Sunday, December 13, 2009

GORAKHPUR AND GURGAON: SOME QUESTIONS


(New Series 257, November 2009)

In an effort to clarify some questions, we’ll discuss only the factories. 70 to 75% workers working in factories in Faridabad, Okhla (Delhi), Gurgaon are ‘invisible.’ ¾ of workers working in the factories are not in the factories according to the factory and gov’t documents and records. This is the meaning of ‘there is no ESI.’ (ESI stands for Employee State Insurance which is legally compulsory for every factory worker. Where ESI does not exist, the worker does not exist in the factory records. To Provide ESI 1.75% of wages are deducted and the company contributes approximately 4.75%.) 80 to 85% of factory workers are not given the statutory minimum wages set by the governments of Delhi and Haryana. In factories, 12 hours work every day is common. And 98 to 99% “extra time” alias over time is not shown and the payment is at single rate instead of double rate. Conditions in other areas under the control of the gov’t of India is not different than the above. Here on August 15, 1847, the government gained independence from providing residence to factory workers.

Based on conversations with a permanent worker, Rico Auto Industries, 38 kilometer Delhi-Jaipur National Highway, Gurgaon:

It’s a big factory. After casting in iron and aluminum through machining, various parts of vehicles are made. The company has factories in Ludhiana, Dharuheda, Manesar. Rico Auto, Continental Rico, Magna Rico, FCC Rico…In these factories, work of Hero Honda, Maruti-Suzuki, Honda, Ford, General Motors etc is done. Work has to be performed standing and after 8 1/2 hours duty, they force you to keep working. Even on weekly rest day, shift workers have compulsory duty. Payment of overtime is at single rate. They keep increasing the production target and for not completing the production target, they harass us. Wages are said to be 5,500 but really 4,200 are given. Basic wages are low and there are various allowances. Leave Travel Allowance (LAA) money is cut from the wages each month and given at the end of the year when LAA is supposed to be provided by the company. In the canteen, bad food for more money. No arrangement for transport. Despite many efforts, workers get tired of asking but many of the permanent workers also are not given ESI card. In this situation, permanent workers keep quitting jobs and new ones become permanent. ITI & MSC are taken as trainees. Permanent workers are 2,000 to 2,500. Through 2 contractors, as many as 2,500 workers have been hired. I don’t know about their condition…To overcome their difficulty, permanent workers put in 1,000 rupees each, that is 20 lakh rupees collected and joined the union. The big leader of the union converses with the Chief Minister-Prime Minister. In August, things started heating up. On September 21, when the company suspended 16 permanent workers, then no permanent worker entered the factory.

Workers hired through contractors also stayed out. Workers sat at the factory gates all day, even cooking their meals there. Leaders came to give speeches. Company hires new people. Production goes on. Goods enter and leave the factory. Sec. 144 forbids a gathering of 5 or more people at a place. Stay 50 meters away from the gate. Police took away the tents and mats. Arrests and bail. In support of unions in Sunbeam and Rico factories many unions together held a big meeting on September 25th. Normal production continues in other factories of the company. Due to prolonged time and the Diwali festival on the 17th, there were a smaller number of workers at the factory gate. The company organized an attack on October 18th in which a worker died and many were injured. Unions called strikes in 50 factories on October 20, 80-90 thousand workers did not work. Work came to a standstill for three days in the factory. One boss was beaten. Leaders did not allow the National Highway to be blocked. The company gave 5 to 10 lakh rupees to the family of the dead worker. No arrest in the murder case. Though the Labour Department–Chief Minister got negotiations started between the Management and union on Oct. 22nd. The Company restarted production in the factory through new hires on October 23rd. Negotiations are continuing. Leaders are keeping all things to themselves. This time they are not telling anything to the workers because... In 1998, when an attempt was made to form a union, the leader had sold out, we don’t know what is there in the demand notice, what the conditions are…Production is continuing in the factory. Pressure on the company is decreasing…Conversations-negotiations are on. Workers hired through contractors have dispersed. Where can we permanent workers go? Despair, full of rage, enraged. This week something is bound to…Union has started a relay-hunger strike from November 2nd.

