Saturday, April 4, 2020

3340. The 1979 Iranian Revolution: Chronology of the Abadan Refinery Strikes in 1978

Editor's Note: There is a paucity of history of the Iranian labor movement, in particular, its role in the 1979 Iranian revolution. Thanks to Mohammad Safavi's effort the following chronology appeared in Naghdeh Eghtessad-e Siasi (Critique of Political Economy), a Farsi journal published in Iran, on February 9, 2020.  The English translation and the introductory note is by Kamran Nayeri. 

Abadan oil refinery in the 1970s (Wikipedia)
Translator’s Introduction

By Kamran Nayeri

The intent of this introductory note is to place the chronology in the context of the history of the Iranian oil industry workers and the Iranian labor movement more broadly as well as the gradual and eventually massive mobilizations that cumulated in the February 1979 revolution. 

The Abadan refinery is located in Abadan at the western corner of the Persian Gulf close to the border with Iraq. Built by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later BP), it was completed in 1912 and was for a time one of world's largest oil refineries.  In 1978, it employed about 20,000 field workers, office workers, and contract workers. It refined about 600,000 barrels of oil every 24 hours. It produced gasoline, propane, kerosene, and motor oil and other oil products. Much of what it produced was exported. Oil export dollars constituted the lion share of the state budget giving the oil industry workers an important social weight. 

The field workers were employed in two major departments: process and maintenance (repairs). The Process Department worked in three shifts and every machinery was operated by a team of three to six workers.  The Maintenance Department was divided into the Central Repair Shop (hereon, Central Shop), Overhaul Shop, minor repairs shop, and a transportation section. The Central Shop had the largest concentration of technical and skilled workers in the entire refinery.  Protests and strikes originated there and its more militant workers played the leadership role in labor strikes. 

The Overhaul Shop, was responsible for more systemic and longer term repairs but it also carried out some minor repairs. The repair of means of transportation was carried out in a special shop. 

A few years before the revolution, management pressure on the employees had increased as had police repression.  The security office that was directed by the SAVAK, the secret police, carried firearms and stationed at the entrances to the refinery. Refinery security forces abused workers orally and physically.  Management used antilabor laws to punish workers. Any protest was suppressed and punished with monetary penalties and physical abuse.  After the arson at the Rex Cinema on August 19,( 1978) which killed an estimated 377 movie-goers which at the time was widely believed to be the work of the regime, the residents of Abadan and refinery workers were outraged at the Shah’s regime and its imperialist backers. (see the Note below the Introduction for subsequent development in this case).

The two strikes chronicled below took place in the larger context of massive protests and strike waves elsewhere in the country. After months of smaller scale protests, on February 18, 1978, tens of thousands of the oppressed Azerbaijani nationality demonstrated in Tabrzi chanting anti-Shah slogans in their own language banned by the regime as part of its Fars (Persian) chauvinist decades-old campaign. On September 8, in Tehran’s Jalleh Square in a premeditated the troops fire on the protestors killing 888 and wounding 205–8,000 memorialized as the Black Friday. The same day the Shah declared martial law

Nonetheless, mass resistance to the regime continued. On October 11, newspapers employees went on strike. A rapid succession of strikes paralyzed the bazaars, universities, high schools, oil installations, banks, government ministries, post offices, railways, newspapers, customs and post facilities.  Most significantly, on October 21 oil industry workers went on strike.  On December 10 and 11, on the occasion of the Shiite mourning holidays of Tasu'a and Ashura according to one account as many as 17 million people (Moin, Khomeini:Life of the Ayatollah, 1999, p.196). 

The Abadan refinery strikes chronicled below happened in this context.  Although there were five other refineries in Iran at the time in Tehran ,Tabriz, shiraz, Kermanshah, and Isfahan, the Abadan refinery was the largest and historically and politically the most significant. It had been the center of labor militancy both in the oil industry and of the larger labor movement.  Socialist workers and trade unionists always played a very powerful and influential  role in organizing  workers. The first and largest oil workers job action and general strike took place in 1929 against the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company on  may 2,1929 in Abadan oil refinery. On that day 14,000 oil workers partook in a strike demanding higher wage, an eight–hour work day, paid vacation, company provided housing, freedom of arrested labor leaders, clean drinking water, transportation, a holiday pay per year equal to a month’s wages, health and safety, workers’s compensation, seven–hour summer workday, and old–age pension. During the resurgent labor activism of 1946-1949 Abadan refinery workers waged strikes. Eighty-thousand oil workers, their wives, and children participated in the May Day activities. After the CIA-MI6 coup of August 1953 which overthrew the democratically elected nationalist government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, a reign of terror against nationalist, socialists and labor activists began.  However, with the Shah’s modernization and industrialization campaign, the ranks of industrial workers swelled to 3 million by the second half of the 1970s resulting in a new period of labor activism. 

In Abadan and Tehran oil refineries networks of a new generation of labor activists were organized. In few occasions, labor militants organized on the shop floor raising economic demands.  The Shah’s regime responded by arresting these leaders, including Yadullah Khosroshahi.  From 1977, with the resurgence of labor activism, such leaders played a crucial role in organizing general strikes in oil refineries and other oil industry installations as well as larger factories and key industries in Iran . 

