Eric Ellis of Fortune Magazine says that Iran's "auto industry has boomed in recent years to become one of the biggest sectors outside of oil, employing 150,000 and accounting for about 4% of GDP. With nearly one million vehicles produced last year , as many as in Australia or Thailand, Iran boasts the largest car industry in the Middle East and Central Asia" ("Made in Iran," 12 September 2006, <http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/09/18/8386173/index.htm> ).
That's thanks in part to US economic sanctions that began with the Iranian Revolution, in addition to the cheapest gas in the world, which is a large subsidy that the Iranian government provides the middle strata in Iran: "Iran was once a playground for U.S. automakers - the first car in Iran was a Ford (Charts), and GM (Charts) produced Chevy Novas, Buicks, and Cadillacs there in the 1970s with a Saipa subsidiary - but production of American marques ceased in 1981 after the embassy siege. Today the only U.S. models visible on Tehran's traffic-clogged streets are 1960s and '70s Chevys and Cadillacs, driven mostly by aging Iranians" (Ellis, 12 September 2006).
The sanctions have continued and expanded in recent years, which makes it difficult for the neoliberal faction of Iran's power elite to privatize as much as they would like. Paradoxical as it may seem, Iran's workers and farmers, especially industrial workers like auto workers, will be subjected to intensified pressures for liberalization if and when Tehran succeeds in winning détente with Washington. The revolution and international reaction to it have so far insulated Iran's workers from global market pressures to a large extent. Iran's workers need to think about that and weigh in on the national and international question, too, in addition to their sectoral class struggle. -- Yoshie