Remarks on Organizing Working Class in Iran

Fariborz Sanjari 

The following text is English translation of transcription of speech in Persian that was presented in PalTalk in May of 2003 by comrade Fariborz Sanjari (Poulad) on behalf of the Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas on the occasion of honoring May 1st Day.  Payam Fadaee (the monthly publication of Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas–Translator) transcribed the content of the speech with a minor editing, and is making it available to its readers.    

Greetings to all comrades and friends who have attended this session of PalTalk.  First of all, allow me to congratulate all comrades on International Labor Day and cherish the memory of those workers who lost their lives for the cause of emancipating the working class from the criminal ruling system.  Although ten days have passed since May 1st, the day of international solidarity of the working class, I hope you will accept my belated congratulations.  In the hope that one day the combatant working class of Iran would    celebrate the May Day ceremony in free and democratic conditions in an environment that the waves of clamorous struggle of workers and other oppressed masses would destroy the imperialist-dependent capitalist domination throughout Iran and would allow workers to achieve the perpetual destruction of the root of class injustice and oppression and advance their struggles to reach communism.

As you may know, this year, on one hand, Iranian workers celebrated May 1st Day in an atmosphere where we are witnessing the culmination of workers’ protests and see how workers, in order to achieve their legitimate demands, resorted to hundreds of strikes, sit-ins, protests, and road blockings, which the most noted one was the heroic struggles of workers of the Cheetsaziof Behshahr (a fabric manufacturing plant in the city of Behshahr in northern province of Mazandaran, Iran–Translator) which for 10 days it shook the Islamic Republic domination in the city. On the other hand, we are witnessing the more barbaric aggression imposed on the workers’ rights by the imperialist dependant ruling bourgeois, who tries audaciously to limit even further the existing minimum subsistence allowance of workers.  In fact, under the ruling dictatorship conditions, the essence of the culmination of working class struggles is an indication of the horrendous conditions that the ruling class has created for the workers.

Under oppression and cruelty of capitalists, these workers are so on edge that here and there, they pour into streets, and shout either “kill us” and free us from these humiliating conditions, or repay our delayed wages so that at least the recovery of our plundered labor-power would become possible.  The miserable living conditions and the large scale oppression and tyranny imposed by employers, lead workers to an unbearable situation, where some decide on self-mutilation and some commit suicide.  You may be aware of the increasing trend of such a predicament among the workers’ ranks.  You probably have heard the news headline that a distressed worker in the city of Kermanshah, in front of the government Office of Employment and Social Affairs, committed suicide using a hand grenade. In fact, these examples represent proof of those unbearable conditions that the ruling class in government has created for the working class.

In addition to the above-mentioned circumstances, and the domination of the bayonet and the existence of unleashed dictatorship, a dictatorship that brutally suppresses any kind of protest, and the availability of an army of millions of reserved workers – the unemployed masses – have given the dependent government ruling bourgeois a great maneuvering power, allowing them by threatening workers with expulsion and being replaced by the throngs of jobless workers, weakening of the workers’ protest power, yet, we are witnessing the workers demonstrations and fight for their rights. From time to time, these protests compel the government and the employers to retreat and meet the workers’ demands.  But in many instances, due chiefly to the dispersion of the protesters’ ranks, they become suppressed or captivated by the false settlement promises by the regime’s brokers. In fact, the workers’ struggle, the protests, and its outcomes, in the described circumstances, represent an unbearable situation in the workplace and their living conditions.  On the other hand, it also reveals another immense painful fact which is dispersion of the labor ranks and lack of organization of the working class. The reality is that the working class is suffering from the lack of  independent worker organizations, the lack of viable mass organizations, and the lack of a militant-revolutionary organization in connection with the class as a whole.  And this is a reality which is accepted by many labor movement activists, and not only by those activists, but most organizations and political forces, except those who pretend the regime-made worker organizations are independent worker organizations, thus in their simple mind, they have resolved the problem of how to organize the working class, for ever.  Or those who were thinking with the proclamation of existence of one labor union, of course solely on paper, they have responded to this dilemma.  Just as some of those out-of-touch-with-masses intellectuals, for many years, have resolved the dilemma of establishing a modern-level working class party, the same way and solely on paper as well.

