Despite threats and crackdowns by the government of the Islamic Republic in the 43 years since the 1979 revolution, protests by teachers and workers have never stopped, even though the authorities have prevented them from creating independent trade associations and pursuing their demands.
Many labor activists and teachers have been sentenced to long prison terms, expulsion, exile and other punishments for defending their rights. Such punishments go beyond the experience of many trade associations across the world, and it might be difficult for them to grasp the severity of suppression Iranian workers and teachers are subjected to.
In recent years, some labor organizations in various countries and international labor associations have tried to help teachers and workers in Iran by issuing statements and by bringing their situation to the attention of international institutions. But these actions have been insufficient.
IranWire spoke with several Iranian teachers to find out what they expect from the international community and trade associations in other countries.
“We Want Trade Unions To be their Voice”
In May 2022, Cecile Kohler of France’s National Federation of Education, Culture and Vocational Training, and Jacques Paris, former secretary general of the colleges and high schools division of that federation, met with a number of Iranian teachers and labor activists. The gathering led to the arrest of the two French citizens and their Iranian colleagues.
A teacher in the central city of Isfahan says that the Islamic Republic considers as “espionage” any contact with a foreign civil organization.
Paris and Kohler had participated in the Yellow Vest protest movement in France, but “they were arrested in Iran for a simple meeting to talk about their experiences in education with Rasoul Bodaghi, Eskandar Lotfi, Shaaban Mohammadi and Masoud Nikkhah.”
“Along with these teachers, they arrested labor activists such as Reza Shahabi, Hassan Saeedi, Anisha Asadollahi and Keyvan Mohtadi. Some of them were handed heavy prison terms and some are awaiting their sentencing. We want trade unions and labor organizations to be their voice, especially EI and ILO.”
The International Labor Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mission is to “promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.”
Education International (EI) is a global union federation of teachers' trade unions consisting of 384 member organizations in 178 countries and territories that represents over 32 million education personnel from pre-school through university.
The Isfahani teacher says that ILO, which Iran is officially a member of, “must hold the Islamic Republic accountable.”
“How can a country that is officially a member of the International Labor Organization arrest Iranian teachers and workers for meeting with two members of this organization? These organizations are independent from governments, and they must express objection to these crackdowns by the Iranian regime as forcefully as possible. Their protests must not be limited to issuing a statement. They must pursue the issue and force the Islamic Republic to stop pressuring trade unionists.”
“They could Stage Symbolic General Strikes”
The teacher points out that the Islamic Republic “uses every means at its disposal to silence [activists], such as framing them up, arresting them on false charges, harassing and torturing them, so it can keep the monopoly of power and wealth in the hands of the rulers.”
“If international organizations and trade associations pick up their cause, there can be no doubt that they would not be able to violate their legal and civil rights so easily.”
A teacher who lives in the Persian Gulf port city of Bushehr tells IranWire that international organizations “must support our union activities and protests.”
“For example, they could stage one-hour general strikes to protest the ban on labor strikes in Iran and the arrest of labor and trade union activists, and to alert international human rights organizations and their governments.”
“We Want the World to not Remain Indifferent”
“Trade unions abroad should know that our monthly salary is something between $100 to $300. It is very important that they know this. What do these trade unions have to say about our deliberate impoverishment?” the teacher asks.
“We, the teachers, have the duty to educate the next generation of Iranians and the workers are the backbone of the industry and the economy. Impoverishing us not only undermines productivity and education, but it also damages the future generation and the economy.”
This teacher urges the international community to pay attention to the teachers who have been imprisoned or dismissed from their job.
“The world must know the Islamic Republic suppresses its critics and deprives their families of their civil and legal rights. We want the world to not remain indifferent to these inhumane human rights violations. The only reason for remaining silent is that they have been deceived by the hypocrisy and the propaganda of the Islamic Republic government.”
An activist teacher who lives in the northwestern city of Tabriz agrees.
“By using the Iranians’ enormous national wealth, the Islamic Republic tries to deceive public opinion, statesmen and news media around the world by its public and secret lobbying,” the activist says, adding, “Therefore, we ask the international community to awaken their governments from their torpor and lethargy.”