BY Sudhir Katiyar There have been two significant developments since the last update on 30th April. On 1st May, the workers’ day, a rally was taken out through Dundigal village followed by a public meeting. The programme was important as it was the fir …

Andrew

BY Sudhir Katiyar

There have been two significant developments since the last update on 30th April. On 1st May, the workers’ day, a rally was taken out through Dundigal village followed by a public meeting. The programme was important as it was the first public programme in Dundigal village following the workers’ strike on 19-20 March.

Dundigal had become a no-go area for union activists because of the heightened threat perception. This space was slowly opened culminating in the public programme. The programme was organised with the support of two major national workers’ federation – CITU and AIFTU.

On 3rd May, the much awaited meeting called by the Labor Department and chaired by the District Collector was held. It was attended by a large number of employers and members of the Solidarity Committee.

For the first time we managed to get some workers also to the meeting even though the location was most inconvenient. Representatives of employers put forward their view points. The Solidarity Committee members put forward the workers’ viewpoint.

The issue of release of workers also came up. The employers very clearly wanted the workers to stay for another month while workers wanted to leave. Two workers also gave testimonies. Finally the District Collector summed up the meeting and also pronounced the official verdict.

On the most important issue of wages to be paid to the workers, he agreed that Minimum Wage is non-negotiable, but also took note of the employers’ contention that the mixing of earth is being done mechanically by them. He asked the Labor Department to give a final verdict by coming Monday (7 May), separating the mixing component from the overall wage rate.

He also spoke on the necessity of introducing public services in the kilns and took note of the pathetic living conditions. However what happened immediately after the Collector and the officialdom left was truly astounding. As soon he left, one of the employers physically attacked the local activist who has taken the lead in organising workers.

All the field activists were harassed, and pushed around. The employers were particularly upset that the workers had come to the meeting. They wanted to know from the activists that how workers have been brought to the meeting without their permission. As if they are cattle being kept inside an enclosure! If any proof was ever needed about workers being under bondage, this was it.

The very holding of the meeting is a major achievement and explains the employers’ frustration resulting in the violent behaviour. For the first time the issue of wages is being debated in a public forum and there is demand for implementation of minimum wages.

The employers’ frustration was best illustrated by a comment made by one of the employers to the workers where he said that you are kicking your stomach. A comparison of stomachs of the two parties to the dispute – the employer and the workers – would be most pertinent here! It can also be surmised as to whose stomach is being kicked!

We are hoping that a good wage will be declared on Monday. After that efforts will be made to disseminate this wage rate as widely as possible, even to areas other than Dundigal where no mobilization has taken place this year. Further the movement has laid the ground for sustained cadre building in source areas leading to a wider mobilisation next year.

Sudhir Katiyar

Prayas Centre for Labor Research and Action


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