Teachers in Iran have mounted a nationwide protest and strike, calling for better salaries, improved benefits, safety at work and greater equality. 

The two-day sit-in began on October 14, and follows an increase in tensions between teachers and government officials after the arrest of six teachers in May and their recent prosecution.

Smiling for the cameras, many of the teachers held signs calling for “equality in education”, “safe schools”, and the right to “teach the mother tongue in bilingual regions,” as well as improvements in pay and insurance. People used the hashtag “Nationwide Teachers’ Sit-Ins” (#تحصن_سراسری_معلمان in Persian) to spread news about the protests, which took place  at schools in Tehran, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan, Kermanshah and other cities.

“We did not teach today,” one protesting teacher in Mashhad said. “We talked about our demands.” He has been teaching mathematics at Mashhad high schools for the last 15 years, and he is paid a salary of 2.5 million tomans, less than $600. “In 2016 when it was announced that the poverty line in Iran was 2.7 million tomans [$643] my salary was two million tomans [$476],” he said. “Lately they have not announced [what] the poverty line [is] but we know that prices have increased five or six times. Rents have gone up, a can of tomato paste costs 18,000 tomans [$4.29] and eggs are more expensive. Even affording a lowly meal like an omelet is not easy.”

After years of hardship, teachers are now making their demands public. “What we say is that in this land not only teachers but all should live in conditions fit for human beings,” teacher and activist Jafar Ebrahimi told the website Meidaan [Persian link]. Teachers, he said “must have an income [that ensures they live] above the poverty line. They must raise our salaries above the poverty line. The easiest way to do this is to implement the National Civil Service Law.” This law was passed in 2007 and one of its provisions is to remove discrepancies in salaries across government agencies. “We are not saying that, for example, the salaries of the employees of the Oil Ministry should be reduced,” said Ebrahimi. “We want the salaries of the employees of other ministries to be increased — teachers, nurses, etc.”

 

One teacher taking part in the sit-in told IranWire it was important for people to realize the extent of teachers’ frustration. “Our problem is not only low salaries,” the Tehran-based teacher said. “Discrimination angers us more. We teach children, who are the future of this country, and we work for one of the most important ministries in the country but our salaries bear no comparison with those of the employees of the Foreign Ministry, Oil Ministry and so on .. I always teach my students to demand their rights so why shouldn’t I do the same?” He held a sign that declared: “Unfortunately rights are not given but must be taken.”

Another teacher went into more detail about concerns over the quality of education in Iran. “The education system is not fair. There is a lot of discrimination. Non-profit [private] schools have one teacher per eight students. In government schools we must teach 35 to 40 students. Most of the teacher’s time is wasted on keeping the class silent and this unquestionably affects the quality of education.”

The right to engage in union activities is another of the teacher’s demands. One teacher said that union activists have been threatened with arrest. “Since a few days ago, when the Telegram channel for the Council for Coordinating Teachers Trade Organizations published the call for this sit-in and asked school officials to cooperate with the teachers, the Education Ministry Security Bureau has been calling teachers, trying to dissuade them by threatening to arrest them,” he said.

Iranian teachers have been calling for their rights to be recognized and upheld for years. They have staged strikes and held rallies — and many of them have faced violence from the police. Many teacher activists have been arrested and jailed. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms, flogging and/or exile. 

“Where in the world do they sentence teachers to flogging, prison and exile because of their demands?” said one teacher. “We have professional demands but they immediately accuse us of security crimes. Didn’t they, just last week, sentence six teachers to prison and flogging?”

The six teachers he referred to were arrested during a rally outside the Budget and Planning Organization building on May 10, where they demanded higher salaries. They were charged with "disrupting public order by participating in illegal gatherings" and "defying police officers on duty.” Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of the board of directors of the Teachers' Association of Iran, Esmail Gerami, Javad Zolnoori, Hossein Gholami, Mohammad Abedi, and Alieh Eghdam were each sentenced to nine months in prison and 74 lashes, which they could avoid by paying a fine of 50,000 tomans, or $12.

 

More on the ongoing economic crisis in Iran:

Iran’s Currency Markets in Surprise Downward Turn, October 8, 2018

Runaway Inflation and the Nationwide Trucker Strike, October 4, 2018

Families and Fishermen Lose Out as Prices Rise, October 1, 2018

Government Refuses to Listen as Currency Nosedive Continues, September 27, 2018

The Fall and Fall (and Fall) of Iranian Currency, September 12, 2018

The Diaper Crisis in Iran: An American Conspiracy?, September 7, 2018

Iran’s Medicine Shortage: More About Corruption and Mismanagement Than Sanctions, September 7, 2018

Can Iran Survive the Inflation Hike?, August 29, 2018

Parliament Grills Rouhani in Public Session, August 28, 2018

Rouhani's U-Turn to Save Economy, August 10, 2018

Iran Appoints New Bank Governor as Freefall Continues, August 6, 2018

Iranian Protesters: Death to High Prices!, July 31, 2018

The Fall and Fall of the Iranian Rial, July 31, 2018

 

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