Iran,  Labour,  The Left

Street protests alone won’t oust Iran’s regime

Saeed Rahnema, who was active in the labor and left movement during the 1979 revolution in Iran, is interviewed by Ian Morrison of the Tehran Bureau website about the necessary role of Iranian workers in the fight for regime change, and about Western “leftists” who put the struggle against “imperialism” ahead of the struggle for political freedom in Iran.

[T]here are lots of street protests and confrontations at this stage, but, as important as they are, none of these can really threaten the existence of the Islamic regime. The regime will be in serious trouble when workers and employees in the major industries and in social and government institutions start a strike as they did in the time of the Shah. Strikes are the most important aspect in my view. The regime will not change with street demonstrations alone.
There is now a major economic crisis in Iran. Massive unemployment, terrible inflation (close to 30%), and at the same time… there are many factories that cannot pay their employees… Workers do not have a right to strike. They do not have unions and this is the main problem.

Many of these industries are heavily subsidized. But the government has decided to end some subsidies, along with the elimination of many gas, flour, and transportation subsides too. By ending subsidies, or having targeted subsidies, there will be more problems and more industrial actions. But these industrial actions… need labor unions. Labor unions are the most significant aspect of the rights of workers. Unions need democracy and political freedoms, a freedom of assembly and a free press. That is why the present movement within civil society is so significant for the labour movement.
What we need is continued weakening of the regime by street protests along with labor organizing. And, I think it is very important that we recognize that the Green Movement is part of a larger movement in Iranian civil society. The Green Movement is a very important part, but, it is not the whole picture. The Green movement is now closely identified with Mr. Mousavi. So far he has been on the side of the people and civil society. Everyone supports him. But what will happen? Will he make major concessions? That remains to be seen.
Some among the left in the West make the same mistakes that the Iranian left made during the revolution — focusing on anti-imperialism and undermining and minimizing democracy and political freedoms. If the left really cares about the working class, how can this class improve its status without trade unions? How can trade unions exist and function without democracy and social and political freedoms? Another aspect that some leftists don’t take into consideration is the significance of secularism and the dangers of a religious state, particularly, the manner in which such regimes impinge on the most basic private rights of the individual, particularly women. Even if the Islamic regime were anti-imperialist, no progressive individual could possibly condone the brutal suppression of workers, women, and youth, who want to get rid of an obscurantist authoritarian and corrupt regime. The underground workers groups and other activists within civil society need all the support they can get from progressive people outside Iran, and they despise those so-called leftists in the West who support Ahmadinejad and the Islamic regime.

This is something politicians like George Galloway and bloggers like John Wight and Andy Newman at Socialist Unity will certainly find out when Iran is free and democratic. And they’ll have no right to be surprised.