Tag Archives: Sanctions

Though watched and muzzled, independent labour unions are stirring

From The Economist

DURING a Persian new year’s party (in late March) at Iran’s flagship South Pars project in the Persian Gulf, where the world’s largest known gasfield is being tapped, a labourer called on Iran’s workers to unite. Behnam Khodadadi demanded better pay and conditions, and a proper trade union. Around 1,500 workers stopped security guards from detaining Mr Khodadadi. A week later he was fired from his job at Iran Industrial Networks Development, a contractor for the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company. Mr Khodadadi may have been muzzled, but disaffection is growing among Iranian workers as inflation outpaces wage rises and workers are laid off. At the same time attempts to organise labour are being suppressed in the run-up to June’s presidential elections.

“They haven’t paid us for at least four months and I have to keep borrowing money,” says Jamshid, a 32-year-old industrial worker in Tehran, the capital. Last month the minimum wage was raised by 25%, to 4.87m rials ($140) a month, but even by official criteria this is one-third of what is deemed to be a living wage in the capital. The drop in the rial’s value means that, when it comes to the imports on which Iran relies, Iranian cash is worth barely a third of what it was in 2011, before the United States imposed sanctions on the country’s financial system.

Iran does not recognise independent unions, so workers have to make do with Islamic Labour Councils, which must be approved by employers and the security services. Reckoning that these councils are in cahoots with the government, workers tend to keep their grievances to themselves for fear of being sacked as troublemakers. Labour leaders are often imprisoned.

Ali Nejati and Reza Shahabi, who led sugarcane workers’ and bus drivers’ unions respectively, were recently freed under surveillance. Mr Shahabi is now in prison again, as is Muhammad Jarahi, who stands for petrochemical workers, and Shahrokh Zamani, a painter, all of them guilty of “endangering national security”. “Not having independent workers’ unions guarantees things will stay the same,” Mr Nejati recently told an Iranian radio station based in Germany. “As a workers’ representative I complained and I went to prison for it and was fired.”

Despite the long history of Iran’s labour movement and the big part its oil workers played in deposing the shah in 1979, Iran’s workers have witnessed a steady erosion of their bargaining power. After the revolution, independent workers’ councils won rights to such things as a 40-hour week and lodging allowances. They got rid of people who had worked for the shah’s intelligence service. But during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) the unions’ independence was destroyed. Under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his successor, Muhammad Khatami, imports soared while Iran’s own manufacturing industry slumped. Unions have been further weakened by the reclassification of many workers as temporary.

Last month several bakers were arrested for allegedly organising their colleagues in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj. At the same time, workers at a tractor-making company in Tabriz, in the north-west, signed a letter accusing managers of “brutal treatment, intimidation and failing to pay wages”. “Authorities who always talk about justice in the Islamic republic should know that complete injustice prevails in this system,” they wrote.

“We are at the mercy of our employers,” says Mahmud, a Tehran street sweeper on his night shift, scraping rubbish out of an open gutter with a coarse wicker brush. “We almost never get the overtime pay we are entitled to but we can’t complain because we would be fired.” A senior municipal worker admits that thousands of non-unionised street sweepers, who clean the capital by night, often go months without pay. Last year the office of Muhammad Qalibaf, Tehran’s mayor and a presidential hopeful, commissioned a film called “Those Who Wear Orange” about a brainy university graduate who becomes a street cleaner—for love of the job.

Quotes: Why we don’t support the Iran Tribunal

Israeli socialist and found of Matzpen, Moshé Machover, believes that some of the organisers and participants have “acted with evident good will, but that is not enough. It often happens that people of good intentions lend themselves out of naivety to be exploited by evil forces. This is a danger that we must always guard against. Many good people, out of genuine and justified concern for women’s rights, were duped into lending legitimacy to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; and similarly good people, with genuine horror of Saddam Husain’s atrocities, were duped in 2003 into lending legitimacy to the disastrous invasion of Iraq.”

Norman Paech, human rights lawyer and member of Die Linke in Germany: “I have indeed supported the intention and the work of the committee to prepare this tribunal. I still think it is absolutely necessary that all facts about the horrific murders, the torture and the crimes of the 1980s are brought to light. But the background of the funding and the obvious links to the NED, of which I had no knowledge and which have only just been brought to my attention, make it impossible for me to continue this support. I find myself in particularly strong disagreement with the committee when it comes to my resolute opposition to sanctions and the threat of war on Iran. I do not want to be part of a project which is supported by the pro-war Mujahedin.”

John McDonnell MP: This tardy interest in “human rights” in Iran is clearly part of the US, Israeli and British governments’ drive to topple the theocratic regime – just like military threats and the vicious sanctions on the country, which are bleeding ordinary Iranians dry: food prices have rocketed, many workers have to be laid off as contracts with foreign companies are cancelled, hospitals cannot get hold of necessary and life-saving equipment. In this context, the refusal of IT’s steering committee to take a stand against the looming war and the calamitous effects of sanctions is a significant silence.

Mark Fischer, national secretary of Hands Off the People of Iran: “Financially and politically the tribunal is an integral part of the campaign for ‘regime change from above’.  This multi-front campaign utilises bombs, military threats, sanctions, killer commandos despatched by the Israeli secret service Mossad … and ‘human rights’ initiatives like the Iran Tribunal. For the sake of legitimacy – especially when it comes to ‘soft war’ initiatives like the IT or sanctions – the support of pliant politicians of the Iranian opposition is vital in this. Indeed, some of these forces have foolishly suggested that the worse the social conditions become in Iran, the weaker the regime.”

Mohammad Reza Shalgouni, a founder-member of Rahe Kargar, who spent eight years in prison under the shah: “It is inconceivable that a genuine tribunal of victims of the 1988 massacre would be associated with individuals or organisations who have such connections to the United States government.”

