To see the new phase of the crisis, which began with the bursting of the speculative bubble in 2008, as just a repeat of the same decades-long pattern of boom and bust, is a mistake. It is a gross misunderstanding of the impasse that capitalism has come to today.
Similarly, to think of this or that strike, this or that protest as being in the old framework, that is that it will somehow end as "usual" in trade union negotiations based on compromise and accepting some austerity measures (thus preparing the way for further attacks on workers) is equally wrong. It fails to see and understand the depth to which workers' conditions have deteriorated to unbearable levels and that this is the material basis of the militancy that workers have been forced to adopt.
This does not imply by any means that capitalism will crumple under the weight of its own contradictions and that a workers' victory is inevitable. Far from it. It simply means that the class struggle in coming weeks and months is going to get sharper and harsher than it has been for decades. And the ruling class as always will use their naked barbaric oppression as well as the usual dirty tricks aided by the reformists of the left of capital.
This is exactly what took place in Haft Tapeh. First Ismael Bakhshi with 18 other workers and a female reporter/social activist, Sepideh Ghalian were arrested. The next night Ali Nejati a retired Haft Tapeh ex-delegate, undergoing treatment for heart failure was taken from his house by security forces, in the middle of night. Over the next few days scores of other worker activists were told to report to the intelligence services office in Shush where they were interrogated before being released after a few hours. All this was intended to create an atmosphere of fear throughout the entire working class neighbourhood. Then some of the delegates were freed, possibly to try to create atmosphere of suspicion to divide the workers. They then announced that two of the four month of arrears of pay, would be settled shortly!
Despite all this, the protest continued, but with a new demand on the list, for the release of the arrested workers.
A video made on 21 November, shows workers with their families protesting outside the Shush governor's office with the placards containing the names and photos of the arrested workers, Bakhsi, Armand, Khaniferand and Fazeli and demanding their release. They chanted “The imprisoned workers must be freed”. One of the workers said:
"...What have Bakhshi and Armand said? Nothing else but voiced our words ........... Some people do not want to deal with the problem, so they deny the existence of the problem itself, why do you want to blame Bakhshi, and for what?..."
In response to a speech by an official from the labour ministry, one worker said:
"Dear sir, your belly is full (not hungry), you say that you understand us. I swear that you do not understand us. How could you understand us? As the old proverb says "the full belly, has no idea of how the empty belly (hungry) feels."
At the end of the protest, a worker cried out: "We have everything, but we have nothing." 1
While all this was happening, government officials were secretly meeting with the new young owner Asad Baigi in the Khuzestan governor's office. Yes this is the same Asad Baigi, the very one who had allegedly taken an $800 million government loan and had disappeared. His disappearance was actually reported on 18 November, interestingly the very day Bakhshi was arrested, by Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, First Deputy Head of the Judiciary;
"the CEO of Haftep is a fugitive but he is not at prison in order to give him an opportunity to solve the problems." 2
A video of this "fugitive" then appeared on social media on 26 November. In this video Asad Baigi, after flattering the authorities of the country and the judiciary and claiming that "clarifications" are now made, but not a word about what sort of clarification, then continued saying;
"...and also with the full support of our regime for the private sector, which opened our heart so that we can think about our ways and our goals in a much better way. This strike will bring nothing for our beloved people, except disorder and problems. I declare this to all my loved ones that this company will not be returned to public sector in any way, and will remain private. I beg you all, dear ones, not to listen to those anti-regime satellite TV that are against our regime and our country. Don’t listen to other people from overseas who pursue their own political goals. We must all know that those who are abroad, will not bring us bread and honour, we will not benefit from them..."3
Protests continued. All official attempts, from labour representatives, reformists, religious figures... were met with the same workers' resistance. It is interesting to note that a video shows officials/ security force figures trying to divert workers' attention to something else, like to the life of Prophet Mohammad... presumably how he lived... or the recent news bout Jamal Khashoggi. Workers' responses were interesting:
"...We're hungry sir, and a hungry man is capable of doing anything. You see how my hands are shaking, I have a sick baby, I cannot help him.... he vomits ...."
As soon as he mentions the Prophet, the worker interrupts and says:
"I wish that a Prophet would come and save us ...... see how my hands are shaking..."
