Thursday, July 10, 2014

1475. The Yadullah I Knew: A Tribute to an Iranian Working Class Leader

By Kamran Nayeri, March 7, 2010
Yadullah Khosroshahi (center facing camera) at a demonstration (recent undated photo)

Introduction to the English translation: Yadullah Khosroshahi was a central leader of the Iranian oil workers movement in the 1979 revolution. He died in exile in London of  complications from stroke on February 4, 2010.  The Farsi language socialist journal Arash published in Paris devoted a section of its 104th issue (March 2010) to celebrate Yaddulah's life and contributions to the labor and socialist movements. The following essay is my contribution entitled “The Yadullah I Knew.”  It is translated from Farsi with slight additions to make it accessible to the English reader unfamiliar with certain individuals, places or events. In the same spirit, the rest of this introduction offers a brief biography. 

Yadullah Khosroshahi was born to a toiling family in Ahmad Abad neighborhood of Abadan known for its oil refinery in Khuzestan province in 1941.  Not only the London-based Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that paid a flat royalty to the Iranian government controlled the oil, during the World War II British forces occupied southern parts of Iran (northern parts were occupied by the Red Army).  Years later, Yaddulah described the conditions in Abadan as a form of apartheid. Workers could not go the the neighborhoods where the British employees of the oil company lived. Violators were arrested and jailed.  While the British had air-conditioning, swimming pools and golf courses, Iranian workers lived in shacks with no running water or swage system and children had to bath in the water collected in the gutters.  At work there was a similar hierarchy with Iranian employees being ranked below the Indian employees.  

However, the crisis that weakened the central government provided a democratic opening for mass movement of the Iranian people, oppressed nationalities (Azarbijanis and Kurds who briefly established their own autonomous governments), and workers, especially oil workers, that lasted for a dozen years.  In 1950 in response to popular demand the Iranian parliament (Majlis) voted for nationalization of the oil industry.  In April 1951, the Majlis nominated Mohammad Mossadegh, who led the nationalist Jebeh-ye Meli (National Front) representatives to become prime minster.  The young Mohammad Rezah Shah Pahlavi who was crowned in 1941, after his father Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced by the Allies to abdicate because of his pro-Nazi sympathies, was forced to appoint Moosadegh to the post.  However, a power struggle ensured Mossadegh and the Shah. On August 19, 1953, the CIA in collaboration with the M16 staged a coup that brought down the Mossadegh government and returned the Shah who had fled Iran in an earlier coup attempt to power. 

During the next quarter of century, Iran witnessed state-directed capitalist development and industrialization combined with increasing autocratic rule of the Shah.  As a result, social dislocations of vast proportion occurred.  Population grew and many displaced peasants circled large urban centers, especially Tehran, with shanty towns. The middle class and the intelligencia grew as modernization and tradition clashed.  The industrial working class more than doubled in size to 3 million. Meanwhile, due to its disastrous political course during the 1941-53 period and the bloody repression that followed the coup, the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party’s influence in the labor movement dwindled.  A new generation of workers began to learn from its own experiences and develop its own leaders. Yadullah Khosroshahi is a prime example of the leadership that emerged outside of the Stalinist orbit in the Iranian labor movement. And this reality explains the key role oil workers general strike played in the 1979 revolution and the emergence of workers shoras (factory councils) in the aftermath of overthrow of the monarchy.

Yaddulah worked for 13 years at the Abadan refinery where he was gradually recognized for his leadership qualities among oil workers was elected as a union delegate in 1967.  In 1968, he was forced to relocated to the Tehran refinery to keep him away from his base and to keep a closer watch on him.  However, Yadullah was quickly integrated among the fighting layer of the workers who soon took over the exiting management run-union and was elected as one of their leaders in 1969.  In 1972, Yadullah together with other worker-activists establish the Syndicate of Tehran Oil Refinery Workers and he was elected as it Secretary.  In 1973, after brief strike in Tehran refinery oil workers were able to win important benefits including 40 hour week and 25% pay increase.  

Yadullah was arrested three by the Shah’s secret police the SAVAK.  The second time SAVAK claimed to have found “banned books” in his possession and tortured Yadullah severely.  They demanded that Yadullah go before the oil workers and read a “confessionary note” prepared by the regime. Yaddulah agreed. But when he was reading the SAVAK prepared speech he took off his shoes and placed his bloody feet on the table for the workers to see.  The infuriated the SAVAK. He was arrested and after a number of failed attempts to buy him off the regime sentenced him to a 10 years in jail.  

