Monthly Archives: October 2012

Video: Yassamine Mather responds to her critics on the ‘Iran Tribunal’

Hands Off the People of Iran has been criticising the “Iran Tribunal” for its pro-imperialist agenda and links to funds that campaign for “regime change from above”, like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In this video, Yassamine Mather responds to some criticisms leveled against Hopi.

Iran: Sanctions mean war on the people

Hands Off the People of Iran remains true to its slogan, ‘No to imperialism, no to the Islamic regime’. Yassamine Mather describes the devastation and hunger inflicted on Iranians

If you want to find out what economic chaos looks like, forget about Athens or Madrid: Tehran is the capital to study.

In 2009-10 there were already signs of a serious economic crisis in Iran – low wages, mass unemployment, spiralling inflation, all helped along by privatisation. That was when we saw mass protests against fraudulent elections results, dictatorship and repression. Those demonstrations were suppressed and a number of factors, including the threat of war and the reformism of the self-appointed leaders of the green movement, contributed to the defeat of the protests.

Since then Iran has not been much in the news – until the protests of early October, when angry crowds took to the streets of Tehran. Sanctions have crippled the country to such an extent that for most Iranians day-to-day life is becoming impossible. It is true that not a single shot has been fired, but sanctions are indeed a form of warfare, imposing hunger and destitution on the population. And if the US presidential race remains close in these last days before the poll, the Obama administration could yet consider a military strike.

Of course, Iran’s economy is not crippled just because of sanctions. Decades of obedience to the International Monetary Fund have left the country with a privatised, corruption-riven economy. The gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time in living memory. Food and fuel subsidies have been abolished by Islamic clerics – to the applause of the IMF and World Bank. In other words, even without sanctions Iran would have had all the features of a third-world capitalist country suffering from the effects of the global economic crisis. But sanctions have made life so intolerable that people will tell you that hunger and poverty, combined with this constant fear of military conflict, is worse than war itself.

Sanctions

The first sanctions against Iran were imposed in 1979. However, Tehran was able to circumvent the worst of their effects until 2006, when measures relating to Iran’s nuclear industry were introduced, to be followed by further UN resolutions between 2007 and 2010. But the situation was transformed with the new wave of sanctions that started in January this year, when the United States and European Union took steps to ensure Iran could not sell its oil overseas and imposed restrictions on all Iranian banks and financial institutions. In the first few months of 2012 the Islamic government deluded itself that these were short-term steps and therefore spent its reserves of foreign currency in order to maintain the value of the Iranian rial. However, as the new sanctions began to bite, in the face of US and Israeli military threats, the exchange rate plummeted.

A series of United Nations-backed measures reduced the country’s oil exports from 2.5 million barrels a day to 1.5 million in early 2012. Major shipping companies now refuse to send their tankers to Iranian ports, in fear of the severe fines imposed on sanction-busters. Any international bank doing business in Iran is now deprived access to the US market and unsurprisingly most financial institutions have ended their dealings with Tehran as a result. In July new EU sanctions banned oil imports from Iran entirely. Europe was purchasing 20% of Iranian exports – hence the devastating effect on the Iranian rial.

In early October the currency lost 75% of its value against the dollar, and the rate of inflation is now so high that many shops are refusing to sell goods, as they know prices will rise from one hour to the next and what they receive in sales today could be worthless tomorrow. In Ferdowsi Square, where most major currency exchange dealers work, some have hung signs saying, “Dollars not bought or exchanged” in protest against the government’s plans to set a fixed rate for the rial.

Wary of riots in response to food shortages, the Iranian government has announced a classification of imports into 10 categories, based on how essential they are. Importers of essential goods will be able to buy dollars at a subsidised rate,while importers of goods classified as non-essential will have to pay hand over fist to obtain dollars.1 However, a thriving black market in luxury goods – including those dubbed ‘unIslamic’ – has characterised the 33-year rule of Tehran’s corrupt, religious, capitalist regime and few expect this to change.

Prices for staple foods, such as milk, bread, rice, yogurt and vegetables, have doubled since the beginning of the year. Chicken, the cheapest meat, is so scarce that every time supplies become available there are long queues and sometimes riots. Unemployment is thought to be around three times higher than the official rate of 12%, and millions of unskilled factory workers are on wages well below the official poverty line of 10 million rials (about $250) a month.

