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.
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