Pricol Workers’ End Fast on Sixteenth Day

Pricol workers in Coimbatore went on a one day strike on 25 April 2017 in solidarity with the struggling peasantry of Tamilnadu. The management illegally invoked sections of the payment of wages act and deducted 8 days’ wages from more than 800 workers. Against this the union approached the state government to resolve the issue. Kovai Mavata Pricol Thozilargal Otrumai Sangam (KMPTOS) asked the govt. to refer the issue of justifiability of the penal deduction under section 10(1) of the ID act. It also asked the govt. to pass an order under section 10-B, of the Industrial Disputes act, directing the management to pay 8 days’ wages as advance pending final adjudication of the dispute.

AICCTU, AIARLA, RYA, Democratic Advocates’ Association (DAA) and many other organisations came in support of KMPTOS demand. On 19 June 2017 workers’ representatives sat on indefinite fast at Chennai and Coimbatore. The fast was inaugurated by D. Hariparanthaman, former judge of the Madras High Court, through video conferencing. AIPWA staged a demonstration in solidarity with the workers in Chennai. All central trade unions supported this struggle and issued a statement. AICCTU called for an all India protest on 22 June 2017. World Federation of Trade Unions issued a solidarity statement. In Chennai AICCTU, AIARLA, RYA and DAA members participated in the fast. In Coimbatore AIARLA comrades joined the fast. The fast was undertaken when the TN assembly was in session. In Coimbatore prominent writers and other progressive leaders came to the fasting venue and conveyed their support to the struggling workers.

On 22nd 23rd and 24th June Pricol workers boycotted tea, coffee, and lunch inside the factory on all the shifts in support of the fasting comrades.

On 28th June evening there was an all TU demonstration in Chennai in which the other central trade unions joined. On the next day there was a militant gherao of the Tamil Nadu assembly, by workers, youth, lawyers, agrarian workers, and farmers. Protesters were detained and released in the evening.

On 29th June, protesters courted arrest in Thirunelveli in solidarity with the Pricol workers. A day-long fast was held at Thanjavur, addressed by the CPI(ML) State Secretary Comrade Kumarasamy and CPI and CPI(M), RYA and PRICOL worker leaders, AIKM National Executive Member Simpson, AIPWA leader Senbagavalli and AIARLA state President Balasundaram among others. Solidarity demonstration were also held in Salem, Karur and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu, and also in Puducherry.

On 3rd July, a procession marched from the Madras High Court gate towards the assembly. Several thousand posters were pasted all over Chennai on 3rd July morning announcing another Assembly gherao on 6 July. Barricades were erected to prevent protesters from going ahead. Protesters clashed with the police to try and break through the barricades. (On both 29th June and 3rd July some of the protesters were injured.) At about 2 PM comrades Kumarasamy National president AICCTU, Janakiraman AIARLA general secretary, Bharathi State convenor DAA and Natarajan president KMPTOS met the Labour Minister, the Labour secretary and the Labour Commissioner. On 3rd July Pricol workers applied for leave en masse on 6th July.

The Union asked the government to refer the following two issues for adjudications 1. Whether the demand of the workers that the penal deduction of 8 days’ wages for a single day’s strike on 25.4.2017 is unjustified, is correct; if correct, what should be the relief? 2. Whether the demand of the workers calling for an interim award to be passed for the issuance by the Pricol management of 8 days’ wages as advance is justified; if so what should be the relief?

During the talks on 3rd July, the Labour Minister agreed to refer the two issues flagged by the Union for adjudication – and this was the basis for an agreement between the Union and the government. Comrade Kumarasamy went to Coimbatore on 4th morning and in a meeting attended by hundreds of people concluded the fast by offering fruit juice to the comrades on fast on the 16th day.

Comrades Jayaprakashnarayanan, treasurer of KMPTOS and DCM of CPI(ML), Gurumoorthy and Pasamani were on fast up to the 16th day. Jayakumar was on fast for 13 days, and was hospitalized on the 13th day. Rathishkumar and Chandakumar crossed 10 days of the fast. Raju and Raja fasted for 8 days. AIARLA comrades Rajangam and Natarajan were on fast for 5 days and Kannayan was on fast for 7 days. Velmurugan, Coimbatore CPIML was on fast for 5 days.