Reports

Arrests, threats, and police violence inflicted on Iranian teachers on 1 May

Teachers’ and workers’ organizations in Iran planned large demonstrations for May. The security police crushed the demonstrations with all their might. On the night of May 1, many teachers were under house arrest in their homes, and dozens were arrested.

Despite bans and retaliation, several May Day events and demonstrations were held at more than 50 Iranian cities. Sixty percent of Iran’s teachers are female. Increasing numbers of women have been arrested before and during the first week of May this year due to their participation and leadership roles in trade union protests.

The Teachers’ Trade Union Coordination Council planned extensive May Day demonstrations throughout the country. The initiative received broad support from student and pensioner organizations as well as trade union organizations. On April 30, dozens of teachers and union leaders were arrested in their homes during nationwide police raids, including Jafar Ebrahimi, Rasoul Bodaghi, Mohammad Habibi and Ali Akbar Baghani.

Eskandar Lotfi, spokesman for the teachers’ union, said in a statement that the police forcibly entered the homes of dozens of teachers, arrested them and took several teachers. According to Lotfi, five security police officers forcibly entered the home of one of the most famous trade union activists, Rasoul Bodaghi, smashed the windows with a sledgehammer, searched everything and then took him away. Similar incidents have been reported by teachers around the country. The teachers’ union’s spokesperson Mohammad Habibi was also arrested. The security police smashed everything they could to take Habibi’s computers and those of his wife.

Social media posts from the teachers confirmed that several were arrested at their homes. It was reported that many were warned via phone messages and police visits to refrain from taking part in the demonstrations on the first.

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The teacher Mahbobeh Farahzadi was one of them. As Farahzadi wrote, she spent the night before the first of May under house arrest. “The police changed shifts and sat outside my apartment door all night.” According to Farahzadi, this was done to scare her and keep her from leaving her house. During that time “I was alone at home and there were many of them and the only barrier between us was my door. They left the area around 12 p.m. on the first of May.”

Teachers and pensioners arrested in recent days are mostly women. Fatemeh Bahmani, an activist in the teachers’ union, is among them. As the teachers’ union reports, she was arrested at home and taken to an unknown location with her family’s computers and phones. Mansoreh Erfanian is an active teacher in Khorasan province.

Many teachers in big cities, such as Isfahan and Shiraz, have reported for several days before May 1 that school principals are required to report absent teachers and teachers who participate in May Day demonstrations and protests.

In spite of massive police operations, including arrests, beatings, summonses, interrogations, threatening letters, and personal phone calls from security police across the country, teachers managed to hold demonstrations in more than 20 provinces and 50 cities and smaller communities. Teachers gathered outside the offices of the local education authorities. Teachers were violently attacked and arrested by police, often pensioners unable to escape or defend themselves.

In the Kurdish cities in western Iran, the demonstrations have been larger and more organized, and more arrests have followed. From Kermanshah and Dehdasht, both in western Iran, in the province of Kohgiluyeh and Buyer Ahmad.

In Tehran, police blocked streets leading to the parliament, where teachers and workers planned to demonstrate. Many eyewitnesses described on Twitter massive police mobilization and how brutal plainclothes police officers, both male and female, stood at the exits of the subway and took people into police cars and drove away. Often, the police asked: “Are you a teacher?” If they answered yes, they were arrested.

The teachers’ union reports that about 50 people were arrested in Tehran on the morning of May 1st. He witnessed the police pulling “an elderly woman with one leg on the ground to throw her into the police car”.

Teachers’ demands include union demands like higher wages and better working conditions, but also demands that stop the privatization of education and ensure justice for students.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on April 29 that Iranian workers are facing mounting economic and political challenges to realizing their labor rights.

The rights group said that, since March, Iranian authorities have increased their harassment of active members of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association, which has been leading nationwide protests for fair wages for the past three years. “Iranian labor activists have been at the forefront of the struggle for the rights to free association and assembly in Iran, and they have paid a heavy price from government repression.”

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Since 2010, class struggle in Iran has grown exponentially more militant and organized. Leading the most progressive factions of the labor movement, industrial workers at Haft-Tappeh Sugar Cane Co and Ahwaz Steel Co brought back Showras and the council management of the workplace to the center of the conversation. In other sectors, workers rose against the deterioration of working conditions, organizing some of the largest and long-lasting labor protests in the modern history of Iran. This phase of labor activism stands in stark contrast to the early 2000s when labor organizations were primarily focused on lobbying local governments for piecemeal reforms in the legal system. Today, however, with the intensification of neoliberal assault and brutal suppression of any opposition, the working class increasingly becomes aware of the ineffectuality of reform, moving to embrace direct action from the bottom.

There was a resurgence of militancy in 2021 among oil workers, teachers, pensioners, railroad workers, and municipal workers. Across different industries, workers have increasingly coordinated their resistance to unbridled deregulation of the labor market, which has caused deterioration of work conditions. Many of the basic labor rights won during the 20th century, like the minimum wage and the eight-hour workday, have been destroyed. The changes have affected workers’ livelihoods, resulting in job insecurity, lower wages, and widespread destruction of workplace safety. In the face of such aggressive neoliberal policies, workers often turn to direct action and protest.

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