Past Tense / Present Unrest – Local Working Class History – Faridabad, India

Below you can find various historical documents on working class experience in Faridabad in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite having been one of the largest industrial areas in India at the time and a hotspot of post-Emergency proletarian turmoil, the experience of workers in Faridabad rarely entered the realm of official labour history. For the current generation of workers and communists a critical engagement with the voices from the past is essential part of the search for new trajectories and new forms of organisation.

The material comprises translations of old articles from the still present local workers’ newspaper Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar; transcriptions of academic articles and other documents; and notes of ongoing conversations with workers about their past. The material is sketchy and the translations are not perfect – please see this as an open invitation to participate in the process.

In the near future we intend to bring more documents and voices back into our present discussions and extend the archive on this site. We will also try to debate some conclusions. At present we want to refer to the pamphlet on ‘Workers’ Self Activity’ by Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar, which you can find below.

Please get involved.

gurgaon_workers_news@yahoo.co.uk

List of Content

Sources:
Economic Political Weekly (EPW)
Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar (FMS)
Gurgaon Workers News (GWN)

/// 1970s ///

* Faridabad Workers’ Anger
EPW no.28, 1977: Report on mass strike and riots on 30th of June 1977 after death of worker Harnam Singh in police custody in Faridabad

* Capitalist Terror in Ghaziabad
EPW no.38, 1977: Report on industrial dispute and subsequent riot on 7th of September 1977 at Harig India, a company in Faridabad

* After CITU What?
EPW no.42, 1977: Analysis of workers’ discontent with union politics in Faridabad in 1977

* Anti-Worker Offensive in Haryana
EPW no.11, 1978: Analysis of post-Emergency repression of workers’ discontent in Faridabad

* Industrial Repression at Faridabad
EPW, 1978: Report on repression against workers, amongst others at company Autopin on 15th of February 1978 in Faridabad

* After the Massacre of Dalli Rajhara Mining Workers
EPW no. 24, 1977: Series of reports on contract mining workers struggle, the police massacre and the involvement of Congress and CPI

* Massacre of Kanpur Workers
EPW no.9, 1978: Report on police firings in Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur, on 6th of December 1977

* Delhi Textile Workers’ Strike 1979
EPW September 1, 1979: Article on strike which became excuse to sack 3,000 workers at East India Cotton Mill and to suppress the general proletarian unrest through police massacre in October 1979.

* Police Massacre in Faridabad
EPW no.44, 1979: Report on police massacre and repression after general strike and demonstration in Faridabad, on 17th of October 1979

* From Emergency to Rural Maoism to Leninism in Faridabad
GWN Conversation, 2010

* Worker in Faridabad in early 1970s, Full Time Activist for CPI and later Naxalites, Sangarh Samiti 1979
GWN Conversation, 2010

* Escorts/Ford Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s
GWN, Conversation 2010

* Gedore Tools Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s
GWN, Conversation 2011

* HMS Thomson Press Union leader in Faridabad in 1970s to 1990s
(GWN, Conversation 2011)

/// 1980s ///

* Revolutionary “Termites” in Faridabad
Loren Goldner, March 1998: Summary of important struggles in Faridabad in 1980s and 1990s

* Some Agitation in Faridabad
FMS, September 1983: Short news items on struggles in various companies (Biko Engineering, East India Textile Mill, Atul Glas, Usha Spinning Mills, JMA)

* Some Agitation in Faridabad II
FMS, October 1987: Short news items on struggles in various companies (HYDERABAD ASBESTOS LTD., Nukem Plastics, Autopin, Bombay Rubber, Metal Box, Escorts Anciliary, East India Textile Mill)

* Workers’ Movement in the Industrial Area of Dharuhera in the 1980s
Sangharshrat Mehantkash no.3: Account on first strikes at East India Mill in June 1984, the Radhu Yadav’s Unemployed Army in 1985, and first strikes at Omax Auto in the late 1980s.

Escorts

* Escorts Intro
In 1980s Escorts was one of the ten biggest manufacturing companies in India. The Faridabad plants employed over 20,000 permanent workers, manufacturing tractors, motor-cycles, parts for the railways etc.

* “Interview with President of All Escorts Employees’ Union, Subhash Sethi”
by Journal of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress (October 1981): Union leader who helped enforcing productivity scheme at Escorts portrays himself as anti-Stalinist revolutionary

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar – May 1983 to February 1993
Ten years of articles covering re-structuring and workers’ resistance in Faridabad biggest factory.

Gedore Jhalani Tools

* Self-Activity of Wage-Workers: Gedore Jhalani Tools
Kamunist Kranti / FMS, 1998: Summary of over a decade of practical involvement in Gedore Jhalani Tools dispute in Faridabad

* Revolutionary Termites: Gedore Jhalani Tools
Loren Goldner, 1998: Shorter version of the kamunist Kranti / FMS summary

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar – March 1983 to March 1993
Ten years of articles on workers’ struggles at Jhalani Tools.

