Iran: Repression Provokes Backlash and Calls for a Revolutionary General Strike

As the nationwide protest movement in Iran enters its fourth week, the efforts of the regime to suppress it only appear to have had the effect of further agitating the masses and of drawing in new layers. The youth on the streets and in the university campuses have now been joined by thousands of school students and bazaar merchants, as well as important layers of the working class. Most importantly, a series of strikes have started in the oil and petrochemical sector, the heart of the Iranian economy.

When the regime unleashed a new campaign of violent attacks on street and university protesters on Saturday, October 1, it anticipated strangling the emerging movement in its cradle. Those expectations have now been dashed.

While hundreds, potentially thousands of students have been arrested, and dozens of universities have been shut down, the majority of the more than 100 universities that heeded a call for a nationwide student strike have stood firm.

Meanwhile, the protestors have been joined by a powerful and inspiring movement of female school students, which has swept the country from end to end. Since schools reopened, numerous videos have circulated every day of large groups of young girls erupting in protest at their schools, taking off their headscarves and swinging them in the air, while chanting such slogans as “Women, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator.”

At one school in Bandar Abbas, the students took off their veils and ran onto the streets chanting slogans while being chased by riot police. Another video shows schoolgirls overwhelming a speaker from the basij paramilitary organization who was invited to address their school with the chant “Basiji get lost!” while swinging their headscarves in the air. In other instances, there have been reports of parents clashing with security forces after the latter have attempted to arrest their children.

At the same time, traders of the most important bazaars in Tehran—the Grand Bazaar, Lalehzar, Sepahsalar Garden and Tajrish Bazaar—have also joined the movement, along with the bazaar in Shiraz, shutting down their shops as traders have done in the Kurdistan province and other Kurdish towns for several weeks.

Rather than stomping out the movement, the regime’s repression is whipping broader layers into action. On Saturday evening, in spite of a week of repressive action, the largest protests so far took place across the country, spreading for the first time to poorer working-class areas that had previously stood aside. In Tehran’s working-class neighborhood of Naziabad, videos showed relatively large marches, defying a heavy security presence and chanting anti-regime slogans. Similar events were reported across the capital and in many other cities.

In one noteworthy video from Naziabad, a group of riot police removed their helmets and marched alongside the protesters, with one of them patting a marcher on the back in solidarity. This anecdotal incident demonstrates the degree to which the morale of the regime’s forces of repression has been affected by the relentless pressure of the movement. The rank and file of these forces are often drawn from the same poor conservative layers that in the past few years have exploded onto the political scene in radical, anti-regime protests.

Sensing the latent sympathy of these forces in some instances, protesters have approached them asking for their solidarity. While the moment has not yet come for the armed forces to break, these measures prepare the path for such an event in the future. For that, however, what is needed first, is to prepare a movement powerful enough to pose a credible challenge to the regime.

Stoking the flames of sectarianism

While state repression has been hard, it is also clear that the regime has (in general) attempted to keep the number of deaths relatively low. It has not yet unleashed the full force of its repressive apparatus on the protests for fear of provoking a larger movement—and probably also because it lacks trust in its own forces. That is not the case, however, in the Baluchi and Kurdish areas, two of the most deprived areas of Iran.

In Baluchistan province, the regime has killed at least more than 110 people in the past two weeks, 97 of whom were killed on September 30 during a protest against the rape of a 15-year-old girl by a local police chief. This event has since been dubbed “Black Friday.” The regime has falsely portrayed the massacre as a clash between regime forces and a local Saudi-supported Sunni insurgency, which has plagued Baluchistan for years.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish areas, as we have previously reported, have witnessed scenes akin to civil war. These areas have hosted the most radical and advanced parts of the movement so far, with a high degree of participation and organization, as well as a call for a general strike going back to the first days of protest. While it started with shop owners and merchants, reports indicate that the strike in the Kurdish-majority cities has also spread to parts of the working class. Radical street protests have, on several occasions, succeeded in pushing state forces out of several towns and large parts of the larger cities.

The regime has responded in the past week by stepping up its repression to the point of attacking protesters with artillery and drones. The steady sound of explosions and machine gun fire can be heard in videos emerging from the city of Sanandaj and Saqqez, and the death toll appears to be on the rise. The regime has also warned that it is preparing to make incursions into northern Iraq to attack left-wing Kurdish organizations that have bases there.

In regime propaganda, the false claim is continuously repeated that the present movement is organized by western imperialism in an attempt at regime change, and in order to break up Iran through support for secessionist national minorities.

While it is true that US imperialism, and its Saudi and Israeli allies have indeed pursued a policy of regime change and have supported reactionary groups amongst the national minorities, they have not managed to wrest control over the present movement.

