By Peter Tase
Despite high-ranking officials of the Iranian regime touting the importance of the presidential election that is scheduled for June 18, 2021, there is a growing concern that citizens nationwide may in fact be less favorable to participate. Fear of not attaining the minimum legitimacy for the formation of government, with an unprecedented systematic corruption, unemployment, and poverty, along with the collapse of Supreme Leader’s awe in Iran and the region, international and deadly economy isolation, and most importantly being the only country in the region without vaccines and Immunity from coronavirus, have all combined to create a deadly condition for the Iranian regime. There is a growing threat that the Iranian society is on the verge of erupting with the consequent social convulsion.
According to Prof. Steve H. Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics in Johns Hopkins University and author of Misery Index 2021, Iran is ranked as one of the eight countries with the worst performance in Misery Index at a global level.
“Misery indexes,” of Professor Steve Hanke, measure the quality of a country’s economic well-being, and as such it places Iran in the unenviable position of being among the most “miserable” economies in the world based on key fiscal indicators. According to The Arab Weekly “a misery index produced in Iran and several external indexes demonstrate how Tehran’s bruised economy is hitting citizens in the pocketbook.”
Iranian retirees, including workers and employees, in their nationwide protests are objectively demonstrating to the world their status as a symbol of all segments of Iranian society in a state of repression and suffocation. This is a testimony of what has been exposed through the Misery Index, which is an informal barometer of a country’s economy, typically calculated by adding the nation’s rates of inflation and unemployment. This accurate study has been introduced for many years by Professor Hanke and is deemed to measure the socio-economic conditions impacting the country’s average citizen.
Recently I interviewed with one of the retirees/pensioners who took part in the nationwide protests in Iran, and I asked him the following questions (via email):
1. When and why did the nationwide retirees’ protests begin?
Response: Retirees’ protests began on July 15th last summer. The main reason for these protests was the discrepancy between pensions and living expenses. This has caused people to be living in dire conditions for the past few years. Low salaries and skyrocketing prices of goods have made the situation very difficult and catastrophic for all people, especially for retirees, so that a month’s salary of retirees only is enough for one week of essential expenses.
2. What is the extent of retirees’ ongoing protests and what are their slogans?
Response: The protests have taken place in the cities of Arak, Tehran, Tabriz, Kerman, Kermanshah, Isfahan, and several other cities, also in province of Alborz, sometimes reaching to more than 30 cities at a time. Usually, the rallies start with the presence of about 50 people, and then with the rise of protests and slogans, other retirees join, and sometimes one thousand people participate, for example in the city of Arak. Retirees in some cities are spreading empty tablecloths during protests that symbolically demonstrate the poverty they are faced with!
At first, all the slogans were about not affording daily life’s expenses, but in the continuation of these rallies, the slogans took on a political twist. During the recent protests, the slogans were:
We will not vote anymore; we did not see any justice.
We will not rest until we gain our rights.
Neither parliament nor the government cares about the nation
We can only gain our rights by protests in the streets.
We will not vote anymore since we heard so many lies.
We want our salaries adjusted according to inflation.
3. Tell us a little about the living conditions and lives of retirees?
Response: Unfortunately, about 65% of retirees receive minimum salary, and they cannot make their ends meet, with a salary of 2.3 million tomans (almost US$120), while the poverty line is 10 million tomans, they cannot afford to pay their rents and expenses of their children in college. They are living in a really suffocating conditions. Look at the prices of meat, fruit, and bread. We cannot afford to buy meat or fruits!
4. What are the retirees’ demands and why dow the government not meet their demands and does not respond?
Response: Retirees’ demands are not extraordinary, retirees want to enforce a law that regime’s officials themselves have passed it, that is, a salary balance based on Article 96 of the law, which is adjusted each year through an amendment to increase the salaries based on inflation. However, they violate the spirit of their own law by using fictitious formulas to calculate the increase based on commodity prices and inflation!
5. Are retirees not covered by social insurance?
Response: With the increase of inflation rate, unfortunately, we are witnessing a decrease in insurance liabilities and an increase in the price of medicines, which has a direct impact on the body and soul of families’ health. The cost of treatment is high. The cost of travel is not affordable. The cost of proper nutrition based on age groups is very high.
6. Will the upcoming presidential election in Iran influence fulfilling the demands of retirees?
Response: All retirees are hopefully shouting their demands in the streets. Of course, they have experienced only empty promises from this government, and we know that we have a long way to go and secure our rights. With the constant lies we have heard over the years. We are not willing to vote in this sham election.
7. Tell us a bit about the conditions of other groups
Response: Unfortunately, the high cost of living affects all segments of society, low-income and middle-class strata of Iranian society are faced with many problems. If you look, different groups of people are in the streets every day, protesting the high prices and inflation rate. From teachers to nurses to government workers, there is a great deal of debt owed to these groups for the backlog of their salaries, especially in current situation with coronavirus pandemic that government has no plan to help.
In my opinion, the retired teachers are in the same situation. They are also seeking their rights, that were denied for years.
We will continue our struggle and will hold a nationwide protest on May 11th, 2021 and join the workers on International Workers’ Day and declare our solidarity with international workers.