Moran Shirin of the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency spoke to Solidarity.
There were many workers’ protests on Sunday-Monday, 7-8 January.
Mostly they’ve been about unpaid wages. These include: Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers; Khalij-e Fars Transport (2-4 months of unpaid wages); Phases 22 and 24 of the South Pars gas field development in Asaluyeh (temporary contract workers have not been paid for six months). Zar Shooran gold miners have not been paid since November. Tabas council has not paid its workers for three months. Ghaemshahr Textiles workers have just had some of their three months of unpaid wages paid and have ended their protest. Esfahan Chini (china) protested about wage arrears of three months. Shafarood dam construction workers in Rezvanshahr have not been paid their wages and insurance for six months.
It is possible that Sunday’s Haft Tapeh strike call had some effect on these, but this type of protests and strikes has been going on for many months and will probably grow as we approach the Iranian New Year on March 21st. Almost every year there is an upsurge in struggles as workers demand their unpaid wages and better pay and benefits as they prepare to celebrate the new year with their families.
The budget that has been proposed includes many price rises, subsidy cuts and tax rises. Just the subsidy cuts will make around 30 million people even poorer. E.g., petrol will rise by 50%!
The street protests seem to have come down to just a few sporadic ones. This was bound to happen as the repression is stepped up. The working class has not taken action as an organised class that can lead itself and all exploited and oppressed layers in society. Without a general strike, or the type of strikes that will build towards a general strike quite quickly, then the street protest were bound to be crushed.
The working class, as in 1978-79, is the key. Before the February 1979 revolution we had almost six months of a rolling strike movement. Something like that is needed now. Then, when guns were distributed in working class areas, there was the insurrection. Street protests on their own did not topple the Shah and they will not overthrow this regime - which has now been strengthened because of the nuclear deal.
There have been at least 21 official deaths, nearly two thousand arrested and just yesterday they said that a 22-year-old man, Sina Ghanbari, has committed suicide in Evin prison! Only workers can break the creeping repression.
There are many trade union organisations on paper. The repression of the Ahmadinejad years has meant that many activists have been jailed, some like Shahrokh Zamani have been killed, many demoralised and a vast section of them have been identified, and interrogated and are under surveillance by the Intelligence Ministry.
That is why the recent Haft Tappeh strike was so significant. Many workers taking part had their faces covered so that they could not be identified and then jailed. That strike was also significant in that many women workers were not only involved but were part of its leadership. One of these women workers was proudly announcing how five women had manged to block a road near the Haft Tappeh complex (blocking roads was a tactic often used about a decade ago).
Another union that has been very active is the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company’s one. That is why Reza Shahabi, their current leader, is in jail, even though he has already served his sentence!
The protests started in Mashhad and it seems that they were mainly supporters of Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric. Mashhad is a very religious city and Ebrahim Raisi, many regime sources claim, is the most likely successor to Khamenei when he dies.
So even though they were complaining about price rises, particularly the price of eggs, in the beginning there was an anti-Rohani and ‘anti-reformist’ aspect to the protest. But such is the discontent at the lack of improvement in the living standards for the majority of the masses, despite oil exports doubling since the nuclear deal, that all sorts of people joined the protests and they spread to many cities and towns. Over 70 towns and even small towns have been involved, especially in areas where national minorities are the majority - like Lorestan and Kurdistan. In Tehran the protests have been relatively small and mainly around Tehran University.
Economic improvements of the past year or so have not benefited workers or even many middle class people. Youth unemployment is at 25%-27% (some say about 40%) and around 830,000 will join the job market next year.
Although the official inflation rate is 10%-12%, for most people, particularly when it comes to food and other basic necessities, price rises are much higher.
Support arrested students in Iran!
Kaveh Abbassian spoke to Solidarity.
Ten years ago, I was part of a leftist student movement named Students for Freedom and Equality (DAB).
In 2007, there was a nationwide crackdown on our movement. Close to 100 students were arrested and tortured, and many went into hiding. Some of the students escaped the country. I went underground, giving interviews from hiding. I was one of the few activists who was outside jail at the time. I came to the UK in 2008. I have known Workers’ Liberty members since then.
