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The class struggle in Iran

2022-12-19 | Iran
The class struggle in Iran

The gradual rise of the organization of strikes over the last few years

Consejo obrero en Shush

Workers' Council Assembly in Shush in 2018.

In late 2017, the rise of the struggles in the near east spread into Iran across the Iraqi border. Strikes broke out across the country but the lack of assemblies and coordination extinguished the movement in just over a month. However, a few months later, the struggles resurged with the lessons learned. Workers at the huge Haft Tappeh sugar plant in the south of the country called for the creation of councils and assemblies to coordinate the strikes.

Gentlemen, we have only come to express our disagreement, in a very peaceful manner. We have been coming here for a few days, and when we walked around the city, everyone was happy and sympathetic to us, and no one was hurt or injured, and nothing was harmed, and we asked for nothing but our rights and the resolution of our demands. So why did they bring in the riot police to confront us? I don't know, but I ask you, please, like the previous days, to protest without violence and anger. I know we are all angry, but we are not fighting them. We are just raising our demands. [...]

[The attendees chant:] "Bread, Work, Freedom - Organization in councils!" Brothers, I want you to repeat this slogan very loudly, so that this special riot police force that you have brought here, whose salaries we pay, and who are now pointing their guns at us, who have not taken our slogan seriously, repeat it very loudly so that they realize: "Neither threats nor imprisonment are effective any longer" ─[demonstrators chant the slogan]....

Strikes receded again in 2019 but erupted again in the summer of 2020. These reappeared in Haft Tappeh but spread mainly across the country's oil fields and refineries, echoing somewhat in other sectors, and reached more than 50 plants thus making it the largest strike wave in more than 30 years.

However, the strikes were mainly limited to the subcontracted workers in the oil industry. Although subcontracted workers make up 70% of the workforce, many permanent workers did not join in 2020.

After an eclipse of struggles during the fall, the movement erupted again in refineries in the summer of 2021. Extending to twice as many plants and now involving more than 90% of the staff, the strike managed to overcome state repression. When the local and international media asked the oil workers how they had managed to organize on such a scale across the territory, they replied that they were able to accomplish it through the creation of open assemblies and encrypted messaging chats.

A mass strike that overcame divisions of region, company and wage category, and which centralized the struggles by forming assemblies between different work centers and opening the center assemblies to the town or city where it was held. A strike coordinating body was formed making the mass strike an organizational milestone compared to previous strikes. However, the strike remained once more isolated within its sector.

The first series of strikes this year

Huelga petroquímica en Abadan

Petrochemical workers strike in Abadan.

What we are seeing is workers in Iran rising up again after the repression of the massive strikes and protests of the past year.

And as if the conditions for workers in Iran last year were not bad enough, in July of this year inflation rose to 54%, food prices increased by 60% and the new minimum wage was set, as it was last year, below the poverty line.

Such a deterioration of working and living conditions did not, however, go unchallenged.

Already in May of this year the bus drivers went on strike demanding two months' back wages and the wage increase that they had been promised. Beginning this May, strikes and mass protests also erupted in Abadan and Khuzestan denouncing first the rising cost of food and, later, the collapse of a building in Abadan in which 41 people were killed and 31 others injured...protests which did not go unnoticed by Ayatollah Khamenei, who characterized them as a tool of his imperialist enemies. A pattern that will be repeated during the following months.

The untenable social situation on the one hand and state repression - symbolized by the assassination of Amini - on the other, triggered a series of strikes in the same centers where there had been workers' organization in the previous years.

The coordinating body for strikes in the refineries put forth economic as well as anti-repression slogans. Haft Tappeh also raised similar demands, in a manner similar to what happened in 2020 in Belarus, when the murderous fury of the repressive forces caused the workers to be pushed temporarily towards protest strikes.

In October, workers in other epicenters of struggle, such as the SALKO aluminum smelter, went so far as to call on workers throughout Iran to create councils and committees:

The formation of councils, committees, independent trade unions and any other form of organization does not take place through pleading, but through the practical action of the workers. The creation of councils and committees and all kinds of organizations is a right and a duty. Brothers, form your committees and intensify the struggle against the bosses and the government. In these circumstances, today is the best time to form councils. Let us not let this opportunity pass. An organized working class can make its mark for change.

The state responded forcefully, first employing its media to deny the very existence of the strikes and then arresting hundreds of strikers in the refineries. The strikes were diminishing towards the end of October and mid-November. Around that time and very symbolically, the workers at the Assaluyah refinery who had not been arrested decided to go on a hunger strike.