Professor Bridget Fowler, Glasgow University: I have read your very disturbing articles and support your anxiety about some of the funders to the Iran Tribunal, including – via the Abdorrahman Borroumand Foundation – the National Endowment for Democracy. I came to learn about the NED through discovering that it was one of the many organisations that had tried to destabilise the present Cuban Govt, so as to reinstate a regime which would back full privatisation as well as pursuing neoliberal demands.

Michael Parenti, US Marxist academic: Anti-imperialists and socialists should not take monetary or promotional support from organizations that are funded and directed by the imperialists. The NED and other such imperial interests are happy to undermine us with dollars as well as with brutal assaults. Never do they give anything that does not have strings attached to it. The imperialists have only their own self-interest in mind. The nectar they offer us is laced with poison. Build your own organizations as best you can, free from the infiltrations and subversion of those who preach democracy but who practice fascism.

Ruben Markarian, a leading member of Rahe Kargar: “The reality is that families of political prisoners who were seeking justice for their relatives have been delivered to the US and its allies.”

Professor Cyrus Bina, University of Minnesota: This so-called Tribunal is indeed a bashful front of US neocons and the Israel lobby in United States. Let’s not kid ourselves by walking on the eggshells on this and when it comes to Mr. Payam Akhavan.

Ashraf Dehghani, a prominent member of the Iranian People’s Fedayeen Guerrillas, has also come out strongly in opposition to the tribunal. “These days, we see that various imperialist powers are concerned about the issue ‘human rights’ and the defense of this or that political prisoner in Iran. One example of such concern by imperialist forces is the so called Iran Tribunal held recently in London.”

Ervand Abrahamian, historian of Middle Eastern and particularly Iranian history: I think this is not a good time to focus on the prison massacres. A better time will come once the nuclear issue subsides. Incidentally, Moussavi had absolutely nothing to do with the killings. There is a vital need to differentiate between different sectors of the regime.

Articles from all over the world, criticising the tribunal and its organisers:

 

The 7 key arguments against the “Iran Tribunal”

1. Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government
2. The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran
3. Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?
4. The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal
5. Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn
6. Critical voices have been silenced
7. Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The arguments in more detail:

1.    Payam Akhavan (chair and spokesperson of the tribunal’s steering committee) has links to organisations that have accepted large amounts of money from the US government.

He is leading member of Iran Human Rights Documentation. This has received a large amount of funding from the US government.[i]  Akhavan is also active in Human Rights and Democracy for Iran (also known as the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation).This is financed by a variety of American and European foundations, amongst them the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was founded in 1983 by former US president Ronald Reagan to spread his version of “democracy” around the globe

2.    The tribunal refuses to take a stand against war and sanctions on Iran.

Yassamine Mather, chair of Hands Off the People of Iran, has written to the tribunal’s steering committee, requesting that it takes a stand against the threats of war on Iran and the devastating effect that the sanctions are having on the country. She did not even receive a reply.

Organisers of the tribunal subsequently stated that the tribunal is “non-political.” Yassamine Mather has responded that, “without clear opposition to war and sanctions, the tribunal effectively strengthens the hand of all those reactionary forces contemplating a military attack on Iran. The danger of war grows every day. I am a strong opponent of the regime in Tehran – but a war would be disastrous for the forces in Iran who have a real interest in democracy: the workers, women’s groups and social movements in that country.”

In contrast, Payam Akhavan is a keen supporter of sanctions on Iran. For many years, Payam Akhavan has been pushing his sponsors’ agenda for ever harsher sanctions. He is one of the authors of the International report published by the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, which calls for “a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, including threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist and rights-violating threats”. This 2010 report was, incidentally, also signed by Tory MP Michael Gove and “Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy”.[ii]

(In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Akhavan boasts: “After years of lobbying, we succeeded in persuading both the US and EU to adopt targeted sanctions against Iranian officials. Canada is far behind in this regard.”).[iii] On March 8 2012, he attended a meeting of the European Union to present a report he had co-authored that contains the proposal to blacklist not just “individuals”, but “the organisations and government bodies that commit these violations”, which “should also be put under sanction”.[iv]

Sanctions are supposed to destabilise the regime and prepare the ground for ‘regime change from above’. In reality, they impact below: first and foremost ordinary working people are harmed by them. There have been clashes on the streets of Tehran over the price of food – even stallholders at the Grand Bazaar are supporting the demonstrators- most Iranians will tell you that the sanctions are the main reason for their misery. In other words, they help deflect anger away from the theocratic regime. They weaken the only force that can deliver real democracy: the workers’, students’ and women’s organisations, who are today weaker than they have been for many years. Clearly, sanctions are a form of war.

3.    Mainstream lawyers and politicians like Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne ideologically support the tribunal – why?

Sir Geoffrey Nice is a supporter of the Human Rights Commission of the British Conservative Party; John Cooper QC has stood for the Labour Party in elections. Payam Akhavan was voted “young global leader” at the World Economic Forum in 2005. All three are well-known, high-ranking lawyers, who in the name of what they dub “the international community” have over the years confronted many dictators and government heads in international courts (generally when these have turned on their former sponsors in the US, of course).

Between 1995 and 2002, Maurice Copithorne acted as UN human rights rapporteur for Iran. “Some Iranians travelled to meet him in 1995 in order to get him to start an investigation of the 1988 massacre,” according to a member of the Norwegian tribunal support committee (which has since withdrawn). “But they weren’t even allowed to meet him. His aide told them that he would only deal with the current situation in Iran and was not interested in things from the past.” Of course, this was at a time when the US was making efforts to stage a rapprochement with Tehran and to enlist it as an ally in the fight against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. It was in this geo-political context that Copithorne’s 1998 annual human rights report was seen as a political whitewash of the theocracy’s oppression. For example, in that report he opines that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is making progress in the field of human rights”.[v].