It took ten years after that for leftwing politics to organise itself inside universities again. The literature was there. But actual activists who organised themselves around socialist demands didn’t come back for ten years. Every time there is a crackdown, it takes a while for people to brave the tyranny and come out and start organising themselves again.
This year, on National Students Day, 7 December 2017, left wing students managed to organise some protests and demonstrations around Iran against the neoliberal economy, privatisation, and different factions of the regime. These are not students following Khatami, Moussavi, Rouhani. They are students who stand for workers’ rights, women’s rights, trying to connect grassroots social movements with each other.
The protests later in December started and students joined after two days. In Tehran Univesrity in particular students raised the slogans of “Bread, jobs and freedom”; “Students and workers unite”; “Students would rather die than accept humiliation”; “Capitalist mullahs give us back our money”; “Reformists, fundamentalists, your story ends here; “People beg while the Supreme Leader acts like a God”; “All political prisoners must be released”; “Down with the dictator”; and many other slogans.
Students organised demonstration inside several universities and inside student dorms. After those demonstrations, the intelligence services, plainclothes people, started kidnapping students. Many of these student activists were arrested not during protests, but in their homes, from their campuses, from their workplaces. It is worth mentioning that security forces and the police are not allowed on university campuses – it is illegal! So they went in in plainclothes and kidnapped students.
Over 90 left-wing student activists have been kidnapped.
Many of them have been sent to Wing 209 of the notorious Evin Prison, which is the wing of the Ministry of Intelligence. They are all under torture. Two nights ago, a 22-year-old protestor died in Evin Prison. The authorities said that he committed suicide, which is of course nonsense. He died under torture. His name was Sina Ghanbari. Another young man, Mohsen Adeli, also died in jail. The Islamic Republic said that he committed suicide – again, nonsense. Another protestor, Ashkan Absavaran, called his own family with his own phone, to say that he had been arrested by the intelligence services. His mother went to the prison to ask about him, and she was told he was not there. So that was a case of disappearance which is worrying.
About ten students have been released in the last two days.
Emily Thornberry’s statements are disappointing, as are left wing journalists supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s silence. I think it is a shame that Jeremy Corbyn has remained silent. The Western left has been confused about the Islamic Republic for too long.
Left-wing people and grassroots student activists, student unions and organisations should defend their comrades in Iran, especially the ones in jail and under torture. All we require is solidarity for the oppressed people of Iran and leftwing activists inside Iran.
“The Islamic Republic cannot give anything to people”
Aman Kafa, Worker Communist Party Iran — Hekmatist (Official Line) spoke to Solidarity.
The left in Iran — as distinct from the Marxist movement — tended not to come from the working class but more from the middle classes, following the remnants of the nationalist movement, and those who supported the nationalisation of oil, and that kind of trend.
The uprising in 1979 was a major change. During that time, what we call the traditional left was close to Russia on one side – not Lenin’s Russia but Russia as it was then. We represented the extreme wing of the left. We put our emphasis on Marxist notions of class struggle, revolution, the need for a party. We come from that tradition.
In terms of how we organise in Iran. Firstly, all our individual contacts in Iran are organised in what we call a “column approach”. So, rather than them being connected together, they are each connected to us [abroad]. This is for their own safety and security. Secondly, membership of a party like ours is extremely illegal.
Our activists in Iran undertake all manner of activities in different arenas: women’s rights, student movement, Kurdistan, a variety of social activities, NGOs, all sorts. It is difficult to put a finger on something and say where we are – it would expose our people.
There is a large section of society who are exploited – but not necessarily employed. That was the fire which was burning. They came out. But unless it is organised and formed, it is not possible to win on the streets.
That is why our party has been calling for the construction of a variety of organisations, at the borough, city and county level: in order to make sure that it is possible to build something so people can move onto the next stage; to build something at the grassroots level, between different sections of protestors.
The government’s initial expectation was that this would fizzle out very quickly. The spread of it made it much more difficult for them. The growth of the protests has not subsided. It has spread to different cities and more areas. But the number of people participating, especially after the intervention of the Revolutionary Guards, has subsided. The desire for protest is still there, hugely. But what is not there is a leadership or a proper organisation. The Islamic Republic hopes that this will break the movement. But if it is broken, it will continue somewhere else.
