May day was celebrated by workers and unions with fervour, spirit and commitment. The events by various groups included flag hoisting at various factories, rallies, cultural activities, public meeting, sloganeering and garlanding. The events paid homage to the working class heroes from the 1886 Chicago Hayworth struggle where women workers martyred their lives of 8 hour work day, to Maruti and Pricol workers who are languishing in jail for exercising their fundamental right to unionise. Issues highlighted were contractualisation of workers, agrarian crisis and labour reforms by Modi Government which are dismantling hard won rights of workers.
Flag Hoisting by WPTUC in Kilpauk, Chennai
175 workers from various factories including Simpsons, Ashok Leyland, Rane, Hinduja foundries, L &T valves, among others participated in a flag hoisting ceremony in WPTUC office at Kilpauk. Com Durairaj, General Secretary of WPTUC presided over the meeting and spoke about the unprecedented attack on the working rights by the ruling forces. Com R.Kuchelan, President of the union delivered the special address. He urged workers to take ownership of their work and to remain engaged and aware of the anti worker policies of the BJP government. Com Kuchelan criticised the unions and reminded that the unions had to take a share of the blame in the decline of the public sector. He said that unionisation of permanent workers had created a labour aristocracy where permanent workers were pushing hard work and work pressure to contract workers and this was dividing the working class. He was especially critical of union leaders who were no longer working in shop floor and hence would no longer understand the issues of shop floor. This distance between unions and the workers especially contract workers also contributed to the decline of the union, according to Com Kuchelar. On the occasion of May Day, he urged workers to fight for the cause of contract workers and campaign extensively on the issue of Equal Pay for Equal Work.
Rally and Demonstration by NDLF in Avadi and Thiruvottiyur District
New Democratic Labour Front (NDLF) organized a demonstration on the occasion of May day in Thiruvativiyur district. The meeting was presided over by Com. Suga Thangarasu, General Secretary of NDLF, Com. Sathish who is president of Thiruvattiviyur , East District branch of NDLF and Com. Anand Kumar, Executive Committee member. Around 30 NDLF workers from the district participated in the demonstration.
Workers raised the slogans remembering the comrades who dedicated their lives to revolutionary struggle from Marx and Engels to Lenin, Mao and the martyrs from post independent India who took part in Naxalbari struggle and Dharmapuri uprising in Tamil Nadu in late 70s. Workers raised slogans against the imperialist onslaught on all the sections of the toiling masses starting from workers to peasants and students. Even though the number of workers who attended the demo was small, their sloganeering raised the roof and attracted attention of passers by.
Comrade Sathish talked about recolonization of India at the hands of Multinational Corporations and Transnational Corporations locally and globally. He spoke about how the successive governments of India are agents for implementing this recolonization project by adapting LPG (Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization) and succumbing to the structural demands of organizations like WTO. Comrade Sathish said how, the plight of Tamil Nadu farmers and refusal by the Central Government to force Karnataka government to release Cauvery water was nothing but part of this recolonization as destroying local agriculture and livelihood of millions of farmers was in the interest of global agricultural industry.
Comrade Sathish spoke about how education was becoming completely privatized due to education policies and workers whose rights were shrinking day by day due to labour law reforms. He said that these were all related and should be understood as part of this recolonization project. He spoke about how this government, in addition to adapting and furthering the LPG policies of the previous regime was complimenting it with imposition of Hindutva fascist ideology in social spheres.
According to Comrade Sathish , parliamentary parties from all political spectrum had repeatedly shown that they are unable and unwilling to fight against such recolonization and hence it is only revolutionary organizations and unions like NDLF which bring together exploited and toiling masses from different sections of society which can mount an effective struggle against this potent mix of neo-liberal and Hindutva ideologies.
Com. Sathish gave example of Adani’s attempt at getting 7000 crore loan from SBI to undertake mining project in Australia. He said how, SBI refused to grant this loan as Adani had already borrowed 3000 crores in the past which are long overdue. Thus banks have no cash left to give to these capitalists. Sathish said how, this is one of the main reasons why Modi enforced demonitization on the masses of this country. It was to fill Bank’s coffers so that people like Adani can use them again to amass unimaginable wealth for themselves. He ended his speech by saying that the working class struggle is going to be long and hard but in the end we will be victorious. After his speech workers once again raised slogans remembering the martyrs and appealing to all the toiling masses to come together against fascism and neo-liberalism.
In a rally organised by NDLF in Avadi, over 300 workers including women workers participated enthusiastically. Com Mugilan and Com Ganesan of NDLF addressed the gathering. Parai isai was played in the gathering.
CITU and AITUC Rally and Public Meeting in North Chennai
Over 600 workers, predominantly contract workers, from factories in North chennai participated in a rally organized by CITU and AITUC to commemorate May Day. The rally that began from Tondiarpet clock tower, was led by Com A. Soundararajan, CITU State President.
