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Unions and civil rights groups demand democracy and social justice

Forty-four years after Iranians rose up against their hated monarch in February 1979, a group of 20 organisations engaged in long-term social and economic struggles – including labour unions, teachers, women’s groups and youth and student movements – issued an ultimatum to the government of the Islamic Republic.

The Charter of Minimum Demands of Independent Trade Union and Civil Organisations of Iran contains 12 demands concerning social justice, democracy and political reform. The charter is a protest:

against misogyny and gender-based discrimination, economic instability, the modern enslavement of the workforce, poverty, distress, class violence, and nationalist, centralist, and religious oppression. It is a revolution against any form of tyranny, whether it be under the pretext of religion or not; any form of tyranny that has been inflicted upon us, the majority of the people of Iran.

This charter represents the first organised and collective demand from within Iran since the explosion of unrest on Iranian streets after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police in September 2022.

The push for transformation inside Iran stands in stark contrast to the attempts of some exiled Iranians who want to reimpose the pre-1979 monarchy.

The revolutionary movement that overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah, the last monarch of Iran, was a broad-based coalition of mostly urban working- and middle-class people. Supporters of the revolution were united by their opposition to the monarchy, but they were motivated by a range of ideologies: socialism, communism, liberalism, secularism, Islamism and nationalism.

These groups were also unified by their fierce opposition to Iran’s foreign policy that left it subordinate to the west. Deeply etched in Iranians’ collective memory is the fact that the monarchy had been reinstalled in 1953 after a coup d’etat against the democratically elected president, Mohammad Mosaddegh. The coup had been orchestrated by the US and UK, who backed Mohammad Reza Shah throughout his brutal and oppressive reign, in return for control of Iran’s oil industry.

By the 1970s, brutal state oppression was accompanied by increasing inequality. Poor living and working conditions provoked unrest that was met with further repression and Iran’s jails overflowed with political prisoners.

In January 1979, Mohammad Reza Shah and his family were forced into exile by a broad-based revolutionary coalition. But the unity that succeeded in ousting the hated regime proved to be shortlived and the theocratic Islamic Republic was established under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

But a large segment of Iranian society that had supported the revolution staunchly opposed the Islamic Republic from the beginning. This opposition has remained firm to the present day and is represented in huge numbers in the street protests that have rocked Iran since the death of Amini.

Amini, a Kurdish Iranian, was visiting relatives in Tehran when she was arrested by the morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Her death, after reportedly being brutally beaten while in custody, provoked outrage across the country.

In the protests that followed, many young women and men have been killed by security forces. Now the Islamic Republic faces the most serious challenge in its 44-year existence.

Women were at the forefront of the 1979 revolution which overthrew the monarchy. Now they are leading the protest movement against the oppressive patriarchy of the Islamic Republic.

During the 1979 revolution, the hijab became a symbol of resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy and its commitment to “modernise” – in other words, westernise – Iranian society. Many women wore the headscarf as a protest against the imposition of western norms.

After the Islamic Republic took power the dress code for women became stricter. A month after the revolution – on March 8 1979, women launched massive demonstrations across Iran against what they saw as patriarchal oppression on the part of the new Islamic regime. However, the hijab became obligatory in 1983, by which time Iran was at war with Iraq.

So the hijab symbolises Iranian women’s struggle against control by both the monarchy and the theocracy. The killing of Amini in September 2022 was the trigger for the current wave of protests, but they are a manifestation of long-lasting repressive gender relations. It is opposition to deeply rooted patriarchal relations that brought women and girls onto the streets in their hundreds of thousands across almost every city and town.

While women led the demonstrations, many men offered support. The slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”, which places women at the centre of the struggle, also calls for transformative changes in the economy (“life”) and politics (“freedom”). Like in 1979, the current protests enjoy support from diverse social groups. For many, this wave of demonstrations represents continuity with the 1979 revolution, and an opportunity to achieve the objectives that were undermined by the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Progressive revolution

The 44th anniversary of the 1979 revolution marked a significant moment for which many Iranians have been longing. The new charter calls for “an end to the formation of any kind of power from above and to start a social, progressive, and human revolution for the liberation of peoples from any form of tyranny, discrimination, colonisation, oppression, and dictatorship”.

