Tudeh Party of Iran
by Navid Shomali
Communists and the Trade Union Movement
Please allow me at the beginning to express our sincere
thanks to the fraternal Communist Party of Greece for
providing this opportunity to share our experience and
perspectives in this vital area in the work of communist
parties. I am honoured to participate on behalf of the CC
of the Tudeh Party of Iran in this important conference.
Our party believes that this and similar exchanges of
opinions and sharing of experience between our parties
advance the struggle of communists to advance the agenda
for world peace, progress and socialism.
Although it is natural that Communist and workers parties
maintain close, strategic and developing links with the
trade union movement, a glance over the actual experience
in different countries and regions of the world reveals
sharp differences in experience and practice of the labour
movement. Some of these reflect the objective conditions
of the movement while others do have a more subjective
origin. Exchange of experience between communist and
workers parties and an objective examination of strengths
and weaknesses of different approaches is vital in helping
the communist movement to discharge its historic
responsibility as the vanguard of the working class.
In this presentation I first offer an historic assessment
of the relations between the Tudeh Party of Iran and the
Iranian labour movement in the context of political
developments in my homeland. This will be followed by an
evaluation of the main aspects of the relations between the
communist parties and trade union movement and the main
conclusions of my party.
The TPI considers the working class retains its unique role
in generating social, economic and political change. As
the party of the working class, the TPI and all CP's
therefore have a special role in the institutions of
working class action such as the trade unions.
The development of the trade union movement in Iran has
been inseparable from the struggle of the Iranian
communists. This feature inevitably influences the
character of the trade union movement and the nature of
activities of Iranian workers. Unlike trade unions in the
USA or many other capitalist countries, trade unions in
Iran engage in political activity and understand the
linkage between professional and political aspects of the
struggle for change and progress.
Revolutionary forces were involved in the establishment of
first trade unions in the early years of twentieth century.
Influenced by the revolutionary events in their northern
neighbour, Russia, Iranain democrats realised the
importance of working class organisation. Iran at this time
was largely a feudal society where the emerging basic
industries were starting to appear. The establishment of
the Communist Party of Iran in 1920 coincided with a period
of rapid qualitative and quantitative growth in trade union
movement. In 1921 trade unions published their first
newspaper entitled " the Truth" and a year later in 1922
May Day was celebrated in Iran for the first time.
Activists of the communist party of Iran were involved in
the significant struggles of the oil workers and the strike
movement during 1930's. Fearful of the widespread
influence of the party in the working class movement and
effectiveness of its organisation, the monarchical regime
attacked the Communist party on 31st May 1931, banned its
activities and imprisoned its leadership. The activities of
the CPI were revived once again in 1934 under a new
leadership and continued for three years. The regime's
onslaught against the Iranian communists in 1937 resulted
in the arrest of a group of communists and labour leaders
known as the " Group of 53". After release from prison at
the start of the second world war, freed communists, exiled
trade unionists and other revolutionaries founded the Tudeh
party of Iran in 1941.
According to the constitution of the party all members were
required to join and be active within the trade unions
operating in their profession. During the period between
1941- 1945 Iranian trade unions made great advances. The
Central United Council of Iranian Trade Unions, which later
succeeded to organise more than 90% of the Iranian workers
within its ranks, was established in on May Day 1944.
Progressive trade unions skilfully joined the campaign for
basic workers demand such as wages, working week and others
with the anti colonialist , anti imperialist struggle in
the country. Even after the banning of the CUCTUI in 1947
by the Shah's regime, trade unions were able to conduct
important struggles to advance workers rights and fight
against the reactionary forces in the country.
Led by the Tudeh Party of Iran, trade unions which were
highly organised and hugely influential played a
significant role in the movement for the nationalisation of
oil industry during 1940's. Under the leadership Central
United Council of Iranian Trade Unions, Iranian workers
succeeded in securing major advances.
