Most of the information that has come out of the meetings in Geneva on 7-8 November (to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme) point to the French side taking a much tougher stand than the other imperialist countries.
Some even blame them for the failure. They are all going to meet again on 20 November; meanwhile the Iranian regime has agreed to more inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The reason the Iranian regime is at the negotiating table is the collapsing economy. The ever-increasing and tightening sanctions, coming on top of decades of incompetence and corruption, have meant that all the economic and social ills that have existed in society have become exacerbated.
We should also not forget that 10 years ago, when Khatami — another “smiling” cleric — was the regime’s “president”, the Islamic Republic suspended uranium enrichment for two years. It got absolutely nothing in return and this was the main reason for the “reformists” becoming weaker and Ahmadinejad and his cabal replacing them. So this time the regime is insisting on getting something at each step of the process.
On international sanctions, we have to just look at a few statistics to know how bad things are (and we should bear in mind that all official figures are massively watered down).
During the eight Ahmadinejad years the proportion of the population living under the poverty line went from 22% to 40%. Now, because of the $28bn budget deficit, up to 22 million people face losing their cash subsidies.
This is happening in a society where inflation is 42% and for foodstuffs is 60% (including a whopping 162% for potatoes).
As for unemployment, it is 12.2% (17.7% for women) and reaches 28.3% for youth. Even 40% of university graduates are unemployed!
These are not just dry statistics. They have real consequences for workers and their families. So when we say that the GDP shrank by 5.4% last year we can see that it led to many industries either collapsing or being brought to their knees. For example, Kerman Motor and Modiran, two of the smaller vehicle manufacturers, have ceased production altogether. Even Iran Khodro, the biggest in the Middle East, has had a 44% drop in production.
These all point to a massive social explosion sooner or later. So the regime, fully mindful of what happened to the Shah in 1978-79, is trying to save its own skin. It is going to New York and Geneva to have at least some of the sanctions lifted or eased as quickly as possible.
So there is a clear trend towards resolving the nuclear issue because the regime knows that it will not be long before there are mass protests and strikes against the deteriorating situation.
There is no “new regime” in Iran. In one month alone the regime has hanged 54 and imprisoned 69 oppositionists. In the past few days it has executed two Kurdish activists: Shirkooh Moarefi and Habibollah Golparipoor. Before they were executed they were held in solitary confinement for months, and after execution their families had problems getting hold of their bodies! Right now there are 80 political prisoners on hunger strike against the lack of proper medical care in prisons.
Second, the regime continues to imprison dozens of labour activists. Shahrokh Zamani, who tried to set up a painters’ and decorators’ union, and Reza Shahabi, one of the leaders of the Vahed bus drivers, are among the better known ones. Their conditions are appalling and every basic need of the prisoner is used as a lever to put more pressure on him (e.g., receiving medication after its “best before” date).
Despite the massive repression, however, there are still many sporadic and short-lived protests and strikes. E.g., on October 20, striking workers at Bandar Imam’s Fajr Petrochemical Company brought production to a halt. That is why it is the duty of all trade unionists, labour activists and socialists everywhere to step up their solidarity work in support of Iranian workers.
This will help them to withstand the blows of reaction better and prepare themselves for the big battles of when the repressive apparatus becomes weaker.