PRICOL Workers’ Struggle:
For the past two years in Coimbatore, workers of PRICOL, a leading auto components manufacturing factory supplying components to most leading auto majors, have been engaged in a protracted struggle against violation of labour laws by the management. Finally at the end of June 2009, they won a victory, forcing the Government to pass orders under Section 10 B of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 against violations of labour laws, such as employment of apprentices and contract labour in direct production activities and denial of DA and wage increase as per settlements. Apprentices and Contract Labour are engaged in direct production contrary to law in almost all public and private sector units for decades. This is a rare occasion on which a Government has invoked its powers against such violations.
Two Years of Struggle
The PRICOL struggle is remarkable for the fact that permanent workers, ancillary unit workers, and contract labourers have joined a single union led by the AICCTU and launched a united battle; women workers have been at the forefront of the struggle; and the struggle is supported by other workers, law students, civil rights activists, and dalit organizations.
The struggle has been waged against the management’s policies of violating contract labour laws through sham Contract Labour and Satellite Vendor systems, victimisation of workers through closure of so-called Satellite Vendor units, termination of workers and denial of DA and wage increase as per the settlements, and transfer of leading Union activists through illegal transfers. The workers had been demanding that the government pass orders under Section 10B of the ID Act.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, thousands of workers defied all attempts to divide and rule, braved all sorts of victimisation, and succeeded in making strikes lasting several months a popular issue for the wider society of Coimbatore beyond the factory.
Throughout the management played every devious ploy possible, and tried in vain to alternately threaten and woo workers to desert the Union led by what it mischievously branded as a ‘Maoist-Leninist’ leadership.
The ‘Maoist’ bogey
The Hindu dated June 4, 2009 quoted from a press release issued by the PRICOL management, which said the management was willing for dialogue directly with the workers, but “The management has adopted a stand in principle not to recognise the Maoist-Leninist outfit. The recent ban by the Centre on Maoist outfits justifies our stand as our own actions were based on upholding the peace and harmony of the society as a whole.”
Their ploy to discredit the struggle was foiled only because the workers, with foresight and determination, made it a point throughout their struggle to reach out to wider society all over Coimbatore – making the workers’ struggle a genuinely mass-based people’s movement. With that, they ensured that the management’s ‘Maoist’ bogey failed to cut any ice was defeated politically.
The Government order 393 dated 29.06.2009 referred the following 3 issues for adjudication to the Labour Court Coimbatore under Section 10 (1) of the ID Act 1947:
1. Is the demand of the Unions that the management of PRICOL Limited plant 1 and 3 should not engage apprentices and contract labour in direct production, justified? If so, what should be the relief?
2. Is the management justified in unilaterally declaring holidays and thereby depriving incentive from the wages of the workers from December, 2008? If not, what should be the relief?
3. Is the management justified in denying DA and Wage increase as per 12 (3) Settlements dated 29.09.2004 and 03.03.2004 on the ground that workers have not fulfilled their obligations? If not, what should be the relief?
In order to pass 10B Orders imposing conditions on employers and employees in the interests of employment, industrial peace, public order etc., it is a prerequisite to cause a reference under Section 10 (1) of the ID Act
1947. Having done that in GO 393 on 29.06.2009, the Government simultaneously passed 10 B Orders in GO 394 on 29.06.2009 to the following effect:
(i) The Management of PRICOL Ltd. Plant 1 and Plant 3 shall not engage Apprentices and Contract Labour in direct production activities, affecting the work, wages, incentive of the permanent workers.
(ii) The management of PRICOL Ltd. Plant 1 and 3 shall pay respectively an interim relief of Rs. 500/-, Rs. 400/- every month along with salary to the workers with effect from 01.06.2009.
The Union amassed all the evidence of the violation of laws by the management. By an unsigned notice its own, the management had stated that it was not paying DA and wage increase to the workers from July 2007 onwards. The management stated that it would pay the amount due to the workers in instalments if the workers leave AICCTU, a ‘Marxist-Leninist-Maoist’ Union.
