More on the Labor Movement

After posting last night about the Green Movement and labor I realized there were a few things I left out: namely, a bit more about specific labor issues, and what’s scheduled to happen on tomorrow’s May Day.

If you read their statements they list the usual set of demands: higher minimum wage, better job protection, safer work environment, etc. But aside from these there are two that stand out amongst others, and which the Green Movement, if it wants, could really speak to. The first is the flood of cheap imported goods into Iran in recent years. Iran and China have solidified commercial ties over the past few years, with Iran eager to supply energy-hungry China with oil exports. One of the upshots of this relationship, though, is that China is dumping cheap goods into Iran and undercutting Iran’s domestic sector. This is not just occurring in the areas of the economy one would assume China to take over, such as electronics, but traditional strongholds of Iranian industry like handicrafts and textiles. Of course this is a huge boon to the companies affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards who make money off these deals (including smuggling through IRGC-controlled ports), but it’s been devastating to those in Iran’s manufacturing sector.

The second issue is subsidies. For the past month or so Ahmadenijad has been involved in a bitter struggle with parliament over the elimination of between $20-40 billion worth of subsidies of consumer goods. Their main point of contention is not whether to phase out these subsidies, but rather how quickly and by how much. The statementscoming from labor groups, on the other hand, are against the removal of these subsidies in general. People are rightly afraid of paying higher prices for previously subsidized staple goods, and even though there could be long-term economic gain from  bringing prices in line with market values, the short term result will be skyrocketing levels of inflation. This is particularly the case if Ahmadinejad goes forward with his plan to reduce subsidies by $40 billion, rather than the $20 billion the parliament has proposed. Such a drastic and rapid re-vamping of the subsidies regime will almost surely send prices soaring, particularly given Ahmadinejad’s economic track record.

Both of these issues are ones the Green Movement could and should take up to speak to workers. The first issue should be a no-brainer for the Green Movement. Iran is selling out its domestic economy to China, the argument should go, and doing so for the benefit of the very people who were involved in the electoral putsch and brutal post-election crack-down. The fight over subsidies between Ahmadinejad and the parliament has justifiably been portrayed as one of a power-mad executive disregarding the constitutional role  of the legislative. Yet there is room to also frame this as the working class versus the government, the Green Movement–workers included–against Ahmadinejad and the hardliers.

Finally, what about May Day itself? The government is sponsoring a state-run “Labor Week” with carefully-orchestrated events celebrating workers and teachers (Teachers’ Day being May 2nd, and this sector also being a special segment of Labor). The labor movement of course will not be a part of this, and several groups has announced plans to protest in front of the Ministry of Labor (as well as smaller, civil disobedience-type acts of protest). We’ll see what sort of turn-out these non-sanctioned labor protests receive, but the government’s security forces will likely be out in full force, just as they were during 22 Bahman. Musavi and Karrubi have called for street protests on the anniversary of the stolen election, June 12th, so it is doubtful they will join in any public demonstrations before then. Though I would be delighted to be prove wrong.

One Response to “More on the Labor Movement”

  1. Looking Back on May Day and Musavi’s message « HGU's Blog Says:

    […] HGU's Blog Thoughts on Iran « More on the Labor Movement […]

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