With greetings and respect to dear friends and fellow workers. Since May 1st is very near I take this opportunity to congratulate workers’ international day of solidarity to all my fellow workers, hoping for a most magnificent celebration, a clear and loud expression of workers’ and toilers’ voices and demands, and a unity of our class.
By Reza Shahabi*
With greetings and respect to dear friends and fellow workers.
This short note is a partial explanation of some of my views and evaluations I have reached in the past few years, based on my activism in the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company and Iranian labor movement. Tehran bus workers’ union is an independent syndicate. It is a workers based organization. Through times it has proven its abilities and achievements. Keeping in mind Tehran bus workers’ union’s weak points and all the obstacles and repressions it has to go through, our union represents a model to be considered by Iranian workers.
Iranian Labor movement has gone through various experiences in the past few years; through many defeats and victories, becoming more experienced and class conscious. On a global level the Labor movement, since inception, had faced many dangers and false paths. Workers’ inability to provide adequate responses to these challenges has been costly and bitter. Thus, despite struggles and sacrifices of labor activists, this movement has not reached victory or achieved its goals. Class conscious and vanguard workers have a responsibility to recognize these dangers, and provide a timely response, preventing movement’s deviation.
Since May 1st is very near I take this opportunity to congratulate workers’ international day of solidarity to all my fellow workers, hoping for a most magnificent celebration, a clear and loud expression of workers’ and toilers’ voices and demands, and a unity of our class.
About workers’ class struggles in Iran
For more than a century, workers’ movements have been the strongest social forces in the world, and at times workers’ parties the strongest political organizations. Yet, workers have not been able to establish a workers’ democracy in any country? Why bourgeois and capitalist class positions are augmented on a daily basis, while workers’ are caught in a chain of defeats. Even when able to capture a social position, after a short period those gains are lost. Why workers haven’t been able to form a workers’ state, except in 1917 revolution in Russia, and even the soviet state was defeated in a few years, and led astray.
Let’s look at the developments of the past few years. In the Egyptian revolution “Mubarak” was ousted after workers’ strikes joined the general movement, a week after Egyptian workers General Strike had begun. In Tunisia as well, one of the main forces against “Ben Ali” was “Tunisian Workers’ General Union”, and this federation was one of the main reasons for that regime’s downfall. Developments in Libya and Syria have led to destruction of the society precisely because the working classes in these societies did not protest as a class, and in the absence of indigenous alternative, the path of developments were determined by the will of international capital and against the interests of the people. Currently in Syria, we are witnessing two sides, Syrian state, and the amalgamation of Salfist currents, Syrian Free Army,…(supported by western powers as well as dictatorial regimes of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) engaged in a catastrophic process destroying that country.
The new regime in Egypt, led by “Muslim Brotherhood” did not concede to a single demand from the workers. The day after Mubarak’s downfall, Brotherhood reached an agreement with the Army to crush workers’ strikes and protests, and prevent them from entering the streets. The day after the revolution Egyptian labor activists and progressives were caught up in pressures and machinations of an ominous triangle: remnants of the old regime, the Army, and religious-political forces. Main demands of the Egyptian labor movement were to stop the process of privatizations, nationalization of the main industries, and freedom to establish independent workers’ organizations. But the new regime paid no attention to workers’ demands, this main force of the revolution, and has done its best to ensure the interests of the capitalists. In Tunisia, the new regime led by “Al’Nahzatah” wasn’t even interested in pursuing the cases against the loans obtained by old regime. Loans were taken in the name of Tunisian people, but went to the pockets of Ben Ali family, (Trablesi clan). In Tunisia as well, workers’ demands were met first with dismissal and then by repression. In a criminal act “Shokri Belaid” a progressive leader and defender of workers’ rights and demands was assassinated.
In Egypt and Tunisia workers were the most significant force of the revolution, but after victory, new strata of bourgeois parties have taken control and sacrificed workers. Not only the conditions didn’t improve, they only got worse.
