Iran: “Lessons from Strikes, Labour Struggles and internationalist Tasks” (Extracts)

A balance sheet by ‘Internationalist Voice’ (January 2019)

The following extracts from the balance sheet “Lessons from strikes, labour struggles and internationalist tasks” give interesting information on the backgrounds of the Shora (or: councils) that have existed during the workers’ struggles at Haft Tappeh in Iran’s Khuzestan province during last year. The text itself expands more broadly on several proletarian struggles in 2018, concluding each with an evaluation of positive and negative features as lessons for the future. The struggles are analyzed from the theoretical background of the group ‘Internationalist Voice’, who declares itself close to the ICT and the ICC.

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1.  Strike by Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company workers (p. 15 – 19)

The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company (1) started its activity as a scientific agricultural pole in 1961 and is now one of the largest industrial factories in the province of Khuzestan. In 2015, it was privatized. About 6,000 people work in the company. Over the past 15 years, this industrial complex has witnessed labor protests and strikes. In 2005 and 2006, workers protested about their livelihood with the slogan “We are Haft Tappeh workers and we are hungry”. However, in 2007 protests and strikes were held in the form of sit-ins at the factory or on government premises, or protests in the city of Shush, among other actions. In 2017, following protests and strikes, 15 workers were arrested by the police at midnight and about 40 people were summoned to appear before the judiciary.

In the summer of 2018, workers from the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company elected an independent workers’ council, which included 22 delegates. The council’s assembly of representatives began its work in August, including the organization of strikes, as well as calling for the return of expelled workers, the disclosure of confidential documents and the supervision of accounts. According to Ismail Bakhshi, in relation to the independent workers’ council:

“When we say that the independent workers’ council was formed in the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company, some think that this council is the same as the final council, which has reached the highest level. No! We are just beginning and it takes time for even the Haft Tappeh workers themselves to understand what the work of the council is… I do not claim that the councils of workers from the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company are exactly in line with the theory and definition of the council, which has been discussed in detail. But, according to the psychology of the intellectual and cultural atmosphere and the realities of the Haft Tappeh workers’ atmosphere, soviet thinking has shown itself and become dominant”. [12] (2)

The new round of labor protests and strikes by workers from the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company was launched on 5 November 2018 in protest against overdue salaries, on livelihood issues and job security (privatization). For the first time since the bloodbath by the Islamic bourgeoisie in the 1980s, the strike leader (Ismail Bakhshi), speaking with a loud voice on behalf of thousands, not only of workers but also of the working class, describing the working class’ dilemma, not just because of the bad economic conditions of the employers, but also because of the performance of the capitalist class. His emphasis on class is a thorn in the eye of the bourgeoisie. In his speech, he said:

“What the authorities declare about the bad economic conditions of employers does not relate to workers, and the conditions of today are due to the function of the capitalist class. Thus, there is no reason to put pressure on the working class”. [13] (3)

In his speech, Bakhshi put forward two alternatives to the striking workers, insisting that they must decide on their own destiny:

There are two solutions that you must decide on in the end: one is that the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company is completely manned by the workers. We will set up a committee and run the company on a consultative basis. Do not be worried. We have all the skills. Until today, who has run the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company? Have confidence, believe in yourself. We can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company. It is my wish that, one day, we can manage the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company. The other solution is to assume that we will not be allowed to take over or that there are no requirements, although we will keep our council formations. In this case, if the government intends to take over the company, it will no longer be the same as in the past. Rather, the government should work under the supervision of the workers’ council and under the supervision of the general workers. What is the difference between the representatives of the state and these representatives [of the employer]? They can destroy the company on a number of occasions, but we return the next day. Our alternative is the council and collective opinion”. [14] (4)

We will examine the issues of workers’ councils and workers’ self-management from the Marxist horizon in the following pages. These workers’ protests become more radical, day by day, and Ismail Bakhshi became a symbol of the struggle of the working class. On 18 November 2018, workers’ protests spread out into the city. The riot police and special units had the protesting workers in their sights. The strike leader put forward the slogan “Bread, jobs, freedom, council management”. Hearing this slogan from the speaker of the striking workers caused a seizure in the limbs of the bourgeoisie. The strike leader told workers that they should repeat a slogan to remind the riot police that “their salary is paid out of our wages”: “No threat, no prison, no longer useful!”

For the first time since the bourgeois bloodbath in the 1980s, thanks to the striking workers, as well as the thousands of protesters in the middle of the city, the council was called. This was akin to swearing in church for the bourgeoisie. Bakhshi understood the consequences of his work well and knew that he would pay a heavy price for it. Therefore, he ended his speech thus:

“The only testament I have is that death is truth. If Ismail Bakhshi died for any reason, no one has the right to bury his body. Instead, bring his coffin to the strike to hear his dead screams.”

