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Iran: Workers demand democracy and freedom against poverty, corruption and repression

5 January, 2018With the demonstrations starting on 28 December 2017, Iran faces widespread protests against the rising cost of living. The protests quickly spread to many cities as people raised their voices against poverty, corruption and embezzlement by officials, and brutal political repression.

A total of 22 people have been killed, and up to a thousand have been detained, accused of terrorism, espionage and “enmity against God”, a crime that carries the death penalty. The regime has claimed that the protests are led by foreign enemies, and has organized counter-demonstrations.

The so-called Green Revolution, which was suppressed by the Iranian regime in 2009, was largely lead by middle class, educated Iranians. In contrast, the mass protests which are now taking place in over 50 cities are a spontaneous uprising by poor and working class people, who have traditionally been the regime’s base.

Iran’s economy has grown since signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the “nuclear deal”.  Most of the economic growth is due to the resumption of oil and gas exports, but workers in this sector – represented by IndustriALL affiliate the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI) – have not benefited, and often go for months without getting paid.

Independent trade unions are not able to operate openly, as workers suspected of being union members are dismissed and arrested. Trade union activists are frequently detained and tortured, and strikes are suppressed. Independent trade union leaders face imprisonment on false charges, such as in the cases of Reza Shahabi, Esmail Abdi, Ebrahim Madadi and many others.

Since the signing of the nuclear deal, the economy has liberalized and foreign investment has begun to enter the country. This has benefited the elite, but not working people. The unemployment rate rose by 1.4 per cent last year to 12.4 per cent, and the cost of living has risen. Youth unemployment, in a country where half the population is younger than 30, is at 40 per cent.

As Maziyar Gilaninejhad of UMMI said,

“Our country’s officials promised that the economy would be reenergised with the lifting of sanctions and the return of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue. These promises have not been kept. To attract foreign investment, the government has intensified its programme of privatization and lowering labour costs. Everywhere in the sector you meet workers who have not received wages for months.”

At the same time, Iran is expanding its influence as it seeks to compete with Saudi Arabia for dominance in the region. Iran has invested heavily in supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad in Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Ordinary people are protesting because taxes are using to fund regional conflict rather than develop infrastructure in Iran.

In a statement, the ITUC said that only fundamental reform will end the crisis.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“Working class people in Iran have risen up because their conditions have become intolerable. They have not benefited from the nuclear deal, and the regime squanders money on corruption and regional conflict.

“Iran needs a strong, independent trade union movement to represent the interests of working people. The Government of Iran has seen the scale of the discontent. The solution is to stop its repression of trade union activists, to ratify core ILO conventions, and allow workers to organize and negotiate better conditions.”