A ‘trivial’ incident in Maharashtra. Any faint signal?

“Maharashtra: 19 cops injured in attack by labour union members at Palghar steel factory” was indeed a trivial incident to Indian media, and also to social-media, which together control minds (or brains) of a billion or so. So, this incident that occurred on May 6, Saturday, appeared in less than two dozen English news portals and a few Marathi ones on May 8, and nothing more. Some news portals that printed little reports named the place where it happened ­– Boisar – a place roughly 40-45 km north of Virar if one goes by Western Railway. Only one English language publication, the MID DAY. was kind enough to tell the name of the factory: “Viraj

palghar factory

Screenshot from the Times Of India, May 8, 2023

From the newspaper reports we gather that 150 workers of that Stainless Steel factory who were aggrieved had formed a union and announced a strike from May 16. The management went to court and got armed with a court order against the strike. Not only that, the management also debarred those 150 workers from entering the factory premises and announced that in case of strike the manufacturing operations would be done by contract workers instead of permanent workers. On that fateful day, May 7, those unionized workers forcibly entered the factory and according to police version they ‘went on rampage’ which led to police intervention. When police came a brawl started in which, we already know, nineteen police personnel were hurt and twelve police vehicles vandalised, however, how much blow the workers received was not reported, except that 27 of them were arrested and more were in look-out list, and they were locked up with rioting and attempt to murder etc sections.

Well. We saw the court order and police action de facto favoured the management and owners of the company till that time of reporting. Where were other actors who might have been present in the scenario? There was no news available regarding Central Trade Unions and various political parties related to this incident – perhaps their reactions were not that much encouraging or disturbing to the media houses.

Some parties have websites of their organs and there also nothing was available, for example the organ of CPI(M), which had a detail news regarding a big gathering at Palghar on May 24. In the Palghar district there are six assembly constituencies, Boisar and Dahanu are among four reserved ST constituencies. The Dahanu MLA belongs to CPI(M) and he was present in that gathering on May 24. From Dahanu railway station to Boisar station and then Boisar factory is just 16-17 km away. That Palghar ground is perhaps 12 km away from that factory. Anyway, distance is not always geographical. Boisar MLA and two other MLAs of this district belong to Bahujan Vikas Aaghadhi, a party which switches from UPA to NDA, at present (since 2022) they are with NDA. It was not known to this author whether any of those MLAs came to the rescue of the affected workers.

Police also did not complain to the press regarding any central trade union or any party or any leader cooperating with the management or the workers. Had the media known it, that would become a ‘news item’ in case of any renowned leader or party/TU going against the management and causing industrial disharmony.

36 years ago, a report was published in EPW — Policing Workers in an Industrial Estate by Gurbir Singh (EPW Jan. 31, 1987). But trade union organisations and parties have changed a lot during these years; of course, those have been changing since much longer period than 36 years.

It seems strange that without support of any big trade unions or parties and/or leaders the workers there embarked on organising, forming trade union, calling strike and at one point, allegedly, crossed the line of ‘law and order’ endangering themselves! Whether this happened before in that part of Maharashtra is not known to this author.

Perhaps we shall have to wait for further news from there, or report(s) of activists(s) working there.

Sandeep Banerjee 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 [email protected]

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