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Iran’s Trucker Protests Reflect Continued Domestic Unrest

Tzvi Kahn
8th June 2018 - FDD Policy Brief

Iran’s truckers have gone on strike. The protests, which began on May 22 and reportedly spread to more than 250 cities in all of the country’s 31 provinces, largely reflect discontent with low wages, high costs for insurance and spare parts, and related hardships. Collectively, they have paralyzed large swaths of the country, leading numerous cities to face long lines at gas stations and delays in the delivery of goods.

Perhaps more notably, the trucker protests have also seemingly paralyzed the clerical regime. Unlike other protesters, who have routinely faced violent repression by Iranian security forces, the use of force against the truckers thus far appears limited. This reality may reflect Tehran’s recognition that the restoration of the country’s ailing economy requires, at the very least, the Iranian people’s commitment to the permanent resumption of labor and cargo shipment. 

“We are not at all upset by the protests of truck drivers and their representatives,” said Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhundi in a strikingly conciliatory statement. “I accept the right to protest, and I am convinced that protest is the legal and the natural right of the drivers.” To date, Tehran has even offered some concessions to the truckers, including a 20 percent increase in haulage charges, though it remains short of the 35-50 percent they demand. 

Meanwhile, the truckers have received support from unlikely quarters outside Iran. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters declared that it stands in “solidarity with our Iranian brothers and sisters.” The International Transport Workers’ Federation stated that it “strongly supported” the strikers, calling on President Hassan Rouhani to “listen to the concerns of the truck workers if this dispute is to be resolved.” 

According to the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, approximately 370,000 trucks operate in Iran. About 120,000 of the drivers are over the age of 35. These statistics highlight not only the scope and repercussions of the strike, but also the moribund economic prospects of Iranian youth – a predicament that has fueled other protests throughout the country over the past six months. 

While the ultimate trajectory of the demonstrations remains unclear, the truckers’ revolt once again indicates that the provincial protests, which started last December, are not abating and may be expanding. Likewise, the regime’s response suggests that it still lacks a strategy to halt the protests, or address their underlying economic and political grievances, short of force.

At the same time, the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal has spurred the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, potentially exacerbating the long-term impact of the strike, which has obstructed the shipment of gasoline throughout the country. As Iran’s economy continues to decline, in part because of the Trump administration’s economic pressure campaign, the truckers’ strike – and the protests that preceded it – may become a prologue to even greater unrest. 

Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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