Iran’s rulers should take responsibility for workers’ suffering
While several media outlets have failed to provide accurate coverage of anti-regime protests in Iran, demonstrations are continuing across the country’s provinces and cities. Several major social groups are refusing to submit to the Iranian leadership.
Truck drivers, who carried out nationwide protests in early May, have recently launched a new wave across Iran’s cities, including in the capital Tehran, Isfahan, Nahavand, Asaluyeh, Zanjan, Shiraz, and Shahrud.
As time passes, their demands have been increasing. In the beginning, their protests concentrated on low wages, low freight rates, high inflation, expensive spare parts, austere insurance terms, and poor working conditions. But now they are also demanding the release of the many truck drivers who have been arrested solely for expressing their opinions. According to Iran’s Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA), at least 261 drivers have been arrested in 19 provinces.
In addition, Iranian teachers are holding a second round of sit-in protests and strikes across the nation. Fereshteh, a teacher in Zanjan who is participating in the protests, pointed out that “the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran is calling for a large strike due to the poor living standards that teachers are enduring.”
The average monthly salary of a teacher in Iran, which is roughly 1 million toman ($70), is barely enough to cover rent, let alone other basic needs such as food, electricity, gas, water, or medical expenses.
Firozouh, a teacher from Kurdistan, is also demanding that the government must allow students to study in their native language. The language of instruction in Iranian public schools is Persian (Farsi). Teachers have also been holding signs that read: “We protest the state of education (in Iran),” “We protest against the (low) living standards” and “Promote teachers’ dignity and livelihoods.”
Furthermore, other Iranian workers, who have some common grievances with the teachers and truck drivers regarding poor living standards, are continuing their protests across several industries. Many of them have not been paid for a long time.
It is time for the Iranian regime to either make fundamental reforms or relinquish power.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
When the ruling clergy came to power in 1979, they boasted about nationalizing industries in order to benefit the public. But several industrial sectors have been privatized and sold to those connected with the regime. This has provided a platform for those in charge to further exploit the workers and abuse the financial domestic market.
For example, the Iranian Labor News Agency indicated recently that many of the main shareholders and the director general of Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Mill in Ahvaz had violated regulations related to currency exchange. Workers of the Ahvaz National Steel Group have also been demonstrating in front of the governor’s office and chanting: “No nation has seen this much injustice; Hossein Hossein is their slogan, theft is their pride; what have behind-the-scene hands done with the factory?”
The Iranian regime’s reaction to the latest round of protests has been a mixture of disregard, playing the blame card, and deploying hard power to crack down on protesters. For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed “enemies” for the workers’ poor conditions. He forcefully stated: “One of the major activities of our enemies has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our labor groups — particularly the big ones — so they can provoke the workers.”
While President Hassan Rouhani boasts that freedom exists in Iran and protesters are allowed to freely demonstrate, many protesters have been arrested and threatened with harsh sentences, including the death penalty. Iran’s hard-line judiciary has been imprisoning protesters on ambiguous charges and without due process. As Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, accurately stated: “Iranian government officials repeatedly advertise to the world that the repeated protests in the country signal that there are real freedoms in Iran, while these same protesters languish in prison for years.”
The dire economic situation of Iran’s workers, teachers, truck drivers and other social groups is directly linked to the inefficacy and incompetence of the leadership. It also relates to poor labor laws, the banking crisis, the regime’s theft of national wealth and rampant spending on international propaganda, as well as the state hemorrhaging billions of dollars on terror and militia groups in the region, financial corruption at the top, the misuse of public funds, and economic mismanagement.
In a nutshell, the Iranian leaders ought to be aware that they are directly responsible for the poor living standards and dire economic situations of the workers, teachers, truck drivers and others who are protesting. Instead of dodging responsibility and accountability, it is time for the regime to either make fundamental reforms or relinquish power. The current reaction to the protesters and their grievances will only escalate people’s frustration and intensify anti-regime demonstrations.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council.