Protesters against the Iranian regime take to the streets in Los Angeles.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The workers’ strikes in Iran are spreading. They began at the steel mill in the city of Ahvaz, and then spread quickly through Khuzestan Province and later the entire country, including Tehran. The main reason for the strikes is unpaid salaries, yet there are other important reasons as well, including the rising prices of basic goods.
The relationship between the strikes and the demonstrations that took place in Iran in January is undeniably complex. Initially, conservative powers, primarily the mighty Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the clergy, encouraged strikes and social protests. They wanted to direct the movement and use it to discredit the current president, the liberal reformer Hassan Rouhani. But then the movement got out of control. Along with economic demands, slogans opposed to the Islamic Republic system began to appear.
At that point the protests were suppressed: 22 people were killed and over 4,000 arrested. Nevertheless, the protest movement has not yet calmed down. Now it has taken the form of strikes.
The current instability in Iran has two fundamental causes – an inefficient economic system and Iran’s policy of expansion.
In Iran the role of the state in the economy is enormous. All large enterprises are owned by the state and its various divisions, or private individuals who are also powerful officials. The IRGC and affiliated persons alone control some 50% to 60% of the country’s GDP. As a general rule, nationalization is ineffective. It always leads to an economic catastrophe, sooner or later. Most state-owned enterprises are unprofitable.
In addition, the country’s leadership spends tens of billions of dollars on its expansion policy in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iran imports food and subsidizes them, supporting price ranges at an affordable level to the population. However, since the cost of the expansion policy is high, it was necessary to reduce subsidies, which ultimately led to increasing prices.
Iran has a strong tradition in the labor movement. In 1979, during the Islamic Revolution, the labor movement captured hundreds of factories. It began to manage these enterprises independently. The General Assembly elected the Working Councils. Deputies of the Soviets were subordinate to the decisions of the assemblies. Then this revolutionary self-government system was destroyed by the clergymen. In modern Iran there are no such powerful forces of self-organization.
There are only a few illegal trade unions and groups of informal activists organizing strikes in the country. Yet precisely in Iran the labor movement can play an important political role.
The author is a Russian analyst and Middle East expert.