National Security

Iranian Workers Strike Amid Economic Meltdown

An Iranian woman walks past a poster of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini / Getty Images

Thousands of Iranians across several cities assembled to protest poor working conditions and unpaid wages amid rapidly deteriorating economic conditions brought on by U.S. sanctions and coronavirus.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Thursday that a series of strikes have occurred in Iran across many regions and cities in the past few months, growing especially intense early this week. Factory, city and state employees, coal miners, and health care workers have joined ranks across the nation, calling for better work conditions and back pay. In some cases, workers have not received their wages in months.

On-the-ground economic conditions in Iran have worsened significantly in recent weeks. While the industrial economy may be hardest it, the health care industry has also been battered by the coronavirus. On July 28 alone, 235 Iranians died of COVID, while 2,667 new infections were recorded. This brings the total death count in the Islamic Republic above 16,000, with nearly 300,000 infections. At least 140 health care professionals lost their lives while treating COVID in Iran.

Tehran has maintained an aggressive international posture amid domestic crises. Iran conducted a naval demonstration, firing on a mock naval carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, after a series of explosions in industrial and military centers, widely suspected to be sabotage by Israel and the United States.

Some experts see the country's weakened economy and political leadership as evidence that the Trump administration's strategy of "maximum pressure" against Tehran is effective.

"Maximum pressure is working," former White House National Security Council Iran-watcher and senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Richard Goldberg said Thursday.

The continued success of the strategy, however, could hinge on the presidential election. "The [Iranian] ruling elite is also waiting to see whether the U.S. presidential election will lead to sanctions relief and a decline in unrest," said FDD senior fellow Alireza Nader.

Former vice president Joe Biden promised to ease sanctions by rejoining the JCPOA, the much-maligned Iran nuclear deal. "If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations, I would re-enter the JCPOA," the presumptive Democratic nominee wrote in 2019. "Doing so would provide a critical down payment to re-establish U.S. credibility, signaling to the world that America’s word and international commitments once again mean something."