About 70 workers of Greaves Cotton plant in Gumminypoondi gathered along with their family members for a protest meeting on 8th August. They are protesting the closure of the plant, which would potentially throw off 100 permanent employees from their jobs. These employees have worked in Greaves-Cotton for 8-12 years and are in the age group of 30-35. Currently, the management is only offering them voluntary retirement plans. The workers demand that the plant be reopened or they be given jobs in the Ranipet factory. They also demand that the Tamil Nadu government step in and take action in the matter of this illegal closure. The workers have not received any salary for the last four months.
The closure of the plant is illegal, as it was done without getting permission from the labour department. The Tamil Nadu government has not taken any action, and has done nothing to ensure that the workers get their wages. The union has given a letter to opposition leader Stalin, who has agreed to bring up the issue in the state Assembly on 11th August. As a result of this protest meeting, the Additional Commissioner of Labour has called for talks between the DTUC-affilliated union and the factory management.
The plant closure is an especially brazen act by the Greaves Cotton management, because the company made a profit of Rs. 199 crore in the year 2015-16, and there is demand for the products manufactured by the Gumminypoondi plant. In the closure letter, the management claims that the plant is being closed because of lack of demand for agricultural equipment manufactured in the plant. But workers claim this is clearly a lie, because the company is just shifting the manufacture of these products to its plant in Ranipet, Vellore district (earlier the Ranipet plant exclusively did Auto manufacture). One possible reason for this move might be that, starting from 2013, workers in the Gumminypoondi plant have built a strong union.
The events in Greaves Cotton in the last four months also highlight the question of what is legal and what is illegal. Whereas the government has taken no action against the illegal closing of the plant, it has acted strongly to curb spaces of protest available to the workers. The workers were denied permission for a protest march starting from Gumminypoondi, going through the industrial area of north Chennai and ending in Fort, and were only given permission for a four hour protest meeting. The police also helped in the closure process — even as there was a court order that materials not be removed from the factory, the management removed the machines in the factory under police protection on 2nd July 2016.
The protest meeting was led by Arumuga Selvam, general secretary of the workers union and J. Chidambaranathan, chairman of CPML People’s Liberation. The meeting was attended by workers of various factories like MRF, KPL, NVH India, BMW India, other members of DTUC, CPML liberation and FITE.