On the General strike of 2nd September 2015

Background of current strike  –

In May 2014, the general elections brought the right wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party/Indian people’s party) led coalition to power. The previous government was not defeated because of a defeat of struggles, it was not reaction that brought down a supposedly progressive government, but public anger at the relentless attacks on the working poor. Rampant inflation, privatization, increased contractorization and casualization of labor, increased exploitation, land grabbing, deprivation, corruption, all reached their zenith under the previous administration, as did the people’s anger at it.

Modi came to power promising “Achhe din” (Good days), it was hoped that corruption, inflation, unemployment, and exploitation would end. Those who voted for the BJP, voted with the hope that the new government would at least lessen the suffering they endured in the past regime, but more importantly, to vent out their anger and choosing to punish the last government for following pro-capitalist policies.

It has been 16 months since the Modi regime came into power, in this time, the one thing it has proved more than anything else, is that it is in every way just as bad and in some ways worse than the preceding government. This government has been more brazenly pro-capitalist, more reactionary in its attacks on democratic values (like secularism and gender equality), and just as hopeless in its ability to provide for the masses. If Modi  and the BJP has proven one thing it is that in India’s so-called democracy, democracy stops dead the moment the ruling party wins the elections.

Within a short while of coming to power, three very noticeable changes happened in India. The first change, was that there was an increase in communalism (religion-based politics), with riots and communal polarization on religious lines happening throughout the country. Discrimination against Muslims and other non-Hindu minorities was bad enough earlier, but grew much worse under the BJP and this too in a very short span of time ! It has barely been a year since the BJP came to power and Modi became Prime Minister and communal (Hindu-Muslim) violence has increased exponentially !

The second change, was that in a very brief time, a slurry of anti-peasant enactments were attempted. Most notably, the Land Ordinance which sought to reverse the Land Act and all the safeguards conceded to the peasantry by the previous government. Of course, these concessions were achieved through relentless struggle forcing the government to amend the original Land Acquisition Act which was formulated in colonial times.

The third change, which has also caused much agitation in recent months, was an accumulation of anti-worker legislation which sought to increase work hours, take away welfarist concessions and give employers unprecedented power over their employees. It is these anti-worker enactments, which are now being protested in the general strike of 2nd September. Nearly all central trade union federations  and their affiliated bodies have backed the strike call. At the very last moment however, the right wing affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian worker’s association) walked out of the strike action.

The Indian bourgeoisie was euphoric about the coming of the new Modi government, they celebrated Modi and his unabashedly exploitative pro-capitalist model in Gujarat, today the bourgeoisie is beginning to bewail the ‘lost sheen’ of the Modi government.

Demands raised –

The leading union federations at their national conference in July agreed on a 12 point charter of demands and a strategy for building the general strike. The 12 points in the charter are –

1. Urgent measures for containing price-rise through universalization of the public distribution system and a ban on speculative trading in the commodity market.

2. Containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation.

3. Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exceptions or exemptions and stringent punitive measures for any violations of labour laws.

4. Universal social security cover for all workers.

5. Minimum wages of not less than Rs. 15,000/- per month with indexation.

6. Assured enhanced pension not less than Rs. 3000/- p.m. for the entire working population.

7. Stopping disinvestment in Central/State PSUs.

8. Stopping contractorization of permanent perennial work and payment of the same wages and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for the same and similar work.

9. Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility for bonuses or provident funds.

10. Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days from the date of submitting applications; and immediate ratification of ILO Conventions C 87 and C 98.

11. Against Labour Law Amendments.

12. Against FDI in Railways, Insurance and Defence.

What stands out in this charter, is that the demands this time around are more radical and transitional in nature than in previous strikes. They can serve as a foundation to further the struggle in a socialist direction and challenge the rule of capital. Beneath all the surface confusion and bureaucratic reformism, the workers are seeking an alternative to the system that exists now and the unions are feeling the pressure of this desire for change.

Of course, such a change will not come from union action alone, that goes without saying. A change in a socialist direction necessarily requires political leadership. This means we must build a revolutionary party able to take the reins in the class struggle and lead the wave of mobilizations towards a socialist change and the abolition of the capitalist system.

Who is participating ? –

Eleven central trade union federations are participating in the strike action. The organization and build up of the strike has been in much the same vein as earlier general strikes last year and the years before. In other words, it was done by bureaucratic means. While mass meetings were held, strike committees at the local level haven’t been formed.

Central Trade Union Federations
Almost all central trade union federations are participating in the strike including unions linked with bourgeois parties. The INTUC for instance, the second largest union is participating in the strike, is linked with the Congress party. CITU and AITUC (with different CP links) as well as other leading leftist trade unions, such as HMS and NTUI are taking a leading role in the organization of the strike.

Initially, the BMS, aligned with the governing party, was supportive of the strike action, but on the 30th of August the union backed out on receiving government assurances of an increase in bonuses and a wage hike. This shows the fickle backstabbing nature of the union and the shallowness of its commitment. This action of the BMS will make government repression of the striking workers much easier now that their own affiliate union isn’t participating.

Public Sector Unions

The public sector is the bastion of regular employment in India. It is the area in which workers have won the greatest concessions. Together all public sector state owned corporations employ almost 20 million workers. While this may be only a small section of the Indian working class, it is a very  powerful one, running industries as vital as rail transport, coal mining and power. They are also the best organized among the workers.

In the last several general strikes the public sector workers have been among the most enthusiastic participants, and this time too, we can expect the same high level of participation.

The public sector has a lot to fight for with this strike action. Since the “liberalization” of the economy, the public sector has come under one vicious attack after another. The bourgeoisie have been busy withering away every gain the working class has won over the six decades since Independence. Nowhere more is this attack more evident than in the treatment of contract workers and of the process of contractorization of the workforce in the public sector. Partial privatizations and the rise of so-called ‘public private partnerships’ have made it even easier to attack the public sector workers.

In the realm of the public sector the fight for improved working conditions goes hand in hand with the fight against privatization and the need to secure welfare.

Port and DockWorkers

Port and dock workers are known for their militant history. They constitute one of the most vital and internationalist sectors of the working class. They have been at the forefront of the sharpest struggles in Indian history, and played a splendid part in the great naval uprising of 1946.

Port workers have suffered from the corporatization of ports which has led to massive job losses and increasingly precarious employment. In the last ten years alone, the number of dock workers has declined from over 100,000 to 60,000.

Contractorization, privatization, impoverishment and marginalization is what the dockers are fighting against and this strike will give them an opportunity to link with the struggles of other transportation workers who have been facing similar problems.

Road Transport Workers

Road transport workers will be participating in the strike. After the very successful countrywide strike of road transport workers on 30th April, when workers from state government enterprises, the private sector and even self employed sections participated, this is already yet another large scale strike action by road transport workers.

