JK Tyres Workers in Kanchipuram district struck work from 24th July 2017, demanding recognition of their union. This happened after the company tried to negotiate with the internal union, without any democratic process for the workers to choose the union they wanted for their representation. In response, over 600 workers struck work demanding recognition of the CITU union to which they belonged. After a 17 day strike, the management has agreed to negotiate with the majority union and reinstate 27 probationary workers who were dismissed during this period.
In a notice posted on August 2nd, one week into the strike, the management came down hard. They termed the workers’ strike illegal, as the industries under automobile sector have been termed public utility service. They also promised stern action against the workers for resorting to the illegal strike and threatened workers to either see ‘reason’ or face disciplinary action. Over 27 workers, according to Comrade Kannan of CITU, were terminated, citing ‘unsatisfactory performance’. However, the union and the workers were resolved to continue their fight for justice and increased the exposure of the strike by conducting various protests in front of Kanchipuram District Collectorate and in other parts of the District.
The resolve of the workers has not been in vain. According to Comrade Kannan, the management has agreed to have conciliation meetings with the union starting September 4th on various demands of the workers. In addition, the 27 workers who have been terminated will be reinstated from August 21st, in the same postings they previously held. Talking to Thozhilalar Koodam, Comrade Kannan hailed this as a ‘major victory for democratic rights of workers through a sustained struggle’. He attributed the success of the struggle to the resolve of the workers and to the impact on production. He has said that over 40 demands of the workers will be resolved through negotiation with the management. These broadly cover wage increases, regularization of trainees after 480 days, improvement in allowances and amenities, lawful implementation of overtime and various other benefits.
The victory of the JK Tyres workers comes at an important phase for workers in Sriperumbudur, where unionization is being denied to workers through various pretexts, and victimization of workers continue unchecked for their union activities. The contention of the management to term the strike illegal under the guise of public utility service has been rightly challenged by the workers who have used collectivized struggle for their just cause. The workers have also rejected the idea of an internal union, which is a mechanism used to keep workers under management control. Its important that these moments of victory are consolidated by unions to push the working class struggles not only in favor of unionised workers but also those that do not come under union fold.