[We have received this report from a comrade based in West Bengal who has been following the developments of the struggle at the SRMB rolling mills plant at Rajbandh. We are here reposting the report with permission. ]
RMB Rolling Mill Strike and the Limits of the CITU
– Ephraim Rahabi
On 25th November 2010 the workers of the SRMB rolling mill at Durgapur (West Bengal) stopped working in protest against the inconsiderate behaviour of their employers. Since a long time the workers were demanding an increment of mere Rs 36 in their daily wages (which was Rs 115 per day) and the employers , as usual, stubbornly refused to acquiesce in the legitimate demand of the workers.
So, ultimately the workers were forced to go in for a strike. On 25th November while the workers were demonstrating against the owners of their factory some “visitors” on behalf of the authorities arrived there (probably to see whether the “safety” and “security” of their plant’s equipments and their henchmen were jeopardized or not).
These “visitors” decided that the plant should be shut and this decision resulted in a lock out, due to which the workers were denied their bare means of subsistence : their daily wages.
Even after that the workers kept on demonstrating against the cruel decision of their employers, their morale was high.Ultimately the movement of the workers came to an end when the trade union leaders reached a point of agreement with the factory owners on 8th December, 2010.As for the result of the strike, the daily wages of the workers increased by Rs 36, just what they had demanded.
“Progress” For the Bosses on the backs of the Working Class
This enormous factory produces about 300 tonnes of iron bars daily and has around 500 labourers.
Since the building up of the plant in 2005, the SRMB rolling mill at Sagarbhanga (Durgapur-11) has become a source of perpetual nuisance to the local residents due to emission of untreated toxic exhaust and particulate matter which is the root cause of the widespread respiratory problems of the residents of the area.
The Durgapur Municipal Corporation always seeks to perpetuate the myth that “steel city” Durgapur has made a significant progress due to rapid industrialization.
Durgapur has found a place of eminence in the map of West Bengal, however, the reality can only be realized by those who suffer, both directly and indirectly.
The SRMB plant authorities are quite reluctant in matters of providing any sort of safety provisions to their workers.The “immense contribution” of this factory’s owners towards social welfare can be realized from the fact that workers aged between 14 to 16 years are frequently found in this rolling mill and the workers of this factory are forced to work for 12 to 14 hours per day.
The working conditions are horribly unhealthy and can only be compared to the purgatory.
The Policy of Spoil and Grab
The electrostatic precipitator remains permanently switched off (probably, in this matter the motto of the factory-owners is : “save energy, save (or kill?) the nation”).
The nauseating smoke and particulate matter emitted from this factory has led to the spoiling of the crops and also the productivity of soil of the nearby agricultural fields, thus forcing the owners of small plots of land to sell off their lands to the factory owners at meagre prices.
This policy of “spoil and grab” adopted by the industrialists has fetched them much success in acquiring large contiguous plots of lands which has immensely facilitated them in building up their industrial empires.
The Flaws of the Union
The CITU, a Labor Federation linked to the CPI(M), has not any serious strategy to fight back the bosses exploitation. On the opposite, their only strategy is to meet the policies of the CPI(M) in power in West Bengal.
a) Despite of the very low wages, the union has demanded mere R36 per day increase in wages. The total salaries went up to R151 per day. Who can survive with these wages? The CITU should demand a minimum wage five times higher.
b)The union never raises any issue relating to the poisoning of the area. Rather their party, the CPI(M), always tries to suppress all voices raised against the pollution. The CPI(M) leaders often get benefited by the land grabbings carried out by the industrialists (in which the CPIM leaders certainly do get a share). Whenever anyone raises his voice against the dishonesty of the officers of Pollution Control Board or the local CPIM leaders (who are perpetually hand-in -gloves with the factory owners) he is immediately branded as an “enemy of the workers” and earns the label of “being interested to close down the factories and make people unemployed”. As for the peasants, after they lose their land, they themselves become labourers in those factories and automatically come under the ambit of the CITU, which doesn’t allow any other union to enter the premises of these factories.
c) The union is supportive of the government of West Bengal which simply does nothing to defend the working people. Their government officials have received much and are still receiving more from the lousy capitalist scoundrels, so, even if the “management” of the factory decides to skin the workers alive and make boots out of them even then the Government of West Bengal won’t do anything.
d) There is no workers’ democracy in the decision making inside the CITU. The CITU officials decide when the strike starts and when it is over. The workers usually never have any say in the matters concerning decision making within the CITU. Some demonstrations were held against the decision of the factory owners, but ultimately, the workers as usual had to surrender to the union leaders.
Our Stand: For a New Leadership
The workers need a different unionism in order to win.
First, this unionism must be independent from all capitalist parties (the Congress, BJP or Trinamool) and have autonomy from the reformist parties and other parties (like the CPI and the CPI-M).
Second, this unionism must fight for a real minimum wages and for proper working conditions.
Third, this unionism must link the struggles of the workers inside the plant with the struggles of the workers/peasants outside the plant against urban pollution and land poisoning.
Fourth, this unionism must have full workers democracy. Every important decision must be taken in democratic assemblies. The demands of a strike must be decided in an assembly of the workers. The same with the decision on when to start and when to call the strike off. All leaders of the union should have their mandates revokable by an assembly. All leaders should have the same wages as rank and file workers.
Fifth, this unionism must fight for socialism, for a revolutionary change, for a workers’ government, for internationalism. The CITU leaders in reality opposes a socialist revolution although from time to time they do not forget to pay a lip service to Marxist-Leninist ideology.
For a Leninist Party!
The inspiring incident of workers’ resistance at the SRMB factory shows us that what we need is a truly Bolshevik-Leninist party which would be capable of serving as the vanguard of the proletariat of the Indian subcontinent and would be capable of leading a successful revolution of the workers, agricultural labourers and rank-and-file soldiers.
Socialism is the need of the hour. In order to accomplish it we must engage in the task of building up a revolutionary party with a do or die spirit.
Down with Stalinism and Capitulationism!!!
Always Towards Socialism!!!