Housing


From “Oil Nationalisation and Managerial Disclosure: The Case of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, 1933-1951”

Chapter 3: Employee relations and Iranianisation

Author : NEVEEN Abdelrehim | The university of york

House at Bawarda, Abadan, by J.M. Wilson. (Photo: Wilson Mason and Partners).

Since 1933, the company was only concerned to provide houses and amenities to British staff and Iranians married to British citizens[406]. The company was keen on providing British employees with luxurious facilities for the sake of “British Prestige” which reinforced their superiority. The British authorities believed that, being “English they have had hundreds of years of experience of how to treat the Natives[407]. Different housing and social facilities were provided according to the grade of the employee. Jameson asserted that the company‟s original policy was not “to graft on to the Iranians too high a standard of living and therefore decided to build their [Iranian] accommodation in another section of the area”[408]. Meanwhile, Elkington suggested that it was preferable to have the minority of the employees in Bawarda area and Mr. Jameson requested to separate the British staff from the Iranians because “he did not consider Bawarda [as] an ideal position for a European residential area”[409]. Housing for the British was outstandingly superior to that provided for the Iranians and this was always the case because Iranians were not promoted above a certain level and housing was based on employee position at work. It was agreed that the accommodation provided to British staff was fully-furnished with air conditioning, W.C. and a pantry[410]. For instance, Elkington disclosed that the manager‟s house used to have 4 bedrooms in order to accommodate passers-through[411]. Writing to a family relative, Jameson commented about the amenability of life in Iran, referring to his luxurious housing, drinks and concert events and the comparable lack of expense[412]. On the other hand, housing and social facilities provided to Iranian employees were insufficient, and for a certain number it afforded a basis for legitimate discontent[413]. Accommodation for the clerical staff and the highest grade of artisan was not so problematic because they were able to get a room but a skilled worker on the lowest grade might have to wait thirty years. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the third class employees were randomly housed throughout rural areas and did not have the benefit of living in company houses[414]. For instance, the company had built houses which were called “coolie lines” for the unskilled Iranian workers[415]. Even Jameson asserted that he was unhappy with the accommodation provided to the artisans and said: I am disappointed with the progress in the artisan lines, and will see what can be done to accelerate building[416]. Iranian employees were forced to live in segregated houses in a single room “approximately twelve cubic meters in volume, say six feet by seven by eight feet high”[417]. Abdul Husayn Hazhir, the Minister of Finance, drew comparisons with housing and other developments in Arabia and suggested that the AIOC were laggards and referred to the essential need for the company to make some gesture outside the concession to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of Iran[418].
Moreover, Mr. Kazem Hassibi (Under-Secretary of the Finance Ministry) made a strong attack in The Manchester Guardian on the slum conditions provided by the company for the Iranian employees at Abadan declaring that 20,000 workers were living in holes in the ground and even 10,000 for whom the company had provided houses, lived surrounded by open gutters in which sewage, and drinking water mingled[419]. Furthermore, an Middle Eastern employee who worked for the AIOC in Abadan since 1944 explained the dreadful situation facing the Iranians and asserted that the Iranian workers lived during the seven hot months of the year under the trees and they moved into big halls built by the company during the winter where each family occupied the space of a blanket[420]. When the AIOC was compared with other firms in Iran, it was found that the others provided good houses with similar standards as they operated in the city and town areas[421]. It is remarkable that the AIOC exclusively regarded itself as “British” and employees always classified themselves as superior to the locals who were not permitted to rise up the hierarchy because of being Iranian[422]. As a consequence, antagonism towards the AIOC grew among Iranians because they did not enjoy the extraordinary European-style housing of the British staff and were accommodated in inferior accommodation which was not so well adapted to cope with their own typical weather[423]. At the other end of the scale, British staff were provided with everything they chose, including their preferred drink. For instance, Jameson mentioned in his letter to his father and Edith that he was enjoying his life in Iran and he used to go over to dine with his friends and attend concerts which regularly took place and his delight can be clearly illustrated when he asserted: How Edith (wife) could I do the above sort of things at home [Britain] and at the same put past more pounds[424]. It is worth noting that Elkington, General Manager of the AIOC in Persia, was aware of the slow progress and inadequacy of housing provided by the company and he declared that the housing schemes initiated in 1934 were proving inadequate and their progress too slow to cope with the situation and suggested that the company‟s housing schemes must be increased if this feature in the social conditions of our employees is to be ameliorated[425]. Meanwhile, Elkington highlighted in his correspondence to company representatives in Britain that the disparity of treatment afforded by the company to its Iranian employees became more evident in housing and it was necessary for the management to take early steps to correct the position or alternatively some form of compensation granted in lieu[426].