There have not been any secessionist demands or chants, neither in the Kurdish nor the Baluchi or any other area inhabited by national minorities. Rather, it is the clear tactic of the regime itself to attempt to divide the movement by diverting sections of it down national and sectarian lines—an agenda that aligns with that of western imperialism.

Nevertheless, these attempts have not had much success so far. On the contrary, the movement has awakened a deep mood of solidarity between the ethnic groups in Iran, which the regime has deliberately attempted to keep divided against one another for decades as a means to maintain itself.

To overcome oppression of the national minorities, what is first and foremost necessary is a united struggle of all the peoples of Iran against their common enemy: the Iranian ruling class. And crucial to this struggle is the entrance of the working class onto the scene as an organized force.

The workers begin to move

An important step in this direction was taken on Monday morning, when around 4,000 workers of Bushehr Petrochemical, Damavand Petrochemical and Hengam Petrochemical downed tools and walked off their sites in an indefinite strike in support of the movement. Furthermore, Sadra Petrochemical company was preemptively shut down by the bosses in anticipation of strike action.

These contract companies operate in the Assaluyeh petrochemical complex—one of the largest such complexes in the world. After downing their tools, the striking workers blocked a highway leading into the complex with rocks and burning barrels of tar, while chanting slogans such as, “Death to Khamenei,” and, “Don’t call it a protest, it is called a revolution!” Later on in the day, the workers also set fire to the local private security buildings.

One worker filming the strike could be heard saying “Long live Iran! Long live Lurs, Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Bakhtiaris!” This display of class solidarity across ethnic backgrounds is a response to the regime’s accusations that the striking workers represent separatist national minority movements. It shows the instinctive internationalist character of the working class, its potential to unite all layers of society behind it in the revolutionary struggle, and how such a struggle can overcome national oppression.

The workers of several other nearby companies also later joined the strike and rally. It has been reported that local security forces have been reinforced and have blocked the roads leading to protesting workers, so as to keep other groups from joining them.

But only hours after the strike broke out in Assaluyeh, workers also walked off in phase twelve of the South Pars petrochemical complex in Kangan—another huge petrochemical complex—and in the Abadan oil refinery, the historical epicenter of the three month general strike that paved the way for the overthrow of the hated Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the revolution of 1979. In yesterday’s strike, phase two of the Abadan refinery was completely shut down, and the workers were joined by those of several freight companies.

These strikes, which are predominantly amongst casual laborers, were preceded last week by two warnings issued by the Council for Organizing the Protests of Oil Contract Workers (COPOCW), an organization which has led a series of nationwide strikes in the past years. A similar warning has now also been issued by an unknown group of permanent contract workers, who operate the most essential parts of Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry. After the start of yesterday’s strike, the COPOCW published the following statement on its Telegram page, which starts with a poem by a contemporary radical poet:

We will strike: over scrapheap-ready buses, over a life worthy of an animal, over bed bug-ridden dormitories, over contaminated food, over surge hours, over the hour they announce that you have to work overtime, over waking up at ungodly hours, over the cheque that never cleared, over the unpaid [social] insurance, over the clock that shakes you more than than the shaking of a bus, over the “forces of the project,” over all of these we will protest tomorrow.

The Council for Organizing the Protests of Oil Contract Workers, calls on all oil workers—be they project employees, those on permanent contracts, or piece workers, fuel transportation and operations workers, colleagues working in national drilling, exploitation, refineries and petrochemicals—to join a nationwide strike in the oil sector in solidarity with the protests of the people. In this solidarity strike, the organizing council demands the immediate and unconditional release of those recently arrested and all political prisoners, the clearing of the forces from the streets, an end to all repression, and the trial of those authorities and perpetrators responsible for the killing of Mahsa Amini and all those who have been murdered by regimes forces of repression during this period.

Immediately after the outbreak of the strike in the petrochemical sector, the Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Company Workers’ Union, a union that is now very popular, and which has stood out for its radical strikes and demands, such as nationalization and workers’ management in industry, issued a powerful statement calling for a nationwide political general strike: We publish the full translation of their statement here:

Comrades! Oppressed people!

The protest and street uprising of the girls of the sun and of the revolution has entered its fourth week.

Fighting girls and boys have shaken the streets and alleys with the slogan, “woman, life, freedom,” in order to achieve freedom and equality through their glorious struggle: freedom from oppression and exploitation, freedom from discrimination and inequality.

Our children on the streets need solidarity and support in order to get rid of oppression, suffocation and discrimination.