The CIA/SIS backed 1953 Coup de etat resulted in mass
arrest of communists and trade union activists and the
effective clamp down of any open progressive political and
trade union activity in defence of workers rights for 25
years. During this period Iran was turned into an outpost
of US imperialism in the middle East. As a result of
"reforms" engineered by the Shah's regime and as a result
of massive increase in the oil revenue at the mid 1960's,
Iran in effect, was developing as a backward, dependant and
dictatorial capitalist society. Despite the regime's brutal
suppression, communist and progressive trade unionists were
able to use the limited opportunity for activity offered by
collaborationist trade unions and mobilise workers in the
fight for change both at the work place in society at
The important and unique role played by the workers
movement in the course of the 1979 Iranian Revolution is a
classic example of power of the organised working class and
their role in the struggle for political change.
With the victory of the Iranian revolution, the conditions
for the activities of the trade unions changed
dramatically. In this period the Tudeh party of Iran and
other progressive forces worked successfully for the
establishment of independent trade unions.
The struggle of trade unions for adaptation of a
progressive social, political and economic course after the
1979 revolution was in effect led by communists. Despite
difficult social and political conditions imposed on the
society in early 1980's Iranian trade union movement made
significant organisational and political advances. Fearing
the advance of the working class movement and the deepening
of the influence of the Tudeh Party of Iran, the regime
finally attacked the party and banned all democratic trade
union organisations. The regime knew well that if the
Tudeh Party is not suppressed the prospect for continuing
its reactionary rule would be limited.
After more than twenty years of terror and repression
exercised by the dictatorial regime, Iranian people are
once again marching for change and democratization. A
massive movement demanding a decisive end to religious
dictatorship has been able to change the political
landscape in Iran. Iranian workers are a central part of
The election of Mohammad Khatami in May 1997 should be
interpreted as a massive expression of opposition to the
ruling theocratic regime.
The experience of our people during the past four years
shows clearly the regime's leaders are determined to
frustrate the will of the people. The reactionary forces
controlling key decision-making bodies have used all their
means to stop the process of reform in Iran.
During these four years the leaders of the regime have
tried unsuccessfully to intimidate our people into
submission and abandon their growing movement for human
rights and democratic reforms. During the past four years
and while Khatami has been Iran's president, atrocities
against democratic forces have continued.
The aim of the right-wing reactionaries, in intensifying
its campaign of intimidation and terror has been to pave
the way for a complete suppression of the people's movement
for reform. But despite these, the popular movement was
able to maintain its course and inflict another major
defeat on the regime. Despite all obstacles two weeks ago
Khatami was returned to presidency with an even bigger
The Tudeh Party of Iran, strongly believes that this
election like the 1997 election was once again a referendum
about the necessity of continuing the reform process or
going back to pre 1997 atmosphere of severe oppression.
Our party, over the past four years, criticised Mr.
Khatami's policies and weaknesses in many occasions. We
have stated that continuing the economic polices of
previous government categorised by a drive for more
privatisation, cutting jobs in manufacturing and
implementing IMF's directives on liberalising the economy
are disastrous. We have criticised Mr. Khatmie's inability
to stand-up to the pressures of the right and for giving-in
to their demands for the slowing the pace of reforms.
Our party believes the developments over the past four
years, particularly the relative easing of press
restrictions and opening of very limited scope for
political and social activities is in the interest of the
people's movement. We believe that the social forces
defending reforms in Iran, particularly the working class,
hand in hand with the youth, students and women's movement
are the true forces of change. With the clear understanding
that the 8th June presidential election was a new
referendum to reject the regimes 9 puppet candidates and
vote for Khatami.
The assessment of our party and other democratic forces
has been that Khatami's re-election was the only course of
action open to the Iranian people for keeping the momentum
of struggle for democratic reform. It is however important
to understand serious limitations of Khatami's platform,
especially his failure to break with past economic policies
and his slavish behaviour towards the IMF. Khatami rules
over high unemployment, high inflation and the destruction
of the country's manufacturing capacity.
