Addressing a large working class audience at the May Day gathering organised by the Working People’s Trade Union Congress (WPTUC) in alliance with the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), regional office bearers and union representatives from establishments like Ashok Leyland and Simson Inc., Chennai, recounted historical narratives of the Chicago May Day uprising for an 8 hour work day that would restore leisure, sleep and preferred activity to workers’ existences. Calling for deliberate introspection over mere ritualistic “celebration” of a global May Day, the meeting was admittedly intended to draw attention to the absurdity of mainstream media coverage of May Day events, when there was a looming need for continuous struggle and insurrection. Organisers from the Pen Thozhilaalargal Sangam duly harked over the dangers of the female workforce being treated as the “Reserve Army of Labour” and hence being denied fair minimum wages. WPTUC”s measures to secure the rights of automobile sector trade unions to be consulted in the process of target-fixing and assembly line design, were highlighted. Guest also spoke about the organisation’s principled stand against contractual labour of all forms. Senior speakers at the event reminisced about earlier times in the city, circa 1967, when, despite punitive wage-cutting tactics being widely implemented, rebellious unionists had marched around hoisting flags at every workplace and declaring “unofficial” holidays.
In the wake of increasing concerns over the fatal negligence faced by inter-state migrant workers, it is notable that NTUI had collaborated with the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and the TCWF (Construction and unorganised workers’ federation) to hold a meeting of workers in the CMRL infrastructure project. The event had coincided with the International Workers’ Memorial Day (April 27), to pay homage to the loss of lives of thousands of workers on work sites, and to specifically :
> condemn the practice of using “costly” local labourers as contracted replacement for exploited migrant workers who are in turn treated as bonded labourers
> demand that trade unionists be allowed unfettered access to worksites and to residential quarters of migrant workers all over Tamilnadu
> urge the State govt. to stop denying enrollment and membership benefits from the TN Construction Workers’ Welfare Board (TNCWWB) to workers on the basis of their migrant non-local status
> ensure awareness among the migrant workers of the rights that they are legally and ethically entitled to, on par with their native colleagues, as per the Inter-state Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 and other labour laws enjoyable by all in the country that guarantee compensation, timely stipulated wages, maternity benefits, providential funds, ESI backed health care, safe working conditions monitored by periodic govt. audits and basic amenities for a decent quality of life.
Official webpage of NTUI – Go to http://ntui.org.in/