The Left Front police greeted the striking workers of Ganges Jute Mills, Bansberia, Hooghly with ruthless lathi chare of the morning of Bengali New Year’s day, it 15 April. Birendra Das a fighting worker of Ganges Jute Mills and Krishna Pal, a worker of Dunlop Factory, owing allegiance to M-L politics were severely injured and admitted to the hospital.
Next day, on investigation team of AICCTU Hooghly District Committee, led by Com. Prabir Haldar, Batakrishna Das and Sudarshan Prasad Singh visited the spot, and met the workers. Ganges Jute Mill is glaring example where all the laws stipulated in the Labour Act are violated to the hilt, again exposing the mockery of LF industrialization policy. Nearly 4000 workers are strike working in Ganges Jute Mills as ‘apprentice’ for years together, getting a stipend of Rs. 73 per head per day, sans all statutory benefit and are employed in perennial nature of work allotted to the permanent workers. It is worth mentioning that an agreement was signed by the management and three trade unions, viz CITU, INTUC and BMS, that after completion of their trainee period, all such workers name shall be enrolled in the muster roll and shall get Rs. 100 daily. But the management has thrown that bipartite agreement into the waste-paper basket after colluding with the signatory above mentioned trade unions.
The aggrieved workers started strike, and continued for 5 months. They are demanding, permanency to all apprentice workers Rs. 100 daily and DA as per tripartite agreement, withdraw of all the false charges framed by police and charge sheet, termination of the agitating workers.
The police and CITU hoodlums, unable to break the strike, resorted to indiscriminate lathi-charge on 15th April. In protest against such dastardly act in support of the just cause, Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Federation observed ‘Black-day’ on 17 April. Jute workers of BCMF wore black badges, hold protest meeting on that day, and a 12 hr. Banshberia bandh has been called on 13rd April by the CPI(ML) Liberation and AICCTU Hooghly District Committee.
The ongoing Strike of the workers of the Hind Motor Factory is a sign of the state of workers’ rights in the automobile industry in W. Bengal. AICCTU organized a militant civil disobedience programme on 20 April in support of the striking Hindustan Motors Workers demanding immediate withdrawal of charge-sheet, suspention on the striking workers, disbursement of DA since September 2001, promoting 243 casual workers to permanent status. The demand to lift the totally illegal suspension of work declared at Ganges Jute Mills, Banshberia in Hooghly district was also raised. A procession started from Subodh Mallick Square, Kolkata, and the rallyist courted arrest in front of the Metro Cinema, Esplanade. Earlier, on 12 April, AICCTU organized a demonstration in front of the Birla Building, the Head office of Hindustan Motors and handed over a deputation to the management.
The strike of Hind Motor workers has continued since 13 March. Failing to break the strike, and the fighting morale of the striking workers, CITU connived with the management and the later declared suspension of work on 11 April, the day after (i.e. on 10/4) Hind Motor workers witnessed a massive police-cadre crackdown.
The management has declared that unless the strike is called off, they would not start negotiating with the Trade Unions. Rather, the management has sent show cause letters to around 40 workers owing allegiance to the Sangrami Yukta Manch (a broad based platform of the striking workers barring CITU) asking why they should not be terminated for their ‘gross illegal act’. Meanwhile, the Kolkata High Court has show caused 10 union leaders for not allowing finished goods to go out side the factory, and warned that administration should take firm steps if the orders are not carried out properly.
Earlier, the Sangrami Yukta Manch held a Uttarpara Bandh on 12 April, which was supported actively by the Hooghly District Committee of AICCTU.
(In protest against non-payment of interim dearness allowances and refusal to revise pay scales, BEST transport workers went on a 72-hour strike, that was eventually called off following assurances that the demands would be considered, and no ‘vindictive action’ would be taken against striking workers. Below is the statement that AICCTU and the DTC Workers’ Unity Centre had issued in solidarity with the BEST struggle when it was facing a severe crackdown.)
AICCTU and DTC Workers’ Unity Centre strongly condemns the repressive measures being meted out to striking BEST workers by the Maharashtra Government and the BEST management. We express solidarity with the striking BEST workers and demand that the Maharashtra Government and BEST management immediately initiate dialogue with the workers to resolve their just demands.
It is shocking that without initiating any dialogue with the workers, 35000 BEST workers were served termination notices on the very first day of the Strike and notices to begin fresh recruitments were issued. However, the Government withdrew the termination notices and gave an ultimatum to workers to return to work unconditionally by 6 pm on 20 April. Quite clearly, the threat of termination is being held like a sword over the heads of the workers.
This step of the Maharashtra Government brings to mind the action of the Jayalalitha regime in Tamil Nadu a few years back. AICCTU holds that insensitivity to workers’ basic demands is a key feature common to Governments of all hues that are implementing policies of liberalisation. The repressive measures being invoked are an attempt to force the workers’ movement into a defensive position. Workers’ movements face a tough challenge, and there is n alternative but to intensify the struggle to reverse the policies of liberalization and fight to safeguard and expand workers’ rights.