People's Democracy

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


No. 23

June 05, 2011




Safai Kamdars Win Exemplary Settlement


THE Bhavnagar district committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has achieved a very significant settlement against the municipal corporation’s privatisation drive which, if implemented, would have thrown out a large number of safai karmacharis of the corporation and introduced a system of private contract for the work they have been performing.


At the initiative of the CITU, all the concerned unions of “safai kamdars” came forward to lead a united and determined struggle undauntedly for 46 days, when these workers were threatened with dismissal and the use of Essential Services Maintenance Act to crush their resistance.


During this 46 days long struggle, a militant gherao was also organised on April 17 --- at the time the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, visited Bhavnagar. On the day, the gherao blocked for one hour the whole road through which Modi was scheduled to pass. More than 1,600 women workers were arrested on the day. The workers’ strike again recorded 100 per cent success on the day the state’s health minister was gheraoed. A historic lockout of the Municipal Corporation office was organised on April 29, at the time a board meeting of the corporation was in progress. On the day, more than 2,000 safai kamdars of the corporation squatted in the entrance doors of all the floors for full three hours. The result was that no one could enter or go outside the corporation’s office even after the board meeting was over. Even the municipal commissioner, the mayor and the corporators were not allowed to go out. At one state the police threatened to open firing against the workers, but the women workers retaliated by coming face to face with the gun wielding police force and asking them to open fire.


The result was that ultimately the mayor and commissioner felt compelled to hold talks with the workers’ representatives, and finally signed a written settlement.           


The settlement the struggle led to was quite an honourable settlement, under which the proposed privatisation contract has been cancelled. All the safai kamdars have now been taken back in their respective jobs, with the guaranteed continuity of service. At the same time, the numbers of workers to be employed by the corporation has been doubled. It has been agreed that in case a worker dies, a member of his or her family would be recruited. It is to be noted that this is an area in which several cases of injustice have already occurred. Now, as per the agreement, all such cases pertaining to the period 1992 to 2003 will be reviewed and decided on the basis of the rules that had been framed in 1971. Moreover, a permanent joint committee has been formed to consider all such cases in future.


It may be noted that this has emerged as a unique settlement --- and an example for safai kamdars in all the corporations and municipalities throughout Gujarat.


All the municipal officers including the commissioner of the Bhavnagar municipal corporation participated in the discussion and settlement process. The municipal corporation’s mayor, too, joined the process.


From the CITU side, Arun Mehta and Nalinibahen Jadeja as well as its Bhavnagar district secretary, Ashok Sompura, constantly maintained contact and led the movement for full 46 days. It was therefore not surprising that after the settlement, workers profusely sprinkled gulal over them and carried them on their shoulders around the entire corporation area.


It is especially noteworthy here that workers belonging to all the unions followed the guidance of the CITU leadership during all the ups and downs of the struggle.