On October 12 yet another set of sanctions was finalised by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. The aim was to “further restrict Iran’s ability to move money around efficiently – a step to aggravate the current financial crisis of the Iranian regime inside the country”.2 A number of international airlines responded by stopping their flights to Tehran. The message conveyed by this relentless pressure is clear: you are under siege, and you are isolated. It is a form of psychological warfare – not just against Iran’s rulers, but against the population. According to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a proponent of still tougher measures, “repetition is the key to success of message-penetration”.3

Throughout the last few years supporters of sanctions have told us they are not directed at the Iranian people. No, they are ‘targeted’ sanctions, aimed only at the regime. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, senior clerics and military generals have been the main beneficiaries of privatisation and, as a result, they own a considerable chunk of Iran’s economy. The rest, including whatever is left of public services, is dependent on state funds, which are squeezed further by sanctions. As for the fortunes of senior clerics and their offsprings, it is safe to say little of it remains inside Iran – by 2007 they were already ensuring that their personal wealth had left the country for the safety of foreign banks. The main victims of sanctions have been the mass of the people – including workers made redundant, as senior ayatollahs and leaders of the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards have closed down their businesses and moved their money into Swiss bank accounts. Iran’s car industry has shed almost half of its workforce and oil workers have also lost their jobs, as oil exports have gone into free fall.

Effects

Launching our anti-sanctions campaign in 2009, Hands Off the People of Iran declared: “The current proposals of the US government to enforce sanctions on Iran’s oil industry would unquestionably cause chaos for a society depending on oil for its national income. They are also a disaster for the cause of democracy because they limit working class struggle.

“Radical democratic change in Iran (and indeed in the imperialist countries such as the US and UK) can only come from below. It cannot be gifted by the likes of [green leader Mir-Hossein] Moussavi, or imposed by the imperialists. Not that either would wish to see such change. We have to aid such advances through promoting working class internationalism – the core politics that Hopi implacably stands for.” 4

However, the effects of current sanctions are far worse than we predicted in 2009. There is a serious shortage of drugs affecting both the rich and the poor. Tehran residents report long queues of poorer sections of the population outside chemists in more affluent suburbs trying to sell their prescriptions so that they can buy food for their families. Hospital notice boards are full of adverts for the sale of kidneys and other organs – a new method of raising funds.

Government employees have not been paid their full salaries for many months. Many make ends meet by selling their household goods, such as furniture. And, although unemployment is affecting every section of the working class, women have been amongst the first to lose their jobs and therefore any degree of independence in a patriarchal society. Government statistics show female unemployment to be around 43%. There are reports of an unprecedented rise in casual prostitution, while social workers have raised concerns about an increase in the level of reported violence against women and young girls, as economic hardship affects family relations.

In the midst of all this misery David Cameron dismissed speculation about an Israeli attack “that might strengthen the Islamic regime”. He called on the “international community” to “show the courage to allow sanctions against Iran to work”.5 The British prime minister is talking of the “courage” of the imperialists in inflicting devastation on ordinary Iranians. And Iran’s brutal clerical regime could not care less what happens to its population – sanctions could continue for years and the real victims will still be the Iranian people.

In a move reminiscent of Ruhollah Khomeini’s fascistic call on Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war to have more children, so that a new generation could defeat the Arab invader, Iran’s current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has also urged his subjects to reproduce more. However, there are two major problems with this: (1) the US and Israel are not Saddam Hussein – Iran’s population could rise tenfold and it would not make an iota of difference in a war against two nuclear powers; (2) the Iranian women of 2012 are not those of 1982: they are too aware of the nature of the regime to be told when they should reproduce and how many children they should have.

Given the level of economic hardship, working class actions have been few and far between – workers are forced to take on second or even third jobs to pay their extortionate rents and are forced to spend hours in queues to feed their families. However, this month has seen a number of workers’ protests. A petition addressed to Iran’s minister of labour has been secretly circulating among factories and workshops. By mid-October some 20,000 workers had signed the document, pointing out that wages agreed in March have lost half of their value – rent and food prices have doubled, and working class families cannot survive.

Meanwhile, 600 metal workers held protests outside the ministry on October 13 and managed to close one of the capital’s busiest streets for almost an hour. This was followed the next day by another demonstration outside the offices of Tehran’s provincial governor. Earlier, on October 10, hundreds of bus drivers from Tehran and the provinces had protested for four and a half hours outside Tehran’s main municipality offices. These drivers have not received the 10% pay rise promised to all city employees.

Support

These are the kinds of actions we should support. We in Hopi are true to our slogan, ‘No to imperialist war and sanctions, no to the clerical regime’. Today, at a time when sanctions have become an important weapon in imperialism’s arsenal, at a time when they are supposed to pave the way for the downfall of the regime, as the population becomes desperate, we must reiterate our opposition to ‘regime change from above’. In the absence of a movement from below, sanctions will produce one of two outcomes: either the regime will survive, becoming even more repressive; or it will be replaced by the US’s chosen coalition.