The effects of the anti-democratic and anti-people policies
is observable in all sphere of life. The terrible situation
of health care, lack of medical specialists, shortage of
hospitals and drugs, shortage of housing and homelessness
of hundreds of thousands of Iranian youth, and the
destruction of the education system in the country overall
shows the depth of Iran's social and economic crisis.
Khatami's cabinet, despite it's promises, under the
pressure to protect the regime and in accordance with its
class base, which is to protect the interests of different
strata of bourgeoisie, has continued the old policies and
did not take any significant step in direction of people's
demands and social justice. Some people close to Mr.
Khatami believe that the conspiracies of the reactionaries
did not allow Mr. Khatami to implement his program. Without
any doubt, the conspiracies of the reactionaries continued
all along, but nevertheless, Mr. Khatami never presented an
acceptable program to protect the interest of the working
class and the people.
Opening the economy to the trans-national corporations and
giving out contracts which are against our national
interest is another negative aspect of Khatami's government
performance. For example, the biggest oil and gas contract
after the 1979 revolution, worth four billion dollars, was
signed with an Italian company in July 2000. This contract
ensures the dominance of the Italian company over the
"South Pars" oil field with the 40% Iranian share and 60%
There is no difference in this program and the program
which Rafsanjani government implemented eight years ago.
The Tudeh Party of Iran believes that political democracy
in the context of economic inequalities and poverty cannot
be real substantive democracy.
Workers Struggle for Reform
Throughout its 60-year history the Tudeh Party of Iran has
seen the working class and its allies as the most important
social force for defending fundamental and democratic
The program of the Tudeh Party of Iran presents a
comprehensive analysis of class developments in Iran after
the revolution in 1979. Fundamental changes have shaped
the working class in this period, including the decline in
productivity of heavy industry and severe economic
During the past four years the working class has been
engaged in a bitter struggle with the regime. Thousands of
protests involving tens of thousands of people have
underlined the resistance of the working class to the
policies of the regime. But, study of the working class of
Iran since 1997 points to specific barriers to this
Lack of both trade union organisation and a single and
independent labour centre, prohibits the working class from
promoting its struggles in a co-ordinated and organised
The presence of regime-created, yellow organisations that
serve to contain class struggle. These not only play a
part in organising labour, but also in deterring the growth
of the labour movement.
Successful labour movement activities have been those in
which workers from various sectors participated jointly in
their struggle in an organised manner. The strongly
supported protest of workers of Kashan against the transfer
of medical care to the private sector and solidarity action
by workers of Shadan Shoe factory with striking Textile
workers in Shahre Rey in joining a march to the Parliament
are examples of this. The main demand of the workers was
to end the policies of "strauctural adjustment". The past
two years have also seen some limited, yet united and
organised, protests against the exclusion of factories with
less than 5 employees from cover under the Labour Law.
However, the working class has had limited impact on
developments by comparison with youth, students and women.
This calls for remedy. Our Party has campaigned to focus
the attention of trade union activists on co-ordination of
working class activities and the development of links with
student and women's movements. It has also exposed the
negative influence of regime controlled Islamic Labour
Councils and the " Workers' House".
Workers are increasingly linking their struggle with the
need for democracy. Our Party is promoting the rightful
place of workers - at the centre of the movement for reform
and democratisation. Creation of independent trade unions
and centres for their co-ordination, must be a priority.
Of high importance also is the creation of information
channels such as independent labour papers. As the
February 1979 revolution showed, a united and organised
working class and its allies is capable of undertaking
major and effective protests. For this to happen, working
people need to be clear that the root-causes of poverty,
depression and lack of job security are all impositions of
the regime and that the promotion of political reform is
inseparable from the interests of the working class.