The problems facing the road transport workers are not uncommon in other transport sectors. Here too there is contractorization leading to increased exploitation. The pressures of rapidly changing oil prices have caused a domino effect where the burden of costs are being shifted to the road transport workers and they have to bear the disproportionate burden of road taxation and harassing enforcement measures.

Petroleum Workers

Refined Petroleum in India is provided chiefly by state corporations and a handful of private mega-corporations. As such they hold the reins to a key industry. If they go on strike, the most vital source of fuel runs out.

Telecom Workers

Since the corporatization of BSNL arising from the de-merger of Department of Telecom, it has suffered in various ways under successive neo-liberal regimes. To begin with, its sister company MTNL, was privatized and bought out by the giant capitalist Tata group, reversing most safeguards which public sector workers enjoyed. Thereafter, successive managements have overseen the decline of BSNL as the leading telecom company in India. It has been losing out progressively to private companies, mainly Idea mobile, Vodafone, Tata and especially Airtel and Reliance.

Along with corporatization came discrimination. BSNL has always been treated like a foster child by the government which was more than eager to roll the red carpet for the leading private capitalist firms in the telecom sector. The continuance of these attacks on BSNL has resulted in the company declining and becoming a loss-making company. It has suffered from both contractorization of its workforce and massive retrenchments. The number of employees in the company has declined from nearly 600,000 to around 200,000 today of which more than half (almost 100,000) are employed as contract workers.

The contract workers of BSNL who perform a range of tasks from office maintenance to line maintenance are denied most rights which accrue to regular workers, be it minimum wage, fixed working hours, or provident fund payments. A long and brilliant struggle has been waged by contract workers in BSNL which provide a stellar example for other contract workers to follow. Especially good example of struggles are how the fight against the management at BSNL’s Kerala branch was conducted.

Electricity Workers
The National Co-ordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) has been mounting country wide campaigns against the new Electricity Bill, which will in effect sound a death knell for the demands for electricity as a human right. Affordable and quality energy to domestic consumers will come to an end if the new bill is passed. NCCOEEE had decided to go on a countrywide strike if the new Bill is introduced in parliament. Though it was listed, it could not be introduced in the Monsoon Session. Now, the unions have decided to concentrate on the 2nd September strike.

Other vital sectors
Also participating in the strike are defence sector employees and government scheme workers. The workers employed in the defence sector have to deal with governmental restrictions and high-handedness, while scheme workers have suffered the worst sort of discrimination and exploitation.

Anganwadi employment scheme workers who have shown the greatest enthusiasm for participating in the strike are also among the most exploited layer of the workforce. Theirs is a fight for respect and recognition as much as improved conditions.

Potential impact

Among other things, the strike will be potentially crippling to Indian capital. Practically every sector of the Indian economy is affected by the strike and as has been seen before, the scale and sheer numbers of workers involved makes such general strikes a dangerous affair for the bourgeoisie concerned above all else with its profits. The more absolute the strike is, the greater will be its destructive potential against the interests of the capitalists.

As important as the immediate impact of the strike may be, its longer-term subjective impact will be even more significant. This strike will boost the confidence of the working class and it ought to be a learning experience and a preparation for future confrontations. It will also bring together different sections of workers and give an opportunity to further cooperation and coordination among them. Most significantly, it gives an opportunity to bring together different public sector workers and transport workers together.

Preceding the strike action there have been huge mobilizations in Kolkata by peasants’ organizations involving nearly 200,000 participants. Very recently, the peasantry has won an important political victory by defeating the anti-peasant Land Ordinance Bill, forcing the government to let it lapse. The general strike organizers have reached out to the peasantry, and the solidarity emerging from this could have a tremendous long term impact for the future of the class struggle in India.

Lessons of previous strikes

Between 1991 and 2015 there have been nearly 16 general strikes at a rate of nearly one a year. Between 2010 and 2014 there have been 5 such strikes organized and led chiefly by central trade union federations. They were organized around demands which were reformist in nature, but they brought vital questions facing the working class to the fore. The strikes between 2010 and 2013 were among the largest strikes in history mobilizing up to 100 million workers! Whilst these mobilizations showed the strength and enthusiasm of the working class, and served to increase militant consciousness, they failed to extract the concessions that were aimed for. The bourgeoisie recovered rapidly after the initial shocks and brushed off the impact of the strike quite easily returning to business as usual.

The experience of these strikes must be assimilated to prepare for this strike as well as the planned indefinite strike for November 23rd. The objective of the strike after all, is to force the government to withdraw its anti-worker labor law amendments and to bring in much needed changes in the interests of the working class. The class must make the bourgeoisie feel its strength to win its demands, it would be a mistake to expect the enemy to be “reasonable” and compromise with them hoping for them to act in a rational or humane manner. Calls to do so are only traps to keep the working class exploited and perhaps increasing its exploitation. Let us not forget how in colonial times the British used the Round Table Conferences to repeatedly stymie the great mass mobilizations of Indians, and how Gandhi repeatedly swallowed this bait and let entire nation-wide mobilizations fizzle out into nothing. The Indian bourgeoisie uses the same tactics to deceive and pacify the Indian masses in our time.

Need for solidarity

The working class in India is now marching ahead, and it is coming face to face with the machinations of the Indian bourgeois-capitalist state. The Indian working class is huge and powerful, but so is its enemy. The key to success against the Indian bourgeoisie is to win the support of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie which together are more numerous than the working class in India today. Numbers won’t win this struggle, political energy and good leadership of the masses in India will.

Added to this must be international solidarity. Appeals must be made to trade unions across South Asia, the gulf region and South East Asia to support and align their struggles with those of the Indian working class to concentrate and amplify the energy of the struggles of the workers in this region. Support from workers of every major nation, the US, the UK too must be achieved.

Now is a most critical time in the trajectory of class struggle in India and decisive struggles are about to be waged.

DOWN WITH CAPITALISM ! DOWN WITH MODI !

THE WORKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED !

Report on the brutal lathi charge against contract workers and students in Delhi

The following report was written by Abhinav Sinha, editor “Mazdoor bigul” magazine and ‘Muktrikami Chhatron-yuvaon ka Aahwan’, Writer of blog ‘Red Polemique’ and Research Scholar in History Department, Delhi University.

On 25th March, we witnessed one of the most brutal, probably the most brutal lathi charge on workers in Delhi in at least last 2 decades.

It is noteworthy that this lathi-charge was ordered directly by Arvind Kejriwal, as some Police personnel casually mentioned when I was in Police custody.

It might seem surprising to some people because formally the Delhi Police is under the Central Government.

However, when I asked this question to the Police, they told me that for day-to-day law and order maintenance, the Police is obliged to follow the directives from the CM of Delhi, unless and until it is in contradiction with some directive/order of the Central Government.

The AAP government is now in a fix as it cannot fulfill the promises made to the working class of Delhi.

And the working class of Delhi has been refusing to forget the promises made to them by the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal.

