People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXII

No. 16

April 27, 2008

 



 

TWO DAY STRIKE IN DELHI AND ITS VICINITY


A Resounding Success


P M S Grewal


LAKHS of workers of the organised and unorganised sectors in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Noida and Faridabad struck work on April 24-25, 2008 at the call of the Delhi state CITU against the intensified class exploitation to which they are being subjected due to the neo-liberal policies pursued by the ruling classes and successive governments at the centre and in the states of Delhi, Haryana and UP. In doing so they served notice on both their employers and these governments that the working class will not accept being ground down into absolute poverty to satiate the greed of the capitalists and the governments patronised by them.


Background

The past few years have witnessed concerted attacks on the hard won rights of the working class of the region and a clear worsening of its work/living conditions. Minimum wages for unskilled workers in the region range from Rs 3000 to Rs 3633, which are a mere pittance in todayís circumstances. Upto 90 percent of employers do not pay even this and average wages range from Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 per month. Workers in most industries are forced to work for 12 to 14 hours without the benefit of overtime wages. Large scale contractualisations of jobs, including those of a permanent nature has helped in lowering wages and deprive workers of the rights to which they are legally entitled. Women workers are often paid lower wages and are subjected to sexual abuse at their workplace. The governments in the region are mute spectators to the blatant violation of labour laws and attempts at unionisation are met with retrenchments and police repression. The condition of the working class in the region is further worsened by the unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities and the virtual decimation of the public distribution system.

The state of unorganised sector workers in the region is even worse. They have no social security or rights. A large part of them comprise hawkers and rickshaw pullers who are subjected to daily extortion by the police and municipal authorities. There have been systematic attempts over the past one decade to evict them and the space provided for them to ply their trades has been systematically reduced. Others in this sector like construction workers are virtual serfs. The region also has lakhs of those, a large section of them women, who are working in domestic industries. They are mainly piece rated workers dependant on contractors who pay them as little as Rs 5 to 10 per day for backbreaking labour of 10 to 12 hours.


Demands

These inhuman conditions of workers form the backdrop to the decision of the Delhi state CITU to launch a three month long campaign on their demands culminating in the two day strike. The main demands of the strike were: ensure implementation of labour laws, stop contractualisation of jobs of a permanent nature, enhance minimum wages to Rs 8,500 per month, pay equal wages for equal work to women workers, stop sexual harassment of women workers at the workplace, provide social security i.e. health insurance, provident fund and pension to unorganised sector workers including those working in domestic industries.


Preparations

The CITU state and district committees undertook intensive organisational preparations in the first phase through general body meetings, gate meetings and conventions in different areas to explain the issues and significance of the strike. This was followed by a public campaign spanning almost two months. The latter involved hundreds of street corner meetings, wall writing, distribution of leaflets etc. In all the CITU state committee provided three lakh leaflets, 40,000 stickers and 30,000 posters for the campaign. Different district committees and unions also printed and distributed their own leaflets and posters in support of the strike.


The CITU organised local demonstrative actions in all districts at Labour, ESI and PF offices in the latter part of March. This was followed by big central demonstrative actions in Delhi, Noida and Faridabad on April 10, 2008 and in Ghaziabad on April 18, 2008 in which memoranda on demands were submitted to the respective chief ministers, Labour ministers and Labour commissioners.


Another noteworthy feature of the campaign was the active involvement in it of the CPI(M) and different mass organisations. The Party printed four lakh leaflets and 40,000 posters in support of the strike. The state leadership of the Party and CITU jointly undertook a ten day joint tempo propaganda campaign from April 12-21, 2008. Prior to this a joint convention of mass organisations was held on February 29, 2008 which was followed up by similar district level conventions. The Janwadi Mahila Samiti organised a successful convention of women working in domestic industries and campaigned among them in support of the strike. The Jana Natya Manch played a stellar role in mobilising opinion in favour of the strike by performing 74 shows of its street play Hum Kyon Sahein in different industrial areas and workersí colonies. Intellectuals and artists also extended support to the strike. Safdar Hashmiís birth anniversary on April 12 witnessed a march of artists and intellectuals highlighting the plight and issues of the workers of the region.