Under the pressure of the mooting mass movement in 1978 Yadullah was freed from jail. He immediately joined the leadership of the oil workers who organized secret strike committees. Oil workers played a central role in the general strike that brought down the military state of siege government and forced the Shah to leave Iran in January. On February 11, 1979 an wave of urban insurrections centered in Tehran brought down the monarchy.   

After the February revolution strike committees in large workplaces were reorganized as factory committees (shoras) as most owners and managers either went into hiding or left the country and a wave of nationalization ensued.  One of the central goals of the newly established capitalist Islamic Republic was to re-establish capitalist authority in workplaces.  For this, it pursued a two-pronged tactic.  First, it encouraged emergence and establishment of Islamic Associations in workplaces to compete with shoras. Later, when the Islamic Associations failed to attract enough support, the regime aimed at establishing Islamic shoras or pressuring existing shoras to into serving as Islamic shoras.  When that happened, pro-regime workers demanded Islamic shoras to followed management and government dictates in the name of “Islam.” 

Again, because of strategic and historical reasons oil workers shoras were central to the shore movement.  When Saddam Hussein’s army invaded oil rich Khozestan province, one its early targets were shoras, they executed leaders of village shoras and by severely damaging the oil facilities, including the Abadan refinery, they in effect undermined the oil workers shoras.  The Islamic Republic used this opportunity to disperse oil workers across Iran as war refugees significantly weakening the oil workers shoras.

The final blow came after the massive waves of repression in the summer of 1981 and  late 1982 and early 1983. Many shora leaders and activists were arrested and some tortured and executed.  On November 26, 1981, the agents of the Islamic republic stormed Yadullah’s home in Tehran.  They arrested Yadullah, his son and some of his guests including a pregnant woman.  Yadullah spent four years and three months in Evin prison and was routinely tortured.  Unable to link Yadullah to political groups that were in conflict with the Islamic Republic, they released him on February 10, 1986 after posting a hefty bail. However, soon the Islamic Republic agents were after Yadullah again. He escaped to Pakistan. He found political asylum in England after he arrived in London on August 24, 1988.

However, Yadullah continued his campaign for the working class and the socialist cause.  In early 1990, he helped organized Iranian working class leaders and fighters in exile in the Association of Exiled and Immigrant Workers” that published Kargar Tabeidi (Exiled Worker).  In 1999, he helped organize a conference around the theme “Review of the Iranian Labor Movement in the Past 20 Years and Our Tasks.” Based on agreements reached with a majority of those who attended this conference, Yadullah helped establish Bonyad Kar (Labor Foudnation) that was active for eight years. Later he helped establish Labor Links, a English language newsletter of information and activities in solidarity with the Iranian labor movement and International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran.  In his last years of life, Yadullah witnessed and campaigned for the independent unions of Tehran bus transit workers and of Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers.  He told his friends that “I wish to live long enough to see the formation of an independent labor organization in Iran.” He died in London of complications from stroke on February 4, 2010. He was 67 years old. 

*      *     *
A video clip with photos of Yadullah throughout his life. 

I became acquainted with Yadullah Khosroshahi through Morteza Mohit in 1995. I had met Mohit in a demonstration in Whasington D.C. in the summer of 1994 soon after I returned from my first visit to Cuba in June.  Mohit was a pathologist by training who had been a socialist intellectual and activist since the late 1960s. We became friends and undertook series of political and journalistic collaborations that lasted until 2002. In our many conversations, Mohit sometimes related his experiences in Iran in the 1970s and various politically significant individuals he had met while living in Khozestan province or serving time as a political prisoner in Ahvaz and later in Qasr prison in Tehran. Of these, memories he shared about his contacts with the oil workers, especially Yadullah, were the most interesting to me.  A bit of context is necessary.