A turn of events

Trabajadores del acero en huelga

Tehran steel workers on strike.

By now the pattern was clear, the most advanced sectors of the class -generally in big industry- rise up with slogans that the rest of the sectors do not follow due to lack of coordination. But things changed during the last weeks of November.

The salaried truck drivers of the petrochemical companies called workers to strike, and a trickle of other sectors joined the workers chanting "shout worker, shout for your rights!". Auto plants, appliance plants, steel mills, and even hospital workers began striking across the country beginning in early December. As analyses report, something has changed:

But this change is not limited to the way workers' strikes are organized; new forms of work and production disruption have also appeared in recent weeks, which can clearly be seen as the result of the recent political upheaval.

  • Turning silent strikes into a march of hundreds of people inside the company chanting slogans (examples from Isfahan steel mill and Cruise Parts and Bahman Motor and Bahman Diesel).
  • Rally with tire burning and slogan writing at the company gate (Tarbat Industrial Company).
  • Creating slogans addressed to the whole working class and not only to its limited unit (dollar income, "shout worker, shout for your rights!").
  • Chanting anti-government labor slogans despite high costs and risks (Akbar Abad drivers, Tehran).

Not only did the strike extend to new sectors, but the slogans turned towards greater centralization, addressing the whole class. But the changes are not limited to the urban sectors of the class. The striking miners in Balochistan have succeeded in blocking production in the mines with the support of the local population thus outstripping the capacity of the repressive forces to counteract them.

Meanwhile, the state has continued to deny the existence of the strikes and blame foreign conspiracies. All this while trying to sneakily convince truckers not to go on strike.

The truckers called for more strikes for this December 5 and 6, which triggered new strike waves earlier that week. This wave has succeeded in drawing in healthcare workers and new sectors such as Isfahan municipal service workers and construction workers:

The three-day nationwide strike began from December 5-7 in a situation where scattered but numerous strikes were taking place in production and service centers in different regions of the country. Independent organizations of workers and wage earners, such as the Petroleum Workers' Organizing Council and the Coordinating Council of Iranian Cultivators' Unions, supported the three-day nationwide strike. Doctors and health workers also announced that they would join the nationwide strike.[...].

So far, news and reports have been published about the strike of Isfahan Sepahan cement factory workers, the strike of Al-Mahdi Bandar Abbas aluminum workers, the strike of Kurdistan Petrochemical Complex in Sanandaj, the strike of contractors and personnel for the construction of residential houses for army personnel in Kermanshah. The strike by workers of the Mahshahr Port Petrochemical Tank and Terminal Company, which began on Sunday, December 4, continued. The truck drivers' strike, which began on December 5 in some areas, continued on Monday. "Etihad Doctors" also announced that "Iran's medical community, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, midwives, paramedics, speech therapists, audiologists, etc, will join the strikes across the country along with the people."

The strike by workers at the Bandar Mahshahr petrochemical port began on Sunday, December 4 and continued on Monday.

The work of these employees is unloading and loading for export and import of manufactured products and feedstock needed for petrochemical complexes, South Persian gas phases and other petrochemicals, and their desire is to implement the labor classification plan, increase wages and eliminate discrimination between subcontracted and permanent workers. They have stressed that they will continue to fight until they get what they want.

But workers are not the only ones calling for a strike.

The petty bourgeoisie seeks to control the workers

Protestas en la Universidad

Student protests in Iran. The national flag in the forefront.

The articles and media that were circulated when the October strikes began, emphasized again and again that these strikes were strikes in solidarity with the protests that were triggered by the assassination of Mahsa Amini in September. And while this is partly, only partly, true, it does not tell the whole story.

At the same time that Haft Tappeh workers, for example, were denouncing state repression, they were also putting forward demands such as retroactive payment of months of wages, insurance premiums and other bonuses in addition to the dismissal of all Haft-Tappeh bosses. They asserted that "only the workers' collective has the capacity and principles to run the factory responsibly."

In contrast, the demands emerging from the student-led protests are, first and foremost, the democratization of Iran and the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

[The youth in Tehran's neighborhoods](https://www-iranglobal-info.translate.goog/node/184150? _x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_sch=http), present themselves as young patriots not affiliated with any party or grouping, and say that their goal is to overthrow the corrupt system of the Islamic republic, that their religion is humanity, democracy and patriotism, that they are part of a revolution based on the wishes of the people, and that they are constitutionalists whose plan to overthrow the Islamic regime is to hold a referendum and to obey the will of the majority.

