By ERWIN FREED
At the beginning of 2018, Iran saw the largest uprising of labor militancy in a decade. The Islamic Republic’s armed goons managed to smash the resistance of workers and peasants, killing dozens and jailing hundreds in the process. But Iranian workers have remained mobilized, while the social conditions in the country remain the same, if not worse.
Iranian workers are still experiencing high unemployment rates, officially between 12% and 60% depending on the location; falling wages, with much of the working population going months without pay; and skyrocketing commodity prices. For example, “the prices of eggs, meat, and bread are rising more than 10% a year,” according to The Wall Street Journal (May 6, 2018).
The government of President Hassan Rouhani has been cutting back on state services, temporarily ending a very popular cash-transfer program in January before being forced to reinstate it due to popular opposition. Many workers do not have health insurance or pensions and are forced to take multiple low-paying jobs.
In response to these conditions, workers across the country have gone on strike and protested in the face of brutal state repression. The National Coalition of Resistance in Iran has reported daily actions since the beginning of the year. Major actions include nearly a week of illegal mass protests in mid-April by workers and farmers in the county of Kazerun, a weeks-long strike of thousands of steelworkers in Khuzestan over back pay in March, and teachers’ protests in Tehran at the time of this writing (May 10, 2018). These actions represent a tiny proportion of the activity taken by the Iranian working class this year.
The state expected that normalized trade relations with the United States following the 2015 “Iran Deal” would lead to an improved economy; however, lifting sanctions only served to sharpen the class struggle. When the government’s promises of improved living conditions for workers after the deal failed to be realized, and food prices continued to rise, the country exploded.
Along with demands for better wages and social services, Iranians have been calling for an end to the one-party political system, freedom for jailed workers, and women’s rights. On the last point, hundreds of women have been arrested since January for publicly taking off their veils. A further demand is that the Iranian government stop funding military excursions in Syria, Yemen, and throughout Africa, although it is unclear from what section of society this call is coming from.
As Trump moves to withdraw from the “Iran Deal,” the short-term future of the Iranian ruling class remains unclear. To maintain profitability, Iran needs foreign investment in new extractive technologies, meaning closer relationships with the technically savvy imperialist powers. On the other hand, Iranian development since the revolution has relied heavily on state direction, surely not the most attractive thing to big international capitalists. So far, the means of getting past this contradiction has been to drive Iranian workers into further misery.
However, the Iranian working class has a long and proud history of working struggle, and given the current balance of forces, the scale could very quickly be tipped in their favor.