People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXVII

No. 47

November 24, 2013

 

KOLHAPUR, MAHARASHTRA

 

Construction Workers Stage Huge Demos

 

Bharma Kamble

 

THOUGH several parties and mass organisations have been holding rallies and mass meetings in Kolhapur city of Maharashtra from time to time, the rallies cum demonstrations which the construction workers held in the district recently were unprecedented, to say the least. These workers were affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) which is the largest trade union centre in the whole district. They were incensed by the fact that they are still living in a pathetic condition even though 66 years have elapsed since the country got its independence. That no welfare scheme has so far been launched for construction workers in the district, was the naked truth which the CITU brought to them.

 

The grievances are many. A construction worker must get 20 per cent of his wage or at least Rs 5,000 as bonus, apart from Diwali gifts, but (s)he is not getting it. Each family must get Rs four lakh as loan for house construction, but only Rs two lakh have been sanctioned. They are also demanding Rs 50,000 as grant for the marriage of their children (up to two children); Rs 5,000 monthly pension for each of those above 60 years of age; grant of one lakh rupees per year for every worker who has attained the age of 55; refixing of school timing in the evening for their children, etc. The huge demonstrations of September 24 were meant to press for these very demands.

 

These demonstrations broke all the records in the district which is the most populous district in western Maharashtra, and each of its 12 tehsil headquarters saw a procession and demonstration. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 workers took part in this action. All the local newspapers published its visuals on the front page. The action was a point of discussion in the whole area and four ministers of Maharashtra issued statements and met CITU leaders for three days in a row, assuring that the construction workersí demands would be met. The result is that more and more construction workers are now coming to the CITU fold in the district.

 

In the city, the action was led by Bharma Kamble who is the CITU district secretary and an office bearer of the state CITU. The demonstration was preceded by a procession which the construction workers took out to the office of assistant labour commissioner in the district.

 

One may note that it was the CITU whose actions had compelled the state government to enact a law and form a board for construction workers. It was after a CITU led demonstration by 5,000 construction workers in front of the house of labour minister that the latter announced welfare schemes for these workers on March 6, 2012. It was then that 6,000 members of the Lal Bawta Bandhkam Kamgar Sanghatan, the CITU affiliated organisation of construction workers, were given an income card each.

 

It was on the same demands that more than 20,000 workers had organised a procession and demonstration in October 2012. It was then announced that 20,000 workers would stage a demonstration in front of the labour ministerís house if their demands were not met by November 13, 2012. The minister then conceded some demands --- a loan of Rs two lakh to each worker for house construction, loan of 1.3 lakh rupees for house repair work, a grant of two lakh rupees if a worker dies in an accident etc.

 

The huge participation in the recent demonstrations was a testimony of the CITUís growing popularity among the construction workers in the district. The police had refused to grant permission for this action on the plea that it was not possible for the police to manage such a big crowd in the city where the atmosphere was still charged after the Ganesh Visarjan ceremony. The police finally allowed a mass meeting, not a demonstration, after a delegation met the police superintendent, Vijay Jadhav. This refusal for holding a demonstration was an outcome of the pressure exerted by a minister who was keen that any proof of the CITUís popularity would adversely affect the prospects of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).