SC rejects workers appeal without enquiry but takes up management’s appeal
Once again, the judiciary has proven its brazenly pro-capital and anti-worker bias. On 13th November, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Pricol workers – Ramamurthy and Manivannan who have been in jail for several years for the alleged murder of the company’s HR manager in 2009. This is a case known infamously for several loopholes, pointing to a well hatched plan to victimise workers who dared to exercise their right to unionise, exercise their right to unionise and continues to penalise them even where there is want of evidence.
On the same day, the Pricol management’s appeal against the acquittal of 25 workers has been taken up by the same court and the judges have now sent a notice to the 6 acquitted workers putting their lives, once again in jeopardy and uncertainty.
Pricol, one of the top auto-parts manufacturers in the country has been in news for its increased hostility to the union; 133 workers have been dismissed so far and the Labour Court has refused to hear the case. The management has been targeting workers who are members of the AICCTU affiliated Kovai Mavaatra Pricol Thozhilalargal Ottrumai Sangam. The union has a membership of more than 900 permanent workers in three plants (Plant 1 in Periyanaickenpalayam and Plant 3 and 4 in Chinnamathampalayam) in Coimbatore where the total strength is about 1300 workers. There about 1000 more workers who are apprentices and trainees. Com.Natarajan, President of the union updated Thozhilalar Koodam on what has been happening in the past few months.
There have been two deaths in in the recent past and the way in which the management has conducted themselves speaks volumes about what the union and the workers must contend with. Francis, a 51-year old worker who worked in the factory as an operator for almost 30 years was known to be in poor health due to which he was assigned a lighter work in assembly section. The union leadership was also informally able to negotiate a more flexible arrangement where he could sit down for a few hours and do some other work after spending mornings in the assembly section.
Com.Natarajan who also works in the same plant said that Francis was constantly under pressure by the pro-management groups to leave the union in exchange for which he was promised light work. “In order to undermine the union, they transferred him to another section where he had to climb about 3 floors, about 60 steps, often. The production targets were also significantly higher. He had to work there for about two days till he was transferred back”, said Com.Natarajan. About a week after that, he collapsed at his work spot. He was taken to the hospital and declared dead on arrival.
In another more recent case, Nagaraj, a worker who was a part of a contingent of workers and management representative who attended a program on quality control in Mysore, also passed away in the lodge where they were given accommodation. The team had reached Mysore on 1st December. On 3rd December, he had gone into the bathroom to bathe but when some of his colleagues realised he had not come out for some time, they broke open the door and found him on the floor at around 7:30am. According to the union, the management did not provide any news about his demise. “One of our colleagues informed us, we did not have any confirmation and the family and relatives were all distraught. It was only after 11am after we tried reaching several people from the HR, we got confirmed news” said Com.Natajan.
Moreover, instead of providing any compensation, the management sent two of their representatives to his house and attempted to make Nagraj’s wife sign a letter saying that her husband died of ill-health, without mentioning that the incident took place when he was “on-duty” and that she needed an advance of Rs.20000. One of the dismissed employees, who lived in the neighbouring house came to know and prevented her from signing it. The union plans to take up the issue of compensation for both workers.
A need to revive “Free Pricol 8” campaign?
Similarly, in the case of the murder of the HR manager in 2009, the management seems to be steadfast in its attempts to target the 25 workers and activists who were originally charged with the crime. On 12th November 2017, their appeal against the acquittal of these workers was accepted by the Supreme Court and notice has been served on the 6 workers who were acquitted by the Madras High Court in January this year. (17 of the workers were acquitted by the sessions court much earlier) While on the same day the appeals of two of the workers who are still in jail was rejected by the Supreme Court without even a hearing. The various loopholes in the police investigations in the aftermath of the murder as well as the long-winded judicial process has been well documented.
The latest developments in the appeal process in the Supreme Court has come at a time of an increased onslaught from state, judiciary and capital against workers’ right to organise. Judgements in the case of Maruti workers in Manesar and workers of the Graziano factory in Gurgaon show that there is an increasing tendency by the judiciary to criminalise the working class as well as thwart all forms of strikes or struggles with threat of ESMA. Workers in factories are denied right to strike near the factory gate on a regular basis now. In the case of Pricol, on what basis was the appeal of the workers not taken up for enquiry but the management’s appeal against the acquittal of the workers accepted? Com.Kuramaswami, General Secretary of AICCTU said that the union is contemplating the next course of action but would also build the issue into a popular movement. To this end, on 17th December, AICCTU along with Central Trade Unions plan to conduct a signature campaign among workers on this issue and contemplate the next course of action.