Thozilalar Koodam had a discussion with Comrade Sugumar, General Secretary of CITU Tamil Nadu, about the state conference that was recently held in Tamil Nadu, challenges for the trade union movement and planned actions. The resolutions that were passed in the conference are attached below.
Question: Can you tell us about the recent CITU state conference and the outcome?
The CITU state conference is an organization conference held every three years and is used to review our work for last 3 years and plan for next three years. The 13th conference was held in September 9th to 12th in Tuticorin, with a view towards All India Conference to be held in Pune.
Through this process, CITU Tamil Nadu has decided to focus on 8 core issues that confront workers. These include opposing Central Government’s policy on labour reforms, fighting the privatization that is going on vigorously, minimum wage of Rs 18000, stopping contractualization and asking for permanent employment, removing the ceiling in bonus, right to unionization and demand to stop employment through scheme workers, doubling of social security for all. We are also focusing on the minimum wage demand of Rs 18000 and same wage for same work, not just for women workers, but for all categories of workers including contract workers. We are demanding that where there is perennial employment, the work is made permanent.
The scheme workers exploitation which impacts Noon Midday scheme workers, ICDS, Asha, using workforce through SHGs and sumangali thittam are important in the context of Tamil Nadu. Even recently, two young women workers had tried to scale a wall from a factory and broke their legs. We also want to focus on migrant workers including inward migration from interstate, intrastate and outward migration and exploitation of workers from here. The North Indian migrants who are brought here are exploited with low wages and are discriminated. At the same time, there is a sentiment that is being created that these workers are taking away local employment. We want to confront this in the interest of Indian unity and organize the migrant workers. In this context, we demand that Government should register the migrant workers through Labour Departments, implement minimum wages, provide safe environment, and regulate their employment conditions. The (Interstate Migrant Workers) law mandates that these workers are provided additional benefits when they wish to visit their family and we demand these provisions be implemented.
Towards this, we are planning an all union gherao of Legislative Assembly in second week of March in Tamil Nadu. CITU is working on building a broad based movement in Tamil Nadu. Currently except Anna Thozhilalar Peravai (ATP), all the other 10 unions are working towards this.
Question: How do you evaluate the strength of working class movement in Tamil Nadu and what are the challenges do you see?
In India, only 7% of workers are in organized sector and 93% are in unorganized sector. Organizing among unorganized sector workers remains weak as there is no awareness. In retail sector, where there are more than 100 workers, there is no regulation of employment. For example, Saravana stores employs thousands of workers and we are unable to organize them. These sectors employ women workers and we have trouble reaching out to these workers. We are thinking of setting up neighborhood committees and using door to door outreach to organize these workers. Rural workers are the second marginalized workforce we are also concentrating on. Third are the migrant workers. Here language is an issue and we are asking our field organizers to learn Hindi to reach out to these workers.
Question: New industrial zones such as Sriperumbudur, Maraimalai Nagar are emerging to service international capital. What are the organizational challenges here?
There are industrial enclaves through out Coastal Tamil Nadu including Chengelpet, Cuddalore, Thiruvallur and Tuticorin and we are actively working in these regions to organize workers. In Sriperumbudur, we have presence in 32 companies including BMW, Nissan. In Thiruvallur, we have presence in Ennore Port, L&T etc. We are thinking of starting our organizing even when construction starts in these plants.
Question: How do you see the response to September 2nd national strike in Tamil Nadu?
In September 2nd, 10 central trade unions participated in the strike and we were able to enforce strike in several companies. Except ATP and BMS, all the other unions participated. While ATP did not participate, there were some factory level unions, affiliated to ATP that participated. But BMS not only did not participate, they actively engaged in misinforming the working class. They said that the Government was taking care of workers, and coming up with minimum wage enhancements. We are asking for Rs 18000 for workers, something that 7th pay commission has come up with for the unskilled workers. Instead, they went around quoting the increase in the wages of unskilled non agricultural worker which was still less than Rs 10000.
For the first time, we plan to do a joint review with all the trade unions. Usually, we do them individually but that means one union can just point finger to another union and evade responsible review. We think that with joint review, we will be able to come up with some constructive review of building the working class movement.
Question: Given that unions such as BMS and INTUC tend to be pro management unions at factory level and as per your statements, they even act to disengage workers from joining the movement, is it not better to develop a left only platform, especially with the inclusion of independent unions?
Yes, ideally that is what we should be doing and there is a need to build left only platform. However, at this time, the left working class movement is still weak and we will need to draw support where we can. There is a need to build working class movement at two levels, a left platform and a broader based movements.
In this strike, we have made efforts to engage with independent unions both at the state leadership level and at factory level. In North Chennai, where the independent unions are strong, There has been a considerable impact and we had strikes in Ennore Foundries, Ashok Leyland etc.
Question: Thozhilalar Koodam did a survey before September 2nd in working class neighborhoods. We found that while there was an overwhelming resonance to the strike demands, the participation from the workers were low. In particular, we found that union members said that if the leaders told them about it, they will go? Why is there is a gap between the strike demands and workers mobilization here?
This is an overall setback for working class movement through out India. The Trade Unions are not reaching the masses even though the demands are for the working class. There is a tremendous potential as we saw in the recent garment workers struggle in Bangalore which successfully forced the state to withdraw the EPF norms that Central Government was trying to change. We feel that our demands are just not reaching the workers and we need to evaluate ways of reaching them. We need to politically educate our workers and leaders on this.
The resolutions(in Tamil) below are the issues and demands of some sectors including transport, IT, plantation, TASMAC and textile industries.
The following resolutions below are demands specifically for women workers and include sexual harrasment, maternity, creche and safe hostels for women workers.
The following resolutions place demands against labour reforms, privatization and call for strengthen and implement labour laws for working class.
The following resolutions below are demands on social security for organized and unorganied workers.