A long running debate in Jordan has centered on the issue of whether teachers should be allowed to establish a professional union. The minister of Education, Khaled Toukan, yesterday flatly rejected
the idea. He cited the rejection of the higher council for interpreting the constitution, which said that public employees have no right under the constitution to form professional unions. Toukan also articulated an adamant rejection of politicizing the teaching process.
On the other hand, several teacher activists have written
a memo to the prime minister, asking for his permission to establish such a union. In the memo, they cited a designation letter from the late King Hussein to Abdulkarim Kabariti, where he expressed a desire for the establishment of a teachers union, and the Jordanian constitution which allows Jordanians to meet and form societies and unions. The exact wording of clause ii of article
16 states that "Jordanians are entitled to establish societies and political parties provided that the objects of such societies and parties are lawful, their methods peaceful, and their by-laws not contrary to the provisions of the Constitution."
Setting aside the constitutional debate
about the subject, the ramifications of the establishment of such a union would at best be benign and at worst devastating. Toukan referred to the politicization that would probably occur if this union is established. I totally agree. To be more specific, a small organized group of Muslim Brotherhood members would end up controlling the union, in a manner similar to what has happened in most of the other professional unions. While the façade is democratic, in reality a small fraction of the membership actually organized enough to impose their will over the apathetic majority. This week about 2200 members of the engineers union elected
their leader, who is an Islamist. 85 voted for his opponent, which leaves 57000 out of the total 59000
engineers who didn't bother to vote. While the process is technically democratic, it is unreasonable to assume that such elections produce representative leaders.
So, one might ask what is the problem with the teachers having such a union. The answer is also derived from the behavior of the existing unions. For example, unions have been intimidating members
and threatening to expel them if they decide to "normalize" with Israel. While most people are against normalization, especially in the current political climate, the fact of the matter is that it is legal for people to go to Israel and contact Israelis. It is peoples' right, whether they choose to practice it or not. So, threatening to expel people (and thus threatening their livelihood) is an illegal deprivation of a person's right. The (weak) rationalle is that the general councils of the unions, composed of all the members, have passed resolutions against normalization. The general councils, who show up when there are elections, are only a fraction of the total union membership. Moreover, they are not a legislative body that has the authority to deprive people of one of their rights.
Thus, if one were to picture a teachers union, what would happen if the general council decided not to teach "unacceptable" parts of the curriculum? The modern curriculum places a lot of emphasis on religious tolerance and civil rights. Having a group openly opposed
to the Jordanian state and its welfare representing teachers, who are entrusted with sowing positive attitudes into the consciousness of new generations, is indeed a scary thought.
The only positive aspect that can come from an organization for teachers is a demand to improve their living conditions. Teachers are painfully underpaid for their efforts, and I would hope that the government can find a way to compensate them without the need for an organized movement. Such a movement will ultimately be harmful to all involved.