In Iranian revolution of 1979, the main force that overthrew the monarchy was the Iranian working class. This reality is so obvious that even bourgeois historians cannot deny it. But what happened the day after the revolution? While claiming to be for the poor, severe repression was used against progressive workers. Mehdi Bazargan, the head of the provisional government at the time, in a speech delivered on national television declared that going on strike means working with the counter revolution and will be punished; ever since all strikes have been heavily repressed. Workers who had occupied factories or had formed councils were suppressed through various forms. Armed anti-worker allies of capitalists attacked shanty towns and slums that had established their own councils. Slum dwellers became a target in various locations.
The 1980’s (1360s according to Iranian calendar) was a decade of Capitalist stabilization, and also: plant closures; repression of workers’ syndicates, organizations, and councils; a decade of vanguard workers being expelled from jobs, a decade when the best and brightest of social activists were physically eliminated. The 90’s witnessed a rapid Capitalist accumulation of wealth, coupled with a relentless process of privatization, the spread and legalization of temporary work contracts, while maintaining wages very low.
Iranian workers must study and research all these experiences with precision, and learn from history. By studying our defeats in Iran and other countries we create bridges to victories. Why there hasn’t been a genuine workers’ government (except a few months in the Paris Commune and a few years in Russia) up to now? Are capitalists only capable of governing? Moreover, are they even capable of enforcing justice and freedom? Is political democracy without economic democracy a real substantial democracy? Isn’t freedom without equality only a freedom for the rich? Workers should know that if they are united, conscious and organized they can create a more just and free society based on equality and freedom. Workers must rely on their own resources, and prepare for the tasks ahead…. The most significant point, the categorical imperative that must be our guide is Class Independence, its maintenance and augmentation…. And although all such arguments seem facile and simple at first they constitute some of the most complex issues and contain many lessons to be learned. Below are a few notes on various different aspects of this notion of independence. Workers’ class independence is multi-faceted and intertwined.
1- Organizational Independence: Workers must establish their own independent formations in workplaces and shops and through connections with each other establish nation-wide organizations. But independent form what? Independent from the state; our own or foreign, independent from capitalists and their institutions; internal or external and abroad.
Hitherto we have seen different types of independent workers’ organizations being formed, like Syndicate or Council (during the 1979 revolution). No matter Syndicate or Council, workers’ organizations must remain independent. Bourgeoisie, Capitalists and their representatives oppose workers having their own formations. For Liberals, Conservatives or the Right-Wing, religious or not, Iranian or non-Iranian, there’s nothing more frightening and unpleasant than independent workers’ organizations and also anti-Capitalist labor parties. Therefore they advise us to join their parties, organizations and fronts. They promise to fulfill our demands. But these are just lies. They have never followed their promises. Workers need to create their own organizations, guard it with their lives and develop it. Therefore we need to avoid parties of Bourgeoisie. These parties and organizations have a thousand faces. For instance “Workers’ House” is an economic organization of bourgeoisie and the state. It’s named after workers, and sometimes they raise workers’ slogans, but when we look at their actions and functionality, we observer that they oppose workers’ empowerment and growth. They want to use us as pawns and soldiers of their parties and governments. Their worst fear is when workers decide on their own and start fighting for their rights. Workers shouldn’t be deceived by them. Once the workers are united in their own independent formations, and self-organized, hardly a force on earth could stop them.
Organizational independent is also significantly related to the sphere of International Solidarity. Based on the nature of our class, workers need to be in connection with their fellow workers throughout the world, support each other’s struggles, augment international solidarity, and if needed to appear and give presentations as the genuine representatives of workers in international forums. At the same time we could recognize substantial differences within international Labor movement, concerning organizing strategies, or horizons and prospects of our struggles. Connections, discourse and cooperation on international level with other labor formations should not result in a loss of organizational or political independence, and it should not reinforce politics and practice of reformism and bureaucracy which remains dominant in a good portion of the international labor movement. Iranian workers’ movement needs to address these issues, become more global, and while maintaining its independence, augment the anti-Capitalist critique and narrative.