Why is Copithorne interested in the massacre now? And why have members of the Conservative Party donated their services for free? After all, this is the same Conservative Party that was in government in 1988 and remained ostentatiously silent as leftists and democrats were systematically culled by the theocracy. This is the same Conservative Party that supports harsh sanctions on Iran and continues to rattle the war drums.

Clearly, all these people are ideologically committed to the trial – which explains why the organisers refuse to come out against war and sanctions. This effectively contradicts the tribunal’s claims that they are “non-political”.

4.    The pro-war Mujahedeen is closely involved with the tribunal

For the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), the overthrow of the regime has always been the key objective and it explicitly supports sanctions and war to achieve it. (In the first Gulf War, it famously sided with Saddam Hussein and supported his attacks on Iran, including active participation in military operations). The Mujahedin’s backing for the Iran Tribunal is actually disputed by the tribunal, yet the involvement of people with close MEK links seems to tell a different story. Hardly surprising: after all, the US government has recently announced that it has removed the Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organisations.Leila Ghalehbani (who is featured in a video on the tribunal’s front page) is the sister of a number of Mujahedin prisoners who were killed in 1988. Iraj Mesdaghi, a survivor of the massacre, describes himself as “a former member” of the organisation. The website of the pro-Mujahedin organisation, Human Rights and Democracy for Iran, has just published a very sympathetic interview with Payam Akhavan, in which he is sympathetically prompted to tell readers how he feels about being “slandered” by the British leftwing paper, Weekly Worker, in its critical coverage of the IT. [vi]

5.    Many organisations and witnesses have withdrawn.

The organisations that have withdrawn their witnesses, support for and cooperation with the tribunal include Rahe Kargar (Komitee Ejraai) and the communist organisation Charikhaye Fadai Khalgh (one of the offshoots of the original Fedayeen). Others, like the Communist Party of Iran, have dropped their support. The Marxist-Leninist Party of Iran (Maoist) has split over the issue, as has the Iranian Left Socialist Alliance in the US and Canada. The most ferocious criticism has come from the tribunal’s Norwegian support committee, which has since dissolved because it felt “duped” by the tribunal organisers.

6.    Critical voices have been silenced.

A number of tribunal witnesses have used their statements to condemn the links of the committee to the NED and publicly stated that they are against war and sanctions on Iran. In two highly critical statements the Norwegian support committee describes how all IT witnesses who arrived in London on June 17 were taken to a briefing session, where they were explicitly asked not to raise any politics during their session. They would not be asked the name of their organisation or their political views, as this was “not a political tribunal”. One witness wanted to challenge the tribunal and at the end of his 30-minute session made an anti-imperialist statement. Outrageously, his whole statement was excluded from the tribunal’s report.

7.    Conclusion: The tribunal has become part of the campaign to legitimise war and sanctions to enforce pro-western ‘regime change from above’.

The tribunal is part of a campaign that includes sanctions and the threat of war: they are designed to destabilise the theocratic regime, so that it can be easily toppled. But such a regime change from above cannot bring democracy, as the most recent examples of Iraq and Afghanistan prove.

Hopi is campaigning for a real tribunal that can investigate the crimes of the Iranian regime – but which at the same time takes an implacable stand against war and sanctions. Democracy in Iran will come from below, from the struggles of its working people themselves; they need solidarity, not the pro-imperialist bleating of Johnny-come-lately ‘democrats’ like Cooper, Nice and Copithorne. 

Divided theocratic regime paralysed by sanctions

As the US steps up it efforts to provoke regime change from above, Yassamine Mather looks at the reasons for the failure of the working class to win leadership of the opposition movement

New sanctions imposed by the United States government last week were the most significant hostile moves against Iran’s Islamic Republic since 1979. They marked a period of unprecedented coordination led by the US to obtain the support of the United Nations and European Union.

After months of denying their significance, the government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to react by setting up an emergency counter-sanctions unit, whilst Iranian aviation officials accused the UK, Germany and the United Arab Emirates of refusing to supply fuel for civilian Iranian airplanes. As it turned out, this was not true. However, the EU banned most of Iran Air’s jets from flying over its territory, because of safety concerns directly related to previous sanctions. It is said that most of the national airline’s fleet, including Boeing 727s and 747s and its Airbus A320s, are unsafe because the company has not been able to replace faulty components.

The US is adamant that ‘severe’ sanctions are necessary to stop Iran’s attempts at becoming a military nuclear power. Scare stories are finding their way into the pages of the mass media. According to US defence secretary Robert Gates, Iran is developing the capacity to fire scores, or perhaps hundreds, of missiles at Europe. Ten days after making that claim, Gates alleged that Iran had enough enriched uranium to be able to build two atom bombs within two years.

However, it is difficult to believe the Obama administration’s claims that the new sanctions have anything to do with Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which is why we should consider other explanations.

Why is there such an urgency to increase the pressure on Iran? One likely possibility is that the Obama administration has observed the divisions within the current government (between neoconservatives, led by Ahmadinejad, and traditional conservatives, such as the Larijani brothers, who control Iran’s executive, parliamentary and judicial system) and sees an opportunity for regime change from above.

After weeks of infighting between Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, involving angry accusations and counter-accusations in parliament over Azad University, this week the reformist website, Rah-e-Sabz, posted an article claiming that “the supreme leader and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani had agreed a resolution of the conflict” over who controls Azad.

The university, one of the world’s largest, is part of a private chain with branches throughout the country and is considered a stronghold of Islamic ‘reformists’. Since 2004 Ahmadinejad has been trying to reorganise its board of governors in order to take back control. When the Islamic parliament opposed his moves to replace the board, the Guardian Council, which has to approve every bill, took the side of the Ahmadinejad camp, creating yet another stalemate between the two conservative groups within the ruling elite.