Once again, he interrupts the official (its not clear what the official is on about) and says:
"Khashoggi, Khashoggi.....you keep repeating it, damn Khashoggi, he is not our business and concerns, these people here are all Khashoggi..."4
However, the protest on 29 November 2018, showed no sign of retreat. Further attempts by MPs to try to persuade workers to get back to work, were met with a resolute response as this video shows. To this absolute bullshit talk, workers responded by shouting for Bakhshi's release. Furthermore, one of the workers, asking in a sarcastic tone about Asad Baigi (the fugitive owner!), which indicates that workers must have been aware of the secret meeting that was taking place, workers were chanting, “Imprisoned workers must be freed”, "they have arrested Ismail so we are all Bakhshi!"5
But even as late as 30 November the strike and protest showed no sign of backing down. From a further video, it seems that the focus is now on “Imprisoned workers must be freed”.6
On 1 December, the 27th day of the strike and protest rallies of Haft Tapeh workers, the government sent a delegation, which, as before, tried to deceive the workers with hollow promises to prevent the continuation of the strike and demonstrations and protest rallies. However, the workers of Haft Tape did not give in and stood against the government delegates and rejected their promises and continued to emphasise the demands, which they had repeatedly stated before, which were;
• Three months pay arrears and all outstanding claims must be settled
• Return of company ownership back to the public sector
• Release of prisoners
• Implementation of classification scheme and contracts
• Owners of company should be brought to justice
Later on when an announcement was made by the official news agency and main media that:
"Kiyomars Kazemi was introduced on Saturday in a ceremony in the presence of a number of provincial and city officials and workers' representatives as the new CEO of the Haft Tape Sugar Cane Industry Company."
There is no information about who these "workers' representatives" might have been.
However, the new CEO in that ceremony said:
"Haft Tapeh is more important than anything else to me, and everyone knows this company is the second home of us all. The provincial and local authorities asked me to accept the responsibility for this company, and I accepted it with pleasure, so everyone should help us to solve the factory’s problems and flourish. With full authority, I took over the management of the plant, and I did not just enter into the sale and purchase of this company, so if anyone does not want to continue working and do business, they are not in the company."9
We do not know what exactly happened that day or how workers returned to work. Yousef Yar Ali, a worker from Haft Tapeh said this in a note that has been circulating in social media:
"...The fight is not over and it will continue. As you know, the scabs, the Supreme Leader's disciples, supporters of official labour movement and of the Islamic councils and those elements who oscillated between the strikers and scabs, are hand in hand with the oppressors of the security forces, the employer and the managements, in direct and indirect forms, imposed breaking strike on the workers..."10
On 4 December the Syndicate of Haft Tapeh issued a statement to say:
"...the families of Bakhshi and the reporter/social activist, Sepideh Ghalian have managed to meet their loved ones in a short visit but realized that unfortunately both of them have been severely beaten up and put under intense physical and psychological pressure. According to reports, Ismail Bakhshi and Sepideh Ghaliyan, are physically in a very serious condition. They did not have a sense of time and day of the week, and they're still under pressure and kept in solitary confinement..."11
On 11 December Ismail Bakhshi was freed. But until 23 December there was no sign of him and no reporter managed to see him or report of him before this date, when he wrote in his Instagram's post with two photos of the first day of freedom, as well as the day of his return to work, which was addressed to the Iranian people under the title of "Thank You".
"Although I no longer understand the meaning of freedom, I do not comprehend it, I felt a little bit free."
He remarked that people remembered him in his
"hardest moments of my life… In the past few days, I was in a situation where neither pens nor my mind and my spirit would help, even words were alien to me. I cannot bear this heavy load any more. So I shall try with the disturbed spirit, with stuttering tongue and shaking pen, to respond to your kindness with something."12
He also thanked workers, trade unions and labour organisations, teachers, students, the community of doctors and nurses, marketers, all the guilds and associations, artists, writers and poets who supported him.
So is it over?
That very day that the mainstream media reported the worker's return to work, there were also unofficial reports that some sections were still on strike which was confirmed a few days later.13
Wildcat strikes were taking place until Ismail Bakhshi was released. Despite all these, one could say that this particular strike is over, at least for now, but we share and repeat what Yousef Yar Ali, went on to say in his note:
"...It is a mistake if anyone thinks that we did not know that the government and the traitors would succeed in breaking the strike. And it is a mistake if anyone thinks that we did not know that it would not be possible to conquer the factory or have worker's control with this strike, we knew and know and the workers know too!!! In order to achieve a soviet way of life, factory conquests and worker's control require a much larger struggles and a very wide-spread class solidarity, and in order to advance towards such goals, the working class needs to seize political power, but in order to achieve such a ultimate goals of course, it has to start from somewhere, such as Haft Tapeh, steel, Hepco, Azarab and petrochemicals, or the iron ore mine of Chadormalu, and so on. It began in Haft Tapeh, and will continue in Haft Tapeh again, and no doubt will start soon in other factories. The struggle in the Haft Tapeh was just a first step to start to show what soviet life meant, so workers get to know where and how they can achieve their rights, we keep wanting a soviet life style, and we will use every effort to achieve it and to do so we are not afraid of facing any problems. We are present where the struggle is and undoubtedly, in the near future, hand in hand with the rest of the workers, the streets and cities and the whole country under the feet of the workers, will again tremble. We are the workers who have become aware of our own class rights and will not give up on our demands until the overthrow of capitalist government and establishment of workers' soviets, so we can have a soviet style of life to pave the way for the potential growth for workers and other members of the community and to bring it to all Iranian people. We are hoping for such a day…"14
Haft Tapeh strikes went beyond traditional trade boundaries:
What happened during the strike in Haft Tapeh, was a bright and promising start of the Iranian working class movement to break away from traditional legality confined to trade union methods. The workers of Haft Tape demonstrated in a most decisive way that the future belongs to soviets.