Yadullah Khosroshahi (October 28, 1942-February 4, 2010)

A terminological note is in order: The Oil Company introduced a rank in the workforce in refineries called “karmandan.” In regular Farsi parlance “karmandan” (plural for karmand, literary means skilled worker) refers to office workers. But in Abadan refinery, it designated employees with a high school diploma or special skills who received higher pay and more benefits than field refinery workers who typically did not have high school diploma.  Aside from skilled refinery work, karmandan were also employed in lower level supervisory roles.  Still, karmandan were among the more political refinery workers and played an important role in the oil industry workers struggle. Thus, the oil industry workers shora was named “Shora-ye kargaran va karkonan sanatte naft” (Council of the workers and employees or the oil industry).  

Although this is not spelled out in the chronology, the formation of the strike Coordinating Committee on October 30 was a crowing as it served as its leadership in the events that followed. 

Finally, it must be noted that in Iran in that period, Friday was the day off. The Iranian weekly calendar starts with Saturday and ends with Friday. 

During the same period as that of two victorious  strikes of Abadan oil workers chronicled below labor activists in the state-controlled unions in different factories and industrial sectors, including oil refineries in Shiraz , Isfahan, Tehran, and Tabriz and  the oil workers in southern part of Iran , began organizing  Striking Committees. By October of 1978 , a rapid succession of oil workers and   strikes  of other workers in large factories , crippled almost all the oil refineries and oil installation and other sectors throughout  the country. 

After the February 1979 revolution, oil industry workers went on to form Shora-ye kargaran va karkonan sanate naft (The Council of the Workers and Employees of the Oil Industry). The shora (council) movement spread in larger workplaces across Iran and other sectors of the working people, peasants, oppressed nationalities, students, and neighborhoods created similar councils or committees.  Also the revolution led to the spread of union activism nationwide. For the first time in  the Iranian labor history the unemployed workers in several major cities organized their own unions. One of the larger and more powerful unemployed unions was The Project-Seasonal Workers’ Union of Abadan(1979-1980) with 14000 members.

The Islamic Republic adopted a two-prong policy to undermine and destroy these independent grassroots organizations.  In the case of the workers shoras, in 1980 competing Islamic Workers Shoras and Islamic Workers Associations were created that collaborated with the government designated management in the name of supporting Ayatollah Khomeini’s imposed Islamic Republic and the “Muslim Iranian Nation.” 

After the start of the Iran–Iraq war in September 198o, the Islamic Republic opposed any independent grassroots organization, especially the workers shoras, as disruptive of the war effort . Oil workers from Khuzestan province where Abadan refinery is located were dispersed across other parts of Iran.  In this period, many labor activists were fired or purged in the paksazi campaigns (literary, “cleansing campaigns”) which had started immediately after the triumph of the revolution in the national radio and TV but accelerated with the start of the war.  Some of the labor activists were arrested, and some executed. 

Two of the labors activists who contributed to the writing of this chronology were arrested and executed. One was Ramezan Fereydoun Far (1957-fall of 1981), who was an electrician in Abadan oil refinery. He was arrested a after the war started and executed by the firing squad in the city of Shiraz in Fall of 1981 . Another writer of this chronology is Mohammad Khdang (1952-winter 1981) who was an engineer in Abadan oil refinery.  He was a political prisoner in 1972 under the Shah’s regime serving a one-year term. He too was arrested after the war started shortly after was executed by firing squad in the winter of 1981 in Tehran. There are other contributors to the chronology who are alive but live in Iran who do not wish to be identified for security reasons. 

Mohammad Safavi is an Iranian-Canadian ecosocialist and labor activist.  In 1975, Safavi was hired by the Iran-Japan Petrochemical company to work on their construction project near the port town of Mahshar-Mammko, in Khuzestan province Iran.   Soon after, he became involved in labor activism. After the 1979 revolution,  Safavi became a member of  The Project –Seasonal Workers’ Union of Abadan (1979-1980).  After start of the Iran- Iraq war, Safavi was a labor and social activist working in Isfahan power plant.  

Mohammad Safavi

After he was forced to immigrate to Canada, he worked in the food industry as a baker and a member of United Food and Commercial workers union(local 1518) and a member of Auto Workers Union.  He served as a Shop Stewart and a representative in health and safety committee . Safavi has published articles in Farsi on labor issues in Farsi publications.  

The historical account of the labor movement, especially the oil industry labor movement, in this introduction benefitted from Safavi’s knowledge. Safavi reviewed my translation of the chronology for accuracy.  In the Farsi version, there are a number of places where the authors of the chronology engage is offering their own views about issues raised in it. With Safavi’s agreement, I have omitted such editorializing from the chronology as they stray from the purpose of recording the facts of two strikes at the Abadan refinery in the context of the unfolding Iranian revolution of 1979.   

I would like to express my gratitude to Mohammad Safavi for his contribution to this translation and this “Introduction.” Still, he is not responsible for any error of omission or commission. All responsibilities for such errors are mine alone. 

Kamran Nayeri, April 4, 2020

Endnote. After the February 1979 revolution, the families of the victims pressed the Islamic Republic authorities to identify, arrest, and punish the arsonists. For details of what followed see Abdorrahman Borumand Center for Human Rights.  In August and September 1980  Hossein Takb'alizadeh, the arsonist, and 5 other individuals were executed in public.  Still, many in Abadan and elsewhere in Iran believed Islamic extremists were responsible for the arson.


The First Strike at the Abadan refinery: October 1-November 18, 1978

Sunday, October 1
About ten days earlier there were whispers of a strike and boiling excitement among workers. The Process workers had submitted their demands in a written form to the management.  But the deadline had come and gone and there was no word from the management. A few days later, the workers demands were printed and distributed in the canteen. It was also asked of workers not to return to work but many did return to work after lunch. On October 1 which coincided with a call for nationwide general strike, refinery workers while once again raising their demands heeded the national call and staged a strike. But the next day, some returned to work.  By lunch time, everyone had returned to work. The reason for the fizzling out of this short strike was a lack of coordination and communication between workers in different departments. 

