By Sudhir Katiyar Today was the D day. The Union team undertook extensive mobilization amongst the workers between 15th and 21st December. It visited all the brick kilns and gave memorandum to the employers. It contacted workers and gave them pamphlet …

Andrew

By Sudhir Katiyar

Today was the D day. The Union team undertook extensive mobilization amongst the workers between 15th and 21st December. It visited all the brick kilns and gave memorandum to the employers. It contacted workers and gave them pamphlet about the Union meeting on 21st.

A memorandum was given to the brick kiln owners’ association. While most owners accepted the memorandum, there were heated discussions with a group of 6-7 owners. Another team met the Government officers. The Labor Department was given the memorandum and asked to initiate a tripartite dialogue. The police and the administration were also given information about the meeting and workers’ problems. The Union team made efforts to develop a local support group. It met sympathetic members of the civil society including advocates, trade union members, and social activists.

The mobilization efforts met resistance from a small group of 7-8 owners. These owners own comparatively larger units centered around the village of Haripura. These are the owners who pay the lowest rates and stand to suffer the most from a wage hike. They challenged the Union to hold the meeting. The source of their confidence became apparent on the morning of the meeting when the local official responsible for law and order, the Sub Divisional Officer phoned the Union Secretary saying that he has cancelled permission for the meeting. Then the tent house supplier was threatened by the owners not to erect the tent. Union responded by mobilizing the support group to speak to the higher police officials. We asked the local police to provide protection. The local police responded and a police team was stationed at the site. The tent was erected again.

There remained the suspense whether workers will be able to resist the employers and come out of the brick kilns. The suspense was soon removed as workers started arriving in groups. Soon the tent was full and workers flowed outside. We registered almost 1000 workers and an equal number is likely to have gone unregistered. The numbers were beyond our expectation. The guests included the local city support group and supporters from outside the district. The workers were full of enthusiasm.

After the speeches, the workers decided on the next course of action. The Union president moved the resolution for continuing the strike. The resolution was passed by a show of hands by overwhelming majority. Next the Union activists outline the strategy. It was decided to continue the strike for three days. If by the end of three days, the owners do not respond, then the workers will apply for release under the Bonded Labor Act and go back home. The Bonded Labor Act was explained. Nearly all the workers have taken an advance and that is the source of their bondage. The workers were told that they can apply for release under the Act and the bonded debt will be annulled. Format of an application under release under the Act was circulated and 40 such forms were circulated.

After the meeting the workers went in the form of a rally to the nearby Haripura chauraha as a show of strength. The rally passed through the village where a large number of owners live. Finally a committee was constituted. It was decided that every day the workers will gather at Haripura chauraha in the morning and then the team will go wherever required.

Post script: As the meeting ended, the owners’ reaction became clear. One owner threatened the Union activist. From one brick kiln, there was report of violence and a worker was beaten up. The workers responded by collecting together forcing the owner to run away. All work came to a halt. The Union informed the local police that paid a visit to the kiln. The owner later tried to effect a compromise. The city support group met the Labor Commissioner and asked for speeding up the process of tripartite dialogue. He has fixed 24th December for the meeting.


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