Textile Workers Protest

Bangalore, April 18-19, 2016. That Bangalore which forgot the heydays of working class fight there in late 1970s – early 1980s, and those Bangalorians who were more connected to the USA and west went frantic. They could never imagine those invisible rustic suburban millions who make the ‘things’ (not the gigabytes) that create trillions could stop their cars for hours and hours. ‘Modi ge dikkara’ chants by over 2-3 lakhs of garment workers forced the Modi govt. to roll back its Employees’ Provident Fund withdrawal notification well within 48 hours of its issuance. It was only 5 years back.

Let us not forget that workers also could wrench some little and sweet victories earned by sweat and blood.

And also in Punjab, Haryana. These are not Only Farmers’ States. They also have a fair share of glorious history of working-class struggle. No, we are not talking about the Electricity Workers struggle, their unions, those past fights which may drive martyr Avtar Singh Sandhu PASH to think of “Na Hindu Raj Na Khalistan, Raj Karega Mazdoor Kisan”.  We are often forgetful by pressure of todays. Suppose Ludhiana. Suppose 2010, just 11 years ago.

From an email of a fried I came to know: “The power loom workers of Ludhiana’s Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar and Madhopuri areas gained a magnificent victory on the 15th day (30th September, 2010) of their strike under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union (KMU). The factory owners had to relent under the combined strength of the workers. A representative group of the owners of 26 factories held a meeting with the worker’s representatives for negotiations in presence of the Assistant Labour Commissioner and finally they agreed to sign a written agreement. As per the agreement a hike of 11-12% in the piece rate/salary has been promised for the different categories of power loom workers. The agreement would be implemented in all the 59 factories whose workers were participating in the strike. …This is the third phase of the successful strikes of the power loom workers of Ludhiana under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union (KMU). Earlier the workers of the 42 power loom factories of Shaktinagar, Tibba road forced the factory owners to accept to their demands after 8-day long strike from 24th August to 31st August. This was followed by another successful strike in Jindal Textile factory. In the history of last 18 years of Ludhiana’s labour movement it is the first occasion when the workers have achieved a worthwhile success against the combined might of the factory owners. There has been a new awakening among the workers of Ludhiana after these recent successes.”

For Haryana we can quote from some earlier writings from 2009:

“It was probably not possible to elucidate detail of the Rico – Sunbeam fight in the short space of that editorial. But, as we emphasised, the workers fought spontaneously; new leadership sprang up from the workers themselves (and not placed from above by any central TU or party); 60000-100000 workers rallied spontaneously for the cause of their class brethren and also showed their own eagerness to fight – AITUC could never dream of rallying even 10000 workers in Gurgaon at their own, even while calling nationwide strikes and etc; and finally, whatever be the outcome of the Rico struggle, ‘the lesson for Gurgaon workers (was) invaluable’ – naturally here the editor pointed to the lesson the workers are taking from summing up their own experiences – and the potential lesson was elucidated in the final Para . The Sunbeam struggle is also a glaring example – there were no economic demands, rather the workers only demanded election of the union to wrest power from the management-friendly TU leadership. It is true that the ‘new’ type of fight and fighting workers there could not yet get rid of all that of the ‘old’ prototype; and that was explicit through their desire to affiliate their union with aituc, bit of expectations of theirs from the CPI MP etc. But these remnants of ‘old’ cannot nullify the presence of the embryonic, germinating ‘new’ that is trying to sprout in an unfavourable climate of ‘defeat of the international working-class movement’, absence of a working-class party worth its name, etc. And that ‘new’ was the fight developing from below, leadership developing from below.

“But, after all, the above do not at all represent the entire picture, or rather the emerging picture. We shall quote two concluding paragraphs from the Editorial article of Analytical Monthly Review (Dec 2009 issue, electronic copy, courtesy, Sanhati website), a magazine highly esteemed by revolutionary activists before presenting some more pictures.

“The recent mass strike in support of Rico workers in Gurgaon is, in this context, of significance. Rico Auto Industries workers spontaneously found their own leadership, and in August began negotiations with management demanding wage increase and the right to form a union with All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). A futile application was made to the labour department in Chandigarh for formal recognition. In September Rico Auto locked out the workers, and the Haryana Labour Court declared the Rico strike illegal. When Gurudas Dasgupta, the general secretary of AITUC, and the AITUC national secretary DL Sachdeva came to Gurgaon to address Rico workers, they were arrested by the police. On October 18th management thugs armed with iron rods and police shooting live ammunition attacked the strikers, killing Rico worker Ajit Yadav. On October 20th 60,000 to 100,000 workers of 60 to 80 factories in Gurgaon came out on a one-day strike called by AITUC; the police said the strike was “illegal in all respects” but in the face of such solidarity were helpless. The outcome of the strike at Rico was mixed, but the lesson for Gurgaon workers invaluable.

“The end of illusions about a “neutral” labour law or judiciary is potentially an enormous victory for the Indian working class. With every strike a confrontation with the state, the possibility increases for the working class to “comprehend the essence of capitalist society, the relations of exploitation between social classes and its own historical task” and therefore to become a “class-for-itself” (Mao, On Practice). The responsibilities (and possibilities) for young revolutionary organisers in Gurgaon and in SEZs elsewhere are once again clear and urgent. Keep an eye on Gurgaon Workers News and Faridabad Majdoor Samaachaar.”

A new phase perhaps started in this century (or might have been in 1992-93 onwards, not important now to conclude this decisively) after the great defeat of the forward journey of the working class since mid-nineteenth-century. It is not a Eurocentric observation if we keep in mind the fist fight of 8-hour-day that happened in India in probably 1861 in the railways.  In other states too there have been little victories and big defeats.

As, once, 50 years ago, Joan Baez tried to pull Bob Dylan back to the movement, singing:

Like these flowers at your door

and scribbled notes about the war

We’re only saying the time is short

and there is work to do

And we’re still marching in the streets

with little victories and big defeats

But there is joy and there is hope

and there’s a place for you

And you have heard the voices in the night, Bobby

They’re crying for you

See the children in the morning light, Bobby

They’re dying. (To Bobby, JOAN BAEZ, 1972)

One may argue that in the so-called previous phase also it was all the same. But no. because this time new trials of reorganisation is being seen. Not the top-down style everywhere, though of course we know that masses of workers and peasants often like to ‘vote by foot’, they are deserting the old, they are building up the new, brick by brick. And in tis moment we should remember how our Bertolt Brecht taught us through this poem of 1931, that is 90 years ago, standing in front of the rising great danger of fascism in Germany:

In Praise of Learning – Bertolt Brecht, 1931

Study from bottom up,

for you who will take the leadership,

it is not too late!

Study the ABC; it is not enough.

but study it!

Do not become discouraged, begin! You must know everything!

You must prepare to take command, now!

 

Study, man in exile!

Study. man in the prison!

Study, wife in your kitchen!

Study, old-age pensioner!

You must prepare to take command now!

 

Locate yourself a school, homeless folk!

Go search some knowledge, you who freeze!

You who starve, reach for a book: it will be a weapon.

You must prepare to take command now.

 

Don’t be afraid to question, comrades!

Never believe on faith.

see for yourself!

What you yourself don’t learn

you don’t know.

 

Question the reckoning

you yourself must pay it

Set down your finger on each small item. asking:

where do you get this?

 

You must prepare to take command now!

The author is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at sandeepbanerjee00@gmail.com


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