Sharif University Islamic Students' Association's statement, in response to the riot police raid on the university following a protest, demanded the release of the detained students at the same time as it spoke of the values for which it fights.

The students declared that they themselves are the country and that they are the voice of the students of the other universities in Iran, that the university is the place of study and research of the students, professors and elites of the country and that is why the affairs of the university should be left to the academics.

The professors who spoke at the rally where the statement was read out said that they and the students seek to strengthen civil society and that the path they take to achieve free speech and to establish the presence of elites in government should be a moral path.

The same themes can be found in the rest of the statements of the Iranian students on the protests: that state repression of student protests undermines Iran's national unity and makes citizens indifferent to foreign invasion, that professors have to learn from students since their presence promotes the values of humanity, and that students must take back the university.

Up to here, we find the same old story: these are slogans consistent with the opposition that, since 2017 the petty bourgeoisie has demonstrated against workers' strikes and movements. But now we see a change in the discourse.

For example, leftist and student groups urged workers to strike for the week of December 5 this year. The call they published cannot be missed:

In the last few days numerous calls for a new round of nationwide strikes and protests have been published. In this call, unlike the previous times, more attention has been paid to the problems of poverty, high cost and subsistence of the working people, and attempts have been made to link the revolution with economic and subsistence demands.

These strikes and protests will take place from December 5-7, which coincides with the historic student's day in Iran. Students are the strong pillar and advancement of the Iranian revolution. They give direction to the slogans and demands. In these seventy-eight days, despite the bloody repression unprecedented in its history, not a single day has been peaceful, and now the day of struggle of Iranian students for almost seventy years is arriving. [...]

A great success for the Iranian revolution, which shows that this revolution has the support of a large part of the people, even those who do not take to the streets for any reason and do not participate in the street protests, support the revolution by participating in the strikes and take an important part in it. Today no one doubts that the strikes will paralyze the economic wheel of the government and put to the ground its power of repression.

The students also have more allies: the shopkeepers who allegedly join the strike by closing their stores, the so-called reformist politicians who come from the Khatami and Mousavi milieu, and, none other than the Sunni clergy...who support the Taliban while simultaneously talking about the need for a referendum. It is an alliance does not fail to have its contradictions.

In any case, despite the calls for moderation of the reformists... the demand for a referendum and for a coalition of patriotic political organizations to represent the nation and negotiate with other free nations of the world, is just as present among the students as among the opposition elite.

And these are demands that clash directly with the objectives of the workers and their strikes.

Because to surrender to the will of the people, and to vindicate the nation, has a very concrete meaning. The nation is the bourgeoisie effectively directing the social body, while the people who are to renew it is the petty bourgeoisie. In practice, nation and people mask the subordination of the needs of the working class, which are the universal needs of the human species, to the will of a bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie which, in order to preserve itself multiplies working class poverty, [risks the health and lives of workers by reopening establishments during a virulent pandemic](https://kayhanlife. com/news/middle-east/business-as-usual-in-iran-as-malls-bazaars-reopen-amid-coronavirus/), degrades the conditions of the workers and represses any resistance, and even encourages terrorism and fans the flames of the bloodiest imperialism.

Solidarity strikes... with the petty bourgeoisie?

When it has not invisibilized the strikes to the point of denying them altogether, the international press has characterized the strikes which began in October as strikes of solidarity with the student protests. Paradoxically, it is a re-interpretation which converges to a certain extent with that of the government, which is interested in presenting the few strikes it admits the existence of as forming part of a mere economic struggle.

But it is enough to take a look at what the workers themselves say to see that it is all the contrary: the struggle of the workers in Iran to satisfy their basic needs is a political struggle.

  • Strikes are neither an exclusively economic struggle of the workers of a given sector, nor are they mere symbolic gestures or demonstrations subordinated to the objectives of the street and university protests, as well as of the petty bourgeoisie that leads these protests.
  • What we are seeing is a political struggle which pits the state and the bourgeois classes against the workers, who impose their needs, which are universal, above the demands of a capitalism which can only continue to deny them and which has nothing to offer but more misery and destruction, whether by impoverishing the workers even more to revive capital, by trying to drag them into war or by murdering them directly when they raise their heads in order to preserve itself.
  • Combating the problems of unemployment, poverty, war or the discrimination of women is not within the reach of the "nation of Iran" or any other national capital, but of the only class capable of creating a world of abundance free of all oppression and exploitation, with a productive metabolism centered on the direct satisfaction of the needs of the human species as a whole.