Fasting continued for 11th day, Left and independent trade unions protest in solidarity, DAA, RYA and AICCTU activists arrested while gheraoing State Secretariat
As 6 Pricol workers continue their fast unto death to protest the management’s retributive action of withholding 8 days wages after workers struck work in support of farmers on 25th April 2017, a series of solidarity actions have taken place to bring the issue to the attention of the government.
Support action by DAA and AIARLA
On 28th June, AICCTU along with organisations like the AIARLA (All India Agricutural Rural Labourers Association) and DAA (Democratic Advocates Association) planned to gherrao the Secretariat given the complete apathy and silence of the government as the workers entered the 10th day of fasting. However,, the police was intent on not allowing the demonstration to go on and ensured a heavy deployment of personnel on roads leading to Fort St. George. AICCTU leaders also said that senior police officials were in touch with them and assured them an audience with the government.
A demonstration was therefore held at Chepauk where workers from Pricol, Sanmina and other factories as well as advocates and law students participated and raised slogans against the Pricol management and the government. Com. A.S Kumar said “The actions of the management are in direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement signed with the union. The agreement allows for a strike to take place which can be compensated for on alternate day.”.
Com. Natarajan, President of the Kovai Mavattam Pricol Thozhilalargal Ottrumai Sangam, narrated the events leading up to the strike. He said that the strike was announced to the workers at a gate meeting on 19th April and a notice was formally communicated to the management on the morning of the next day. But instead of having a discussion about an alternate day of work, they flat out refused and put up a notice saying that wages would be deducted as punitive action for anyone who participated in the strike. “This is part of the larger plan to break the Pricol union before the next agreement”, he said as he addressed the gathering.
Other workers from the factory who were also in Chennai for protests voicing their concern said that they were among the lowest paid in the Coimbatore. One worker with 14 years of experience earns Rs. 22000 per month, which he says is only a third of what other companies pay. It is to be noted that even this wage rise has come after a struggle by the AICCTU.
Support is pouring in for the fasting workers struggle. The World Federation of Trade Unions has condemned the management for its action and called it an attack on the right to strike.
Solidarity protest by trade unions
On 28th evening, a solidarity protest was organised near Chennai Collectorate. Over 170 workers and representatives from AICCTU, AITUC, CITU, AIUTUC, HMS, LPF, NTUI, WPTUC, ULF were present to lend their support to fasting workers. The union leaders, addressing the gathering were emphatic in their support for fasting Pricol workers. Com Sugumaran said that while the Industrial Disputes Act has a provision for penalty, it has never been implemented so far and said that this assault has to be seen in the context of anti labour policies of the Central and State Government. Com Natarajan from AIUTUC congratulated the Pricol workers and said that they have already won the struggle by uniting the working class around this issue.
Com Sampath of WPTUC recalled the solidarity of working class and farmers in 1960s and 70s and applauded the revival of the solidarity actions that are emerging between trade unions and workers and farmers. Com Sampath of AITUC also seconded the notion by saying that current repression by management is also against the emerging solidarities between exploited classes.
Com Natarajan of LPF highlighted the thinking of capitalist class when he pointed out the approach suggested by Pricol management when the workers gave their strike notice for supporting the farmers. The management suggested that the workers, instead of striking, work for a day and give their wage to farmers. Com Natarajan condemned the management for not understanding that the demands of the farmers were to do with just remuneration for their labour in the fields. He said that farmers were not beggars as assumed by the management. Com Sujata Mody of NTUI, Com Ramesh of ULF and Com Subramaniam of HMS pledged their support to the pricol workers.
Gherao of Secretariat by DAA, RYA, AICCTU and AIARLA
On 29th June, over 120 activists of DAA, RYA, AICCTU and AIARLA gheraoed the State Secretariat demanding justice for the pricol workers. They were arrested and taken to a marriage hall. This protest followed inaction by the State Government to listen to the increasing support among unions and workers to ensure justice for the fasting workers. While the Police Commissioner had assured an audience with Labour Minister on 28th, there was no meeting held, said AICCTU organisers, which prompted the 29th gherao. The arrested activists were let off later in the night.