As you know, tonight’s topic of our discussion is about organizing working class.  This problem has always been discussed among communist forces and worker movement activists and still is. It is clear that because of the long history of these discussions, and because of the diverse forces participating in these discussions, we have been witnessing, and still witness a variety of ideas, which not all of them can be discussed at this junction.  Therefore, in this session, I’ll briefly present some of these perspectives pertinent to working class trade organizations, and any other discussion in this regard will be postponed to the questions and answers section.

First of all, allow me to address a view that considers the government affiliated labor institutions at the working environments, as the labor organization, and issues mandates for vanguards to be active in such institutions.  The advocates of this view declare that wherever workers are congregated, the vanguard  forces must be present, also, and to validate their view, they even bring a quotation from Lenin who said “we must be active in even the most reactionary unions and societies.”  But citing a valid principle in this case is totally inappropriate and is essentially a product of obvious distortion. Why?  Because Lenin has always emphasized that we must be active in those unions and societies even though reactionary, that have gathered proletariats and semi-proletariats in their midst anyway, so beside helping the politically unaware workers, free them from the influence and adverse propaganda of such unions and societies. While, the Islamic Councils of Labor, Islamic institutes, and the House of Labor in the Islamic Republic are essentially the regime’s security institutions, which are being boycotted and ignored by workers.  And since workers are essentially NOT being organized in such institutions, working in such institutions could not be mandated to bring awareness to them, and free them from propaganda of such organizations.  Past experience has shown that even if job requirements in a factory obligates a worker to negotiate with such institutions, the overwhelming thought is that paying a visit to such an institution is equal to paying a visit of a worker, and an employee, to parts of the “Herasat”, “Hefazat”, (these are branches of the regime’s national information ministry, present in factories and government offices to watch over workers and employees shoulder–Translator) and “security offices of the regime.  Thus, treating these suppressive institutions as worker’s institutions, to guide and encourage workers, especially the vanguard workers, to be active in such organizations, has no meaning other than sending these workers to the ranks of the “Sarbazan Gom’nam Emam Zaman” (the so-called, unknown soldiers of the Shiite Muslim Messiah and lackeys of the regime—Translator), and discrediting them in workplaces.  Therefore, since these existing government organizations, by no means are not the independent worker organizations, the above-mentioned thought is fundamentally wrong. Essentially, any organization that is ascribed by the adjective Islamic, cannot be considered an organization, for all those workers who bear different views and religions, or have no religious beliefs at all, working under the same roof.  In fact, these organizations are not even “Yellow” (semi-pro-regime–Translator) but are “Black” (fully-pro-regime–Translator) and are the suppressive means of the Islamic Republic.  And this is the reality that not only the working class of the last two decades, under the Islamic Republic domination have experienced at the workplace, but also those older workers who had experienced era of the lackey Shah, surely can remember the monarch-affiliated syndicates that were nothing but part of the Shah’s SAVAK(the Shah’s secret service agency–Translator) whose operatives’ duties were to watch and control the working class. The older workers, and workers’ movement activists, surely remember that during the uprising (of 1979 –Translator), when people attacked the SAVAK buildings and retrieved the SAVAK documents, it became clear that all of the officials of the shah-made workers’ organizations, in Tehran (the capital city—Translator), and other cities, were members of SAVAK or were collaborators with SAVAK agents, among which, in particular, the documents from the city of Shiraz obtained by people, were very obvious and illustrative.

The truth is that, then and now, the above-mentioned organizations were not and are not workers’ organizations. They were and are rather the means of domination of the regime inside the workers’ ranks, and absolute anti worker institutions that were, and are formed, with the intent to prevent the formation of independent workers’ organizations.

A look at the process of formation and the rules governing these organizations, and their performance so far clearly shows this reality.  

