ON 26 June, the Iranian regime implemented its secret plan of rationing petrol and increasing the price. For most of the population, it came as a shock and immediately caused riots. Cars, buses, public buildings and banks were torched in Tehran and all other big cities.
Behind the petrol price crisis is the neglect of investment in the oil and gas industry, partly due to the US sanctions but also because the regime is spending much of its income on repression and the military. A major gas and oil exporter, Iran is actually importing refined petrol.
The unrest follows growing opposition against president Ahmadinejad’s regime, which has been answered with increased repression against workers, students and women activists.
Mahmoud Salehi, the well known Bakers workers’ leader in Saqez, was arrested on 9 April. In June, the bus drivers’ union leader, Mansour Ossanlou, was sentenced to five years in prison. Hundreds of youth have been harassed, beaten up or arrested for wearing “improper clothing”.
Alongside repression, the regime is exploiting the conflict with US imperialism to dampen opposition and dissent. Supreme leader Ayatollah Khameini has repeatedly called for “Islamic national unity” in the face of threats from George Bush and US imperialism.
Despite its Islamic and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric, the regime in Iran is implementing similar policies of capitalist globalisation as other governments. That means deregulation of the labour market and privatisation. The gap between rich and poor is increasing, with some of the ruling mullahs becoming super-rich.
Elected president in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised more jobs, lower prices and some of the oil incomes transferred to ordinary families. Nothing of this has come true. 70% of the population live under the poverty line.
Even according to official statistics, poverty has increased – by 12% over the last year, to 12 million people. Unemployment is still increasing and 80% of all workers are now on temporary contracts. Many strikes are of workers who have not received their wages for up to two years!
As a consequence, last December, Ahmadinejad’s candidates heavily lost the elections for city councils and to the Council of Experts, the body selecting the supreme leader.
The regime in Iran is especially afraid of the opposition from the working class, the only force able to overthrow the repressive Islamic regime. Trade unions in the west should support their struggle and demand the release of all imprisoned workers’ leaders and full trade union rights.