By VINNY GROSSMAN
Since the beginning of the month, over 10,000 Iranian workers have struck in the sugar industry, the oil fields, and fossil-fuel refineries. These strikes are part of a rolling wave of class militancy that has been in motion since the end of 2017, with thousands arrested, hundreds killed, and tens of thousands in the streets. Despite severe repression, the Iranian government has not been able to end the mass movement. The ruling class in the United States has played a big role in creating the desperate conditions for Iranian workers, but the domestic capitalists and government are also responsible for the heightened austerity measures over the last two decades.
Imperialist attacks on Iran
The U.S. ruling class has long used its economic dominance to squeeze the Iranian government into falling in line. These machinations reached a fever pitch immediately before signing and after leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA—the Iran trade “deal”), as the U.S. tightened economic sanctions on the country, severely restricting its ability to export oil. This becomes apparent from the sharp drops in net FDI income, which can be seen in the chart below:
Donald Trump has been boisterous in threatening military measures—on May 6, he vetoed a congressional resolution that would have halted the president’s power to employ armed force against Iran. But the Democratic Party has never left such threats out of its arsenal of “diplomacy” either. Obama, for example, stated in 2012 that the U.S. would use a “military component” (i.e., an armed strike) as a “last resort” to prevent Iran from acquiring the ability too manufacture a nuclear bomb.
Recent sanctions, supported by major sectors of the U.S. capitalist class, have hit Iran’s financial institutions, choked its oil exports, and limited the ability of Iranians in the U.S. to send money back home. These measures have contributed to a lack of medical supplies, food, and financial assets in Iran—making it far more difficult for the country to effectively fight the COVID-19 crisis (close to 300,000 have been infected in the country so far, according to official statistics). Unemployment is skyrocketing, many shops are closed, wages cannot keep up with costs, and workers often complain of not receiving their paychecks.
Following the unilateral ending of the JCPoA by Washington, an investment gap was created with the immediate departure of European capital. Chinese imperialism was quick to use this to its own advantage, securing a 25-year trade and development agreement that early reports say includes an over 30% discount on oil and major transactions being carried out in Chinese, rather than American, currency.
Privatizations of Iranian industry
At the same time, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government has been issuing a series of privatization measures that are putting the final nails in the coffin of the gains of the 1979 revolution. Notable privatizations include the Haft Tapeh sugar-refining plant (privatized in 2015) and the HEPCO heavy equipment manufacturing plant (60% of its shares were sold in 2006 to a manufacturer affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards). The privatizations also penetrate into the energy sector, which is the central industry of the Iranian economy.
Foreign capital has been driving the push towards privatization, but the domestic capitalist class that gained strength following the defeat of Iranian workers in the 1980s has had privatizations and attracting foreign investment as major goals for decades.
It is clear that Iranian capital, desperate to increase fossil-fuel output, is disemboweling public services both as a reaction to sanctions and in order to attract investment from the imperialist powers. In doing so, it is enforcing a regime of privatization in which domestic enterprises are being gutted for the benefit of local industrialists like Ali Asghar Attarian, and investment opportunities are being opened in an economic climate that regularly has workers go without wage payments for six months or more.
Continuous struggles by working class
Iranian workers have been mobilizing continuously since the ferocious uprisings that swept the country in 2017-2018. As early as July 2017, hundreds of oil workers and truck drivers struck for non-payment of wages. In 2018, workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar mill and the Ahvaz steel factory struck against non-payment of wages and to renationalize the plants in which they work.
The Haft Tapeh workers first struck in 2017 and have been in almost continuous struggle, with a series of periodic strikes. Many workers were arrested at a protest in November 2018, and a group of seven Haft Tapeh workers was charged with “forming groups to disturb national security.” November 2019 saw the largest repression from the Iranian state since the 1979 revolution against a series of strikes and demonstrations in over 50 cities protesting inflation.
All of the conditions that broke out into the streets over the last three years still exist in Iran. Oil workers are leading the way with strikes against non-payment of wages, for better working conditions, and to renationalize major industries. Their starting shot was heard around the country. Despite the government’s announcement in July that it would not hesitate to use force against activists, the strike wave expanded to include thousands of coal and chromite miners, nurses, and municipal workers, as well as the heavy equipment manufacturing workers at HEPCO. And once again, the Haft Tapeh workers are on strike—this time for close to two months.
The strikes are part of a global process of sharpening class struggle. In the face of extreme state violence, workers are gaining the experience and confidence that can form a solid foundation for revolutionary struggle. At the same time, the essential factor of a mass revolutionary party, which can consolidate the lessons and lead workers to victory, is missing not only in Iran but in virtually every other country.