Haft Tapeh's strike lasted officially for 27 days, but today, 23 December, Ahvaz Foolad steel workers strike entered its 44th Day. Last week, dozens of workers were arrested by the security forces. It has been reported that the whole city of Ahvaz with over 1 million population, is under tight security control. Their slogan today predominately was "Imprisoned workers must be freed " and also have demanded for governor of Ahvaz to be removed from his position. 15 & 16
Just a glance at this video shows how much the Ahvaz steel workers’ demonstration has been influenced by Haft Tapeh strikes, in this video Karim Syahi tells other workers:
"If you are threatened, do not be afraid! Even if they want to hang you, still do not be afraid!"17
During the 40 years of Islamic Republic rule, the tendency towards linking their isolated struggles together has never have been so noticeable as it is in Iran today. In many strikes and protest of workers, students, teachers, lorry drivers... now dozens of them all over Iran, releasing of imprisoned workers of Haft Tapeh and Steel workers of Foolad, has become a common demand in almost all of them. The usual traditional boundary by trade, ethnicity, religion, gender is cracking to a degree that in Tehran, the retired armed forces gathered in front of the Iranian parliament18 and listed among their demands release of Haft Tapeh and Foolad Steel imprisoned workers. The demands of Haft Tapeh workers for a soviet type of rule may have been silenced in Shush for now, but it has echoed far beyond Shush. Now the whole of society is paying more attention towards the workers' struggle. There is no doubt that in the future this will be referred to as a turning point in the Iranian working class movement. Predictably, all shades of opposition are increasingly defining and labeling these workers as magnificent for flexing their muscles. They are attempting to recuperate them as part of the general struggle of the whole nation in its everlasting desire for "freedom" or even worse for “democracy”.
Among the opposition’s colourful list, the monarchists have increased their presence in public and social media. In their own words the movement “in recent months has finally adopted a more dynamic ‘pitch,’ “. Reza Pahlavi, son of late Shah is in the centre of this circus. On Friday, 14 December the Washington Institute for Near East Policy presented a forum where he said that the “West Must Embrace Regime Change in Iran”. When he was asked what kind of policy that Trump administration can take in order to support the democratic movement in Iran, he replied:
"...messaging is very important. Communication is a vital key and a daily need for coordination of Iranians between themselves and with the outside world. One thing that could certainly be helpful is to tell all these media that supposedly broadcast programmes to Iran to take the Hippocratic Oath, meaning first, do no harm ... these are agencies that American tax payers or British tax payers have funded, basically have been heavily penetrated by reformist elements that are basically there to support the regime. That is something that as a matter of policy could be changed instantly. That is one aspect, no 2 as I said is the freezing of the assets of well known elements of the regime supporting instead forces within Iran who definitely need help..."19
Compare this with the Ismail Bakhshi's speech below
"...Today we have gathered to see what the meaning of the Independent Workers' Soviet that we keep talking about is. It means to get together, not to have anything to do with anyone else. If you have put your hopes on the state's help, if your hope lies with the private sector, I do not know, but if you hope that someone else will come to rescue us, let me put your mind at rest. It's going to be the same, it will be the same soup and the same bowl all over again.
Our alternative is a Soviet, a collective one. We are not person-centred and we do not want individualism. Individualists, nationalists, racists and reactionaries do not associate yourselves with us. Our alternative is a workers' soviet; collectively we will decide for ourselves, we will issue demands from the below. Enough is enough!"20
These two messages belong to very different worlds; the first one belongs to the capitalist world, full of hypocrisy, favouring imperialist sanctions against a country that will cause ordinary people to suffer… purging reformist reporters that are working for BBC and Voice of America… and the second one belongs to the communist world, a world of dignity, reliance on your own collective power and decisions...
...The first speaker – that is his majesty! – after the forum, will return to his mansion, to his family, to rest till the next meeting, living off the capital his family took from Iran 40 years ago. He is accompanied by a security guard just in case, and the second speaker despite emphasising in his speech the peaceful nature of the workers’ demands, gets arrested, tortured… this is the gap between these two worlds, nothing will fill this gap but the revolutionary overthrow of world capitalism.
25 December 2018
The wall graffiti in the photo above says "workers of Haft Tapeh are not alone, the whole workers' movement of the country supports them"