Monday, October 2
But workers were still united on pressing for their demands. On Monday, October 2, Mr. Diba, the former director of the refinery and current member of its Board of Directors, arrived at the Central Workshop at 11:30 a.m. to speak to workers. He claimed that he was “just passing by and wanted to chat a little.” He was trying to appease the workers with friendly chatter to foreclose the possibility of a strike.  He said that a response to the legal demands you raised has already been granted. These included: 

  • 10% bonus. 
  • Addition housing assistance that was raised from 300 tomans a month to 600 tomans for single workers and from 400 tomans a month to 900 tomans a month for married workers.
  • Daily food subsidies raised from 5 tomans to 10 tomans. 

The workers responded that these are not the demands they were raising now and that the new demands have been given to the management in writing. He promised a response in two weeks.

Monday, October 16
This day coincided with the refinery workers’ deadline to Mr. Diba, member of the Board of Directors as well as the fortieth day of mourning for the martyrs of the Jalleh Square massacre in Tehran.  Thus, the Central Shop workers walked out and called for a general strike.

Tuesday, October 17 
Based on earlier experiences, Central Shop workers sent delegations to other sections so they would not fall prey to strike breaking tricks of the management. All were asked to assemble at the Central Shop to avoid the management schemes to divide workers. Still, two groups, the Process workers and bus drivers had not yet heed the call for strike.  At the assmebly the striking workers plastered flyers with workers’ demands and slogans about the need for workers’ unity warning about “those who want to divide us.” There was also a flyer proclaiming solidarity for managerial workers with field workers.

Wednesday, October 18
Bus drivers joined the strike.  Picket signs proclaimed that Tehran and Shiraz refinery workers support the Abadan refinery workers’ strike.  The Process workers also announced that if the demand of striking workers is not met, they too will join the strike.

Saturday, October 21
Diba, the Royal Court servant arrived in the morning to once agin use jokes and flattering talk to break the strike. The assembly booed him so he got lost.

Sunday, October 22
Today, Ansari, the Director of the refinery and member of its Board of Directors appeared in the midst of the workers for the first time.  When he stepped out of his car, a group of workers clapped for him but were dissuaded by others and stopped.  Ansari tried to take a polite and down to earth posture.  The previous night, he had gone to the Process workers, sat down on the ground with them, and pretended that he agrees that the striking workers’ demands are reasonable and that they can be addressed if a delegation of workers would join the management for negotiations.  Thus, each section of the refinery elected their representatives, a group of nine representatives.  In the first day of negotiations, Ansari tried to set aside the workers’ demands (such as wages increases) and to turn the discussion to minor issues and long term solution of them.  When he found that the elected representatives of workers would not budge, he brought in some of the management imposed “workers’ representatives” from other facilities of the oil company elsewhere in the country into the negotiation meeting to continue to push his own agenda.  The elected representatives of workers a few times threatened to walk out of the negotiation meeting.  Ansari also threatened a few times to quit the negotiation meeting and to call in the police and the army to intervene to turn the direction of the talks in his favor.  During the course of negotiations that lasted for a few days the elected representatives reported on each days proceedings to the workers who had returned to work while the negotiations continued. When the negotiations failed, the workers at the Central Shop and Transportation workers resumed the strike.

Saturday, October 28
About 10 a.m. the striking karmandan arrived at the Central Shop where the striking workers gathered. One of them read a statement in which they expressed support for the strike and causing the striking workers to claps and welcome them.  One of the striking workers read a summary of the negotiation report. When he was finished the karmandan returned to their own assembly. After they left, some of the striking workers began to shut “death to Ansari” which was faced with opposition by other strikers. That was not the right slogan at that time and could have prevented the Process workers to join the strike as they were supposed to join the strike the next day. 

In the afternoon, some strikers wanted to march to the karmandan assembly but were opposed by some older workers.  Instead, a group of strikers began to walk in the arena in a circle. This was  and urged others to join them. This action was successful to get other strikers to join in.  As the marching striking workers reach the assembly of karmandan, they were greeted with clapping and showered with flowers. The striking karmandan chanted: “Long Live Unity!,” ”Unity-Victory!,” “Unity-Struggle-Victory!” They joined the striking workers and they all marched and rallied together. Once the striking workers were back in the Central Shop assembly location, a worker g ave a speech about Ansari’s divisive trickery and workers solidarity and unity. Another worker spoke about the freedom of speech and expression and exploitation of workers.  Finally, one of karmandan read the demands of all oil workers which was greeted with striking workers and karmandan. Some of the demands were as follow:

  • An end to the Marshal Law across the country
  • Unconditional freedom of all political prisoners
  • No police or army intervention in the oil industry
  • Support for the demands of teachers
  • Support for the demands of oil workers
  • Trial of those responsible for the recent massacres

The speech ended with the speaker proclaiming that these demands are also the demands of the striking workers. He was greeted by applause of the assembly of field and karmandan. 

Sunday, October 29

Workers from various departments gathered at the Central Shop as a group of 100 workers arrived with signs with the following demand that proclaimed:

  • End Marshall Law; Free all political prisoners
  • Workers: Enhance your unity and solidarity
  • Do not accept any promises; only written orders to meet our demands
  • We, the workers, never accept promise
They were greeted with a loud round of applause. The Process workers also joined the strike making it much more effective.  When they arrived as a group to the workers assembly there were enthusiastically welcomed.  A flyer by the refinery Director, Ansari, was brought to the assembly, that was promptly torn to pieces. Some of the older workers were not in favor of the political demands that were now included in the striking workers demands as they made the strike into a political strike. This caused a hot dispute among the workers and a scuffle. Some workers returned to their jobs. In order to maintain unity, the signs with political demands were taken down.