The 1978 Congress of the the Fourth International that I was active in its Iranian section had decided that where possible the majority of its leadership and cadre should join the mass organization of the working class, the trade unions.  This decision was based on our analysis that the long post-World War II capitalist boom had come to an end with the 1973-75 world recession and the immediate period facing us will be characterized by an international capitalist offensive against the working class.  Defensive struggle of workers could lead to their mass radicalization and possible challenge of reformism imposed on trade unions.  The Iranian revolution that triumphed in the following year and was characterized by mass mobilization of millions in urban centers, a general strike centrally led by the oil workers and urban insurrections that followed seemed to confirm our assessment.  However, our political tendency in Iran failed to form a lasting fraction of socialist workers in key industries in part because of the defeat of the shora (workers council) movement  that had emerged out of the February 1979 revolution.  Our movement split into three small parties that effectively dissolved by 1982 without drawing a political balance sheet of their experiences.  For me, getting to know Iranian working class leaders was like finding lost friends. I hoped that by learning from their experiences we could draw the lessons of the Iranian working class participation in the 1979 revolution, establish organic ties with the existing class struggle minded workers in Iran and to reestablish historical labor and socialist continuity.      

Yadullah’s early activities in exile
In the mid-1990s, Yadullah and a number of other militant Iranian workers living in exile in Europe published Kargar Tabeidi (Exiled Worker).  One key topic of discussion in this publication was independent workers organization. Yadullah was a key contributor to this discussion. There was also a side discussion through personal letters between Yadullah and Mohit about this issue.  Following some socialist currents in the U.S., Mohit argued that “white collared workers” should be considered part of the working class alongside the “blue collared workers.” Basing himself on his experiences in Iran, Yadullah was concerned about mixing up karmands (office workers) and kargars (laborers, including industrial workers). One was appealing to a sociological theory and the other to the experience of the labor movement. To what extent should the socialist workers movement relay on such “theory” and to what extent rely on the labor movement’s experience remained an open question. How much of the successes and failures of the working class movement in the period leading to the 1979 revolution was due to its understanding of theory or lack of it and how much was due to its reliance on its own practical experiences?  Without a doubt Yaddulah was a firm believer in relying on working class’s own historical class struggle experience. He also knew much less about “theory.”  However, my 15 years of personal friendship and political collaboration with him convinced me that he was not discounting theory and actively sought discussions with those he believed were well informed of theoretical issues.   

In the latter part of the 1990s, in consultation with and promise of collaboration from some Iranian socialists, including Yaddullah and Mohit, I was conducting a feasibility study for a publication that we tentatively called Barrasi-ye Sosialisti (Socialist Review). I wanted to avoid two types of problems associated with socialist publications. The first are those that claim to be research oriented but are actually socialist propaganda organs.  The second group are the publications that are essentially translations of well-known Western socialist intellectuals with no critical contributions from those who publish it.  I received a number of articles for the inaugural issue of Barrasi-ye Sosialisti. One was from Yadullah that was part of the history of the Iranian oil workers movement that he was writing at the time.  It was an excellent article that a friend in New York and I edited together.  But most other submissions were either not research articles or were not new research materials.  Based on this experience, we decided not to pursue the project. Yadullah’s article was later published in two installments in Pazhohesh Kargari (Labor Research) and Andishe Jameh (Social Thought).  

In this same period, Yadullah and some other Iranian labor leaders initiated a call for the formation of Bonyad Kar (Labor Foundation).  He invited me to attend the founding conference in London in November 1999.  However, I found the founding document unclear in its overall perspective and I was involved in other urgent activities that left me no time to spare.  I told Yadullah that I supported the idea of organizing militant Iranian workers aboard in order to collect their respective experiences and to coordinate solidarity with the Iranian labor movement and that I would be happy to help as needed. In the next 6 years when Bonyad Kar was active, I assisted it whenever yadullah asked but I never joined it as its platform remained ambiguous.

Visiting Cuba
In late April and early May 2001, Yadullah and I were guests of Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), the Cuban labor federation. At that time, CTC included 19 different trade unions with 3 million workers.  I was one of two representatives of the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) of the University of California, Berkeley.  Yadullah was participating as an activist from the Iranian labor movement.  Both of us were part of the US/Cuba Labor Exchange delegation of about 60 people. This is a U.S. based labor solidarity group that had a Department of Treasury license to take groups of workers from the U.S. to meet with their Cuban counterpart.  The US/Cuba Labor Exchange enjoyed cordial relations with the CTC that hosted our visit as observers to its 18th Congress that took place April 28-30.  CTC congresses are organized every five years.  So, it is an infrequent event to observe.  Besides the congress, we participated in the May Day celebration and visited factories and labor, social and cultural centers.  

