A third round of nationwide teachers’ strikes in Iran entered its third day March 5, with teachers across the country holding sit-ins in their school principals’ offices to demand better pay, the right to form unions, and the freeing of all jailed teachers’ rights activists.
The three-day strike was organized by the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI), which reported that teachers at more than 1,000 primary and secondary schools in 100 cities participated. Earlier nationwide teachers strikes were held in October and November last year.
Turnout was especially high in the cities of Isfahan, Hamadan, Karaj, Kermanshah, Khomeinishahr, Marivan, Qazvin, Sanandaj, Saqqiz, Shiraz, Takestan, and Yazd, according to CCTSI, which acknowledged that teachers did not attend the sit-ins in Tehran in the numbers seen in previous strikes.
The council expressed its gratitude to the security forces for their “changed approach” to the striking teachers. Previous strikes have been met with a harsh response from the security forces, with many teachers arrested or detained.
The state-run media in Iran has not reported the protests, and there has been no official response from the authorities.
The teachers say their meager salaries are no match for rising inflation and a severe drop in purchasing power the country has been experiencing. Iran’s economy, which critics say has been struggling for years under mismanagement, went into a tailspin in May when the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and reimposition of sanctions.
Teachers’ salaries are between two-thirds and three-quarters lower than the national poverty line according to Education Ministry data.
“Out-of-control inflation and rising prices have gripped the country, and the purchasing power of teachers, like that of many other hard-working classes, has fallen inexorably,” the CCTSI asserted in a statement ahead of the strikes.
Iranian teachers are also demanding the removal of all legal hurdles for the establishment of independent trade unions and the immediate release of their jailed colleagues.
Several teachers, including Esmaeil Abdi, Mahmoud Beheshti Langarudi, Mohammad Habibi, Rouhollah Mardani, and Abdul Reza Qanbari are behind bars. They are accused of various “security crimes,” but labor rights activists say they were jailed for their participation in teachers’ union activities.
Habibi has been sentenced to lashes.
Hashem Khastar, a prominent teachers’ rights activist in Iran's second largest city, Mashhad, in northeast Iran, was recently abducted by plainclothesmen. Days later his family discovered that he was shackled 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 has been detained several times for defending teachers' rights, most recently having served a term from 2009 to 2011 in Mashhad's notorious prison, Vakilabad.
He has also publicly criticized the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in online forums and called him a "dictator" in a January 2018 commentary.
Following the first round of teachers' strikes in October, Khastar, who had been released under national and international pressure, offered his gratitude to the striking teachers and criticized the Iranian regime in an open letter published on social media.
"We don't have guns. Our guns are our pens and our words and our gatherings and our sit-ins," Khastar wrote. “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."
The suppression of teachers in Iran has been repeatedly condemned by international human rights organizations, workers syndicates, and trade unions