A Tragedy Just Waiting to Happen
Iran Khodro Incident Ignites Widespread Reaction by the Workers
Around 11:30 p.m on January 25, a dump truck smashed into the workers entry at Iran Khodro car manufacturing company, hitting the night shift workers who were punching entrance cards. The tragic accident took the lives of six workers right at the spot and injured fifteen others. Two of the injured died later in the hospital.
The accident ignited an immediate and widespread reaction by the workers and resulted in mass protests. Night shift workers were especially angry at being forced to work on a national holiday and being subject to the careless accident. The workers immediately confronted factory security personnel and prevented them from taking the dead bodies. The night shift went on strike, and the workers closed down the roads entering the factory compounds for an hour. By 3 a.m., special anti-riot forces entered the compound and clashed with workers for three hours. The attack by the guards resulted in the arrest of several protesting workers. The management at Iran Khodro, trying to prevent further unrest, closed the factory during the morning shift. Afternoon shift workers, reluctant to work, were subsequently forced to resume operations.
A group of workers at Iran Khodro subsequently called for the removal of special units from the factory compounds, for the release of all the arrested workers, the resignation of management, holding of a mass funeral for the workers who died, payment of all expenses incurred by the families of the dead and injured, creation of a fact-finding committee with the participation of the workers representatives, holding free assembly for setting up workers organizations without security and government interference, and setting up a safety commission with the participation of the workers representatives. On January 27, several thousand workers assembled at the site of the accident and delivered 27 demands to the general manager of Iran Khodro, Mr. Najmeldin. By March 5, management had gone over the demands and agreed to several of them, including the establishment of a workers council at the factory.
Later investigations revealed several instances of neglect on the part of the contracting garbage removal company. The absence of safety measures was evident for both the truck in service and the driver of the truck. The driver had been suffering from a a head injury incurred in an accident two years ago and was taking drugs. He also had no drivers license to operate heavy trucks and had been operating on a 12-hour shift instead of the designated 8. The truck was an older 1980 model.
That management neglect had taken the lives of workers on a forced holiday job shift has been especially hard on the workers. Their widespread reaction at Iran Khodro, however, is only an indication of massive grievances at the factory.
While the management has been predictably blaming the truck driver for the tragic accident and has generally tried to dismiss the problem as an isolated incident, labor watchers and Iran Khodro workers take a very different view of the problem.
They point to the fateful decision by the state-appointed management last year to reduce prices on Iran Khodro products across the board at a time when demand for cars has plummeted among Iranian consumers with no corresponding reduction in the quantity of cars produced.
The workers had to choose between accepting wage cuts or seeking employment elsewhere.
This was compounded by the mangement’s refusal to allow for weekend hour reductions as was the practice in the past.
Hence the duress of many workers– such as the truck driver– at the factory. This was a tragedy just waiting to happen.