By Awat Pouri
A comprehensive examination of the actions and campaigns organized by the Coordinating Council of Teacher Trade Unions over these years cannot be encapsulated in this brief note. However, it is impossible to write about the initiatives of this council without mentioning the nationwide simultaneous strike of teachers on the first day of Mehr 1400 (21 September 2021).
The interesting thing to note about this particular action is the choice of the first day of school reopening as the time for the strike and protest rally. The intelligence behind this move lies in the inherent contradiction it carries: they replaced reopening schools with closing schools. This radical act of protest ultimately forced President Ebrahim Raisi to postpone his first ceremony of ringing the First Day of School
bell during his presidency to the third day of the same month. With this calculated and smart move, the teachers effectively compelled the president to backtrack.
The Labor Organizing Action Committee has highlighted in a report about this teachers’ action that prior to this, the last nationwide teachers’ strike on the first day of school happened in the year 1978. In the end, what turned this action of teachers into a lasting protest was the slogan they chose for it: “Happy Vacation!” This dual combination aimed at two goals: the first was to end the use of the Shad (Happy) application and consequently online education; the other goal was to reject the government’s attempt to make the first day of school happy and cheerful.
In terms of organizational structure and hierarchical priority, the Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Trade Unions has special differences fromother unions and labor organizations. Neglecting them makes any accurate understanding of its effective performance impossible.
According to the statutes of the Coordination Council, Teachers’ Unions in different cities, villages, and regions are formed independently with their own specific statutes. These independent organizations then become members of a larger umbrella organization, the Coordinating Council. The organizational priority in such a structure lies not with the Coordinating Council itself, but rather with the member organizations within it. In this way, the Coordinating Council, contrary to what its name suggests, is not the core or the brain of the group of organizations, but only a name to call their group, in which organization, decision-making, and activism are guided from the bottom up.
Jafar Ebrahimi, one of the well-known teachers’ activists, clearly emphasizes this structural feature of the council in an interview with the feminist website Bidarzani: “Teachers have the capacity to activate the Teachers’ Council of each educational unit as a constituent cell of the city and village organization, and remove the Teachers’ Council from the formal state. Organization based on the bottom-up model that involves the participation of the majority of teachers is a progressive and forward-looking approach that equips the Iranian teachers’ movement with powerful and democratic structures.”
In the same way, in the article “From the General Assembly on the Street Towards Council Organization”, while enumerating the shortcomings and challenges on the way of the teachers’ movement, he outlines a roadmap for overcoming these obstacles. According to his perspective, the activity and struggle of teachers starts from schools as workplaces by electing teachers’ representatives in a democratic process to deal with the bureaucratic and corrupt mechanism that governs schools.
Farasuye Kandokav is an independent periodical that reflects the critical views of teachers’ union activists towards education. In the introduction of the second issue of this magazine, several references have been made to the “movement’s characteristics” of the teachers’ trade union movement: “The teachers’ demand movement in the 1990s changed its phase from seasonal protests to progressive protests. These instances illustrate the efforts of teacher union activists to formulate a theoretical framework for their protest movements. It is important because it directly relates to modern theories of organizing protest movements, including the “Social Movement Unionism” concept. Kim Moody, an American socialist writer who is one of the prominent theorists of the Social Movement Unionism approach, argues that “the
changing nature of work in current conditions made the structure and functioning of previous unions meaningless, and made a new form of unions necessary. The most prominent difference between this new form of unions and previous forms is their dynamic character, which means that the relations in them are not based on official and legal statutes, but rather on the initiative of the workers’ actions themselves. The scope of activity and target society of social movement unions is no longer limited to the workplace and only workers; it includes the entire environment of workers, with marginalized and unorganized segments of society.[6 Going beyond trade union demands and rights and moving towards political and social intervention through active communication with other movements in the society are other distinctions of these unions. A social movement union puts priority on the agency and participation of its members and subordinate organizations. By establishing a form of universal democracy, it avoids the risk of corruption in the leadership cores and getting entangled in governmental bureaucratic traps. The principle in these unions is to avoid isolation in legal mechanismsthrough coalition and solidarity with other social groups. And, more importantly, the new unionism is local and regional, not national.
