Keeping company with Ahmadinejad
AN Iranian comrade draws my attention to an interesting item from the Wall Street Journal
It comes as protests continue in Iran, and there are reports that a socialist student, one of those arrested on May Day, has died in prison, possibly after torture.
* JULY 31, 2009
German Firm in Iran Bans Staff Protests By FARNAZ FASSIHI and MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG
A privately owned German company, Knauf Gips KG, warned its Iranian employees working in Iran that they would be immediately dismissed if caught in anti-government protests, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Iran's government pressured Knauf to issue the order after a senior executive was arrested during Friday prayer demonstrations two weeks ago, according to people familiar with the case. The company, which has 22,000 employees around the world, was told that such a letter would be a condition for the executive's release.
The order by Knauf, a drywall-manufacturing company with decades of business history in Iran, shows how foreign companies in Iran are vulnerable to severe repercussions if they don't comply with demands from the regime.
Since protests following Iran's June 12 presidential election, Iran has cracked down on opposition supporters, particularly Iranians or dual nationals employed by Western companies, embassies and the media. Iran has accused some of fomenting a "velvet" revolution and acting as links between opposition leaders and foreign countries.
Protesters have come from all walks of life. The employee at the center of the Knauf controversy is a 34-year-old dual national of Germany and Iran and heads the company's Iran operation. He was released four days after Knauf agreed to issue the order but faces trial, according to the company and others.
Isabel Knauf, a founding-family member who is on the supervisory board of the Iran operation, signed a letter that was circulated confidentially to its hundreds of Iranian employees on July 21.
"We would like to remind all of our employees to remember that they are not only representing their private opinion when being politically active, but their actions could fall back negatively on our Knauf companies in Iran," said the letter, which was reviewed by the Journal. "Therefore, from now on, if anybody from our company gets caught demonstrating against the current government, he or she will be immediately dismissed."
We could well imagine that firms doing business in Iran would be under pressure to make pro-government statements and tell their staff not to take part in demonstrations. The pressure would be worse after a senior executive had been arrested. But making a public statement is not the same as sending out a personal letter to employees. We can also well imagine that companies are not happy about workers walking out on protests, or even holding meetings in the workplace. But this letter clearly also applies to activity outside working hours. telling people they are "not only representing their private opinion when being politically active", but belong to the company, is a curious version of democracy, whether Iranian or Western. And the threat of instant dismissal makes this not just a political statement but a policing action on behalf of the regime.
The Wall Street Journal notes that Germany is Iran's biggest trading partner after the United Arab emirates and China. "Some 85 German companies have operations in Iran, ranging from Deutsche Lufthansa AG to auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG, according to the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, 7,000 to 8,000 German companies conduct business in Iran through local representatives, the chamber says".
German chancellor Angela Merkel, like other Western politicians, has criticised repression in Iran, and some Iranians, taking such comments as genuine, are taken aback to find a European firm threatening staff with the sack for protesting. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said "If it's true that German companies are restricting or forbidding staff from demonstrating, then the German government doesn't welcome it."
It's not hard to see why this story interests the Wall Street Journal, and not necessarily from the same motives as Iranian workers and democratic activists fighting the regime. The US, like Israel, still regards Iran as an enemy. Some Western companies have been turning down Iranian business in line with US sanctions policies. But this can hit ordinary Iranians, rather than the regime, particularly lately when students and Iranian exiles have been using mobiles and the internet to communicate news and information. On the other hand Nokia has been condemned for providing police communications, and we may ask about the water cannon equipment which has been used.
The shrinking band of pseudo-Lefts and at best naive idealists who argue that the Iranian regime must be supported because it is "anti-imperialist" have never been prepared to even consider that there might be more than one imperialist interest involved, and in conflict, in Middle East and world affairs. Elected governments may still feel obliged to uphold the unity of Cold War days, but commercial and secret operations need not be so polite, nor stick to the same rules. When the Islamicist regime is overthrown, the revolutionaries might unearth some quite un-Islamic explanations underlying use of Hizbollah for a bombing in Buenos Aires and hosting a Holocaust revisionist conference in Tehran.
But right now it is clear neither US or European imperialists, let alone the Zionist colonisers, have the advancement of Iranian people's rights at heart. Neither war nor sanctions will help the Iranian people, or the workers' cause. The only people who can be trusted to help are those fighting for similar rtights and aims themselves.
- Workers' sanctions, if possible, to prevent means of repression reaching the Iranian regime. (In Britain that would mean challenging the anti-union laws).
- Solidarity, to directly assist the workers and students in Iran, with demonstrations and material help.
EVENTS IN LONDON:
Saturday August 1. Fundraising day for Iranian workers movement.
Cricket match - Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI) v. Labour Representation Committee.
12 noon at Low Hall Sports Ground, Walthamstow.E17
HOPI Benefit gig with Attila the Stockbroker and other groups
7.30pm at Dalston Community Centre, 2a Belgrave Rd., N16
admission £3/5, £10 solidarity.
Sunday August 2 - demonstration in solidarity with Iranian political prisoners
at Press TV studios, Westgate, W5, near Hanger.Lane tube station.
Press TV is the Iranian government owned station.