* “The Company They Keep A Report on Workers of Jhalani Tools Ltd., Faridabad”
by Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi (November 1997): Longer report about dispute over outstanding wages – Jhalani Tools has not paid its workers wages due for the period March of 1996 to September 1997

* Unorganised Workers of Delhi and the Seven Day Strike of 1988
Long Report by Indrani Mazumdar

/// 1990s ///

Thomson Press Faridabad

* Faridabad Majdoor Samachar: June 1989 to June 1991
Articles covering conflicts between Chautala / Devi Lal Haryana government and factions within the ruling publishing and media sector, played out through conflict between different union factions in companies like Thomson Press: physical confrontations, lock-outs. The final articles relate to the re-structuring at Thomson Press, as part of global re-structuring in the printing industries in the early 1990s.

East India Cotton Faridabad

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar: January 1989 to February 1997
Articles covering re-structuring process and struggles in jute mill, powerloom department and table-printing department of Faridabad’s major company.

* “Dedicated to the Memoirs of Shankar Guha Niyogi”
FMS, October 1991: Memorial after murder of working class leader and review of struggles in Dalli Rajahara mining region since mid-1970s

* Police Firing on Striking Workers at Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill in Dharuhera (EPW)
EPW no.25, 1998: Report on police attack on protesting workers on 19th of February 1998

* Police Firing on Striking Workers at Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill in Dharuhera (PUDR)
Longer report on the state repression in Dharuhera, published by PUDR in March 1998

* Self-Activity of Wage Workers
FMS, April 1998: Political reflection on workers’ self-activity and the pitfalls of representation after nearly two decades of working class life and struggle in Faridabad

—————————–

* Faridabad Workers’ Anger

EPW 1977, No. 28
Ramnath Narayanaswamy

FARIDABAD is an industrial township, 20 kilometres from Delhi, with over 1,000 small-scale industries and a working class population exceeding four lakhs. On June 30, all activity in the township came to a standstill. Thousands of factory workers downed their tools in protest against the death in police custody of Harnam Singh, a maintenance foreman, working in one of the leading concerns of the area. Towards the afternoon, over 5,000 workers proceeded in trucks to Delhi to seek the intervention of the Union home minister, Charan Singh. Among the demands made to the minister were: a judicial probe into the alleged murder of Harnam Singh, immediate arrest of an inspector of the Haryana Central Investigation Agency and other police officials responsible for Harnam Singh’s death and the arrest of the owners of the factory where the deceased was employed.
Feelings ran so high that violence had erupted in many parts of Faridabad and vehicles proceeding to the capital were stoned, looted and burnt. Harnam Singh, it is alleged, had been tortured to death by the police on the factory premises in the presence of the managing director, a sub-inspector of police, and some other senior company officials. His co-workers allege that he was also administered some chemical and later taken to the hospital where he was declared dead. Harman Singh had been employed with the concern for the last 13 years. He resigned on June 13, when ‘the factory owners registered a case of theft where he and some of his co-workers were listed as the likely suspects. He was called to the police station on June 20 and after some preliminary interrogation permitted to leave. He was again called to the police station at 5 p m on the same day.

Balbir Singh, Harnam Singh’s brother, was called by the police on June 27 to Ballabhgarh where the CIA interrogation cell is located. According to him the CIA inspector systematically tortured his brother. Harnam Singh’s hands were tied and the other end of the rope was passed over the ceiling fan in the room. The fan was then switched on while the inspector kept asking Harnam Singh to confess. Lighted cigarette butts were applied to different parts of Harnam Singh’s body. Balbir Singh saw his brother for the last time on June 29. Harnam Singh was taken to the factory premises. After a cup of tea at the reception office, the police party proceeded to the electro-plating shop, beside which there was a well into which the stolen goods had been allegedly dumped. Harnam Singh breathed his last in the electro-plating shop allegedly in the presence of the managing director, assistant general manager and police officials. A brief view of the body at the mortuary revealed extensive torture marks. No part of the body had been spared and, according to one informant, the soles of Harnam Singh’s feet had been pierced with nails and subsequently burnt. While at Faridabad this writer also met Balbir Singh, who fully confirmed the reports of the torture of his brother.

On July 1, workers of the Okhla industrial estate observed a day’s strike to protest against the brutality of the police and the factory management that caused the death of Harnam Singh. The decision to go on strike was taken by over 2,000 workers in Okhla and a condolence resolution was adopted. The atmosphere was tense with rising anger at the police who the workers allege, are hand in glove with the management. Armed guards had become a common sight in Faridabad and armed police had been posted at various strategic places in anticipation of further disturbances. The same morning, an armed mob of over 50 persons, broke into the premises of the Presolite factory on Mathura Road and attempted to set it on fire. The security and accounts offices were set ablaze and a number of company records were damaged by the blaze. Local rumour has it that the fire was deliberately caused by one section of the management concerned in the Harnam Singh case. The fire, it seemed, was aimed at the location of the records that may have implicated the management.

A police camp and a special control room has been set up in Faridabad. Armed guards are on constant vigil while armed police who have been urgently summoned from Rohtak, Ambala and Karnal have been posted on Mathura Road to prevent further disturbances.
The police have registered 13 cases of rioting so far and made 158 arrests. On July 2, workers at Okhla decided to continue the solidarity strike the next day as a gesture of support to the workers at the Presolite factory. Some of the factories had begun to open their shutters while the Presolite factory remained closed. The Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights has called a protest. The march will be sponsored by 12 trade unions and democratic rights organisations and will condemn the high-handedness of the police in the Harnam Singh case and also protest against the firing in the Dalli-Rajahara mines in Madhya Pradesh on June 3. Efforts are also being made to secure the release of workers arrested under section 144 and to ensure that there is no victimisation. The Haryana government has announced a grant of Rs 5,000 to the bereaved family. An inquiry by a sessions judge into the incident has been ordered and the superintendent of police of Gurgaon has been transferred. An inspector of the Haryana Central Investigation Agency, who had been suspended on June 30, was later arrested in connection with the death of Harnam Singh.