The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had no choice but to intervene. He did so by ordering the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution to stop Ahmadinejad’s attempts to overrule parliament (in other words, he supported Rafsanjani, who, together with members of his family, are trustees and on the board of the university), In return Rafsanjani publicly praised Khamenei.

Some see this as a clever move. For the first time since last year’s disputed presidential elections, Khamenei has been forced to take a public stance against Ahmadinejad, resulting in a retreat by the president and his allies in the revolutionary guards. Azad University remains under the control of Rafsanjani and his family. No doubt if the rift between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continues, the balance of power could shift in favour of the former president.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s bazaar was on strike for most of last week, in protest at a decision by Iran’s government to raise bazaar taxes by up to 70%. The government declared July 11 and 12 public holidays in 19 Iranian provinces, citing hot weather and dust, but there were rumours that the real reason was to conceal the possibility of strikes on those days.

All this is a reflection of Iran’s political paralysis and the state’s inability to deal with a combination of economic crisis and growing opposition amongst the majority of the population.

Crippling effects

Successive Iranian governments have denied the effectiveness of 30 years of crippling sanctions, but most economists inside the country estimate that sanctions have added 35% to the price of every commodity. Iran had been forced to buy spare parts for cars, planes, manufacturing equipment, agricultural machinery, etc on the black market, and now it will be forced to buy refined oil in the same way, causing a further jump in the rate of inflation. The smuggling of refined oil from Iraq started earlier this month, but the quantity received is unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand even during the summer months.

The new financial restrictions that came with the latest sanctions have crippled Iran’s banking and insurance sector. Iran already attracted little foreign investment, but now even China is pulling out of industrial ventures, such as the South Farse oil project. The proposed policing of ships and containers travelling to Iran means shipping insurance rates in the Persian Gulf are now the equivalent of those in war zones.

Despite the absence of the large demonstrations that followed the rigged elections of a year ago, most Iranians agree that the religious state is today weaker than it was in June 2009 (at the height of mass protests) and that could explain renewed interest in the US for regime change from above. At a time when anger against Iran’s rulers and frustration with leaders of the green movement amongst youth and sections of working class is tangible, it is difficult to predict what will happen next. From bloggers to journalists, from students to the unemployed, opponents of the regime are blaming ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi for the current stalemate – people’s patience is running out. Could it be that the Obama administration is planning to replace the Islamic Republic with a regime composed of selected exiles, à la Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq or Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan? After all, there is no shortage of former Islamists currently residing in the US who have converted to ‘liberal democracy’, including Iranian disciples of Karl Popper. Such people are paraded daily in the Farsi media and portrayed as the voice of reason.

In contrast to the hesitation and conciliationism of green leaders, others within the opposition have been stepping up their protests against the Islamic regime and two potentially powerful sections – the women’s movement and the workers’ movement – are conducting their own struggles. Yet here too Moussavi’s patronising attitude to both groups (he called on workers to join the green movement to safeguard their interests, while his wife claimed to support women’s rights) have backfired badly. In the words of one feminist activist, the green movement should realise it is one section of the opposition, but not the only voice of the protest movement.

Workers’ movement

Superficial analysts abroad labelled last year’s anti-dictatorship protesters in Iran as middle class. However, those present at these demonstrations were adamant that workers, students and the unemployed played a huge role. In May, the Centre to Defend Families of the Slain and Detained in Iran published the names of 10 workers who were killed in post-election street protests, and there is considerable evidence that workers, the unemployed and shanty town-dwellers were among the forces that radicalised the movement’s slogans (crossing the red lines imposed by green leaders, such as the call for an end to the entire regime, and for the complete separation of state and religion). In addition we are witnessing an increasing number of workers’ demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes against the non-payment of wages, deteriorating conditions and low pay. The workers’ protest movement has been dubbed a tsunami, and in recent months it has adopted clear political slogans against the dictatorship.

Last week was typical. Five hundred workers staged protests outside Abadan refinery against unpaid wages, blocking the road outside the refinery. Two of their comrades filming the action were arrested, but these workers are adamant they will continue the strikes and demonstrations next week. Three hundred Pars metal workers staged a separate protest against non-payment of wages and cuts in many of the workers’ benefits, such as the bus to and from work and the subsidised canteen, which managers of the privatised company intend to close. Similar protests have taken place in dozens of large and small firms throughout Iran. Most have moved on from purely economic demands to include political slogans against the regime.

However, we still see little coordination between these protests and workers have yet to make their mark as a class aware of its power and historic role. Despite much talk of mushrooming industrial action and even a general strike, so far we have not seen the Iranian working class taking its rightful place at the head of a national movement.

So how can we explain the current situation? A number of points have been raised by the left in Iran:

1. The working class and leftwing activists have faced more severe forms of repression than any other section of the opposition, even prior to June 2009. However, it is difficult to accept that fear of arrest or detention has played any part in the reluctance of workers to make their mark as a political force. Clearly repression has not deterred workers from participating in strikes, taking managers hostage or blocking highways. In fact incarcerated activists include the majority of the leaders of Vahed Bus Company, serving Tehran and its suburbs, the entire leadership of Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers and activists from the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations.

2. Workers have been misled by the leaders of the green movement. Yet throughout the presidential election debates they did not hear any substantial difference between the economic plans proposed by Moussavi and Karroubi, who, for example, defended privatisation, and those of Ahmadinejad and other conservatives. Workers are opposed to plans for the abolition of state subsidies. However, they remember that this was a plan originally proposed by the ‘reformist’, Mohammad Khatami, during his presidency, as part of the much hated policy of ‘economic readjustment’.

