By Hamid Taghvaee
On May 1st of this year in Iran, all heads turned to the workers’ movement. From a few weeks prior to May Day, workers’ problems, plights, demands and protests had already turned into a discourse within the nation, media, political opposition groups, and so on. Leftist groups and workers’ organizations, institutions and labour activists welcomed the International Workers’ Day by, like every other year, issuing messages, calls for actions, resolutions, and prepared themselves for holding protests and assemblies. But May 1 assumed wider social dimensions. It drew the attention not only of the various sections of society as such but also that of the right wing opposition. The reason for this society-wide attention is obvious: for more than 10 months the society had been going through a seething revolutionary period. Under such conditions, International Workers’ Day, which symbolizes the deep rooted causes of freedom and equality, would not only not remain a cause for communists, labour activists and workers’ organizations but also become a cause for the masses who, sick and tired of the regime, have entered the arena to rid themselves of it.
The ruling murderers too, aware of the significance of this year’s May Day, had prepared all their hellish medley of forces to prevent the spread of demonstrations and protests on that day. Security forces, Basij and “plainclothes” murderers as well as herds of other kinds of thugs were dispatched to the streets. They created an unprecedented military atmosphere in Tehran and other cities. These measures were effective in containing the size of demonstrations and preventing the formation of assemblies of masses who had come out to celebrate the day. But they failed to prevent the extensive communication of workers’ demands to the masses. Nor did they succeed in preventing the society from shifting its attention towards the workers’ deep critique of, and protest against, the present conditions. May 1st of this year was indeed an opportunity for the mass movement that had been challenging the Islamic Republic for 10 months prior to the day to hear its own critique and protest this time from the workers’.
Our party has, since the very start of the current movement, constantly and with full power strived for, and emphasized on, the necessity to deepen and radicalize the content of its protests and demands, the need to create open organizations and institutions in order to declare the demands of various sections of the society through them as well as through individual activists. In general, our party’s constant endeavour, since the very beginning of the movement, has been aimed at the need for increasing clarity, articulation and organization of various dimensions of the revolution. A significant condition for the revolution to advance in that direction is entering into the arena of the workers’ movement at the forefront of the protesting masses, bearing the standard of the workers’ protests and demands on a broad social scale. May1st of this year was an important and decisive step in this direction. The 15-point resolution issued by 10 workers’ organizations on the occasion of May Day, both for the content of its comprehensive, radical demands, and as an action per se, is a significant indicator of that progress.
In that resolution workers have issued their indictment against “the capitalist system of Iran.” They have advocated the “unquestionable right of workers and all Iranian people to a life in accordance with the highest standards of life of today’s humanity.” They have demanded the rights to organization, strike, assembly, and freedom of speech for themselves as well as “all Iranian people.” They have demanded that the government scrap its plan to cut subsidies on essential items, and increase the minimum wage to 1 million Tuman [approximately $1000] per month. They have demanded the abolition of death penalty. They have demanded the abolition of all discriminatory laws against women. They have demanded the abolition of child labour, and that children be provided with free, equal education and welfare facilities irrespective of their parents’ social and economic status. They have condemned all kinds of discrimination against immigrant workers from Afghanistan and other countries, and declared their support for teachers, nurses and other working sections of the country.
These are all, indeed, the demands, objectives and ideals of the masses of people who have risen against the entirety of the existing anti-human conditions. They form the workers’ full-fledged banner of the quest for freedom and equality, hoisted from the heart of the current revolutionary movement to clearly show the society how to seize at the very root and throw the gauntlet to the Islamic state in its entirety; so that the society would hear and recognize its revolutionary and deeply humane alternative from the workers, as opposed to the right opposition and the efforts of the regime’s “green” faction to distort the people’s demands for freedom and equality to fit within “the framework of the constitution” or “Islamic human rights” or democracy of the New-World-Order or the “human rights harbingered by Cyrus- the-great”. The masses of people have been challenging the regime for more than 10 months by chanting “down with the dictator” and “down with the principle of theocratic supremacy,” while the workers’ resolution translates, defines and articulates these “structure-breaking” slogans [, as both factions of the regime call them,] in the language of crystal clear humane, freedom-loving and equality-seeking demands.
Furthermore, all the said facts indicate that on May 1st of this year the workers’ movement not only entered the arena in defiance of the regime but also in practical distinction from, and critique of, all the right forces. May 1 showed that, unlike all the forces that try to limit the protests and demonstrations within the framework of the constitutional of the regime, it is only the workers who demand and defend unconditional rights to strike, protest, organization and association - for all the people. May 1 announced that, unlike Iranian/Arian-monger nationalist tendencies, workers oppose any kind of discrimination against any worker, including those of other nationalities who live and work in Iran - Afghan or non-Afghan. It announced that workers, unlike the nationalist-religious tendencies and the Islamic feminists, strive for abolition of all kinds of discrimination against women. Finally, and most important of all, on May 1, workers placed an issue at the core of their demands and protests that the whole right opposition has silently passed over: the issue of poverty and misery ravaging the society, as well as the real, root causes of it. They raised the issue of wages that are as low as a quarter of the [officially announced] poverty line. They raised the issue of lay-offs, employment insecurity, the plan to cut subsidies and the fact the objective of this anti-labour plan is to intensify exploitation and increase profitability of capital. In a word, they condemned the capitalist system as the root cause of all these miseries. This was the worker’s May Day message to the society - a clear and explicit message that separated, with a political dimension and on a social scale, the ranks of the workers from the right forces in their entirety.
Our party has long since emphasized the fact that the left and its critique of the existing social condition in Iran is a wide and strong tendency as well as a wide and strong current. May 1st this year itself was yet another vivid manifestation of that fact. On this day, the workers rose and came on the scene, not as victims of the capitalist system, a depiction of workers the right opposition recognizes and is OK with, but as the active avant-garde and standard bearer of masses struggling for freedom and equality. This socio-political self-assertion is unprecedented even in the trade unionist labour movement suffering from reformist syndicalism in the West, and clearly indicates the status and power of the left in the workers’ movement and in the Iranian society as whole. May 1st of this year was the day the left’s critique of, and the left’s indictment against, the status quo was communicated through the workers’ movement. The workers’ movement can and should advance in this direction more actively, more broadly, and in a more united and organized fashion than before.
May 1 also shows the way to other institutions, organizations and activists in the other protest movements, especially the women’s freedom movement and the student movement: unite and organize; declare your demands and objections under the signature of your organizations, institutions, and NGOs of various kinds; issue messages, resolutions and calls to action; declare your solidarity with other protest movements, and organize combined protest actions with them. The current revolutionary movement is in need of organizing and clarifying itself through ever clearer articulation of the demands and the protests of the workers and masses by the masses themselves; and May Day presents the society as a whole with a clear, practical and facilitating guideline for advancing these causes.
First published in Anternasional (International) weeky, No. 347, May 7, 2010