* Capitalist Terror in Ghaziabad

S K Rao
EPW 1977, No.38

On the morning of September 7, Harig India, a machine tool factory located in Mohan Nagar near Ghaziabad, was the scene of a violent confrontation between workers and the management, in which two persons died, 76 were hurt and the factory was gutted by fire. The events leading up to this violent incident add up to a dismal story of murky methods and goondaism in management-worker relationships.

Harig India is a 16-year old plant manufacturing surface grinders, cylindrical grinders and other such machine tools. It employs about 128 workers, of whom about half are unskilled and semi-skilled. The semi-skilled and the unskilled workers, it is reported, get a monthly pay of Rs 200 to Rs 300, while the skilled workers get from Rs 300 to Rs 900.
The events of the 7th morning seem to be a direct culmination of the efforts by the management to prevent workers from voicing their long-felt grievances through legitimate trade union activity. The management, it is alleged, had brought in goondas to suppress the workers’ trade union, which resulted in these violent incidents.
Ramu Roy, the President of the Harig India Workers’ Union, says that none of the workers have got appointment letters or identity cards; and while provident deductions are made, the management refuses to give them receipts for it.
The workers of this factory formed a union in January 1977 before the Emergency was lifted. All the workers joined the union. After the Emergency was lifted, in June this union sought affiliation with CITU which has become the major trade union force in this area. CITU has managed to double its strength after the Emergency – its membership has gone up from about 10,000 before the Emergency to about 20,000 after the Emergency. During the Emergency and even before it, the other trade unions had lost much of their credibility because of their soft-pedalling of workers grievances. After the Emergency, the CITU, because of its militant advocacy of workers’ rights in the past and the favourable political climate, has emerged as the most important trade union in this area. And, precisely for this reason, the industrialists of this area, where about 100,000 workers are employed, have been resenting the growth of this trade union. They have been adopting various tactics to keep the labour servile and underpaid: very often, it is alleged, that several workers are employed under the contract labour system, which denies them the usual privileges which go with regular employment; and often even the recommendations of the engineering wage board are not implemented. To this day, it is said, the recommendations of the engineering wage board, made as long back as 1969-70 and which could make a difference of as much as Rs 90 and more in the monthly pay of workers, have not been implemented. The growth of the militant trade union, CITU, in these circumstances has caused much apprehension and anxiety among the employers in this area.

What happened at Harig India should be seen in this context. When the newly-formed factory union got affiliation with CITU and demanded recognition from the management, the management refused it. Not only that, the workers allege that the management set in motion a train of events which culminated in the violence of the 7th. On June 28, the Union presented a charter of demands including bonus payment, variable dearness allowance, house rent, cycle stand, canteen for the workers, right to casual leave and facilities for drinking water which had all been denied to them so far. The management, instead of accepting or negotiating these demands, brought in four new security guards who carried guns, kirpans, etc. and allegedly lounged about the place making threatening noises against workers. The workers allege that these new security guards were known goondas whom the management hired on a contract basis to suppress the trade union; they were to receive, it is said, Rs 50,000 as hush money, of which Rs 15,000 was paid in advance. Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, the chief organiser of CITU in Ghaziabad area, has alleged that some of these new security guards were employed earlier by another firm, Bramac Suri (Pvt) Ltd., to break an 108-day old strike. The management of this factory denied this. At any rate, the allegation calls for investigation into the antecedents of these four people. It is also alleged by the AITUC leaders that these same people were employed by Harig India earlier to scare away some villagers from whom the land had been acquired by the UP government on which this factory is located. These allegations of unsavoury background of these new security guards has not yet been denied by the management through detailed clarification of their earlier careers. The police say that they are looking into the antecedents of these people but nothing has yet come up which denies these allegations of the workers.

The management then inducted these disputed characters onto the scene when the workers were presenting their charter of demands through CITU. Moreover, the workers allege, the management in an attempt to get rid of the activist workers started denying raw materials to the sections where they were working and eventually laid off eight workers on August 10. After this, the management says that there was a tool down strike on August 17, 18 and 22; the workers’ representatives deny this. The management in any case cut 7 days’ wages even for a single day’s strike. But before the workers discovered this on September 6 when the pay packet arrived, on August 30 the central office of CITU in Ghaziabad submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of UP through the District Magistrate Ansari, in which among other things they pointed out that some managements, including that of Harig India, had been employing goondas to terrorise workers and that the authorities should take immediate steps. Bharadwaj says that he had even told the Police Superintendent verbally that an Assistant Inspector of Police was seen to be very friendly with the alleged goondas-cum-guards of Harig India and that the SD had assured him that he would look into this immediately.