It is no accident that the latest sanctions have coincided with concerted efforts by the US/EU to finance and organise the most reactionary forces aiming to benefit from the economic chaos. The son of the shah is being promoted ad nauseam in US-funded TV stations broadcasting to Iran, while the People’s Mujahedin (MEK) have been removed from the US ‘terrorist’ list, so that they can take their place among the ‘patriotic forces’ being groomed to replace the Islamic regime.

Similarly, naive and opportunist sections of the left have rushed to join forces with ‘human rights’ organisations sponsored by the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy in the anti-regime, pro-western Iran Tribunal, and there are attempts to lure the discredited ‘leaders’ of the green movement into this unholy alliance. In the meantime labour activists languish in Iranian prisons, and those attempting to set up independent workers’ organisations are in constant danger of arrest, imprisonment and worse.

Hopi’s principled opposition to the Iran Tribunal is not because we are soft on the Islamic republic, as our opponents have alleged. On the contrary, we are committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the Islamic regime and all its factions. However, we believe alliances pretending to pursue a ‘non-political’, ‘human rights’ (read rightwing, pro-imperialist) agenda are a serious threat to the future of the revolutionary movement of workers in Iran. Those sections of the left who cannot see (or who pretend they cannot see) the serious risks posed by their collaboration with those involved in regime change from above, such as the Iran Tribunal, will become mere pawns in a game where the winner is international capital (and that inevitably includes Iranian capital).

Notes

1. www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-says-it-will-cut-imports-of-nonessential-goods/2012/10/14/7291ba34-1640-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_story.html.

2. ‘EU moves closer to new Iran sanctions’: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/10/12/uk-eu-iran-sanctions-idUKBRE89B0VH20121012.

3. ‘Obama implements additional Iran sanctions’: www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=287319.

4. http://hopoi.org/?p=663.

5. ‘Iran sanctions need time to work, David Cameron says’: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19957218.

Robin Hood and solidarity

Ben Lewis reports on comrades running the Nottingham half-marathon in support of Workers Fund Iran

On Sunday September 30, six bright-eyed and bushy-tailed runners from Workers Fund Iran lined up with around 6,600 other competitors to take part in the Ikano Robin Hood half-marathon in Nottingham. The event was billed as a “fast and scenic route through the city” and “an ideal course for beginners and faster runners looking for a personal best”.

For the WFI team, the event was a key part of our training for the Florence marathon on November 25 (more on this below), as well as a way of publicising the charity and recruiting new runners. While some of us were wondering whether going for a team curry the night before was the optimal form of pre-race nutrition, all of our runners – old and new – did WFI proud.

Having previously crossed the finish line together at the Vienna marathon, Jamie Tedford and I ran separately this time around. In the end I beat him by a mere six seconds, with a time of 1 hour, 27 minutes and 46 seconds. (I can only explain this six-second victory by the fact that a bloke dressed as Robin Hood was closing down on me in the back straight, so I somehow managed a bit of a sprint to ensure that he did not pass!) Jamie and I finished, probably in a much worse state than in Vienna, 205th and 200th respectively.

Particular credit must go to two of our new runners, Natalya and Melissa. Having heard about the fund from their two brothers, who have both taken part in WFI solidarity cricket matches, they decided to join us in Nottingham. Sporting the swish WFI T-shirts, they finished 33rd and 42nd in the women’s race, clocking up seriously impressive times of 1:34.14 and 1:36.03.

Our two Iranian comrades, Nasrollah and Ali, did not exactly trouble the leaders, but their efforts to even get to the race perhaps embody the dedication involved in solidarity running. Ali, without doubt WFI’s best runner, has almost 60 marathons under his belt. Although 13 miles is little more than a stroll in the park for him, he came all the way from Italy to run and say hello to his WFI comrades in Britain.

Up until recently, Nasrollah has mainly concentrated on the organisational side of things for WFI. But of late he has subjected himself to a strict dietary regime in order to prepare for Florence. Chocolate and beer were the first casualties, he assures me. He has not run in a long time, so decided to mainly walk around Nottingham, battling through in a time of 3:40.26. He was joined over the line by his faithful comrade, Ali, who probably accumulated something close to 35 kilometres along the way. (He would run little stretches ahead of his co-runner, come back to join him and then set off again!)

