Monday, July 12, 2010

The Green Movement and the Working Class

Translator's Note: Sohrab Behdad is the coauthor with Farhad Nomani of Class and Labor in Iran: Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006). Below is the translation of an interview with him conducted by Ms. Mahindokht Mesbah of the Persian Language Deutsche Welle Radio on June 16, 2010. This translation was published by Tehran Bureau( July 11,2010.*

The Green Movement and its Claim to Transcend Class
Translated by Frieda Afary

Deutsche Welle: The subject of our interview is the place of the working class in the Iranian protest movement known as the Green Movement. It seems that workers and laborers have not participated in the protests of the past year, at least not under their own independent banner. It seems that they have been potential, but not actual, participants in the movement. Do you concur with this view?

Sohrab Behdad: To some extent. However, one has to ask how workers can be discerned among the ranks of the protestors. It seems that the distinguishing marks being applied are obsolete. We have to acknowledge that the image of the Iranian working class is no longer the traditional one. Many are educated and young. Their attire and demeanor are no different from those of the middle class. The traditional image of a worker is that of a person who wears a greasy outfit and has a gaunt face.

Another issue is the lack of labor slogans within the Green Movement. The reason for this lack is that the protests have revolved around the right to vote, elections, human rights, and freedom. It is not true that workers have not participated in these spontaneous movements.

The next issue is that working class demands do not have the possibility of being directly manifested in the society. On the one hand, the present political situation has limited workers through suppressing their organizations. On the other hand, the leaders of the Green Movement have not yet expressed a strong interest in raising their issues.

The very fact that the question has been raised and is being asked by you reveals the fact of workers' presence in the movement. It is not true that there has been a lack of participation by workers per se. However, it is clear that labor issues have not found an organic expression in the slogans of the Green Movement.

DW: Some say that the labor movement in Iran has always been secular and that it has not joined the Green Movement because the Green Movement's leading figures are straddling the fence between religion and secularism.

SB: This is not true. The Green Movement is essentially secular. The issue is that Iranian society is in search of democracy and social justice. However the movement has not gone beyond the democracy-seeking stage so far. Its leadership has paid less attention to the question of social justice.

DW: Do you think the continuation of the Green Movement will enable it to represent labor issues after it has passed through the current political demands?

SB: That is inevitable. The Green Movement cannot succeed unless it raises social justice demands, which include workers' demands at the center. During the Khatami era, Reformists failed because they did not take the demand for social justice seriously, and did not make efforts to organize social forces. When there were disturbances in Islamshahr [a working-class city near Tehran], Reformist newspapers paid them no attention. Reformists better have learned from these experiences.

DW: You referred to the reform period. Some labor representatives say that the disappointment of workers with the eight years of reform has made them indifferent to the comings and goings of this or that [leader], and that the workers do not wish to pay a heavy price without getting results.

SB: I question the identity of these representatives and the validity of their statements. On May 1 this year, ten workers' organizations issued a statement. In addition to specific labor demands, they demanded the abolition of the death penalty and the abolition of discriminatory laws against women. These are the slogans of the Green Movement.

DW: I'm glad that you mentioned slogans that go beyond class. Some say that the Green Movement does not have a class origin, and hence it is incorrect for it to raise the demands of this or that sector or class.

SB: This statement can be simultaneously correct and demagogical. To speak of going beyond class is like saying "hameh ba ham" ["All together!" -- a slogan of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's ]. It signifies doing away with the demand for social justice. It violates social justice.

DW: Another view is that the income gap and the economic and social status gap between the middle class and workers is narrowing on a daily basis, and that a kind of proletarianization is evident in this [middle] class.

SB: Precisely! This has taken place in Iranian society during the past 30 years. This very issue reveals that social justice is also very important to the middle class. Iranian office workers are in fact laborers who have become white collar. The issue of social justice is very important to them as well. That is why it needs to be addressed.

For the Green Movement to say that it is opposed to corruption will not bring about the realization of social justice. Throughout the world, corruption exists and punishment for it also exists. The movement has to raise specific demands that are relevant to changing the living and working conditions of the laborers.

DW: Many also say that if workers join the movement and a general strike takes place, the movement will be complete. How objective is this view, which takes its example from the last months of the Pahlavi regime? After 30 years of repression and the use of force, do the proper context and means for a general strike by workers exist in our society?

