Local trade unions are reporting that a second round of teachers’ strikes began November 13 in more than a dozen cities across Iran, with elementary and high school educators holding sit-ins at their schools to demand better conditions for teachers and students.
"The aim of the sit-ins is to force Iran’s rulers to respect their duties defined by the country's constitution and provide free, fair, and high-quality education for all, as well as a respectable livelihood for the teachers,” the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI) said in a statement.
Some students have reportedly joined their teachers in the strike, telling local websites they cannot afford the high tuition fees demanded by their schools.
Earlier strikes in mid-October were widely reported on Persian language social media. Teachers complained of what they described as “painfully low wages,” the degradation in quality of public education, and the continued arrest and detention of teachers’ rights and education activists.
CCTSI and other teachers’ unions have called for a halt to what they describe as the privatization of public education through the introduction of tuition fees, saying such fees are in violation of Iran’s constitution, which requires the government to “provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency.”
Teachers say that their salaries are below the poverty line. This means that based on free market exchange rates, teachers now earn less than a $100 a month. As the Iranian currency rial has lost most of its value, prices for basic necessities have also gone up in a spiral of double-digit inflation. Therefore, a single-income teacher can hardly even afford food.
Workers in many other sectors of the economy have also been protesting and striking across Iran. Often salaries of industrial workers are delayed for months or not paid at all.
Teachers are further demanding the release of their colleagues. Several teachers' rights activists, including Esmaeil Abdi, Mahmoud Beheshti Langroodi, Mohammad Habibi, Rouhollah Mardani, and Abdor-Reza Qanbari are behind bars for alleged "security crimes.”
Recently, Hashem Khastar, a prominent teachers’ rights activist in Iran's second largest city, Mashhad, in northeast Iran, was mysteriously abducted. Days later his family discovered that he was chained to a bed at a psychiatric hospital.
Khastar, a former teacher at the Agriculture Technical High School in Mashhad and an agricultural engineer, is the Head of the Mashhad Teachers Union.
He went missing October 23 after having publicly thanked the striking teachers for speaking out in the first round of strikes.
“We don’t have guns. Our guns are our pens and our words and our gatherings and our sit-ins,” Khastar wrote in an open letter published on social media. “The guns are in the hands of those who protect lawless, tyrannical, cruel rulers instead of defending the rule of law. They defend those who steal millions and arrest petty thieves and cut off their hands and legs.”
Khastar was later released after widespread protests against his detention in and outside Iran.