Two views of HOPI teach-in
Below we carry two reports of the same event – the Hands Off the People of Iran teach-in in Dublin on November 10th. The first is by organiser Anne McShane and the second by John McAnulty. While there are clearly points of agreement, there are also points of disagreement. We welcome comments on the teach-in and the possibilities for a campaign.
27 November 2007
HOPI Ireland held an interesting and informative Teach-In on November 10 in Dublin. We saw images of the ongoing strikes and demonstrations in Iran and heard about the struggles of car workers.
Despite an unforeseen clash with an Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) demo on the same day, the meeting attracted around 30 participants and was an interesting and informative event.
Deirdre Clancy, a leading anti-war activist, chaired the first part of the meeting. Deirdre became known for her role in an action that disarmed a US war plane in Shannon in February 2003. She and four other activists were arrested, imprisoned and later tried on counts of criminal damage that could have meant up to 10 years in prison. But after two collapsed trials the five defendants were finally unanimously acquitted by a jury in 2005.
The stunt drew attention in a dramatic way to the use of Shannon airport for the transport of US troops to the Middle East (as well as ‘rendition’ flights). It showed that it is clear nonsense to describe Ireland as a neutral state. The Irish government is in fact a loyal adjunct of imperialism. Shannon was and continues to be one of the main stop-overs for US troops - as today the forces build up in the Gulf for the threatened attack on Iran.
David Landy of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign was the first speaker in the meeting. He expressed his support for Hopi against the recent attacks against it on Indymedia (www.Indymedia.ie). He argued the importance of upholding two essential principles - to be against imperialist attack and at the same time not support the local elite.
But for him there remained complexities for solidarity movements in deciding who to support on the ground. This was especially true in Palestine, where there is a “disarticulated movement” that is difficult to connect with. These were issues that needed to be discussed and taken up by the anti-war movement. He called for Hopi and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to link up and work together wherever possible.
Yassamine Mather spoke next and set out the new circumstances in Iran. She said that people there were becoming increasingly afraid of an impending attack. Certainly war is closer now than it has ever been. Meanwhile the regime has been busy moving its money out of the country. All resistance to state laws is now classed as a violation of national security. Students, workers and women activists are being arrested and face flogging and imprisonment for demonstrations that were staged months ago. The regime is conducting a crusade of terror against all opposition.
Yassamine showed a series of photographs that have been taken of activists on demonstrations over the last year. The demos illustrated the existence of the movement against the government. The slogans on those demos also showed clearly the anti-imperialist nature of that opposition. These images have now been posted on the Hopi website (www.hopoi.org).
The debate that followed centred on the need to make clear that Hopi is anti-imperialist. An attack on Iran would be a disaster for the Iranian people and we are first and foremost an anti-war campaign. However, we strive to make solidarity with those in struggle in Iran - not the regime itself.
The afternoon session was led off by David Mather, who spoke about the conditions of the Iran Khodro car workers and their campaign to organise. He described the problems they face, which include low (or no) pay, long hours, dangerous conditions and the use of temporary contracts. The fact that the plant is now a joint venture between the islamic regime and the Renault transnational shows the commitment of the regime to neoliberalism. The Iran Khodro workers, however, consistently strive to organise, despite the illegality of doing so. They are also extremely keen on making links with workers and unions outside Iran.
Des Derwin, president of Dublin Trades Council, who chaired the meeting, remarked on the need for this kind of information to be made available to the Irish trade union movement. He and others also spoke of the similarities between conditions facing Irish workers, particularly in terms of temporary contracts. Capitalist need for ‘flexibility’ in the workforce is affecting workers internationally. While recognising the worse conditions faced by workers in Iran, there is no doubt as to the commonality and the need for solidarity on the basis of a shared agenda. It was agreed that we need to start to move to make practical links. Since then Hopi supporters have distributed a leaflet to striking bus workers in Dublin calling for solidarity with fellow bus workers in Iran.
