By OUR CORRESPONDENT
In recent months, workers throughout Iran have held numerous strikes and rallies for better pay and working conditions. Demonstrations by teachers have continued despite violent attacks by the authorities. Their core demands are for a pay raise and the right to organize independent trade unions.
There are about 2 million teachers in Iran. Their average monthly salary is approximately equal to 130-190 U.S. dollars per month, which is considered below the poverty line even by the standards of the Islamic government.
The government has ignored the plight of teachers during the past 20 years. Most of the teachers hold one or two additional jobs to be able to support themselves and their families. The deteriorating financial situation of the teachers has disturbed the educational system and the respectful social status that teachers traditionally hold.
Government pay increases and benefits for other civil servants have not covered the teachers. Therefore, the teachers feel they are being excluded and betrayed.
The so-called reformist faction of the government believes that any action against President Khatami will weaken their political bargaining status.
The “reformists” have the majority at the legislative branch, which supposedly makes them responsible for the laws that affect working conditions. But the real power rests in an unelected religious body, the Council of the Guardians.
The current wave of teachers’ demonstrations began on Dec. 31, 2001, when hundreds of teachers assembled in front of the central office of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Tehran. Many teachers were arrested.
On Jan. 15, following a call by the Organization of Teachers (a government-affiliated group) in Tehran, teachers gathered at “Shaheed Ba Honar” College of Education. Many started a march toward the Ministry of Education and Culture. After security forces dispersed them, the teachers called for a bigger assembly on Jan. 18.
The Jan. 18 assembly was turned into a rally. Afterwards, thousands of teachers began to march toward the University of Tehran. Some teachers displayed their paychecks to reporters. One shouted: “I earn $130 and have to pay 85,000 tomans (about $103) for my rent! Housing and equality are our basic rights!”
Workers from several factories released statements voicing their own demands as well as supporting the teachers. The teachers tried to march to the Ministry of Culture but security forces drove them back. Two teachers, Akhtar Gasemzadeh-Moein and Mohamad-Abrahim Ahmadnia, died as a result of these attacks. A demonstration on March 9 in front of the University of Tehran honored their memories.
Similar rallies occurred in the cities of Yasoj, Isfahan, Yazd, Zanjan, Kurdistan, and Khuzestan.
On Jan. 22, approximately 12,000 teachers and their supporters gathered in front of the Islamic parliament in Tehran. Factory workers also joined this demonstration. Slogans were raised against the Islamic parliament, including, “The monthly salary of an MP equals the annual salary of a teacher.” Similar demonstrations were reported in the cities of Kermanshah, Boyer-Ahmad, Malayer, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Shiraz.
On Jan. 26, despite threats from the authorities, thousands of teachers and high school and university students in Tehran tried to gather in front of President Khatami’s office to have their demands heard by the so-called reformist president. Security forces used tear gas and bullets against them. Hundreds were arrested and many were injured.
Although the teachers were unable to gather in front of the president’s office, they started new demonstrations in different areas of Tehran. Slogans included: “Teachers, students, unity, unity!” and “You [the president and parliament members] live in luxury and wealth; then you preach to us about devotion!”
There were similar demonstrations in the cities of Khoram-abad, Ahvaz, Babol, Isfahan, and Khomini-shahr. On Jan. 31 in the city of Shiraz an estimated 7000 teachers rallied. Many teachers were arrested and injured when security forces attacked.
On April 16, in a symbolic act, seven pigeons were set free by a government-affiliated group (Hall of Educators) in the east of Tehran. The teachers’ demands on a written note were tied to the birds’ feet.
The spokesperson for the Hall of Educators announced: “The teachers could not find any help or support from the officials on the earth. So, we are sending these birds to the sky-hoping that somebody may hear us and respond to us.”