Thousands of Iranians across the country took to the streets as 2017 came to a close to vent their frustration and anger over the poverty, brutality and corruption which blight their lives. At least twenty demonstrators have been killed and over a thousand people are reportedly in detention, facing possible imprisonment, abuse and torture. The demonstrations have stopped, at least for the moment, but the arrests continue.
What is driving the protests? The security forces, who can only distinguish between obedience and sedition, blame ‘foreign enemies’. Journalists and propagandists who see everything through the prism of regional and superpower rivalries are equally clueless.
None of the media reports speak about demonstrations in Shush, site of the giant Haft Tapeh sugar plantation and mill complex where workers have been striking and demonstrating since early December (and were blocking roads in support of their demands last summer). But Shush is a microcosm of all that has driven people onto the streets.
It is now going on six months since the Haft Tapeh workers were last paid. Bakeries and shops in the town face ruin and have stopped selling on credit. Hunger stalks a dying city.
No one can explain how two unknown young men with no experience in food processing came to possess the factory, the fields and the surrounding real estate in a murky privatization. And no one can explain where the money has gone that should have been paid into the government social security scheme, leaving thousands of pensioners hungry and destitute.
In response to an authoritarian regime whose only reflex is repression, and the temptation the situation offers to governments fundamentally hostile to worker rights to opportunisticly posture and stir the pot, what should unions be doing? Together with our allies, we can best support the Iranian workers’ fight for rights by focusing on defending all those in Iran who are courageously working to build independent worker organizations: the Haft Tapeh workers, the Teheran transport workers, the members and activists of the Iranian Teachers’ Association, worker rights activists like the baker Mahmoud Salehi and the many other rights defenders struggling under harsh conditions.