The role of communists in the trade union movement
The relationship between the state and its machinery and
communists active within the trade union movement is
qualitatively different to that of other trade union
activists. That is a crucially important starting point for
the way in which communists judge and plan their
involvement within the trade union movement.
For a communist the state machinery exists for the benefit
of industrial and finance capital and is fundamentally at
odds with the interests of ordinary workers. But the
machinery of the state is not the only mechanism available
to capital. The media, the education system, sometimes the
religious establishment is also available to convince the
working class that their interests are at one with those
defined for them by the ruling class.
Within capitalism there is an illusion about democracy.
The close relationship between trade union leaderships and
the state, in some countries , has meant some sections of
the trade union movement being used to promote the
interests of the ruling class. There is now a strong trend
in the movement which presents itself to employers as a
means to police their workforce rather than as a mechanism
to represent the interest of the employees. So-called
social partnerships seeks to blunt reforms and end class
Participation in helping to manage their own exploitation
has been presented by some in the working class movement as
modernisation, when in fact it is the same old class
collaboration in new clothes. Such "new" ways of working
are often reinforced by labour laws restricting trade union
activity and backed up by threats of financial penalties or
even imprisonment. This can be witnessed in capitalist
countries from the USA, Europe, Asia and elsewhere. The
right to strike or collective action is often only a right
if it does not threaten the existing political and economic
Reformist leaders, social democrats and liberals throughout
the 20th Century bowed to such restrictions and now in the
21st Century many are in the vanguard of defending them as
a new way, a third way or any way but towards socialism and
a qualitative break with the status quo.
It isn't the job of the communist party to defend
capitalism or to make it work. It may well be their role,
however, to fight for the survival of an industry, or,
where an industrial base is beginning to emerge, to
struggle for the industrial base to be formed and developed
in ways which will help the whole of society.
The task of communists is to examine whether any new
development or industrial process is in the interests of
the working class and the national economy and then to
promote this as a programme within the movement as a whole.
Both employers and the state machine have to respond to
mass action and ideas amongst the population as a whole -
an idea becomes a political and material force when it is
taken up by millions of people. It is the communist party's
role ensure the ideological debate is developed amongst the
working class. To take ownership of the idea and then
ownership of the process of implementation and operation in
An effective communist party should have strong and
functioning ties with the trade union movement at every
level. Party members working within every industry should
meet and work out policy for their unions nationally, so
that individual communists are in a position to put a
sophisticated and complex analysis to their fellow workers.
It also means that they have available a developed analysis
of other areas of struggle too. To be effective communists
within trade unions have to do more than simply hold their
own in the arguments with fellow workers.
The Leninist maxim of educating, agitating and organising
should be our guide to work in the trade union, progressive
and labour movement.
Such an approach also enables linkages and alliances to be
formed with other forces and movements active in struggle
against globalisation and its manifestations such as
racism, sexism and the destruction of the environment.
The process can't, however be simply one of issuing
instructions from the party to trade union activists. The
debate on worker's rights has to be based on the
experiences of those who work, the unemployed and others
alienated or dependent on social welfare.
Short termism and opportunism should also be the target for
communists. Our methodology must be based on patience, a
willingness to listen and learn, while maintaining the long
term objective of working class emancipation.
However, for marxists developing deep roots in the trade
union and labour movement is not a waiting game, nor should
we hide behind the coattails of reformism. Our role is
pro-active, open, tactical and strategic. Defending rights
is synonymous with the struggle for socialism. It is part
of the class struggle.
Workers and Globalisation
Trade unionists daily experience the consequences of
globalisation in their work and activities. The employers
constantly emphasise the importance of "becoming
internationally competitive!" Millions of workers have
been confronted either to accept industrial restructuring
or to see their industries disappear into another part of
the world where capital enjoys more favourable conditions.
This capitalist restructuring which aims only to increase
profits has meant "downsizing" the workforce, "increasing
productivity" and "developing a new co-operative
relationship with management".