Yadullah and I had also planned to use this opportunity to talk to Cuban workers and workers from other countries about the situation of the Iranian workers whenever appropriate. Our main goal was to observe and learn about the Cuban labor movement.  Before we flew to Havana, in consultation with Yadullah I had prepared a two-page fact sheet about the role of the Iranian workers in the 1979 revolution and the repression that subsequently was leveled against them and the current struggle for labor rights in Iran.  A friend of mine in Havana prepared a Spanish translation of this fact sheet.  I copied a good number of these for distribution in Cuba.  

On the evening of April 24 when I stepped out of the customs in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana I ran straight into Yadullah who was waiting for me with a CTC host. This was the first time I saw Yadullah in person.  We embraced like two old time friends.   
When we arrived at Hotel Girasol in Centro Habana, I noticed that hotel workers talked to and joked with Yadullh as if they were old time friends as well!  Some of the invited guests in our company complained about the third class status of Hotel Girasol that belongs to the CTC. To the contrary, Yadullah was happy that the Cuban unions actually own their own hotel!  

During our stay in Havana, we visited a few factories and workplaces.  I should mention two of these in relation to Yadullah.  On April 25, we visited Quido Perez beer factory that is located outside of Havana.  It produces the well regarded Hatuey beer.  Hatuey was an Indian chief and a leader of the last wave of resistance to the Spanish occupation of Cuba. When he was captured, the Spanish burned him alive at stake.  The factory’s director and two leaders of the union greeted us.  They toured us around the plant part of which was under reconstruction and repair.  As we walked around the plant, a stocky man with a hand gun fasten to his belt followed us around.  Yadullah whispered in my ears that the man is “hefazati” (management/government guard). I noticed his faced turned red as he said that.  At the end of the tour, our group was taken to a conference room for question and answer about what we had seen.  There were a group of workers in the room as we intermingled.  Yadullah wanted me to find out who that stocky man with the gun was. I asked a group of workers who introduced him to us as the member of the union.  Yadullah’s attitude changed and he spent some time talking to that man. 

On the morning of April 28 we learned that because of overbooking for international observers at the CTC Congress it was not possible for our group to attend the proceedings until further notice.  Instead, that morning we went to visit the Lenin steel mill in Havana and that afternoon we visited the CTC cadre school. 

In Lenin steel mill our visit was limited due to safety concerns during production time. After a short tour, we gathered in the yard where a sound system was quickly put together and some from our delegation were asked to address steel workers who were taking a break. Yadullah was among the speakers.  In his brief talk that was translated into English and then Spanish Yadullah explained that he became an apprentice in the Iranian oil industry at age 14 (in 1955) and spend his life time organizing independent organizations of workers.  He noted the key role of the Iranian working class, especially the oil workers, in the 1979 revolution. And he explained that because of his uncompromising effort on behalf of the oil workers and the working class he spent five years in the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s jail and five years in the prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was tortured by both regimes.  He ended his brief remarks by noting that in the few days he has been in Havana he has seen the power of workers.  He cried: “Long live the Cuban revolution!”  The Cuban television carried Yadullah’s speech in its mid-day news.  This was important because Cubans do not have a good knowledge of the Iranian working class and its revolutionary history.  

That afternoon we visited the CTC cadre school and witnessed graduation of a group of workers from other caribbean countries.  Yadullah remarked: “Would it not be nice to bring some labor leaders from Iran for training?”  

That evening after dinner, the leaders of US/Cuba Labor Exchange organized an gathering for Yadullah to speak about the situation of the Iranian labor movement.  Some sixty people attended and a good discussion ensued.

The CTC conference was being held in the Palacio de Convenciones de la Habana (Havana’s Convention Center).  On the third and last day of the congress, the organizers made available to us and a few other international delegations who had not yet observed its proceeding a very large conference room next to the main hall where the congress was in session.  The room had state of the art audiovisual equipments. A huge screen showed the front of the main hall where speakers could be seen and heard delivering their speeches. There was simultaneous translation available from Spanish into English and French.  Near where Yadullah and I sat were two rows of black women and men wearing red tee-shirts with the logo of oil workers trade union of Trinidad and Tobago.  During the break, yadullah introduced himself to them, talked briefly about their union and offered them our flier about the situation of the Iranian labor movement.  

