The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Iran:
Revolt against the Water Thieves

Aug 2, 2021

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

A wave of protests against the shortage of water began on July 16 in the region of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran, and then spread to other parts of the country. Trying to limit the spread of the protests, the regime cut off access to the internet and carried out brutal repression. Some protesters were shot dead, and hundreds were arrested.

Rivers and lakes are bone dry. Water only flows through taps a few hours per week. Water tankers that could make up for the shortage are nowhere to be seen. These are the immediate causes of the revolt. Khuzestan is an oil-rich region near the border with Iraq. The population is mostly Arab instead of Persian there—but water scarcity affects most of the country. Demonstrations also took place in Iranian Azerbaijan as well as Isfahan, Tabriz, and other cities. Protestors yelled out, “Bakhtiaris and Arabs unite,” and “Azeris and Arabs unite.”

The government blames climate change, but that does not explain this case of drought and desertification. These are the product of the “water mafia,” who are VIPs and rich families with connections at the top of the government. For years they have been diverting water intended for residents on a large scale.

Many water pipes and treatment plants were built more than half a century ago under the Shah and are now totally run down. And they were built when the population was only a third of what it is now. After the 1979 revolution and the establishment of the Islamist Republic, dams were built. They are controlled by big-timers who divert the water to irrigate lands owned by their friends—for water-intensive agriculture for export, for industrial complexes, and for cities far away. A number of wells were drilled which dry up the aquifers.

In Isfahan, tap water has become toxic, which forces residents to buy mineral water. The protestors denounce the “water thieves” and their benefactors: “We are thirsty!” “We want the fall of the regime!” and “Death to Khamenei,” who is Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The demonstrators oppose the government because aside from the drought there is inflation over 50% and shortages of many goods because of the U.S. embargo. And public and private employers often only pay workers after long delays. In Khuzestan also oil workers employed by temp agencies have been on strike since mid-June, trying to have the same pay and benefits as permanent workers.

The water protests and the strike involve both workers with a tradition of struggle and the rural working people on whom the Ayatollahs’ regime has relied for forty years. Their likely convergence represents a threat to the regime.

Some political cliques striving for power, like Ahmadinejad’s, try to use the protests by claiming to speak for the poor masses. Ahmedinejad suppressed the 2009 uprising. To change their situation, workers will have to be wary of any political leaders associated with the Ayatollahs’ regime, or even with the exiled oppositionists, whether pro-Western and monarchist or democratic. Truthfully the workers can only rely on themselves.