On the same day, 18 November 2018, the criminals of the Islamic bourgeoisie began their dirty operations. The security forces arrested 18 protest workers, detaining workers’ representatives, along with Sepideh Ghaliyan, who disseminated news of the labor protests. The bourgeoisie, based on experience, realized that a violent crackdown would worsen the situation throughout the day, leading to the radicalization of the labor struggle. Therefore, with the exception of some radical leaders, the security forces released the remaining detainees gradually and on bail conditions. Workers’ protests continued this time with the slogan, “I am also Bakhshi!”, but the bourgeoisie, by arresting the most radical representative of the workers (Ismail Bakhshi), “decapitated” the strike. The bourgeoisie resorted to the dirty politics of division by simultaneously hunting down the radical representative of the workers and flirting with those representatives willing to compromise.

At the arrest of bold and class-conscious strike leaders, treacherous representatives seized the opportunity to engage with government officials and the employer without the knowledge of all workers, in turn providing the context for defeat.

The bourgeoisie, along with every government, judicial, security and employer’s agent, developed a skillful plan to break the strike. The bourgeoisie initially took advantage of the workers’ communication and propaganda channels (‘Telegram’) with the help of government and employer agents and poisoned the atmosphere by promoting messages from government officials and employers on these channels. The bourgeoisie then completed its premeditated plan to break the strike, along with the head of the Department of Labor, the governor, a new CEO, agents of the employer and some strike-breaking workers, aided by the betrayal of several delegates willing to compromise. They arrested bold strike leaders; a part of the overdue salary was paid; the director was swapped with another criminal. [In short, the weapon of sawing divisions among the workers was used].

After 28 days of great struggle, after 28 days of class battles, after 28 days of hope, after 28 days when wage slaves rocked society, on 2 December 2018, the strike by the Haft Tappeh workers was virtually defeated. On that day, at least 1,000 workers voted to continue the strike but, unfortunately, the strike organization was disrupted, on the one hand, by the arrest of bold striker leaders and, on the other hand, due to the compromise and betrayal on the part of some workers’ representatives.

Like a wounded snake, the bourgeoisie is now looking for revenge. It has a long list of criminal acts that it wishes to carry out. The crackdown on striker leaders will be examined in the following pages, (5) but protesting workers who were summoned before the Ministry of Intelligence during the strike and those who have been “freed” on bail [and whose families are threatened with prison] (6) have recognized the limits of their freedom.

Abbas Hosseini Pooya, the Ahvâz public prosecutor, (7) who was present during the installation of the new director of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, inevitably spoke about the systematic and monthly monitoring of the factory. In other words, the prosecutor would monitor all the work and movements of the workers. He announced that the prosecutor’s office would monitor the factory’s activities for one year. [15] (8)

The new manager, who kept his sword close to his chest, said during his presentation that he would not tolerate strikes and would respond to any dismissal: “If anybody no longer wishes to continue working, they are no longer welcome in the company”. [16] (9)

But the most dangerous action by the bourgeoisie involves the revival of the “Disciplinary Committee” and the “Islamic Labor Council”. The issue of the revival of the Islamic Labor Council is even more dangerous than that of the imprisoned workers. The bourgeoisie, with the help of security, judicial, labor office and employer organs, wants to exploit the atmosphere of failure following the strikes and, with the possible cooperation of some of the supine representatives, organize the circus of Islamic Labor Council elections in order to declare these compromisers as representatives of the workers. Independent workers’ collectives are not only thorns in the eye of the bourgeoisie, they are also an inspiration for other workers. The bourgeoisie does not tolerate this. As Ismail Bakhshi said before he was arrested:

“With coordination and with specific purpose, including coping with me (this does not mean that I am important, but refers to the fact that enemies from outside of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company, for example, intend to destroy me because I brought up the slogan about councils), all security and government agencies, employers and labor offices were mobilized to launch Islamic Labor Council elections in the company”. [17] (10)

The bitter reality of the strike being defeated must be accepted and lessons taken from it. Despite the strike’s failure, the Haft Tappeh workers are no longer the same as before. The experience of this strike and the lessons from it will be highly valuable in the evolution of the class struggle. It is an irrefutable fact that the recent strike and protests by these workers, after the defeat of the class struggle of 1978-1980, represented the most valuable teaching moments for workers.

Notes

1 Henceforth this agro-industry complex is referred to as ‘Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company’ or simply ‘Haft Tappeh’, except in quotations.

2 The web source in Farsi appears to have been removed (visitors receive an html ‘404’ error).

3 Speech by Ismail Bakhshi, on 26 November 2018, in front of the building of the governorate of Shûsh .

4 Speech by Ismail Bakhshi, on 8 November 2018.

5 Notably in the section “Suppression of labor leaders” (p. 23 – 25).

6 The text reads: “with family threats from the Islamic bourgeois prison” (editor’s note).

7 The text adds: “… and revolutionary prosecutor” (editor’s note).

10 See footnote 2 [12].

2. Workers’ Councils (p. 36 – 39)

[Having explained the anarchist, the left-bourgeois and even ‘councilist communist’ positions on workers’ self management, and having confronted these positions with the ‘Marxist concept of workers’ councils’, Internationalist Voice continues:]

Outside the ventricle of society, the possibility of managing a factory by a workers’ council (11) under the capitalist system, even in the metropolis of capitalism, is just an illusion. It is not possible to create a separate island within the framework of capitalist relations that is not governed by the rules of capitalism. Capitalism is a dominant global production system which has penetrated even the worst periods on the planet.