2- Financial Independence: The danger of bourgeois financial influences also needs to be recognized and opposed. Such influences take many forms, it could be: the State itself, Capitalists or their organization, political parties, or even some international organizations, presenting itself as a so called Human Rights organization, or an advocate of workers’ rights. But in reality they want to utilize their financial aid to control and dominate workers. As a result workers need to be financially self-sufficient, which itself is a very old tradition in all countries. It’s true that workers don’t have that much income to personally finance their organizations, but because of our vast numbers, and due to a lack of waste, high spending, or theft in our organizations, by relying on our own financial resources, we could achiever financial independence…. Workers’ Cooperatives, Strike Funds and Solidarity Funds are also various forms of such financial independence. Solidarity Funds especially those aiding incarcerated and expelled workers through financial transparency provide reassurance.
3- Media Independence: Bourgeois media networks constitute another danger facing our movement. All their budgets are provided by various states and their intelligence services. All powerful states such as US, England, France, Germany, Israel and others share such media networks. An informed worker should ask herself: why all these states and capitalists, who have been involved in crimes against workers, women, men, children and elderly, are so interested in setting up such advanced media networks? … These outlets profess to solely inform the population. But is this an honest claim? I believe not. The aims of these networks are to brainwashing people and workers and preventing workers from reaching the truth. In the process of Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions none of these networks mentioned a single word about the most significant element of the opposition: the workers. While they were reporting day and night about the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, there was not a word about “Tunisian General Union of Workers”; none covered the extensive and effective workers’ strikes in Egypt, and its repression by the Army. None of these networks mentioned that genesis of the revolution, Mohamed Bouazizi, burned himself, in protest to unemployment and poverty. They never mentioned and still don’t mention that in addition to Liberty, they also seek Social Equality and Social Welfare, increase of minimum wages, a guarantee of dignified and proper employment; independent workers’ organizations and socialization of large industries. The only phrase they kept repeating was that: people’s revolution against dictatorship, people’s revolution for freedom. As much as they could they avoided any mention of justice, workers or workers’ organizations. They were apprehensive about workers’ getting united together and taking over. They were also apprehensive about workers in other countries learning from the examples of their sisters and brothers in Egypt and Tunisia. Thus they were hiding the truth: “Half truths are the biggest lies.”
An informed worker would ask herself: Why whenever there is an interview in western media about a social, economical, or political subject, there’s a ninety nine percent possibility that a Liberal or Right wing researchers and professors get interviewed, although we have all these progressive and vanguard experts and professors in Iran and the world, those that in their analysis take the side of workers. Why none of them are ever interviewed? And if this ever happens, it is done as a pretension towards taking no sides. If they interviewed Prof. Fariborz Raies Dana, on the eve of eliminating state subsidies, it was because neoliberal economists have no qualm with privatization: “freedom of prices”; or leaving the destinies of the poor in the society to the invisible hands of the market. Their only objection is to how all of this is implemented.
Why these media outlets never have a program on workers, and if they ever have one, workers are always depicted as helpless and poor creatures, in need of charity. Workers are never depicted as the only class in the society that could establish true liberty, general welfare, and peace, not only for workers, but for all members of the society. Workers should not be fooled by the Medias’ claims of not taking a side. Workers shall contemplate creation of their own media networks, independent workers’ media with the goal of informing workers and general public. These workers’ media outlets would be able to break through Capitalist media monopoly and censorship. This is a very costly and difficult undertaking. But this is a task that workers should be concerned with even today. Creation of Workers’ media network does not mean abandoning previous traditions of the Labor movement, but using new tools for education, and agitation, continuing those traditions of the Labor movement in today’s world. Class consciousness and vanguard workers must pursue this task of spreading class awareness at their job sites and shops, in the society in general, even with a single sheet of paper.
* This is a translation of a lengthy article from Reza Shahabi published on April 6, 2013, a few days before he was forced to return to jail following his temporary leave for medical reasons. The English excerpts have been translated by IASWI-English Newsletter. The full article in its original format in Persian was published in many websites including IASWI’s and that of the Vahed Syndicate. If there are any discrepancies between the Farsi version and the translation of that in English, the Farsi version on the IASWI’s or Vahed Syndicate’s websites shall be considered as the accurate one.
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