Another issue that was debated was our attitude to the trade union leadership in Ireland, who are hand in glove with government and bosses through ‘social partnership’ policies. We agreed that, while it is useful to have trade union leaders sign up as supporters, we do not want to simply leave it at that. We want to reach out to trade union members - not to just get resolutions passed, but to try to get some action and debate around them. But it was also acknowledged that we do not at present have a militant rank and file movement and therefore we need to begin where we are and use all avenues.
Finally there was some controversy over US sanctions against Iran. Amir, from an organisation called ‘Free Iran’, attended the afternoon session and argued for sanctions, as they would weaken the Iranian regime and allow them to be removed from power, he said. We should also not criticise the US so much in the circumstances.
David Mather replied by making it clear that we are firmly anti-war. Deirdre Clancy also argued that the people who suffer from sanctions are never the rulers, but always the ordinary people. This was shown in the run-up to the war on Iraq, when children were left without food and basic medical supplies. Kevin from Socialist Democracy said that sanctions were an act of war, laying siege to a people to weaken them before a military attack begins.
One positive development seems to be a change in attitude on the part of the IAWM towards Iran and Hopi. I recently reported on a conference held by this campaign - which has up to now been dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (Weekly Worker October 25).
At that meeting, the SWP leadership was at pains to dampen down calls for solidarity with struggles in Iran. Now, just a few weeks later, Yassamine Mather was invited to address the IAWM rally held on the same day.
Supporters of Hopi who attended with Yassamine reported that leading SWP member Marnie Holborrow had announced from the platform that they too are in contact with the opposition in Iran and support regime change from below. This was a welcome step forward from the previous line and shows that these comrades have been thinking. Rather than ban Hopi, as their British comrades have done, they invited us onto the platform.
This, I hope, will lead to more cooperation within the anti-war movement, which in Ireland is divided - in addition to the IAWM there is also Anti-War Ireland (AWI). The split, which took place a few years ago, was somewhat predictably caused by the SWP’s intolerance towards those with differing views within the campaign. Understandably there remains tensions and distrust of the SWP.
But I believe that principled unity is
important and that Hopi should make links with all campaigns, including
AWI, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the IAWM. Working together
for joint demonstrations, meetings and other campaign work, if done openly
and democratically, is a necessity to strengthen our struggle.
P S I need to clear up a couple of mistakes in my report:
Firstly the action of the Ploughshare Five in Shannon was not considered or intended to be a stunt. It was an act of disarmament against the US war machine - of a symbolic nature. It did cause damage and put that plane out of action - as well as having important political implications.
I called it a 'stunt' in my report which was wrong.
Also they were acquitted in July 2006,
HOPI teach-in – All the issues, but not yet a resolution
26 November 2007
The Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) teach-in in Dublin on 10th November was a fairly unique event on the Irish left. It involved a critical look at the politics of solidarity and support against imperialist aggression, education in a vibrant class struggle in Iran, open discussion between a number of different political tendencies and a clear willingness on the part of those tendencies to act together in a non-sectarian way.
There are however many problems. The run-up to the teach-in was marked by ferocious hostility towards, and slander of, the main speaker, Yassimine Mather. The political differences were not resolved and the movement was left in some confusion. Above all the campaign has been marked by a persistent failure to organise a democratic structure that can effectively build solidarity. Finally in the background we had the Irish Anti-War Movement prove yet again that it is wedded to attempts to build a movement on moral outrage and to include within the movement organisations that are in practice in support of the imperialist war.
The political confusion at the teach-in centred around the tasks of solidarity. The mood of the majority was probably summed up by the phrase ‘getting the mix right’ – the mix being the task of defending countries like Iraq against imperialism while at the same time opposing the repressive regimes inside the country. The view of this reporter was to offer the classical Marxist position of unconditional defence of the targets of imperialist attack on the grounds that imperialism had no progressive part to play, while at the same time never offering any support to the forces oppressing the workers, was dismissed by one of the organisers. This was a pity, as ‘getting the mix right’ is a rather vague phrase and the source of much of the hostility to HOPI on the left. It led one speaker to argue that those in solidarity with Palestine should not propose a unitary democratic Palestinian state while the major political organisations were willing to support a two-state solution, ignoring the fact that the ‘two-state’ proposal had been used by the US and Israel to constantly demolish any hopes of a democratic solution.
