Labour Strikes in the Oil City – 1946-1951

Worker strike in AbadanTroops and tanks to break the workers' strike

Sources are cited in abbreviations inside brackets at the end of each paragraph. See web/bibliography.

Labour unions, suppressed under Reza Shah, bloomed during the war and, watered with Tudeh [Community Party] encouragement, began to clamor for higher wages and better living conditions. But since the unions were still illegal, AIOC chose to ignore the galling discrepancies between the luxuries enjoyed by the British nationals and the misery of the [Iranian] workers… Yet the 1933 Concession specifically stipulated that the company provide workers with schools, hospitals, telephones, roads, decent salaries, and the opportunity for advancement. Whenever [the subject was brought up], however, the officials became evasive. So much was in dispute, they said. There were financial disagreements to settle, such as the Iranian government’s preposterous claim that the company was shirking its tax responsibilities. Not until all the issues were resolved could they possibly consider changing conditions on-site. [MF p186]

The workers were not willing to wait. Within days after the evacuation of Britian’s forces from Iran in March of 1946, they began a series of wild-cat strikes. The company, scrambling to protect itself, encouraged Arab minorities to organize into a separate union, possibly with a view to splitting the province of Khuzistan off from the rest of Iran and folding it into Iraq. [MF p186]

Tudeh raised for the first time the demand for nationalization of the British-owned oil industry. On May Day in 1946, the British consul in Khorramshahr noted in alarm that a female speaker had not only demanded a comprehensive labor law with equal pay for equal work, but had also called for the total nationalization of the oil industry, accusing the British company of exploiting the “jewel of Iran” and of spending more on dog food than on wages for its Iranian workers. This was probably the very first time that the call for oil nationalization had been heard in Iran. It would not be the last. [EA2 p 113]

By July [1946] the unrest culminated in a widespread riot. Forty-seven people were killed and more than 170 injured. The British fortified their troops in Basra and sent two warships into Abadan. [T]he local AIOC director, sent a famous letter to the Iranian government complaining, “The company has ceased to be an organization.” [MF p186]

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  1. […] sought-after of all, oil. The 1953 coup followed several years of grass roots movement including labour strikes against British ownership of the oil industry and the 1952 nationalization implemented by the […]

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