During 1978-1979 revolution and shortly after the month of Bahman uprising (February of 1979–Translator) and during the period when the new ruling government hadn’t yet consolidated its domination, some spontaneous worker organizations, including a kind of Trade Councils and House of Workers, were formed, which actually turned into centers for workers to get together and for the revolutionary organizations to contact them.

Right here, allow me to honor the memory of comrade Assad Rafieyan who was a conscious worker and member of the Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas and active member of the House of Workers, who later on was arrested and martyred in the hands of the Islamic Republic regime’s mercenaries.  As you know, the leaders of the Islamic Republic, in order to stabilize the bases of their domination, gradually began attacking the popular uprisings’ achievements and for this reason, the House of Workers were target of attacks and Worker Trade Councils were suppressed, and then they were replaced with Islamic Councils.  Thus, the regime-affiliated organizations were formed with the intention of confronting communists, and the vanguard workers, and disarming the working class.

Glancing the Khaneh Karegar’s (regime affiliated House of Worker–Translator) manifesto, by itself, corroborates the anti-worker nature of this organization.  This manifesto reads “for the purpose of attaining the grand goals of pure Mohammedian Islam, the House of Worker as an organization believing in Vellayat Faghih (Supreme Cleric Leadership–Translator) and abiding the constitution” has been formed.  Also under the rules of the Islamic Councils that were ratified in 1984, according to the law, it is their duty to “cooperate with the management ” and a condition of membership in these organizations is “practical obligation to Islam, Vellayate Faghih, and loyalty to the constitution.” It is emphasized that only those who do not have “tendencies toward illegal political parties and groups” have the right to participate in such councils.  Thus, these legal organizations lawfully have the anti-worker nature, and for this reason, the militant workers do not respect those who have excessive interactions with such institutions, and more so, those who offer guidance for participation in such institutions.

Another point that I would like to mention in this topic of discussion is the view that, although admits that there is a need for an independent worker organization, claims that some functional economic requirements, not some political reasons alone, has compelled the Bourgeois of Iran to proceed with the forming of such organizations.  Holders of this view also react to those who claim, subsequent to the recent political changes in Iran, and so-called “Hemaseh 2nd of Khordad (an “epic” political reform gesture shown on this day by the moderate-reformer faction of the regime–Translator) and at long last, the bourgeois is giving the “right of having a union” to workers. They browbeat them that it is not they who honor this right, but it is some economic requirements that has compelled the bourgeois of Iran to embrace this reality, meaning yield to the right of having a union.  This view claims that under the domination of the Islamic Republic, the conditions for the formation of an independent labor organization are emerging.  According to Mr. Iraj Azareen, one of the advocates of this view: “the industry and the industries owners in Iran are in need of the labor organizations” and adds that this is a “fundamental  requirement” for them because the existence of such organizations causes, for example, increase in work efficiency. This tendency, considering what it is calling as “Reform Movement” believes that this movement is the product of the worldwide transformations of capitalism, namely “Globalization”.  In this context, and in regards to the need for Iran’s market integration into the global markets, the Iran’s industry owners are trying to get involved in political power.  For this reason the reform movement, the movement of the Iran’s bourgeois, is seeking partnership in political power – this bourgeois – according to them, “truly, somehow is in need of independent proletarian organizations”.

The subjectivity and fallacy of this view is so apparent, that examining it from any angle, its falsehood would be revealed, but, since the topic of our discussion is the feasibility of forming a working class organization, we continue focusing on the notion that claims Iran’s bourgeois is making efforts for the independent proletariat organizations to take form.  Considering the course of events and the repressive policies of the Islamic Republic, as an agent of the dependent bourgeois of Iran, it shows just the opposite of this viewpoint, meaning Iran’s bourgeois resorts to any means to hamper the shaping of independent workers organizations in Iran. By the way, all factions of the ruling class are unanimous in suppressing the labor movement and disallowing the formation of independent organizations.

In situation where the dependent bourgeois of Iran has seized political power for many years, speaking of its willingness to share power, only testifies that holders of this view lack understanding of ongoing realities in Iran.  Based on some discussions in the regime’s press about “civil society” and the need for formation of civil institutions, they declare that the feasibility of formation of independent proletariat organizations exists, even under the domination of the Islamic Republic.  Although, these individuals put emphasis that no one should equate the notion of “reform-movement” with the “2nd of Khordad”, yet what guides them to reach these conclusions as a matter of fact is the growth of internal conflicts among the ruling factions, the publicity campaign, and propaganda that has been perpetuated in the Iran political scene, in particular, after the 2nd of Khordad.  But, the development of events during recent years clearly has revealed that the Islamic Republic reform is nothing but fable and this regime, not only does not allow any kind of formation of independent workers organization, on the contrary, it resorts to any means to break down the minimal interactions that may take place among the vanguard workers, during the course of a workers’ protest.  Take a look at the suppression of vanguard and aware workers who have undertaken the leadership role in workers’ struggle in the recent years’ protests, see how they have been suppressed and were subjected to knife-stabbing by plain-clothes regime agents and were attacked and arrested by police forces, every where.

The next issue that I would like to discuss and bring to your attention is an incorrect tradition that has become prevalent among the political forces ranks, who claim they advocate the interests of the working class.  For years, many individuals and political groups, based on their personal perception, recommend various forms of labor organizations for the working class that include syndicate, labor union, and factory committee and council, without earning these ideas from the objective reality of working class struggles, and without clearly and explicitly explaining the specific methods of attaining these recommendations.  Even, prior to forming any organizations, there are some who begin to discuss whether or not these organizations must operate openly, or covertly, and the necessity of their independent from the political organizations.  But, the problem associated with all of these discussions is that these groups who make the recommendations do not realize, or it is not in their interest to realize, the fact that essentially the specific form of labor organization is driven by the objective fight of the working class itself.  And also that the revolutionary intellectuals could not impose a form of organization that has been determined in their mind subjectively, without considering the objective reality of their movement. The struggles of the working class, in one circumstance, may require labor union as a principle form of economic formation, but in another circumstance, perhaps factory committees are required.  In fact, it is not for revolutionary intellectuals to determine the form of the economic formation of the working class, rather it is the objective struggle of workers that determines which form of organization, with respect to the existing balance of power, has the possibility of realization and survival.  For example, in England prior to 1824 – when the Labor Unions found legal status – up until now, unions have always been one of the most important economic formations of workers.  Whereas in Spain, during a period of some years of Franco despotic domination, it was the labor Committees that were widespread.  This notion that the working class, in the course of the fight against capital for the creation of a better living and working conditions, must become organized and organization is fundamentally the best means for empowering the class, is an undeniable reality.  And the fact that the history of working class movement throughout the world is full of various labor organization, which each one had been formed depending on its circumstances, and had a real role in advancing working class struggles, is not a condoning matter.  But these valid principles must become the only movement guidance for the workers and labor movement activists and no political force has a right to engage and dissipate the revolutionary energy of the labor movement, in scholastic arguments, around some action plans that are not relevant to the reality of the labor movement.  On the other hand, the results of all practical efforts in the context of forming such organizations, and I am referring to those real attempted efforts, not just false claims, written on paper, that are not worth addressing, rightly manifest that one of the main growing factors which is halting the formation of an independent labor organization, is the government power and the political strangulation created by this power.  The reality is that all those who simply write about the various economic formations for the workers, perhaps are inattentive to this factor and on those occasions that they have wanted to consider the suppression factor, we have witnessed how they have retreated from these claims with humiliation.   

The fact is that the intrinsic dictatorship domination of the dependent capitalism is the main factor in the dispersion of the working class ranks and It is the main obstacle for the absence of feasibility of (working–Translator) class being organized, and any solution in this regard, before anything else, must respond with a method to defeat this obstacle and attack this target as a main hindrance.

A review of the long history of despotic domination and the labor movement in Iran clearly reflects that anywhere this dictatorship has been weakened or fractured, the feasibility of formation of mass and independent labor organizations has been proved.

At this point of my presentation, allow me to address and elaborate this very subject.