As is known, on February 17, the students of School of Open Learning, DU went in sizeable numbers to submit their memorandum to the CM.

Again, on March 3, hundreds of DMRC contract employees went to submit their memorandum to the Kejriwal government and were lathi-charged.

From the beginning of this month, various workers’ organizations, unions, women’s organizations, student and youth organizations have been running ‘WADA NA TODO ABHIYAN’, which aims at reminding and then compelling the Kejriwal government to fulfill its promises to the working poor of Delhi, like the abolition of contract system in perennial nature of work, free education till class 12th, filling 55 thousand vacant seats in the Delhi government, recruiting 17 thousand new teachers, making all the housekeepers and contract teachers as permanent, etc.

The Kejriwal government and the Police administration had already been intimated about the demonstration of 25th March and the Police had not given any prior prohibitory order.

However, what happened on 25th March was horrendous and as I was part of the activists who were attacked, threatened and arrested by the Police, I would like to give an account of what happened on March 25, why did scores of workers, women and students go to the Delhi Secretariat, what treatment was meted out to them and how the majority of the mainstream media channels and newspapers conveniently blacked out the brutal repression of wokers, women and students.

Why did thousands of workers, women and student go to the Delhi Secretariat on March 25?

As mentioned earlier, a number of workers’ organizations have been running ‘Wada Na Todo Abhiyan’ for last one month in Delhi to remind Arvind Kejriwal of the promises he and his party made to the working people of Delhi.

These promises include the abolition of contract system on work of perennial nature; filling 55 thousand vacant posts of Delhi government; recruiting 17 thousand new teachers and making the contract teachers as permanent; making all contract safai karamcharis as permanent; making school education till 12th free; these are the promises that could be fulfilled immediately.

We know it will take time to build houses for all jhuggi dwellers; however, a roadmap must be presented before the people of Delhi. Similarly, we know that providing 20 new colleges will take time; however, Mr. Kejriwal had told the media that some individuals have donated land for two colleges and he must tell now where are those lands and when is the state government going to start the construction of these colleges.

It is not as if Kejriwal government did not fulfill any of its promises. It fulfilled the promises made to the factory owners and shop-keepers of Delhi immediately!

And what did he do for the contract workers? Nothing, except a sham interim order pertaining to contract workers in the government departments only, which ordered that no contract employee in government departments/corporations shall be terminated till further notice.

However, newspapers reported a few days later that dozens of home guards were terminated just a few days after this sham interim order!

That simply means that the interim order was just a facade to fool the contract workers in the government departments and people of Delhi at large.

These are the factors that led to a suspicion among the working people of Delhi and consequently various trade unions, women’s organizations, student organizations began to think about a campaign to remind Mr. Kejriwal of the promises made to the common working people of Delhi.

Consequently, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) was initiated on March 3 with a demonstration of contract workers of DMRC. At the same day, the Kejriwal government was informally informed about the demonstration of 25th March and later an official intimation was given to the Police administration.

The Police did not give any prior prohibitory notice to the organizers before the demonstration.

However, as soon as the demonstrators reached Kisan Ghat, they were arbitrarily told to leave!

The police refused to allow them to submit their memorandum and charter of demands to the Government, which is their fundamental constitutional right, i.e., the right to be heard, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to express.

What really happened on March 25 ?

Around 1:30 PM, nearly 3500 people had gathered at the Kisan Ghat. RAF and CRPF had been deployed there right since the morning. Consequently, the workers moved peacefully towards the Delhi Secretariat in the form of a procession. They were stopped at the first barricade and the police told them to go away.

The protesters insisted on seeing a government representative and submit their memorandum to them. The protesters tried to move towards the Delhi Secretariat.

Then the police without any further warning started a brutal lathi-charge and began to chase protesters.

Some women workers and activists were seriously injured in this first round of lathi-charge and hundreds of workers were chased away by the Police.

However, a large number of workers stayed at the barricade and started their ‘Mazdoor Satyagraha’ on the spot.

Though, the police succeeded to chase away a number of workers, yet, almost 1300 workers were still there and they continued their satyagraha.

Almost 700 contract teachers were at the other side of the Secretariat, who had come to join this demonstration.

They were not allowed by the police to join the demonstration. So they continued their protest at the other side of the Secretariat.

The organizers repeatedly asked the Police officers to let them go to the Secretariat and submit their memorandum. The Police flatly refused.

Then the organizers reminded the police that it is their constitutional right to give their memorandum and the government is obliged to accept the memorandum. Still, the police did not let the protesters go the Secretariat and submit their memorandum.

The workers after waiting for almost one and a half hours gave an ultimatum of half an hour to the Police before trying to move towards the Secretariat again. When the Police did not let them go to the Secretariat to submit their memorandum after half an hour, then the police again started lathi charge. This time it was even more brutal.

I have been active in the student movement and working class movement of Delhi for last 16 years and I can certainly say that I have not seen such Police brutality in Delhi against any demonstration.

Women workers and activists and the workers’ leaders were especially targetted.

Male police personnel brutally beat up women, dragged them on streets by their hair, tore their clothes, molested them and harrassed them.

It was absolutely shocking to see how several police personnel were holding and beating women workers and activists.

Some of the women activists were beaten till the lathis broke or the women fainted.

Tear gas was used on the workers. Hundreds of workers lied down on the ground to continue their peaceful Satyagraha. However, the police continued to brutally beat them. Finally, the workers tried to continue their protest at the Rajghat but the Police and RAF continued to hunt them down. 18 activists and workers were arrested by the Police including me.

One of my comrades, Anant, a young activist was beaten brutally even after being taken in custody in front of me. The police abused him in the worst way. Similar treatment was meted out to other activists and workers in custody. Almost all of the persons taken in custody were injured and some of them were seriously injured.

Four women activists Shivani, Varsha, Varuni and Vrishali were taken into custody and particularly targeted. Vrishali’s fingers got fractured, Varsha’s legs were brutally attacked, Shivani was attacked repeatedly on the back by several police personnel and also sustained a head injury and Varuni also was brutally beaten up..

The extent of injuries can be gauged by the fact that Varuni and Varsha had to be admitted again to the Aruna Asaf Ali Hospital on 27th March, when they were out on bail. Women activists were constantly abused by the police.

The police personnel hurled sexist remarks and abuses on the women activists, that I cannot mention here. It was part of the old conventional strategy of the Police to crush the dignity of the activists and protesters.

The 13 arrested male activists were also injured and five of them were seriously injured. However, they were made to wait, two of them bleeding, for more than 8 hours for medical treatment. During our stay in the Police station, we were repeatedly told by a number of police personnel that the order to lathi charge the protesters was given directly from the CM’s office.

Also, the intent of the Police was clear from the very beginning: to brutalize the protestors. They told us that the plan was to teach a lesson
.
The next day four women comrades were granted bail and 13 male activists were granted conditional bail for 2 days. The IP Estate Police station was asked to verify the addresses of the sureties. The police was demanding 14 days police custody for the arrested activists. The intent of the administration is clear: brutalizing the activists again.

