Change, is it possible? Does it require political activism? If Irani workers can do it, people everywhere can do it, too, eh?
by Brian Murphy & Nasser Karimi
For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret because of fear of reprisals from authorities among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up.
In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy, which has received a double pounding from tightening Western sanctions and alleged mismanagement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.
The rare protest document suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class as the ruling system struggles with the latest sanctions, which have targeted critical oil exports and blackballed Iran from international banking networks.
It also appears to reinforce the U.S. and European assertions that the economic squeeze is bringing increasing pressures on Iranian authorities to wring concessions over Iran’s nuclear program.
While Iran’s leadership still has broad-based public support in the nuclear standoff with the West, the petition and sporadic street demonstrations over the slumping economy suggest a growing distinction between the national pride of nuclear technology and the economic hardships from Tehran’s defiance. The Iranian currency, the rial, hit another all-time low against the dollar Monday, which is certain to further drive up prices of imported goods.
If the government does not find ways to prop up salaries and rein in prices, Jafar Azimzadeh, a labor rights activist and gas-pipe fitter, warned “Workers would not stay at the level of writing petitions. They would go toward street gatherings and other actions.”
Iran’s factory workers and laborers have provided the tipping points at pivotal moments. They gave vital populist backing to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and generally sided with the ruling clerics when they were under threat by riots after Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.
The scope of the signatures — representing several Iranian cities — is an unusual show of grassroots unity without umbrella organizations such as unions.
“When we do not have rights for major protest rallies and strikes, petition is the only way,” said Parvin Mohammadi, a retired metal industry worker and one of the organizers. She said the workers wrote a protest petition about irregular pay of their wages earlier in June.
Conspicuously absent, activist said, were workers in the oil industry, which provides up to 80 percent of Iran’s foreign revenue. Iranian oil workers usually receive better wages than others.
At a square in downtown Tehran, laborers gather to be picked for day jobs at construction sites, making about 300,000 rials ($9.50) a day.
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