The management while dismissing the workers, is bound to give a month’s notice pay to them, while seeking approval under Section 33 (2) (b) of the ID Act, 1947. If the management fails to pay full month’s salary, its approval petition will be dismissed. Therefore, while dismissing the workers, management paid the withheld DA and wage increase in the month’s notice pay. The union pointed out to the Government that workers were being paid these amounts on dismissal which were denied to them while working.
In March 2009, the Government issued a prosecution notice to the management for violating the settlement. The Government also issued a show cause notice for the unfair labour practice of denying wage increase on the ground of being members of a union which is not acceptable to it.
The Union produced before the Government many authentic documents to show that apprentices and contract labour are engaged in direct production. On 15.04.2009 the Government issued a detailed advice to the management not to engage apprentices in direct production. The Government stated that on this issue it was prima facie satisfied by the documents shown to it. The management did not pay heed to this. In an unprecedented move, the Government ordered a spot inspection on 21st and 22nd May 2009 and the spot inspection report categorically stated that apprentices and contract labour were engaged in direct production and that the permanent workers are prejudiced.
The unions asked the Government to pass the necessary orders which would only be the logical culmination of its earlier steps. Of course, this was accompanied by a powerful indefinite fast from 15.06.2009, carried on when the assembly was in session. Thousands of signatures were obtained asking the Government to concede the demands of the fasting workers. More than 1 lakh leaflets were issued. Ultimately the fast ended successfully on 16th day, on 30 June, after the Labour Minister, responding to Calling Attention Motion in the TN Assembly on the fast, acknowledged the various unfair labour practices by the management and assured of action to safeguard the workers’ legal rights
Struggle on NREGA at Jamua
In Jamua, Giridih district of Jharkhand , CPIML and AIPWA have been trying to organise workers who have been denied their wages. On 8th July at Bagodar, Saria, Birni, Rajdhanwar and Jamua militant gherao-demonstrations were held to demand food-grains for poor women at nominal rates, checking of corruption in PDS and payment of NREGA wage. At Bagodar the gherao-demonstration was led by AIPWA leader Poonam Mahato. The BDO here rarely attended office and he was forcibly brought to his office from his house by a group of 150-200 women In Saria, Renu Rawani led the gherao of the Block. In Rajdhanwar the gherao of BDO led by Kaushalya Das. Here women activists and workers occupied the BDO’s official chair and did allow him to sit for two hours till their issues were dealt with. In Birni a successful programme was led by Rina Gupta and in Jamua the gherao was led by Mina Das.
In Jamua when even 14 months after having completed NREGA work and six months of persuasion by the workers to deal with the recalcitrant bureaucracy, contractor, politician nexus did not bear fruit, they approached CPIML and AIPWA who then confronted the BDO for an explanation. The BDO went into a rage at being questioned on NREGA corruption by women workers and she along with the DSP of Jamua instead of resolving the workers issues, slapped false cases against those leading the movement against NREGA irregularities and corruption. Amongst those charged were Com. Mina Das who has been leading the expose on black marketing of PDS items, against NREGA corruption and building a movement for wages and against police repression. The police raided the house of Mina Das and verbally abused the members of her house.
However what the bureaucracy had not anticipated was that their terror tactics would fail and people would start coming out in ever larger numbers to protest against them. The day after the incident 300 people demonstrated and a thana ghearo was led by a mobilised group of 400 people. Women participated in large numbers in these protests defeating the administration’s ploy of trying to scare women with repression. The protest of 6th August was led by Com. Sunita- National Secretary of AIPWA, Renu Rawani and Kaushalya Das. Apart from demanding immediate release of Mina Das and other leaders, they also demanded filing of a case against the BDO of Jamua. Protests, followed wherever the BDO went and she was repeatedly confronted by the women workers.
The MLA had to intervene and the SDO was forced to arrive and give reply on the matter. The protests led to the release of all those people who had been arrested and detained without having any charges slapped against them.
The Unsung Heroes of the Punjab Land Struggle
Most remarkable about the last three months or so of intense struggle in Punjab are the courage and initiative displayed by the ‘rank and file’ who boldly took the lead – leading the mass arrests, organizing daily protests once leaders had been arrested, and then keeping morale up inside the jails. Countless small incidents are witness to the way in which comrades learnt the lessons of “years in months and of months in days.”
