Iran: Stalled nuclear deal talks and rising industrial struggles

Hafttapeh strikers, Shush, Iran, 28 October 2020 (photo: Mohammad Ahangar/ Wikimedia Commons)

The war in Ukraine and the further twist it has given to the sharpening of international relations is, amongst other things, now seemingly blocking a conclusion to the nuclear talks in Vienna. These discussions concern the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and a group of world powers that was ripped up by Trump in 2018. Trump’s action was accompanied by a massive sharpening of economic sanctions against Iran. Despite the majority of participants wishing that the negotiations would succeed, that result is now an open question.

Following Biden’s replacement of Trump as US president, talks began in May, last year, to revive the deal, although Biden did not lift Trump’s sanctions. For a time it seemed that these negotiations were coming to a successful conclusion but then they were indefinitely paused in mid-March. This was after Russia, one of the powers involved in the talks, demanded that the economic sanctions imposed on it after its invasion of Ukraine would not apply to Russian trade with Iran. A high ranking US diplomat said that a deal is now “not just around the corner and is not inevitable”.

Thus it is possible that this attempt at a new deal suffers collateral damage from the Ukrainian war. Nevertheless, even without a deal, some Western powers may want Iran to increase its oil production in an attempt to reverse the increase in the oil prices, at least partly caused by the sanctions on Russia. Saudi Arabia and Iran have begun on/off talks despite direct conflicts of interest, such as regarding the Yemeni civil war. But other developments can also cut across this. With signs of increasing tensions, leaders from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates met in Egypt at the so-called ‘Negev Summit’ to discuss some kind of joint front against Iran. Meanwhile, Iran has demanded that Biden reverses Trump’s 2019 designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) in return for it agreeing to the revived nuclear deal, a linkage the US rejects.

However, it is clear that the Iranian regime wants a deal, but is prepared to try to hold out for better terms. Recently the Financial Times summed up Iran’s economic situation: “While the economy has displayed resilience, it contracted by more than 6 per cent in consecutive years, according to the IMF, after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018 and imposed hundreds of sanctions on the republic. The rial plummeted, causing inflation to soar above 40 per cent. Private sector companies slashed jobs and it is estimated that losses of income during the coronavirus pandemic, combined with rising living costs, could push the poverty rate — defined as living on less than $5.50 a day — up by 20 percentage points, according to the World Bank.” (March 15, 2022).

Iran’s weak economic performance, combined with external economic sanctions and massive corruption in the country, created a terrible situation for Iranian workers. Against this background, we have seen a massive increase in strikes and other struggles since 2017, which we have previously reported at

The international capitalist media saw this as well. The Financial Times described how last November, “activists in Isfahan and others from the city joined farmers protesting about the lack of water. After the crowds swelled, with some protesters chanting ‘death to the dictator’, the police moved in with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Iran’s biggest ever environmental demonstration.

“It didn’t end there. As the water protests stopped, teachers continued their own protests in cities across the republic. Judiciary workers then went on strike in December. Both groups were protesting over pay — the largest demonstrations of their kind by state workers since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Pensioners, sugar industry workers, labourers in the oil sector have all taken part in protests over the past 12 months.

“Each outburst of anger underlines just what Tehran is grappling with, from climate change to decaying infrastructure and rising poverty, as it battles to revive its heavily sanctioned economy and keep a lid on simmering discontent.” (March 15, 2022).

Against this background, the Iranian ruling class and its religious elites would, on balance, like the sanctions were eased and, at best, lifted. However, hopes of ‘stability’ coming to Iran will probably be a mirage in the eyes of the rulers and their elites, because if things improved economically, the workers of Iran would most likely want a larger share of the pie and become more confident to demand wider change.

Despite the Iranian regime using repression, especially towards activists, against the increasing strikes and struggles, it seems that the workers and poor of Iran have lost much of their fear. The sanctions have inevitably hit workers and the poorest hardest, although the middle class have also suffered, something which shows the character of sanctions levied by imperialist countries.

Faced with an inflation rate of 39.9%, in 2021, the semi-legal independent trade unions and workers’ organizations in Iran demanded a minimum wage of 16 million rials (580 US$) a month for this year. This modest demand should be also linked to a call for the continued adjustment of wages in line with the high rate of inflation.

Development of class struggles in Iran

In recent years, there has been an increasing curve of strikes and other struggles, so the number of strikes in 2021 was around 2,000. This shows that the Iranian working class is increasingly beginning to defend itself against its miserable situation. In 2021, sectors that are central to the Iranian economy also entered the struggle, including oil workers and gas field workers. They are particularly opposed to unpaid wages and harsh working conditions.

An important development compared to previous strikes was that these workers did not only write solidarity messages to others in the struggle but also there were strikes involving workers in different companies. In addition, there has been another positive development over the last two years; namely that the existing independent trade unions and workers’ organisations are calling on unorganised workers of all sectors to organise themselves in organisations independent of the regime.

In addition, especially in regard to the protests of the teachers launched last December, there is a development towards nationwide actions compared to strikes that are more locally and regionally limited. This development is important because it raises a perspective for a nationwide general strike. For this purpose, it would also be important that the independent trade unions and organizations develop their solidarity, which they have, so far, mostly only expressed in written form, into practical actions, which can range from rallies, demonstrations to solidarity strikes. These steps openly show the potential for genuine national trade unions to develop. It also shows how a workers’ party with a socialist programme could develop these struggles into a wider fight for democratic rights and for fundamental change.

The positive development of consciousness can also be seen in the struggle of the workers of Haft Tappeh, who in May 2020 pushed through, after years of struggle, the renationalization of their company. Since then, they have continued their campaign with the demand for workers’ control. Their demands find great resonance in the Iranian working class. This indicates the basis for building a workers’ party with a socialist programme. Such a party could spread the experiences of Haft Tappeh’s workers into other sectors, clarifying what democratic control and management of companies could look like in concrete terms. Such a party would also be a major step forward in the fight against any repression by the Iranian regime.

It is all the more important that in the course of the teachers’ strikes from December 2021 to February 2022, a discussion about the establishment of a Workers’ Coordination Council has arisen on a nationwide level. This shows the growing basis for the development of national workers’ organisations independent from state control and, taking into account the Haft Tappeh workers’ demands, also challenging capitalism. The call for workers to have their own party can gain strength. Within that movement, the inevitable discussion on what is the alternative to the present system will provide the opportunity to argue why such a party should a socialist workers’ party.

Already it is clear that the workers and poor of Iran are increasingly losing confidence in the rulers, as seen in the extremely weak participation of 48% in last year’s presidential elections.

These developments suggest that the Iranian working class is increasingly organising itself independently of state organizations. We support this development, to the best of our ability. In addition, we believe that it is important that the workers of Iran continue on this path and do not engage in alliances with bourgeois-democratic forces who will try to maintain capitalism. They must be concerned with forming their own democratically organised organizations. These include campaigns, trade unions and, above all, the founding of a mass party of the working class on the basis of a socialist programme. Only such a party will be able to unite the struggles of the impoverished population, as well as the strikes of the workers, and to equip them with a programme that prepares them, for the break with capitalism.

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March 2022