Decoding Class Politics in Iran


Reference ID Date Classification Origin
09RPODUBAI177 2009-04-22 11:11 SECRET//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
Game of Attrition.  Ahmadinejad’s defeats on the budget and his plan to distribute cash payments to lower-income Iranians show that power centers, such as the Majles, are actively working to pressure the President prior to the June election, according to [Source removed].  These power centers are also stepping up their lobbying of Supreme Leader Khamenei to get his backing to stall or overturn some Presidential authorities.  This game is increasingly being played out in the media, where the sides openly attack each other, and where the President’s public defenses are weakening his hand and depleting political capital that he would prefer to save for the bigger fights ahead.  The cash payment plan could have garnered AN additional votes, but he continues to “work the rounds” in the provinces and maintain his base of support where it really matters.  By June, the current policy debates will matter less, and it is too early to consider these moves decisive to AN’s electoral prospects, according to the economist.  Comment: If these power centers can get increased backing from Khamenei, we may see some interesting fireworks in Iranian press in the coming weeks.  As IRPO has previously reported, identifying the power centers responsible for AN’ setbacks on economic policy last month is difficult but could include a broad spectrum of political factions.
¶3. (S/NF) Mousavi’s Economic Program.  Moderate presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi announced his economic program to the Iranian press this week, emphasizing economic growth and job creation from a rejuvenated and expanded private sector.  Mousavi criticized AN’s halting steps at privatization, calling them “the institutionalization of non-productive government management.”  Stability in government policies and a strict adherence to the planning documents of a restored Management and Planning Organization (MPO) and the “rule of law,” are other key planks.  The best talking point in the plan, “social justice doesn’t mean equal distribution of poverty,” challenges AN’s key economic goal by inserting economic growth into the equation and highlighting his poor economic management.  Mousavi’s plan only briefly mentions subsidy reforms, stressing the need to implement them gradually, after careful preparation.  Comment: Mousavi’s plan mentions Article 44 of Iran’s constitution, which defines the role of the state, cooperative, and private sectors in Iran’s economy, but his emphasis on a strong private sector may open the plan to criticism that it is in conflict with the constitution.  Mousavi also threatens to withdraw Iran’s Fifth Five Year Development Plan, currently being drafted, if AN submits it to the Majles before the election.  An IRPO contact [Source removed], didn’t expect the plan to be finished until later this year.

Timothy Richardson, Acting Director, Iran Regional Presence Office (IRPO), Department of State

Reference ID Date Classification Origin
10RPODUBAI13 2010-01-12 14:02 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
¶15. (C) Heretofore the GPO has yet to adopt any sort of an economic agenda or set of grievances as part of a core opposition message, and perhaps the absence of one partially underscores the relative ‘bourgeois’ leanings of the GPO.  Anecdotal information indicates that unemployment and a potential spike in inflation (expected with the recent decision to end subsidies) increasingly concern a large number of Iranians.  IRPO contacts and Iranian press reporting also indicate another spike in labor unrest, due to the parlous state of Iran’s factories and their inability to pay their workers on time.  One would think that a message that capitalizes on these economic concerns juxtaposed against President Ahmadinejad’s (and by extension the Revolution’s) economic mismanagement and continued corruption would attract a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups to a more broad-based GPO.  However, for whatever reason, in contemporary Iran it has been political and not economic themes that have been more effective in mobilizing the Iranian people, and economic concerns on their own have rarely drawn large protests in Iran’s thirty-year post-revolutionary history.

Alan Eyre, Director, Iran Regional Presence Office (IRPO), Department of State

Reference ID Date Classification Origin
10RPODUBAI15 2010-01-13 13:01 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
¶13.  (C) Against that backdrop one must note the ‘selective perception’ bias that tends to over-emphasize the GPO’s potency.  Some pro-GPO bias stems from their being the (relative) ‘good guys’ in this drama, to the extent that their agenda encompasses principles dear to Western democracies.  Additionally, Western media’s Iran contacts tend to be pro-reformist, with Western press quoting pro-GPO activists and analysts almost exclusively.  Also USG officials’ interactions with Iranians tend to be largely limited to Iranians willing and able to talk with us, with a disproportionate number of them being those seeking USG assistance in helping fight the regime.  Finally and in many ways most importantly ‘if it bleeds it leads,’ so there are no ‘Youtube’ uploads on demonstration days of the millions of ordinary Iranians who are going about their business.

