Article by by Aman Kafa
The threat of war against Iran by US imperialism has to some extent deflected attention from the growing movement of protest and struggle by workers against Iran’s theocratic regime. Here is an exclusive report by worker activist Aman Kafa, a member of UNISON and of Iran’s Hekmatist Party (official line).
Over the past two years, the situation in Iran has changed dramatically, with two major turning points.
First, there were mass protests in some 80 cities across Iran in January 2018, which shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic. One the main slogans during these protests was against the typical role play of the different factions within the Islamic Republic: “Reformists, hardliners, the saga has ended”! The protests of the exploited, which displayed such resolve, took the whole establishment by surprise, and marked a turning point in the balance of power in Iran. This meant an end to the official party lines and a call for the downfall of the entire Islamic Republic, irrespective of their factions in the parliament and their habit of pointing the finger of blame at one another. The scale of the protests in all quarters – for women’s rights, decent housing and health care, freedom of political prisoners, and against rising unemployment – was such that the state was unable to control the situation. Different authorities appeared on the media saying that they have “heard the voice of the masses”! Although the protests were mostly unorganised, their large scale and scenes of heroism against the pillars of the entire Islamic Republic and its security forces tore down its facade of democracy and pretence of legitimacy. After several weeks the street protests ended, not because those who took part in them were crushed or defeated, but because they voluntarily withdrew. The authorities then started a wave of arrests of those that had previously been identified, with scores of activists jailed. But post-January Iran was now different, and the balance of power reflected this.
Despite the suppression that followed, protests continued, with growing daily actions in most workplaces. Of these, perhaps the most notable was the strike actions in Haft Tapeh, and the Ahwaz Steel Works in the south of Iran, which dominated the entire news scene. This was the second turning point in the balance of power. It was in these factories that the workers defied the clamp-down and took action, holding general assemblies, raising the banner of “bread, jobs and freedom” and gaining the support of the population in their cities. This demand was almost immediately picked up and resonated everywhere: “bread” to signify an end to high pricesand poor living conditions across the country; “jobs” to signify their protest against growing unemployment; and “freedom” standing for our inalienable rights in the full meaning of the word. Moreover, they demanded an end to the corruption that has accompanied successive governments’ privatisation efforts.
It is noteworthy that the fight against privatisation, which has been in the forefront of the recent struggles, is associated with the fight against corruption that runs through the entire establishment, where privatisation is nothing but the sale of the workplaces well below their value to those close to the authorities: a process where workers are faced with uncertainty, asset stripping, unpaid employers’ national insurance to the state, misappropriated pension funds, etc. The new bosses merely pocket the funds and sometimes disappear, leaving workers unable even to claim what should have been legally theirs. By calling for an end to privatisation, workers have been demanding that, irrespective of whether the enterprise is owned by the state or private capital, the state must take responsibility for their work conditions, wages, insurance and pension funds. Esmail Bakhshi, the leader of the workers’ association in Haft-Tapeh, publicly declared that the Islamic Republic is responsible for our affairs, and if the government is not able to do its duty, then it is the right of us workers to take control of the situation through our own workers’ shora (soviet) – a direct link to the shora which were formed as the main workers’ organisations during the 1979 uprising, and which were then crushed by the newly-formed Islamic Republic.
The importance of these protests is not just that they showed the depth and scale of opposition to the rule of the Islamic Republic in the past four decades, but because this time the working class has pushed forward its own demands and alternatives at the forefront of the opposition to the Islamic rule of capital in Iran.
Obviously, the Islamic Republic has no intention of giving up political power, and has continued its oppressive actions. A state that had previously been openly imprisoning, torturing and executing hundreds of thousands, is now unable to do so publicly. The authorities literally go hunting down individual workers, teachers, nurses, students, and activists of movements campaigning for women’s rights, against child labour, environmental issues, etc, in their homes. They now hold individual court sessions to pass sentences! Clearly, there is still a lack of due legal process and civil liberties, and they do still pass medieval sentences such as lashing, but the authorities have been forced to recognise that the situation has changed and that they do not hold the same position of power that they had previously.
While protests against rising inflation, closure of workplaces, unemployment, etc, have been gaining momentum, the Trump administration decided to dispatch US military forces to the Persian Gulf. The militarisation of the region and the threat of war are acts of aggression by the US as a self-appointed gendarme in the region. This action must be condemned. The unilateral policy of the Trump administration – irrespective of whether it actually comes to a war or not – puts further pressure on the protesting people. The experience of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the devastation that was enforced on the people in Syria and Libya following their mass struggles have all shown the duplicitous behaviour of the USA and its allies. We have all witnessed the horrors brought about by these wars, and the fallacy of such claims for war as a means to “eradicate WMDs in Iraq”, “combat Islamic terrorism”, or “escalate democracy”! The whole world has seen how in all these wars, the real victims have always been none other than the very people who have been struggling against their rulers.
As we have all seen, this threat of war does not only target the people in Iran; it stretches to all corners of the Middle East. A battle ground is being drawn that endangers the lives of hundreds of millions, in order to settle the role of the USA and its relations with China, Russia and Europe.
This is another blow against the people in a region who have first-hand experience, and know that the US is not waging a war to combat the atrocities of the Islamic Republic, just as the Gulf War was not waged to combat the crimes of Saddam Hussein. These wars are part and parcel of the USA’s policy: a policy that is pursued to strengthen the role of the USA internationally. This time, the excuse is Iran.
Even if it doesn’t come to an actual war, the atmosphere of war has given the Islamic Republic a pretext for further enforcement of its militarisation within Iran as well. War is being used by the authorities as yet another excuse to brand every arrested worker or activist a saboteur, an aide to “foreign forces” during a “time of war”!
Despite all their efforts to impose an atmosphere of war, workers’ protests have been continuing and escalating. For instance, workers at the heavy industry production plant of Hepco in the city of Arak, are currently out in protest, holding marches and rallies, and have brought the main North-South railway route to a halt. This being a major industry, the authorities quickly intervened, with the management reaching a deal with the National Bank to pay workers’ due wages. The workers, however, have further demanded clarity and transparency about the future of their factory, particularly with regard to the ownership of the plant (a reversal of its privatisation). They have stated that they need more than the hollow promises made by the Islamic Republic’s President last year.
What is clear in Iran today is that the protests have shown a change in the balance of power in society. The regime has lost all its claims to legitimacy and cannot provide any way out in the face of the country’s current dire economic and political situation. Today no one disputes the fact that the current state of affairs is untenable, and that the Islamic Republic is reaching the end of its life. The question facing the county at the moment is not the downfall of the Islamic Republic; it is more a case of the process of its downfall, and what is to take its place. The current situation in Iran is one of a growing polarisation. It can be summarised as the battle of two alternatives: either a victory for the right wing bourgeois who have been lining up in the hope of achieving a simple hand-over of power, or that of revolution and workers’ rule. What is certain is that this status quo cannot last long.
We are in new territory, a challenging and exciting time for all those seeking a better world, rid of the rule of capital. The spectre of a socialist revolution in Iran is certainly in prospect. We have a lot to do in preparation for such an opening. It is a window that is not going to be open for ever.