Around 1,000 teachers were arrested in the Iranian capital Tehran on Wednesday of last week, as they gathered for what would have been their third protest outside Iran’s parliament in recent weeks.
Despite the repression, up to 10,000 teachers attended the previous rallies to demand higher pay and the resignation of Iran’s education minister.
While some of those arrested have since been released, over 150 remain in custody. The majority of teachers in Iran live way below the poverty line. Combined with steadily rising inflation this means that many are forced into second or third jobs to survive.
The teachers’ demands date back over five years and call for the implementation of a bill that would bring their pay in line with that of other public sector workers.
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become a focus for their protests because of his failure to keep his 2005 election promise to address the increasing inequality in Iranian society.
Previous presidents Mohammed Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani had overseen neoliberal economic policies which led to mounting inequality and poverty.
Last month – and under pressure from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei – Ahmadinejad promised to continue on a neoliberal course and drive through Iran’s privatisation plans.
Women play a leading role in Iran’s democracy movement, and the teachers’ protests this month came after the arrest of 33 women’s rights activists on the eve of International Women’s Day on 8 March.
All the women have since been released.
The teachers’ protests is part of a rising working class movement in Iran. This movement is not unique in the Middle East. In Egypt, a similar process has seen a workers’ movement fighting alongside democracy activists.
The fact that George Bush is threatening Iran allows Iran’s conservatives to use the pretext of “national security” to justify their clampdowns on the women’s and teachers’ protests.
The challenge for the Iranian movement is to resist both the neoliberal economic policies that threaten their livelihoods and the US imperialism that threatens their lives.
The anti-war movement in the West has a key role to play in offering solidarity to the Iranian people while resisting any attempt by right wingers to use their struggles to justify a murderous military attack on the country.