We had our lunch and dinner in the huge dinning hall in the basement of the building.  After dinner, Yadullah and I found two seats in the front rows of the main hall.  Yadullah was able to tape some of the speech of the CTC General Secretary Pedro Ross Real who was re-elected to the leadership of CTC that night and of Fidel Casgtro’s speech that began just before midnight.  At the close of the Congress more than an hour past midnight, we could hear singing of the International in different languages by various groups of Cuban workers and international guests who were walking to their buses to go home and catch a few hours of sleep to return to the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) for the May Day celebration early in the morning.  

Early next morning, Yadullah was ready with his video camera in hand. We set off for the Revolution Square for the May Day celebration.   The CTC organizers assigned our delegation to a prime location close to the podium in the midst of a huge crowd.  We were all standing for the duration of the ceremony and speeches that lasted three hours.  After a relatively short speech by Fidel Castro, Pedro Ross Real invited everyone to march.  CTC estimated the crowd to be about one million people. Yadullah was so glad that the organization of the march, including security, was entirely with the CTC.  

On May 2, we participated in an international labor solidarity meeting of 600 international guests and leaders of the CTC.  Leaders of some major labor organizations, like the French CGT spoke. So did a number of CTC leaders.  Two key topics were resistance to neoliberalism and solidarity with the Cuban revolution.

In the remaining days of our stay in Cuba, we visited historical, social and cultural sites such as Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and the Che Guevara Mausoleum in Santa Clara.   The memorial is architecturally beautiful with a small museum that displays some of the surviving personal articles of Guevara and his comrades in the guerrilla campaign in Bolivia.  Yaddulah and others in our group were clearly moved with the spirit of sacrifice and internationalism of Che Guevara and his comrades that reflected the reality of the Cuban revolution. 

A portion of our time was spent on sightseeing and entertainment.  Yadullah really enjoyed music and dance performances that accompanied feast of Cuban cuisine prepared by the Girasol Hotel for us.  He videotaped those as well. One of the simple pleasures in Havana is to take long nightly walks, especially by the sea. One night we went to Hotel Ingelatera’s roof cafe that offered great music and dance performances each night except Tuesdays.  On our way back to Hotel Girasol, we stopped by a store to buy bottled water.  Havana’s water must be boiled to drink. Waiting in the queue we noticed several young men accompanied by an older man with an Islamic beard.  We heard them talk in Farsi about the physical features of some young women in the store.  Yadullah began talking to them in Farsi. We learned that they were the Iranian boxing team and the bearded older man was their coach. They had come to Cuba to learn from their rich boxing experience.  When the young boxers learned that Yadullah had come from London, they gathered around him to learn how they can secure an immigrant visa. To relieve Yadullah, I volunteered that I had come from California. Immediately, they dumped Yadullah and gathered around me asking similar questions about immigration to the United States.  At one point, to justify their overt comments about the young women's attractive bodies the Islamic coach proclaimed: “These Cubans have nothing to eat and yet they have such well formed bodies!”  

Collaborative projects
In the two weeks that Yadullah and I shared a room in Hotel Girasol our friendship deepened and we found much more common political grounds. Our conversation about Cuba were not based on abstract concepts but on specific gains we witnessed working people have made.  Unlike socialist intellectuals, as a labor leader from Iran Yadullah paid more attention to what Cuban workers have actually achieved than those things that they have not yet achieved.  And the fact that Yadullah found Cuban workers happy and engaged gave him hope that they will achieve more in the future.  More importantly, Yadullah was keenly aware that socialism in one island is an impossibility. A world revolution is necessary.  He observed first hand how Cuban revolutionaries are trying to deepen internationalism. It was in this context that at the end of our trip we reached a number of practical agreements. 

One of these was to write a report of the CTC congress. After we returned home with Yadullah’s input, I wrote a report for Andisheh Jamehe (“Workers and Trade Unions in Cuba: A Report from the 18th Congress of Central Organization of Cuban Workers, no. 20, pp. 56-61).  Also, I edited and published an interview I had conducted with three youth who were our CTC translators that was published in the U.S. Social Action newspaper.  Sosan Bahar translated this interview into Swedish and published it in an online youth site.  The University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union at University of California, Berkeley, organized a report back for me and another UPTE delegate to the Congress.  Yadullah gave a report back to his comrades and friends in Europe. The following year he tried to gather 10-12 worker activists for another visit to Cuba, but that did not materialize.  

