Workers of Pricol, a leading auto components manufacturing factory supplying components to most of the leading auto majors joined AICCTU and declared formation of the union through a General Body meeting on 25 February. Workers frustrated by the pro-management, loyal unions like CITU, AITUC, LPF, INTUC, etc., dissolved all of them, formed a single union in Plant III and affiliated the union with AICCTU.
Following this, management resorted to the unfair labour practice of transferring six workers from Plant I and III for forming union, which proved to be the last straw. Protesting this, more than 5000 workers, including those in Satellite Vendor Units and Other Contract Labourers resorted to strike.
Various forms of struggles were resorted to by workers including Rasta Roko by women workers, demonstration by workers’ children, dharna of workers’ families and friends, hunger strikes by workers, solidarity hunger strike by students, etc. When management wanted workers to be away from 100 m, workers challenged the management by occupying the whole factory for its illegal deployment of new work force. The incident led to police lathi charge and our insistence on state government intervention finally led to the release of workers. More than 40 teams of workers toured all through the city and campaigned among people seeking support for the struggle. The campaign was well received by the public at large.
It was a very different International Women’s Day for the hundreds of the women in Pricol. They blocked the Mettupalayam High road on 9 March for more than 19 hours protesting the unresponsive management. The women and other workers spent the whole night on road. They slept on the road, broke their fast on the road. At the end, mass arrest of 2500 workers were made on 10 March. They were not released even in the evening. Only after intervention of AICCTU leaders, they were released around 10 pm. A GB was held the next day in which more than 4000 workers participated, that decided to continue with the struggle.
As many rounds of tri-partite negotiations did not yield any result, the union decided to demand government intervention in the dispute under the Section B of ID Act 1947. This section gives powers to the government to impose conditions on both parties while referring the concerned the issue under Section 10(1) of ID Act 1947.
A rally and a public convention demanding to invoke Section 10(B) was held at Chennai on 11 April. It was a massive rally attended by around 2400 Pricol workers from Coimbatore and many hundreds from Chennai. A convention was held in the evening where the hall was overflowing. The convention demanded the government to intervene under section B of ID Act 1947. 2400 workers coming from a single factory from outside for a program in Chennai is something unprecedented. The workers of Hyundai, Ashok Leyland, MRF, Carborandum, TIDC contributed and participated enthusiastically for the success of the program.
But, against the popular pressure, the state government prohibited the continuance of the strike and partial lockout of 64 employees. This was objectively in favor of the management. The question of transfer and signing of undertakings for resuming work were left to the court to decide. The real issues like transfer of important office bearers, punishment of break-in-service for some 70 employees, partial lockout in SVUs, termination of OCLs were not at all addressed by the Government. The prohibition of the continuance of the strike, makes the continuance of strike illegal, and forces the workers to submit to the management.
Then, the union decided to move the High Court on 13 to issue a Writ of Mandamus to the Government to invoke section 10B of the Act and to award interim stay of the government order prohibiting the continuation of the strike. Finally, on 17, we succeeded in securing the interim stay of the ban on strike. The very next day, the management also got interim stay of the ban on lockouts. Now practically both sides are back to square one, but for the10 (1) reference
This struggle has erupted when there was a deadly silence in the Coimbatore TU movement. The textile movement is now like a living corpse, where only the shell exists and the spirit vanished. The permanent work force has become an insignificant minority in Coimbatore textile industry. There is an overwhelming majority of daily wageworkers and camp coolies. There is bonded labor. There is a pernicious ‘Thirumangalya Scheme’ by which the employer engages young women for 2 to 3 years, extracts work, squeeze them out and send them out with Rs 20,000 or 25,000 as final settlement. In textiles side by side, there is modern technology with women working on roller skaters. Less wages, no collective bargaining, more and more profits, more and more accumulation of capital, 21st century modern exploitation and technology goes hand in hand in Coimbatore with 19th century feudal mindset and methods.
The Pricol struggle is remarkable for the fact that permanent workers, ancillary unit workers, and contract labourers have joined a single union and launched a united battle, women workers have been at the forefront of the struggle, and the struggle is supported by other workers, law students, civil rights activists, and dalit organizations.