Workers are also well aware that the leaders of the green movement aspire to an Iranian/Islamic version of capitalism, where the bourgeoisie’s prosperity will eventually ‘benefit all’ – an illusion very few workers subscribe to. It should also be noted that the Iranian working class as a modern, urban force is primarily secular, with no allegiance to the Islamic state, and constitutes a growing wing of the protest movement that wants to go beyond adherence to legality and the reform of the current constitution. Kept at arm’s length by leaders of the green movement and yet incapable of asserting its own political line, the working class is facing a dilemma in the current crisis.

3. The opportunist left has diverted the class struggle. However, the Iranian working class is wary of claims made by leaders of the green movement, as well as sections of the opportunist left like Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, that the first decade of the Islamic Republic under ayatollah Khomeini constituted the golden years of the revolution. Older worker activists realise that it was the clergy and the Islamic regime that halted the revolution of 1979 and threw it into reverse. The Khomeini years coincided with the worst of the religious repression, and it was not only the radical left who were the victims (thousands were executed), but workers in general. The state was constantly calling on them to make sacrifices, to send their sons to the battle front and produce more for the war economy, while ruthlessly suppressing workers’ independent actions as the work of traitors and spies. So, contrary to the opinion of Tudeh and the Fedayeen Majority, the first decade of Khomeini’s rule – under Moussavi’s premiership, of course – were the dark years for Iranian workers and no amount of rewriting history will change this.

4. The current economic situation is so bad that the working class is unable to fight effectively for anything more than survival. Striking for unpaid wages is symptomatic of this, on top of which there is the threat of losing your job and joining the ranks of the unemployed. In other words, the defensive nature of workers’ struggles hinders their capability to mount a nationwide struggle. Of course, if this argument is correct, the situation will get worse once further sanctions bite. There will be more job losses, more despair amongst the working class.

5. Despite many efforts to create nationwide workers organisations – not only the Committee to set up Independent Workers’ Organisations, but the Network of Iranian Labour Unions (founded in response to the bus drivers’ actions and the imprisonment of their leader, Mansour Osanlou), workers have failed to coordinate protests even on a regional level.

6. The confusion of the left has had a negative impact. Workers have not forgotten how the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh apologised for and supported the ‘anti-imperialist’ religious state. The majority of the working class was aligned with the left, and so went along with the dismantling of the workers’ shoras (councils) that played such a significant role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime. Later, during Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005), the Fedayeen Majority and Tudeh advocated collaboration with the state-run Islamic factory councils, although the majority of workers considered these anti-trade union organisations, whose main task was to spy on labour activists and support managers in both private and state-owned enterprises. The Shia state claimed to international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation that the councils were genuine trade unions, even though they were set up to destroy labour solidarity within and beyond the workplace. Despite all this the opportunist left not only refused to expose their true function: it called on Iranian workers to join them as a step towards the establishment of mass labour organisations!

Revolutionary left

Over the last few years the left has publicised workers’ demands and organised support for them. Yet there have been big problems. We have seen two distinct approaches regarding the form working class organisation should take. Some advocate the need to unite around the most basic of demands in trade union-type bodies independent of political organisation. Others argue that a struggle within such a united front between reformist and revolutionary currents over strategy and tactics will be inevitable and the revolutionaries will win over the majority of the working because of the superiority of their arguments.

Then there are those who emphasise the need for a different form of organisation altogether: underground cells of class-conscious workers capable of mobilising the most radical sections of the class. Of course, it is possible to combine both options, but proponents of both strategies imply that the two paths are mutually exclusive. Those calling for a workers’ united front label advocates of cells ‘sectarian ultra-leftists’, while the latter allege that those who want to work for the creation of mass, union-type bodies are succumbing to reformism and syndicalism.

While recent attempts amongst sections of the left to discuss these issues should be welcomed, it has to be said that the working class and the left have a long way to go before the ‘tsunami’ of workers’ protests becomes a class-conscious nationwide movement capable of overthrowing the religious state and the capitalist order it upholds.

From Weekly Worker

Iran: Reform and Revolution

8mars2Recent news about Iran has been dominated by U.S. attempts to increase sanctions, and one could be forgiven for thinking the world hegemonic capitalist power is preparing war against a major nuclear power. The reality is far different: all the fuss is about a country where nine months of mass protests have not only weakened the state but also divided the ruling circles, making reconciliation at the top impossible. We are talking of a country where neoliberal policies and sanctions have created a serious economic crisis, with inflation projections of 50 percent this spring and youth unemployment estimated at 70 percent. So why are the U.S. and world media obsessed with the “threat posed by Iran”? — a threat that must be curtailed with “severe” sanctions or war? And what is the future for the protest movement in the midst of all this?

Current threats against Iran have little to do with nuclear issues. Iran is still two to five years away from achieving nuclear weapons capability. The drive for new sanctions cannot be understood unless one looks at the history of U.S. relations with Iran’s Islamic regime. The 1979 revolution deprived Washington of one of its most important allies in the Middle East, and the world superpower cannot be seen to be losing control in such a strategic area. Iran’s territorial waters include the Straits of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments flow. Also, at a time of world economic crisis the United States and its allies need a place to assert their authority. Yet since the launch of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq they have inadvertently increased Iran’s regional influence and strength.

The continuation of the conflict has another major cause. Iran’s Islamic regime has relied on crises and foreign enemies to survive. Otherwise how could it explain its failure to achieve any of the basic demands of 1979 after 31 years in power? The “external” enemy is also essential for justifying continued repression.

Iranian workers and political activists (with the possible exception of supporters of the former Shah) are unanimous: new “crippling” sanctions, bombing Iranian nuclear sites, or a military attack would be a disaster. Sanctions will let the regime off the hook, as the regime will blame severe economic conditions entirely on the embargo.

