Workers’ Workshops – Twin events for the working class in Chennai

Workshop 1 : 

The International Justice Mission in collaboration with Thirupporur based Rural Development Trust conducted an awareness-and-rescue-training-workshop for bonded labourers and local NGOs, on the 27th of last month. It was significant that the workshop fell in the week following the conviction of two men who had used slave labour to run a rice mill near Chennai. Earlier last year, IJM had been involved in an operation to release more than 500 Oriya speaking bonded workers from a brick kiln in Ponneri.

The workshop began with a song and skit performance  by local students and a very thoughtful ice-breaking ritual among IJM volunteers, NGO representatives and working class attendees. An introduction to IJM’s mission and record of operations in Chennai was followed by a presentation on Indian labour laws that define bonded labour and forbid it in any form or manner. Its a categorical violation of human rights and labour legislation to force anyone to work in an establishment by physical violence, debt squeeze or mortal threats to the safety and security of individuals.

IJM emphasised that, the moment an employer did not allow a worker to move to another job, and where no contract had been signed and wages were far below any laid down norms, it was time for the worker to become wary of his/her situation and approach an official or informed person who can help.

The session then proceeded to a screening of the award-winning short film “Kavi”, directed by Gregg Halvey, made in Marathi and dubbed in Tamil. According to the film, 27 million people are trapped in modern day slavery, and many among them, like 12-year old Kavi, have had their childhoods fractured growing up as “the fastest workers” that ruthless inhuman landlords and industry owners can snatch upon.  The ray of hope that the film ends with remains elusive to many a labourer, who inherits the same curse and torture as indentured family members had.

 

Watch the trailer of  Kavi – Not all prisons have bars

Mr.Selvam, a volunteer with IJM, made a lucid presentation on the urgency of rescue operations, on how no empowered government official can refuse to receive complaints, and on the procedures during and post rescue. Criminal bosses were known to vanish along with their labour force in a matter of hours. With accounts of successful operations in Chittoor and Aranai, where a passing truck driver had played good Samaritan and stopped to help an escaping immigrant worker, Selvam went on to crisply list the duties of the local administrators and of supporting NGOs and community members. From reporting a case of slavery to investigating suspicious labour scenarios in the neighbourhood to ensuring that the workers are escorted safely back to their hometowns, every concerned individual can play a crucial role. Rescued workers are entitled to a Release Certificate and a rehabilitative sum of Rs20,000 per head, a portion of which (Rs 1000) must be distributed at the time of rescue. Workers who might be in danger of being drawn back into the vortex of slavery are also entitled to police protection.

Referring to the Tamilnadu Government Handbook for Release and Rehabilitation Of Bonded labourers, Selvam vividly described the fear psychosis that the landlords and their contractors/henchmen deploy to intimidate workers and coerce them into submission, sometimes making them even lose track of the duration for which they have been exploited of labour and wages. The day –long workshop ended with an interactive session where groups of participants were asked to brainstorm and share pointers on identifying crises and leading very well-coordinated rescue operations. Several local NGO’s and social workers came forward to share their own experiences as part of rescue and relief teams.

Workshop 2 : 

Two days ago, the Unorganised Workers’ Federation (UWF) along with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) organised a workshop on socialism at the Working People’s Community Hall in Chennai. The workshop, besides arranging for addresses from prominent socialist and communist party leaders, Dalit rights workers, social justice activists and Union leaders, was particularly meant for information sharing and dialogue on creating a radically new social order based on the politics of equality.  Consequentially, the workshop started off with discussing charts on display, that talked in brief about privatisation that could soon devour all democratic voting rights, SEZs that grabbed land, electricity, water and labour at astronomically low rates and left already marginalised communities shorn of even basics, FDI colonisation through contract farming, bottled water and retail as well, and many other unrelenting evils of modern society and capitalistic governance.

Seated in a circle, participants spoke passionately about inequalities they faced in everyday life, extreme manifestations of which are farmers’ suicides, oligarchic suppression of dissent and wars. There was a unified quest for economic, gender and caste equality, with an end to arms proliferation, bonded labour, grossly lopsided development and destruction of limited natural resources by indiscriminate myopic auctioning.

 

 

Models proposed for a new order were inspired by Chavez’s policies against American Imperialism and capital inflation, that revived the public welfare system, cooperative infrastructure ownership, Latin American Unity, independent agricultural productivity and the rightful sovereign co-existence of Indigenous tribes.

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