Iranian leader raises two fingers to West, but brings fist down on workers
IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised two fingers of scorn to Western imperialism, calling US President Obama "immature", and declaring that Iran will continue its nuclear enrichment programme, in defiance of UN sanctions.
But if anyone thinks there's anything intrinsically "progressive" about the Iranian regime, or that its Islamicist leaders are trying to free the people from capitalism, Iranian workers can tell you different.
Reza Shahabi, a leader of the bus workers, was arrested yesterday. Brother Shahabi is a board member and treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed Syndicate). He had been on sick leave for the past few days. When he returned to work on Saturday morning he was told to report to the Tehran Bus Company headquarter. After reporting to the headquarter he was arrested by four intelligence agents. Following his arrest, Bro.Shahabi was taken to his home where they searched his belongings and personal information including his computer and afterwards transferred him to an unknown location. His whereabouts has not been reported to his family.
Saeed Torabian, the union's public relations director, was arrested on June 9, and taken to an unknown place of detention.
As of this time, four leaders and elected representatives of Vahed Syndicate are in prison. Mansour Osanloo, Syndicate's president of the board of director, Ebrahim Madadi, Vice-President; Saeed Torabian, Public relations director and Reza Shahabi, Treasurer.
Other members of the union have reportedly been harassed at work by the Vahed Company and there are fears of more arrests of Vahed Syndicate members and other labour activists. In recent weeks, Mansour Osanloo has been subject to harassment and threats of new charges by prison officials and other agents of the Islamic regime. While in prison, Bro. Osanloo has recently been interrogated and accused of relationship with opposition groups as well as insulting the "Supreme Leader", Ayatollah Khamanei and Ahmadinejad.
These allegations have been denied by Osanloo. Both Torabian and Shahabi had been suspended without pay from work for about four years following the 2005 strike. After years of inquiries they were finally reinstated in their job and were returned to work but now they are arrested as a part of an obvious scheme orchestrated jointly by intelligence officials and the Tehran Bus Company.
Friday's Morning Star had an intersting article by Jamshid Ahmadi enitled Iran's neoliberal agenda.
"On the first anniversary of the fraudulent election that secured Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second term as president, Iran is once again under the international media spotlight", the writer observes, saying that three days after the UN security council imposed devastating fourth-term sanctions, the regime has clamped down on people in anticipation of mass demonstrations planned for the anniversary of the election.
"From the outside, Iran's Islamic regime is superficially characterised by its anti-Western foreign policy and particularly by its verbal attacks against the US and Israel.
"However, the vast majority of progressives rightly recognise that beneath its sloganeering facade lies a theocratic and reactionary regime fronted by Ahmadinejad's illegitimate government. Less noted is the regime's neoliberal economic doctrine and its impact on the majority of the population - the working people and the poor.
"At the outset, Ahmadinejad's populist slogans against the damaging neo-liberal policies of his predecessor president Mohammad Khatami proved popular among the marginalised and poor and certain disorganised sections of the working people", writes Jamshed Ahmadi.
However this people's champion, promising to alleviate chronic poverty, fight corruption, and challenge the super-rich, had no intention of reversing the regime's neoliberal economic plans. Unrestrained privatisation and deregulation of the labour market continued at an even faster pace and workers' protests were crushed.
"Since Ahmadinejad's first term in office there have been no significant increases in productive investments. Economic growth continues to be based solely on the export of crude oil and a form of parasitic capitalism which is engaged in speculation. The net result has been increasing hardship for working people and the poor".
The difference between Ahmadinejad's economic programme and the one operating before is solely the shifting of the dominant economic beneficiaries within the regime's elite. His free-market-based economic policies are designed to maximise profit and divert it towards new leading groupings in power."Growing privatisation of key public assets and the development of a 'small government' that shrugs off direct responsibility for national economic development but strictly enforces a non-unionised and cheap labour workforce are examples to note".
What is missing in Iran from Milton Freidman's neo-liberal model, Ahmadi explains, is a totally open competitive market. It has been fixed to benefit interests within the regime itself.
"The Islamic Guard Corps, a key political supporter of Ahmadinejad and its high command, has been the main economic beneficiary of the massive privatisations. The corps will do anything lawful or unlawful to expand its economic empire, including using intimidation and direct force.
"It was during Ahmadinejad's first term in office that the constitution was amended to require the government to privatise key state assets through Tehran's stock exchange. The lucrative parts of the oil industry, mines and the national telecommunication infrastructure have been the key areas targeted by the commanders of the Islamic Guard.
"To justify this wholesale privatisation, Ahmadinejad described it as 'giving people's affairs back to people' and dubbed the privatisation as the distribution of 'justice shares' where ordinary people can become share owners. This is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's 'share-owning democracy' where, as intended, very few shares ended up with the people.
"In dealing with the government's economic problems and in particular the growing budget deficit, Ahmadinejad's government has embarked on an extremely right-wing economic shock therapy, which it has dubbed the 'great surgery'.
"Ahmadinejad plans to remove all major price subsidies and instead use this money to provide 'cash payments' to the disadvantaged. This is one of the main planks of neoliberal economics advocated by the IMF. This dangerous plan was even opposed by the parliament that is dominated by the supporters of Ahmadinejad's rigged election.
"All experts are warning that the resulting massive inflationary rise will hurt the working people and the poor. It should be noted that Iran lacks the necessary infrastructures in order to be able to divert the so-called 'cash payments' towards those in need.
Ahmadi says the Iranian government sees neo-liberal economics as the remedy to all Iran's economic problems, while at the same time protecting the interests of its elites.
"Like its predecessors, Ahmadinejad's government sees the workers of Iran as a dangerous force that needs to be contained in terms of its economic demands, desire to get organised and political activities.
"The brutal crackdown by the Islamic Guards on those protesting against the illegal election of Ahmadinejad and continuing imprisonment and execution are not the actions of a state protecting itself against foreign interference. It simply represents the actions of a dictatorship using brute force to protect the political power and massive economic interests of its new oligarchs".
Jamshid Ahmadi is Assistant General Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights. For further information visit http://www.codir.net/.
The place of the so-called Revolutionary Guard in the plunder of assets and crushing of protests is worth notice. It will not be news to Iranians. But at last year's conference of the Labour Representation Committee, after Marsha-Jane Thompson moved re-affiliation to Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), a supporter of the supposedly Trotskyist international Posadas tendency spoke in support of the Ahmadinejad regime, and praised the way the "Revolutionary Guard" had dealt with opponents. I answered this in strong terms, and the conference overwhelmingly endorsed re-affiliation.
But though the lone Posadist may be an extreme case, there are still people on the Left who naively assume that because Ahmadinejad is a bogey-man for the Zionists and the West, his regime must somehow be "progressive" , "anti-imperialist" and worthy of support. Leaving aside those individuals for whom such naivety goes with being on the regime's payroll, and whose own "left-wing" credentials are to say the least doubtful, we only have to look at the way the Stop the War Coalition has twice rejected HOPI's requests for affiliation.
Maybe it would not be too much to refer them to that Morning Star article and remind them that the one really progressive, anti-imperialist force is the working class.
Ahmadinejad in China: