Iman Ganji with Jose Rosales
How do you see the relation between this strike and the protests in 2019, regarding the petrol prices? How do you see the relation between this strike and the wider criticism of the regime?
IG & JR: The general strike of the project workers in the oil industry is not only a struggle over the wage. On a daily basis, project workers come to Clubhouse with borrowed phones and fake identities to report about the strikes, its development and also their ideals. The main slogan that has shaped the revolutionary fervor and guided the organizational practice is “government of councils”. Council (شورا) is a form of autonomous organization among industrial workers that emerged during the 1979 revolution and was suppressed immediately after the new Islamic regime established and consolidated power. It is in this sense that “deprivatization” as one of the workers’ main demands should be understood.
The private sector in Iran’s rentier system has direct relationship with the governing elite or is owned by them, and that is why it is called Khosulati (خصولتی which is something like “pritate”, a neologism that combines the private [خصوصی] with the state [دولت]). Therefore, the workers’ demand of ‘deprivatization’ is mostly against the interest of the ruling elite. It stands against the wave of privatization that started after the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the massacre of the leftist prisoners in 1988 Summer. It was the current supreme leader, Ali Khamanei, a right-wing Islamist who allowed for the “re-interpretation” of Article 44 of the Iranian Constitution to force privatization and the liberalization of the economy. Most of the private contracts subsequently went to figures connected to high-ranking officials – reformists as well as principalists (conservatives) or the Revolutionary Guards.
Such an interpretation is verified after the Haft-Tappeh sugarcane workers’ multiple years long struggle, which led to the transfer of the factory’s ownership to the government. Although the workers celebrated this as an initial victory, they also issued statements that this is still the beginning of our struggle.
Another sign is the workers’ rejection of support by the conservative’s “Egalitarian” (عدالتخواه) fraction; a fraction of hardliner Islamists who are close to the supreme leader and have repeatedly tried to re-appropriate worker’s struggles and demands as a political weapon against the reformist wing of the government. Strikers, now and in the past, like in the case of Haft-Tappeh, have repeatedly rejected their support, keeping their distance from them and their staged protests in front of the Parliament held in support of the workers’ demands. Officially, the workers’ demands are as follows:
A minimum wage of 12 million Tomans a month (roughly 500 US dollars – right now, the official minimum wage has been set around 3.5 million tomans now, roughly 150 US dollars);
The elimination of temporary and precarious contracts;
The dismantling of the labyrinth of the contractor companies;
The recognition of the right to form independent unions and councils;
Improvement in labour conditions, including the crowded camps where the workers are housed.
For several years now, Iran has witnessed an average of 8-9 protests/strikes per day. Most are organized by workers, the unemployed, peasants, students, women, those who lost their savings in “private” funds in the banking sector that mushroomed all over the country during Ahmadinejad presidency, and those who lost their savings in Tehran’s stock exchange that Rouhani’s government focused on and made huge advertisements on it and became interesting for lower middle classes in absence of other ways of generating income or keeping the value of their money during inflation. Many of these protests and strikes are against the privatizations and deregulations resulting from the neoliberalization of the Iranian economy over the past several decades.
The uprisings in December 2017 and November 2019 happened in such a context, where daily protests and strikes were happening all over the country. Both uprisings came with a hike in essential goods’ prices, this being a result of “readjustment” policies of the government. Increasing the fuel prices and the elimination of fuel subsidies have been a repetitive sign of neoliberal structural adjustments. And in almost all countries where governments implement such a policy, people have resisted it.
Reviewing the hastily shot smart-phone videos of the protests, one can still clearly recognize the singular characteristics of these movements as it grew and developed in cities whose names were heard for the first time by the residents of the center, by those whose accents had not been heard in Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. “Margins” were the epicenter of this political earthquake in Iran’s theocratic regime.
In rare moments of affective solidarity, youth (25yrs and younger) stood beside old pensioners, shouting slogans against the Islamic Republic. Workers, unemployed, students, women, farmers, all participated in these nation-wide protests, resisting the Islamic Republic government as well as its neoliberal mode of governmentality, its particular formal subsumption in the globalized capitalism.
Happening almost simultaneously with ongoing protests in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, Iran’s protests are not simply economic or political. They are targeting the local expression of a globalized regime: neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is indeed the spirit of the times. Yet the “specter of the times”, the specter that is now haunting the West Asia, North Africa and other places on the world, is the protests of exhausted peoples who “are now fed up” (one of the new slogans in the recent Iranian protests) and want to throw out neoliberal governments and their sovereigns out of people’s histories.
Austerity, privatization and the reduction of public investments, cutbacks in public services, a retirement age that sees retirement itself recede into a future horizon, the precaritization of labor power, the commodification of education and health, continued reductions in large business taxes, and large-scale dispossession in favor of (corporate, governmental, mafialike) large property owners: these characterize the spirit of our times and has been implemented in many countries, including Iran.
taken from here