The main elements of the teach-in were reports by Yassamine and David Mather on the resistance inside Iran. These painted a picture of the completely fake nature of the mullah’s opposition to imperialism, with the regime leading a neo-liberal offensive on the working class in collaboration with European capital, centring around ‘white contracts’ – blank sheets to which the workers signed their names, only to have the bosses define the conditions. Conditions were especially harsh in the car and oil industries, where the mullahs were able to form alliances with trans-national companies. Overall fake ‘workers councils’, based on Islamic structures, were used to deny the workers any real representation.
The offensive had been countered by a large and vibrant movement, with a leadership in the bus, car and oil workers and independent movements of students and women, although this movement appeared only to have a limited political expression and faced growing repression.
The discussion on the workers movement brought up one glaring fact – if we subtract the extreme levels of repression in Iran the Irish working class is facing conditions not fundamentally different from those of Iranian workers. People in the audience confessed that they too had ‘white contracts’ where their conditions were at the sufferance of their employer. The structure of the Irish Trade Union movement still remains intact, but acts as a police force through partnership implementation bodies, while every protection and guarantee promised in the agreement ‘towards 2016’ is torn up within months of signing the deal.
The discussion led to the final session where there was a heated discussion of the role of the trade union movement. A number of speakers urged a policy of realpolitic – the bureaucracy controlled the union and the campaign should seek the support of the bureaucracy to get resolutions through. A counterposition accepted that we should bring resolutions through union bodies, but argued that the bureaucracy would suppress any radical action – as witnessed by the campaign against coca cola. A trade union campaign would have to make contact with the rank and file to have any effect.
However the major weakness of the school was that it then came to an abrupt halt, with the organiser thanking the participants and closing the discussion. We were left without any resolution of major issues or mechanism for continuing the discussion or agreeing collective action. Just how difficult the issues are was illustrated by the intervention of an Iranian exile calling for support for the US boycott of Iran – a step that one speaker pointed out would actually mark the first steps to war rather than an alternative to war. The problem is that a section of the Iranian opposition would support imperialist intervention and any solidarity movement has to find firm political grounds on which to resist this pressure.
Similarly the attacks on Yassamine. Some of these clearly involved agents of the Iranian state trying to discredit the campaign, but many attacks represented a strong current on the left that believed that solidarity meant that there should be no criticism of the mullahs. It is quite clear that the anti-war march in Dublin was organised as a spoiling tactic by the SWP to reduce attendance at the teach-in, followed by a familiar tactic of offering lots of alternative teach-ins.
The march itself was a disgrace, a platform that did not baulk at including a speaker from the Green Party – a party actually in the government that is collaborating in the war – nor in providing speaking rights to Sinn Fein – a party that is at the centre of imperialist rule in Ireland and which has boasted of its ability to train local forces in the Middle East in the skills need to capitulate to imperialism. Even where some of the speakers were more innocuous liberals or social-democrats, the organisers never seemed to notice that they bring only themselves to the demonstrations and never even begin to represent a way of mobilising Irish workers against the war.
HOPI is organising in a context where, as one attendee put it, “the Irish workers aren’t able to offer solidarity to themselves”. Attack after attack, carried on with the support of parties and union organisations claiming to represent the workers, have left them rudderless. In this context the anti-war movement has split because of SWP manipulation, but without any political lessons being learnt. More recently, probably because of the problems the SWP is facing following the Respect split in Britain, the independent leftists have won some ground and this seems to have been the impetus for Yassamine being invited to speak at the anti-war demo and for proposals for united action. HOPI can play a crucial role here by injecting a socialist and anti-imperialist perspective and pointing the movement towards the working class and away from liberal public opinion.
Some tasks are easy. We can join together
today and offer support to the Iranian workers while rejecting any progressive
imperialist role. Some tasks are more difficult, such as building
an effective campaign aimed at trade unionists. Some tasks are more difficult
still, such as building a movement on socialist and anti-imperialist principles.
The starting point is a national democratic structure. We should
begin today the task of constructing that movement.