As usual, the working class has, once again, proved all bourgeois theoreticians wrong this time too. Well thought out strategies of contractorisation, casualisation, etc., not withstanding, workers are up in arms in all possible ways, sometimes, in a more organized way and sometimes in a much more anarchist way. But, all efforts to blunt the edge of working class struggles, in spite of some temporary relief to the masters of reform, have not yielded desired results and the working class movement is all set to acquire newer dimensions.
New strategies of the bourgeoisie, including casualisation, semi-bonded systems, increasing informalisation and feminization of work force, etc., have given birth to newer forms of oppression and exploitation on the one hand and to newer and newer forms of workers outburst and revolt, on the other hand. Be it the ongoing, unceasing struggles of Pricol workers of Coimbatore, be it the construction and other unorganized workers of Kanyakumari, be it the beedi workers of Tirunelveli, be it the semi-bonded, highly unorganised powerloom workers of Kumarapalayam and Pallipalayam, be it the contract workers of Ordinance Factory (OFT), be it the young, women garment workers of Peenya, be it the Readymix concrete workers of Bangalore – working class movement is all set to witness a new phase.
The era of trade union movement being the pocket boroughs of few ‘great’ leaders is being replaced by several small players given the unorganized nature of more than 93 percent of the work force. Unorganised workers being taken away from the purview of any labour law, workers are enacting a new law of forcing the law and order machinary to intervene to settle labour disputes. If middle strata of employers go on strike demanding higher wages for their production, workers continue the strike to get higher wages for their labour and to get their due share of the kitty their employer secured through strike. Law and order authority have no option but to intervene to maintain peace by forcing employers to part away with some share in favour of scores of unorganized workers. The case of powerloom workers strike of Kumarapalayam that went on for more than a month even after their employers withdrew the strike is a classic example of this. On the contrary, in a similar situation in Pallipalayam, CITU union entered into a behind the screens deal with powerloom owners, forcing the workers to approach the struggling union of AICCTU to lead their struggle.
Even labour welfare board centred functioning of construction and other manual workers is undergoing changes demanding redefinition of role of welfare boards so as to play a more meaningful and productive role to assist all the facets of workers lives. It is being demanded to end the role of welfare boards as a mere death compensation mechanism. The rally organized by construction workers of AICCTU in Tamil Nadu, some time back, was also instrumental in securing pension benefits for construction workers in the state. Trade unions with membership strength of more than 15000 construction and other unorganised workers of Kanyakumari district, disappointed with the compromising and class collaborationist line pursued by CITU and AITUC, have recently joined AICCTU in order to give a fighting edge to the workers struggles. This union and their leaders chose a revolutionary democratic stream mainly for political reasons as other left unions are subjugating working class to the domination of bourgeois politics.
Non conventional workers lenient to revolutionary trade union stream of defence industry went all out to organize contract workers who were deprived of their basic rights for a long time, in spite of the presence of an established trade union of social democratic stream. Contract workers are showing a new path to advance the interests of working class in the industry.
Organised workers of private sector, large scale industry are also showing a new way by organizing themselves under the banner of ‘Solidarity Forum’. They intervene in every issue of workers in the Tiruvottiyur belt. In one such intervention, they could even stall a proposal to declare large-scale VRS and restructuring in the factory that was approved by the official union where single union culture prevailed. They do not limit at that. They have also floated a union to organize contract and casual workers.
Readymix concrete is emerging as an important component of construction industry. Workers of this industry (RMC) in Bangalore have joined AICCTU deserting CITU. Workers’ thirst for a well meaning approach to trade union issues and democratic functioning of trade union with workers’ involvement was not satisfied in CITU. Workers identified AICCTU as a potential force to challenge the management and to redress the grievances of workers and joined the union.
Pricol workers of Coimbatore chose a revolutionary trade union because no other union could fight their management that wields heavy political and financial clout. Trade union movement in Coimbatore was dormant for a quite long time mainly because most of the established unions adopted a class collaborationist line. Workers were longing for a union that can fight for the workers’ cause with dedication and sacrifice. They found it a rare quality in the trade union market where running trade unions have become a profession to many. On the contrary, when workers of Pricol, who could never successfully organize themselves into a union, were on streets waging militant battles that became the attraction and inspiration for the working class of Coimbatore. Such an eventuality was never expected by workers of Coimbatore in the backdrop of the cruel and cunning nature of the management. This was amply demonstrated by the fact that workers of other factories came in solidarity in large numbers that went upto 1000 in a single day at times. 500 workers of other factories coming for lending their hand of solidarity to the struggling workers was a common phenomenon in the initial periods. In fact, it is this solidarity and support extended by other factory workers and the common public that has made workers to sustain the struggle for more than one and a half months and to maintain their common kitchen that feeds lunch for more than 1500 workers a day since March 5 when the strike began.
Most of the unions have already resigned to the fact that launching militant struggles is no longer possible given the composition and unorganized nature of the work force. But, AICCTU decided to enroll not only confirmed workers but also all categories of workers in the factory irrespective of the titles awarded by the management. This tactics of enrolling all members was one major tactical step advanced by the union led by AICCTU. That is the reason for the strike to be complete and effective and also for its continuance.
The growth in trade union work in Tamil Nadu can not be viewed in isolation. It is part of the process of social churning undergoing in the society. Policies of globalization, liberalisation and the resultant restructuring has started producing new set of rules and new set of players. Unorganised workers under highly organized capital are gradually emerging to assume an important role in the trade union movement in the country. Special Economic Zones are moving beyond the boundaries of corporate land grab and tax concessions. SEZs are, in fact, devised in such a way to circumvent all labour laws. Tamil Nadu government is all set to introduce anti-labour reforms in dispute resolution legislations and mechanism. Pro-MNC, pro-monopoly government is prepared to offer everything possible to the capital for their ceaseless, cruel quest for profit at the cost of labour and democracy. Even minimum legal safeguards are given a go by. Modern industry too, instead of adopting professional management systems, is resorting to feudal practices. Capital accumulation also adopts the same route in various forms.
In this scenario, established, traditional, conventional trade unions are unable to deliver goods. Workers search for a struggling union that cannot be appropriated by the capital, that can wage relentless war for the betterment of the working class. It is in this backdrop, AICCTU is emerging as a rallying centre of struggling workers who long for a better life and dignity of labour. Revolutionary trade union is emerging as an inevitable alternative to the struggling people, in particular.