The first labor organizations in Iran were shaped during the Constitutional Revolution (Constitutional Revolution took place between 1905 and 1911—Translator) and with the British-guided coup d’etat of Reza Shah (a minimally literate Iranian military man who with the help of the British government became Monarch of Iran and ruled from 1925 to 1941–Translator), all of the people’s organizations, labor syndicates, and the communist party were suppressed and eradicated.  Due to the domination of the despotic Reza Shah, the possibility of formation of independent people’s organizations, practically disappeared.  Therefore, until the end of the second world war in 1940s and the allies’ invasion of Iran and the exile of Reza Shah, we did not witness the formation and continuity of such organizations.  From Shahrivar of 1320 (September of 1941–Translator ) till the American-engineered coup d’etat of the 28th Mordad of 1332 (August 19, 1953–Translator ), for a period of 12 years, we witnessed the weakening of government power and as a result, we witnessed the renewed formation of syndicates, labor unions, and united workers’ councils affiliated with the Toudeh Party.  The growth of the workers’ movement during these years reached to a level that on May 1st Day,  11th of Ordibehesht of 1325 (May Day of 1946—Translator), thousands of people took to the streets and celebrated May 1st – labor Day.  But, with 1332 coup d’etat  (August 1953–Translator) once again the bayonet rule was reigning and there was no news about labor organizations anymore.  Even the relative political openness of the years 1339-1342 (1960-1963–Translator), also ended by the suppression of the 15th of  Khordad of 1342 (5th June, 1963–Translator), and did not result in the formation of such a mass organizations.  This situation, until 1356-1357 (1978-1979–Translator) struggles and the weakening of the Shah’s dictatorship and the subsequent toppling of his regime, continued.  And as a result of wave-like spread of labor organizations, so much so that after Bahman’s uprising , (22 Bahman 1357 which coincides with 11 February 1979–Translator) we witnessed the formation of some sort of labor councils.  The revolutionary atmosphere of those years, the downfall of the Shah’s regime, and lack of robust foundations of the successor regime, created such an atmosphere in which labor councils, and house of worker, were formed openly and were conducting activity.  Even In response to the call of Iranian people’s Fadaee Guerrilla Organization, hundreds of thousands of people took the streets in Tehran (the Capital of Iran –Translator) on the Labor Day. This situation ended with the systematic bloody suppression of the year 1360 (1981–Translator). Since that time till now, meaning during more than two decades of bloody dictatorship of the Islamic Republic, political strangulation, and an unprecedented suppression, we have not seen and not witnessing the existence of independent worker and mass organizations.

Thus, it must be said decisively that for forming of independent labor and people’s organizations, and the continuity of their activity, the ongoing dictatorship barrier must be fractured, and then provoke a fight that can cause the government power to be weakened and as a result facilitate the labor organizations’ formation.  

Therefore, communist and revolutionary intellectuals, with the recognition of this reality that historical experiences have repeatedly proven, must think about how the dictatorship barrier can be to fractured, and how to provide possibility for mass struggle flood to overflow and formation of independent labor organizations.  This is a real predicament facing the labor and communist movements, and unfortunately, many of those who associate themselves with this movement, traditionally avoid responding to this fundamental predicament.  While experience has shown that the only with revolutionary antagonistic exertion (armed struggle –Translator) that the possibility of protecting the communist organizations and their continuity, and at same time, the weakening of dictatorship, and facilitating conditions for the formation of independent labor organizations, and ability for those organizations to communicate with working class, to end the somber separation of intellectual communists from the working class, is provided.

Without a doubt, emphasis on this reality and concentrating effects in this regard, not only it will not decrease the value of other methods of struggle and other forms of association, on the contrary, it would create a path for channeling all these rivulet of struggles toward the ultimate goal, and would create the conditions for overthrowing the enemy, meaning the dependent capitalist system.

Thanks to each and every one of you who listened to these talks with complete patience and with the hope that at the questions and answers session, and in the context of individual comrades’ participation, this discussion gets more substance.

I wish you all victory and success.

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