Iran has seen incredible tumult in the last few months, with massive street protests challenging the government, even as the U.S. and allied nations continue to threaten the Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But most people in the U.S. know little about Iranian society, and especially its working class. Iranian workers have been organizing for more than a century but today largely have to function in a secretive, underground way. It is therefore very fortunate that we have obtained an interview with a labor organizer (whom we shall call Homayoun Poorzad), who is based in Tehran, the capital city of Iran.
Labor Notes: How has the Iranian labor movement fared under the Ahmadinejad regime?
HP: This has been the most anti-labor government of the Islamic Republic over the last 30 years. The 1979 revolution was not regressive in every sense; it nationalized 70 percent of the economy and passed a labor law that was one of the best in terms of limiting the firing of workers. This is a target for change by capitalists, both private and those in the government bureaucracy.
The economic crisis has helped Ahmadinejad ram thru a new agenda. This is also aided by the acceleration of the percentage (60 percent to 70 percent) of the workforce who are temporary contract workers.
Iran, like other countries, has had an import mania—from food to capital goods. Many local firms are being driven to bankruptcy. Workers’ bargaining power has suffered, with labor supply far outstripping demand. The Ahmadinejad government has been “bailing out” firms, but the government is running out of money.
The situation for labor is at its lowest status since the start of the 20th century, leaving out the years of the two world wars.
LN: What government actions have led to tensions with Iranian workers?
HP: The Ahmadinejad government is trying to make it easier to fire workers. There have also been massive privatizations, including turning over many firms to the Revolutionary Guards and the armed forces. Again, this has intensified the pushing of more workers into temporary contracts.