The police is constantly trying to arrest us again and slap false charges on us.

As is the convention of the police administration now, anyone who raises their voice against the injustice perpetrated by the system is branded as “Maoists”, “Naxalite”, “terrorists”, etc.

In this case too, this intent of the police is clear.

This only shows how Indian capitalist democracy functions. Especially in the times of political and economic crisis, it can only survive by stifling any kind of resistance from the working people of India against the naked brutality of the system.

The events of 25th March stands witness to this fact.

What happens next?

It is a common mistake of the rulers to assume that brutalizing the struggling women, workers and students would silence the voices of dissent. They commit this mistake again and again. Here too, they are grossly mistaken.

The police brutality of March 25 was an attempt of the Kejriwal Government to convey a message to the working poor of Delhi and this message was simply this: if you raise your voice against the betrayal of the Kejriwal Government against the poor of Delhi, you will be dealt with in the most brutal fashion.

Our wounds are still fresh, many of us have swollen legs, fractured fingers, head injuries and with every move we can feel the pain.

However, our resolve to fight against this injustice and expose the slimy fraud that is Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP has become even stronger.

The trade unions, women organizations and student organizations and thousands of workers have refused to give up. They have refused to give in. They are already running exposure campaigns around Delhi, though most of their activists are still injured and some of us can barely walk.

Kejriwal government has committed a disgusting betrayal against the working people of Delhi who had reposed a lot of faith in AAP.

The working people of Delhi will not forgive the fraud committed by the Aam Admi Party.

I think the Fascism of Aam Aadmi Party is even more dangerous than the mainstream Fascist party like the BJP, at least in the short run, and I myself witnessed it on March 25!

And there is a reason for it: just like small capital is much more exploitative and oppressive as compared to big capital at least immediately, similarly, the regime of small capital is much more oppressive as compared to regime of big capital, at least in the short run!

And the AAP government represents the right-wing populist dictatorship of small capital, of course, with a shadow of jingoistic Fascism. This fact has been clearly demonstrated by the events of 25th March.

Apparently enough, Kejriwal is scared and has run out of ideas and that is why his government is resorting to such measures that are exposing him and his party completely.

He knows that he cannot fulfill the promises made to the working poor of the Delhi, especially, abolition of contract system on perennial nature work because if he even tries to do so, he will lose his social and economic base among the traders, factory owners, contractors and petty middlemen of Delhi.

This is the peculiarity of AAP’s agenda: it is an aggregative agenda (a ostensibly class collaborationist agenda) which ostensibly includes the demands of petty traders, contracters, rich shopkeepers, middlemen and other sections professional/self-employed petty bourgeoisie as well as jhuggi-dwellers, workers, etc.

It can not fulfill all the demands mentioned in the agenda, because the demands of these disparate social groups are diametrically opposite.

The real partisanship of the AAP is with the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie of Delhi which is already apparent in the one-and-a-half-month rule of AAP. AAP actually and politically belongs to these parasitic neo-rich classes. The rhetoric of ‘aam admi’ was just to make good of the opportunity created by the complete disillusionment of the people with the Congress and the BJP. This rhetoric was useful as long as the elections were there.

As soon as, the people voted for the AAP en masse, in the absence of any alternative, the real ugly Fascist face of Arvind Kejriwal has become exposed.

Even internally, the AAP politics has been exposed due to the current dog-eat-dog fight for power between the Kejriwal faction and the Yadav faction.

This is not to say that had Yadav faction been at the the helm of affairs, things would have been any different for the working class of Delhi.

This ugly inner fight only shows the real character of AAP and helps a lot of people realize that AAP is not an alternative and it is no more different from the parties like the Congrees, BJP, SP, BSP, CPM, etc. Particularly, the workers of Delhi are understanding this truth.

That is the reason why the workers of Hedgewar Hospital spontaneously went on strike against the police brutality and the Kejriwal government on the evening of March 25 itself.

Anger is simmering among the DMRC workers, contract workers of other hospitals, contract teachers, jhuggi-dwellers and the poor students and unemployed youth of Delhi.

The working class of Delhi has begun to organize to win their rights and oblige the Kejriwal government to fulfill its promises; the desperate attempt of the Kejriwal government to repress the workers will definitely backfire.

Workers’, students’ and women organizations have begun their exposure campaign in different working class and poorer neighbourhoods of Delhi. If the AAP government fails to fulfill its promises made to the working poor of Delhi and fails to apologize the disgusting and barbaric attack on thousands of women, workers and students of Delhi, it will face a boycott from the working poor of Delhi.

Each and every of the wounds inflicted on us, the workers, women and youth of Delhi on March 25 will prove to be a fatal mistake of the present government.

Death in the air – A recent rebellion in Udyog Vihar

Note: The article has been written by Akash Bhattacharya on the basis of the findings of a Labour Solidarity Forum (LSF) team and an independent fact-finding visit by Amit Chakraborty. The LSF team comprised of Dheeraj Anand, Leila Gautham, Parag Bannerji, Pratik Ali, Santosh Kumar and Sthira Bhattacharya, besides Akash Bhattacharya.

