Iran: Mass protests in December 2009 and January 2010

The struggle against the dictatorship continues

”Workers are inspired by the mass movement, but need to join it as a force”

Kristofer Lundberg, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden). The article is from this week’s Offensiv, newspaper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna.

Bahman Gharamani is a worker activist in the Kurdish part of Iran. He is part of the “Coordinating committee to helping to form workers’ organisations” (Komiteye hamahangi baraye komak be ijade tashakkole kargari). It was one the first organisations created to support workers organising in the workplaces.

Bahman Gharamani is a member of the executive committee of this organisation and one of its leaders in western Iran. He has also studied sociology and was a student activist for two years. He had to leave the university because of his activities and could not complete his ‘Masters’ exam. When he was summoned to the “revolutionary court”, he left the country. Shortly after arriving in Gothenburg in December 2009, he contacted Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden).

New protests erupt

He tells us, “In Iran, workers are denied all rights. You live under hard social conditions, low wages, and lousy workplace conditions with no right at all to organise. We have no rights at all.”

That’s why workers, in the spring of 2004, formed the organisation, ”for workers themselves to organise the working class”. This committee is clearly to the left politically.

”We have no illusions that the Islamic regime will give us any rights. Not the ‘reformist’ part of the regime either. Every right won will spring from the workers’ own struggles and organisation”, Bahman explains.

In 2005, workers started to approach the committee for support and assistance for others wishing to organise. They supported strikes and participated in workers’ demonstrations. A newspaper and a website were launched. The paper lacked legal status and was distributed underground, smuggled into workplaces by the workers themselves.

”We gave support to workers in struggle. We saw as one of our main tasks the production of the paper, despite difficult circumstances, facing repression and censorship, which also increased when strikes became more frequent. Many of our members were put on trial and imprisoned. The regime threatened workers co-operating with us, scaring them and making it harder to intervene.

Haf Tapeh sugar workers’ strike 2007

Haf Tapeh strike – a turning point for Iranian workers’ movement

“The strike at Haf Tapeh, a sugar company with plantations in 2007 became a turning point for the workers’ movement. They had been working for 12 months without wages and when they heard the company was about to be sold, with unemployment waiting for them, they went on strike.

“In the revolution in 1979, there was a strong trade union at Haf Tapeh, but after the mullahs took power, all workers’ organisations were crushed. In 2007, the union was reborn out of frustration over unpaid wages and the unsustainable economic situation.”

Unemployment would mean a catastrophe for families already below the poverty line. 80% of Iranian workers live in poverty.

“6,000 workers marched with their families on the streets. The strike, lasting one month, became a fantastic show of resistance and working class strength. It aroused hope among many. Despite there being no strike fund, the strike continued.

The security situation was difficult and despite collections, most of the money never reached the workers. But the strike became a turning point for workers’ self confidence and the left was strengthened out of the role played by activists in the strike. The number of activists increased despite the fact that the strike was illegal.

Since 2007, many other workers’ protests and strikes have been reported. Most of them about wages and conditions, but since the mass movement in the summer there, has been a politicisation and a further increase in confidence in the possibility for political change. Over the last month (December-January), there have been 30 strikes throughout Iran. The mass movement, defying the police and the military, is clearly inspiring workers, who have not yet joined in the demonstrations.

The situation is worsened by the economic crisis. Big parts of the textile industry are bankrupt and many have become unemployed. In one of the textile companies in Sanandaj (Kurdistan), the workers want to take over the company, but are being blocked by the state and the owners.

Bahman Gharamani is convinced that the force that can overthrow the regime is the working class. However, for the working class to join the mass movement as a force, the programme of the movement must be linked to workers’ immediate demands. The struggle is not just over freedom and democratic elections, but also about jobs, trade union rights, and the right to a living wage. The working class must step in to the movement with these demands, which would mean a death blow for the regime.

Fearless protesters clash with state forces

Iran: “Demonstrators less afraid of the security forces” – Hundreds of thousands on the streets 20-27 December

Lina Westerlund and Per-Åke Westerlund, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden). The article was written on 31 December 2009.

In the last week of 2009, the Iranian regime was met with the biggest protest demonstrations since the summer. Despite heavy repression, with several killed and hundreds arrested, mass demonstrations continued for several days. The revolutionary process is sharpening, posing the questions of organisation and programme.

The funeral of the ‘great Ayatollah’, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, on 21 December became a mass protest against the regime. Hundreds of thousands, maybe one million people, paralysed the holy city of Qom where the funeral took place. Demonstrators shouting, “Death to the dictator” – some directing the slogan against president Ahmadinejad, others against the ‘supreme leader’, Khamenei – could not be stopped, despite attacks from security forces.

