Monday, October 29, 2007

The Right to Organize an Independent Labor Union in Iran

In 2001, Saeed Rahnema and Haideh Moghissi wrote:
For the workers' movement in particular, nothing is more crucial than an opportunity to form independent trade union organizations, and this cannot be achieved without weakening the power of the present autocratic clerical regime.

Such developments will create real possibilities for the century-old movements for democracy, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, respect for minority rights, women's rights, economic development, and social justice to succeed. Such objective circumstances favoring action by the secular left will almost inevitably arise, if the existing equilibrium, or "the balance of fear" -- a popular term used to define the hesitation of various factions within the ruling bloc to strike the final blow -- continues. This impasse within the Islamic reform movement will undoubtedly intensify the push for radical change and will give the secular opposition a chance to actively participate in the struggle for establishing -- as a first step -- a secular democratic state in place of the existing clerical oligarchy.("Clerical Oligarchy and the Question of 'Democracy' in Iran," Monthly Review 52.10, March 2001)
I'm afraid things didn't turn out the way Rahnema and Moghissi hoped. Among the candidates for the 2005 Presidential Elections in Iran, there was one who came out for the right to organize an independent labor union -- Mostafa Moin, "the candidate representing 'progressive reformists'":
Moin's backers also reached out to workers by acknowledging their rights to strike and to establish independent unions. Since the revolution, all unions have been organized under the auspices of the Labor Ministry. If it is not just a symbolic statement, this acknowledgement would signal a change in orientation by the reformist politicians toward the reality that Iranians will not simply trust them to be wiser and more just stewards of the Islamic Republic than the conservatives. (Arang Keshavarzian and Mohammad Maljoo, "Paradox and Possibility in Iran's Presidential Election," Middle East Report, 17 June 2005)
Moin received only 14% of the vote, finishing in fourth place in the first round. Not surprising, since "the reformists surrounding Moin continued to direct their appeals to the middle classes, and openly spoke of themselves as a party of 'the elite' (nokhbegan, a term which, unfortunately, does not have the negative connotations it carries in English)" (Kaveh Ehsani, "Iran's Presidential Runoff: The Long View," Middle East Report, 24 June 2005).

Iran's labor activists will have to first get their fellow Iranians interested in workers' self-organization. Unfortunately for them, ardent support of the labor wing of the empire for "free, independent trade unions" in Iran will likely be a minus, not a plus, for their cause in the eyes of a majority of Iranians.

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