Greaves Cotton workers from the Gummudipoondi plant continue to struggle against the grave injustice which is being done to them by the management. In order to victimize the workers who unionised under DTUC in 2013 , the management announced the closure of the plant on April 29th, 2016. This was done in direct violation of the ID act which prohibits closure of the factory while a concilliation process is on between workers and management. According to the workers, management is trying to allege that due to decrease in production it was forced to close this plant. However this dip in production, workers allege was done by a careful planning by removing all the contract workers from the plant by February 2016. More details about this struggle can be found here
On June 2nd, the workers called a meeting in Thiruvattiviur MRF union hall, where they gathered along with members of other unions from the MRF plant in Arakoonam and the Enfield workers union. They discussed their future plan of action , which includes starting a signature campaign against closure of the factory. The DTUC president J. Chidambaranathan noted how the management was paradoxically trying force workers to take VRS, when workers wanted to get hired at the plant at Ranipet where the production had shifted. Workers had continued their protest outside the closed factory gate, and on June 1st all the workers along with their family held a day long protest. All the workers we met at the meeting are determined not to take VRS and fight the management against this illegal closure. The hall where meeting was held had no electricity for most part , but workers stayed till the end and discussed their issues with various trade unionists who had come to show their solidarity.
Secretary of MRF union spoke about his own experience in the MRF plant at Arakoonam, where the workers along with their families had fought for their rights to unionise. He used to be a contract worker for many years after which he was made permanent. He mentioned about how, what is happening at Greaves Cotton is what we see again and again, the capitalist system suppressing workers struggles and right to unionise by a variety of means. He mentioned how the MRF management refused to recognise their union and they had to approach the International Labour Organization. He also spoke about the dangers of relying on ruling party’s goodwill to solve workers problems. he said that, as every politician is a capitalist, by his very nature he is against the workers. So how can we expect them to take pro-workers positions.
Enfield worker’s union general secretary Kumarasami spoke at length . He started his talk by foreseeing this as a long struggle which would not have any short term solutions for Greaves Cotton workers. He spoke about how the Enfield unions, unlike the MRF union in Chennai are not political. They are unions which base themselves purely economic struggle and do not view these issues as political. He spoke of need to have more millitancy within these employees unions and cited example of the MRF union. He talked about the difficulties within the workers movement as permanent workers in most places were not thinking about contract workers, trainees or apprentices who worked in much worse conditions. He blamed this indivisualist thinking on lack of political education of workers by the trade unions. Kumarasami then spoke about the role of elections in union politics. He said how in any factory, unions often became most concerned with how to win the next election and retain power rather then actually taking on difficult struggles. His main point was that a critical analysis of the way trade unions function and the way they set their agenda is itself urgently required.
He emphasized the fact that how we, as workers never learn anything about the class structure of society when there is peace , but only during the time of discord do we realise what constitutes the ruling class which stands against us. He emphasized that the Graves Cotton struggle is key because it’s outcome will have impact on all the unions in the Chennai automobile belt in the future. Kumarasami then talked about the (lack of) role of political parties in these struggles. He noted how, at this point only the revolutionary communist parties where even talking about issues of unionization and difficulties workers all over India were facing in this regard.
Kumarasmi then spoke about main-stream political parties and how even in their election manifesto, during last state elections there was no mention of workers anywhere except in manifesto of one of the parties, where issue of minimum wage was mentioned.
He finally spoke about consolidation among various struggles which are happening all over TN and more generally in India. In his opinion, consolidation of workers struggles is need of the hour as the onslaught on working class was intensifying. The struggle of workers according to him must be faught simultaneously on various fronts. For example, flash strikes must be used to create attention of the state and political parties. However flash strikes themselves wont be a solution. Ofcourse working class is too weak to sieze power right now and hence it must create a situation where the ruling class comes to negotiating table. This requires, strikes, protests, engagement with various civil societies, students etc. He said how it is important that some component of protests must also involve affecting the routine life of people. If protests such as road blocks do not take place then Kumarasami said, ruling class will have no interest in coming to negotiating table. He also said how it was important for workers to realise from past experiences that, Judiciary is not pro-workers and then entire Judicial system is created by and for the ruling class. He cited the example of recent order by Madras high court as to how workers cannot organize and protest 50 Yards in front of any factory gate. This he said was comical for say, Siruseri workers who worked in the IT park ,as every 200 m there was a different company gate. Kumarasami finally ended his speech by noting how even though ruling parties like AIADMK won elections, in truth they are not a majority. Due to the way elections are won, an impression is created that majority is with them so the masses including trade unions follow these parties. He finally remembered how various recent struggles like the Maruti-Suzuki struggle in Manesar, the Munnar tea workers struggle taught workers how to be creative. He concluded by saying that the key point of his speech was that the workers struggle must be political and millitant.
Enfield union Vice president spoke briefly about how when we, as working class do not have any representation in Parliament, how can we expect the government to listen to us. He expressed solidarity with Graves Cotton workers and promised that Enfield workers union will stand with them through their struggle.
DTUC president J. Chidambaranathan spoke about how in order to protect the ruling class, Judiciary does not mind even contradicting itself. On one hand he said ID act clearly states that courts cannot stop workers from protesting outside the factory gate, and Supreme court upholds this. But then Madras high court passes order saying how you cannot protest within 200 Yards of Factory gates. He spoke about how DTUC had brought this issue up in high court and the judge had agreed to their arguments while continuing with this order. JC told us how there were already 9 cases lodged against the Graves Cotton Management, including unfair labour practice, non-payment of salary. He also said how Labour inspectors themselves had filed multiple cases against the mangement regarding safety Hazards in the factory etc.