The mass movement continued in the following days, as did the repression. Ex-president Khatami was attacked on 26 December with batons and pepper spray on his way to a meeting. A news agency for students, Isna, was also attacked by security forces. These were attempts to prevent further protests.

But the repression failed. Hundreds of thousands of opponents of the Islamic regime and its leaders went onto the streets on 27-28 December. Sunday 27 December was the Shia Muslim Ashura Day, which, this year, was used all over the country to stage political protests, since the dictatorship prohibits all kinds of gatherings and political meetings on all other days. Earlier in the autumn, tens of thousands filled the streets of Tehran and other cities on Jerusalem day in September, on the anniversary of the occupation of the US embassy in early November, and again on Student Day (7 December).

Demonstrations on 27 December took place in Ta¬briz, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Qom, Ahvaz, Najaf Abad and other cities. The largest were in Tehran, where the military was reported to have opened fire and 8-15 people were killed, according to different reports. In addition, 300 were arrested.

Clashes in Tehran

Arrests and killings by police and state militias

According to, a website which translates from Farsi to English, there have now been over 2,000 arrests at various protests (source: Iran News Agency, 30 December 2009). Six journalists were arrested after 27 December, but another 200 are reported to be on a ‘wanted list’ for arrest.

On 29 December, more than one hundred families of those arrested protested outside the notorious Evin prison. The following day, 500 people joined the protest. Iran is the country which executes the most people per capita and since the mass protests this summer, this number has markedly increased. Protests have been organised against the executions, mainly by exiled Iranians. In Sweden, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden) organised street protests, together with Iranian Socialist Students.

The protests on 27 December and in June were exceptional as far as their size was concerned, but also for the fact that protesters were killed in street clashes. The last six months have seen the biggest wave of protests since the revolution in 1979.

Expectations that Ahmadinejad would lose the elections in June triggered the mass movement, when the authorities claimed that he had won. His main opponent, Mousavi (himself part of the ruling elite and responsible for mass murders as prime minister in the 1980s) became a ‘green shield’ for a movement that rapidly passed him by in its demands. Mousavi represented no real alternative in the elections and has nothing to offer the oppressed today.

“The most important opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami and Medhi Karroubi… are far from ‘people’s heroes’. They are more seen, to quote a French journalist, ‘as necessary means to protest against the regime’. You could even call them reluctant opposition leaders”, wrote the Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, in a comment.

Most of the demonstrators are young and many are women. Unemployment, price hikes and the housing crisis add to the outrage against the Islamic-capitalist regime. In December, as previously in the autumn and in contrast to the first demonstrations in June, the participants were prepared for the violent attacks by the basiji militia, the police etc.

The Financial Times reported,”The demonstrators also appeared to be less afraid of the security forces, observers said.” “The demonstrators threw stones at armed security forces, allegedly set fire to motorbikes and cars, and broke windows along the route.” (28 December 2009). A video film on YouTube show a crowd walking straight towards a police car and releasing those arrested.

Revolutionary struggle for democratic socialism necessary

The fact that the masses dare to challenge the state forces, and that the police, on certain occasions, have hesitated to intervene is characteristic of a revolutionary struggle. The dominating slogans against the regime are also a sign of further radicalisation and many demonstrators say the days of the regime are numbered. The route of the march on 27 December was also very symbolic, the same as the biggest mass demonstrations of the 1979 revolution.

In the autumn, there were also a number of new strikes against redundancies and for the payment of delayed wages. Independent unions have been active in some workplaces, but they have also been met with severe repression.

The movement of today needs to discuss and understand the most important lessons of the revolution in 1979. The strength and leadership in struggle of the working class was decisive in overthrowing the Shah’s authoritarian regime. At the same, the revolution was betrayed by those workers’ leaders who advocated that the workers’ struggle be subordinated to an alliance with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic “opposition”, i.e. a ‘stagist’ theory, in opposition to both the political independence of the working class, and the socialist programme necessary to change society.

The split between different wings of ruling elite and its incapacity to scare the masses any longer show how the grip of the regime has weakened. The struggle in Iran during 2009 has had many revolutionary features, but a revolution is not one act, but a process in which the masses learn from their experiences.

For today’s struggle to be victorious, it is necessary to build independent workers’ organisations and unite them in a revolutionary party, to fight for the overthrow of the Islamic-capitalist dictatorship and for a democratic socialist society.

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January 2010