Looking at the teachers’ trade union movement in the past years, we come across numerous examples that exhibit organization, decision-making, and activism aligning closely with the criteria of social movement unions. In order to assess this claim, it’s worthwhile to review some of the various actions taken by subsidiary organizations of the Coordinating Council in the past years. The Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Organizations consists of 20 active unions, and here we will examine a few examples of actions taken by organizations in the cities of Marivan and Sanandaj. In the first section, the initiative of the Coordinating Council to hold a protest rally on the 19th of Ordibehesht, 1401 (May 9, 2022), the anniversary of Farzad Kamangar’s execution, was mentioned. The roots of this protest trace back to a statement by the “Teachers’ Association of Kurdistan” in 1390 (2011), coinciding with the first anniversary of Farzad Kamangar’s execution. In this statement, the Teachers’Association of Kurdistan requested teachers across the country to honor the 19th of Ordibehesht in memory of Farzad Kamangar. The association proposed the slogan “Denial of Organized Violence and Defense of the Right to Life” for this day, and demanded the “Unconditional Release of Imprisoned Colleagues.”
In addition, the idea of selecting International Labor Day as a symbol of expression and activism for teachers in the year 1400 (2021) can be attributed to the initiative of the Teachers’ Association of Marivan in 1394 (2015). This was a joint resolution with the Marivan and Sarvabad Khabazi
Workers’ Trade Union Association, and the Sanandaj and its Suburbs Workers’ Trade Union Association. While declaring solidarity with the workers, it had supported the demands of women and other oppressed minorities in Iranian society through eleven clauses.
It is worth noting that this resolution did not remain at the level of an expressive action, and just two days after its approval, it was publicly read among a group of labor activists at the headquarters of the Sanandaj Khabazi Workers’ Trade Union Association, becoming an actionable declaration.
Furthermore, in December 2021, about a year before the call by the Coordination Council of Teachers’ Associations for a simultaneous protest of teachers and students as part of the Women, Life, Freedom movement which was mentioned in the first section, teachers in Marivan had organized a gathering with extensive and active participation of students. The protesting students, alongside the teachers, not only advocated for their own rights to free education, but they also expressed solidarity with the protesting teachers.
The level of student participation in this gathering was so significant that one of their representatives had the opportunity to speak. The atmosphere enabled this revolutionary student to speak openly about comparing school with prison, criticizing the prevailing misconceptions in the society about the “teacher-student conflict,” expressing gratitude to teachers who stood up for the students’ right to free education, emphasizing the unity between teachers, students, and parents, and mentioning those teachers who collaborate with education privatization plans to maintain small personal interests, characterizing their actions as “giving in to wage slavery for just two or three million tomans.”
In this regard, the statement released by the Teachers’ Trade Union Association of Marivan after the killing of Shalir Rasouli in September 2022 can be seen as a complete example of political and social intervention. At the same time, it was an inspiration for the greater intervention of the Coordination Council after the killing of Zhina Mahsa Amini in October of the same year. In this statement, the Teachers’ Association of Marivan held the Islamic Republic government as bearing the main responsibility for those tragic events, and emphasized that all legal mechanisms of this regime actively promote discrimination, misogyny, and femicide.
It’s worth noting that the transfer of initiatives from these subsidiary associations to the Coordination Council and their transformation into nationwide actions isn’t limited to Marivan and Sanandaj organizations; itmay include any other associations as well. This direct outcome is a result of the bottom-up organizational structure. It is a new form of organization that has been put to the test, gradually completed, and stabilized by these associations over the past decade.
 Mehr promises and protests from the beginning, Etemad newspaper, September 26, 2021.
 The first bell in the month of Mehr: teachers’ nationwide strike, the Labor Organizing Action Committee, September 23, 2021.
 Interview with Jafar Ebrahimi, A teacher union activist, Bidarzani, December 25, 2018.
 From the General Assembly on the Street towards Council Organization, Jafar Ebrahimi, Farasuye Kandokav magazine, No. 2, March 2022.
 About the Union of Social Movement, Michael Scaivoni, translated by Hassan Azad, Political Economy Review, 8 September 2018.
 Union of Social Movement (an appropriate response due to the necessity of organizing workers), Heshmat Mohseni, Spring 2010.
 The New Unionism of Social Movements, George Novack, translated by Rasul Ghanbari, Political Economy Criticism, 1 May, 2021.
 The 50th anniversary of Teacher’s Day in Iran, Deutsche Welle Persian, 2 May, 2011.
 The joint resolution of the teachers and workers of Marivan and Sanandaj schools was approved on the occasion of the International Labor Day on 28 April, 2015. You can read the full text of this resolution here, In Farsi.