Then came September 6 when the workers discovered that a week’s wages had been cut from their pay for the alleged tool down strike which, even according to the management, had lasted only three days. The workers, considerably incensed by this, refused to take any pay at all. The workers, according to Bharadwaj, decided on a strike following this and were planning to give notice of this to the management the next day in due manner. The next morning, that is on the fateful 7th, about 10 workers reached the factory gate by 7.00 am to put up posters and raise slogans. The new security guards, who were amusing themselves in a restaurant opposite the factory, it is alleged, advanced towards the factory workers with their kirpans. This confrontation immediately attracted some other workers and passers nearby. As the crowd grew in size, some of the guards allegedly opened fire; the pellets hit the crowd. The injured, among whom were Veer Singh, Nareshan and Dharm Vir Choudhary, were immediately rushed to hospital which was two minutes away. By 7.30 am the Shahibabad Police were informed; the police did not, however, come immediately because they were held up on the way by a crowd of students who held up the buses. According to Press reports, the Ghaziabad Police were also informed by 7.45 am and one industrialist even claims to have sent his own vehicle to fetch them. But they too did not come immediately. It is reported that by the time the first police party arrived it was 9.00 am.

But by 9.00 am a large crowd gathered numbering thousands. What happened that morning is reported in several contradictory ways, with different parties claiming different versions to be true. The first newspaper reports say, however, that by the time the police arrived the guards were on the roof firing gunshots into the crowd. About 70 people were indeed injured by pellets and other wounds – a fact that is not denied by anyone. The police, it is said, finding that the guards were firing dangerously into the crowd, ordered them to come down; when the guards refused to come down, the police made their way onto the roof and fired at the guards – a fact which again is not denied by the police. The guards when then disarmed and brought down by fire ladders – for the building had been set afire already. The workers say that the guards themselves had set the building on fire as they retreated onto the roof in the face of the surging crowd to prevent it from getting nearer; the management denies this saying that the crowd set it on fire. In any case, the first newspaper reports say that the police after firing at the guards on the roof disarmed them and brought them down. As they were being taken away, the police say, the crowd by now enraged asked the police to hand over the guards to them. The police refused, but the crowd seized two of them, Harbhajan Singh, a foreman, and Jeet Singh, allegedly a guard and lynched them to death. This is the police version. The workers say that while it is true that the crowd hit at these two people, they were already dead by the time they were brought down from the roof by the police; they say that the police in fact lowered them by ropes after tying them up, which shows that they were already dead. One should say, however, that this fact – that these two persons were lowered down by ropes by the police from the roof – is not reported in the news reports on the first day. However, the subsequent post-mortem reports on these two bodies say that while Harbhajan Singh died of multiple injuries, including damage to the vital organs, Jeet Singh’s death was caused among other things by a gunshot wound. As none of the reports say that anyone in the crowd was seen using a gun, who exactly fired the shot at Jeet Singh remains a mistery, for the police say that while admittedly they had fired at the guards on the roof, it was not a wound from a shot fired by them which was found on Jeet Singh.
Thus two people were dead; about 70, including some among the police, were hurt by pellet or other wounds. The whole event has enraged the workers in the area so much that most of the workers went on a snap strike that day, culminating in a public meeting in which about 20,000 people participated. Since then, Section 144 was imposed and several arrests were made, including those of Veer Singh and Nareshan, two workers, who, according to the workers’ representatives, had been wounded by the pellets and been taken to the nearby hospital much before the police came after which the alleged lynching took place. The workers are now demanding a judicial enquiry and release of all the arrested.
(…)

* After CITU What?

EPW 1977, No.42
ANS

An uneasy feeling of betrayal by the present political leadership is spontaneously manifesting itself among militant sections of the working class in and around the Capital. A great deal of the resentment bottled up during the Emergency, and quiescent for a period after, has begun to boil over in the manner witnessed at Faridabad in July and Ghaziabad last month.
For a brief period it was possible to argue that the ‘labour unrest’ was part of the post-Emergency euphoria. Not so any longer, as the frequent clashes in Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Sahibabad will testify. The cry for reinstatement of those sacked during the Emergency and restoration of rights and privileges is gradually giving way to resentment against the present “democratic excesses”, such as the UP government’s decision to ban strikes in a number of industrial units (private as well as public sector), the partiality of the Haryana police towards owners in Faridabad and the use of hired thugs by industrialists to terrorise workers at Pilakhua-Ghaziabad and Mohan Nagar.

The trade union movement in this region is itself in a state of flux. The unions have till now existed on the explicit understanding that the state had the right to formulate laws for all sections of society. Union struggles have, at their highest stage, been directed against particular laws and have not been part of a general struggle to recreate society itself. With the increasing inability of the unions to influence the government even as ‘pressure groups’ on behalf of labour, this role of the trade unions is being called into question by labour militants. Outside of the wage demands, there is a widening tendency for workers to “take the law into their own hands”. Trade unionists are forgotten, indeed they remain discreet bystanders, in direct confrontations between workers and managements. They often enter the scene after the event. In a confrontation between workers and some hired thugs in the pay of some Hapur industrialists in July, for instance, it fell upon local union leaders to play the role of “harvest brokers” to placate a 500-strong band of irate lathi-wielding workers. Similar confrontations have been reported from Pilakhua and Sonepat as well.
The major recent confrontations in Faridabad and Mohan Nagar (Ghaziabad) highlight this dichotomy between working class struggles and the trade union movement. At Faridabad, the confrontations reached the stage of an open battle against the government with the police emerging on the side of the owners. The entire working class upsurge at Faridabad in July had an element of spontaneity. Even the call for a general strike in Faridabad and neighbouring Badarpur came from the workers with the trade unionists lamely following behind. Indeed, most of the unions, including those of the left, were caught on the wrong foot. When irate workers stormed the Prostolite factory and set it on fire, the unionists were beseeching the workers not to destroy “national property”. Some unions, including those of the left, branded the destruction as the handiwork of outside saboteurs, thus disowning the working class they claimed to represent. It was only after workers in Badarpur joined the struggle that the unionists “rose to the occasion” by issuing statements of support and sympathy. They soon even claimed responsibility for a “successful general strike” which was not their doing.

