On August 15th, Workers of Gestamp Sungwoo Hitech Automobile parts workers protested against the working conditions in their factory and gheraoed the collectorate under New Democratic Labour Front. The state retaliated by arresting more than 150 workers and remanding them. On 30th of August, Asian Paint Workers Union who are continuing a year long struggle against the management on various economic demands, conducted a protest meeting in solidarity with the arrested workers of GSH. More than 2 weeks after the protest, Rajesh of Asian Paints Workers Union, Advocate Bharathi of AICCTU, Sridhar of GSH Workers Union and Siva of NDLF have been arrested on charges of CrPC 294B (reciting obscene songs or words in a public place), IPC 353(Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 506(Criminal Intimidation) based on a complaint filed by Mr. Dharmaseelan, Assistant Commissioner of Labour, Sriperumbudur. While three of the comrades have been given bail, Comrade Siva who was arrested on August 15th is yet to get bail.
Mr. Dharmaseelan has alleged in his complaint, that these comrades had used derogatory language against him and his ineffectual dealings against workers in favor of industries and had threatened to close the office of ACL. He has further contended that as AICCTU was culpable in the murder of a manager in Pricol, these statements constitute a intimidating environment for the discharge of his duties. Commenting on the arrest, Advocate Bharathi deplored the attitude of Labour Department who is meant to protect the workers’ rights stepping out to persecute them. ‘The filing of charges based on the complaint is a violation of freedom of expression’ he said. He questioned the motive of the Labour Department and Police Department in suppressing workers’ protests in Tamil Nadu.
As working conditions and living conditions deteriorate in an environment of unrelenting inflation with flighty and exploitative capital, working class struggles have increased in the industrial Sriperumbudur with workers challenging the State in its failure to provide better working conditions and to protect their interests. However the role of the state has been to promote and protect foreign capital and provide cheap labour for the capital. ‘Contract and casual labour has become the norm in the industries of Sriperumbudur and labour laws are being weakened to support the capitalists. While Rajasthan Government moves to amend the Factory Act so that workers with employment up to 300 can dismiss workers without any authorization from Government, these laws are hardly implemented’ said Comrade Bharathi.
The lack of strong labour rights especially on right to unionize and collective bargaining is strongly missing in the Indian Labour laws. There is no mandatory recognition of the unions and there is no punitive damages suffered by management on labour conciliation. So while the Labour Department sticks to the letter of the law in conciliation, the management is under no obligation to either come for negotiation or for honor any agreements in such tripartite negotiation. With such conditions, workers have no recourse but to struggle and strike to press for just working environment. Workers from Nokia Siemens Networks and Asian Paints have struck work for few months while negotiations in Labour Department went no where. Yet the State and the Centre have only pursued to suppress these struggles.
While the Central Government is pursuing weakening of labour laws in the guise of ‘Labour Reforms’, the State Government is continuing to deny permissions for worker’s strikes and suppressing working class protests. Bharathi cited the recent move by the State to declare MRF as a public utility service to suppress workers’ strikes against the management. Just last week, Chennai Police Department denied permission to Marxist Leninist(Peoples’ Liberation) Party’s protest against atrocities on dalits in Dharmapuri and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, various protests are emerging against the high handedness of the state. Protests were organized in front of the Labour Department in Oragadam on 24th. Yesterday, lawyers protested against the arrest of Bharathi in front of High Court and also boycotted Labour court.