Iranian teachers threaten an indefinite strike: explosive anger building up

On 30 to 31 January, tens of thousands of teachers went on strike across Iran in over 300 cities, led by the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee. Slogans at the rallies included: “The teacher would rather die than accept [this] humiliation”, “If there was justice, the teachers would not be here”, and: “We do not have cannons and guns but we have the support of the people”. The strike was met with the arrest of dozens of trade unionists. But this has not discouraged the teachers, who have planned weekly strikes this month and threatened an indefinite strike if their demands are not met.

The Teachers’ Coordinating Committee: Iran’s largest independent trade union

Teachers have been in a continuous state of protest since 2018. Eventually, out of their spontaneous protests, the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee, an independent trade union, developed as the leading force. This body has organised national protests since autumn 2021, and a national strike on 10-13 December. The current strike is a continuation of the one in December, but the teachers are now also calling for the release of all imprisoned trade unionists and teachers, as well as the rehiring of those who have been blacklisted.

The demands put by the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee during the 30-31 January strike were as follows:

  1. Implementation of teachers’ salaries to be scaled at a minimum of 80 percent of a university lecturer’s wage.
  2. Implementation of the equalisation of pensions.
  3. The payment of retirement pensions for the year 1400 [the current Iranian year].
  4. Free education in accordance with article 30 of the constitution.
  5. Free all imprisoned teachers and blacklisted union members.
  6. Abolish the practice of hiring teachers through staffing agencies.
  7. Return all money to the teachers’ social security fund [which covers pensions, disability and sick pay].

The Teachers’ Coordinating Committee explained in their statement issued on 31 January: “that the knife of exploitation has reached the bone. That the livelihoods of retired and working teachers are akin to those of the majority of society, [like the rest of] the working class is in crisis”. Nearly three-quarters of the Iranian population are living in poverty, including teachers, being paid as little as 4 million tomans a month. Even the minimum wage, at 10 million tomans, only suffices to cover less than 10 percent of monthly expenses of an average household!

At the same time, the Iranian capitalists enrich themselves off the misery of the masses like leeches. President Raisi has cut the government budget by more than 20 percent for the upcoming year (which begins 20 March), including cutting the education budget by over 16 percent.

Despite free education being promised in the constitution, the regime has privatised schools, with even state schools being subject to disgusting profiteering schemes. This money doesn’t go to hiring more teachers or raising their wages but to the Iranian capitalists, and the crony bureaucrats of the state. This has led to millions of working-class children dropping out of school.

For a national labour movement!

The demands of the teachers are essentially the same as those raised by the multitude of strikes and protests that are ongoing throughout Iran. This month alone, there have been over 330 strikes and protests. The struggle of the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee has struck a chord with the entire Iranian working class, having received statements of solidarity from countless workers’ organisations.

The oil workers’ protest council solidarity wrote: “Teachers’ all over the country are representing our voice, the voice of the working class and its children so beautifully and universally.” The workers of the national steel went further, calling for “all workers and trade unionists to support and join the teachers’ protests”.

The prospect of these protests and strikes uniting terrifies the regime. This is the reason for the arrest of the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee’s members. The regime fears the potential it has to unite and inspire the entire working class. As the Coordinating Committee explains:

“The people of Iran, and especially the teachers, have never been as conscious of their rights as they are today, and whenever the government has sought to destroy this consciousness through repression and intimidation, we have witnessed the glorious resistance of the working class.”

In the school of class struggle since 2018, the workers have undergone massive leaps in consciousness, from spontaneous strikes and protests to the development of independent workers’ organisations, capable of organising national strikes.

The working class is feeling the power and confidence from its growing unity on a national scale. As the Coordinating Committee explains, in this struggle: “the trade unionists are willing to pay the price [of imprisonment] for justice and freedom”.

With this, the Teachers’ Coordinating Committee has planned to strike again from 6-7 and 13-14 February. And if their demands are not met by the end of the month of Bahman [20 February], an indefinite strike will be called. This could rapidly develop into a much larger movement, making the regime’s fears reality. At the same time, any serious concession to bring an end to the movement would contain the political and economic danger of encouraging more strikes by other sections of workers.

Down with the Islamic Republic!

In 2021 alone, there were 2,410 strikes and protests in Iran. The class struggle since 2018 is forging the Iranian labour movement into a powerful force. This will inevitably continue, regardless of the immediate developments.

The current situation is heating up, with President Raisi’s continued onslaught against the livelihood of the masses radicalising them even further. In response, various workers’ organisations have threatened the escalation of strikes and protests. Among them is the oil workers’ protest council, which issued a statement on 31 January calling for “all sections of the working class to unite in a struggle to increase wages and for the removal of the 4,200 Toman currency from the 1401 budget bill (representing subsidy cuts)”.

Over the past five years, the Islamic Republic has faced an unprecedented movement of national strikes, three uprisings and innumerable spontaneous strikes and protests.

The only thing holding the movement back at the present moment is the lack of a national leadership capable of uniting these struggles. Such a leadership is developing under the impact of the class struggle. The mood among the masses is growing more and more determined every day. Once they begin to move decisively, there will be no force on earth that can save the regime.