As the truckers’ strike in Iran enters its tenth consecutive day, despite concerted efforts by authorities to break and suppress it, and the many sacrifices that strikers and protesters are making, there is a sense of change and people power in the air.
The ongoing protests since the tail end of 2017, of which the strikes are a continuation, have led the Iranian people to again believe in their own power to confront a highly oppressive regime on their own terms.
The strike is unprecedented in its scope and strength of unity. Though this is not the first trucker strike in recent years – the largest was limited to just four cities in March of 2016 – none have reached the extensive and broad reach of this one. The current strike has spread to over 249 cities in all of Iran’s 31 provinces. Footage of striking truckers resisting security forces, encouraging unity, admonishing strikebreakers, parading empty loads on the nation’s highways, has spiked on social media networks such as Twitter, Telegram, and other platforms.
In a video posted on social media, a woman trucker calls on fellow drivers to remain united in the face of the authorities half-hearted attempts to win over segments of the truckers and says she and scores of other truckers are moving their trucks along the road to Qazvin with empty loads in protest, and calls on others to join them.Iran’s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, signaled on Wednesday that Iran’s National Security Council is looking at the truckers’ strike, indicating that they view the issue as one of national security, a harbinger for more suppression. However, strikers have thwarted all attempts at forcing them back onto the roads until now. The government’s only recourse to addressing the strikers’ grievances is to meet their demands for higher wages, something it cannot do at the same time as it is funnelling billions of dollars into influencing outcomes in the Syrian war, the Iraqi political process, Yemen’s civil war, and incitement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord (JCPOA) and the kicking in of US sanctions will further force Iran to face up to its internal contradictions, expediting the socio-political process of change in Iran. Lacking the slush fund provided to it by the JCPOA and foreign business investments, Iran will have to make hard choices. Protesters earlier this year chanted: “Leave Syria alone, think about us” as they admonished the regime for wasting resources for domestic development on warmongering adventurism in the region. The slogan pits ordinary Iranians against a government that is increasingly isolated. So much so that recent sanctions on the regime garnered “Way to go Trump!”graffiti in Tehran, however surprising that may seem.
The strike has also gained significant international attention. The US based International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) issued a tweet in its official account declaring, “Teamsters Stand in Solidarity with Iran Truck Drivers Strike.”
A prominent Iranian blogger, Heshmat Alavi, has reported taxi drivers striking in solidarity in Urmia, Qaemiyeh, Sanandaj, and posted video of the striking taxis. Footage from Tehran’s main loading terminal on Tuesday shows workers there protesting during a complete work stoppage. Video from the normally bustling Persian Gulf port of Bushehr on day 9 of the strike show the port totally deserted and rows of trucks parked idly on strike.
The truth about Iran is that it is a rigid theocracy nurturing a crony capitalist system where the IRGC and supreme leader’s favourites rule the economy. The vast youthful population languishes with college degrees and no jobs. Women are systematically suppressed as second-class citizens, though they fight back in all ways possible. The government’s interference extends to people’s private lives, homes, whom they associate with on the streets, what they wear, the music they prefer, political ideas they espouse, and their way of life. There is no “freedom” in Iran and Iranians know it. Until recently, they have resisted the regime’s encroachments in little ways, but now they sense its weakness, and an unprecedented opening.
For things to change in Iran, the stars need to align properly: domestic factors and international factors need to favorably affect change. The staying power of Iran’s theocratic regime in the past 40 years has not been for lack of popular opposition to the theocracy, but for lack of a favorable alignment of domestic and international factors affecting Iran. When the people of Qazvin or Mashhad rose in the 1990’s, or when the uprising of 1999, and then 2009 took place, the regime’s brutal suppression was met with international complacency.
World governments from Europe, UK, to the US showed an impatience with the masses who were making things difficult for better relations with Iran, and for foreign corporations wanting to do business in Iran, and an Obama administration that wanted a nuclear deal with them. The uprising of 2018 however, is unfolding against a different international political landscape. Regional Arab countries have set aside their conservative stance to challenge Iran’s adventurism and interventions in the region, and most importantly, a new US administration has taken a completely new line with Iran, distinguishing between the ruling regime and the Iranian people.
Video source: YouTube, The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
The triangle of domestic uprising, regional readiness to confront an expansionist regime, and a growing international willingness to exact a price on Tehran for its malign behavior, at least by the United States, is creating conducive circumstances for change in Iran.
The truckers, workers, taxi and bus drivers, youth, and women in Iran, all sense change in the air. Forty-two years ago, when Jimmy Carter toasted the Shah of Iran and said “Iran is an island of stability in a troubled region of the world,” no one foresaw the implosion of the Shah’s regime about a year later. Now too, we should be aware that Iran is in the throes of yet another convulsion. This one is set to upend the Middle East. Perhaps this time for the better. There are many reasons for optimism, but most significant is Iran’s own people, who have been inoculated against one of the most virulent strains of intolerance and fanaticism, forming one of the most outwardly friendly nations to progressive change in the region today.