Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Is a blue-collar wave of protest on its way?"

Last week I tweeted translations of a Voice of America program on the economic crisis in Iran. One of the guests, Dr. Fereydoun Khavand, economics professor at Paris's René Descartes University, cited portions of an article which warned that blue-collar protests were becoming more organized and that "if the trend continues and nothing is done to counter the fall of economic centers, a blue wave of protest, similar to the Green Wave, will be unleashed." Judging by the great number of retweets and blogs which reposted the translation, the topic struck a nerve. No less interesting was the source of the article, the Alef web site, run by Ahmad Tavakoli.

Tavakoli, a Principlist member of the legislature, is a staunch supporter of the regime and heads the Majlis Research Center. He has managed other news outlets, most prominent among them the conservative Resalat daily, which he also founded. He has a Ph.D., presumably a real one, from the University of Nottingham.

Alef web site, like the man who runs it, is a vocal critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's policies. Though Ahmadinejad is also considered a principlist (or oosoolgara - one who seeks a return to the founding principles of the revolution), Tavakoli is close to the more pragmatic wing of the movement which is led by Majlis Speaker and Ahmadinejad rival Ali Larijani.

In early August, Tavakoli stated, "Mr. Ahmadinejad, now that you have been re-elected with 25 million votes, it is time to change your past ways and show greater obedience to the law. In the recent unrest, the rights of the people were violated… at the hands of some saboteurs [rioters] and some officers. I do not mean to undermine the efforts made to maintain security and neutralize enemy plots… but the reality is that the rights of the detainees have been violated and the law has been trampled." (quote courtesy of Tehran Bureau). Tavakoli was also one of over 140 legislators, including Larijani, Deputy Majlis Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, and Majlis cultural committee chairman and former Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, who did not attend Ahmadinejad's Now Rouz or New Year celebration in late March.

The following is a translation of highlights of the Alef web site article by Mohsen Mehdian, posted on August 22, and entitled 'Is a blue-collar wave of protest on its way?'

On Sunday, the workers of the Bukan textile plant discovered that their manager was back at the factory after a long absence. He was accompanied by several Bank Melli experts who were making a list of the machinery and assets to be confiscated. A number of workers immediately rushed to the plant and told the manager that they were taking control of the machinery and that the experts had to go through their picket line if they intended to make lists or confiscate anything.

In Tehran, the workers of the Dena Tire and Rubber Manufacturing Company held up signs saying: 'Incompetent director, resign, resign!' and 'Sacking 4 representatives is an insult to 2,000 employees!' The Business Court of Justice has ruled that the fired employees must be reinstated, but management has refrained from carrying out this order so far. The workers have been demonstrating daily from 6 AM to 2 PM at the factory.

On Sunday morning, the workers of Haft Tappeh's agricultural-industrial plant went on strike to obtain back pay.

The economic downturn is getting worse. The Economics Minister says that monetary policy must be reformed. The Chamber of Commerce has warned of the continuation of the crisis and its experts have said that the recent events have led to a lack of confidence in the economy. None of the 33 foreign guests invited to a seminar at Sharif University attended. These guests did not even intend to invest any money and their applause at the event would have sufficed. Experts say that Neda's funeral and the show trials are to blame.

The authorities think they can turn things around by playing with the money supply. But their policies mean that the people's purchasing power has fallen by 52%.

According to official statistics, unemployment in Tehran has risen by 3%. There are news reports of layoffs over the past month and a half: 500 at Iran Wood Panels, 900 at Long-Distance Communications Industries, 230 at the Azadi Hotel... In 500 factories, 200,000 workers have not been paid for three to 50 [sic] months.

This is natural. Iralco [aluminum works] is forced to sell its goods 700 toumans under market value, and even then, given the high price of aluminum in Iran compared to world markets, buyers are staying away. Iralco's production has slumped by 50%.

With over one million tons of sugar imports last year, 50% of sugar manufacturers are operating at a loss. Production is practically at a standstill in the other 50%.

Bank check transactions have fallen by 42% in one year. Despite this, the number of bounced checks has increased by 7.8%, an unprecedented level since the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

Reports speak of a precipitous fall in 150 companies on the stock exchange

Household appliance makers are operating at 40% capacity.

Construction in Tehran has collapsed by 60%.

Outstanding debts to banks are at 56 trillion toumans.

The number of unemployed and semi-employed is being affected by this downturn and the regular bankruptcies of factories. Workers will fall below the poverty line and will turn to the black economy in greater numbers. The blue collars will be the losers of the new situation.

Reports in the past months speak of the widespread organization of blue-collar protests. If the current trend continues and nothing is done to counter the fall of economic centers, a blue wave of protest will be unleashed.

This wave will resemble the Green Wave and may even go beyond the efforts to foment the 'soft overthrow' [of the regime]. Some may even call it Operation Ajax 3 (NB Referring to the 1953 coup in Iran which was codenamed Operation Ajax by the CIA). The green wristbands will be replaced by blue collars. This grassroots movement will be provoked by fears of not being able to afford food for one's family, formula for one's infant, rent, education for one's child, or health care for one's spouse.

Every person who becomes unemployed will take at least four others below the poverty line. Cracking down on the Blues or even organizing trials will not prevent corruption or social decay.

We must shake ourselves out of this Green trance and be more concerned about the blue roar.

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