SB: A large portion of Iran's workers work for the government, the Pasdaran [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], and the foundations. In Mr. Karroubi's words, we cannot speak of freedom for workers in a society in which the employers are the Pasdaran. We need to speak in terms of the existing reality in Iran. At this time, the possibility and context [for a general strike] do not exist for the working class.

What we need to realize is that if the current economic situation worsens, and the "plan for targeted monetary subsidies" is enforced, the buying power of millions will decrease. This will have repercussions.

DW: Is it possible to predict what will happen? If the situation worsens, will there be wider protests with a stronger message from the people?

SB: The social dynamic cannot be predicted so easily. In the above case, protests will certainly increase. There will be greater dissatisfaction. However, it will not necessarily lead to violence and riots. We cannot predict the form that the dissatisfaction and protest will take. The form of social protests depends on the character of organizations, concerted actions, and the maturity of the leaders and representatives of the social currents.

* For another important analysis of the Green Movement and Iranian labor struggles, see "The Green Movement Awaits an Invisible Hand" by Dr. Mohammad Maljoo ( An earlier interview with Sohrab Behdad concerning his book Class and Labor in Iran can be found at

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Message from Five Independent Iranian Labor Unions

Five independent Iranian labor unions sent a message of solidarity to the second World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation held in Vancouver BC, Canada from June 21 to June 25, 2010. The message describes the Iranian government's relentless attacks on independent labor union leaders and activists. The text of the message is being reprinted from Iran Labor Report.

Message of Solidarity to the General Assembly of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Persian source:
Translator Unknown

We send plentiful greetings to our friends and colleagues participating in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Assembly. Friends, we are extremely distressed that no representative of the Iranian labour movement is present among you to demonstrate the solidarity of Iranian workers with your General Assembly, and to inform you of the day-to-day issues of today’s Iranian labour movement. Nevertheless, know that despite the distance between us, we see ourselves by your side and wish for a most productive and victorious week for you and for the global labour movement.

Comrades and colleagues, for nearly a decade now, you have come to our aid with your strong support, and have been intimately involved in our problems and struggles. We nevertheless wish to inform you that the Iranian labour movement is enduring one of its darkest times ever.

Throughout its lifespan, the Iranian government has not only completely disregarded its commitments to international labour conventions and basic workers rights, but in light of the political situation in Iran during the past year, the government has paved the way for fiercely attacking even the most basic workers rights, and to strike against the few existing Iranian labor organizations with ever increasing intensity.

Our colleagues Mr. Saeed Torabian and Mr. Reza Shahabi were captured at home and at their workplace, in front of their families, in broad daylight and without presentation of any warrants, on completely fallacious charges. It has been two weeks that their families and colleagues have absolutely no information about their fate or condition. Also within the past two weeks, two other labor activists, Mr. Alireza Akhavan and Mr. Behnam Ibrahim, were captured and transported to an unknown location. Messrs. Mansour Osanloo and Ibrahim Madadi have spent the last three years in prison because they organized a labour union. Not only have they had no respite or liberty throughout these past three years, but they have also been denied medical attention while being detained in the most dangerous and deplorable prisons.

Members of the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory Syndicate have not only been thrown in prison for labour related activity, but have also been fired from their jobs. The execution of Mr. Farzad Kamangar, and the other baseless detainments, sentences of prison time and whip lashing for the very few Iranian labour union activists, has created extremely troublesome conditions for them, and for any potential basic labour union activities. Not only educators themselves, but their relatives and loved ones have suffered as a result of these problems. Many of them are in prison or on their way to prison.

Friends and colleagues, this year we witnessed in the ILO’s annual meeting that Iran’s government was not only not reproached more than previous years, but actually received a “bonus” by being removed from the ILO violators list. We know very well that you make every possible effort at your disposal to see that the Iranian labour movement is not sacrificed to governmental political and economic turbulence [Persian expression used here is "zad va band" which can be translated as conspiratorial deals--FA]

We hereby recognize your current efforts in support of the Iranian labour movement with utmost gratitude, but respectfully request and expect that you continue your support with redoubled intensity and effort. We wish for you to take greater steps towards driving back the horrendous conditions imposed upon Iranian workers.

To obtain their basic rights, workers have no other recourse but the expression of class solidarity. More so than ever before, we reaffirm our reliance on international workers solidarity. We hereby shake your hand in concordance, and send our warmest regards and our greatest solidarity to you.

Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed)
Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Company
Union of Free Workers of Iran
Committee for Re-Certification of the Mechanics and Steelworkers Syndicate
Association of Electrical and Steel Workers Kermanshah

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