In April of this year Washington unveiled its new nuclear policy, which limits its use of nuclear weapons but excludes from its pledge “outliers” such as Iran and North Korea. Protests and demonstrations inside Iran should be seen within this context. The protests continue due to the tenacity and courage of thousands of Iranians, though more sporadically in the face of severe repression. But everyone, from government to “reformists” to revolutionary opposition, now agrees that the protests are no longer about who should be “president,” but about the very existence of the religious state.

Reports from some recent protests suggest that for the first time in the last 30 years many women demonstrators didn’t wear head-scarves or hijabs. On December 27, 2009, security forces at a number of locations had to retreat, as demonstrators burned police vehicles and basij posts and erected barricades. Videos show instances where police and basij were captured and detained by demonstrators and three police stations in Tehran were briefly occupied. Demonstrators also set fire to Tehran’s Bank Saderat.

Since early 2010 basij and Revolutionary Guards have been unleashed to further impose an atmosphere of terror. Hundreds have been incarcerated, arrested worker activists have been fired, and leftists have been rounded up and in some cases issued death sentences.

Conservative Divisions

Despite the bravado of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the demonstrations of 2009-10 have divided the conservatives. While supporters of Ahmadinejad openly call for more arrests and even execution of political opponents, the parliamentary “principalists” preach caution.

In January 2010, a parliamentary committee publicly blamed Tehran’s former prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, a close ally of Ahmadinejad’s, for the death of three prisoners arrested in June. The committee found that Mortazavi had confined 147 opposition supporters and 30 criminals to a cell measuring only 70 square meters. The inmates were frequently beaten and spent days without food or water.

Ali Motahhari, a prominent fundamentalist parliamentarian, told the magazine Iran Dokht: “Under the current circumstances, moderates should be in charge of the country’s affairs.” He suggested holding Ahmadinejad accountable for the prison deaths and for fuelling the post-election turmoil. Iranian state television broadcasts debates between “radical” and “moderate” conservatives, in which some blame Ahmadinejad for the crisis. There are two reasons for this dramatic change in line:

  1. The winter demonstrations were a turning point, in that both conservatives and “reformists” came to realize how the anger and frustration of ordinary Iranians was taking revolutionary forms.
  2. The principalists are responding to a number of “proposals” by leading “reformists” — as a last attempt to save the Islamic Republic. Fearful of revolution, “reformists” — from June 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi to former president Mohammad Khatami — have made conciliatory statements, and the moderate conservatives have responded positively.

In a clear sign that “reformists” have heard the cry of revolution, Moussavi’s initial response to the winter 2009 demonstrations was to distance himself from them, emphasizing that neither he nor Mehdi Karroubi had called for them. His January 1 statement “Five stages to resolution” was a signal to both his supporters and opponents that this was truly the last chance to save the regime.

Western reportage of the statement concentrated on his comment “I am ready to sacrifice my life for reform.” Iranians are well known for their love of “martyrdom,” from Ashura to the Fedayeen Islam in 1946, to the Marxist Fedayeen (1970s-80s). Iranians have been mesmerized by the Shia concept of martyrdom, a yearning to put their lives at risk for what they see as a “revolutionary cause.” But Moussavi will no doubt go down in history as the first Iranian to put his life on the line for the cause of “reform” and compromise!

Moussavi’s plan was seen as a compromise because it did not challenge the legitimacy of the current president and “presents a way out of the current impasse,” demanding more freedom for the “reformist” politicians, activists and press, as well as accountability of government forces, while reaffirming allegiance to the constitution of the Islamic regime, as well as the existing “judicial and executive powers.”

Moussavi’s statement was followed on January 4 by a “10-point proposal” from the self-appointed “ideologues” in exile of Iran’s Islamic “reformist” movement: Akbar Ganji, Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdolali Bazargan and Ataollah Mohajerani.[1] Fearful that Moussavi’s plan will be seen as too much of a compromise, the five call for the resignation of Ahmadinejad and fresh elections under the supervision of a new independent commission to replace that of the Guardian Council. Later Khatami and another former president, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, publicly declared their support for the compromise, while condemning “radicals and rioters.” Khatami went further, insulting demonstrators who called for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

All in all, winter was a busy time for Iran’s “reformists,” terrified by the radicalism of the demonstrators and desperate to save the clerical regime. Inevitably the reformist left, led by the Fedayeen Majority, is submissively following the Moussavi-Khatami line. However, inside Iran there are signs that the leadership of the Green movement is facing a serious crisis. None of the proposals address the most basic democratic demand of growing numbers of Iranian protestors: separation of state and religion.

On the Iranian left, arguments about the “principal contradiction” and “stages of revolution” seem to dominate current debates. While some Maoists argue for a “democratic stage” of the revolution, citing the relative weakness of the organized working class, the Coordinating Committee for the Setting Up of Workers’ Organizations (Comite Hahamhangi) points out that the dominant contradiction in Iran, a country where 70 percent of the population lives in urban areas, is between labor and capital. They say that the level and depth of workers’ struggles show radicalism and levels of organization and that the Iranian working class is the only force capable of delivering radical democracy.

Leftwing organizations and their supporters are also discussing the lessons of the recent demonstrations. Sections of the police and soldiers are refusing to shoot demonstrators and the issue of organizing radical conscripts in order to divide and reduce the power of the state’s repressive forces must be addressed. In some working class districts around major cities the organization of neighborhood shoras (councils) has started.

Official celebrations of the 1979 uprising that brought down the shah’s regime stood in total contrast to the events of 31 years ago. The state’s lengthy preparations for the anniversary of the revolution included the arrest of hundreds of political activists, hanging two prisoners (for “waging war on god”), and blocking internet and satellite communications. The government brought busloads of basij paramilitaries and people from the provinces to boost the number of its supporters — it considers the majority of the inhabitants of Tehran to be opponents.

