The last significant wave of uprisings in Iran took place a bit more than a year and a half ago. Like all waves of protest in recent years, it was brutally crushed. But in the country of the mullahs, social protests are the order of the day – despite bans and repression.
by Hamid Mohseni
The year is drawing to a close according to the Iranian calendar. The traditional festivities surrounding Nourouz are currently dominating everyday life in Iran. But it is not only the Corona pandemic that is spoiling the festive mood: this year’s inflation rate of 30-40 percent and the miserable economic situation in the country are weighing on the minds of Iranians nationwide. Representatives of the Islamic Republic wash their hands of the situation – as always – and point the finger at others: in addition to the pandemic, the isolationist policy of the West is to be blamed for this crisis, which in reality only wants to starve the Iranian people with its sanctions. Therefore, they say, it is now all the more important to stand together as a nation.
Iranians know this trick well; since its 40-year existence, the Islamic Republic has been invoking enemies in the West to justify its own disastrous policies. It would be foolish to assume that sanctions have no impact at all on the Iranian economy and the difficult living conditions in the country. But compared to the regime’s homegrown structural problems – massive corruption, cronyism, investments for imperialist proxy wars, brutal neoliberal austerity measures – the actual contribution of sanctions to the disastrous situation is limited, especially when one realizes that the ruling ayatollahs and their military-political-industrial complex of the Revolutionary Guards protect their own privileges and wealth with all their power before giving them up for the good of the population.
The general pauperization of most Iranians increasingly leads to a lack of prospects, fear, existential crises, emigration (if possible) and a steady increase in the suicide rate. But for some years now, it has also found expression in anger and social protests throughout the country.
A nationwide protest movement of pensioners and retirees is particularly noteworthy. For the past six months, thousands of people have been responding to the call of independent pensioners’ unions, gathering on weekends in forty to fifty cities across the country, mostly in front of the Ministry of Labor and its regional offices. They are demanding that their salaries be paid or increased so that they can live above the poverty line in the face of current inflation. In this regard, the protesters have the law on their side: Article 30 of the so-called “Sixth Development Plan Law” provides for an equalization of monthly pensions as the cost of living increases. The government has suspended this increase, citing budget deficits and empty public pots. Apart from lip service, there is no concession, and in some places these demonstrations are even attacked by security forces.
In addition to this regular wave of protests, which is widely observed throughout the country, Iran experiences smaller strikes and workers’ protests on an almost daily basis. Central issues here are workers’ rights and safety. The neoliberal devastation in Iran has led to such precarious conditions that a proper, permanent employment contract with rights guaranteed to workers has become the absolute exception; short-term and daily contracts or verbal agreements are becoming more and more common. Minorities in the multi-ethnic state of Iran are often systematically discriminated against and harassed in the workplace. Independent trade unions and workers’ councils explicitly reject the neoliberal idea of privatizing companies – instead, they are aggressively considering self-organisation, such as at the well-known sugar cane factory “Haft Tappeh” in Ahvaz, which has been on strike more or less continuously for three years. It has thus become a lighthouse for radical, socialist and anti-authoritarian workers’ demands beyond the country’s borders. The biggest debate, however, is undoubtedly about wages. In some sectors, wages have not been paid for almost a year, and when they are paid, they are not in proportion to the rising cost of living. Independent trade unions, as well as left-wing and socialist economists, have long been calling for a minimum wage three times higher than that currently offered by the state.
The oppression of ethnic and religious minorities runs like a red thread through the history of the Islamic Republic. Border regions such as Kurdistan or Sistan-Beluchistan are often systematically neglected regions, where poverty and existential hardship have led to a parallel and vibrant black market economy. In the Kurdish regions of Iran, “Kolbars” transport all goods over the mountains to Iraq for a little money; in Sistan-Beluchistan, “gasoline carriers” sell fuel to neighboring Pakistan because the demand price there is higher. In late February, radical anti-system protests broke out in the region, with clashes with security forces and occupations of government offices. This was triggered by the shooting of at least ten “gasoline carriers” by Iranian security forces under the pretext of fighting smugglers. This systematic and deadly practice of harassment repeatedly leads to protests in the country’s border regions, to which the regime responds exclusively in a repressive manner. Unlike the more bourgeois “Green Movement” in 2009, these regions were central and among the decisive factors in the 2018/2019 social uprising.
This article was originally published in German on 26th March: https://www.rosalux.de/news/id/44023