Iranian workers enter the fray
Because of the rising activities of Iranian workers coming out against the regime, I'm turning over my column this issue to our Iranian correspondent, Raha. --Htun Lin
After the unprecedented turnout of millions throughout Iran on the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, many exposed the effort to bring Tehran under military occupation, but there's hardly a mention of the deep desire to reclaim that Revolution and its goals, as one that belongs to the people--its true creators.
It's time for those in the opposition who confine revolution to the past, and tremble at the thought of another revolution, to take notice. At the same time, those in the Left who are serious about revolution should never again be content with the overthrow of the old without the projection of the new, i.e., what they are for.
However, many intellectuals the world over have yet to grasp the full implications of these nine months of sustained mass mobilization. The continuous revolts that reappear in newer forms show that no might on earth can keep the masses in subjugation. It shows that, though leaderless, they cannot be brainwashed by Islamic ideology and they think their own thoughts.
Women and youth have been in the vanguard from the beginning. Those on the Left who have mistakenly extrapolated from this that the movement is "middle class" and counterpose "social justice" to "social freedom," are helping that monstrosity, Ahmadinejad, sustain his praetorian state-capitalism. In the absence of powerful labor organizations under a repressive state, labor could not openly march under its own banner. Yet, in the 1979 Revolution labor was also "invisible" until they suddenly emerged, as if out of "nowhere," and formed a sustained mass political general strike that became the determinant in overthrowing the Shah.
WORKERS GROW MORE MILITANT
However in the past two years, and especially in the last few weeks, Iran has been the scene of widespread labor actions. Workers have formed many underground unions, the very latest is the Provisional Council of Isfahan Steel Factory that employs 20,000 workers. In a recent interview Kaveh, one of their leaders, said, "given the high level of activism among other social classes at present, social ground was ripe for us to take action…Independent working-class organizations are one of the bedrocks of any democracy, since it is only the workers who, through their power to strike and paralyze the country's economy, are a bulwark of opposition against the state's assaults on civil liberties… Without organizing the workers, we can't hope to achieve a full-blown democracy." (http://www.radiofarda.com/articleprintview/1950388.html)
Lately, workers' demands have taken a decidedly political tone and a more militant form. Four independent workers' organizations issued a communiqué on the 31st anniversary of the 1979 revolution where they put forth their 10-point 'minimum demands.' (See page 3.) It states that: "31 years have passed since those glorious days full of enchantment and rebirth…the Iranian people still have a burning desire for change. They have not lost their hope for life, their yearning for happiness, freedom, dignity… We have at our back the historical experience of the united and grand strike of the oil workers during the February revolution. Relying on this experience and the power of our millions we inspire the best and most humanistic aspirations of the 1979 revolution."
As a response to the crushing economic crisis, growing pauperism, runaway inflation, and high unemployment, as well as workers' participation in the ongoing mass protests, the conditions are ripe for the labor movement to assert itself. In the last few months there have been numerous sit-in strikes and road blockages over unpaid wages and factory closings.
Reports from southern Iran point to heavy security presence in the oil fields to crush any work stoppage by the oil workers. According to a union activist from the Network of Iranian Labor Unions, "the nucleus of the movement is in place and once the situation allows for it, there will be a huge mushrooming of independent labor unions… we are focusing on organizing labor to bring the country to a halt if need be…We think labor is poised to play a strategic role."
What needs to be singled out is that Mousavi may have concluded that without labor, street protests alone are insufficient. Right before Feb. 11 he said: "We should all have in mind the support of the working class. This is not for the purpose of using them as instruments, but with the idea that the destiny of the movement will be tied to the destiny of the whole nation and specifically with the two classes that are productive in economy and science: the workers, the teachers and the academics. It's regrettable that severe political problems have resulted in decreased attention to the rights of the working-class." (http://khordaad88.com/?p=1097)
Whether or not Mousavi is moving to the left under the impact of the movement, during presidential debates he hardly said a word about labor. Even as "economics" dominated the headlines, it was mostly centered on how to privatize parts of the state-run enterprises. While this tilt towards labor is welcome, do his five-point minimum demands (http://khordaad88.com/?p=925) even come close to the richness of the concrete 10-point demands of the workers? The gap cannot be bridged by mere inclusion of labor as a force.
The same is true of other forces, especially the women's liberation movement. Surprisingly, Zahra Rahnavard's latest interview, while insisting on women's rights, states that just as in 1979, women need to subsume their demands under the general needs of the movement. Have we not learned from 1979 that the "general" cannot float in air outside the "particulars," that the whole cannot be without the parts lest it be an abstract whole? Will the Iranian women who have fought valiantly for so long once again have their demands postponed until after "victory" is achieved?
Unfortunately this attitude has made inroads into the labor movement. When asked about the Green movement, Homayoun Pourzad, a labor activist, states, "The movement supporting Mousavi is a broad national-democratic front: we are all working with a sort of minimum program… We do not have any illusions that anyone in the leadership of the Green Movement is 100% on board with workers' rights, but this is not the time to discuss that." Why not?
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER REVOLUTION?
Didn't we witness the 1979 revolution get aborted when all the concrete demands for a new way of life got completely submerged under anti-imperialism without a thought to what happens the day after? We certainly cannot afford to seize an overriding general plan to box in the present moment. What is needed, instead, is to fill that abstract generality with human content and a fuller response that does not depart from the concrete.
So far as labor is concerned, the challenge now is working out a new unity of force and reason. So that "the day after," a Khomeini cannot dare tell the workers that while strikes were good under the Shah, they are now against the revolution! Workers don't need a vanguard party to tell them about their conditions of life and labor. Yet some claim that what the movement needs most is not a new perspective on "what is revolution?" but the formation, by Mousavi, of a unified political party. This is reminiscent of the same calls 30 years ago when Khomeini removed Bani Sadr as president.
At the time, Raya Dunayevskaya wrote a comprehensive analysis, "What Has Happened to the Iranian Revolution?" After capturing and articulating the voices of all the diverse forces of revolution, from workers to the Kurds and from women to the youth, Dunayevskaya asked: Did Bani Sadr listen to any of these voices? Did he see them not only as force but also as reason?
"Therein--and not in what both the bourgeois, Communist and Trotskyist press now talk about: failure to build 'a party structure'--lies the beginning of the end of the petty-bourgeois, revolutionary intellectual, who does want more democracy, more freedom, but who has no total philosophy of liberation. Bani-Sadr couldn't have taken organizational responsibility for a philosophy of liberation he did not have." (See http://newsandletters.org/Issues/2009/Apr-May/ftaAprMay_09.asp.)
Published by News and Letters Committees