11 February 2015. Shamichand, a thirty-two year-old worker at Gaurav International – a garment factory at Udyog Vihar in Gurgaon – reported ten minutes late for the second shift that starts around 1:30 p.m. The guard at the factory gate stopped him and an altercation ensued. Shamichand was brutally beaten up. Within an hour news spread that he had died. Workers of Gaurav International and its sister concern Richa Global, indignant at the atrocity, attacked and damaged the buildings and vehicles of the two concerns in the vicinity. Within a day English and Hindi newspapers reported that workers had “gone on the rampage” and “vandalized” the factories upon mere rumours of a death.
Shamichand had not died; and the workers’ acts of “vandalism” were not merely about his suspected death. Few in fact seemed to have accurate information about the incident. They had mutinied against the conditions that make death probable. They work, earn and reproduce amidst oppression, degradation and fear. “If one person stands up, he will be dismissed [from the factory] and everyone will be too scared to do anything” claims Rachna, a female worker in Udyog Vihar. Fear surrounds their homes too in the shape of exploitative landlords and contractors. Sita’s brother-in-law had committed suicide some months ago under suspicious circumstances and the police had refused to accept a First Investigation Report (FIR). She suspects foul play by the maliks (either factory owners or the landlord).
The need for a pliant and flexible labour force for “development” requires their lives and deaths to be rendered invisible. The simmering anger sometimes boils over creating minor but threatening ripples on the tranquil surface of a comfortably ignorant society.
Insignificant Lives
Two days after the incident, a fact-finding team that reached Udyog Vihar was greeted with some suspicion. Outsiders – often upper class people – are correctly deemed unlikely to side with workers. Besides, the police had already filed FIR against two hundred rebellious workers and were looking to arrest them. Knowledge was therefore to be carefully circulated; largely preserved within a subterranean information society. At Kapashera, the border between Delhi and Gurgaon, we were welcomed by a banner with a smiling Arvind Kejriwal thanking all citizens of Delhi for delivering the historic election verdict in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party. Across the border is Udyog Vihar – the industrial area – while the worker’s colonies saturate the lanes on the side of Delhi. They aren’t however the “citizens” that Kejriwal was thanking.
Mostly migrants from agricultural districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal, the workers face acute social and political isolation. Shamichand for instance hails from Gorakhpur. Neither are they allowed to unionize themselves nor are most of them voters at the site of their exploitation. In fact the latest wikipedia entry for Gurgaon denies their existence altogether: only the bustling Information Technology sector features under the “economic activities” section. Spatially locked away in the by-lanes near the border, their existence is sometimes trivialized as chhotamota – meager, inconsequential – by more privileged local residents.
Garment workers, numbering over lakhs in Udyog Vihar, are paid miserably low salaries. A permanent worker earns between Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 7000/- per month for 8 hours of work per day, which rises to around Rs. 9000/- with the addition of overtime pay. Unlike the automobile sector along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), salaries and employment security are similar for permanent and contract workers. Permanent workers better leave facilities and social security benefits on paper. The deduction of money for Provident Fund from an already meager salary however adds to their hardships in the present.
We began by asking street peddlers, fruit and vegetable vendors about the incident. Some denied any knowledge of the incident, nevertheless calling it “usual”. A rickshaw puller felt that a fine would have sufficed for coming late; the thrashing was unwarranted and unjust. Some did not seem to bother too much about it: we merely come there and sell our stuff to earn a living, what do we know of such incidents? Some said that they had noticed workers running towards the border as the police chased them: a rare instance of rebellious workers leaving a mark in the social space beyond their factory/home. Traffic was blocked along the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, IFFCO Chowk, MG Road and Signature Tower too; not due to a workers’ invasion but police efforts to insulate the privileged from the insurgents.
What the Workers Say
Strikingly many workers and other respondents on the streets continue to believe that Shamichand died or that he is fighting for his life. Unsurprising, as death-at-work is a common occurrence here. On 28th March 2014 Sunil Pushkar, a worker in the tailoring department of a garment factory, suddenly collapsed on his seat in front of the electronic sewing machine. He uttered hum ko bacha lo (please save me) to a relative before passing away on the way to the hospital. While the postmortem report claimed that it was a heart attack his colleagues suspected electrocution and blamed the factory management for inadequate safety measures.[i]
Sunil Pushkar’s relatives were fortunate to receive his mortal remains at least. We heard stories of workers disappearing, of dead bodies vanishing; to ensure that no compensation could be claimed and no subversive narratives weaved by the dead. Some workers in Udyog Vihar were not only convinced that Shamichand had died but also concerned about whether his mortal remains were ever going to be found.
Many women – industrial workers and house-workers – also believe that Shamichand is dead. They sympathized with his wife who worked at the same factory as her husband. She was suddenly told before 2 p.m. that day that someone was calling her outside. She rushed out to see her husband lying on the ground. His brutalized body, no longer fit to work, had been discarded. She, along with her brother-in-law, took him to Safdarjung Hospital where he was treated and discharged in a few hours. He later had to be admitted to the Employees’ State Insurance Commission (ESIC) Hospital in Gurgaon.
Indignation at Shamichand’s condition was palpable among women in the residential quarters even as they spoke of their unique difficulties which their men did not always sympathize with: double burden of industrial work to supplement family income and housework. Rachna works eleven hours a day in Udyog Vihar for a paltry Rs. 5000/- a month to finance her child’s education. A poster on the outer walls of Gaurav International celebrates the education of girl children even as the industry denies the finances to its workers to do so.
The outer limit of tolerance was not the same in all workers; though a sense of rage pervaded. Some said that while fines and reprimands were permissible, “We won’t tolerate slaps”. Some felt that the factory manager was responsible; for others, managers are decent people and it is the staff that mistreats workers. Either way the act was not to be condoned. Some accepted that it was wrong for Shamichand to have arrived late, for his job – quality checking – required on-time attendance though the punishment meted out had been disproportionate. Others said that it was unacceptable that workers be taken to task for arriving late whereas mangers and staff could take their own time. Many were angered by the suggestion that the ensuing violence was the work of outsiders, “union people from Haryana”, as an official at Richa Global claimed. They were proud that their colleagues could take such prompt and brave action. “The management was going overboard, something had to happen. Now they know how not to treat us”, several workers claimed. The lack of dignity at work seemed to pinch them as much as low salaries and hard living.

Of Rumours and Fabulous Tales
Amardeep Dagar, the Human Resource General Manager of Gaurav International provides a different account of the incident. According to him the guard had asked Shamichand to speak to his senior before entering the factory, upon which he slapped the guard. An altercation ensued and far from being grievously injured he went to the police to file an FIR. The police themselves shifted him to Safdarjung where he was treated and discharged. He had been asked to join work the following day but instead he let himself be instigated by outsiders and demanded 10 lakh rupees as compensation. On being denied, he lied to doctors to get himself admitted at the ESI Hospital. The next day his wife and brother brought around one hundred and fifty hooligans, pelted stones, burnt files, injured four members of the factory staff and damaged eight-eight vehicles. The police arrived and promptly stopped the arson. The Station House Officer at Udyog Vihar police station claimed that the police had accepted FIR from both sides and that there had been no injury to anyone.
Despite variations in the workers’ accounts of the incident one does notice a pattern in them. All of them claim that the guard beat the worker and not the other way round, that his colleagues retaliated in response, and that the police had sided entirely with the factory management. Their side of the story is eminently believable, for it has been repeated across scores of factories along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor over the past few years. The police, law and the labor welfare departments have taken the side of neo-liberal capital during unrests at Maruti-Suzuki, Munjal Kiriu, Asti (all in Manesar, Haryana), Autofit (Dharuhera, Haryana), Daikin Air Conditioning (Neemrana, Rajasthan) to name a few.[ii]
Beyond the core set of facts that is repeated by every worker, discrepancies surface. Some claim Shamichand was beaten by the guard alone, some say it involved bouncers. Some say he was beaten inside, some say outside. Not many know who took him to the hospital and what exact condition he is in right now. Some claim that it wasn’t workers who started the violence: it was a response to stone-pelting by the police. Discrepancies are partly deliberate, as none wants to be identified as a participant in the violence. The management has submitted the available CCTV footage to the police and the arrest of some workers is imminent. Four are already behind bars. The camera is rumoured to have been damaged in the violence and the entire footage is possibly unavailable.
The incongruities in the accounts emerging out of the subterranean information society point to the irrelevance of some details. Within the grand-narrative of neo-liberal “development” workers are destined for miserable lives and unceremonious deaths. Even if Shamichand did not die, someone did some weeks back and more will in the coming weeks. Rumours of death, so trivialized in many a report on the incident, are true; even if not in the immediate sense. To say that they are false would amount to a greater lie.
In the light of the great truth regarding the ugly underbelly of industrializing India many fabulous tales take root. In the varying accounts of the Shamichand incident, his brother emerges as a magic figure. Amardeep Dagar identifies him as the conspirator-in-chief: the man who instigated Shamichand to demand a compensation of ten lakhs instead of getting back to work. A landlady in the by lanes of Kapashera told us that he worked in the air-force; that he had managed to get the phone number of the vidhayak (parliamentarian) from a television channel, called him up and got him to send a police force! She however shed no light on what role that force was supposed to play. Several workers believe that he has greater financial power than the factory management and can pose a serious challenge to their machinations. Above all, being bade aadmi (big man) he is not going to take his brother’s plight lying down.
In reality, Shamichand’s brother, Shekhar, is no more powerful than a garment worker. A few workers speculated that the powerful one could be some second brother though we did not come to know of a brother other than Shekhar. He too worked at Gaurav International for seven years and changed his job barely a month ago. He has been running around in vain to file an FIR against the management for beating his brother to pulp. As the workers desperately hang on to their lives and dignity, fabulous stories surrounding materially powerful people rather than god-men aid their emotional sustenance. In the face of a severe crisis in the material world even God’s power is reduced to the material means at his disposal.