This tendency was seen by Marx in Capital i.e. the tendency
towards greater capitalist accummulation. It was further
elaborated by Lenin in his famous thesis on Imperialism.
It is not only in the private sector that capitalist
globalisation is creating havoc and misery. Large scale
privatisations in the public sector is preceded by budget
cuts to education, health and other services in the pursuit
of a "leaner" public sector. Without exception in all
capitalist countries, developed and underdeveloped public
sector is forced to shrink in the name of global
efficiency. Employers and rightwing politicians in
government tell workers "there is no alternative to these
It is true that as communists and working class activists
we are not against international trade. What we campaign
against is the way capitalist globalisation is used to
maximise profit at the expense of workers jobs, conditions
of employment and job security.
Communists have to popularise the campaign against the
reactionary and anti people nature of neo-liberal policies
forced upon nations by multinationals in the name of
respecting "free market" and operation of "market forces".
Neo liberal policies promoted by the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) advocate unqualified free trade, economic
Today there is growing global opposition to the new world
order run by the transnationals and the industrial and
finance banks. The defeat of the socialist alliance led by
the former Soviet Union has created conditions where the
forces of capitalism view the whole planet as open to
manipulation and exploitation. This is the real meaning of
The new productive forces, the new means of production, the
role of digital technology are only the means by which
capitalism seeks to accelerate and maintain its global
Workers, students, oppressed minorities, women and
environmental activists are being pressed and mobilised
into struggle. Leadership and discipline, new alliances
and new forms of organisation and action do not present a
threat to communists or the trade unions.
In the chaos of the so-called new world order new
opportunities are opening up, new fronts and new struggles
where the maturity and world outlook of the revolutionary
forces can be decisive in mounting and developing
international solidarity and growing co-operation between
the working class and others affected by globalisation and
the policies of neo-liberalism. Only socialist policies
and a revolutionary perspective can guarantee long term
Iran at the threshold
On 8th June this year the Iranian people won a great
victory. The election was a referendum on change. The
official candidates of the country's so-called spiritual
leader Khamenie were decisively rejected in spite of many
efforts by the state to dishearten the masses from
participating in the election.
The representatives of the clerical dictatorship appealed
to the people not to repeat their "spiritual" errors
committed in the February election last year. This
primitive scaremongering failed to pursuade the people from
voting and voting for change.
However, it was not just propaganda that was used against
the people, repression, imprisonment and attacks on workers
and student organisations were also witnessed. Such
intimidation also failed.
Following the victory of the previous presidential election
 the Tudeh Party of Iran stated then, that the
leaders of the ruling reaction are determined to use all in
their power and any "legal" means to obstruct people's
wishes for establishment of freedom, democracy and social
Based on the past record of appeasement and retreats by the
leadership of the "2nd Khordad front" [the political front
formed by the reformers] reaction believes that in spite of
the ups and downs, it can again contain the situation
during the next four years. With Khatami out of the picture
in 2005 election, it will succeed in reverting the climate
to prior 1997.
The need now is to press on. The reform process cannot
mature as long as absolute power rests within the Velayate
Faghihs' power structure. For the past 11 years the Tudeh
Party of Iran has stated that despotic power structures and
agencies must be removed before real transformation can
21m Iranians have voted for change. Workers, students,
women have raised their voices for social, economic,
cultural and political change.
After the election victory, Khatami in his message to the
people stated that: "now it is down to us and the pledge
that we have made to you". History and our people will not
excuse anyone's inactivity in not carrying out the pledged
promises. It is imperative to enter the arena by relying
on the immense power of the masses to advance toward
achieving the demands of the movement.
The Tudeh Party of Iran continues its struggle to
accomplish the goals of the mass movement. We strongly
believe that a united front of all forces against the
despotism, as it was formed in the June 2001 election is
the first important step by our people in their path to
banish the Velayate Faghih's regime and to pave the way
toward fundamental and stable democratic developments in