The 48-hour internet and satellite blackout was so comprehensive that the regime succeeded in stopping its own international media communications. The basij blocked all routes to Azadi Square by 9 a.m. and dispersed large crowds of oppositionists who had gathered at Ghadessiyeh Square and other intersections, preventing them from reaching the official celebration. From the speakers’ podium, surrounded by basij and Revolutionary Guards, many dressed in military uniform, Ahmadinejad produced yet another fantastic claim. In the two days since his instruction to step up centrifuge-based uranium enrichment from 3 percent to 20 percent, this had already been achieved! Nuclear scientists are unanimous that such a feat is impossible. The crude display of military power, typical of the state-organized shows that dictators have always staged, together with the severe repression in the run-up to the anniversary, had nothing to do with the revolution it was supposed to commemorate.

In fact, the events of February 11, 2010 were the exact opposite of February 10-11, 1979, when the masses took to the streets and attacked the regime’s repressive forces, when prison doors were broken down by the crowds and political prisoners released, when army garrisons were ransacked and the crowds took weapons to their homes and workplaces, when the offices of the shah’s secret police were occupied by the Fedayeen, and when air force cadets turned their weapons against their superiors, paving the way for a popular uprising.

The show put on by our tin-pot dictators was an insult to the memory of that uprising. Yet despite all the efforts and mobilization preceding the official demonstration, despite the fact that confused and at times conciliatory messages of “reformist” leaders had disarmed sections of the Green movement, the regime could muster only 50,000 supporters. Meanwhile tens of thousands in Tehran and other cities took part in opposition protests — even in the streets close to Azadi Square, despite the presence of large numbers of basij. The protests were so loud that, according to Tehran residents, the state broadcast of Ahmadinejad’s speech had to be halted and instead TV stations showed the flags and crowds to the accompaniment of stirring music. Fearing that the basij might not be able to control the protesters gathering in neighboring squares, the government decided to start its extravagant ceremony early and then cut it short.

Attempts at compromise by Green movement leaders in open and secret negotiations with the office of the “supreme leader” failed.[2] By early February, it was clear that no deal was in the cards. As always, the main problem with our “reformists” is that by remaining loyal to the “supreme leader,”[3] by condemning the popular slogan, “Down with the Islamic regime,” they fail to understand the mood of those who have taken to the streets. The movement is adamant in its call for an end to the current religious state — the repeated shouts of “Death to the dictator” are directed at the so-called “supreme leader” himself.

The February protests marked a setback for Moussavi and Karroubi — not just in their politics, but also in their tactics. First, it is foolhardy to organize demonstrations to coincide with the official calendar of events, as it allows the regime to plan repression well in advance. Second, it was absurd to call on people to join the regime’s demonstrations and, third, opposition to a dictatorship cannot simply rely on demonstrations. The state has unleashed its most brutal forces against street protesters, and we need to consider strikes and other acts of civil disobedience.

A lot has been written by Persian bloggers about the “lack of charisma” of Moussavi and Karroubi. However, the truth is their main problem is not personality, but dithering. This has cost them dearly at a time when opposition to the regime in its entirety is growing. The Islamic version of capitalism has brought about much harsher conditions for the working class and the poor. The state’s own statistics show a constant growth in the gap between rich and poor. The impoverishment of the middle classes, the abject poverty of the working class, the destitution and hunger of the shantytown-dwellers — these are reasons why the urban protests continue.

On February 15 Hillary Clinton cited the economic and political power of the Revolutionary Guards as a sign that “Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.” Yet there is nothing new in the power of the Revolutionary Guards. Since 1979 they have been the single most important pillar of the state, involved in every aspect of political and military power. What is new is their involvement in capitalist ventures, empowered by the relentless privatization plans driven by the IMF and World Bank.

In recent years Revolutionary Guards have accumulated vast fortunes through the acquisition of privatized capital — precisely the pattern seen in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Those in power, often with direct connections to military and security forces, are able to purchase the newly privatized industries. That is the case with many U.S. allies, yet we have not heard the State Department criticize “creeping military dictatorships” in those countries.

No doubt, as repression increases, Iranians’ hatred of the basij and Revolutionary Guards will increase. However, they don’t need the crocodile tears of the U.S. administration — indeed interventions like those of Clinton and condemnations of the repression coming from the U.S. and European governments tend to damage the movement. Iranians are well aware of the kind of “democratic havens” created by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the last thing they want is regime change U.S.-style.

Working Class Response

As repression increases and mass demonstrations are replaced with localized protests, many point out the significance of workers’ strikes in the overthrow of the Shah’s regime and attention is turning towards the unprecedented levels of worker protests. In the words of one labor activist, “a Tsunami of workers’ strikes.”[4] Even before the new sanctions, the economic situation has worsened. Hundreds of car workers — the elite of Iran’s working class — are being sacked every week.

The involvement of the working class in the political arena has increased qualitatively. Four workers’ organizations — the Syndicate of Vahed Bus Workers, the Haft Tapeh sugar cane grouping, the Electricity and Metal Workers Council in Kermanshah, and the Independent Free Union — published a joint statement declaring support for the protests and specifying what they call the minimum demands of the working class. These include an end to executions, release of imprisoned activists, freedom of the press and media, the right to set up workers’ organizations, job security, abolition of all misogynist legislation, declaration of May 1 as a public holiday, and expulsion from workplaces of government-run organizations. Meanwhile, Tehran’s bus workers have issued a call for civil disobedience to protest against the holding of Mansour Osanloo in prison.

Workers involved in setting up nationwide councils have issued a radical political statement regarding what they see as the priority demands that Iranian workers ought to raise. Emphasizing the need to address the long-term political interests of the working class, they also call for unity based around immediate economic and political demands.

There are reports of strikes and demonstrations in one of Iran’s largest industrial complexes, Isfahan’s steel plant, where privatization and contract employment have led to action by the workers. Leftwing oil workers/employees are reporting disillusionment with Moussavi and the “reformist” camp amongst fellow workers and believe there is an opportunity to radicalize protests in this industry, which is critical to the regime’s survival.