Appeal for solidarity from ASTI workers

We are reproducing the appeal for solidarity by contract workers at ASTI who have been on a hunger strike opposing the conditions of work at the factory of ASTI at Gurgaon. We request all our readers and followers to help –

An appeal by ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, Manesar, Gurgaon
3rd December 2014
We the contract workers of ASTI Electronics factory at IMT Manesar, Gurgaon are on Dharna from 3rd November and 7 of us continue fast-unto-death from 25th November with our just demands against contractualisation, illegal lay off, and exploitation.

We had a tripartite meeting with the management and labour department day before and yesterday 2nd December. The management of ASTI continued with their adamant anti-worker attitude, and spoke through the contractors in the meeting. The DLC (Deputy Labour Commissioner) of Gurgaon, J.C. Mann also spoke in the management’s language, and told us off that there is no work so we have been laid off. We did not buy their false arguments and said that most of us have been working in the factory for the last 4-5 years in perennial nature of work in the assembly line. We should rather be made permanent by law and the contract itself is a sham contract. There was no resolution in the tripartite meetings, and the DLC rather than giving us any concrete promise has now passed on the case to the ALC (Asst. Labour Commissioner) Gurgaon.

Anti-social elements instigated by the management have been continuing to harass us, to inform which, a team of workers also met the Police Commissioner Gurgaon yesterday, but no concrete steps have been taken by the police other than forming barricades from the management’s side in front of the factory.

The health of 5 women and 2 male workers on fast-unto-death from 25th November is deteriorating, and ketone body has been found in the blood samples. But the Gurgaon administration has not even sent a single doctor or any medical assistance to the dharna site till date. A team of workers from ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti also met the DC (Deputy Commissioner) Gurgaon to tell the administration to remind them of their responsibility but to no heed. We shall go to meet the DC Gurgaon again tomorrow 4th December at 11am and we appeal to pro-worker individuals and forces to come in solidarity in the meeting with the DC Gurgaon.

We are enthused to have received solidarity from workers in industrial belt. But at present, we are continuing with our struggle in the face of severe odds of anti-worker management-administration-police nexus. We are faced with a severe financial crisis which is becoming a hurdle in sustaining our struggle. We appeal to all pro-worker forces and individuals to come to our dharna site and also to contribute financially to our struggle.

Please send in your contributions to:
Raghuvendra Pratap
State Bank of India,
Sector 10A, Gurgaon Branch,
Account No. 34189662682
CIF No. 87673860011
Contact for further details: Shivani and Raghuvendra
(ASTI Theka Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti):
09555671885; 9654553194, 9971735073

FULL SUPPORT TO THE CONTRACT WORKERS STRIKE OF BSNL

SUPPORT THE STRIKE OF CONTRACT WORKERS ! FULL SUPPORT TO CONTRACT WORKERS OF BSNL !

On the 27th of November, the contract workers union of BSNL are taking a most important and necessary step. On this day nearly one lakh contract workers employed in BSNL are going on strike across India. It is a united strike action by all workers around eleven key demands crucial for the contract workers.

1) Regularisation of left out casual and contract workers.
2) Casual labor wage to be the same as the lowest wage of BSNL instead of DOT.
3) Minimum Wage as per Government Orders to be implemented for the contract workers, including higher wages for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled as per A, B, and C cities.
4) Wages must be paid through cheque/account in time. Even if contractor changes, the same workers should continue.
5) Implementation of Social Security measures like EPF, ESI, and Gratuity, Bonus.
6) HRA quarters to be allotted to contract workers.
7) EPF account to be opened by Principal Employer instead of contractor.
8) Issue ID cards by BSNL management.
9) Equal pay for Equal work for contract workers.
10) Vacate Victimisation – Reinstate all retrenched workers.
11) Recognize BSNL Casual Contract Workers Federation.

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Duality of responsibility b/w company and contractors. Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

The need for unity and organization. Unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

Statement on BSNL contract worker’s dharna on 26th

ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE CONTRACT WORKER’S STRUGGLE !

Contract workers in BSNL are said to number around at least 1 lakh. This huge force of workers are among the most exploited segment of the company’s workforce. These workers, some of whom have worked for over ten years, remain deliberately exempted from benefits which are guaranteed by labor laws. After years of wait, all contract workers have united in their struggle and today are out on protest all over the nation under the banner of the BSNL Contract and Casual Worker’s Federation. The New Wave Bolshevik Leninist group extends its full support to the union and the contract workers who have come out on struggle today. We are with you all the way !

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

For unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

The long term goal and short term goal.

Our struggle must be shaped in two directions. On the one hand, we must keep a long term goal, whilst on the other keep a gist of short term goals which can give contract workers immediate relief. The long term goal must be the regularization of all contract and casual workers employed by the company and their alleviation to the status of a permanent worker with the wage rate and attached benefits of a permanent worker, for all those who do work of a permanent nature. For those whose work is of a temporary nature, to make improvements in their condition of work and wage rate bringing them at par with permanent workers employed in similar areas of work. Our short term aims must include the most urgent and immediate questions of increases of pay and regularization of payment as well as measures which can guarantee us these.

Lastly, we must remember that it is only through rigorous and organized struggle that we can win in our fight. There are encouraging examples right within BSNL of victories which the contract workers have won through their struggle. In Kerala and Karnataka where they have won wage increases, and have successfully fought back discrimination against themselves. These are examples which show the way forward for all of us.

Abolish contractorization ! Stable jobs and good conditions for all !

Stop the discrimination ! Equal pay for equal work !