*In eastern Uttar Pradesh in Bargadwa Industrial Area of Gorakhpur. On June 15, 600 workers of Ankur Udyog stopped work for statutory minimum wages etc. For the same thing, 300 workers of V.N. Dyers on June 23rd and 300 workers of U.N. Textile Mill stopped work on June 28. After an agreement was reached, work commenced. In these 3 factories on July 13th, Joint Front for the Struggle of Workers Rights was formed in the area. 1,000 workers of modern laminators and modern packaging on August 3rd demanded statutory minimum wages, ESI etc from the Labour Department. 10 rounds of negotiations. After the negotiations of August 21st, the company closed the gates at night to the workers at the gates. After finishing the shift at 10 p.m., workers at the factories also started gathering there. On September 11, hundreds of workers set up camp in the court premises and started cooking food. Gov’t Administration became active and gave assurance of a written agreement. At the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office, Management explicitly refused to give statutory minimum wages. And the Co. which had been calling it an ‘illegal strike’ on September 13th put up a notice of a lock-out. Workers of many factories demonstrated on September 14th and burnt law books. 10 days assurance, on the fixed day of September 23rd, Gov’t Administration and co. did not appear for negotiations…

Hundreds of workers marched 5 miles to the District Administrator’s office and began preparations for cooking. Agreement on September 24th, workers hired through contractors and 18 other more active workers were refused a job. All the workers blocked the gate. Police, armed police. Agreement. Again not implemented. Hunger strike at District Administrator’s office on October 14th forcibly removed. On October 15th, 4 persons very active in the movement were called for negotiations by the Administration and beaten and sent to jail. All around opposition…Announcement of civil disobedience in Gorakhpur from October 21st. Strike by workers in 5 factories on October 21st. Strike by workers in 5 factories on October 20th and workers of 2 other factories joined the strike the next day. The Administration released the 4 persons who were jailed the night of October 21st…Seeing no other way, workers of modern laminators and modern packaging resigned in mass. And these two factories are closed till beginning of November. Lack of Alternatives…

(Information from Satyam, Katyayani; “Bigul” (69 Baba ke Purva, Paper Mill Road, Nishat Ganj, Lucknow 226006. Sanyukt Majdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Morcha, L.I.G.-II, 414 Vikas Nagar Bargadwaj, Gorakhpur).

Craft, trade, craft and trade unions narrowness has been known since 150 years. Craft-trade unions becoming harmful or dangerous to workers came to be realized in practice 90 years ago. Organizing workers on the basis of factory instead of trade was understood to be a viable alternative. Industrial unions were formed. To increase production on the basis of line system industrial unions soon became a tool to keep workers in control. Between unionized workers and those without unions, big differences in wages and allowances emerged. Extremely small minority of union workers got caught in the encirclement of fear and arrogance. Acceleration in the condition of the majority of workers went from bad to worse.

Automation and especially emerging electronics has made it possible to learn to work in the factory in a very short time. Together with this, the number of workers necessary for production of work decreased very rapidly. Number of unionized workers in the world has shrunk quite a lot.

Here in India, normally in factories only permanent workers are made members by the unions. And in these 20 years, percentage of permanent workers in the factory is between 0 to 10/15% only. Old factories that did not close down and where companies could not succeed in large scale retrenchement are exceptions. An articulate aspect of the reality today in factories here is that 80 to 90% of workers are temporary- casual workers, workers hired through contractors. Social death and social murder of peasants and artisans is pushing tens of millions in the ranks of workers at increasing pace. Large chunk of those who do anything for money has come into existence.

In Gurgaon in these 10 to 15 years, new factories have come up rapidly. Young workers are the overwhelming majority in these factories. At some factories, there are very small numbers, while at others more permanent workers are prominent. The pain that is borne of being a wage worker is also boiling in these young permanent workers. The function of established unions is to make these workers controllable/pliable.

80-90% of workers in the factories are casual workers. Those who work for 2 months here and for 6 months there. Who are not paid even the statutory minimum wages. Such workers are outside the frame of industrial unions…For the creation of a new society, these workers are freed from many types of shackles.

In Gorakhpur, questions regarding new forms of organizations, new methods of struggle are knocking at the door. In Gurgaon, it is not the talked about cases of Honda, Sunbeam, Rico Auto but rather the steps of 2,500 workers hired through pro contractors in Delphi; sudden stoppage of work by 4,500 workers in the spare parts factory of Hero Honda in Gurgaon; stoppage of work by 3,000 workers hired through contractors in Honda Motorcycle and Scooter factory against the Magement union agreement; stoppage of work by Eastern Medikit by casual workers on delay in wage payment…Workers are engaged in searching, making, forming, new paths.

In these conditions, the question before us is what all we should not do; what all we should do; how to go about it.

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