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MASSIVE popular protests in Iran, which began at the turn of 2017-18, have been the starting point for a struggle across the country’s industry and workforce, and show no sign of abating.
In addition to their pressing demands for unpaid wages and salaries, working people have also targeted the policies of regime.
Protests have continued to target widespread privatisation, corruption and the plunder of national resources.
The growth and spread of workers’ protests has been one of the important features of the country’s political scene in the past two years.
The implementation of anti-popular policies such as privatisation and economic liberalisation were imposing very tough conditions for Iranian workers even before the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the subsequent extension of even greater sanctions upon Iran.
Since then oil exports have more than halved and the Iranian currency has lost more than 60 per cent of its value against the US dollar.
The cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57 per cent, access to medical supplies is restricted, forcing doctors to prescribe less effective drugs, and waiting times for operations has increased.
Poverty, unemployment and lack of job security have been exacerbated further due to US sanctions and are the main factors behind the ongoing protests.
Continuous devaluation of the currency coupled with inflation has brought more poverty to an already struggling working class.
The flight of capital from Iran has also accelerated. Difficulties in obtaining spare parts from industrial countries in the West has caused a number of key industries to stop production.
Banking and monetary sanctions have crippled any possibility of conducting international trade. All these consequently worsen the economic conditions in Iran, and it is the workers who pay the price through mass lay-offs, not being paid for months and inflationary pressures.
One of the consequences of recent labour unrest has been the revival of claims for trade union rights in parallel with other immediate demands.
The Islamic Republic of Iran does not tolerate the operation of trade unions. The country’s labour law has been interpreted by the clerical regime in such a way as to only permit regime-controlled “Islamic labour councils” to operate openly in workplaces.
The structures of these bodies are designed so that the workers’ representatives are always outnumbered two to one by their government and employer counterparts.
The current struggle in Iran stresses the intensification of trade union rights and the revival of independent unions, based on ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and the Universal Charter of the Rights of Trade Unions.
One of the most important aspects of the trade union movement, in addition to meeting the demands of workers’ welfare, is the struggle for democratic rights, namely freedom of association, for unions, political parties and organisations, as well as freedom of speech.
In this context it is vital that the opposition movement inside Iran can operate free from outside interference or the threat of external military intervention, as is currently the danger with the bellicose actions of the United States in the region.
Any attempt by the United States or its allies in the region, Israel or Saudi Arabia, to intervene militarily in Iran will be used by the regime to demonise those fighting for democracy and social justice inside the country.
Such a scenario will also play into the hands of the White House hawks who see regime change as the only way forward in Iran.
The opposition movement is intent on continuing its struggle for freedom, democracy and social justice but is intent on securing the lead in any development to be exercised by the Iranian people, not the US government or military.
In effect the United States is already fighting an undeclared war against Iran. It may not have involved any military intervention or direct loss of life, but it is an economic war intended to create the conditions for military action should that be deemed necessary.
The current situation cannot be sustained for long and the leaders of the Iranian regime are counterthreatening the US and Europe that they will fully withdraw from JCPOA, accelerate uranium enrichment, and further inflame the tensions in the region.
On July 7 Iran announced that it will produce uranium at 5 per cent enrichment, exceeding the limit set in the JCPOA signed in 2015.
In many respects the increase is a symbolic gesture, although a provocative one. Increasing the uranium enrichment from the 3.67 per cent limit set by the JCPOA to 5 per cent gives Iran no real advantage while representing a dangerous and regressive diplomatic stance, which has been quickly exploited by the US and Trump himself.
While the United States has clearly orchestrated the current situation by pulling out of the JCPOA, the actions of the Iranian regime will create more unfavourable conditions for the reducing of tension, potentially weakening the position of the European signatories to the JCPOA who are currently attempting to save the agreement.
The detention of an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, by the British military in July, was part of a pattern of provocation by the West aimed at preparing the ground for military action against Iran.
A contingent of 30 Royal Marines were deployed to impound the oil tanker Grace 1 which contained two million barrels of Iranian oil, bound for the Banyas refinery in Syria.
British sources have said the tanker is likely to remain impounded for several weeks. In response, Mohsen Rezaei, a former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said that the Islamic Republic should consider seizing a British oil tanker, an action which happened later in the month.
The immediate priority for Iranian workers remains to stop the war and organise to expose the real designs of the Trump administration.
The trade union, labour and peace movements around the world are already well aware of the dangers of a further conflagration in the Middle East, not just for the people of Iran, but for the whole world.
They must continue to act in support of the Iranian people and expose the dangers of tensions escalating further.
Support for the Iranian people, in their struggle for democratic rights and social justice, must go hand in hand with opposition to US military intervention in Iran and a call for resolving any differences by diplomatic means.
A military solution is no solution for the people of Iran, it is no solution for the wider issues in the Middle East and must be opposed as a threat to world peace.
Jane Green is the national campaign officer of the British-based Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights (Codir).
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