He admitted that the company organized and conducted its operations without much thought for Iranian ideals and customs, and based everything on their own usage and from their own standpoint[427]. Also, John Wilson, the British architect in Iran, disclosed the result of his investigations for housing and affirmed that “the disparity in housing presented a real barrier between Iranian and British employees serving in the company, where the standard of living leaves much to be desired”[428]. Moreover, Jameson was aware of the company‟s discrimination towards Iranian employees and declared that about 40% [accommodation in Bawarda] was occupied by European staff, and by putting Europeans into accommodation which has primarily been built for Iranians would be liable to cause comment[429].
Noticeably, British and Iranian personnel were kept separate due to partitioning and the enclosing of space policy that was adopted by the AIOC[430]. This political model of accommodation certainly led to the creation of exploitative regimes and poor economic conditions for the majority of Iranians[431]. Evidently, British workers’ everyday life had immensely influenced the Iranian workers‟ aspirations and activities, both collectively and individually. To sum up, racial discrimination was so evident in the AIOC that it represented a major barrier to the development of labour relations between British and Iranian workers. Antagonism towards the AIOC grew among Iranians because they did not enjoy the extraordinary European-style housing of the British staff and were accommodated in less spacious accommodation. In short, Britain was politically dominant and even though the company was called Anglo-Iranian but there was little Iranian in its culture. In short, the employment of British by the AIOC was a long-standing source of
grievance because the senior posts were obviously held by the British. Iranian employees naturally remained unhappy about the company‟s discrimination.

 

Notes & References
406. BP 067627, Report on a visit to Tehran in 1938, 51.

407. Soleh Boneh, Jerusalem Post, July 6, 1951, cited in Elm, Oil, Power and Principle: Iran’s oil nationalisation and its aftermath, 103.

408. BP 68067, Jameson to Fraser, 6 March 1938, 5.

409. BP 67590, Notes of meetings held at Abadan, 22nd February 1934, 151.

410. Ibid, 155.

411. Ibid, 153.

412. BP 66815, Jameson to father, 24th October 1917, 5.

413. BP 49673, Report by J. M. Wilson on certain aspects of the company‟s building proposals in Persia, 3rd April 1934, 3.

414. Ibid, 14.

415. Johnson, British multinationals, culture and empire in the early Twentieth century, 131.

416. BP 68067, Jameson to Fraser, 6 March 1938, 5.

417. Elwell-Sutton, Persian Oil, A study in power politics, 89.

418. BP 126407, Report on visit to Tehran 31st August to 26th October 1948, 4.

419. Manchester Guardian; May 28, 1951, 5.

420. Cited in Elm, Oil, Power, and principle: Iran’s oil nationalisation and its aftermath, 103.

421. Elwell-Sutton, Persian Oil, A study in power politics, 96.

422. Johnson, British multinationals, culture and empire in the early Twentieth century, 94.

423. Brumberg and Ahram, The National Iranian Oil Company in Iranian Politics.

424. BP 66815, Jameson to father and Edith, 24th October 1917, 5.

425. BP 067627, Report on a visit to Tehran in 1938, 59.

426. Ibid, 61.

427. BP 59011, Elkington to Medlicott, 11th July 1929; Johnson, British multinationals, culture and empire in the early Twentieth century.

428. BP 49673, Report by J. M. Wilson on certain aspects of the company‟s building proposals in Persia, 3rd April 1934, 1.

429. BP 68067, Jameson to Fraser, 6 March 1938, 4.

430. The Iranian government contentions highlighted that past performance by the company had fallen short of what it should have been; the plan of annual and progressive reduction of foreigners was too specific to allow of any ambiguity; it was implicit in the wording that the company should include in their plan a programme of housing, training, education, medical and social amenities and finally the company should bear the capital cost and upkeep of all schools in Khuzistan and of much the township improvement in such towns as Abadan which exist solely for the oil industry; BP 126407, Report on visit to Tehran 31st August to 26th October 1948.

431. BP 49673, Report by J. M. Wilson on certain aspects of the company‟s building proposals in Persia, 3rd April 1934; Manchester Guardian; May 28, 1951, 5; Johnson, British multinationals, culture and empire in the early Twentieth century, 94.

 

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