Unite to Demand Hostels and Workers’ Rights
In the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), a Dera Dalo campaign was launched by the AISA-led JNU Students’ Union on 26 May 2014. Since then, students and workers in JNU have virtually occupied the Administrative Block (Ad Block) to demand that the JNU administration immediately address their basic demands of constructing hostels for students and ensuring the legally mandated rights for workers in JNU.
This ‘Occupy Ad Block’ campaign -with the slogan ‘Hostels for all students, rights for all workers– has now completed 10 days.The demands of the movement are to immediately start construction of a new hostel, upgrading the existing dormitory facilities as well as ensuring an alternative rented accommodation for students, stopping the intimidation and victimization of contractual workers, and guaranteeing ESI/PF, bonus, overtime and safety for workers.
Earlier this year, the workers in JNU had organized themselves under the ‘All India General Kamgaar Union’ associated with AICCTU.
Over the past few months, the JNUSU and the workers had carefully and painstakingly documented various violations of workers’ rights taking place in JNU. For instance two 2-day PF camps were organized and extensive data on the illegal siphoning of PF was documented and submitted to the JNU administration.
In the 10 days of the DeraDalo till now, as students and workers occupy the Ad Block, everyday protest meetings and activities like movie screenings are organized. Apart from iconic films on the nexus of the big business, corporate media houses and governments (such as Neecha Nagar and Jaane bhi do Yaaron), a documentary film made by JNU students on the lives of the sanitation workers in JNU ‘Sehar se Pehle’ was also screened. Sehar se Pehle is a chilling reminder of the conditions of sanitation workers in JNU and how they work each and every day without even basic health protection to clean up the campus of all the dirt. JNU students and workers are also joined by the Sangwari group for several long sessions of protest songs. Cultural groups in JNU, such as Janrang have also participated in the DeraDalo campaign – with performances of various songs of resistance and workers’ unity.
JNUSU and the workers have also been campaigning amongst the faculty members of JNU to build broad-based support for the ongoing campaign. An appeal with the detailed demands as well as the underlying vision guiding the demands – has been circulated amongst the faculty members. A solidarity meeting with faculty members was also organized at the site of the DeraDalo campaign – which was addressed by several faculty members of JNU and DU including noted labour historian Prabhu Mahapatra, Prof Bimol Akoijam from JNU, Prof. Arun Kumar (JNUTA president), Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Prof. Vivek Kumar, Prof. Maninder Thakur, and Prof. Kaustav Banerjee.
As a result of the campaign, there have been some significant developments regarding workers’ rights:
• The JNU administration was forced to send notices to all JNU Departments and contractors to resolve following labour issues latest by 20th June, 2014:
1. Payment of salary by 7th of the month, with proper salary slip.
2. Refunding of all arbitary deductions (in the name of Uniform etc).
3. Proper Overtime Payment (double rate), those working extra hours in any day, weekly and national holidays.
4. Workplace safety for ALL – boot, gloves, mask for sanitation workers, umbrella and cabin for security guards, helmet, safety belt and net for construction workers.
5. Proper First Aid Box in every work-site.
6. Permanent ESI Card to all workers.
• The JNU administration has also agreed to hold a PF camp in JNU on 12-13 June to document the violations of workers rights. Moreover, the JNU administration has promised to take action against all those companies who have defaulted on making proper PF payments to the workers.
• Balaji contractor was forced to provide proper PF Account Number to all mess staff.
• The Vayudoot contractor was forced to provide boots, gloves and masks to sanitation workers.
In the midst of this intensive campaign, the contractors in JNU however resorted to open threat tactics. The CCTV cameras installed in JNU’s Ad Block are being used to monitor and record which workers are participating in the ongoing movement, and there have been attempts and threats by contractors to remove workers. The supervisor of the SIS company in JNU (which provides security services in JNU) for instance issued new ‘guidelines’ that no SIS guard should carry a mobile phone while on duty! The SIS guards were also made to work for 16 hours, apart from a 2-hour briefing every day. Fines of Rs 1000 are being charged on the SIS guards for the flimsiest reasons, and those who are joining the movement are being threatened and even shifted out of JNU by SIS. However, as a result of the continuing struggle, some of these moves to threaten, intimidate and punish workers for demanding their rights were revoked. One of the important demands of the movement is that women workers should be allowed to avail of maternity leave without any punitive action. Recently, a worker (who was in the position of a supervisor) was removed because she took maternity leave. After sustained protests during this movement, she has been offered a job in JNU. However, she is not being reinstated as supervisor and therefore the movement continues to demand justice for her.
The AISA-led JNUSU leaders have constantly been reiterating that this is not merely a movement for some ‘infrastructural’ demand for more hostels – this movement is to defend the idea of an institution which will open its doors to people from all sections of society. The absence of hostels effectively means that women and students from deprived backgrounds are denied the opportunity to avail of higher education, and blatant violation of workers’ rights means that the university is built on a foundation of oppression and exploitation of those who keep it going. Therefore, the ongoing DeraDalo campaign seeks to reclaim the idea of a just society with all rights for the most marginalized people. It is moreover a campaign that refuses to accept artificial divisions between students and workers, and forges a combined organic resistance.