Friday, September 4, 2009

A Look At The Labor Movement in Iran

In Iran, a corrupt and theocratic regime has made life extremely difficult for workers, the poor, and for the great majority of the country's citizens. Almost 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; the unemployment rate is about 20 percent, more than 1,500 factories have closed, and inflation runs around 30 percent, in part due to mismanagement of the budget by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government. At the same time, the country has undergone increased privatization in which state firms are sold—underpriced—to those with connections to the regime's insiders, among them the rich and powerful. As a result, the country's wealth is being redistributed, mainly in favor of a tiny minority. The richest 10 percent of the population has 21 times more income than those in the lowest 10 percent.

In the last 30 years, the clerical rulers and their economic partners in the traditional commerce centers (bazaars) have brutally suppressed the legitimate emancipatory and economic demands of the people, particularly the poor, the working class, women, and youth. These oppressors have been joined by security/military members whose organizations either own major financial firms or exert control on the basis of "friendly" privatization of previously state-run economic institutions.

In the recent mass demonstrations against the presidential election results (apparently rigged in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with the support of Ali Khamenei, the religious supreme leader), the Revolutionary Guards and Paramilitary Basiji participated in the violent attacks against the protestors. In fact, in the past 30 years, the regime has been able to suppress dissidents and periodic uprisings by consistently playing the "anti-imperialist," nationalist card and using populist-religious propaganda. As a last resort, it does not hesitate to violently repress any mass resistance.

In the meantime, the Iranian people have never stopped their resistance, striving for freedom, democracy, social justice, and the right of social self-determination. The labor movement has long fought for its rights. In the first months of the 1979 revolution, workers organized labor councils and seized some factories and institutions. Soon, however, political repression began and these labor activists, along with progressive and socialist individuals and groups, were violently suppressed. Thereafter, regime-sponsored labor centers and institutions, such as the Worker's House and Islamic Labor Councils (ILCs), were installed to control workers. Under Iranian labor law, these councils can be set up in companies with more than 50 workers. Their objectives are to "propagate and spread Islamic culture and defend the achievement of the Islamic Revolution."

In the past few years, labor activists have organized independent unions. Their efforts have been a response to privatization, in which new owners, searching for quick profits, closed down many companies. That, in turn, caused a dramatic increase in layoffs and difficult conditions for workers, who endured longer periods of pay delays and forced temporary employment at lower wages.

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