Working-class people have a sensible approach in terms of the future. If they don’t think they can win better things for tomorrow, they won’t come out today. If they think the future can be better, they will go through any sacrifices. The protests so far have not created that kind of expectation. So strikes won’t take place until they do.
The Islamic Government has used this fact. The government sent letters to public sector workers threatening them with loss of their jobs if they did not support pro-government mobilisations. They have a strong hold on people’s income, and that, more than the physical suppression by the armed forces, is very powerful.
The Islamic Republic does not allow organisations as such. A lot of organisations are clandestine. But they can express themselves publicly by raising demands for things which are commonly acceptable. For example, the right to see a doctor, to have education without paying fees, and so on. The notion of forming such organisations is not uncommon in Iran. We have had them before, in 1979. That has continued, and even the Islamic Republic had to set up its own “Labour House” because the idea of councils is very much fermented among people in Iran. Forming groups, forming councils, sections that can link together and organise – that is the way the protests can establish themselves. Such organisations have been set up in some ways, in some areas. They do not all have the same format. We are trying to promote a standard format so people can understand how to take part.
The main demand for everybody is for better welfare; education; sufficient income; having holidays and so on – against poverty.
The second issue is safety: the Islamic Republic has been calling for safety, from external threats like Daesh. But people are calling for safety, for example from being harassed by the security forces. And thirdly: freedom. In translation, our main slogan we are raising is: “Bread, welfare and freedom.” Haft-Tapeh have called for “Bread, work and freedom.” Their call for work was against the growth of unemployment. The ideas of security and freedom cut the Islamic Republic to their core.
This is a spontaneous protest. Every section of society is trying to appropriate it. If you talk to the nationalists, they say, “the army should come and save us!” The bourgeois left like to think that if people like Khamenei and the Islamic hardliners went away, life would be better. If you look at the bourgeoisie, they say, “the money is going to different factions in Lebanon, in Syria, and so the Islamic Republic is wasting our money.” You have people on the left, and protestors who don’t have anything – and they are raising slogans in support of Palestinians, but they don’t want the Islamic Republic to be a force in that region. So depending on who you go to, the same slogans are interpreted differently.
A couple of slogans raised at the beginning said, “We want the life of the monarchy back”. And so the monarchists said, “people want monarchy!” But that wasn’t true. It was nostalgia for how life in those days was better than life is today. So that doesn’t mean that people have come out on the streets in order to bring back the monarchy.
The core of it, which the Islamic Republic recognises, is that people cannot go back, because even if they suppress them, the poverty, lack of employment, lack of freedom, and other problems are still there. So they will come out somehow.
The regime is trying to say: the protests are just about one faction trying to put pressure on the other. That is not true.
That was the case with the Green movement ten years ago. But now people are not calling on one faction to bring down the other. Also, the Revolutionary Guard is not just another armed force. They are the last line of defence for the government. Bringing the Revolutionary Guard into the streets is the last playing card of the regime, not the first. There are a variety of forces, like the Basiji and others, who are brought in first. Politically it is not good for them – the Revolutionary Guards have said from the start that they don’t want to be seen in the streets, and they have only come out in certain areas. The protests themselves are not armed, so it is not like in Libya, where a lot of people took up arms.
The Islamic Government has had some secret meetings to decide a tactic. Their tactic is not to push people back into their houses. They need to produce an alternative. There are a variety of alternatives open. Currently, they are hoping that this whole thing will fizzle out, when they can come back and do something. But the toothpaste is out of the tube, so that is not going to happen. The protestors want to come out, push the regime back, but unless they can create organisation to establish their gains, they can’t see a way forward either.
The Islamic Republic has only one choice: to repress. They cannot give anything to people, because they know there is no end to this giving. We don’t have a revolution yet. But we see the process of what we saw happening in the areas surrounding Tehran in the years before 1979. It is an open game at the moment. In this scenario we are trying to push our own agenda, and get more workers to support the protests. The idea that it has finished or that the regime has won – it is not true.
You could see an action tomorrow that could change the whole picture. It is natural, given the regime’s show of force and large-scale arrests, that people might be more measured. It is not finished yet.