The Strike

The strike was total or near total in most industrial areas in the region. In Delhi - Wazirpur, G T Karnal Road, Badli, Narela, Mangolpuri Phase I and II, Udyog Vihar and Friends Colony industrial areas witnessed complete strike on both days. The strike was also very successful in Jhilmil, Patpargunj and Kirti Nagar industrial areas as well as in Mayapuri. The latter is an area in which employers are notorious for their union bashing tactics. Loading workers in the walled city and North Delhi struck work on both days and succeeded in forcing their employers to enhance their wages with immediate effect. All hotels located in Pandara Road remained closed and medical representatives too struck work. In Ghaziabad, the CITUís stronghold of Site 4, Sahibabad witnessed a complete shut down. The strike was also very successful in G T Road and Dasna industrial areas of the district. The strike was also a resounding success in Phase I Noida and the Dyal Nagar, 27 A Badkhal, Sector-24 industrial areas of Faridabad.


All the above areas also witnessed huge processions of workers, the like of which have not been seen since the CITU led three day and seven day strikes in 1987 and 1988. The scale of participation was especially noteworthy in Wazirpur, G T Karnal Road and Mangolpuri industrial areas located in North and West Delhi where it ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 on both days. Employers in some areas had mobilised goondas as in the past to attack the striking workers. The massive participation in the strike processions thoroughly demoralised them and forced them to desist from any provocative acts. Many employers who had forcibly locked workers inside their factories were made to open their gates and let workers willing to join the strike join the processions. In one such incident an owner of a factory in Block A of G T Karnal Road industrial area made workers lie prone on the floor and covered them with cardboard sheets to give a false impression that there was no worker inside. His ruse failed and the workers were freed by the striking workers. The striking workers also blocked major roads for up to an hour in these areas. This reflects the depth of dissatisfaction and anger among the workers with the dismal conditions to which they have been reduced.


The police as usual chose to play the role of handmaiden of the employers and tried their best to terrorise the workers and disperse their processions. They resorted to unprovoked lathicharges at Khoda Chowk and NPZ areas in Noida, in Wazirpur, Okhla and Mayapuri in Delhi and Site 4 industrial area in Ghaziabad. Ten activists including three members of the CPI(M) state committee were arrested in Okhla. Such was the desperation of the police that they began brandishing revolvers at the latter in Okhla. In Mayapuri, the SHO crossed all limits by constantly abusing the striking workers including women in the most foul language and threatening to kill the secretary of the CITUís West Delhi committee in a false encounter! The above behaviour of the police only steeled the resolve of the workers who gave a befitting reply by ensuring the success of the strike.


Unorganised sector workers, hawkers, rickshaw pullers, shop employees etc., participated in a big way in the strike and organised processions and demonstrations. One such procession in the Walled City culminated in a demonstration at Town Hall. Rickshaw pullers in this area blocked the old Yamuna bridge from both sides for over half an hour on April 25. Processions were also held in Manakpura, Kishengunj, Shidipura, Model Basti, New Rohtak Road (Delhi) and Maharajpur/Karkar areas in Sahibabad.


LIC employees organised demonstrations outside 70 branch offices in Delhi in support of the strike on April 24. Public sector employees in Central Electronics Limited and Bharat Electronics Limited, in Ghaziabad also held dharnas and demonstrative actions in solidarity. Over a thousand, hotel and security workers as well as medical representatives held a demonstration at the Central Labour ministry, Shram Shakti Bhawan on the first day of the strike.


The success of the two day strike shows that the workers of the region have chosen to be the hammer rather than the anvil. This should provide inspiration for the struggles to come. At the same time organisational weaknesses must be rapidly overcome and the reach of the CITU among different sections of workers must be extended and strengthened on a priority basis.


The Delhi state committees of the CITU and the CPI(M) have thanked the workers of the region for their magnificent response to the two day strike. In a post-strike leaflet, the CITU has called upon workers to become members of the CITU in a big way in order to enhance their fighting strength and striking capacity. It has promised to carry forward the battle and warned the central and state governments of bigger and more militant struggles in case the genuine demands of the workers are not met within six months. These governments should read the writing on the wall or else they will have to face the wrath of the workers in the days to come.