In our conversations in Cuba, I argued and Yadullah agreed that Iranian working class activists outside Iran have tuned inwards by ignoring the labor movement in their adopted country (This was not true of Yadullah himself despite his difficulty in communicating in English).  There was no reason why Iranian worker socialists should not follow Marx’s and Engels’ footsteps in integrating themselves in the labor movement of their adopted country.  If carried through they would be in much stronger position to carry out solidarity work with the Iranian labor movement inside unions. To facilitate this campaign we initiated the publication of Labor Links, an English language quarterly newsletter which Yadullah and I co-edited. Bonnie Weiss in Emeryville, California, helped me edit the final draft and Mansour Soltani in Stockholm, Sweden, published it on the Labor Foundation website.  

Visiting Yadullah in London
At the end of the summer of 2001 a small book of two of the early writings of Marx that that Morteza Mohit and I spent a lot of time translating and editing was published by Sonboleh Publication in Hamburg, Germany.  On this occasion, I travelled to Europe and stayed at Yadullah’s house in London at the beginning and the end of my tour.  Besides spending more valuable time with Yadullah, I truly enjoyed meeting Jahan, Yadullah’s wife, who is the unspoken and unseen part of Yaullah’s strength to endure the hardship in his exemplary life.  Jahan and I shared a love for all animals.  She had a very cute small dog, Huxley, and I had a cat I adored, Nuppy.  We talked about their personalities, our relationship with them, and their intelligence and emotions. Jahan worked hard to prepare vegetarian meals for me.  Yadullah loved his family and whenever he took me sightseeing we stopped by his children’s homes to say hello.  He also took me to Marx’s grave. Along the way he bought a bouquet of flowers. It was not for Marx but for his youngest son Saeed who had died at a young age.  We stopped at his grave as well. 

My return to the U.S. was a few days after September 11, 2001.  It was not certain if my flight would leave as scheduled. The night before my departure date, Yadullah asked if I wish to meet a “Trotskyist youth” nearby.  That is how I met Behzad Kazemi (Alireza Nassab who died prematurely and unexpectedly a year after Yadullah). He welcomed us with great hospitality although it was late in the night.  He gave me three copies of his book, a critical history of Mohammad Mosadegh’s nationalism and the events surrounding his coming to power and downfall. Yadullah and Behzad became close collaborators.  Behzad and I became good friends as well and he joined me in Cuba in my 2006 trip. 

International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran
After five quarterly issues of Labor Link Yadullah and I decided to suspend its publication. Despite its prompt publication on the Labor Foundation website, there was not evidence that it was being used by Iranian labor activists in the way intended. The problem was not with the newsletter.  It was in getting Iranian worker-activists to engage in the union movement of the country the resided in.  

In the same period, Mehdi Kohestani Nejad and Farid Partovi were organizing the International Alliance in Support of workers in Iran (IASWI).  One advantage of this initiative was that both these labor activists were deeply involved in the labor movement in Canada and this gave the IASWI the potential to grow and succeed.  Yadullah and I discussed this initiative that was at its initial phase.  Kohestani Nejad and Partovi were organizing a conference in Toronto that Yadullah participated in (but I could not).  It was a success in getting Iranian labor solidarity activists collaborate better across countries.  The IASWI’s perspective emphasized that it is important to get international labor unions involved in solidarity campaigns.

However, in my view the IASWI’s perspective was left ambiguous at that time. Was this an effort to get to know and collaborate with union bureaucracies that as we know are a means of social control? Or is it a movement to join with militant workers in unions and outside of them to strengthen the labor movement in host countries as well as in Iran?  

An example of this lack of clarity surfaced when Labor Links was being published.  A large group of labor activists, including Yaddulah, had gone to the headquarters of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva to demand that the Iran delegation be expelled from it because it did not represent the Iranian workers.  Of course, this action was unfolding in the context of imperialist hostility towards Iran.  The problem with this action begin with the bourgeois character of the ILO.  Each country’s delegation is composed of two employer delegates, two government delegates and two “workers delegates.” In most cases as with the Iranian delegation, “workers delegates” are also handpicked by the employers and their government.  It becomes clear that expulsion of the Iranian delegation (which has never represented the Iranian labor movement) could not help advance class struggle.  Worse still, it is clear that asking the ILO to expel the Iranian delegation could have facilitated the imperialists campaign.

I discussed this problem with Yadullah in a phone call.  After thinking about it for a while, he agreed that this action did not advance workers’ interests. With his agreement, I wrote a short article for Labor Links explaining the class character of the ILO.  

