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Left blind to an Iranian rebellion

THE way part of the Western Left portrays Iran, you'd think it's a progressive regime opposed by a few rich reactionaries beholden to the US.

American leftists such as Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Noam Chomsky have persuaded themselves that anyone who shouts "Death to America!" is fighting for repressed humanity. The champagne-and-caviar socialists of Paris and London, meanwhile, claim that the only Iranians who oppose the mullahs are middle-class intellectuals who often have dual Iranian-US citizenship and, thus, deserve to be tortured in Tehran as hostages.

In truth, however, the Islamic Republic, far from representing the poor masses of Iran, is an instrument of domination for a new class of rulers who control the national economy through oil revenues.

Over the past quarter-century, the mullahs and their relatives, plus a few thousand military and security officers, have morphed into a nomenklatura. They have the best jobs, receive the most favours and enjoy priority access to goods, services and opportunities for social advancement.

The pre-revolution middle classes, formed over 150 years, have all but dissolved into poverty, with a sizeable proportion finding refuge in exile. An estimated 6.5 million Iranians, almost 10 per cent of the population, have emigrated. The International Monetary Fund reports that more than 150,000 educated Iranians flee the country each year, "the biggest brain drain in history".

In fact, the most serious challenge to the new ruling class comes from what the Left labels "the popular masses". Spearheading the fight are groups of urban workers who have started to flex their muscles in the past two to three years.

Starting this week, these workers will confront President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration through a series of one-hour strikes to show solidarity with imprisoned trade unionists. The regime began a crackdown on independent trade unions last April.

The Workers Organisations and Activists Co-ordinating Council notes that more than 600 labour leaders have been arrested or "made to disappear". Another 4500 workers have been dismissed, often without pay, on vague charges of "fomenting unrest" at various state-owned projects. The largest number of arrests came at the May 1 International Labour Day marches organised by the WOACC, representing independent trade unionists, in defiance of state-sponsored ceremonies.

The authorities have already disbanded the Iran Labour News Agency, an independent service covering the free union movement. They have also arrested 32 WOACC militants. Despite the repression, the movement seems to be picking up momentum. In Assaluyeh, described by many as "the largest labour camp in the world", an estimated 150,000 workers at a dozen oil and gas projects are expected to walk out.

Dozens of state-owned factories have come to a standstill as a result of strikes in Arak, Kermanshah, Alborz, Qazvin, Bushehr, Sari and several other cities.

The good news is that Western trade unionists are beginning to pay attention to the struggle of their fellow workers. Several European unions have called for Iranian trade unionists to be released. There is some hope that American labour organisations will follow suit.

Somewhere along the line, the Western Left may realise that it has been duped by a few anti-American slogans into supporting a regime that is dedicated to destroying whatever progressive ideals it once espoused.

Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam. This comment originally appeared in the New York Post.

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