Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of California / Los Angeles
Workers’ Protest and Labor Politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran

This project seeks to understand the drivers behind labor protests in the contemporary Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran presents a puzzle because scholars expect labor protest in oil-rich authoritarian states to be low. Oil-rich authoritarian states can invest their external revenues in a repressive apparatus that should be able to prevent social protests. These states often also suffer from high unemployment, which should disincentivize workers from protesting. I explain high levels of labor protest in Iran through a historical analysis of labor-state relations since the 1979 revolution. I argue that labor protests are high because workers can mobilize legal and organizational resources to make rightful claim within a broader context of fierce elite competition. I argue that these resources and political opportunities are outcomes of processes of labor incorporation in the years after the 1979 revolution and Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Specifically, the post-revolutionary state expanded labor rights, benefits, and organizations, but failed to impose top-down control over labor, which has driven increasingly competitive state elites to seek workers’ support in order to maintain or gain incumbency. I am applying for SSRC funding to supplement earlier fieldwork inside Iran with archival and qualitative fieldwork outside the country. Such out-country fieldwork is necessary because many key sources on post-1979 labor politics are only held by these non-Iranian archives. I will visit the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the Iranian Library and Documentation Center in Hanover, Germany. In both libraries, I will study reports on factory dynamics, union relations and labor protests from the late 1980s to early 2000s. In addition, I will use these towns as bases from which to conduct interviews with a number of former Iranian labor activists in order to corroborate the validity and expand the comprehensiveness of the archival findings.