At Mohan Nagar, resentment against the use of hired thugs by the managements had been building up since the early 1970s. Hired thugs are not new. The Emergency merely intensified such forms of coercion and the post-Emergency period has brought no let-up. Before the Harig India incident of September 8 (EPW, September 17, pp 1635-36), several other units had used thugs to break workers’ actions. A major textile plant in Modinagar nearby employed as many as 250 armed men to break up a strike which had been banned by the UP government a few days earlier.
When the hired goons of Harig India allegedly began firing on the workers, neither the trade unionists nor the police were much in evidence. The unit leader, Ramu Roy, was present, but he appeared to have very little to do with the developments. Once again the workers had reacted spontaneously. The general strike by workers, the processions and wearing of black arm-bands were decisions taken by the workers with the unionists endorsing them belatedly.
The present writer recalls a rather amusing meeting shortly after with an AITUC leader in the posh air-conditioned offices of a major liquor magnate in the neighbourhood. After some exchanges of compliments between the union leader and the industrialist, the former drew attention to the failure of the police to arrive on time and the resultant “sad loss of national property” (the factory was burnt by the workers). The union leader added, “there is no discipline left after the Emergency”.

Middle level trade union functionaries have had to face some difficult situations. One such left wing functionary in Faridabad was assaulted in early August by a 4,000 strong band of textile workers. The leadership of the union classified the event as a “plot” hatched by right-wing elements. The issue, however, goes much deeper than a right wing left wing confrontation and the hatching of “plots”, for, if there had been no initial resentment, it would have been difficult for agent provocateurs to forment a “plot” among workers who till the other day had enthusiastically accepted the leadership of the very unionist they later assaulted. The workers alleged that the assaulted unionist had been responsible for the arrest of numerous worker militants during the Emergency and was even in the pay of the mill management.

All this is not to say that the established central trade unions in the area are all on the wane. A shift is taking place. The INTUC and the AITUC are yielding place, mainly to the CITU – the fastest growing union in the area. In a few months, the CITU has taken over leadership of at least 70 units in the Ghaziabad area, creating alarm in political circles in UP. In fact there is every evidence of a concerted political drive by the UP and Haryana government to project the BMS (affiliated to the erstwhile Jan Sangh) and to stem the CITU advance.
Such shifts in alignment must, however, be viewed as temporary phenomena. The inability of trade unions to speak for labour as a whole is compounded by the fact that at no time does the total union membership of registered unions exceed 25 per cent of the total organised work force. The “peak periods” of trade union membership in the organised sector in recent times were in 1966 and 1971 when there were 4.08 million and 4.37 million union members (in central unions) out of an organised work force of 16.8 million and 17.49 million, respectively. If one were to take the unorganised sector, including the more than 100 million landless agricultural labourers into account, the performance of the trade unions would be seen to be pathetic. This trade union vacuum is especially felt in areas like Sahibabad, a fast developing industrial area in Ghaziabad district, and Hapur, a major foodgrain mandi in UP and also an expanding industrial town, both of which attract large numbers of seasonal labour from rural areas during slack periods in agriculture.

While all the central trade unions are, in one way or the other, linked to various political parties, the membership criteria is quite unambiguously non-political. Confronted by a wider choice of unions, labourers either continue to stick to the status quo or, if the present union should badly fail them, cynically shift over to the most likely to deliver the goods. Thus unions attached to the party in power may be preferred sometimes purely on the ground that demands made through them are more likely to be viewed favourably. The INTUC, for instance, registered a spectacular rise of 13 per cent in membership between 1975-76 and 1976-77 at the height of the Emergency. The AITUC and the HMS, on the other hand, registered increase of 3 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively in 1967-68 to 1968-69 which also saw the emergence of numerous united front governments all over the country. In this same period, INTUC membership fell by 8 per cent.
In this situation the failure of the central trade unions reflect not so much in the total decline in union membership as in their inability to induct new members (not yet unionised) into the sphere of union activity in keeping with the rising labour population. In and around the Union Territory of Delhi, such a situation has led to the growth, albeit still small, of ‘internal’ unions and of what are referred to as ‘Syndicalist’ tendencies on the part of the working class.
Another factor which is gradually becoming irrelevant are the ‘alternatives’ placed before the working class in the form of various unions. By now the organised sections of workers in Faridabad and Ghaziabad have gone through the whole gamut of unions and the sole ‘alternative’ left is the CITU. At each point of time, the shift has been leftwards to more militant unions, but disillusionment also has come faster. As Bhaskar, a militant worker in an oil mill in Ghaziabad said quite cynically, “they are all the same. The CITU talks of working class unity here while the CPI(M), its political leadership assures industrialists in Bengal that gheraos will not be tolerated. Leaders of the 1974 railway strike are ministers today and the same bonus demands of railway workers made then are no longer justifiable today. Such empty talk will not fill our stomachs.” Which still leaves us with the question, “After CITU what?”

