Iran – Khamenei throws the gauntlet, the workers start to move

As reports are coming in about clashes between protesters and police in Tehran, it is clear that the movement against the fraud has reached a critical point. Khamenei’s speech yesterday threw down the gauntlet to the movement and threatened repercussions for continued protests but the organised working class are now joining the struggle against the regime.

In his sermon on Friday prayers at the Teheran University Mosque, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threw all his authority behind Ahmadinejad and issued a strong warning against those protesting electoral fraud. He rejected any claims of vote rigging and declared Ahmadinejad's “definitive victory”. He also accused the West of meddling in Iranian affairs. His sermon had two clear messages. One, the Islamic Republic cannot be questioned. He said that “The dispute is not between groups within the Islamic establishment and outside the Islamic establishment. This is not a dispute between those for and against the revolution. This dispute is between elements within the framework of the Islamic establishment. And the people who voted for the four candidates did so by depending and trusting in the Islamic establishment.” This was clearly a response to the fact that the mass protests of the last week have started to question not only the validity of the elections, but the system itself and this is very worrying. The fact that Khamenei, who usually refrains from participating directly in politics and moves the strings from behind the scenes, has come out in such strong terms is a measure of how worried the ruling class is of the challenge that the mass movement poses to the very existence of the Islamic Republic.

The second message was a strong warning against further mobilisations. “It is wrong for some people to assume that by taking to the streets, they can pressure the Islamic establishment, and pressure the officials into forced compromise. It is a mistake to make such an assumption.” And he backed this with a threat:

“Street challenges are not acceptable after the election. I want everybody on all sides to put an end to this method. If they don't, the consequences and the riots should be shouldered by those who don't put an end to it… If there are any consequences, it will directly affect the leaders behind the scenes.”

Not only demonstrations are not allowed, but there will be riots if they continue, and by talking of the leaders behind the scenes, he was probably referring to Rafsanjani, as well as Mousavi. For a whole week, hundreds of thousands and probably even millions of people have participated in what they knew were illegal demonstrations, which had not been authorised, and the regime was powerless to stop them. Now the state has warned that it will not tolerate this situation any longer. It cannot, at the risk of undermining the basis of its own power.

Khamenei's warnings were backed by further threats by the state apparatus. Iran's Security Council (part of the Interior Ministry) sent a letter to Mousavi making him personally responsible for what happens today, when the opposition has called for yet another mass rally. “It is your duty not to incite and invite the public to illegal gatherings; otherwise, you will be responsible for its consequences.” The orders from the Security Council to Mousavi are explicit: “It is your responsibility to prevent the public from attending such rallies instead of making accusations against the law enforcement”. They also repeat an accusation made by Khamenei in his speech on Friday: the people are manipulated by foreign agents: “We believe this is an organized network which is most probably affiliated to foreign-related groups and deliberately disturbs the peace and security of the public.” Any oppressive regime thinks that the movement of the people is the work of “foreign agents” and “agitators”, not being able to admit that any genuine mass movement of the people has its roots in social and economic conditions. As if more than a million people could be led by a small “organised network” of “foreign groups”!!

The Security Council letter is also very explicit on what the security forces will do if more demonstrations are held: “Of course we have already ordered the law enforcement forces to deal with the issue”. This is the stick.

But, as a matter of fact even Khamenei's address contained a “carrot”, a “concession” designed to offer Mousavi a way out, that of pursuing his allegations by legal means. On Saturday, Iran's Guardian Council made the offer more concrete: “Although the Guardian Council is not legally obliged ... we are ready to recount 10 percent of the (ballot) boxes randomly in the presence of representatives of the candidates”. Both Mousavi and Karroubi, the two “reformist” candidates, boycotted the meeting of Guardian's Council, to which they had been invited, and only “conservative” candidate Rezaei attended. Rezaei alleged that he had really received between 2.5 and 7 million votes, instead of the 680,000 of the official results.

The problem is that a promise of a partial recount is too little too late for the mass movement, which in any case is not under the control of Mousavi at all. In fact, many of the demonstrations last week have followed this pattern: a demonstration is announced by someone close to Mousavi, then it is called off, but as the masses gather anyway, Mousavi makes sure he is present and seen by the crowds in order not to lose his “leadership” of the movement.

Already Tehran is full of rumours of the mass rally this afternoon having been called off. The “reformist” Combatant Clerics Assembly, led by Khatami, has announced that since no official permission has been granted, “there will be no rally” today. But even if Mousavi himself announced the calling off of the protest, it is likely to go ahead anyway and he would risk losing control of the movement altogether. "Often these protests can take on a life of their own and if the leaders call off the protest that does not mean the people will not come out on the streets and their will not be a resulting crackdown," said Reva Bhalla, an analyst with Stratfor, a global intelligence firm.

Today is therefore a crucial day in the movement. It is clear that the state cannot allow the demonstration to go ahead and they will use all forces at their disposal to do so. Any revolution reaches a point where the masses are no longer afraid of repression and when repression might back fire and escalate the movement. This might be it. There have already been indications in the last week of protests that sections of the police were sympathetic to the protesters. It is likely that more reliable forces will be used against today’s march.

In a crucial development, over the last few hours we have witnessed the beginning of the entry of the working class into the mass movement as a clear force with its own identity. On Thursday 18, the Vahed Syndicate of Bus Drivers issued a statement in support of the mass movement. This is significant since this is one of the most militant sections of the Iranian working class, having carried out a protracted struggle for the recognition of their trade union organisation despite brutal repression on the part of the Islamic Republic. The Vahed Syndicate had correctly stated before the elections that none of the candidates support the interests of the workers of Iran, but now, also correctly recognises “the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders, and national and religious minorities in Iran” and states clearly that “the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company fully supports this movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemns any violence and oppression.” (The Field: Iran Bus Workers Join the Resistance)

But even more important is the action taken by workers at the massive Khodro car factory. The workers at this car company, the largest in the Middle East with nearly 100,000 workers, 30,000 of them in one single plant, have already taken strike action on Thur, 18, in support of the revolutionary movement of the people. In a short statement that we reproduce in full they say:

“We declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran.

“Autoworker, Fellow Laborers (Laborer Friends): What we witness today, is an insult to the intelligence of the people, and disregard for their votes, the trampling of the principles of the Constitution by the government. It is our duty to join this people's movement.

“We the workers of Iran Khodro, Thursday 28/3/88 in each working shift will stop working for half an hour to protest the suppression of students, workers, women, and the Constitution and declare our solidarity with the movement of the people of Iran. The morning and afternoon shifts from 10 to 10:30. The night shift from 3 to 3:30.

Laborers of Iran Khodro” (The Field: Iran Khodro Auto Workers Begin Work Slowdown to Protest the Regime)

These two statements and the strike action of Khodro workers are indeed extremely significant. These are two of the most advanced sections of the Iranian working class, at the vanguard of the new emerging trade union movement. They are expressing the thoughts of millions of other workers who have not yet put them in formal statements. As Alan Woods explained on Thursday,

“The working class has a power that can paralyze society and the state. Without its permission, not a light bulb shines, not a wheel turns, not a telephone rings. We refer to the general strike. The idea of a general strike has been raised but it has not been carried out. This is the key question!” (Iran: how can the movement go forward?)

The strike of the Khodro workers could be the beginning of a strike wave. In 1979 it was the strike of the oil workers which finally brought down the Shah. It is the duty of revolutionary Marxists to give full support to this movement and particularly to its most advanced layers, the organised working class.

Jorge Martín

June 20