In such a situation, in which the blood of our children has colored the pavement of the streets, the beginning of the workers’ strike in various oil and petrochemical sectors has breathed new life and hope into the body of this struggle.

It could only be expected, for the sake of justice and for the sake of the children of labor and toil, that the fathers and mothers, the exploited sisters and brothers, stand by their side, and stop the wheels of production and wealth from moving.

Today [October 10], the first spark of this unity and solidarity was ignited with the enthusiastic presence of project workers working in Bushehr Petrochemical, Abadan Refinery and Asalouye.

The solidarity of workers in support of their children, brothers and sisters on the street, is the urgent need of this movement.

The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Union for its part, congratulates the workers’ strike in various oil and petrochemical sectors in support of the street protests.

Our children, sisters and brothers expect that other sectors of services and production will join the nationwide strike, because freedom from oppression and exploitation, from discrimination and inequality, is only feasible with unity and solidarity.

Honest and knowledgeable workers and toilers;

The uprising of the girls on the street needs support. The girls of this land have decided to make a huge change, a change that will bring the liberation of women in other areas.

This great and laudable uprising should be linked with the strike of workers everywhere in this land.

To get rid of discrimination and oppression, to get rid of poverty and hardship, to have bread and freedom, let us not leave the girls of the sun and of the revolution alone.

Girls of the sun and of the revolution;

On the day of victory, the whole world will take off their hats in front of you—you gave everyone a lesson in standing up and resisting.

Long live the union and class solidarity of the workers for liberation!

Towards a nationwide strike in the services and production sectors!

The entrance onto the scene in an organized manner of the working class—in particular in the oil industry—is a decisive turning point. The revolutionary youth have shown an inspiring amount of bravery and will to sacrifice. But that in itself is not enough to bring down the hated regime. Their position in production gives the workers the power to bring the whole country to a standstill and to stop the regime’s repression in its tracks.

More importantly, a political general strike inevitably places the question of power on the agenda: who are the masters of society? The ruling class, that maintains itself solely on the exploitation of the workers and poor? Or those whose labor produces all wealth?

The regime is acutely aware of this fact. Those in power now have a clear recollection of the general strike of the 1979 revolution. That is why they have always enforced a zero-tolerance policy on labor activism in the major industries, especially in the oil sector, which is by far the most important sector of the Iranian economy.

Reports are surfacing of worker activists being arrested and security forces being mobilized to important industrial areas to crack down on strike activity. But such repression, as we have seen of late, could have the opposite effect of inciting more layers of the working class to enter the struggle.

The role of the youth

The idea of a national general strike has already captured the imagination of the youth on the streets, in schools and in universities. The task now is to support the workers and assist them by all means in the spreading of the nascent strike movement.

Such efforts are already underway in many areas. In Isfahan on Monday night, an anonymous group put up leaflets inviting workers to join a general strike on walls and on car windows in parts of the city. Another statement by a university in Tehran was shared widely on Telegram, praising the historical achievement of the strike and calling it an example to be followed in the revolutionary struggle.

Isfahan Image flyposter
In Isfahan on Monday night, an anonymous group put up leaflets inviting workers to join a general strike on walls and on car windows in parts of the city. / Image: Telegram

This campaign must be put on an organized and systematic footing in order to achieve maximum effect. The revolutionary youth must find ways to approach the workers and help them in all the practical and organizational challenges of organizing strike action. They must also listen to the demands of the workers and incorporate them into their own program.

To systematically carry out this effort, revolutionary committees of struggle need to be set up in every school, university, neighborhood and workplace, working to spread the agitation of the strike and to plan the next steps for the movement. This is already happening in some areas. In the Kurdish-majority city of Marivan, a group of revolutionary youth published the following statement, which has been circulated widely on social media:

Resolution of the revolutionary youth of the neighborhoods of Marivan

Resolution number 1

Fighting people of Marivan!

Your mass uprising started in protest against the tragic death of Shalier Rasouli and continued along with the nationwide protests of the Iranian people, which were triggered by the government murder of Mahsa Amini.

Today, 23 days after the Mahsa uprising began, more than 100 cities, 50 universities, and dozens of schools have joined the popular protests. Students and teachers have joined the mass uprising of the Iranian people in various forms, and once again the students at Sharif University of Technology became the bastion of freedom.

The youth of the neighborhoods have been fighting since the first day. The people of Kurdistan have combined the tactic of the general strike with street protests. Meanwhile, the Islamic terrorists killed dozens of people in Sistan and Baluchistan on Black Friday. Parts of the oil workers have gone on strike and workers across the country have threatened the government with wider strikes. In a word, the continuation of protests has gradually provided the necessary opportunity for organization.