In March 2010, many prominent labor activists, including Osanloo, who are currently in prison, were sacked from their jobs for “failing to turn up at work,” prompting protests in bus depots and the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plant. In December 2009 Lastic Alborz factory workers struck for unpaid wages. There have been protests at dozens of other workplaces.

Future of the Protests

Even if the two main factions of the regime had achieved a compromise, it was unlikely that such a move could have defused the movement. However Moussavi, Karroubi and Khatami have failed to gain anything from their attempts at “reconciliation”; they are well aware that any additional talk of compromise will further reduce their influence amongst protesters. That explains recent statements by Moussavi, who in early April told a group of reformists in Parliament that the Iranian establishment continued to lose legitimacy: “One of the problems is that the government thinks that it has ended the dissent by ending the street protests.”[5]

Moussavi said that people have lost confidence in the state because of widespread corruption, incompetence and mismanagement since the presidential election. He said the movement needed to expand its influence among social groups like teachers and workers. “Our interests are intertwined with their interests, and we need to defend their rights,” he said. Khatami echoed this message: “If the authorities do not come up with effective policies the coming year will be the year of social crises.”[6]

Iran is bracing itself for another turbulent year, and most observers believe the working class and youth will play a greater role in the coming protests.

By Yassamine Mather: from New Politics

Jafar Panahi released on bail – but the struggle continues!

Hands Off the People celebrates the fact that Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi has been released from prison after more than two months. For the last week, he has been on hunger strike to protest against the conditions in the notorious Evin prison that he and his fellow prison mates had to endure.

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday, May 25

He was arrested in March, apparently over plans to make a new critical film about the protests that sprung up in Iran after the rigged presidential elections in June 2009.

International pressure, including the protests staged at the Cannes Festival, as well as the campaigning work of organisations like Hopi (which, amongst other things, organised solidarity screenings of Panahi’s film ‘Offside’), have clearly played a role in him being freed. Panahi’s family and friends have told us how heartened he was to see that there were people fighting for his freedom.

He was released on a bail of $200,000 (£140,000).

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday

A picture of Panahi taken yesterday, May 25

But the struggle continues: his case has been referred to a revolutionary court, and he will still face trial, the official Irna news agency said. And hundreds of activists still remain behind bars. At least nine have been sentenced to death, and two have been executed already.

Hopi will continue to fight for the release of all political prisoners in Iran. Sanctions and war are not the answer to deal with the theocracy in Iran. Real democracy must come from below, from the workers’, the students, the women and unemployed in Iran.

Support Hands Off the People now. Join the campaign or make a donation: http://hopoi.org/

Oppose sanctions and military threats on Iran!

 

Sanctions hurt the working masses not the regime

Sanctions hurt the working masses not the regime

The United States and its allies are racketing up the pressure on Iran as they have recently forced the heavyweights of the petrochemical industry Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura, BP and Royal Dutch Shell to end petrol sales to the fifth largest oil exporter. The building, construction and manufacturing £13 billion conglomerate Ingersol-Rand has also ceased business with Iran after threats to its operations by the Obama regime. These ending of contracts or refusing to enter into new terms with companies and the regime in Iran is down to massive U.S. pressure which is now culminating in new legislation that would penalise those companies that supply fuel to Iran. The legislation is an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 which would include severe and damaging monitoring and interference in trade with Iranian companies and Western businesses. This legislation also includes forced divestment from Iranian operations and interests by companies based or have interests in the United States.

Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other Arab states have been receiving visits from US and Israeli officials threatening them about the risks they face by doing business with Iran. Brazil’s President Lula defied warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on business with Iran as she lashed out at the Brazilian government on her recent trip. Brazilian based companies will no doubt be put under massive pressure by the U.S. Government over the coming months.

Moves in the U.S. are being backed up in Europe and on the U.N. Security Council with only China as the stumbling block in the UN. The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was reported as being hopeful that new sanctions will be agreed that will target the Revolutionary Guards, Shipping, Banking and Insurance Sectors.  This will no doubt lead to massive job losses and the further impoverishment of the working class.
Iran finds itself in a situation like other natural resource rich former semi-colonies, whilst sitting on one of the biggest known oil reserves in the world, its oil industry is dilapidated and has a fraction of the needed refining capabilities to ensure it can serve its internal market and industry. These sanctions will hold back any expansion in petrochemical industry as well as starving the population of petrol for daily use, further pushing down the living standards of population.

It is essential that the worker’s movement take the strengthening of the sanctions regime seriously. It is a mistake to see sanctions as an alternative to military action. Sanctions are a form of soft war and just like Iraq pave the way to some military action, either through targeted bombings or full scale invasions. The sanctions regime should be seen as a siege tactic to impose hunger, demoralisation an and desperation. Iraq was a perfect example of how sanctions impact on the population, the sanctions regime throughout the 1990’s killed over a million Iraqis and disproportionately children. The U.S. and its allies were hoping for a revolt out of desperation, which never came just like Zimbabwe. Such sanctions strengthen such regimes support base and demobilise the masses as they attempt to live a decent life and feed their families.

Sanctions like a military strike are a disaster to the cause of freedom and democracy. The only force capable of bring about genuine and progressive social change in Iran is the working class. We should also not look to the Iranian regime as a consistent anti-imperialist force not only does it support the puppet governments in Iraq and Afghanistan the theocratic regime supported and welcomed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The only real anti-imperialist force is the working class of the Iran and the region. Our line in the UK is clear, our primary target is the British state and it’s allies who are strangling Iran in the run up to military action. We must continue and redouble our efforts to build organic support and solidarity links between the broad labour movement here and workers, youth and women in struggle in Iran.

by Chris Strafford (HOPI Steering Committee)