By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Police in the industrial town of Manesar in Gurgaon district detained three Union body members of the Maruti’s Manesar plant, one former Maruti worker, and nine other current Maruti workers in the early hours of September 2. The workers were distributing pamphlets for the planned nation-wide strike on September 2.
While ACP Manesar remained unavailable for comment, Commissioner Gurgaon on being asked the police’s plans for the strike said, “We have deployed personnel. We have adequate deployment in the streets, we have police officers patrolling the districts.” He declined to comment further.
“We did not even have flags. We were just going around to see what is happening at different factories when we were detained by the police. The Vigilance officers of Maruti themselves directed the police to pick us up,” Khushi Ram, General Secretary of a provisional working committee of terminated Maruti workers who was also detained told YKA. He said that the unions had put up notices 14 days before the strike as mandated by the Industrial Disputes Act. He further added that the police, along with contractors and landlords, have been going around nearby villages to force villagers to go to work
Among the detained was also Dharmendra, Vice President of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union. Both Dharmendra and Khushi Ram are associated with the Workers’ Solidarity Center, Gurgaon, a rights group of several workers’ unions from the industries in the area. The Center is also part of the newly formed Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA), a platform of 14 workers’ unions, federations, and organisations from across the country. In a convention held at Ambedkar Bhawan in Delhi on August 28, the Center, along with other members of MASA had made an oral resolution to intensify workers’ struggle beyond the September 2 strike, which, several speakers at the convention said, had become only a symbolic strike.
The Central Government on August 30 had said in a press release that it has decided to increase the minimum wages for unskilled non-agricultural workers for ‘C’ category areas in the central sphere from Rs. 246 to Rs. 350. It also advised states to strictly register contract workers and their staffing agencies as per law and assured that the demand for social security benefit to unorganised sector will be examined by a committee. Advisories to state governments, the press release said, will be issued for registration of trade unions within 45 days. The government also promised strict implementation of the Bonus Amendment Act and a commitment to tripartite consultation process.
However, in a press release, Tapan Sen, General Secretary of CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) called the government’s announcement a ‘deliberate “misinformation campaign” to create confusion and sabotage the countrywide general strike’. He said that the wage hike would only benefit the 70 lakh central sphere workers.
Around 15 crore workers are expected to be on strike on September 2, effecting a loss of over Rs, 25,000 crore to the Indian economy. The press release also said that the wage hike did not address the workers demands for wages, which is Rs. 18,000, Rs. 22,320, and Rs. 26,560 per month in C, B, and A category. The BJP affiliated BMS has, however, reportedly pulled out of the strike after the announcement.
The Central Trade Unions have been negotiating with the government on a 12-point charter of demands, which includes demands for universalisation of PDS, containing unemployment, strict enforcement of basic labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers, stoppage of disinvestment in PSUs, assured enhanced pension greater than Rs. 3,000 per month, stoppage of contractorisation, against FDI and anti-worker labour law amendments.
However, with little progress in the negotiations of central trade unions, 14 trade unions formed MASA on August 28. These unions include All India Workers Council, ICTU, IFTU, DTUC (Tamil Nadu), TUCI, Hindustan Motors Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union, Workers Solidarity Centers from Gurgaon and Uttarakhand, Bauria Cotton Mill Sangrami Shramik Union (West Bengal), Inquilabi Kendra (Punjab), Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra, Jan Sangharsh Manch (Haryana), Karnataka Shramik Shakthi (Karnataka), and Mazdoor Patrika.
While some of these unions are not affiliated to any political party, others are affiliated to Left parties not represented in the parliament. While a meeting is scheduled to take place on October 4 for a final resolution, they have decided to work together against contractualisation of labour and anti-worker labour law amendments and for an increase in minimum wages. They have agreed to demand at least Rs. 22,000 as minimum wage, higher than the central trade unions’ demand.
Note: A previous version of the report incorrectly stated that all detained workers are associated with the Workers Solidarity Center, Gurgaon. The error is regretted.