Friends! Iran’s political situation will never return to before the Mahsa uprising. The vanguard women are walking ahead of the rest of society as trailblazers of protest. Women who, after years of suffocating and tyrannical rule, have found an opportunity to shout for their rights, have smelled a breeze of freedom, are dancing and chanting on the streets with enthusiasm. They have nothing in common with the women that existed before the uprising and never will.

So, we, the revolutionary youth of the neighborhoods of Marivan, have decided to advance our struggles in a more organized way, like our comrades in Tehran and Sanandaj. In this way, we ask all the revolutionary youth of the neighborhoods of Marivan to join this movement and assist in continuing the protests.

Let us continue the protests with every method and initiative we can. By maintaining our own security, we can continue the protests and gradually prepare more serious struggles and wider organizations.

Another very interesting statement was issued by the students of Isfahan University:

Resolution number one: another step forward, a huge gathering of the public and the conquest of the streets; what are the next steps of our revolution?

Considering that these days, student protests are like the blood flowing in the body of the revolution, keeping the revolution alive and constantly changing the situation; First of all, we need to emphasize the continuation of protests of students all over the country!

The government is currently in a very weak position. Today and tonight, in cities such as Tehran, Karaj, Arak and Kurdistan (Sanandaj and other cities); the government lost a number of city streets and had to retreat temporarily.

Certainly, despite the ups and downs, these victories will soon enter different phases, and with the mistakes caused by the fatigue and incapacity of the repressive forces, we will undoubtedly be able to significantly change the balance of political forces between the revolutionaries and the murderous government.

In this regard, the second point is the urban organization of people in the form of neighborhood protest councils. By creating secure platforms for collective action over secure networks such as Signal or Telegram, the protesting people and the protesting youth of the neighborhoods can make the necessary arrangements for providing food, plan protest actions, weapons of protest and whatever they need. It is only in this way that we can continue the protests and achieve significant successes on the streets.

The third thing, which is very important, is a supplementary element called the expansion of nationwide general strikes throughout society. At present, street protests have recorded significant progress. With nationwide and general strikes, protesting groups in the streets feel more supported. When the strikes reach the industrial mother centers of labor and transportation, the wheel of repression of the government will practically cease to work. No army or corps can survive without heavy military expenses that are directly financed by the country’s oil and petrochemical industries.

Finally, it is necessary to mention:

By keeping the protests alive in the university and outside the university, the students have confirmed their serious and firm decision for a humanistic revolution in Iran. We will win victory and in this way we will destroy every source of oppression and tyranny.

The statements above offer a glimpse of the enormous creative power of the youth, the workers and the poor. The self organization of the masses is a hallmark of all true revolutionary movements. We saw this with the rise of the soviets in the Russian Revolution, and the factory and neighborhood Shuras (meaning “councils”), which for a brief period competed for power during the 1979 revolution in Iran. These structures form the embryo of a future society fighting to be born.

But in order to reach that potential, they must, first of all, reach all layers of the masses, in particular the working class. It is imperative that the committees of struggle are spread as widely as possible, and are connected on a local, regional and national level so as to become the organized expression of the will of the movement itself. In this way, the as-of-yet unsolved problem of leadership can also be addressed.

The Iranian youth, and young women in particular, have shown enormous revolutionary power, resilience and will to sacrifice. Without any help, any organization, and with little experience, they have brought about the biggest crisis in the history of the present regime. Their struggles for an end to dictatorship and oppression echo the yearnings of the vast majority of the Iranian masses.

For these, the present regime has nothing to offer but more misery. In a country brimming with talent and willing hands, and with vast natural resources underneath its soil, millions of people are forced to endure chronic unemployment and biting poverty. Even for those who are lucky enough to possess a job, wages—if they are paid at all—rarely cover more than the bare necessities of life, if that. For the workers, the future only holds increased exploitation and desperation. For the youth, there is no future.

Meanwhile, the sole occupation of the mullahs who run the country, and who preach piety and modesty to everyone, seems to be a ceaseless looting frenzy, leeching off the labor of the workers and poor.

This is not just a reflection of the dead end of the present regime, but of the dead end of Iranian capitalism altogether. It displays the utter inability of the capitalist class to provide a path forward for society. Unable to offer anything but continuously declining living standards, it can only sustain itself by the most inhuman oppression, and by dividing society along gender, national and religious lines.

The only way for the Iranian people to raise themselves above the present barbaric conditions on offer to them, to achieve true liberation, is to fight against the capitalist system itself. To take power into their own hands, and establish a socialist society free of bosses and clerics, and of oppression and division; where universal equality and solidarity will lay the foundations for a better life for all.


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