¶14. (C) In this regard, many IRPO interlocutors comment that for most in Tehran, life is going on as normal, with no sensation of living in ‘a police state’ (except on the key dates targeted by the GPO, and only then for people in specific areas where clashes occur).  In other words, it seems that the vast majority of Iranians, though more critical of the government to greater or lesser degrees, are continuing to live their lives as normal.  There is no reason to assume that those ‘radical’ GPO elements seeking to fundamentally change the system represent most Iranians.  At most, it appears that many and possibly most Iranians want a peaceful reform of the system as opposed to another revolution with an uncertain outcome.

¶15. (C) Having stipulated that no one can assert with confidence what will happen in Iran’s domestic situation over the next year, it does seem that, as expatriate Iranian oppositionist Ibrahim Nabavi has written, Iran is moving ‘from crisis to stalemate.’  The clash between Iran’s government hardliners and the GPO is unlikely to end decisively to the benefit of either side within the short-term, and it is quite improbable that in the short-term the GPO will in some decisive way ‘defeat’ the Khamenei regime and change Iran’s theocracy into a secular republic.

¶16.  (C) In terms of the significant metrics by which can judge the course of future events, some of the ones significant both in 1977-79 and now include the following:

– Numbers: The numbers of protestors willing to take to the streets now is an order of magnitude smaller than in 78-79.

– Classes: the GPO as currently constituted doesn’t seem to have a significant ethnic or labor component, and doesn’t seem to have ‘broken out’ of Tehran in a significant way to other major urban centers, though we recognize that our awareness of developments outside of Tehran is likely to be more limited.

– Anti-Gov’t Activities: Unlike 1979, there have been no paralyzing strikes, bazaar closings, military defections, or signs of the government ceasing to function.  Whereas the bazaar merchants in 1979 had the inclination and money to fund striking workers deprived of pay, the there seems to be no such GPO ‘deep pockets.’  Indeed both elements of the ‘bazaar-mosque’ alliance that were in many ways the backbone of the 1979 Revolution are singularly absent in today’s opposition, as each has been largely co-opted by the government.  There have been no indications that Rafsanjani and the Servants of Construction or Qalibaf’s Tehran Municipality are currently a significant GPO funding source.  On a far more limited scale, expatriate ‘Second of Khordad’ Reformist elements within the Iranian Diaspora are leading efforts to create a fund for the support of detainee families.

– Elite Defection/Emigration: Those hardliners who constitute and support the regime are very likely to remain committed to the fight against the GPO, since they know they would have no role in any new order and would also have nowhere else to go.  However for the GPO, many reformists and oppositionists dissatisfied with Iran’s plight would rather quit then fight, as shown by the ongoing brain drain, to include increased exodus of political activists.  Anecdotal information shows that many of larger numbers of affluent and educated Iranians who can be presumed to be oppose the hardliners are taking their families and fortunes abroad.

Alan Eyre, Director, Iran Regional Presence Office (IRPO), Department of State

Editor’s Note: GPO refers to “Green Path Opposition.”

