The Corner

Congress condemns Iranian labor crackdown

Kudos to the House for passing, 418-1, a bipartisan measure condemning Iran’s persecution of labor union organizers and activists. Hopefully, there can be hearings soon on the same issue.

There’s a certain irony in the silence, especially among self-described progressives, on the Iranian crackdown. I don’t know of any serious policymaker who thinks that military strikes are a good thing, or that a nuclear-armed Iran wouldn’t bring us into real crisis. An active union movement in Iran would strengthen civil society there. If the Iranian regime were more accountable to its people and their demands for better living conditions, more schools, hospitals, etc., the leadership would likely not be able to invest so much in terrorist groups and nuclear adventurism. A real union movement might help the U.S. avoid the worst-case scenarios and, at the same time, be embraced by Iranians.

Some progressives may honestly believe that U.S. support would backfire; they counsel doing nothing and often cite not dissidents but rather the so-called reformists who remain committed to theocracy, just not when it’s guided by their factional rivals. It is telling now, though, that the family members of imprisoned labor leaders are seeking international support. Congress listened; but neither the White House nor major presidential contenders have.

Likewise, while a crackdown did come after the bipartisan embrace of Lech Walesa and Solidarity in Poland, Walesa subsequently won the Nobel Peace Prize and, upon the crumbling of the dictatorship, became Poland’s president. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back on the 25th anniversary of Solidarity’s founding; neither he nor his colleagues at the time complained of U.S. support, even if the Soviet authorities and their Polish clients might have sought to tarnish them as compromised.

As an aside, it’s all well and good for someone to complain about the mainstream media whenever they don’t cover a topic of interest to that person, but I am curious whether we’re experiencing another Eason Jordan moment with The New York Times and Washington Post for six months or so ignoring the ongoing roundup and imprisonment of Iranian labor organizers. Perhaps the Iran beat reporters fear that they could lose their access.

(Yes, there is an irony in linking to the above piece with Franklin Foer discussing ethics, but his Wall Street Journal piece was a good one, before ambition, pride, or partisanship got the best of him).

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.


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