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IRANIAN WORKERS ARE ON THE MARCH
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
August 1, 2007

The way part of the Western left portrays Iran, one would believe that here we have a progressive regime opposed by small numbers of rich reactionaries beholden to the United States.

Blinded by anti-Americanism, the so-called left in the US and the European Union fails to see the true nature of the current struggle in Iran.

American intellectuals of the left such as Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Noam Chomsky have persuaded themselves that anyone who shouts "Death to America!" is fighting for "repressed humanity" and worthy of support.

For their part, the champagne and caviar socialists of Paris and London, claim that the only Iranians who oppose the mullahs are middle class intellectuals often with dual Iranian-American citizenship and, thus, deserving of being seized and tortured as hostages in Tehran.

The truth, however, is that the Islamic Republic, far from representing the mass of the Iranian poor, is an instrument of domination for a new class of rulers who control the national economy through oil revenues that account for almost 30 per cent of the gross domestic product and some 70 per cent of the national budget.

Over the past quarter of a century, the mullahs and their relatives, plus a few thousand military and security officers have shaped into a nomenclature. They have the best jobs, receive the most favours and enjoy priority in access to goods, services, and opportunities for social climbing.

The pre-revolution middle classes formed over 150 years have all but dissolved into poverty with, a good part finding refuge in exile.

Today, there are an estimated 6.5 million Iranians, almost 10 per cent of the total population of the country, in the Gulf region, Europe, Canada, the US and Latin America.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), more than 150,000 highly educated members of the Iranian middle class flee the country each year, creating "the biggest recorded brain drain in history".

Serious challenge

The most serious challenge to the new ruling class of mullahs and military-cum-security officials comes from segments of society that the left labels "the popular masses". Spearheading the fight are groups of industrial workers who have started to flex their muscles in the past two to three years.

Next week, these workers will confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration through a series of one-hour strikes designed as a show of solidarity with imprisoned trade unionists.

According to the Workers' Organisations and Activists Coordinating Council (WOACC) over 600 labour leaders have been arrested or "made to disappear" in a crackdown against independent trade unions that started last April.

A further 4,500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of "fomenting unrest" in a number of state-owned building projects.

The largest number of arrests were made during the May 1 International Labour Day marches organised by independent trade unions in defiance of the state-sponsored ceremonies.

Next week's protests, however, will focus on two prominent independent trade unionists who symbolise Iran's growing labour movement.

The first is Mahmoud Salehi, leader of the Union of Bakery Workers in Sanandaj, capital of Iranian Kurdistan. Salehi was picked up on April 9 when security men raided his home, beat up his family and carried him to an unknown destination.

The second is Mansour Osanloo, president of the Tehran Bus Workers Union. He was abducted in Tehran on July 10 on a busy Tehran street and ended up in Evin Prison, known as "The Islamic Alcatraz".

Salehi has never been formally charged while rumours about his alleged misdeeds are spread through the state-controlled media.

According to these patently absurd rumours, Salehi is a member of the Kurdish Communist Party (Komalah), is seeking to detach the province from Iran and is, at the same time, working with the US to bring "Jewish-Crusader democracy" to Iran.

The authorities have already disbanded the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA), an independent service covering the free trade union movement. They have also arrested 32 WOACC militants, including six members of the executive board of the Tehran Bus drivers' syndicate.

Repressive measures

Despite the repressive measures, the labour movement seems to be picking momentum.

A group of WOACC leaders has written to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director General Juan Somavia, calling for an international committee of enquiry to investigate the repression of Iranian workers' movement.

The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow-workers in Iran. Several European trade unions have already called for Salehi, Osanloo, and other Iranian trade unionists to be released. There is some hope that American labour will also join.

Somewhere along the line, the Western left may also realise that it has been duped by a few anti-American slogans into supporting a regime that is dedicated to destroying whatever progressive ideals it once espoused.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.

 

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