All the efforts of the administration to isolate the leadership from the masses and terrorise the masses into retreating from the struggle came to naught – thanks to the numerous links who kept the movement chain strong with their presence of mind and initiative. A good example is that of Amrik Samao, a 17 year-old RYA activist, who is fatherless and lives in the Mansa party office. He works on the RYA front rather than AISA for the simple reason that his family circumstances did not allow him to continue his studies. He struggles with Marxist literature, nevertheless, asking educated comrades for help. On 21 May, when the police arrested most of the State leadership, Amrik was in the dharna that was cordoned off by the police. Keeping his cool in the face of the police presence, he went to the party office to warn comrades there to leave and avoid arrest. He then locked the office securely and left. He had a sim card but no mobile so he borrowed a mobile from a shop and managed to call Comrade Ruldu who was one of the few leaders not yet in the police net. He reported that nearly 6-700 people had gathered at the dharna site (at 2.30 pm). As advised by Comrade Ruldu, he then returned to the dharna site, addressed the dharna, and encouraged people to court arrest.
Hundreds of those arrested in the morning had been left by the police in far-off villages – but had returned to the dharna, and told the police to jail them, not disperse them. Nearly 3000 people courted arrest that day – although only 1300 people or so were actually taken to jails by the police. Amrik once again evaded arrest, returning to the party office on 22 May to guide the large number of people coming to Mansa from other districts and assign duties. At 10 am, police entered the office. Amrik boldly told them to clear out of the office as police were not allowed inside. After some argument with the city SHO, the police were called off from the office premises and instead posted at the gates. Soon those in the office were arrested but Amrik again gave the police the slip. On 23 May, some press reporters from Delhi wanted someone to guide them to the villages where labourers had occupied panchayat land and built houses – and Amrik took this responsibility. It was only on 24 May that Amrik finally went to jail, leading a contingent from his village to court arrest. His only regret: “Why was I booked only under 107/15, along with the other villagers? Why was I not counted among the ‘instigators’ – after all, I was among the organisers?”
Another interesting instance is that of Punjab Kisan Union activist Lakhwinder Lakhi, who was watching the scene at the dharna site from afar, but was not a participant in the dharna. Seeing a tense situation developing between one group of villagers and the police who was trying to arrest them, and sensing that a cane charge was impending, he walked up to the group and told them, “I’m from your party” and suggested they court arrest and board the police buses. They were from the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and could not recognise Comrade Lakhi. Only when he called up a MMM activist from their area and let him speak to the villagers did they heed him, and board the police buses. He took the lead and accompanied them, remaining in jail with them for 17 days.
Some RYA activists from Barnala district came to Mansa to protest the police action. When a DSP told them, “Why does this Mansa issue concern you, you better return to Barnala,” one of the comrades retorted, “Shaheed Udham Singh was from Sunam not London – did that stop him from going to London to protest?” First taken aback and then enraged, the DSP ordered his men to “Arrest this Udham Singh first.” The RYA comrades remained in jail for nearly a month.
9 members of the family of our comrades Bikka Singh Mohansinghwala and Mela Mohansinghwala were in jail. After their release, the youngest member – 17-year-old rekha Rani, was the most vocal person at a press conference in Chandigarh. Her grandmother, when approached by some members of the village kulak lobby with offers of ‘help to free her family members from jail,” had told them bluntly to keep their sympathy to themselves – she would take help only from CPI(ML) activists.
I recently received a call from Bhupinder Kaur, and AISA activist, from a dharna at Mansa. She said she had been asked to address the dharna, but “felt very ashamed... they had all been in jail and I had been at home... how could I address them? I feel guilty.” The reality was that she had been unable to court arrest because she had to care for her mother who was suffering from throat cancer.
