Iran tower collapse: workers and poor sacrificed on the altar of profit

Crowds of people have been gathering in the streets of Abadan, Iran, chanting slogans against local officials and the owner of a building that collapsed on Monday, leaving at least 10 people dead and 40 injured. The Metropol twin tower complex consisted of two, 10-storey buildings, one of which had been finalised and one that was still under construction. After the latter collapsed on Tuesday, its twin tower also collapsed on Wednesday, while rescue operations were still underway.

This tragedy did not have to happen. Countless warnings had been given by journalists, officials and workers at the site, going back at least a year, as to the dire conditions of the infrastructure of the buildings. Nevertheless work on the site continued, and even though the building permit originally only allowed six floors to be built, another five were added to the permit under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, workers at the company repeatedly complained that huge cracks had appeared in the structures and that the floors were showing clear signs that they might give in. This is clearly visible in videos, taken prior to the collapse, that are being shared on social media.

These complaints, however, were brushed aside. The workers were told to keep working and merely cover up the cracks with cosmetic fillers (see above video). Meanwhile, shops and small businesses were allowed to move into the bottom floors.

While official rescue efforts were criminally slow to start, ordinary people were rushing to the scene to help dig out survivors from the wreckage of the collapsed buildings. In such an event, time is precious to find survivors before they perish, and before further structures give in. Nevertheless, there was and remains a clear shortage of rescue workers and specialist equipment, which has supposedly been dispatched from Tehran, but has been moving at a snail's pace. Meanwhile, armed riot police with advanced surveillance equipment have been quickly dispatched to the whole area in order to make sure the protests do not spill over into other parts of the city.

One person who appeared in a social media video, and seemed to be helping with the rescue efforts, said:

“They [officials] came, took their pictures and videos and left. We tell them to send us some [emergency response] forces. What kind of forces did they send us? Police, anti-riot vehicles. Are we rioters?… our families, our locals… are here [under the rubble]. Why are they not helping?”

To add insult to injury, reports have surfaced that officials are planning to tear down the remaining structures, even though dozens of people are still believed to be buried and trapped under the rubble. This only further enraged the people and the relatives of those believed to be buried under the remains of the building. Over the course of the week, crowds gathered on the streets around the building have repeatedly been shouting slogans against the owner of the building, local officials and the regime, which they see as responsible for the tragedy.

The mayor of Abadan, Hossein Hamidpour, who was involved in issuing the official safety permits for the buildings, despite repeated warnings, was attacked and beaten up by the angry crowds as he visited the site.

Later on, regime-controlled media reported that Hamidpour and nine other local officials, including two former mayors, had been arrested. Meanwhile, several high-level regime officials have been sent to the southern city from Tehran, including Minister of Interior Ahmad Vahidi and Vice-President for Economic affairs Mohsen Rezaei: a former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards and many-time presidential candidate. Rezai’s son was reportedly a business partner of Hossein Abdolbaghi, the landlord and owner of the company that constructed the buildings.

The mysterious case of Abdolbaghi

Hossein Abdolbaghi is one of the biggest capitalists in the region. Only a few years ago he was officially awarded by the regime for being one of the most-important business people in the Arvand Free Zone, of which Abadan is a part. It is clear that, without connections deep into the regime, Abdolbaghi could not have accumulated such tremendous wealth. Seeing the immediate reaction of the people of Abadan however, an arrest warrant was issued for him and it was reported that he was in custody.

Suddenly, however, after the arrival of the delegation of Tehran officials in Abadan, it was announced that Abdolbaghi had died in the building’s collapse. Knowing the methods of the Iranian regime, no one believed this, and calls went out for his corpse to be presented for people to see. Yesterday, pictures emerged on social media claiming to present Abdolbaghi's body - a body which just happened to have all his identifying documents on it, in pristine condition, and without the slightest crease or bend, even though he was supposed to have been crushed by a falling building.

An audio recording later surfaced on social media, claiming to be the voice of a local health worker. He said that a body that was crushed beyond recognition was brought to the hospital on Tuesday night and enormous pressure was exerted by the highest officials of the region on the medical professionals to issue a death certificate for Abdolbaghi. According to the person in the audio clip, doctors resisted this pressure and refused to issue a death permit.

With anger and distrust rife and people in the area demanding revenge, the official state TV network published a surreal video purporting to show the family and friends of Abdolbaghi, who were supposedly inspecting his corpse and identifying him. How they could do this with a completely unrecognisable body is one matter, but the way they acted in the clip is another. Anyone seeing the video – even if you do not speak Persian – can see that the people in it are clearly acting – and not especially well. Whether Abdolbaghi is really dead or not is not clear, but what is clear is there is an attempt underway, by the regime, to cover up the whole matter and silence people.

Another clip on national TV shows an interview with a supposed survivor. However, as people later pointed out, this person was a rescue worker at the site. Clearly, the regime dared not interview anyone who was actually involved in the disaster, lest they reflected the same anger present on the streets. It is clear that the regime is now scrambling to cover up the crime and portray it as an isolated incident caused by corrupt local officials.

Rot of the Iranian regime

In reality, deaths due to unsafe conditions are not at all uncommon in Iran. According to official statistics, around 700-800 workers die every year due to work-related accidents. In relative terms, that is almost double the number of such deaths witnessed in Europe. According to statistics gathered by the Centre of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) however, these figures are too low. From 2 May 2020, to 27 April 2021 the organisation registered at least 1,790 worker deaths due to unsafe conditions. And the real figures will be even higher than that. The HRA reports the highest number of deaths to be in Khuzestan (to which Abadan belongs) and Tehran, with 38 percent of these being among construction workers. The ruling class is more than happy to sacrifice the lives of working people to keep the profits rolling in.

This tragedy brings to light the full extent of the rot within the Iranian regime. The Metropol Towers involved a whole series of the most powerful people in the Khuzestan region. The cynical and callous handling of the affair, from the total disregard to safety during the building process to the reaction to the tragedy - which was far more concerned with covering the backside of the regime than saving lives - has led to an outburst of anger in the city. Abadan has been a centre of social unrest in recent years, with workers, youth and poor taking to the streets on several occasions. The city has a long revolutionary tradition, going back 100 years. It was also here, after the burning down of Rex Cinema in 1978, that the first spark of the 1979 revolution was struck. This point is neither lost on the regime, nor the people of the region.

All of this comes at a time where mass anger at the regime is at an all time high. Last week, the regime announced huge price hikes on all basic goods. The announcement led to protests in more than 100 towns all over the country. The regime responded by arresting thousands and killing an unknown number of people. Meanwhile teachers, oil workers, bus drivers, pensioners and others have been stepping up strikes and protests against the enormous social and economic pressures they are enduring, all while the rich and the powerful are busy looting and plundering, with complete disregard for the impact on ordinary people's lives.

While the regime has been resting on severe repression to quell discontent for years, this is beginning to reach a limit. People are starting to lose their fear, and they want revenge for the countless crimes that are daily being carried out against them by the ruling class. Sooner or later, the dam will burst and all the pent up anger will galvanise into a social explosion.