The demands are broad-ranging. They include the freedom of all political prisoners, freedom of belief and expression, equality between men and women and improved wages and conditions for all workers. They demand the free participation of people in democracy through local and national councils and the redistribution of wealth and resources.

The charter provides the first draft of a vision for a new Iran. Its proclamation on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution makes a historical connection to that struggle and its anti-imperialist and anti-dictatorial sentiments. The demands put forward demonstrate that Iranians have a clear vision for their future. And it shows that it is time for the reactionary forces outside Iran to accept that Iranian people can indeed alter their society from within.

Second publication by courtesy of The Conversation, Original-Text, CC BY-ND 4.0 —Attribution/No derivatives

The text of the joint charter reads as follow:

Free and honorable people of Iran!

On the frothy fourth anniversary of the 1979 revolution, the country’s economic, political, and social structures are sucked into a whirlpool of desultory and crisis. Bringing an end to this whirlpool in favor of a bright future is unimaginable in the framework of the current political superstructure. Against the background of this understanding and aiming for a brighter future, the oppressed people, the equality and freedom-seeking women and youth of Iran have risked their lives in order to transform streets all over the country into the centers that mark a historical moment determining the ending of the current anti-human circumstance, that dominate the country’s reality. Over the course of the last five months, despite the regime’s bloody oppression, these people have not stood still for one moment.

Today, the flag of protest against structural injustice is carried by women, students of universities, primary schools, high schools, teachers, workers, justice-seekers, artists, queer individuals, writers, and the broader community of oppressed peoples in Iran. This flag is being raised from various corners of the country, from Kurdistan to Sistan and Baluchestan, and has obtained unprecedented international support. It is a protest against misogyny and gender-based discrimination, economic instability, the modern enslavement of the workforce, poverty, distress, class violence, and nationalist, centralist, and religious oppression. It is a revolution against any form of tyranny, whether it be under the pretext of religion or not; any form of tyranny that has been inflicted upon us, the majority of the people of Iran.

These transformative protests emerged from the fabric of widespread and progressive social movements, and the uprising of an undefeatable generation that is determined to bring an end to a history of hundred years of backwardness. A generation that is determined to end the marginalization of ideologies that foreground the creation of a progressive, prosperous, and free society in Iran.

After the two revolutions that have shaped contemporary Iran, now, progressive widespread movements such as the workers’ movement, the teachers’ movement, the old age pensioners’ movement, the movement of equality-seeking women, students, and youths, and the anti-execution movement, etc, are in a historically significant position to determine the formation of new political, economic and social structures from below and in massive dimensions.

In this respect, this movement aims to bring an end to the formation of any kind of power from above and to start a social, progressive, and human revolution for the liberation of peoples from any form of tyranny, discrimination, colonization, oppression, and dictatorship.

We, independent trade unions and civil organizations, have signed this manifesto foregrounding unity and solidarity among different social movements, and have formulated our basic demands. We focus on the struggle that aims to bring an end to the anti-human and disruptive circumstances that currently dominate the daily realities of people in Iran. We perceive the reaching of these basic demands formulated below as a first step, and as the result of the people’s protests. We perceive the realization of these demands as the only way to construct the foundations of a new progressive, and human society in our country and urge all honorable people, who desire freedom, equality, and liberation to raise this manifesto from the peak of the mountain of freedom-seeking, from the factory to the university, to the school, in local neighborhoods Iran as well as in places all over the globe.

Our demands are

  1. The freedom of all political prisoners, without any exceptions or compromises. An end to the criminalization of political activism, unionization, and social activism in the form of creating social organizations and unions. All those who either directly or indirectly took part in the oppression of the people’s protests must be put on trial immediately.

  2. Unconditional freedom of belief, expression, and thought. Freedom of media, unions, and people’s independent local and national organizations. Organizations’ and individuals’ freedom to gather, protest, strike, march, and express themselves on social media and in any other form of media, whether it be sonic or visual.

