Thousands of workers from organised and unorganised sectors participated in road rokkos in various parts of Chennai yesterday. As part of an organised action planned by the central trade unions, workers assembled in the Panagal Maligai in Saidapet, Purasawalkam and at Ambattur Estate in Chennai. The demands of the workers include a monthly minimum wage of Rs.18000, equal pay for equal work, action against price rise.
The coordinated actions in city saw the coming together of both formal sector and informal sector workers. Auto drivers, factory workers, unorganised sector workers, public sector workers participated along with large number of union office bearers belonging to left unions CITU, AITUC, AICCTU, HMS, AIUTUC as well as LPF and INTUC.
The complete list of demands –
- A minimum wage of Rs.18000 per month for all workers.
- Equal pay for Equal work.
- Effective functioning of the unorganised workers’ welfare board.
- Curb price rise.
- Stop amending labour welfare laws to the favour of employers and against workers.
- Protect the right to association and collective bargaining.
- Provide free education and job opportunities for all.
- Do not privatise the public-sector undertakings
- Do away with the New Pension Scheme.
- Abolish the new Motor Vehicles Protection Act 2015
- Fair wages for workers in anganwadi, TASMAC, corporation, cooperatives.
- Enact a legislation for recognition of trade unions.
At Saidapet almost 1000 workers participated. The large gathering was contained to one space by the police but as the numbers swelled, workers squatted on the Anna Salai main road blocking traffic for 15 minutes. They shouted slogans condemning the state and central government for waging war on the working class.
A group of women workers from CITU led spirited sloganeering. They included Com. Vijaya, a health worker from a private hospital, Com.Shanti, an auto driver, Com.Chithra, a leather factory worker and Com. Vasanthi from the Working Women’s Council of CITU. They reiterated that the demand for a fair minimum wage was most important for women workers. “We are from several sectors, but none of us earn a minimum wage. For us this is very important”, said Com.Vijaya.
Another demand that was echoed by many workers was the reversal of the bus fare increase. We spoke to a group of auto drivers, who said that ‘our family members commute by bus, and the fare increase is too steep’.
Workers are also concerned by the weakening of the ration system. A smart card system is being introduced in ration shops, and only people with BPL cards are eligible to get rations. In the last few months, ration shops have also stopped giving any lentils (paruppu). M Kumar, secretary of CITU South Chennai said that they are demanding strong universal Public Distribution System, which should provide fourteen different items including lentils and kerosene.
At Pursaiwalkam, about 500 workers participated. Under heavy police presence, the workers took out a rally of about 100 meters before being prevented by police from moving further. Some workers successfully evaded the cordon and squatted on the main road bringing traffic on four major roads to a standstill. As the police were well prepared, they quickly forced the workers into police vans. To break the workers, some police asked an MTC bus driver to push ahead leading to a scuffle between the police and the workers. The police also requisitioned MTC busses that were carrying passengers. This once again led to scuffles between the police and the workers.
Though the charter of demands laid out by the central trade unions was the basis of the protest, the workers who spoke to Thozhilalar Koodum discussed more recent issues including the steady loss of jobs, the increase in prices, the systematic closure of public distribution system and fair price shops and the increase in bus fares. The workers expressed their resentment against the central and state government for the economic down turn severely affecting the working people. Quoting the recent Oxfam study, one person from AIUTUC even mentioned the extreme accumulation of wealth by corporates while most of India remained poor. Traffic was halted for about 15 minutes before the police could clear the protestors.
The protests were organized as a symbolic gesture and was attended mainly by branch, district and state office bearers of unions; the participation of rank and file workers was limited. Specifically, the unions have not been able to convert the recent popular striking workers in public sector including transport sector to support the general working class demands. There was limited participation by MTC workers, nurses and Government employees in the protest. There could have been better leafleting in the region during the protest to ensure that the general public too understood the demands of the protest.