Iranian teachers strike over wages and rights. Police repress the protest

Teachers have demonstrated in 120 cities, including Tehran and Qom. Demands include the release of arrested union leaders and greater equity in salaries. Raisi increased military spending by 240%, but granted a measly 10% to teachers. Parliament attempts to quell discontent. 



Tehran (AsiaNews) - A new front of protest has opened in Iran involving the teaching profession, with tens of thousands of teachers taking to the streets in recent days in 120 cities and towns, including Tehran and the Shiite holy city of Qom.

The police responded - as often happens on these occasions - with the repression of discontent and arrests, but unions and citizens promise battle and do not intend to give in to the use of force.

In the capital, hundreds of professors gathered on December 14 in front of the Parliament building (Majlis), right in the center, chanting slogans and demanding the immediate release of a trade union leader. The deputies, in an attempt to quell the protest, voted yesterday for a wage increase.

One of the hot spots of the protest is the city of Shiraz, capital of the province of Fars, in the south-central part of the country, where for days thousands of professors have filled the square. In addition to the capital, dissent has touched the streets of Yasouj, capital of the province of Kohgiluyeh and Buyer Ahmad. Teachers held picket lines in front of schools and education offices in 60 cities and 25 provinces of the Islamic Republic.

Teachers are demanding greater equity in salaries and the release of imprisoned school union leaders, in addition to the implementation of long-promised health insurance and pension payments. Added to this is the long-standing battle to end discrimination (ethnic and denominational) within the education system, the introduction of limits on the freedom to privatize granting freedom to educational institutions. Finally, more resources for the renovation of school buildings that, in many parts, are in a dilapidated condition.

The discontent of teachers is part of a framework of deep difficulties for the Iranian economy, sunk by U.S. sanctions over the country's nuclear program and the health crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In recent weeks oil workers have demonstrated, claiming months of back payments while the skyrocketing inflation rate has lowered the purchasing power of wages.  

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has intervened in the demonstrations, claiming the right to protest without the threat of arrest, violence or arbitrary arrest. “Teachers are a bedrock of society, yet the Iranian government ignores their needs and violently suppresses their protests, while security forces are allowed to throw them into prison under false charges at will,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi. “The government’s priorities are clear,” said Ghaemi, “Iran’s teachers lack the resources they need to educate students, while the military and state TV budgets are significantly increased.”

The reference is to the nation's budget presented on December 12 to the Majlis by President Ebrahim Raisi, which provides for increases of 240% in military spending and funds available to the Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdaran, nearly 30 billion euros) and 56% for the state media with the release of more than one billion euros.

Resources for state employees, including teaching staff, were quite different, with an average increase of 10%. The escalation of protests and the fear of new clashes led parliamentarians to approve yesterday an increase in salaries for primary and secondary school teachers, equal to about 80% of the average salary of a university lecturer.

One of the first decisions taken by President Raisi after winning the elections in June was to block the increase in teachers' salaries, approved by the previous executive. A line that does not seem to bode well in terms of greater rights and freedoms for teachers, including the release of those who, in the past, have demonstrated to improve the level of education and educational freedom. Four of them between 2014 and 2019 have been sentenced to death and three - of Arab and Kurdish ethnicity - have already been executed.