Iranians in Revolt

About the situation in Iran: it worsened as a considerable part of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran was shut down a week ago. The Bazaar has been one of the main—if not the main—bourgeois supporters of the current regime ever since the uprising of 1979.

Bazaar: its literal meaning is market. It has been there for ages, several hundred years. The Bazaar traditionally was the place where the prices of commodities where set. When it is said someone is Bazaari it basically means that he is a merchant, who also has a lot of cash available and simultaneously can act as a financier (in fact a speculator, a loan shark, a hoarder, short-term speculator who does not invest in production). In the Bazaar, these bourgeois can be observed as having a very simple and small boutique, with few chairs and a desk with a telephone and very few commodities. Sitting some hours behind their desk—doing nothing but talking with other Bazaaris or talking on the phone, buying and selling or hoarding commodities. The Bazaar exists in parallel to the financial system in Iran.

What difference did the Bazaar strike make? Think about the day, for example, when the financial system shuts down. What effect(s) would it have on the economy? Of course the Bazaar strike was relatively small, hence it didn’t have so dramatic an effect as a financial system shut down. However, the Bazaaris’ strike, to some extent, did increase prices. One reason for that is that they are wholesalers and any price increases their actions produce ripple through the marketplace. In addition, if their actions appear to represent a withdrawal of support from the regime, they worsen the political crisis as well.

There are rumors, especially coming from the reformist fraction of the regime, saying that the current protest wave (and the last one) has been initiated by the “hardliners” who were defeated in the last election and hope to make a coup d’état to bring the military to power. While this may or may not be true or at least have some truth in it, some ordinary people who have long been fed up with their living conditions have joined the protests and their slogans change as well.

The recent protests have spread fast in many cities; important issues such as living costs and the bad quality of fresh water, especially in the southern parts of the country, have been the main reason for protests. There are two reports from Aljazeera, one on the protests and one on the water shortage.

While the largest cities were colored by Bazaar protests over the decline of the Iranian currency against the dollar, the southwestern cities, in Khuzestan province (the center of Iran’s oil production and home to a large Arab minority population), have exploded a few days ago mainly because of a lack of fresh water in general and good quality drinking water in particular and air pollution. (As readers may know, water has become and is going to be one of the most important causes of social conflicts in Iran and the larger region. This is another story that needs separate explanations.)

Sky-high inflation and a sharp drop in the national currency value are the results of the us pull back from the jcpa (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and the us administration’s promises to impose the hardest sanctions on Iran. But when it comes to the condition of the working class, what I have described is not new. This is the condition workers have been living in for decades. Living under the poverty line, working two jobs or two shifts, having everyone in the family working, going without paychecks for months, signing “white contracts” which give up the right to claim insurance or file complaints against an employer for workplace safety matters, even selling body organs and children is not unique for recent months or even years.

There exist very few small independent worker organizations in the form of syndicates/trade unions. The regime has its own “trade unions” called “Islamic workers councils,” and with that as an excuse, suppresses any independent organization. At the moment, while they may be participants in the street protests, workers seem to be “quiet” or conducting their own defensive protests as before in their work places. I really cannot understand how they can manage living with such low salaries and high inflation. To illustrate the situation, consider this: while the minimum wage in Iran is about $200 per month, the level of prices can compete with that of the Europeans!

No wonder the society is exploding or may explode again at any time! Of course, I am not talking about what every single worker will do. Instead, I want to illuminate the conditions wherein a part of the working class is forced to act as such.

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