As the transport workers are watching the ongoing negotiation between the unions and Transport Departments and see little to cheer about, the union representatives conducted a massive meeting in all zones to explain the progress in the negotiation and the challenges faced by the unions. The Chennai Zonal meeting on 29th June, organised by the 10 unions (CITU, AITUC, TTSF, HMS, LPF, AALLF, MLF, PTS and DWU) that had organized a massive 2 day work stoppage across Tamil Nadu, was attended by more than 2000 workers. The meeting articulated three specific demands for the transport workers:
- Government should give the deficit between the revenue and the expenses for the public transport sector.
- Ensure PF and pension for those who have joined after 2003.
- 50% Wage Increment for all workers
Speaking to the assembled workers, Comrade Nainar of CITU said that the meeting was organised to address some of the questions and mindset prevalent in the workers’ minds: When will negotiations end? Why are the negotiations going on for so long? We should have continued the strike while negotiating… And Why the concerns regarding pension only were being addressed? (The strike in May was mainly on recovering the dues from the Government. For more information, check our earlier articles).
Comrade Nainar recalled the sequences that led to the strike in May. In November, the unions had given demands to State Corporations focusing on the deficit in revenue which led to dues to be paid to workers. While there was no action by the Government till February, the changing political climate in the State (with the demise of then Chief Minister Jayalalitha), led the unions not to pursue this issue at the time. In February, the unions came to realize that the Government was not going to pay heed and the unions gave a strike notice. The unions had also said that they would not start negotiation on any issues until the dues were paid. There were campaigns in March and April as the unions waited to see if the budget allocation would reflect the demands of the unions for dues. But the budget did not address their concerns and hence the the unions decided to prepare for the strike. In April, the unions continued to press for their demands through negotiations. However the State responded by asking the other 27 unions not to participate in the strike.
Comrade Nainar said that the strike was a massive success and reflected on the outpouring among students and communities on behalf of the striking workers especially in social media. This, he said, showed how the people accepted the just demands of the workers and this led the Government to come down with some options for the workers. At this time, the 10 striking unions decided to postpone the strike due to the willingness of the Government to negotiate with the unions. Comrade Nainar emphasized that the strike was not withdrawn due to the ESMA as is prevalently believed. He pointed that the unions especially CITU and LPF, had immediately responded to the ESMA notice and had forced the Judiciary to withdraw the order.
Comrade Nainar said that there were every day issues of workers which need to be resolved. For example, he pointed to recent episode where a worker whose window shield was broken when a peacock flew and fell on the shield. He said that the worker was fined even though there was no way he could have avoided such mishap. He reflected that there are over 107 sections that have been codified in agreements between the unions and the corporation but that the management refuses to implement them.
On the current negotiations, Comrade Nainar said that the Corporation continues to insist that there is no money for paying the dues of workers. However, as the unions had given 3 month notice, which is said to expire in Aug 15th, the unions will take a call on how to press their demands using all strategies including restarting the strike. He assured the workers that the struggle is going in the right direction.
The workers speaking to Thozhilalar Koodam, agreed with the union’s view that the strike was very successful and that the public was helpful in enforcing the strike. However, they were not hopeful that the ongoing negotiation will resolve their issues. A retired worker opined that only a change in the government would help. Another worker was skeptical that even change in Government would solve anything. He asked if the Government representing some of the unions sitting in the dais came to power, would they immediately give 50% increase ?.
Others unions including PTS and AALLF focused on the issues facing the worker in every day lives in the meeting. According to a PTS representative, situation is so grave that workers are committing suicide in Ennore, Thondiarpet and another worker immolated in Nagapattinam. The management was trying to solve the problem by giving yoga classes to the workers. He said that instead, the management should give counselling to managers on how to work with workers. The continuing issue of insufficient time given to buses for plying in a route rankles with the workers. According to one worker, the time alloted for traveling between Broadway and Guduvanchery was only 80 minutes when it took about 2.5 hours due to traffic. However Comrade Nainar cautioned against just raising the day to day issues of workers in this meeting as he said that the meeting was to address the concern of the workers. He raised this as an ongoing concern where there was no top leadership to explain these in detail in other zonal meetings.
The presence of workers in large group (the workers said that 2000 more were expected as the shift got over) showed that workers are in need of information and are weary of Government’s use of negotiation as delaying tactics. The meeting by the unions went a long way towards articulating the concerns of the workers. The unions used as an example, Jallikattu to draw similarities between the transport workers strike and Jallikattu protest which also drew massive public support. It would be important to also note that the issue of political chaos did not stop the Jallikattu protest organizers to press their agenda. The every day issues of the workers also need to be tackled by unions by way of training workers on the 100+ sections that protect their rights and finding mechanisms to challenge the management when the management does not implement them. The travails of a MTC transport worker is visible to anyone who rides the transport. Lack of strategy in solving these issues of workers only adds hazards both to health and safety of workers and also endangers the public and breaks the fragile relation between the workers and the working class users of the public transport. This is all the more important when casteist, pro-management and pro-state unions tend to only further stroke the angst of workers for their own agenda rather than solving the issues of workers.
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