 Also, today, refinery’s restaurant workers join the strike to jubilation of the strikers.  The strike now has spread to all units of the refinery and no production is taking place.  Meanwhile, one of the elected representatives who was suspected by other workers was found to sow divisions among strikers. He faced strong opposition by strikers.  This experience prompted the election of a Supervision and Coordination Committee to act as the speaker for the strikers and among its duties was to was to organize speakers for the assembly, summarizing strikers points of view, to publicize the strikers decisions through preparation and posting of flyers, and to act as the only channel for negotiations with the management.

Monday, October 30  
Workers came to the Central Shop in groups. One of them carried picket signs with slogans like “Unity, Struggle, Victory” and “Death to the Enemy of the Labor, Long Live Solidarity!” At 8:15 a.m., this group continued to march to the assembly of karmandan. Once there, an older and politically conscious worker gave a speech about SAVAK’s goon actions, the bloodsucking American capitalism, and President Carter, arguing it is the Iran’s rulers are responsible for the current crisis.   Then the group of workers march back to the Central Shop assembly.  Also, the transportation and garage workers arrived at the Central Shop assembly in an organized contingent and were warmly greeted by the assembly. Then one them gave a speech in support of the strike. Then another worker spoke about the crimes of the regime that imprisoned workers and Iranian people and the need for unity and solidarity. After the speeches, it was decided to march around the refinery but some workers were opposed to it.  But those who supported the idea of a march argued in its favor and proposed a route for the march.  About 3,000 workers participated in the march chanting “Unity, Struggle, Victory!” The karmanan also joined the march which returned to the Central Shop for assembly. One of karmandan read a statement of solidarity from professors and students of the Daneshkadeh Naft (Oil Company College). Then, a statement about Khosro Roozbeh’s (1915-1958; the head of the military wing of the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party who was executed on May 11, 1958). This was followed by another worker’s speech about the Shah’s regime attack on teachers and their imprisonment was given. Finally, a chronicle of the rule of terror since the August 1953 CIA coup was read. Finally, the question of election of the Supervision and Coordinating Committee was once again raised and its various tasks discussed and some departments elected their representatives to this body while other postponed it for the next day.

Tuesday, October 31
Today, thirteen persons were elected to the strike’s Coordinating Committee. At 3:50 in the afternoon, the striking karmandan arrive at the Central Shop to express solidarity and were showered with flowers and welcomed by a member of the Coordinating Committee. who expressed the need to coordinate the strike by the karmandan and workers.  Then,  another worker spoke about the jailing of teachers and torture by the SAVAK and offered that the best way to fight that is silence.  Another worker disagreed and suggested the best way to publicize these and went on to glorify the join assemblies of the refinery workers. He noted that in the past 25 years the refinery had never seen such a great strike and attributed it to the power of workers who when withholding it all machines become fruitless pieces of equipment.  Another workers stressed that leaving the assembly early can weaken the strike.  In the afternoon, the strike Coordinating Committee held its meeting to discuss the tasks facing the strike and prepared posters with demands of the strikers and put them on walls. It was also decided to organize a march of the strikers in order to strengthen the resolve and solidarity of the workers, especially those who oppose politicization of the strike.  There were still some older workers who opposed raising political demands. It was suggested that to address such opposition it is necessary to uplift workers spirits through speeches, rallies, and exposing the anti0working class policies of the Shah’s regime. When at the end of the working day workers tried to leave the refinery from gates 13 and 14 they found them closed. These gates have been open during the strike period so far. When the workers asked the security guards, they were told that General in charge of security has ordered not to open the gates. As workers protested a contingent of soldiers in armored vehicles approached and the gates were opened to let them in. The workers did not try to leave the refinery but protested to the officer in charge of the contingent. The officer claimed he has no knowledge of any orders to keep the gates closed. Workers left the refinery but as they were leaving they agreed among themselves that this was a maneuver to scare the strikers. They resolved to return the next day.

Wednesday, November 1  
When the workers returned in the morning they found armed guards stationed at various locations in the refinery, especially around the Central Workshop which served as the assembly location for the strikers.  At 7:40 a.m. an army colonel used a bullhorn to order workers to return to work.  At the same time, striking workers from other sections of the refinery arrived to stand with those who were already at the Central Workshop, welcomed by enthusiastic clapping.  A delegation of the Coordinating Committee held a discussion with the army colonel.  The colonel then left the refinery and the head of the Marshall law forces arrived at 9:50 a.m. who tried to smooth talk with workers urging them to return to work to no avail.  When he failed in his effort he asked for two workers to accompany him to see him appeal to the management to consider the strikers demands.  Although it was already decided that no one except the Coordinating Committee handle such cases, two workers boarded colonels car without a mandate. All the Coordinating Committee could do was to send one of its members along.  They were supposed to return by 1 p.m.  It was also reported that Abadan teachers have gone on a hunger strike to protest Marshall law and repairmen who worked outside the refinery have gathered outside at the main gate.  The three workers who had accompanied the army colonel in his meeting with the management reported that he has asked to have until Saturday to resolve the economic demands of the strikers.  He appealed to the strikers to show their trust in his mediation by returning to work for even just one hour. The workers refused. They said until their demands are not officially agreed to they will not return to work. At 3:30 p.m. the soldiers left the refinery. 

