I wish to say a few brief words about the workers’ movement in Iran.
I was particularly moved, as were others, by the description by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) of the plight of the family she is dealing with. I have 2,000 asylum seekers in hotels in my constituency, and several are from Iran. Listening to their stories is equally moving. When we have debates about asylum seekers in this House, it is sometimes worth recording where those people have come from, and what they endured before they—hopefully—reached safety in this country.
I fully agree with the proscription of the revolutionary guard, which is long overdue, and with the implementation of Magnitsky sanctions. I am surprised—well, shocked really—about the threats to the BBC Persian service, and I agree with other Members about the need to continue its funding. We in this House are committed to diplomacy as much as we possibly can be, but there does come a time when diplomacy is no longer working and when, in some ways, the diplomats who are located here are working against the best interests of our country and our citizens, as well as of their own. I therefore agree with the closure of the Iranian embassy and the expulsion of the diplomats. I believe that is now overdue.
To move on to the workers’ movement in Iran, the interesting thing about this uprising, or potential revolution, is that it cuts across all social and economic classes and has brought people together. For those who were engaged at the time, it is worth recalling that when the Shah fell in 1979, it was largely as a result of mass strikes throughout 1978. The workers’ movement became the tipping point for the removal of the Shah. It is also important to note that no Iranian I have spoken to so far is calling for the return of a monarchist Government. They are calling for a democratic Government, even though the Iranian regime is seeking to promote the myth of some form of retrieval of a Shah-type regime. That is not what this is; it is a democratic struggle.
The mass strikes that took place in 1978 toppled the Shah. The ayatollahs learned from that and sought to eradicate the trade union movement in Iran. Instead, they imposed state sanctioned organisations, supposedly to represent the workers, although they never did. In addition, they introduced policies of privatisation—almost the creation of a gig economy—to prevent workers from working together in an organised movement. Those who were in the House way back in 2004 will recall that Members across the House—I believe across all parties—strongly supported the heroic struggle of the Tehran bus workers’ union when it came out on strike. That was met with repression and the imprisonment of many of those trade unionists, some of whom disappeared.
Nevertheless, the heroic struggle of workers in Iran continued. Some Members will remember that in 2015, we raised what was happening with the teachers’ union in Iran, and at that time the general secretary of the trade union, Esmail Abdi was arrested. There was a hunger strike, and the House—again on a cross-party basis—supported that workers’ struggle.
What has been interesting about the recent uprisings is the engagement across all social classes, and also the courage demonstrated in the strikes now being organised. In December before Christmas, there was a three-day strike during which the shops, markets and businesses were closed down in opposition to what was happening under the existing regime. In addition, oil workers demonstrated outside their employers’ headquarters, thanks to a combination of support for the struggles that have taken place for democracy and a reaction to what is happening to the living standards of workers under the regime, with high inflation, wages suppressed and the inability even to represent each other in negotiations with employers. This is more than just an uprising; this goes way across society, with workers and others coming together in all the social forums they can to demand change.
We in this House have a role in making noise, exposing what is taking place and expressing our condemnation, but we also have a responsibility to show solidarity. In December, a group of Iranian men and women who have a history of trade union and other struggles in Iran, and who currently live in this country as refugees, came together with trade unionists in this country and formed the committee of solidarity with the workers’ movement of Iran. The intention of that committee is to engage with trade unions in this country, and with the TUC, to see what solidarity work can be undertaken for the workers’ struggles in Iran. Yes, these are expressions of solidarity, but possibly using the international organisations of the trade union movement to express that solidarity more effectively. That committee is now linking up with trade unionists across Europe in particular, and in America, to see what joint actions can be taken.
I simply and briefly ask the House to welcome the formation of that committee for workers’ solidarity, to support the work it will be doing to expose what is going on, to support those expressions of support for workers taking action in Iran, and to consider what other practical actions could be taken. I believe that could be one element of supporting the significant breakthrough that is potentially available to Iranians at the moment.