More than 300 workers of various disciplines and central trade unions and federations participated in a salai mariyal(road roko) protest in Guindi as part of a nationwide protests against anti worker policies of the Government on tuesday 18th of December, 2012. Workers of various occupations including construction workers, domestic workers, factory workers, public transport workers, postal workers, auto, share autos and taxi drivers stopped the traffic in front of Guindi Industrial Estate Bus Stand and squatted in front of the traffic and courted arrest. Workers representing various unions including AICCTU, AITUC, AIUTUC, BMS, CITU, HMS, LPF, INTUC, TUCC and WPTU protested in Guindi.
The major demands of the protestors include containment of price rise, national minimum monthly wage of Rs 10000, abolition of contract labour, strengthening and implementation of labour laws, mandatory recognition of unions, proper implementation of social security for organized and unorganized sector, no FDI in retail, no privatization of pension and public sectors.
Speaking on the issues Mr. Murugan of Auto and Taxi Drivers Union(CITU) said that “FDI in retail will hurt small traders and street vendors. Our strike is a solidarity struggle with them”. Mr. Jaffar Ali, another auto driver said that auto drivers have been demanding the revision of minimum fare, a demand that has been ignored by both DMK and ADMK governments.
Shanthi, Parimala, Selvi, Lakshmi, Ekavalli and her colleagues represented the domestic workers union(AITUC). Demanding a curtailment of price rise, they said that the minimum wage for domestic workers need to be regularised and set to Rs 60 per hour. Ms. Shanthi, a domestic worker from Besant Nagar said “Currently we get Rs 20-30 per hour and this is not sufficient”.
Ms. Vasanthi, a union organizer with CITU said that a national minimum wage of Rs 10000 needs to be implemented for workers. Today factory workers working in major industrial units in Chennai and Sriperumbudur do not get fair wages. Several workers from R R Donnelly a industrial unit in Sriperumbudur said that their salaries are at Rs5500 even for diploma educated. They demanded national minimum wage and permanent employment. Stating that their company is one of the very few industrial units in Sriperumbudur where the union has been recognized, the current wage is based on collective wage agreement signed in 2009.
Mr. Yowan, a MTC bus conductor and Assistant General Secretary of MTC Transport Workers Union (CITU) opposed the privatization of pension scheme and amendment in pension rules. “Privatisation of pension scheme brings private financial players and introduction of investments of pension in share markets. This increases the risk of the pension funds. What will happen if the share market goes down or crashes? Will we lose our pension?” wondered Mr. Yowan. He said that the Government is bringing an amendment to Motor Vehicles Act, Chapter 6 (Special Provisions Relating To State Transport Undertakings) that introduces privatisation of public transport system and can destroy the public transport system. “There is an increased casualization of workers in both public sector and private sector. Only 20-30% of workers are permanent workers. We are demanding permanency at all work places” said Mr. Yowan.
The workers assembled near the Guindi Industrial Estate and marched towards the protest site near Guindi Industrial Estate Bus Stand. More than 75 police personnel were deployed in the area with vans assembled and marked to arrest the workers. The police also barricaded at two places to stop the protesters. Calling the police not to interrupt a largely peaceful assembly, workers broke through the barricades and squatted at the intersection near the bus stand.
Speaking on the occasion Comrade S.S.Thiyagarajan, National Vice President of AITUC said that the strike was being held all over India with more than 8 crore workers participating nationally and 3 lakh workers participating in Tamil Nadu. Comrade T.K.Rangarajan, MP and Central Committee Member of CPI(M) addressed the workers and resolved to fight against the new liberal policies. Outlining the program leading to the general strike, Comrade T.K.Rangarajan said that workers are the most impacted by the economic policies and a united struggle is needed to reverse the anti worker policies of the government. HMS Representative ?? said that the common man is affected continuously by the economic blunders committed by the Government. BMS Representative Comrade Meenakshi Sundaram and president of MTC Transport Workers Union said that petrol price rise is affecting the entire economic conditions of the working class and called for change in policy at the center and implementation of labour laws.
Workers and leaders of the protests were arrested for a day and released at the end of the day. A similar strike invoking rail mariyal(rail roko) was observed in Chennai Central where more than 700 workers were arrested after attempting to stop rails in protest.