Despite all the runners noting how hard the race was, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and the seeds have been very much sown for Italy in November. The WFI team is starting to diversify – while most of our runners are Iranian exiles, there are several non-Iranians in Europe who have been recruited.

Quite frankly, the more people that can be attracted to WFI and its message, the better: the situation in Iran is now spiralling out of control. Iran’s currency, the rial, has fallen in value by 60% in just over a week, which will bring nothing but desperation and hardship for the Iranian people. If they get paid at all, wages can drop in value within the space of just a day. Basic foodstuffs and life necessities can shoot up in price in a very small time.

Regardless of what some of the more unhinged elements of the far left may think, these conditions are not exactly propitious to some kind of democratic and progressive change in Iran. When people are struggling to even put food on the table, then this does not bode well for the cause of human liberation.

This is where Workers Fund Iran steps in, raising much-needed funds to ensure that those suffering the most under the burden of International Monetary Fund ‘reforms’, sanctions and a brutal theocratic regime are not simply left to rot.

Obviously, for all the hard work and dedication of our small number of activists and runners, the funds that we raise through our sporting events, social meals and film/music nights are very limited. For the time being at least, we cannot compete with the slick machinery of charities like Macmillan or Unicef, let alone the funds of the Central Intelligence Agency and its heinous operations. But such basic solidarity work is also an act of great symbolic importance: there is an alternative, however embryonic, to both the imperialist war drive against Iran and the mullahs’ regime: working class solidarity.

And this is the message we will be taking to the streets of Florence, where we are expecting around 30 runners to fly the flag. With so many, and with your support, we can easily raise thousands of euros for Workers Fund Iran. But don’t wait to be asked to donate. Go to workersfund.org and transfer some cash. If you would like to take part, or just fancy a trip to Italy to cheer on our runners, then please get in touch via workersfundiran@gmail.com.

Hopi at Take One Film festival

On Wednesday 26th Sptember 2012 , Take One Action film festival showed the film. This is Not a Film, by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi in Edinburgh Filmhouse. Over 100 people attended the film show which was Followed by discussion with Yassamine Mather (Chair of Hands Off The People of Iran) and Film/Theatre director Jeremy Raison.

Jeremy Raison spoke passionately about his meeting with Panahi and tried to explain some of the complexities of the film, Panahi’s satirical look at his own house arrest, the frustration of facing a 6 years jail sentence, ban of twenty years from making films, directing films for his support for the protests of 2009 . The film was rated as the number one film of 2011 by Rotten Tomatoes (considered a reliable film review aggregator.

Raison explained the significance of some of the hidden messages in the film shot on Panahi’s iPhone and a cheap DV camera and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes.

Yassamine Mather responded to questions about repression in Iran and emphasised that political activists face much harsher sentences , including long prison sentences and execution however highlighting the plight of this famous director gives a glimpse of the intolerance of the Islamic regime vis a vis any dissent. She also spoke about the economic hardship facing most Iranians, not just because of the corruption and disastrous effects of neoliberal (Islamic ) economic policies of the regime but also crippling sanctions However she reminded the audience that bombing Iran will make the situation far worse , Iranians  do want regime change but they are weary of US/Israel/Eu plans for regime change form above , especially as they look at their immediate neighbours Iraq and Afghanistan , where regime change US style has made an already intolerable situation even worse.

Simon Beaston of Take one Action reminded the audience that Ken Loach , one ‘Take one Actions’ Patrons is a supporter of HOPI and reminded the audience to take one action following the film on the basis of what was discussed .

Arab Spring is the theme of this year’s Take One Action festival and the film ½ Revolution, Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim‘s was shown after Panahi’s film to a pcked audience. According to reviewers in US, 1/2 revolution is  “a visceral ersonal documentary focusing on 11 days of the 18-day revolution, captures the ground-level events with a gut-churning immediacy and veracity often missing from news reports, as well as amateur footage posted to the Internet”. In the absence of Omar Shargawi who had not been able to travel to Edinburgh, HOPI chair Yassamine Mather responded to questions about the Arab spring, She argued that most of the uprisings had economic as well as political reasons, that the West’s economic crisis is having a devastating effect in the third world. That the success of Islamic fundamentalism has two reasons : decades of severe repression by pro US regime’s against secular, democratic , socialist forces at a time when Islamist benefited from the relative freedom of using mosques, Islamic schools for political agitation. She mentioned vast sums of Saudi and Gulf money given to the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria as reasons for their recent electoral and political ‘success’ . The audience applauded her interpretation of these events and HOPI gained a number of new supporter at the end of this session