This sort of error existed in the work of the IASWI as well.  In one instance, the General Secretary of a union called the British foreign secretary to press the Islamic Republic government on behalf of the Iranian workers.  Disagreements over this tactic became an issue of contention in the IASWI and Mehdi Kohestani Nejad split from it to continue such activities freely.  With this split, IASWI was strengthened. It deepened collaboration between Yadullah and Partovi and others and brought forth a series of successful campaigns.

Oral histories of the shora (workers council) movement
Yadullan and I had often talked about the dire need for the collection of the historical experiences of the Iranian labor movement.  A number of Iranian labor activists in recent years had published their memoir, granted interviews about their lives or lectured about their experiences. Sometimes, these sources were called “oral history.”  The Labor Foundation website had an “Oral History” page.  While all these effort were valuable oral history as a branch of the discipline of history has a clear and definite meaning.  From an historical point of view, its origin goes back to latter part of the nineteenth century.  However, as a new method of historical research it was established in the Western universities in the 1960s.  The American Oral History Association was founded in 1969.  Determination of sources (persons who were involved in the historical event of interest), recording, transcribing and interviewing techniques all followed a particular and increasingly well-defined methodology.  Analysis of the raw event histories is the work of specialized historians. in other words, raw event histories (what is related by the interviewee) is not history itself.  It is history as seen from one particular participant’s view.  It is necessary to “listen” to what is related and what is not, to silences as well as words of the interviewee to penetrate deeper into the event in question.  Oral history is a methodology most suitable for social groups in lower social hierarchy with little resources.  Social classes that enjoy power and/or are economically dominant have ample access to historians some of whom make their career writing about them.  But the lower echelons of society have little opportunity to leave their mark on historical writing. 

With Yadullah’s consent, as a research at the University of California, Berkeley I began to assess the possibility of funding a serious oral history project of the shora (workers council) movement in the 1979 revolution in Iran. To explore the possibilities, I contacted Professor Candida Smith who was the Director of Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at U.C. Berkeley.  Professor Candida Smith who is a prominent oral historian in the United States welcomed my inquiry with great generosity of spirit. We agreed to jointly pursue funding for the project.  In the summer of 2002, I participated in the Oral History Institute that was taught by Professor Candida Smith. In the fall of the same year, with help from Professor Candida Smith and Yadullah, I drafted a proposal for funding.  During the summer, Professor Asef Bayat, whose research on the shora movement remains to this date the most comprehensive and authoritative was in Berkeley. He graciously agreed to join us in this research. Thus, we had assembled an impressive research team. 

I developed a 40 page draft proposal and with Yadullah’s help identified 30 labor leaders in Europe, Canada, and United States for oral history of the rise and fall of the shora movement.  Professor Candida Smith and I had decided to submit our funding proposal to the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  To do so, we secured a $50,000 commitment by the UCB Office of Research. 

Although the NEH review committee rated our proposal “excellent” it did not fund it.  They cited two issues for this decision. First, they took the position that the ROHO’s cost per each interview was high. Second, one reviewer took the position that having no interviews with workers in Iran is a defect.  

Next year, we resubmitted the proposal to the NEH. We increased the number of interviews from 30 to 40 persons with ten interviews inside Iran.  ROHO also agreed to conduct the additional ten interviews at no costs, thereby addressing the concern that they charged higher than average costs for each interview.  To improve the chance of getting funding from the NEH, I asked Yadullah to see if we can get some funding no matter how symbolic from the international trade unions that worked with the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran. Yadullah agreed to talk to Mehdi Kohestani Nejad who was at that time the spokesperson for IASWI and held an official position in the University of Toronto’s employees union.  Also, I approached Professor Touraj Atabaki of the International Institute of Social History for supplementary funding.  With his help I discussed the matter with Professor Marcel van der Linden the Research Director at IISH.  While the IISH could not offer any supporting funding, Professor van der Linden wrote a letter of support for the project and offered to include oral histories obtained from this project to be housed at the IISH.  After several weeks, Yadullah told me that there was no hope of getting even a token financial support from the international unions.  This time around, the NEH panel ranked our proposal “excellent” except for one reviewer who ranked it “very good” arguing this time that interviewing sources in Iran is not a good idea because there can be no guarantee that they can speak freely!  It became clear that some in the NEH are not going to let this project get funded.  Thus one our key wishes remained unfulfilled. 

