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Iran's socioeconomic protests are inherently political

5 48 202

"We are workers. We are not political". This was a slogan that appeared on a series of banners raised by Andimeshk Municipality workers in southern Iran during their protests over unpaid wages earlier this year.

At a first glance, the slogan seems to be a confirmation of some of the recent analysis and commentary on the protests that shook Iran in the last two weeks. They were described as a "socioeconomic uprising" or an "economic revolt" devoid of political roots, despite the fact that many slogans did directly target the political establishment.

The Iranian authorities have capitalised on such a distinction in order to differentiate between those who in their view have "legitimate" economic frustrations and those who merely create "political unrest".

Undeniably, the economy is at the heart of grievances that have brought the people's dissatisfactions with the status quo to a boiling point. Economic mismanagement and entrenched corruption have given rise to a high rate of unemployment, inflation and widening socioeconomic inequalities. The government's austerity measures have not only affected the working class, but they have also increasingly impacted the lower sections of the urban middle class.

This has been compounded by the effect of economic and financial sanctions that are believed to have contributed to deteriorating living standards. In 2013, Human Rights Watch reported that workers rights activists had told the organisation how sanctions had "worsened the plight of workers" by negatively affecting manufacturing units. Moreover, the administrations' expectations of an inflow of foreign investments in the aftermath of the nuclear deal have thus far remained unfulfilled.

Despite the clear role of economic factors in recent protests, deeper scrutiny points to the inadequacy of creating a sharp dichotomy between "socioeconomic" and "political" demands.

The suggestion that working class protests are devoid of political demands derives in part from a class-biased reading of social movements. The claim tends to allocate a series of demands based on the social and economic status of those involved, whereby the........

© Al Jazeera