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Iran’s Opposition Courts Workers

Posted by Zand-Bon on Apr 30th, 2010 and filed under INTERNATIONAL NEWS FOCUS, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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By Chip Cummins


April 30, 2010

Iran’s opposition leaders, struggling to reignite their movement after the government quashed street protests earlier this year, reached out Thursday to workers and the economically disaffected before international Labor Day commemorations this weekend.

The appeal, made through a series of statements posted on opposition Web sites, is the latest effort to broaden the so-called Green Movement’s support inside Iran by criticizing the economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After Mr. Ahmadinejad won June 2009 presidential elections, opposition candidates and their supporters took to the streets for months of sporadic, often-violent protests. Early this year, the government put an end to those gatherings with a show of force, and organized pro-government counterrallies.

Shortly after, opposition leaders changed tack and started criticizing Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic record in a bid to win over labor groups and Iran’s struggling middle class. So far, the opposition has stopped short of calling for labor actions, such as strikes.

“They’ve recognized they need to recruit labor movements, teachers’ unions and the working class,” says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Iran’s political opposition over the years has often been seen as drawn mostly from the better-educated elite, out of touch with the working class.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has defended his economic policies as sound. On Thursday, he initiated his own appeal to the working class, opening a cement factory in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province and calling on the country’s youth to “reconstruct” the country and resist international economic sanctions, according to the state-controlled IRNA news agency. While Iran is one of the world’s largest producers of crude oil, its state-dominated economy has long been plagued by high inflation, unemployment and underemployment.

Iranian and outside economists have criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad for contributing to the problem, in particular through populist programs such as state-sponsored, low-interest lending and big government spending.

International sanctions have exacerbated the pain, with many economists saying they have stoked prices. Recently, Mr. Ahmadinejad has championed radical subsidy overhauls, which critics—including many parliamentarians who otherwise support the president—warn will boost inflation even more.

All that has provided an opening for opposition leaders, eager to keep their political movement alive. On Thursday, Hossein Mir Mousavi, who lost to Mr. Ahmadinejad in the June polls, released a video message attacking the president’s economic stewardship ahead of this weekend’s Labor Day and Iran’s Teachers’ Day. He called on laborers and teachers to support his opposition Green Movement.

“Workers’ wage arrears … unemployment, factory and plants closure are increasing every day,” he said, adding later that the Green Movement “shows the way on how to defend and protect your rights,” according to a summary published on his Web site, Kaleme.

The Web site also reported Thursday that a group of political prisoners, rounded up in the unrest that followed June elections, would go on a hunger strike during the two days in a show of solidarity with Iran’s working class. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “inefficient and repressive regime has caused the lower classes to be under a lot of economic pressure,” the statement read.

And on Wednesday, the opposition Web site, RaheSabz, posted what it described as a joint statement by 11 Iranian labor organizations, including the Tehran bus drivers’ union, demanding a series of concessions from the government, including abandoning support for the planned subsidy cuts. The statement couldn’t be independently verified with labor leaders.

In Washington on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech before a major Jewish organization, warned Iran and Syria against proliferating weapons that could threaten Israel’s security. She particularly warned Syrian President Bashar Assad against sharing long-range missiles with Lebanese militant groups, such as Hezbollah, that could threaten virtually all Israeli cities. “President Assad is making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region,” Mrs. Clinton said.

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