Saturday, November 4
Today, the discussion between workers about political demands resumed and there were still some who opposed them.  But a majority wanted to go along with these small minority to maintain unity. One of the members of the Coordinating Committee warned that the management may only allow into the refinery some workers who are willing to return to work by giving them a special entry card.  If that happens, he said, everyone should say they wanted to go back to work to get cards to let them in and then refuse to work and assemble as usual.

It was reported that a group of Abadan teachers have gathered in front of gate 18 and wanted to meet with the strikers. After much discussion, it was decided that all in the assembly walk to gate 18. By the time, they got there they learned that the police had dispersed the teachers. It was also reported that about 1,000 field workers and one of the karmandan of Petrochemical—General Office, Iran Neptune, and those engaged in  of the construction of the nuclear power plant have gathered in front of the main gate and are surrounded by the police. 

Sunday, November 5
Yesterday, the police savagely attacked Petrochemical-General Office field and karmandan wounding 12, two of which are in critical conditions. One of the Coordinating Committee members gave a speech holding up the bloody shirt of a worker condemning the police and declaring that political demands should be paramount in the refinery workers demands. The assembly that had become angry at the savage act of the police supported his call. At 10 a.m. the karmandan joined the assembly and the assembly voted for the following resolution:

“We the workers of Abadan refinery in solidarity with the Oil Company brothers and sisters who are karmandan and in solidarity with other classes of the Iranian nation after posing our economic demands are now posing our national demands as follows:

  1. Total support for demands of karmandan of the Oil Company
  2. An end to Marshall law
  3. Unconditional release of all political prisoners and return of those in exile
  4. Dissolution of the National Organization for Security and Information (SAVAK)
  5. Prosecution and punishment of those who have stolen from the national treasury
  6. Prosecution and punishment of those responsible for the recent massacres
  7. Changing the date of the Day of the Oil Industry from 9 of Mordad to 29 of Esfand (when the nationalist-led Majlis on March 17, 1951 passed legislation to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (AIOC)).  After the August 1953 CIA coup, the Shah’s regime changed the date).  
  8. Addressing the demands of nation’s teachers.
  9. Addressing oil workers previous demands

Then a worker gave a speech in which he proclaimed that the workers must stand at the front lines of the struggle to carry out their historic task of leading the anti-imperialist and anti-monarchist struggles.  Another worker proclaimed that we must break our silence and show these low-lives what workers unity can do!  Then the assembly chanted slogans: “The heroic worker, leader of toilers, the nation’s sends its greetings to you!” “Unity, Struggle, Victory!”, “Strike, Strike, Is the School of Revolution!” It was planned to stage a sit-in in support of Petrochemical-General Office field and karmandan who were attacked by the police. But it was decided that the sit-in will end at 5 p.m. to go visit the wounded in the hospital until 8 p.m. and to be with the hunger striker teachers. 

Tuesday, November 7 
Today’s speeches mostly dealt with the importance of the oil industry strike and the responsibility of oil workers, especially in the Abadan refinery, to the nation, and we must be self-sacrificing and continue the strike. Also, the following was announced as the decisions by the Coordinating Committee’s meeting that lasted five hours:

“First, we must report that four of coworkers have been arrested.  Second, we face a decision: if the management wants to enter negotiation with us should we accept the invitation to talk given that Marshal law is in place across the country? The proposal of the Coordinating Committee is that we accept entering negotiation with them given that the eyes of the nation and the world is upon us. We must use this attention to our struggle and we must not give any excuse to the police and the military.  We must negotiate based on our approved set of demands. We also will make the freedom of our four arrested coworkers a precondition for negotiations.”  

The majority of the workers supported the proposals of the Coordinating Committee. But some younger workers were against negotiations and proposed instead to stage a sit-down protest demanding the freedom of the four arrested strikers. 

Wednesday, November 8
At 3:20 p.m. General Esfandiari the military commander of Abadan arrived with armored vehicles. He spoke about how he agrees with most of the economic demands of the strikers and asked them to return to work. He was greeted with sarcasm and jokes by the strikers. He left. It was agreed that the Process workers and workers in all shifts not to return to the refinery for the three day holiday. It was also instructed that no one should accept passes to enter the refinery and after the holiday everyone gather at gates 13 and 18. 

Sunday, November 12
Today, the military and the police occupied the entire refinery and used scare tactics to disperse workers.  When a determined group of strikers rushed to the assembly site they confronted bayonets and batons.  About 30 workers were arrested and then released.  The Central Shop workers were circled by the military forces and only those who worked there were allowed inside. When other workers tried to mix in with the Central Shop workers and were found out they were arrested and when they protested two of them were beaten up badly. Still, the Central Shop strikers did not resume work and decided not to return after lunch. Despite all the pressure, the big majority of strikers refused to go to work. 

Monday, November 13
Today, strike and slowdown can be seen across the refinery and the militant workers, mostly younger, passed a resolution that they will not be returning to work. But a lot of workers returned to the refinery and the bus drivers and drivers of heavy equipment returned to work. But the repair shop workers, the transportation department, the majority of the Central Shop workers and the Overhaul Department did not come to the refinery and those who did remained on strike. The military and police with the force of bayonets and fire arms brought some workers to work and arrested and punished others at home or at work.  Still, the strike and slowdown was dominant across the refinery.

Tuesday, November 14
Despite the rule of the bayonet and all the pressure, the strike and slowdown continues in most repair sections of the refinery. The military and police are stationed all over the refinery and do not allow any assembly of workers. Still, the repair and overhaul workers in the Central Shop, overhaul and minor repair workers elsewhere in the refinery continue their strike and slowdown. The Process workers and drivers have broken their strike and returned to work.

