People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 43

October 24, 2010

 

AFTER TIRUPUR, ITíS CUDDALORE

 

 

Bandh in Support of NLC Workers Hits Normal Life

 

 S P Rajendran

 

THE Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), which has gained a net profit of Rs 1,247 crore during 2009-10 --- up Rs 147 crore compared to Rs 1,100 crore in the previous financial year --- has no qualm of conscience in putting its own workers in peril.

 

For the past one month or more, since September 19 to be precise, nearly 13,000 contract workers of the NLC are on an indefinite strike. On the 30th day of the strike, i.e. on October 19, the people of Cuddalore district, where the NLC is situated, observed a 24 hours bandh in support of the striking workers and against the anti-worker policies of the central and the state governments.

 

There are more than 33,000 workers and employees working in the NLC. Among them, 18,158 are regulars, nearly 13,000 are contract workers and the other 2000 odd are apprentice trainees.

 

Due to the destructive policies of the central government, there has been no recruitment of new workers or employees in the NLC; a ban on recruitment is in place for the past 15 years.

 

Despite the low level of manpower, however, the corporation did develop and expand. In particular, two thermal power stations were expanded, a new mine and one thermal power station of the NLC were commissioned in Rajasthan, and an expansion project also started in the port city of Tuticorin.

 

All this was possible only because of the sweat and blood of NLC workers and employees. The contract workers have been as much contributing as the regular workforce towards the tremendous growth of the NLC. They are working as dozer operators or crane operators in the mining section; they are operating the pipe layers and earth movers; they are working as lorry drivers and as clerical workers in the administrative premises.

 

Yet the NLC management of NLC and the coal ministry of the UPA government are not ready to consider the genuine demands of these contract workers.

 

These workers had put forth the demand that the NLC management must give them a wage hike of Rs 3, 000 a month and regularise those contract workers who had put in 25-30 years of service.

 

But the NLC management offered a wage increase of Rs 1,040 only, for a period stretching over five years. This is not acceptable to the workers. Now they are getting hardly Rs.6,000 a month; after deductions their take-home wage packet is just Rs 4,500 a month. So they demanded a rise in the wages to a minimum of Rs 9,000 a month.

 

The workers are also pressing for a 10 point charter of demands including safety measures at the workplace.

 

After the refusal of the NLC management to consider the demands, the contract workers went on an indefinite strike from September 19, in response to the call given by various unions working among these contract workers. These included the CITU, AITUC and AICCTU as well as the unions supporting the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), AIADMK, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi.

 

While the workers have been continuing their militant struggle, the ruling DMK, as usual, tried to sabotage it. On the 22nd day of the strike, its trade union wing, the LPF (Labour Progressive Front) hurriedly signed with the management a wage pact which was totally against the demands of the workers. Meanwhile, as usual again, Tamilnadu chief minister M Karunanidhi wrote his "letter to the prime minister."

 

The trade unions and political parties, except the DMK and its LPF, rejected the illegal pact between the LPF and NLC management and decided to take the struggle forward.

 

CPI(M) state secretary G Ramakrishnan, who is also the honorary president of CITU-affiliated NLC Contract Workers Employees Union, lashed out at the LPF that its illegal pact with the management was an attempt to divide the contract workers and certainly not a bid to establish their rights.

 

In rejection of the illegal pact of the LPF, thousands of workers took out a huge rally at Neyveli on October 12. Leaders of all the parties including the PMK MLA T Velmurugan and CPI(M) district secretary T Arumugam, and all trade union leaders including Velmurugan and Kuppusamy of the NLC Workers Employees Union (CITU) and Matha Krishnan and Sakkarabani of the NLC Contract Workers Union (CITU) were present on the occasion. This isolated the ruling DMK and LPF. 

 

In this background, the 30th day of the strike witnessed popular support from the people of Cuddalore district.

 

Responding to the call given by all the parties in support of the striking NLC workers, people from all walks of life observed the bandh. Shops and business establishments remained closed in the main towns like Cuddalore, Chidhambaram, Nellikuppam, Neyveli, Viruthachalam, Panrutti and Kurinchipadi. Cinema theatres cancelled their shows. Lawyers boycotted the courts. Many educational institutions also remained closed. Tension brewed at some commercial places when the ruling partyís goons tried to prevail upon the traders to keep their establishments open.

 

The Cuddlore bandh served yet another warning to the state government which has miserably failed to effectively intervene in this burning issue, even after it faced a massive bandh in Tirupur (see Peopleís Democracy, September 26) just a month back.