Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2786

Teachers at the forefront of Iran’s new class struggle

Sharif Amozgar reports from Iran on recent teachers’ strikes—and analyses the changing balance of class forces
Issue 2786
Iranian teacher striking in Tehran with a sign

Iranian teacher striking in Tehran (Pic: hamahangi-org)

There was a widespread and unprecedented strike by school teachers all over Iran on 11 and 12 December.

More than 100 cities were involved in the strike. In some cities, such as Tehran, Shiraz, Yasuj and Saqqaz, it took the form of gatherings and street protests by thousands of teachers and union activists.

In the past two decades, Iranian teachers have shown growing militancy against neoliberal policies of the government. This is despite severe state repression and the threat of expulsion or imprisonment.

In recent years they have gone on general strike every year, usually in autumn.

The feeling of class power and solidarity is widespread. The national council for the coordination of teachers’ unions declared support for free and just public education against increasing neoliberal changes.

The education system has undergone severe privatisation, outsourcing and cuts in its budget. The council also demanded an increase in teachers’ wages so that they can live above the poverty line.

Releasing teachers who have been imprisoned by the government for their fight for teachers’ rights and organisation was another important demand.

In a remarkable part of this resolution, the council criticised the government and parliament’s indifference toward the protests and strike.

It warned about cuts that the government is trying to push through. While inflation in Iran has been 40 percent over the last two years, right wing politicians and economists champion free market policies.

The budget next year plans dramatic cuts to wages and public spending. The council warns that teachers will continue their struggle and strikes if the government remains indifferent toward their low wages and falling living standards

The increased level of militancy puts the teachers on the cutting edge of the Iranian working class struggle. It reflects a structural change in the class consciousness of teachers.

They have begun to recognize themselves as part of the larger body of the working class, united against political and economic powers. This change in class consciousness is rooted in economic development in Iran’s capitalism.

Falling rates of profit and investment have led to economic recession and stagflation since 2008. The main reaction of the government to this has only facilitated the process of concentration of capital.

This long recession is combined with economic sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union. The combination has brought about important changes to class in Iranian society.

The middle class of small-scale capital and property owners has withered away. A considerable number of middle class people have become “proletarianised.”

In 1963, the revolutionary Tony Cliff wrote that the working class in late developing capitalist economies is forced to deal with some strong impediments.

These include lack of experience, lack of organisation and dependence on outsiders for leadership. This class is also challenged by the fact of dependence on the state and subordination to its policy.

Iran is no exception. Its working class suffered extremely from these weaknesses both before and after the 1979-80 revolution.

After the 1953 CIA coup in Iran, the working class movement was repressed drastically.

Iran’s working class was an important force in the 1979 revolution. But it remained subordinated to the populist movement of the nationalist-Islamist middle class and intelligentsia.

After the revolution and the subsequent war on Iran by US-backed Iraq, state capitalism in Iran started to embrace free-market policies. A new elite capitalist class grew, based on the trickle-down economic model.

A relative economic boom in the 1990s and 2000s also created a considerable middle class and encouraged a large process of urbanisation.

In turn this increased the number of the subordinated and unorganised working class in Iran. In recent years the population of Iran’s workforce is estimated to be around 25 to 30 million people.

The only active political force against the ruling class was a dissident modern middle class who supported the reformist voices in the government. The working class movement remained subordinated to the centrality conflicts between the ruling elite and an aspiring middle class.

This centrality belongs to the past thanks to the last decade’s economic recession, the middle class’s falling political and economic weight and an increasing wealth gap.

The fundamentally transformed class composition has manifested itself in the political death of reformist factions in the political system of Iran.

Elections in 2020 and 2021 showed clearly the death of reformist forces. But they also showed the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of an elite determined to both resist the West and repress protests.

It is in this highly contradictory and intense social and political atmosphere the teachers begin to gain class consciousness.

Their struggle is accompanied by the long-standing workers’ struggle in industries such as oil, mining industry and agriculture. There are also some strikes in the service economy by taxi and bus drivers.

In this new era of class struggle, teachers have great opportunities, great responsibilities and of course great lessons to learn.

Socialists in Iran are the only people who can make sure that they learn those historical lessons.

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