrible plight of Iranian workers is a direct consequence of the neo liberal policies of this government applauded by the IMF in August 2011 for ending all food and fuel subsidies . The abolition of these subsidies has created huge increases in fuel and food prices with spiralling inflation to such an extent that the government has banned publication of the ‘official’ rate of inflation (usually far below the real rate) by Iran’s Central Bank.

Instead of having dinner with Ahmadinejad real Leftists should look at website such as :

Iran Labor Report http://iranlaborreport.com/
Hands Off the People of Iran http://www.hopoi.org