Yadullah as part of the working class revolutionary history
On April 2009, I along with nearly 600 other employees (two-third of the workforce) of the University of California Office of the President were laid off.  The excuse was typical; to restructure at the time of financial crisis for the university.  This was the fourth time I lost my university job in my 30 years of teaching and research (the first time was in Iran because of the Islamic Cultural Revolution that shut down universities for three years).  

However, this time I welcomed the opportunity.  I asked myself: could I work with Yadullah and other worker-activists to conduct the oral history project on a shoe-string budget?   Like myself, Yadullah who had a bypass surgery a year and half earlier was thinking about the sunset of his life.  Last fall, he sent me his memoir of the Evin prison to get my feed back.  But he did not follow up.  I too decided not to raise the issue and bring up a few suggestions I had for its improvement.  On January 1, 2010 when I called him to give him to offer best wishes for the new year Yadullah asked me about the events in Iran.  The 2009 mass demonstrations were defeated six months earlier and he was worried about the future of the labor movement and the Iranian people.  Nine years had gone by and we had not seen each other. I asked him if he would consider visiting me in California.  He welcomed the invitation and said “let us go sightseeing!”  I was so happy that I immediately called our common friend Nasser Rahmaninejad who lives near me.   Nasser was very happy and asked: “Should we organize a speak out meeting for him?” 

The most prominent feature of the 1979 Iranian revolution was the grassroots mass movements, in particular workers organizations.  If the motivation for the revolution was to resolve historical national democratic tasks, the entry of workers and toilers to the center stage of the revolution gave it an anti-capitalist dynamics.  It is clear now (if it was not to many before the defeat of the revolution) that any resolution to the national democratic tasks of the revolution is only possible with breaking through the capitalist social relations that both monarchy and shia clergy have historically guarded.  The rise of the workers movement that brought forth working class leaders like Yadullah Khosroshahi was the result of molecular economic and social changes of the post-CIA coup of 1953.   The rise of this layer of working class leaders and dual power in major workplaces and industries provided a path to the opening of the socialist revolution in Iran and the Middle East.  There lies the historical importance of Yadullah and other labor leaders that emerged in the large-scale industry during the Iranian revolution of 1979. 

But my friendship and collaboration with Yadullah were at the time of his exile.  I found him like a captain who was trying to guide a storm damaged ship to its destination.  That explained his continuous attention to the problem of independent organization of workers.  Because he had learned that the Iranian workers movement was defeated in large part because of lacking strong enough class independent organizations. Yadullah was completely aware that he faced a period of preparatory and defensive work.  And, it should be recognized that he and his fellow worker-activists were largely successful in their predatory work. One one hand the labor movement in Iran seems to be re-establishing its organizations despite its ups and downs and on the other hand the struggle for solidity with this movement is producing results.  

A few days ago an acquaintance sent me a short but professionally done and effective video clip about Mansour Osanloo, a leader of the trade union at the municipal United Bus Company of Tehran and Suburbs (UBCTS) that has 17,000 employees, including some 10,000 bus drivers.  The significant issue was that the person who sent the video clip is not political.  Nazila Fathi, who for a number of years was the New York Times reporter in Iran and usually wrote about issues of interest to the Iranian middle classes and recently was forced to migrate to Canada, wrote an article in NYT of March 2, 2010 that included reference to two militant labor actions, one by metal and machine tool workers and another by communication workers in Shiraz (It is rather odd that when this report was edited for the digital version  references to these labor actions were eliminated). But attention given to labor struggles in Iran by my acquaintance and the New York Times reporter reflect at least in part the renewed labor resistance in Iran and solidarity campaign that Yadullah and other worker-activists have been carrying out through the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran.  

Thirty five years ago we faced a similar situation.  Defenders of political prisoners in the Shah’s jails were able to overcome the wall of censorship in the mass media to expose the true face of dictatorship and make it difficult for the Western powers to support it.  At that historical juncture, the Iranian revolution arrived much sooner than anyone anticipated and swept aside the monarchy and its imperialists backers. Are we in the opening stages of another revolution to sweep aside the Islamic Republic? We do not know.  What we know for sure is that the new generation of workers that is getting ready for struggle will stand on the shoulder of Yadullah and his likes and will continue the path he embarked on long ago. 

Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Nasser Rahmaninejad for his encouragement and editing of the original Farsi version. 

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