Wednesday, November 15
The strike continues only in some repair sections in the refinery but slowdown is widespread. Today, some workers who were arrested were release. Two of the workers in the repair and transportation departments were also released. the strike and slowdown continues in the Central Shop and the transportation workers also are still on strike.

Saturday, November 18 
Today, the strike and slowdown continues in the Overhaul department. Everyone is told not to accept overtime if they are already working.  To overcome slowdown, the management has divided the crucial repair workers into two groups and asked one to work days and another to work nights but the workers have rejected this scheme.  All show up for the morning shift regardless if the work (with slowdown) or don’t work at all. The workers have decided that because all their demands, particularly the political demands have not been met, and to protest military forces entry into the refinery and the brutal massacre in Khorramshahr starting Monday they will declare general strike. 

The workers’ morale is high, especially the Process workers have higher morale compared to the earlier days and several sections of that department have declared they will join the general strike on Monday. 

*.    *.    *

The Second Strike in the Abadan Refinery December 1978-February 79

Saturday, December 2
Today is the start of the second strike at the Abadan refinery.  A few days earlier, a flyer was circulated by some workers demanding a general strike.  Workers came to work in high spirits and ready to strike.  Most proclaimed that “even if everyone else works today, we would not.”  During the day, all departments stopped working without consulting each other. In the garage, repair workers stopped working but drivers did not. In the Process Department there was a lot of excitement about a strike. 

Sunday, December 3
Today, the strike continued without the drivers and those in the Process Department. There was some discussion about going to the Central Shop or to the Overhaul Department among striking workers.  But the Central Shop was circled by the army and there was a danger of provoking their attack on the strikers that could have ended the strike.  But the second shift in the Process Department refused to start to work. They were taken by the military to the Central Office and everyone was photographed. But this did not make the strikers to cave in. So the military returned their photos to each worker and told them to return to their post and stay there.  During the day, a flyer entitled “Let’s Prepare for the 16th of Azar” signed by Comrades of Haydar Amo-oghli, a local underground socialist group was distributed in the Central Shop.  [16th of Azar, also known as the Students Day, was the occasion to defy the Shah’s dictatorship that on December 7, 1953 murdered three University of Tehran students. Haydar Khan Amo-oghli or Haydar Khan Amu ogly Tariverdiev (December 20, 1880 – October 15, 1921) was a socialist revolutionary during the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and a founder of the Communist Party of Iran in 1920]. Today, karmandan of the Central Office staged a rally that was tear gassed. The declared they will not come to work for one week.

Monday, December 4
Today in the Central Shop five demands were raised and distributed among the workers. 

  • An end to Marshall law across the country
  • Unconditional freedom for all political prisoners and return of all political exiles
  • Nationalization of all parts of the oil industry and dissolution of all oil industry agreements that are disadvantageous to Iran
  • Arrest and punishment of all who are responsible for the recent killings 
  • Meeting all economic and work-related demands

In the Central Shop the bulletin boards were covered with anti-regime religious and secular flyers as well as caricatures of the Shah. In the afternoon, buses to transport the Process Workers did not arrive because the bus drivers had gone on strike as well. This strengthened the resolve of the striking workers. In many sections of the refinery workers had brought informative books to read and discuss, including some of Marx and Lenin writings.  Comrades of Haydar Amo-oghli group distributed two issues of its paper. Flyers by Kharg port workers and workers in the Water and Electricity Organization workers were also circulating. A few flyers from Shafagh-e Sorkh (Red Dawn) was also being circulated. 

Tuesday, December 5
Today, the Process Department again continued to work. In the afternoon, money was collected in some sections of the refinery for the journalists and newspaper workers who were on strike nationwide.  Of course, no money was raised from the Process Department workers.  Today, on three large storage tanks slogans were spray painted: “Death to the traitor Shah,” “Greetings to the Mujahid (supported of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran worker!” “Greetings to Khomeini” and others… Also, two flyers by the Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class were circulated in limited numbers.  

Wednesday, December 6
Last night, in Shahabad (an oil company’s workers housing neighborhood), an oil company bus that was waiting to transport Process Department workers to the refinery was set on fire.  Still, the workers came to work in the Process Department. There Process Department workers received threatening phone calls and a few were even physically attacked and one had to be hospitalized.  In general, all striking workers feel like tasseling the Process Department workers, vandalizing their cars, or beating them up.  Today, the Central Shop workers circulated a flyer about the events in Tehran, and a stenciled flyer was also circulated about the political prisoners in the Evin Prison in Tehran. Also, Announcement Number 3 of the “Employees of the Refinery” was circulated. The management sent a directive that the refinery will be closed on Sunday and later the department supervisors told workers the refinery will be closed also on Saturday.  This decision by the regime reflected the following:
  • Demagogic appeal to the religious sentiments of workers and the general population as the coming Saturday and Sunday coincided with the Shiite holidays of Ashura and Tasu'a, two most important days in the Shiite calendar. 
  • Regime knew well that the strike gathers workers from all parts of the refinery and these gatherings help to share information and news and spread democratic awareness and class consciousnesss.