Jenny Marx, a cultural troupe, performed spell binding parai attam (percussion dance) at the commencement and later at the public meeting. The principal theme of the cultural programmes, slogans and speeches was the agrarian crisis and the plight of our farmers. With ridicule, satire and soulful poems, the artists presented the issue while also severely criticising the Central Government for doing nothing to ameliorate their suffering.
Com. T Pandian, of CPI and Com A. Soundararajan also reflected on these issues while highlighting the general anti worker policies of the BJP.
One of the workers, discussing the tone of the event said, “to us, it is a celebration of the victories of the working class. It is a commemoration of the sacrifices of the martyrs in Chicago and many other nations because of whom we have 8hour work and 5 day week. We should honour them.” He is a contract worker for the past 20 years in Conker ISO a logistics company in Thiruvottriyur.
There were over 40 rallies organised by CITU and AITUC through out the State.
AICCTU and AIARLA Rally and Public Meeting in Coimbatore
Over 3000 comrades of AICCTU, AIARLA, DAA and RYA came to participate from various corners of Tamil Nadu to show their strength in Coimbatore, where the Pricol workers continue to face a repressive management even as two of their workers languish in jail on life sentence. Release Pricol and Maruti workers was the rallying cry of the comrades.
Workers of Coimbatore Agricultural University and residents of P.N.Pudur, who are still earning daily wage as contract workers even after 22 years of employment demanded regularisation of their employment. They were also demanding residential pattas for their houses.
Over 20 enthusiastic Sanmina workers, who are resisting repression by their management had come from Oragadam of Chennai. They have given a strike notice to strike on May 8th as two of their worker comrades were abused by a manager. That, this has happened even after an earlier onsite strike by the workers against an abuse of another worker, shows an unrepentent management which is confident of its power and its hold on the state. However, this has not stopped the workers to take on the management and they were upbeat about their strike.
Agricultural workers came from all over Tamil Nadu including Pudukottai district, Dindugal, Cuddalore, Ariyalur, Namakkal, Erode. Issues of PDS, farmers suicide, anti farmer and worker policies such as Hydrocarbon project, Methane project and Kudankulam and agraian crisis were highlighted by the workers. Union leaders, in their discussion, criticised Prime Minister Modi for refusing to meet the striking farmers in Delhi and linked the issues of farmers to the neo-liberal assault on working class.
Youth was represented in large numbers like Com Jyothi, a ME student, who has applied to join RYA. She was confident that only youth can change the system. Young comrades also led the public meeting with a rousing dance and a play on the plight of farmers. In a small play, they highlighted the issues of methane project, farmers suicides and the apathy of media and middle class which was dismissive of the conditions of the farmers.
Pricol workers were also planning to issue a strike notice at their factory, after the management has threatened to deduct 8 days of salary after workers struck one day in support of farmers on April 25th. Over 900 workers had struck work in spite of management’s intimidation. In response to the management tactics, the union was planning to issue a strike notice, said Com Jayaprakash of Pricol union. Workers from Shanti Gears Coimbatore, and several Ambattur factories including TIDC, Soundarya Decorators and OLG had attended in good numbers at the protest.
Over 20 workers of Arinjar Anna Uyiriyal Park Thozhilalar Sangam, Vandalur, had also participated in the rally. They were demanding wages on seventh pay scale, regularisation of over 140 contract workers. Comrade Gopal, Vice President of the union, said that in 1986, over 240 workers were regularised. They had announced an indefinite hunger fast in September 2016 which was withdrawn after the Government had come to negotiate. Comrade Gopal said that negotiations were going on.
Workers especially Women Workers of Cooptex from Salem, Coimbatore, Namakkal, Erode attended the rally, after a General Assembly that was conducted earlier in the day. They were fighting for wage increase, weekly holiday and 8 hour work day. They demanded abolition of Campus sales, a scheme through which they were required to go to various schools and sell their products.
Com Gajendran of Villupuram highlighted the issues of tribals who continue to be killed or imprisoned by Andhra Government for illegal redwood sandal felling. He said that with the non implementation of Forest Rights Act which ensured pattas of forest land for tribals, the tribals were forced to go into such illegal work.
The rally ended in a public meeting where union leaders including Com S Kumarasami, Com Bhuvaneshwari, Com Janakiraman, Com A.S. Kumar, Com Rajaguru, Com Palanivel, Com Bharathi, Com Venkatesan, Com Saminathan, Com Natarajan, Com Sankarapandiyan and others addressed the workers.
UWF members Garland Labour Statue in Chennai
Construction workers with their wares participated in a garlanding of Labour Statue ceremony organised by UWF. They highlighted the issues of various unorganised sector workers including non functioning of welfare boards and unsafe conditions of work. They criticised the recent move by Modi Government in repealing of various CESS funds including Salt works, Mica, Cine workers and other such unorganised sector. These funds were meant to promote labour welfare and provide social security for workers. The repeal of CESS is yet another anti worker policy of Modi Government.