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From the Ethics of the Fathers: "He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it."
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
A Spirit is Haunting the Mullahs
by Amir Taheri
'Down with the Despot!"
That's the slogan chanted in the last few days by thousands of Iranian industrial workers and miners. Reports from more than 30 cities across Iran indicate a nationwide protest movement with a mix of economic and political demands that could threaten the Khomeinist regime.
On Wednesday, a delegation of workers gathered in front of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office in Tehran to demand "an urgent meeting" to discuss "an explosive situation." The standoff with security agents ended when a presidential aide informed the protestors that Ahmadinejad had flown to Istanbul for a regional summit.
Osanloo: Workers demand his release.
A few miles away, workers seeking the formation of independent trade unions gathered in front of the Islamic Majlis, Iran's ersatz parliament, to protest against the government's decision to raise the minimum wage by 6 percent. With the official inflation rate at 11 percent, the workers claim that they face a real reduction in their income.
Also in Tehran, transport workers demonstrated in front of the dreaded Evin Prison to demand the immediate release of their leaders, including Mansour Osanloo and Reza Shahabi. Osanloo, serving a five-year sentence, is in the prison hospital. Shahabi has just ended a 60-day hunger strike protesting his "illegal arrest."
In Qazvin, a major industrial center, striking workers have shut pharmaceutical, textile and ceramic factories. Some textile workers are maintaining a vigil in front of the local governor's office: They haven't received their wages for the last 11 months from a government-owned company.
In Golestan, thousands of miners are on strike, bringing coal production in several areas, notably Qishlaq and Roudbar, to a standstill. There, too, a government-owned company has failed to pay miners' wages in 21 of the province's 42 coal mines.
Ardebil has seen workers' marches and strikes over the last few days, at times with support from local university students.
In the port cities of Bandar Abbas, Bushehr and Khorramshahr, striking truck drivers have provoked massive congestion in unloading imports. Here, the protest is of a 25 percent rise in the price of gas; many drivers who own their vehicles think it will ruin their business.
A nationwide strike by workers and managers of the state-owned Wheat Agency may threaten the country with a bread shortage. The agency controls virtually all of the country's silos and distributes wheat to thousands of privately owned bakers. Workers' action is also reported from the Haft-Tapeh sugar-cane industry, the steel-pipe company in Ahvaz and the petrochemical complex in Mahshahr.
Workers' sources claim that the effort to form independent trade unions has attracted more than 2 million workers, especially in the public sector.
And, for the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran's working people at large.
There are several reasons:
First, the government's decision to end subsidies for bread, water, electricity and gasoline is beginning to hit low-income groups. By the government's own estimates, the end of subsidies could add more than 20 percent to the cost of living.
The government is trying to ease the burden for the poorest families through direct cash payments. But such payments don't cover more than half of the higher cost of living, according to official estimates.
Second, is the emergence of a new generation of activists among independent trade unionists. Older leaders such as Osnaloo, Shahabi and Mahmoud Salehi (a bakers' union leader who's also in prison) remain an inspiration. But the actual task of fighting for workers' rights has revolved to younger leaders.
Where the older leaders had been careful to steer clear of politics, the new leaders appear to believe that without political reform workers' conditions can't be improved.
Finally, international sanctions are beginning to bite, forcing the closure of thousands of private businesses and dozens of state-owned concerns.
The Labor Ministry says the Iranian economy is losing an average of 3,000 jobs a day -- and many workers blame Ahmadinejad's "adventurous" foreign policy.
The stage is being set for a showdown between Iran's workers and the Khomeinist establishment. The outside world, including the international media, had better pay more attention.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.