  3. The prohibition to issue or execute any kind of death verdict; punishment by death, execution, Qisas, and all kinds of emotional and physical torture must be prohibited.

  4. The immediate announcement of complete equal rights between men and women in all political, economic, social, cultural, and familial fields. All forms of discrimination and discriminatory laws against any gender, sexuality, or sexual orientation must be abolished. We demand the official recognition of the LGBTQIA+ community and the decriminalization of any gender or sexual orientation. The unconditional commitment to grant women total rights over their bodies and choices, and the prohibition of the enforcement of patriarchal control.

  5. Religion is a personal matter that must not have any impact on the political rights of individuals and must not play any role in determining the country’s political, economic, social, and cultural laws.

  6. Workers’ safety, job security, the immediate increase of monthly wages for workers, teachers, government employees, and all working people as well as old age pensioners, with the presence, participation, and agreement of representatives chosen by these community’s independent and national organizations, and unions.

  7. The demolishment of any law, and structure, that is contingent upon discrimination, national centralist, and religious violence. And create suitable supporting infrastructure to equally and justly distribute governmental resources and facilities for the growth of culture and art in all parts of the country and to create the needed and equally accessible facilities for the learning and teaching of all the languages spoken in Iran.

  8. The demolishment of all oppressing bodies and organs. Restriction of the power of the central government and the direct facilitation and continuous participation of people in governing the country, through local and national councils. Impeaching and removing governmental or non-governmental representatives ​​at any time is the basic right of the voting parties.

  9. The confiscation of all funds of natural and juridical persons and governmental as well as semi-governmental and private entities who have robbed the social capital of the people of Iran through the direct relocation of funds, or through the appropriation of governmental rent. The capital obtained through confiscation must be invested in the immediate modernization and recreation of the educational systems and to provide funds for pensioners as well as to maintain the environment, and sustain the needs of the classes and the communities of the people who have been pushed in poverty and been deprived of facilities and infrastructure not only by the current Islamic Republic regime but also the monarchist regime that preceded it.

  10. An end to environmental crimes and the implementation of structural policies that allow for the recovery of the environment that has been destroyed throughout the past 100 years. The making public and communal of those parts of nature (such as the fields, beaches, forests, and mountain bases) that have been privatized and to which the people’s right has been denied.

  11. The banning of child labor and providing a liveable life for all children, facilitating their education, despite their family’s economic and social class. Creating welfare for everyone through unemployment insurance, a strong social security organization for everyone who is of legal age and ready to work, or does not have the possibility to work. Education and health care must be free for all people.

  12. Normalising foreign relations on the highest levels, with all states of the globe on the bases of equal relations and mutual respect. Prohibition of nuclear weapons and aiming for world peace.

In our opinion, the variety of rich resources in Iran, the existence of conscious, capable people, and the uprising of a generation of young people and teenagers with strong desires to obtain joyful, free, and prosperous lives, make the immediate implementation and realization of the basic demands listed above possible.

The demands listed in this manifesto, are the general axis around which the demands of all signing unions and organizations revolve. In the future, whilst remaining in solidarity with each other, we will approach each of these demands in greater detail as part of our continued shared struggle.

The signatories:

Co-Ordination Council for Teachers’ Organisation in Iran

Free Workers’ Union of Iran

United Students’ League for Student Organisations

Centre for Human Rights

Haft Tapeh Sugar Factory Workers’ Union

The Council for Organising Contact Oil Workers’ Strikes

Iran’s Teachers’ House (Khafa)

Iranian Women’s Voice

Independent Workers’ Voice of Ahwaz National Steel Factory

Centre for Workers’ Rights

Organisational Council of Kermanshah Electricity and Metal Industry

Co-Ordination Council to Support the Creation of Workers’ Unions

Old Age Pensioners’ Union

Old Age Pensioners’ Council

Progressive Students’ Union

Free-Thinking Student’s Council of Iran

Alborz Province Painters’ Union

Comity for Creating Workers’ Organisations in Iran

Social Security Old Age Pensioners’ Council (Basta)


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