International Appeal for Solidarity with the Striking Teachers in Iran

Iranian schoolteachers have continued with their widespread and unprecedented campaign of sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations in towns and cities throughout Iran, having begun with three days of national action on Friday 10 December through to Sunday 12 December (weekends fall on a Thursday and Friday in Iran).  The original three-day action was called by the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations (CCITTA) which has a nationwide coverage.  Tens of thousands of teachers and their trade union activists gathered outside local offices of the Ministry of Education in a hundred towns and cities in twenty-five provinces across Iran.  

Iranian teachers are protesting over a series of unaddressed issues, including the poverty pay and dreadful living conditions they have to endure.  The salaries of the vast majority of Iranian teachers fall well below the recognised poverty threshold in the country. 

In several instances over the last week, the regime’s police and security forces employed brutal violence to break up the gatherings and arrest a number of the demonstrating teachers.  It was soon confirmed that Mr. Rasoul Bodaghi, a prominent and respected member of the CCITTA and superintendant for the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA) of Eslamshahr in Tehran province, was arrested at his home and subject to violent treatment as he was taken away on the first day of the national action campaign.  Mr. Bodaghi has previously served a seven-year prison sentence on account of his prominent activism on behalf of the teacher trade union movement in Iran, and there are growing concerns for his physical safety and welfare.

In recent years, Iranian teachers have resorted to general strike to draw attention to their plight and the sharply deteriorating conditions within the country’s state education sector, though usually in autumn when the academic year begins.  The CCITTA has declared its support for a free and just public education in Iran and has steadfastly opposed the government-favoured approach of mass privatisation of sector and creeping neoliberal “reforms”.  The state education sector in Islamic Republic of Iran has undergone massive privatisation since the early-1990s, accompanied by widespread outsourcing and budgetary cuts.

Examples of the messages featured on the placards displayed at the demonstrations last week included: “Full implementation of the Ranking Bill [“Teachers’ Pay Structure Act”] now!”; “Teachers, rise up and eliminate discrimination!”; “Strikes, sit-ins, and organisation are our inalienable rights”; “Free imprisoned teachers!”; and “Free education is the right of all students!”.

The Iranian teachers demand their rights as articulated by the ITTA locally and the CCITTA nationally.  The primary demand of the teachers is the implementation of the “Teachers’ Pay Structure Act” commonly known as the “Ranking Bill”, which, if enforced, would raise teachers’ salaries to a proper level.

Balancing the salaries of all job positions based on a fair system, particularly the retirees’ pensions, and full and precise implementation of Article 30 of the Constitution on free education, are among the other demands of Iranian teachers.  During the rallies, teachers also demanded the release of their colleagues who have been detained by the Islamic Republic’s police and security forces.  The CCITTA has reported that at least eighteen teachers are serving prison sentences solely on account of having engaged in legitimate trade union activities.  These include Mr. Esmail Abdi, the former General Secretary of the ITTA, and Mr. Hashem Khastar, a seventy-year-old retired teacher.

The “Ranking Bill” to restructure the pay of teachers was part of a welcomed broader “Civil Service Management Act”, which was actually ratified in 2007 but then never passed and implemented.  Under this Act, public employees’ salaries must be adjusted on the basis of the skill, experience, and pay scale accorded to each category of job.  Thus, teachers, who are employed by the Ministry of Education, and university professors, who are employed by the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, must be part of the same grade and pay structure.  Furthermore, under these provisions, teachers’ salaries must amount to at least eighty percent of those afforded to their counterparts working in a university faculty.  The provisions are essentially supposed to harmonise the pay and conditions of service afforded to a given category of job, including teachers, and eliminate an unfair disparity according to sector.

In the wake of the first few days of the teachers’ countrywide protests, which brought the Islamic Republic’s education system to a standstill, Iran’s Majlis (parliament) moved to re-ratify the disputed legislation on 15 December.  

However, the Majlis neither clarified when nor how the government enforce the new law.  Also, Article 6 of the legislation makes the implementation of pay-scale adjustments subject to available government funds.  One government official has already stated that the government does not have the budget to afford the pay increases and that this law would be implemented effective from early-autumn 2022 at the earliest, a statement rejected by the teachers.

On the same day that the Majlis passed the bill, Mr. Mohammad Habibi, spokesperson for the ITTA, tweeted, “What happened in the Majlis today was not [the passing of] a bill on structuring salaries but a cursory and empty gesture!”

Mr. Habibi added, “Teachers and the unions do not support this bill.  Teachers will continue to protest until the government meets their rightful demands.”

The CCITTA also released a statement calling the bill as it stood in the Majlis “deceptive”, “unacceptable”, and “ambiguous and insufficient”, and warned that teachers would continue their struggle. 

In the same spirit, the CCITTA has called for a protest demonstration to take place on Thursday 23 December to press for their demands to be met in full as well as for the unconditional release of all detained teacher activists, and Mr. Rasoul Bodaghi in particular. 

Iranian teachers urgently seek international solidarity with their just struggle for decent living conditions.  They have called for the release of all teachers arrested for their participation in the strike and supporting the CCITTA.

CODIR calls upon all trade union and progressive organisations around the world, and particularly those in the teaching and education sector, to protest in writing against the harsh repression of legitimate industrial action by Iranian teachers meted out by the Islamic Republic of Iran authorities via the country’s embassies and diplomatic missions.  Letters of protest should also demand an immediate positive response by the authorities to the teachers’ demands as well as the unconditional release of their imprisoned colleagues. 

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