* Anti-Worker Offensive in Haryana

EPW 1978, No.11

(…)
Since 1967 when the first united front government was formed in West Bengal followed by a spate of working class protest demonstrations, about 300 industrial units have shifted to the Haryana region from that state. One of the attractions in north India at the time was the ready availability on unorganised labour who were still unaware of the rights they enjoyed under the existing labour, and could therefore be made to work on subsistence wages.
But “the wind will not cease even if the trees want to rest”. Attempts to organise the workers into unions soon brought trade unionists into a direct confrontation with the employers. In 1973, during troubles at the Gedore Tools factory in Faridabad, a workers’ procession led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions was fired upon by the police, and one worker was killed. Soon after this, a strike in the Usha Spinning mill fizzled out after police brutality and hunger had forced the workers to return to work without winning and concessions from their employers.
With the declaration of the Emergency, it became evident that labour in Haryana was more than ever at the mercy of the employer. The CITU was virtually banned since it was not allowed to function openly. The Trade Union Co-ordination Council consisting of CITU and AITUC, set up before the Emergency, became defunct.

Extreme Exploitation

A brief look at the working conditions in the industries in Haryana would reveal the extent of exploitation. Of the 100,000 odd workers in the area, more than half are unorganised. Although the minimum monthly wage fixed by the Haryana government is Rs 170, a large number of workers, particularly women, receive only Rs 70 to Rs 80 a month. It should be remembered that as far back as 1957, the 15th Labour Tripartite Conference held that a monthly wage of Rs 100 should be the minimum for a family of four. According to the present price index, trade unionists estimate, the minimum should be raised to Rs 350.
Quite a number of workers employed by the industries are what is known as “contract labourers”. They are not entitled to any casual or earned leave or any other facilities like provident fund. The employers’ rule of ‘hire-and-fire’ decides their working conditions. As soon as the Emergency was lifted, the accumulated grievances of the workers broke out into spontaneous protest demonstrations and charters of demands. Owners of at least 100 factories at the moment are facing charters of demand from their workers who mainly want the implementation of the minimum wages act and an end to contract labour and other unfair practices. (…)

Use of ‘Security Guards’

The industrialists of Faridabad, Ballabhgarh, Ghaziabad and other areas of Haryana have indeed begun to behave like the early American bourgeoisie. The latest feature of their labour policy is to hire so-called security guards to crush unions. One is reminded of the notorious US detective agencies – Pinkerton, Burns, Corporations Auxiliary Company – whose services were bought by American business firms to spy on employees’ associations, wreck them when they secured a foothold and destroy them when they tried out their strength. (…)
Something of the same sort is happening today in Haryana. The fact that some industrialists were maintaining a private army of their own to deal with recalcitrant workers came to light in October 1977 when ‘security guards’ shot down workers at the Harrig India factory in Faridabad. Since then the news of such mercenaries employed by several industrialists have been pouring in. The incidents at Auto Pins factory in Faridabad (on February 15) were sparked off by attacks of these ‘security guards’ hired by the owner on workers who were demanding a restoration of their wage-cut. According to later police inquiries, it was found that at least three of the 17 security guards were notorious criminals of Alwar. The Deputy Superintendent of Police of Haryana did not rule out the possibility of the remaining 14 having criminal records elsewhere.

That the owner of Auto Pins factory has been maintaining these guards on his pay roll for quite a number of years was revealed recently through the leakage of an old letter written by a fellow industrialist to another industrialist in Haryana. Piqued by abuses hurled by these guards when he came to attend a Rotary Club meeting at Faridabad, the writer of the letter dated November 22, 1974 complained that a “heinous atmosphere was being created by Mr Avtar Singh [owner of Auto Pins] and added: “25 to 30 goondas hired from Alwar have been retained by his group of industries and spread over the various associate concerns of M/s Auto Pins to be utilised as a terror at every eventual occasion to harras and horrify me”.
Avtar Singh has apparently given a lead to other industrialists in Haryana. It is estimated that as many as 15 agencies – the Indian counterparts of Pinkertons and Burns – are doing roaring business in recruiting and supplying ‘security guards’ to factory owners. The majority of these guards are recruited from professional criminals, and lumpen-proletariat from Muzaffarnagar and Alwar.

Pro-Employer Role of Government

The events at the Indian Dyes Chemical Organisation in Sunepta, which took place a few days before Auto Pins incidents, reveal not only the same pattern of hiring mercenaries to crush unions, but also the pro-employer role of the Haryana state government and the unfortunate contradiction between the unemployed and the organised labour force which is exploited by the employers. The management of the IDCO at first tried to prevent the workers from forming any union, notwithstanding which the CITU managed to organise a union and launch a strike demanding among other things implementation of the minimum wages act in August 1977. The then Haryana minister for Labour, Sushma Swaraj, asked the company to pay Rs 100 to each worker, which the company refused to do. Soon after this Sushma Swaraj was replaced by a new labour minister, Satwir Singh Mullik, who declared the strike illegal. The factory owners in the meantime succeeded in bringing in some villagers from nearby areas to replace the striking workers, who began a ‘dharna’ in front of the factory gates. On February 11 this year, the company director arrived on the scene and his ‘security guards’ demolished the workers’ tents and fired upon the workers killing a CITU office-bearer of the union.
There is a strong suspicion among many in Haryana that some of the leading members of the state cabinet have personal stakes in the industries, which explains the attitude of the state government. It is rumoured that the son of the labour minister is connected with agents who supply coal to the industry. The Home Minister, Mangal Sain, is reported to have shares in Auto Pins Ltd.
But it seems that the involvement of the politicians with the industrialists extends further up. When a calling attetion motion on the Haryana incidents was put up at the Rajya Sabha on February 21, the minister of state for labour, Ram Kripal Sinha, told the house that the law and order situation in Haryana was the responsibility of the state government and it would be desirable to leave it to the government of Haryana to sort it out.