In Mansa, you can smell the defiance in the air. “Who’s scared of jail?” is something you hear over and over again. For a week from 20 July onwards, Bathinda MP Harsimran Kaur Badal visited several Mansa villages to make the traditional gesture of sisterhood – exchanging chunnis (scarves) with the women of the village. Kulak families would preserve the chunni given by the MP – but the labouring women of Mansa ensured that the chunnis given by her were publicly burnt in protest gatherings in many villages. On 26 July, women held a big gathering in Mansa, to prepare for AIPWA’s march to parliament – and Comrade Jasbir Kaur Nat, just released from jail, attended it.
On 11 August, CPI(ML) leader Bhagwant Singh Samao was shifted from Gurdaspur jail to Bathinda jail. The very next day, he was assaulted inside the jail by those booked for the murderous attack on Bant Singh, who are also in the same jail. On 13-14 August, protest gatherings were held all over Punjab – against the attack on Comrade Bhagwant, demanding release of the CPI(ML) leaders who are still in jail, reiterating the issues of land and livelihood and also protesting against price rise. In Ludhiana on 13 July, workers protested by taking off their shirts and marching to the DC’s office. In Chandigarh, students of Punjab University and Patna Engineering College under the banner of RYA held a dharna against feudal and state atrocities against dalits and women, with a photo exhibition of the struggle. On the 14th, effigy burnings and other demonstrations were held at Mansa, Bathinda, Sangrur and Barnala.
On 20 August, Harsimran Kaur Badal, as part of her ‘thanksgiving’ tour, planned to visit Mansa villages – and some of these villages had witnessed some of the biggest occupations of land as well as mass arrests. When she visited Khyala village, our supporters held a parallel gathering and boycotted the MP’s programme, demanding that she come to their meeting to answer their questions. She refused saying it was not part of her schedule, but offered to meet a 5-member delegation. So the delegation went to the MP’s programme and confronted her with questions about when the Government planned to keep its promises of homestead land for the poor, and why innocent villagers had been arrested. When she failed to answer convincingly, the workers told her she was no longer welcome in the village and every Akali Dal event in the village would be boycotted by the villagers in future. As a result of this experience, the MP cancelled her plans for a grand public gathering at the next village on her itinerary, instead just hastily meeting the sarpanch before returning to Chandigarh.
So all the repression by the Government has only been like fuel to the fire of resistance in Mansa!
Tamil Nadu Update
Madurai: Protest against Illegalities in NREGA
A protest against poor implementation of NREGA was organised on 12 August in Vadipatti block of Madhurai district. AIALA and AIPWA carried out signature campaign in 10 villages in the area demanding segregation of rural areas from the town panchayat and demanding implementation of NREGA and welfare schemes in Town panchayats too. The panchayats tried to bribe or threaten workers from participating: one panchayat hiked wages from about Rs. 40 to Rs. 75 urging the people not to protest, another declared compulsory work on the day of protest threatening people with loss of jobs if they fail to turn up. More than 200 people, mainly women, participated and marched from the BDO to the Revenue Inspector’s office.
Pudukottai: Party District Conference
The Pudukottai district unit of CPI (ML) held its Conference on August 9. The focus was on strengthening the party’s presence in panchayats, launching struggles from AIALA’s platform, and striving for greater involvement of women. A 21-member District Committee was elected with Com. Aasaithambi as District Secretary.
Convention on Left Resurgence in Chennai
The Chennai district unit of the Party organized a Convention on August 6, Hiroshima Day, to focus on Left Resurgence. It was attended by more than 350 members. Comrade Veerapandian, State Executive Member of CPI and Comrade T K Shanmugam, North Chennai District Secretary of CPI(M), addressed the Convention, endorsing the need for Left unity against the new UPA government’s offensive on the people. Comrade Kumarasami, PB member of CPI(ML), gave the concluding speech at the Convention, emphasising the urgent need for left assertion and resurgence, and correction of the opportunist course in the Communist movement.
Joint TU demo against termination of AICCTU state council member
In Trichy, Xomax management terminated Com. Bharathi for being active in AICCTU and CPI (ML). In the past too, he had been threatened several times and was eventually terminated on false charges dating back more than a year. OFT contract workers led by AICCTU, workers of AITUC, workers' unions of SRF, TVS, Rane Power Steels, MM Forgings and Sanmar Group Companies joined the protest against this victimisation and more than 200 workers participated in the demonstration.
