A General Strike and Social Unrest: Iran’s Labour Movement Challenges the Regime

Iran General Strike Enters Fourth Week

Iran is facing one of its biggest challenges in decades. A general strike has entered a fourth week and is spreading to critical sectors of the economy.

Videos shared by 1500tasvir and Hengaw show shops closed across the country. The action follows calls for a three-day general strike to demand political reform following the death in custody of a 22-year-old woman who was detained by morality police.

The labour movement

After a break for the holidays, the labour movement in Iran is taking up the call to action and striking. The strikes have sparked massive social unrest across the country, exposing the regime’s vulnerability and bringing new dimensions to the protest movement.

Iran’s workers are the most powerful force challenging the regime. Their demands are rooted in class and community. They call for the end of exploitation, poverty and oppression. The workers are bridging ethnic, religious, gender, class and generational divides like never before.

They have also fought to establish independent unions in the face of government suppression. This is particularly notable in light of the fact that Iran’s labor law does not allow for the formation of unions outside the sanctioned ones. They are also tackling corruption and mismanagement of their workplaces. For example, the workers in the Haft Tappeh sugar cane company are demanding immediate payment of three months overdue wages, renewal of insurance coverage, and the immediate arrest of the CEO and one of the owners who have been implicated in a $1.5 billion FOREX corruption case.

The economy

In Iran, where most workers live on $3 a day and inflation is raging, it’s unlikely that this latest wave of strikes will amount to much. But it’s a sign that serious working-class action is re-emerging as an organizing force in the country.

Organizers are coordinating their actions with each other over social media to increase the chances that they’ll win concessions from the regime. They’re also trying to turn the protests into a movement of the entire Iranian working class by tying them to economic demands.

In a letter to teachers, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has urged all Iranians to support their “reasonable demands.” That could prove difficult for Tehran. If Iran’s economy continues to crumble, it may be forced to resort to printing money—which will further fuel inflation and alienate key constituencies. Then it will be stuck in a cycle of unrest that it can’t escape.

The regime

Across Iran, shopkeepers and lorry drivers are joining oil workers in their general strike against skyrocketing petrol prices. As the regime struggles to contain protests, it is also running out of options to subdue them.

The success of the oil workers’ strike shows that a diverse range of social movements can coalesce around a common antagonist and use everyday politics to build solidarity. Although students’ and workers’ grievances are seemingly distinct, they have converged around the coloniality of the oil company and its refusal to listen to their demands.

The Iranian leadership appears increasingly unnerved by these developments. They fear that workers’ movements can erupt at any moment and have the potential to grow from small localised actions to broad rejection of the regime. They are also concerned about the proliferation of protests via social media and the speed with which they have spread from city to city. This makes them particularly worried about the oil industry.

The diaspora

Iranian expats living in the West, as well as many of those who have left Iran since the revolution, have been among the biggest supporters of the protest movement. They have provided funds and re-broadcast live streams of protests on social media, providing a crucial link between Iran and its citizens.

But as the protests enter a second day, the government is doubling down on crackdowns. It has denied a claim by a senior official that the morality police were being abolished and imposed restrictions on women’s dress. Domestic media, including 1500tasvir and the state-run Fars news agency, shared footage showing shops closed in Tehran and other cities.

Manouchehr Bakhtiari, a journalist with the state-run Hammihan Daily, remains in prison in poor health serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security and propaganda against the regime”. Fellow journalist Mohammadi Mohammadi was arrested for attending a memorial service for poet Baktash Abtin who died in custody after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison.

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