False Propaganda

Utterances by various Central and State Ministers indicate that the authorities are going to be quite tough handling working class movements. To befuddle the public and alienate them from the workers, they are already harping on the theme of inter-union intra-union rivalries are the reasons for the industrial unrest. The President of the Employers’ Federation of India in a recent communication to the Union Minister has already given this cue which is likely to be followed by government spokesmen when called upon to inform the public about the growing labour troubles.
The facts of the cases in Haryana however contradict the version of the management. Also the Jan Sangh labour wing, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and the Reddy Congress front, National Labour Organisation (NLO), are trying to make inroads into the industrial scene, they are still insignificant forces and the CPI(M)-dominated CITU is considered to be the main threat by the employers, some of whom have been known to have urged workers to join any union except the CITU. CITU spokesmen challenged the authorities to cite any single instance of clashes between their unions and BMS or NLO unions, and reject the management propaganda of inter-union clashes as causes for disturbances.
But it appears by default the CITU is assuming a political importance which is in no way commensurate with its organised strength in Haryana. By their own admission, the CITU has not yet been able to set up unions in the majority of the factories in the area, although they claim to be receiving invitations from workers from various units. But lack of organisers and a desire to concentrate on a few important units are probably the main two factors behind their present strategy.

Employers’ Calculations

The employers however are calculating on a long-term basis. The sudden surge of spontaneous militancy among the workers may force the hands of CITU or other trade unions to stage movements on demands like implementations of awards which the employers have been able to ignore all these years. In 1967 and 1969 movements on similar demands in West Bengal forced them to shift to unexploited areas like Haryana, Punjab or Uttar Pradesh. In 1978 however few such untapped areas are left. Although statistically industrial relations in 1977 was only marginally worse than that in 1976 (from January to October 1977 11.2 million mandays were lost on account of work stoppages against 10.2 million mandays for the corresponding period in 1976), the number of such stoppages increased in almost all the major states in India.
Such being the case, from the employers’ point of view, any manifestation of workers’ protest, however embryonic it might be, will have to be nipped in the bud. This explains the ruthless behaviour of the industrialists in Haryana.
It would be worth observing how in such a situation the CITU and other Leftist trade unions shape their strategy and tactics. The conventional form of struggle like ‘dharnas’, sit-down or tool-down strikes, or long-drawn-out strikes can sometimes be effective depending on the vulnerability of the employers and the tenacity of the workers.
(…)

* Industrial Repression at Faridabad

EPW, 1978
Ramnath Narayanswamy

VIOLENT clashes between management and labour have always characterised Faridabad, the industrial township of Haryana. On February 16, over 120 striking workers and 17 security guards of the Auto-Pin (India) were arrested in the evening on charges of rioting and arson. Over 17 people had sustained injuries – some of them, injuries on the chest and shoulders, caused by brickbats and lathis. The arrested were remanded into judicial custody by the sub-divisional magistrate at Ballabgarh. It is expected that AITUC and CITU will launch a series of demonstrations and gate-meetings to protest against the increasing industrial repression let loose by the managements of the leading concerns in Faridabad.

Management victimisation, non-payment of allowances, prevention of workers from forming unions, and low wages have continued to be the main grievance, of the workers in Faridabad. Refusal by managements to negotiate the question of forming unions has led to innumerable gate-meetings, tool-down strikes, and other forms of protest. Workers allege that it is common practice among concerns who have not allowed a union to be formed to employ ‘goondas’ to meet labour protest. The workers also allege that the police assiduously avoid interfering with the activities of the ‘management goondas’ who – well-armed with knives and in some cases even guns – are the primary forces of industrial repression against workers.

The February 16 incident centered around the strike which the workers of the Auto-Pin (India)- were waging against the company. Auto-Pin (India) manufactures leaf springs and bodies for tractors and defence vehicles. The workers were demanding negotiations on a charter of demands relating to increase in wages, bonus, incentives, and house rent.
Security guards (the workers allege they were ‘goondas’) were employed by the managing director about a fortnight earlier because he was apprehending “definite trouble”. It is significant that according to the managing director he had no knowledge of the past records of the ‘security men’ he employed where they came from. According to the workers, about three or four days before the strike began, they had begun to brandish knives and guns.

The trouble began when the tent in which the factory workers were lodged was ripped down at the orders of the management. When the workers resisted, the ‘security guards’ lathicharged the workers. The story was later confirmed by eye-witnesses who were present during the exchange between the workers and the ‘security guards’. The workers’ strength swelled, and the retaliation began when bricks were hurled at those inside the factory. Meanwhile brickbats continued to be thrown from inside the factory. How they got there remains unexplained. The workers insist that a day earlier they had been stored there by the management. There was an exchange of brickbats between the striking workers and those inside the factory. Several vehicles parked outside the factory premises were burnt and the windscreens of the cars smashed. The factory glass panes were also smashed, and the premises bore signs of wreckage.