Hundreds of permanent and contract load workers participated in the demonstration held in Coimbatore on 24 July, against State Government’s apathy towards load workers’ issues; particularly demanding compensation of wages against the increased work load due the welfare schemes of the government.
Martyrdom Day in WB
The West Bengal Gana Sanskriti Parishad (GSP) observed an anti-imperialism, anti-state terror and anti-genocide fortnight from 20th July to 5th August. The programme included events in memory of Prabir Dutta (in Kolkata), Com. Charu Majumdar (in Siliguri) Com. Saroj Dutta (Kolkata) and martyrs of Naxalbari movement. The gathering was addressed by CPI(ML) General Secretary- Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya, noted theatre personality- Debesh Chattopadhyay, President of WB Gana Sanskriti Parishad Nabarun Bhattacharya, poet Sabyasachi Deb, Com. Indrani Dutta of AIPWA and Com. Shouvik Ghoshal, State President, RYA.
Protest against Vedanta University Bill
In Orissa, more than CPI(ML) activists rallied in front of Orissa Assembly on CM Martyrdom Day, July 28, demanding to withdraw Vedanta University Bill which would give precious agricultural land to the MNC Vedanta at the cost of peasants’ livelihoods. A protest meeting was also held on the same day in front of Rayagada District Collector office on the issue of land and NREGA which was attended by around 1000 activists. q
IIMS Discussion on Lalgarh
The Karnataka unit of IIMS held a discussion on Lalgarh at Mysore, chaired by Dr. Laxminarayana. Various democratic and radical organisations and individuals participated in the discussion. The Planning Commission document on a ‘Report of an Expert Group on Development Challenges to Extremist-affected areas’ was presented by N Divakar and its implications discussed, while Dr. Laxminarayana led the discussion on the Lalgarh struggle of adivasi people against state repression. In spite of criticism of the tactics of the Maoists, the ban on Maoists was held to be a pretext for crushing of people’s struggles, and the meeting extended solidarity to the fighting people of Lalgarh. q
Protest at Purnea District HQ
Around 1500 CPI(ML) activists protested on 12 August at the Purnea District HQ demanding that Purnea be declared drought-affected, and raising demands for implementation of the Bandopadhyaya Commission recommendations on land. The gates of the HQ were jammed for several hours. The protestors warned that if the poor continued to be denied their land rights, a land-occupation struggle would be launched in November. The demonstration was led by Purnea District Secretary Pankaj Singh, Madhavi Sarkar, Islamuddin Ansari and several others. q
UP: Mau Visit by CPI (ML) Fact-finding Team
A 9-member fact finding team of CPI (ML) visited Mau to ascertain facts about the 29th July incident in which a truck/lorry crushed many and killed 4 people instantly after making its way inside a ‘No Entry’ zone. When people came on to the streets in protest 4 were killed in police firing. Protestors claimed that the Police let the truck/lorry in the No Entry zone in return for bribes from truckers; further, they say police threatened them with false cases under draconian laws like Gangster Act for protesting. A judicial enquiry has been demanded, as well as stern punishment for the responsible officials, withdrawal of all fabricated charges against the local people and Rs. 10 lakh as compensation to the family members of the victims.
Campaign against Price Rise in West Bengal
The West Bengal State Committee of the party organized state-wide protests against the rise in prices of essential commodities. After 15-days of mass campaigning involving street meetings and signature campaigns, district party committees organized demonstrations in front of district headquarters. Defying police obstruction the demonstrators at State Directorate of Rationing, Kolkata submitted a memorandum demanding BPL ration cards for all poor, supply of 50 kg of rice/wheat at Rs 2/kg to all poor families, free supply of foodgrains and 200 days of work at Rs 200 per day for workers of closed factories and tea gardens and immediate arrest of black-marketeers and hoarders. Similar demonstrations were also held in North 24 Parganas, Krishnanagar, Kalna, Bardhaman town, Behrampore, Bankura, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri and Uluberia, Kolkata and Siliguri.