Report on field visit to BSNL contract workers

On the 22nd of January, comrade Adhiraj and Pushkar of the New Wave made a visit to a team of contract workers who attended our Open Forum on the 7th of January.

They were engaged in work of line repair for BSNL underground cables. The workers have told us that they have been at this work since morning at 9 and had spent 7 hours at work by the time we arrived. During our stay there we did not see any supervisor nor technician on the spot to guide the workers in this work, although the line man ought to be present.

When we asked about the nature of the work and the support from the company or contractor, one worker was quick to point out that “There is no support from the company or contractor, if we injure ourselves there is no accident insurance either. Despite the fact that the work we do is of a hazardous nature”. They also pointed out to us an earlier incident of a colleague being injured while on duty.

Later on we discussed about the core demands which the workers would look forward to. They were all unanimous in stating that their main concern is getting proper payment of wages. One worker among them told us “The contractor disburses the payments, and he always pays us less than the minimum wage. We don’t get ESI *( Employee’s State Insurance) payment or Provident Fund payment, but a much smaller amount” . Incidentally it was in most cases less than the stipulated minimum wage for the state of Maharashtra and far below the minimum wage guaranteed by the latest order by BSNL itself.

When asked “are you satisfied with the minimum wage of around Rs. 10,000?” the workers unanimously stated that the wage must be at least Rs. 12-15,000 especially so given the rising cost of rent and transport. Most of the workers we interviewed live in the outskirts of Pune and have to travel distances of 50 or more kilometres to arrive at the office, from where they are assigned different areas of the city to work in. The pressure for transportation drains out most of the monthly income from the workers, which we found were in most cases around Rs. 5000 . A pitiable amount considering the house rent and cost of transport. Even here, though workers have complained to us about arrears in payment and delays in payment. We were told by one worker, that two months’ payment of wages had not yet been given to him.

We asked him later on about how long he has been working in BSNL and what were his motivations in joining the company. He explained to us : “I have been working in BSNL for around 12 years at least. Right after completing graduation I joined the company. We were told that BSNL was a growing and reputed government company. All of us who joined expected the stability of a government job. I hoped that after two or three years my employment would be regularized, but nothing of the sort happened. In the last 12 years I have seen no change it has been as bad as it is now. I have two parents, a wife and a child in my family, and so far, we’re surviving only on my father’s pension. I haven’t been able to contribute a single rupee to the family because my wages are too little and aren’t paid in time.”

All workers we discussed with were more than willing to come out in struggle for their basic demands, however, they did not find the necessary support. The main trade unions in BSNL had not raised the issue of contract workers on their agenda till the New Wave Bolshevik Leninist initiated its Open Forums. The main fear in the minds of the workers however, was the constant threat of retrenchment which the contractor keeps repeating. Absence is punished with pay cuts and the workers are forced to attend on weekends including Sundays and other statutory holidays. Even Independence Day and Republic Day are not spared and their names are written on the muster rolls even when they do not attend. That day’s pay is cut from their monthly salary.

Comrade Adhiraj Bose later on answered the doubts regarding the legal structure in place for contract work. In particular, the duties of the contractor and the management in the event that the contractor fails to do his duty. The position of the contract worker is legally synonymous with a ‘workman’ in the Industrial Disputes Act which entitles him to all benefits which any permanent worker enjoys including ESI payment and Provident Fund. Not only that, but makes it mandatory on part of the contractor to provide for this. A discrepancy in payments by the contractor would invoke punitive sections in the Abolition and Regulation of Contract Workers Act, and would also put burden on the company management to make good any arrear in payment to the worker. Neither company nor contractor is performing their legally binding duty in this case. Equally significant to note, that when a worker is employed in a job of a continuing nature, that entitles him for regularization. Most of the workers therefore, would be entitled to regularization.

At the end of the meeting the workers were keen to know about the next step in the Open Forums initiative. We have resolved to continue the organization of the Open Forum and use it as a fighting force for the rights of contract workers. The next step we decided is to investigate into grievances of contract workers within Pune district and investigate into contractors who have indulged in illegal abuses.

Contractorization of labour and the fight against it

Contractorization of work has fallen like a curse upon the Indian proletariat. The trend in Indian capitalism has been to make work more and more precarious in order to more thoroughly exploit the working class. Contractorization is being more and more preferred as a medium of employment as it blurs the lines of employment responsibility and helps capitalists escape legal compulsions towards their workforce. It promotes abuses like arbitrary retrenchments, non-payment of minimum wages, and denial of welfare measures which are the right of the workers. But this has not been unanswered and without opposition.

With the spread of contractorization of work, there has been has given rise to a movement against this. A trend of struggle against contractorization has emerged emerged which has seen more and more trade unions playing a proactive role in regularizing contract workers. The aim being fought for is for the total abolition of the contract worker system. It is important to note that despite the existence of a legal framework in force, in the form of the Contract workers, (regulation and abolition) Act 1970, and the Contract Labour (regulation and abolition) Central Rules 1971, abuses on contract workers still persist. As in many similar cases, legislation of this kind serves more as a fig leaf than any real protection.

A brief overview of some important struggles :

Contract workers throughout the country are mobilizing against unfair and exploitative treatment at the hands of their employers. Some have achieved notable victories, as was the case with the BSNL contract workers at Kerala. An indefinite strike was started by contract and temporary workers in Kerala from 12th of August with demands for wage revisions and implementation of ESIEmployees Social Insurance (ESI) and EPFEmployees Provident Fund (EPF) which resulted in a comprehensive agreement. The agreement guarantees :

1. The employees engaged for Cable/Line maintenance will be paid @ Rs.258/- + DA


2. All other workers will be paid @ Rs.236/-+DA


3. EPF and ESI will be implemented.


4. Work less than 4 hours will be treated as part time and ESI & EPF will be implemented.

5. Payment of bonus will be considered and provision will be included in the tender.

6. ID card certified by BSNL officer will be issued.

7. The system of Work Contract will not be implemented at present.

This was a notable victory of contract workers in BSNL’s Kerela SSA and a model which can be followed in other circles.

Similar struggles had been initiated out in Goa last year where around 350 contract workers went on strike for regularization of jobs. This was after the local management had assured the workers of guaranteeing they would guarantee them statutory welfare measures like leave, weekly off, holidays, overtime, bonus and a wage revision. Reports from Karnataka show similar mass mobilizations, with a 1,000 contract and casual workers agitating for regularization. The demands include payment of minimum wage, implementation of social security measures like EPF and ESI, and reinstatement of retrenched workers. While the treatment of contract workers fares is better in public sector companies owing to better accountability, abuses do take place even here. The scene in the private sector however, is decidedly worse, where even token regard to labor laws is absent. This difference in public and democratic political accountability is a huge benefit of nationalization even under capitalist conditions with a bourgeois ruling class.