Tuesday, December 12
Today, after five days of being off, workers returned to the refinery. (The management ordered the refinery closed on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sunday was a national holiday for Ashura. Never before Tasu’a was the refinery closed.)  Everybody was upset and talking about the yesterday’s events in Abadan where a navy contingent opened fire on demonstrators killing seven people and wounding 22, and arresting dozens. The attacked happened in Jamshid Abad.  All repair shop workers are on strike and the Process Department workers have joined the strike since Sunday. Most parts of the refinery are in the dark.  Another notable development is that contract workers went on strike last Wednesday and have assembled in front of their office in the middle of refinery. Their demands are economic and work related. [contract workers often workd with the oil company workers].  About 10:30, a colonel with a truck-load of soldiers arrived to promise to them that their demands will be met by the management (A tactic Esfandiari, the military commander has used against the refinery strikers to send them back to work asking for two weeks cooling off period). 

Wednesday, December 13
Today, the worker returned to the refinery angrier and with higher spirits because yesterday, in Saddeh, a poor working class neighborhood in Abadan, several people were wounded (We had no report of any deaths). The Process Department workers are on strike and some of them have stopped coming to the refinery all together. In a few places that are working using karmandan production is reduced. All field workers are on strike.  Because oil workers are on strike in the oil extraction facilities, there is only a limited amount of crude oil to process in the refinery which will dry up after a few shifts. Today, it was reported that the military has attacked apprentices injuring some. At 11:30 a.m. Esfandiari, the military commander, arrived at the Central Shop and ordered workers to return to work and that starting Saturday there would be no more strike at the refinery. In response, the workers announced they will not return to refinery after lunch. Other workers elsewhere in the refinery left as well when they news arrived at 2 p.m.  It was agreed that if on Saturday workers were forces to go to work, no one would return to the refinery after lunch. 

Saturday, December 16
Today, the repair shop workers  arrived at their post with determination and refused to work.  Two days earlier, the management had gathered a group of the Process Department karmandan in the Annex (a club designated for karmandan and engineers) and threatened them to return to work. The management also took a group of 50 of the day shift workers from the Process Department to the Annex and threatened them that their brothers and sisters in the villages are suffering because they had no gasoline and kerosine and forced them to swear by the Quran to return to work.  That was the day shift. The second and third shifts did not report to work.  The production resumed when the morning shift workers who had sweared by the Quran reported to work and after talking to Azimi, the manager of the Process Section resumed production. This caused an outrage by other workers in the refinery. Some, like the Overhaul workers who had to make essential repairs in equipment to resume production refused to work.  About 10 in the morning we learned that soldiers armed with guns and sticks have surrounded the refinery. About 11 in the morning, several colonels and the head of the Police arrived with 15 armored vehicles eight truck load of soldiers armed with guns and sticks arrived at the Central Shop. The soldiers and the colonels were arrayed in front of the workers who stood together. The colonels threatened the workers.  A worker responded that because you have not met our demands we will not return to work.  The colonels asked which of the workers’ demands are not met and insisted they had done all they could to meet all workers’ demands. A worker responded that we have demanded arrest and punishment of those responsible for the recent massacre but you could not meet our demand because you are those responsible for the massacre. You who speak about your holy military uniforms could have simply arrested the demonstrators but you massacred them instead. Therefore, we will not return to work. He was cheered by other workers. One of the colonels spoke that there are two paths before the worker. Either they would return to work because we are asking you or we would force you to go back to work. If you refuse to work we will photograph each one of you, expel you from the refinery and force you out of your homes.  The same worker responded that workers will not abide by being photographed, that the refinery is our home, and we know that even if we abide by your orders you will massacre us at the refinery gate when we attempt to go home.  If we ever let you have our photos, we will do it as a group and when we leave the refinery we will leave as a group, and if you attempt violence against us we will return it with violence against you by destroying the machineries in the refinery.

It was 11:50 a.m.  The workers announced they will go for lunch but the soldiers would not let them go. They were asked to at least turn the machinery on and off as a face-saving measure so we can claim you did return to work. But the workers did not budge and dispersed for lunch.  At the restaurant the Central Shop workers told the repair shop workers: “If we were forced to go back to work, you continue to strike as we will quickly resume the strike.” After lunch, the management told all workers that the refinery is back to work but in reality the workers had simply turned on the machines but were not working. The repair shop workers continued their strike. 

Towards the end of the shift, a sergeant touched a sanding machine and a worker got into an argument with him. The sergeant aimed his gun at the worker. All of the sudden he was booed by all workers. The refinery was full of soldiers and they aimed their guns at the workers. The workers ignored this and all marched out of the Central Shop and told the manager they cannot work as long as there are soldiers in the refinery. Therefore, the strike was resumed once again.

Sunday, December 17
This morning, after yesterday’s face off between the soldiers and the workers all soldiers had left the refinery an assembled by the garage. In the Central Shop the workers turned on the machines. They reasoned that if they work they will keep the soldiers out. But there was an extreme slow down enforced almost as if they were on strike. At 10 a.m. the martial law authorities asked the management of each section to photograph all workers.  But this faced many excuses by the workers who would not cooperate. A worker to his manager that he would gladly quit his job if he is given his 30-year pension. Another simply refused to be photographed.  All refinery sections were in contact through apprentices who served as messengers. The workers decided that the electrical workers and the Overhaul workers t go home. At 11:30 a.m. the Police colonel from Abadan spoke but nobody was listening as workers were talking to each other. He was not finished when at 11:55 a.m. workers dispersed for lunch. Repair shop workers did not come to work and the news arrived that Ayatollah Khomeini has declared a national day of mourning for the next day.

Monday, December 18
About 90% of the repair shop workers and storage workers did not show up. 

Tuesday, December 19
Again, the repair workers did not show up. 

