Jordanian teachers’ successful strike has lessons for here

Picture by Jordan Times/Amjad Ghsoun

by Susanne Kemp

At the start of September close to 100,000 school teachers went on strike in Jordan.  They demanded a 50% pay rise.  A pay rise actually agreed to by the regime back in 2014.

In early October, however, in the face of government repression and threats, the teachers’ union (the Jordanian Teachers Association) leadership suspended the strike.  However, they also said the strike would be resumed unless there was serious progress on the government’s side.

Fearful of the resumption of the strike, and facing a potential political crisis, the government made substantial concessions.  The difficulties of the government were both the teachers’ determination and the fact that, in polls, close to two-thirds of people in Jordan supported the teachers’ demands and many took their kids out of school as a show of solidarity.

The strike also became something of a lightning rod for discontent among wider sections of the populace.   Issues for the masses include “fiscal reforms” (ie cutbacks) the IMF is trying to get the Jordanian government undertake to reduce “public debt”, the lack of economic growth in the country, and deep-seated corruption, including nepotism.  (Jordan has a very high level of government spending, but a lot of it doesn’t end up benefiting “the public”.)

Depending on what grade a teacher is in, the government conceded pay rises between 35 and 75 percent.  (The lowest grade get the 35% raise – not the full 50%, but still a significant advance.)  The deal was announced last Sunday (October 6.)

So, in its fourth week the strike was ended and teachers have gone back to work.  This is the longest strike ever by Jordanian teachers (and surely something for NZ teachers to think about!) – and also the longest-ever public sector strike in the country.
During their struggle, the teachers faced dozens of arrests and also tear gas and the government declaring the strike “illegal” – another lesson for NZ teachers who think taking a lunchtime off to have a meeting to talk about going on strike is bold.

The teachers’ struggle will hopefully inspire other workers in the country to fight to improve pay and conditions.  Especially since Jordan is, by Middle East standards, an expensive place to live and a very-low-waged economy, with the minimum wage being only $(NZ)460 a month.

The government has certainly been fearful that giving in to the teachers would inspire other workers to fight.  However, they also feared that not giving in would spark wider and deeper protests, especially since the country was rocked by mass protests just last year.