The US embassy cables excepted above, first released by WikiLeaks, are available at <>, <>, <>.  Cf. “[E]lites are basically Marxist — they believe in class analysis, they believe in class struggle, and in a really business-run society like the United States, the business elites are deeply committed to class struggle and are engaged in it all the time.  And they understand.  They’re instinctive Marxists” (Noam Chomsky, qtd. in Keane Bhatt, “Noam Chomsky on Hopes and Prospects for Activism: ‘We Can Achieve a Lot’,” MRZine, 22 November 2010); “Iran has witnessed several spirited labor actions in recent years, well-known examples being the wildcat strikes of Tehran bus drivers and schoolteachers.  But these actions have not crystallized into what can be called a coordinated, militant labor movement.  Furthermore, militancy has not yet appeared in the most sensitive sectors of the economy, oil and transportation of freight. . . .  These trends of diffusion of protest and relatively small-bore economic demands have held during the Ahmadinejad presidency. . . . [T]he core of the Green Movement leadership is devoted to an Iranian version of trickle-down economics, according to which the masses will eventually enjoy the good life but only if the elites prosper first and furiously.  The Green Movement has offered little in terms of a redistributive vision that could motivate the working class to flex its muscles” (Mohammad Maljoo, “The Green Movement Awaits an Invisible Hand,” Middle East Report, 26 June 2010); “In general, steel workers fall in three groups: the permanent employees, the temporary-contracted workers, and those employed with the sub-contracting firms.  The wages and benefits of about 8,000 permanent workers [in Isfahan] are based on the guidelines set down by the Ministry of Industry — they are outside the country’s labor law.  The base salary for these workers is $400 per month.  On the average, based on the company’s own performance, they are eligible to get bonuses above $200 a year.  Also, throughout a lifetime of employment, every permanent worker is paid $10,000 in housing loans and $7,000 in emergency loans.  (One can also ask for further loans, once 4/5 of outstanding loans have been paid off.)  Other than this, anywhere between $300 to $400 worth of consumer goods are delivered in coupon form to permanent workers.  Vacation packages and pilgrimage tours are also offered to workers, once their turn comes up.  The terms for the temporary-contracted workers were put in place early this (Persian) year and on the eve of the presidential election.  According to this, starting in June, the workers employed by the Steel Company’s subcontractors, which kind of played the role of middleman, signed their contracts directly and in accordance to the labor law; meaning that the subcontracting firms were eliminated from the scene.  We could say they obtained better job security and their wages were paid on time.  However, their salaries have dropped by $40 to $100 across the board.  The reason for this drop is that beside their base salary, the workers only receive the ‘shift’ benefits currently  (such as working in evening and graveyard shifts — ILR) while such benefits applying to those having an espouse and children, as well as the so-called ‘hardship’ benefits, etc have been all terminated.  In some instances, even their base salaries have been affected.  Their contract is only 6-months-long.  Also, the overtime cap for them which used to be unlimited before is now set at 45 hours.  These workers, used to make up for their low pay by taking lots of overtime before.  They number around 3,200 people.  The workers in the contracting companies are of two types.  One group are those based on project-specific operations.  These are mostly working with the so-called ‘steel stabilization project’.  These workers have not been paid for 4 to 6 months.  Further, most of them do not have any contracts per se with the subcontractors.  Rather, they are employed by subcontracting individuals, meaning that the firms feel no particular obligation towards them.  Of course, this is the case with just about most project-based workers in Iran.  The second group are those working in the subcontracting firms which operate in independence at the steel complex.  These companies sell most of their products to Isfahan Steel.  They also provide various types of service to it.  For example, the company ‘Nasouz Azar’ manufactures heat-resistant bricks.  ‘Taban Nirou’ supervises and repairs the electrical equipment at the plant, etc.  Thanks to the interdependence of these units with Isfahan Steel, financial crisis at the mother company quickly spreads to the others like contagion.  It is akin to saying once it catches cold, they catch pneumonia.  The workers’ contracts in these companies are about three-months-long — of course this doesn’t mean there are no one-month or one-year contracts.  In general, aside from a handful of companies such as ‘Merat Poulad’, ‘Taban Nirou’ and ‘Nasouz Azar’ where workers enjoy better wages and benefits and get some bonuses and their wages are not postponed for more than a month at a time, the rest of the workers at the other (subcontracting) companies work with no bonuses, take very limited benefits, their wages are paid intermittently while resorting to strikes for demanding back-wages has become a common practice.  Most of these workers haven’t been paid in two to four months.  As for their insurance, all the workers are insured or at least receive benefits from the Labor Office.  Dismissal is generally not very difficult to do for the employer, although factory’s security section sometimes interferes and prevents this fearing workers’ unrest” (“Interview with an Anonymous Steel Labor Leader,” Iran Labor Report, 12 February 2010); “Although there are a notable number of large capitalist enterprises, many capitalist firms in Iran employ only one or two wage laborers (so that the average ratio of wage laborers in the private sector to capitalists would become only 6 to 1).  As a result, not only is the working class fragmented, the capitalist class is even more fragmented” (Alborz, “Class and Labor in Iran after the 1979 Revolution: An Interview with Sohrab Behdad,” Trans. Frieda Afary, Iranian Progressives in Translation, 10 February 2010).

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