Against this backdrop, we return to the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company. In July 2018, company workers, through an election, chose to form an independent labor organization, which, despite all its strengths and weaknesses, has been a great achievement, not only for these workers, but for the entire working class as well. Applying the concept of a “workers’ council” to this independent labor organization is different from applying the Marxist concept of a workers’ council, as we explained. Ismail Bakhshi, the strike leader who himself presented this plan, says:

We selected, this year, in proportion to the size of each section of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company, the plan that I was delivering and, along with the other workers, it was implemented. Approximately 22 delegates were appointed from nearly 14 sections of the Haft Tappeh Company and, from among them, we chose a board of directors… This plan looks like an oversight organization, and it monitors the performance and durability of these managers. We can then decide on the company’s management. Haft Tappeh is a small symbol of Iran. When the state has no power to monitor, through independent monitoring from below, we can make it powerful. There is no need for a single negotiation between workers and employers; the worker has come to the conclusion that the council must have a strong representative to oversee and intervene in Haft Tappeh. Power also resides with all the workers who voted for these delegates. With this backing, delegates are protected against arrest and expulsion”. [30] (12)

Bakhshi explains in more detail that the council formed at Haft Tappeh is not the same as those councils at the highest level. But councilist thought has been observed among workers, and this thinking is dominant. Bakhshi’s explanation is very clear and does not need to be interpreted. (…) (13)

[This section ends by developing a critique of a ‘radical’ current of “anti-capitalist workers”, who “apparently do not believe in the ‘reformism’ of the left”.] (14)

Notes

11 The text reads: “the possibility of managing the council of a factory under the capitalist system” (editor’s note).

13 Follows a repetition of the first quotation from Bakhshi’s speech in these extracts: “When we say that the independent workers’ council was formed in the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industry Company (…)” [12].]

14 With reference to: http://www.alayhesarmaye.com/index.php/articles/341-shorasazi-7tape, which is unfortunately in Farsi only.

3.  Workers in chains! (p. 40 – 41; concluding section)

The working class in Iran is facing some of the most difficult economic and social conditions: on the one hand, the crisis of peripheral capital and, on the other hand, the sanctions imposed by Western countries. In turn, insolvent capital has plunged the periphery into a deep crisis. The bankruptcy and closure of production units and the fall in the national currency value, for our class, for wage slaves, have provided the context to apply more austerity.

If, at some point, the bourgeoisie allowed itself to flog protesting workers in public, and if, at some point, workers were desperate enough to commit suicide in protest against capitalist barbarism, the growth of the class struggle would have refined the atmosphere of this struggle. Today, instead of the flogging workers in public, the slogan “Bread, jobs, freedom, council management” heard from workers shakes the city centers. The bourgeoisie is aware of the potential of our class. In such a situation, Ali Mohammad Naeini, chief adviser to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, says that, in 2019, [they] will have two basic trigger points: parliamentary elections and labor protests. [35] (15)

The bourgeoisie managed to defeat the strikes at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company and at the INSIG. (16) But the achievements of these struggles and strikes are much greater than those of other victories. It is not in vain that the bourgeoisie is preparing itself for labor protests next year, [2019] and that it knows by itself that the defeat of workers’ protests is only temporary. The most important character of recent protests and strikes was the reliance on workers’ class power. Striking workers did not confront the bourgeois institutions and organizations to seek fulfillment of their demands, but to reduce the accumulation of surplus value and capital gains. Indeed, despite all their limitations and their temporary defeat, these strikes strengthened the working class’ confidence and strengthened the hope for victory in future battles. The working class of Iran, as the bulk of the working class, is the most concentrated and most experienced working class in the Middle East, which has recorded its most brilliant battles in its historical memory, especially from the period 1978-1980.

Until wage slavery and the capitalist system are defeated, an earthly hell is waiting for our class, waiting for the wage slaves. The intensification of the class struggle is the only horizon ahead of our class. This is the ghost of the class struggle which the bourgeoisie fears more than anything else, because in its evolutionary process it will lead to the revolutionary destruction of the capitalist system. We have to throw this dirty capitalist system into the dustbin of history by communist revolution, ending its disgraceful life and establishing a communist society, in which there is no production of goods, no profit and no exploitation of man by man. We have nothing to lose, except our chains, [to gain the world]!

Internationalist Voice, 28 December 2018

Notes

16 INSIG = Iran National Steel Industrial Group, whose main plant is located at the Khuzestan capital of Ahvâz, at a distance of about 100 km from Haft Tappeh/Shûsh. The balance sheet includes a section “Strike by (I)NSIG workers” on the strike that broke out there four days later than at Haft Tappeh (p. 13). (Editor’s note)

 

Source: Edition of January 14, 2019, 43 p. A4. The pdf document is available for free download at: Internationalist Voice.

Note from the editor: Quotations in the text are translated into English by the authors (Internationalist Voice). Section titles and end-note numbering have been retained for reference. Some English language corrections, the text insertions between square brackets and typographical emphasis are from AFRD’s editor.

 

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