People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 05, 2006
AFTER ELEVEN YEARS
Patriot And Link Newspaper Workers Win Round One
S K Pande
ONE has to salute the Patriot and Link workers for their eleven-year long unrelenting struggle which has culminated in an MoU signed on September 29, 2006 and implemented in part from October 2006. The workers were overjoyed on getting their first cheques for Rs 20,000 on October 15 & 16, 2006. Sweets were distributed in celebration of the settlement. The plant union, which once boasted of freedom fighters on its rolls, distributed the cheques amidst emotional scenes. A representative of the management was also witness to the historic event. The agreement set the stage for celebration of the first ‘Diwali’ for the workers after 11 years.
In a statement hailing the signing of the MOU, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) said that it was a good beginning in the right direction.
As per the agreement signed by the Patriot and Link Workers Union and the management represented by Shashank Bhagat, an amount of Rs 8.88 crore is to be distributed to the staff.
Four clear cut features of the MoU are:
Rs 57 lakh will be paid to the workmen at the time of signing the MoU as per the list given by the union.
Rs 255 lakh will be paid within 30 days of approval of Scheme of Arrangement by the High Court.
Rs 288 lakh will be paid within four months of approval of Scheme of Arrangement by the High Court.
Rs 288 lakh will be paid within six months of approval of Scheme of Arrangement by the High Court and it will be inclusive of payment of Rs 158 lakh to PF Trust.
Eleven years of struggle had not diminished the fighting spirit of the Patriot and Link Workers Union, which spearheaded the battle for justice for the starving workers. Proof of this indefatigable spirit came when, within the span of a month, last year, workers and their families responded enthusiastically to the union's call to attend a General Body Meeting. Since then, in coordination with the DUJ – after over a dozen rounds of talks and as many rallies on common demands – the plant union and the Hindustan Times Employees Union formed a united morcha.
The DUJ, meanwhile, saw to it that the case reached the prime minister, labour ministry and the Delhi government. To begin with, the Provident Fund of some employees and pension of others started trickling in. Even as the agitation gathered momentum, the frequency of talks increased. Voices of support came from the CPI(M) in general and from leaders like Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat in particular, fully backed by the CITU and other central trade union organisations such as AITUC and HMS.
For over a year, the workers had been caught in the crossfire between the United Periodicals (P) Ltd, owners of Patriot and Link, and the Central Bank of India, the main creditor. The trouble began when CBI filed a case in the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) against the UIPP management for defaulting on repayment of loans. The DRT passed an order allowing the bank to impound the rent from tenants in Link House, which houses Patriot and Link. The management promptly declared a lockout on the plea that it was no more in any position to pay salaries. The lockout, declared in June, 1996, was later declared illegal. Earlier, too, the Delhi Union of Journalists leadership managed to successfully thwart a concerted attempt by an industrial house to force a lockout.
The workers' woes deepened when Corporation Bank, another creditor of UIPP, secured the appointment of a Provisional Liquidator by order of the Delhi High Court in 1999.
In the interregnum, more than 26 workers have died; many families had been reduced to penury. Despite all this hardship, the situation got a fillip two years ago with the workers intensifying their agitation and also pressing for negotiations while carrying on with court cases at different levels.
Patriot and Link, it may be recalled, were conceived as an alternate press to counter the monopoly houses in the sixties. The brains behind it included freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali and founder editor Edatatta Narayanan and Dr A V Baliga, with handsome inputs from V K Krishna Menon. Among the luminaries who contributed to the running of Patriot and Link were Gandhian C N Chittaranjan, P Viswanath, Habib Tanvir and cartoonist O V Vijayan.
Successive governments for the last 11 years did little to save the institution conceived as a co-operative. The erstwhile NDA government had been totally indifferent. Understandable. After all, Patriot has always upheld the secular traditions of the country and preached the paramount need for guarding against reaction. But what is beyond comprehension is the insensitive attitude of the UPA government. Just one instance would suffice to highlight the UPA government's callousness to the workers of a paper founded by the legendary freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali. The workers union and the DUJ have repeatedly written to the present finance minister to help the workers. But the FM, who responds with alacrity to any corporate demand, has maintained a deafening silence. The government’s complicitous silence has abetted the management and the Central Bank to persist in its anti-worker ways.
The DUJ and other fraternal unions like the HT Employees Union, have been lending invaluable support to the Patriot workers struggle, which got complicated further by the attempt of various banks to grab the prime building in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.
According to the union president Rajkumar, the last six months have seen a ding-dong battle to try and get some interim relief and ensure a time-bound settlement.
The DUJ stated, “We welcome the agreement which two years ago seemed difficult. It has been proved that even in the era of globalisation, the determination and indomitable will of a band of dedicated workers through a united front of genuine unions can achieve something”. The help of the Left parties and the secular forces needs special mention, the DUJ acknowledged.
Meanwhile, the national news agency UNI’s struggle to save the agency from the clutches of land sharks took a new turn on October 16 with the All India Confederation of Newspaper and News Agency Employees expressing solidarity with struggling workers of the UNI. The IJU, the DUJ, the PTI employees union, AINEF and NUJ are all committed to the just struggle of the UNI employees. On the evening of October 17, a Confederation delegation, along with DUJ leaders, had an hour-long meeting with information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi. It is understood that the matter is going before the Company Law Board, the law ministry and the prime minister.