10,000 Iranian workers sign secret anti-government petition

Oct 2, 2012
Linda Palermo

Manifesto handed to labour minister decries 'staggering' inflation as currency plunges further and sanctions bite

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THE IRANIAN economy, buffeted by sanctions and a currency whose value is disintegrating on the foreign exchanges on an hourly basis, is in such a parlous state that a secret petition signed by some 10,000 people decrying the worsening situation has been delivered to the country's labour minister Abdolreza Sheikholeslami.

"A staggering increase in prices has been biting over the past year as wages of workers have only increased 13 per cent," reads the petition. It continues: "Millions of workers cannot afford their monthly housing costs."

Activists in Iran alerted the Associated Press to the petition, reports Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and the news agency was briefed about how signatures to it had been secretly gathered at factories and workplaces across the country. Signatories include miners, farmers, textile workers, bus drivers and labourers.

Unrest in the Islamic state over economic instability has increased in recent months, with demonstrations against unpaid salaries taking place in the capital Tehran outside the industrial ministry in August. Sanctions against Iran's nuclear programme are beginning to bite, which means things are set to get even worse.

According to Haaretz, the petition shows the growing anger of the country's "vast and potentially powerful working class" - a group which proved pivotal in backing the 1979 Islamic revolution and in subduing the widespread protests in 2009 which greeted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election as president.

Signs of this group's disapproval will increase tensions in the ruling elite, which is already grappling with a currency which saw its value drop by 17 per cent in value in trading on Monday, and which has lost two-thirds of its value since June 2011, according to the Voice of America.

As The Week reported yesterday, this has led to rampant inflation on goods imported into the country.

Iran's unravelling economy seems to have quelled the drumbeats of war which had previously accompanied Israel's escalating rhetoric about the Islamic state's nuclear programme. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Israeli cabinet colleague Yuval Steinitz have talked up the possibility of Iran's economic demise.

However, Hassan Hakimian of the London Middle East Institute is less convinced, telling The Guardian: "Talk of collapse as the Israeli minister of finance has recently mentioned is inaccurate and emotive.

"The enormous difficulties experienced could in the worst-case scenario result in a freefall for the currency (like in Zimbabwe) and result in hyperinflation (again as in Zimbabwe). Even unpopular governments in such harsh situations survive."

Hakimian points out that in such times it is the people of such countries who experience the sharp end of economic hardship - a reality which the secret petition perfectly encapsulates.

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