Wednesday, December 20
The strike continues in the Overhaul, repair garage, and refinery’s repair shop. Today there photos of five workers  were posted in addition to other who were fired earlier.  They were all good and progressive workers of various sections. Refinery workers are not well informed about these firings. There were flyers by the Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class (Sāzmān-e peykār dar rāh-e āzādī-e ṭabaqe-ye kārgar, Peykar) and the group Comrades of Haydar Amo-oghli were distributed in the  northern section of the refinery. The court defense speech of Houshang Targol was distributed by the latter group.  Today, there also was distributed a flyer by the workers entitled “Let’s Continue the Strike” that declared a new strike date will soon be announced. 

Saturday, December 23
Today, one of the workers who was previously a member of the Coordinating Committee who had made many mistakes and was supported by the older workers again posted only economic demands on the bulletin board. By the afternoon the progressive workers manage to add national demands as well.  The progressive workers argued that reducing our demands to the economic demands will take the struggle back. If that is the case, it is better to return to work. The question of returning to work was argued among the Overhaul workers.  This morning a flyer was distributed that urged a resumption of the strike immediately.  Today, the news about the terror of Paul Green, an executive of the ESCO Corporation and sabotage of the Naftkoh oil pipeline with explosives arrived and workers experssed satisfaction with both. The striking workers decided not to board company provided buses for transit to and from their homes. 

Sunday, December 24
Today, a list of workers who still continued to work was distributed.  There was a discussion about what to do with strikebreakers. A majority was in favor of the use of physical force to stop them from breaking the strike.  The previous night the house of a strikebreaker who had just received 500 tomans in wages for working 14 days was set on fire.  Other strikebreakers were constantly threatened by strikers. 

Today, the army attacked the workers in the repair shop in Berim, a neighborhood in Abadan. They roughed up eight workers and arrested five. A group of progressive refinery karmandan made direct contact with the strikers. 

Monday, December 25
 Today, once again the Process Department workers and bus drivers did not join the strikers. Most workers have boycotted company buses for this reason.  The workers were supposed to be paid their wages but today we were told no wages will be paid.  The financial issue is on workers’ mind.  Still, no one has yet gone to the Islamic Fund for assistance. In a flayer today by a group called the “Allies of the People raised the need for a strike fund in every department. Everyday flayers distributed by Islamic and secular groups are posted on the bulletin boards which are enthusiastically welcomed by the workers. The progressive karmandan have declared a strike starting tomorrow.  The precision equipment workers who have not joined the strike but went on an extreme slowdown declared have not gone on strike and posted flyers in support of the refinery workers strike.  Yesterday, some strikers had hanged a chador (Islamic garb that covers the entire body of women) at the entrance to the precision equipments department door in an effort to belittle them.  In the afternoon, the group “Struggle for the establishment of the party of the working class” (“Allies of the People” distributed a comprehensive report on the first Abadan refinery strike which was welcomed by the workers.  Today, the fourth Statement of the refinery employees was distributed. This flyer was prepared by those outside the refinery in collaboration with the advanced workers in the refinery. 

Tuesday, December 26
The strike is continuing as before. Today, the army attacked the Central Shop with wooden batons beating up young workers and arrested five of them.  Several armored vehicles drove to the entrance to the Central Shop, unloading soldiers who were screaming as the sergeants ordered” “Beat up the students!” The rush by the soldiers causes the strikers to pill up and a few were wounded. This caused the strikers to lose their spirit and the soldiers were successful to force them to start the machines and the workers stood in their positions. But in practice nobody worked. The soldiers then marched to the garage repair shop. They did not attack the workers. Instead, their superiors talked to the workers asking them to start working. The workers there went to their stations, tuned on machines but did not work. After the army left, they turned off the machines.  Meanwhile, the workers at the Overhaul Department heard of the army attack and dispersed.  The soldiers fanned the refinery and attacked any group of workers they could find.  When they had entered the refinery in the morning, they had stationed a group at the main gate.  When the news of army attack at the Central Shop spread throughout the refinery the workers started to rally and chant: “Get lost soldiers!”  The soldiers began to chase the workers but everyone dispersed and nobody was hurt. As the news of the morning events spread across the refinery workers decided not to return to work in the afternoon. Instead, they gathered at the main gate to stage a rally.

Wednesday, December 27
 The strike continued today. The army returned and as the soldiers arrived at the Central Shop, the workers turned on the machines. But as soon as the soldiers left they turned them off.  Today, the workers were paid their wages. The way it happened was that the management asked the payroll department workers who were on strike to pay the strikebreakers.  The payroll department strikers would not do it. The military commander and the manager of the payroll department intervened telling the striking payroll workers to pay everybody. This, the striking payroll workers gladly did and then went back on strike! 

Of course, the striking workers in Ahwaz and other oil company locations were not paid any wages. A group of progressive workers decided to collect funds to give to the strikers who were fired.  In the morning, the young karmandan and striking field workers decided to tally and march in the refinery and organized to do it. This was highly successful and had a good impact so as they returned they were welcomed by all workers. The precision equipment workers who are stationed next to the Central Shop joined the demonstrators. The slogans were: “The arrested Central Workshop workers must be freed!” “[Central] Workshop, resistance, resistance!” “Militant workers, strike, strike!” “Process [department], your action is a betrayal of the nation!” “The bonus is martyrs’ blood money!”  At the end of the march the workers rallied and dispersed by chanting: “Death to the Shah!” About 45 minutes later, the army units with armored vehicles, six small tanks, two Chieftain tanks and a group of soldiers arrived and maneuvered around the refinery. They faced with workers jokes and taunt.  

--- Chronology Ends Here ---

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