Commentary Magazine


It’s Time to Support Iranian Labor

I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:

For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.

There is absolutely no reason why Washington should not support Iranian labor. Because Iran’s Supreme Leader believes that he is the deputy of the messiah on earth and that his sovereignty comes from God, he cares little for what the Iranian people think or what they suffer. But, if Iranian labor unions force the government to be more accountable to the people, then even better; Iranians tend to be far more moderate than their government. If labor discord sparks civil unrest that undercuts the regime’s grasp on power, then that is no reason to shed a tear.

Rather than turn his back on the Iranian people as President Obama did in 2009, perhaps it’s time to channel the current unrest into a real strategy to empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis the regime which has brought nothing but suffering down upon them.