Maziyar Gilaninejhad is a leader of the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI). In this interview, he talks about the challenges and struggles of Iranian workers and the likely effects of the nuclear deal on the economy.
Q: The economic situation in Iran is dire. The rate of unemployment and inflation is high, and the price of basic food and rent is breaking people’s backs. From the point of view of the union, what is the cause of this situation?
MG: Since Iran’s economic approach turned to unrestrained financial capitalism, prices and unemployment have increased rapidly. Under President Rafsanjani, executing the directives of the World Bank and the IMF became a major factor in government policy. Recently, the economy has opened even further to finance capital.
Twenty-five years after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, our largest key industries, like steel mills, power generation, water, petrochemicals and so on are in crisis, and the uncontrolled imports have plunged domestic industries into stagnation. We now import products that we once exported.
Today, more than 40 percent of the labor force is either unemployed or works in precarious pseudo-jobs. At least three million people are living on unemployment insurance. While we previously had plants that were unparalleled in the Middle East, these industries are in crisis today.
Finance capital has infiltrated government, promoting large-scale asset stripping. Manufacturing plants are driven to bankruptcy and privatized at below-market value. Undoubtedly, these are IMF prescriptions that have been implemented in our country at the behest of global capital. The policy prescribed by IMF for countries like ours is to produce oil and nothing else.
Q: How do workers deal with these issues?
MG: When working people see that the industries they work in cannot sell their products and cannot pay their wages – and see that their purchasing power decreases daily – they raise their voice and protest. They write letters to the authorities, stage protests, and eventually, to have their voices heard, have no choice but to walk out and stop production. Finance capital cannot stand protest action.
Currently, several labor activists and teachers are in prison. Davoud Razavi and Ebrahim Madadi of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company Trade Union have been summoned to the Revolutionary Court instead of the civil court. This is used to try cases of sedition.
Q: After negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme, the country signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Many hope that the lifting of sanctions will improve the economic situation. What is your opinion?
MG: There is no doubt that the lifting of sanctions is a positive accomplishment. However, what are we going to do with it? Keep importing and shutting down industries? No worker in the world beats the drums of war, ever. There is no doubt that working people are happy with the lifting of the sanctions. But as long as the economic policy of the government stays the same, nothing will change.
Q: Can we expect that the relations between Iran and the West, and the U.S. and EU in particular, will enter a phase of friendly relations after the JCPOA? Would this be a long-term situation?
MG: Currently the neighboring countries of Iran on three sides are engaged in wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Turkey, which has gotten involved in the war in Syria. There have been attempts for a long time to pull Iran into another war. Extremists in Iran wouldn’t mind a clash with the U.S., and elements of global capital are trying to pull Iran into a war in order to change the geopolitical map of the region and do the same thing to Iran as they did to Libya and Iraq. We need to counteract this ploy. The working people of Iran oppose and object to the increase of tensions in foreign policy.
Q: What do the trade unions, and particularly the UMMI, think about the influx of foreign investors in Iran?
MG: If the government keeps conceding to finance capital, we will not benefit from foreign investment. The IMF wants Iran to provide cheap and deregulated labor for foreign investors. Since the presidency of Mr. Khatami in 1997, Iran’s government has done this. It created special trade and commerce zones that are excluded from coverage by the Labor Law.
The government aims to remove any legal restrictions for wages, retirement, health, and unemployment benefits in its development plan. This is akin to saying to Mr. Foreign Investor, “Come in and do whatever you like with our workers.”
Will the influx of foreign investment lead to the import of modern technology into the country, or will we continue fastening nuts and bolts only? We see Brazil and China as examples. Utilizing foreign investments in their countries, they were able to create jobs and reduce unemployment, and achieve the development and growth that they planned for. Will this happen here? We have to wait and see.
This interview is an abridged version of a longer conversation with Mr. Gilaninejhad that is available here.