Iran’s workers will once again use May Day to remind the religious state and ‘reformist’ Islamists alike of their power, writes Yassamine Mather
As May Day approaches, Iranian workers are preparing demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities. Over the last few weeks everyone from ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from employers to labour groups, agrees that the number of workers’ protests and the radicalisation of their slogans marks a new phase in Iran.
Largely unseen by the world media, thousands of strikes, slow-downs and sit-ins by workers challenge the government’s drive to privatise the economy. Iran’s workers are also aware of their role in the overthrow of the shah and once again they will use May Day to remind the religious state and ‘reformist’ Islamists alike of their power. A recent statement by a coalition of workers’ organisations clarifies this: “We millions are the producers of wealth, the wheels of production. Society moves only because we move it” (The Epoch Times March 25).
Since the start of the Iranian new year (March 21) workers have protested against the setting of the official minimum wage at the equivalent of $303 per month. Six independent workers’ organisations have argued that this is a third of the poverty line, which is actually $900. There is also worker opposition to government attempts to abolish subsidies in line with IMF/World Bank diktat. However, what will distinguish this year’s May Day protests will be the political slogans – already seen on posters and leaflets distributed in Tehran and other major cities in Iran.
Many posters feature the slogan, ‘Death to the dictator’, alongside workers’ demands for the right to organise and the right to strike. Statements issued by workers’ organisation include demands for the freedom of all political prisoners and an end to the use of military and paramilitary forces against demonstrators and protesters. Teachers are preparing for a week-long strike starting on May 1 to demand an end to interference by the religious state in the school curriculum, as well as better wages and conditions.
Over the last few years workers attempting to celebrate May Day have been arrested and prosecuted – some have been sentenced to prison and lashings. The prominent labour leader, Mansour Ossanlou, remains in prison, along with other worker activists, such as Ebrahim Maddadi, Farzad Kamangar and Ghaleb Husseini. This May Day we should do all we can to defend these activists and join Iranian workers in their call for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.
The charter of workers’ minimum demands, jointly issued by Iran’s four main independent trade unions, includes:
- Unconditional recognition of independent workers’ organisations, the right to strike, to organise protests, the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of political organisation.
- Abolition of the death penalty, and the immediate and unconditional release of jailed workers and other social activists.
- Immediate increase in the minimum wage based on workers’ input through their representatives in workers’ general assemblies.
- No abolition of subsidies. All unpaid wages should be paid immediately without any excuses.
- Job security for workers and all wage-earners; an end to all temporary and so-called ‘blank signature’ contracts; removal of all government-run organisations from the workplace; drafting of a new labour law through direct participation of workers’ representatives elected by their general assemblies.
- Abolition of all the discriminatory laws against women; the ensuring of full and unconditional equality of women and men in all social, economic, political, cultural and family fields.