General Strike or Tactical Strikes?
By Amir K.
Khiaban # 33 / Saturday, August 1, 2009
The Iranian people's recent leap against a criminal minority in power had a strange uniqueness. Which is that, as opposed to the usual trend of opposition and revolutionary movements, which start out as a series of small and scattered protests that end in large protests, transforming the social and political structures, the Iranian movement began with large protests. People, who were astounded by the announced election results and by the obviousness of the fraud, were only waiting for a call to take to the streets. Although the call for protests on June 15 was officially rescinded, nobody could stop the millions of citizens from pouring onto the streets to show Ahmadinejad and Khamenei who the specks of dust were, and to show whether the 'few' described the people or the rulers.
From that day on, large-scale demonstrations were replaced by small and scattered protests for two main reasons. The first reason is that people's peaceful demonstrations were countered by the regime's bullets, and in effect martial law was established by the regime's death squads in Tehran and other cities. The second reason was Mousavi's refusal to call the people to the streets. Mousavi and his colleagues preferred to keep the millions-strong presence of the people on the streets to merely a shadow of it, and, by resorting to threatening this monster that had escaped the bottle, convince the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad gang to return the rules of the game to the situation prior to June 12. Since the network of people's organizing cells and committees fighting the coup are still growing and are not able to organize coordinated, widespread demonstrations, large demonstrations have given way to a series of small protests, which as a result of their continuation and increased organization will again display their evolution to large demonstrations during the days that this regime of oppression and terror will be overthrown.
However, from the very first days of the people's confrontation with forces armed to the teeth, the need was felt for the second arm of the people's movement; meaning, a general strike. Refusing to work and bringing to a half the wheels of production is the most important tool and foundation from which people can enforce their power against a criminal minority in power. All the wealth that this money-hoarding criminal bunch has gained and so generously splurges on oppressing the citizens has been procured from the collective social wealth, which, due to the present workings of the system, could be expropriated, away from the overseeing eyes of the people. The rulers are trying to show that they are the basis and foundation of society, and that people are mere beggars utterly dependent on them. But, in reality, it is the people who produce and reproduce the social existence, and the ruling gang an appendage to a lively and dynamic society, an appendage that feeds leechlike on the society. However, just as the large, millions-strong demonstrations showed the system the level of regime's 'popularity', a general strike will show the system and every individual in the society where the source of all wealth and social livelihood lies.
Therefore, the need for a general strike to help the movement, which is confronting terror in the streets with nothing in hand, quickly took shape in the society's collective mind. Especially given that the movement had just experienced huge demonstrations and imagined the start of strikes as big strikes.
But a general strike did not take shape. At least, not until now. This is because the speedy shaping of the [general strike] idea had not considered some of the preparatory work needed for a general strike, and had imagined the formation of a general strike as taking a similar path as the huge demonstrations of June 15. But, a general strike does not take shape with the call of a political leader, even if that leader is popular, or else the current of events has put them at the leadership of the movement. A general strike needs nationwide unions of workers and employees in different productive/industrial and service sectors of society. But, thirty years of constant repression of workers and union activists, the lack of possibility of forming independent unions at places of work, and such similar considerations, has minimized the realistic possibilities for organizing a general strike in the country.
Another problem is the lack of clarity of goals and demands of a general strike. After the millions-strong show of force in the streets by the people -- whose demands and needs go far deeper than those of the reformist leaders, who at this moment have the most means of communicating with the people (compared to political activists outside the regime) -- the reformist leaders are incapable of determining the goals of a move such as a general strike. The goal of organizing another election no longer has the reach it had before the start of the mass killings. At this moment, the people have come to see the importance of the role of the supreme leader [valiye faqih] and the legal structures of the Islamic Republic in oppressing political and social freedoms in the Iranian society. They want to see the murderers of people to be brought to justice, and this means specifically Khamenei and the leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij. But these goals are well beyond the goals of the reformists, who do not want any deep fissure developing in the political structures in Iran. As a result, the reformists are evading expressing any concrete goals. They are unwilling to voice their minimalist demands, which would cause them the loss of people's support and in turn to lose their only weapon in confronting the coup organizers. Therefore, the crucial demand for organizing the people around a general strike has remained blurred and unexpressed.
But the people know that, in order to defeat the coup and for re-appropriating the society from coup-generating laws, they also need their arm of strikers.
A phase will be reached when people, in the course of their long street struggle, will find a level of local and group organizations that will daily enable them to coordinate and organize more widespread street actions; a network which in a not-distant future will be able to organize the final demonstrations. At that time, as a result of the evolution of tactical strikes a general strike too will take shape, and it can be reliant on a nationwide organization that will arise out of the unions/organizations that develop in the course of these tactical strikes. As a result of tactical strikes, people's demands too will find a clearer, more tangible shape.
We can point to different spheres. For example, in the area of the press and the media, the current censorship dominating all publications has reached a suffocating level. A censorship much like that of the Shah's during the martial law period. The reaction of those journalists, media workers and staff [during Shah's marital law], in their strike with the goal of abolishing censorship of media, was able to have an important effect in the society, and strengthened powerfully the demand for freedom of the press in the people's movement. Or, take the sphere of lawyers. The new Judiciary memorandum, which completely eliminates the independence of the lawyers' guild, is a tangible and real problem for all the lawyers, and after much protest, Shahroudi [head of Judiciary] suspended the new rules for six months. A general sin-in/demonstration aiming to abolish the new rules completely can maintain the lawyers' guild's independence, and can initiate discussions for the complete independence of the entire judicial system.
The demands of productive/industrial workers for just compensation, which today are stifled on a wide scale by the regime, can not only facilitate the task of organizing the workers, but in a highlighted fashion can turn the right to a dignified life and the abolishing of class discrimination into a general demand of the society.
The ability to organize and consolidate popular organizations will grow and take flight in these very compressed days that will determine much. People's demands and goals will become clear and visible in the very course of their struggle: in the public and collective discussions and arguments over the general problems of society on the one hand, and the daily problems and needs specific to places of work, on the other. A general strike, much like a collective dream, is beautiful and will break the back of this coup d'etat. The current system wants us to put aside our dreams, and to continue a real, excruciating life under a fascistic [form of] Islam. But, these days, we have seen the power of dreams with our own eyes.