One of the most intense struggles involving contract workers, thus far has been seen in Maruti Suzuki where a major portion large number of arbitrarily retrenched workers have been contract workers. What began as a strike against unjust and unfair labor practices in Maruti has transformed into a movement which has shaken shaking the confidence of the bourgeoisie everywhere in the country. An unprecedented rolling strike took place and the protest movement continues. Among the major issues in this mobilization has presented before us is the point of is precisely the job security of contract workers. And as always, throughout the struggle the state machinery has shown itself to be decisively in favor of corporate interests over worker’s interests.

The bourgeoisie aims to pauperize, fragment and weaken the working class everywhere, and contractorization has been among one of the best ways to achieved this. The ambition of Indian capital to attain global standing has only exacerbated this in the name of ‘growth and development’. But this is not without there is, as always, resistance. The struggles occurring both in the private and public sector shows show us this. However, in most cases these are piecemeal efforts aimed with very defensively aims and with a very empirical perspective in place. Good as they may be, they do not overturn the system of pauperization in place which puts systematic pressure to pauperize the working class in the whole nation. However, past struggles of workers have given us a good foundation to fight on. This is best reflected in the welfare measures which the different governments in power have been forced to make concede. And the struggles have led to a legal framework for regulating and abolishing contract work.

The legal framework in place :

The key piece of legislation on the question of contract workers is the Contract Labour regulation and abolition Act of 1970. The Act was instituted in a period of heightened class struggle and in a time when contractorization of work was only a nascent phenomenon. Though this act, as well as the central rules framed in 1971, were meant to provide relief against arbitrary and exploitative practices of employers against contract workers, and to this effect regulate (and in some cases abolish) the system of contract work, in reality, this has proven to be a red herring. The good intentions have proved to be a mirage.

The continuing exploitation of contract workers as seen from examples above, show that the laws in force are not only inadequate but are poorly implemented. Among the most glaring inadequacies present in of both the aAct and the Rules, is the ambiguity on responsibility of payments and the the non-admission of liability of the principal employer. A huge loophole has been left out which has encouraged the worst abuses of contract work, in the ambiguity on responsibility for ensuring wages and facilities for contract workers. As per Sections 20 and 21 of the Act, the first responsibility for ensuring payment of wages is given to the contractor rather than the principal employer. The Principal Employer assumes responsibility only in the event that the contractor fails to meet his obligations. More often than not, the principal employer jettisons responsibility for the contract worker entirely.

The Act also provides for a regulating mechanism in the appointment of duly authorized representatives. This is sorely inadequate in achieving its target, in the objective of ensuring due payment at the hands by the contractor. In absence of a strong mechanism to compel the payment of wages to contract workers, the abuses remain unchecked.

Among the biggest inadequacies however, and possibly its greatest weakness is that it doesn’t apply to workers of the unorganized sector. The act has explicitly stated that it only applies to establishments employing more than 20 workers. This provides a very easy loophole has been left out where the employer and contractor can avoid the obligations imposed by this enactment their legal obligations by simply dividing the factory or office establishment.

However, as a welcome respite the judiciary has occasionally stepped in to provide some relief and bring about clarity in the laws. Notably, the Supreme Court in the cases of Standard Vacuum vs their workmen (1960IILJ) wherein, contract labor was forbidden in four areas of work were debarred from employment of contract workers :

Where work is of a perennial nature and goes on from day to day.;

The work is incidental to and necessary to the work of the factory.:

Where it is sufficient to employ a number of permanent workmen.;

Where most of the work is being done through regular workmen.

Thus far, this has been among the most significant judgments dealing with contract workers and has expanded the ambit of exclusion of contract work.

Similarly important judgments include the case of Gujarat State Electricity Board vs Union of India and Air india Statutory Corporation Ltd vs. United Labour Union & others. These however, deal with the question of absorption of contract workers in cases where contract work is abolished. The first judgment held that the Act should be amended by incorporating a suitable provision for an industrial arbitrator in cases where contract work is abolished, while the second deals with an employer’s liability for absorbing contract workers. The former decision was never acted upon by the government and no such amendment has been made till date, while the latter judgment was prospectively was overruled. The employer, it was held, could not be automatically compelled to absorb the contract workers. If anything these The fate of these judgments in favor of the workers’ interests plainly show the limitations of the judiciary when it comes to guaranteeing and enforcing laws intended to help the workers.

All in all however, the long term aim of abolishing contract work and bringing about a full regularization of workforce remains untouched by the legal framework in place. Even in its aims of providing relief to contract workers from the prolific abuses the legislations in place fall shorts on many grounds. The Judiciary is bound in by its own institutional framework has in the bourgeois system, and has very limited scope to go beyond the legislative frameworks in place advance the interests of the workers in their contradictions with the capitalists. Despite the occasional respite given, the scenario on the whole remains dire and shows that a long and concerted struggle is needed to ensure even the most basic needs of the workers.

The direction of struggle, towards a campaign for abolition of contract work :

As is the case with most labor laws and welfare measures in place, they are paid scant regard by capitalists and are often reduced to mere letters. The case with laws on contract labour is no different. While we must take advantage of every opportunity these concessions have given give us, empowering us in the task of organizing contract workers, we must not have any illusions. Our aim is the full abolition of contract work and a framework ensuring job security and a guarantee of welfare for all. This To achieve this aim requires a united struggle embracing all contract workers across the nation. What is more, the solidarity between contract workers and regular workers is indispensable for a strong movement to emerge.

The position of the contract worker is one facing double exploitation. On the one hand the worker is exploited as insecure and easily exploitable workforce coerced labour by the principal employer while on the other hand he is exploited by a parasitical middle man in the form of the contractor. The contractor controls an important supply of labor within his enterprise and pockets the surplus through both from the literal sale of the laborer to the company as well as from the denial of statutory guarantees to the worker.

But it must not be forgotten that in a bourgeois democracy exploitation is accompanied by concessions whose scale depends very much on the vigor of working class action and the vision of its leadership. The Labour legislation, though inadequate, gives enough scope to mount a legal and open challenge against the worst aspects of the contractorization system. Demanding all those benefits guaranteed by law while preparing the ground for expanding fighting to expand the welfare that can be accorded of the working class by improving its living conditions and share of the national wealth is the crucial dialectic of our approach to the everyday struggle for a decent life under capitalism. This in turn must aim at the complete abolition of the contractorization system while making the conditions of work for contract workers in the present situation as good as possible.

Our ultimate goal, it goes without saying, is to abolish the economic system which thrives on these injustices and takes advantage of unemployment and insecurity to damage people’s lives. A modern society based on human values and mutually beneficial relations between all its members has nothing in common with our present-day capitalist societies. These are shot through with greed, corruption, brutality and a callous disregard for human life and well-being. They are reaching the end of their historical tether, and we are only too willing to cut it for them and put them out to pasture, like retired wild beasts who have spent a lifetime breaking the bones and eating the flesh of gladiators.