So Sammy’s clandestine revolution began.
“They chose me, because I was so brave,” Sammy said. “I thought: this is a revolution, there is no way we will be defeated by the shah. We’re going to burn this, bring this down.”
While large strikes against the tyranny of the shah were taking place across the country, Sammy and his cohorts would lead the charge against the forces in Abadan that had put them in poverty: those who ran the looming spires that provided the city’s skyline of smoke.
Under the cover of an Abadani evening, Sammy packed into a car with eight organizers and spoke in secret about which demands they should present to the oil company: better wages, housing and living conditions. The moment they could strike and call attention to themselves was the moment they could enact their political message against the shah.
Sammy, in his encyclopedic memory, wrinkles his eyes and manifests the names of each organizer: Raman Gallehzan, Esmaeil Rigi, Heidar Agin, Majid Reisi, Abbas Sangian, Ali Khoshkalam, Ghasem Moradi, Abdi Shoja, Ahmad Taheri and Mohammad Tirandaz.
“The Abadan refinery is a key point in any movement,” Sammy explained. He said that previous Iranian movements, such as the 1954 nationalization of oil from Britain, hinged the refinery’s involvement.
The strike came. Fifty oil clerks put forth their demands and striked for two hours. A week later, when the demands weren’t met, they threw several more strikes. The final strike brought in 80 workers and resulted in the arrest of eight leaders, Sammy among them. Sammy had evaded police before, both as a child and as a worker. The penalty was now much steeper as the country began to sow unrest.
However, 10 hours after they were incarcerated, Sammy and the others were released. The whole refinery was on strike, thousands of workers walking out of the largest oil refinery in the world.
“The whole oil industry in Iran knew the Abadan refinery went to strike,” Sammy said.
But economic and theocratic revolutions competed. Cities on the fringe of the country’s Islamic center—cities like Abadan, teeming in a cosmopolitan culture—found themselves on the losing side of revolution when theocratic powers outweighed their socialist ideals. Their institutional leadership wasn’t there.
“I saw the beginning of our defeat,” Sammy said. “I thought, we lose. Because they’re going to win. We did our job to reach freedom, equality, change the dictatorship and have freedom. But I saw we did not prepare.”
The government officially collapsed on Feb. 11, 1979. Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power and replaced 2,500 years of continuous Persian monarchy with a new Islamic Republic. The formation of the theocracy, which was voted in through a national referendum, marked a quick shift in perspective on the role of Western culture in Iran. It was massively popular among the majority of the country.