The management has circulated a story that it was provocation by the workers that led to the violence on both sides. According to them, management personnel were prevented from entering the premises and the ‘security guards’ were “forced to act” when the striking workers refused entry to the management personnel and attempted to enter the premises.
When this writer visited the factory premises, there were a dozen armed policemen at the factory gate. According to some workers from the neighbouring concerns, the management was responsible for the destruction of the vehicles parked outside the factory, which they had caused in an attempt to rest the blame on the striking workers. According to both trade union leaders and workers, the employment of ‘goondas’ under the guise of security men by the management has become common practice in Faridabad. These ‘goondas’ are fully armed, and play a prominent role in breaking unions where unions exist, in preventing their formation. The managements employ them particularly when strikes are in progress.

According to the trade union leaders, the police in Faridabad turn a blind eye to the activities of the goondas even when acts of violence by them are brought to their notice. According to Sharms, secretary of the Faridabad unit of the CITU, three of the security guards of Auto Pin were well known thugs of Alwar. Consequently, the enormous arms build-up in the concerns at Faridabad and their free use by the goondas in times of industrial tension is not at all surprising. It is significant, too, that reportedly in the aftermath of the arrests at Auto Pin the security guards were released on bail whereas the 120 striking workers were not.
Indeed, incidents of victimisation, lay-offs, and management-hired goonda violence, have been increasing steadily over the recent past. Several instances can be cited. Among the most prominent of them was the case of Shiv Sharan, a worker, who was attacked en masse bv over 60 armed men at his residence in Ballabgarh. He was soon bullet-ridden, and succumbed to his injuries in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. Among the others shot, were his wife, his 17-year-old daughter, his 80-year-old mother, and over 20 other workers of the same locality. In the midst of such violence, the Haryana Home Minister, Mangal Sein, has declared that the law and order situation was completely under control. He also added that the government was in favour of trade unionism and assertion of workers’ rights, but that the government would not ‘allow anyone to take the law into his own hands’. According to the honourable minister, the labour unrest was due to “elements that want to misuse the restoration of democracy”.

* After the Massacre of Workers of Dalli Rajhara Mines

EPW no.24, 1977
N K Singh

[We suggest as further reading the article by FMS, which was published after the murder of Niyogi in 1991 - see section on 1990s]

KILL ordinary workers fighting for their just demands and dub them Naxalites. The police firing on the striking workers of the Dilli-Rajahara mines, in which ten persons, including a woman and two children, were killed and at least 15 others received bullet injuries, smacks of a carefully-planned plot.

On June 2, the president of the recognised union of the mines, a CPI leader, tells a press conference that Naxalites have ‘struck a reign of terror’ in the area. Acting quickly, the same night the police goes to arrest the ‘Naxalite leader’, Shanker Guha Niyogi, who had been making allegedly ‘derogatory speeches’ and ‘instigating’ the workers to continue their agitation. Niyogi is the leader of a union, Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, which is not recognised by the Bhilai steel plant authorities who own the mines. Some two to three thousand workers assemble and resist the arrest of their leader.

They ‘turn violent’. The police ‘resorts to firing’. So runs the official story. When the first reports of the massacre arrive on the Samachar printer, it is given out that three workers had been killed. After some time comes another report, putting the number of the dead at five. Then comes a report that police had opened fire a second time, at noon, to ‘rescue’ some police-men allegedly held captive by the workers who were demanding the release of Niyogi. The toll goes up to seven. This time the report adds that among those killed were some police-men as well. By late night the figure mounts to nine. Samachar, which had failed to mention that among those killed were a woman and a 12-year-old boy, withdraws its earlier report that some policemen were in the casualty list. “No policeman was killed”, it now says. Next day yet another body of a 12-year-old boy is ‘discovered’ from the place where the firing took place, now under curfew. It is now disclosed that apart from the leader of the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, Shanker Guha Niyogi, five other persons have been arrested; that the police are combing the area for more union leaders who are alleged to be Naxalites; however, the law and order situation was under control. Peace at last!

The Dilli-Rajahara iron ore mines in Durg district are the captive mines of the nearby Bhilai steel plant. While the, mechanised section of the mines is run departmentally, the manually-operated units are run by contractors, violating the government directive, issued way back in 1971, to take over all such units where the work was of a permanent nature. There is a big difference between the wages and service conditions of workers employed by the Bhilai steel plant and of those employed by the private contractors. The contractors, it is an open secret, resort to underhand methods and use of force they employ a private army of armed goondas – to suppress the restive workers. Since almost all the contractors are Congressmen, political patronage was never lacking. Coupled with the vested interest developed by the officials in the contract labour system, the political influence of the powerful contractors had thwarted all the attempts of the workers to force the government to implement its own six-year-old decision to abolish the contract labour system. The recognised AITUC union, the Samyukta Khadan Mazdoor Sangh, was only too happy’ to play ball with the contractors and the Bhilai Steel plant managenment. Shanker Guha Niyogi, today’s much-maligned Naxalite’, entered the labour force in the area as an ordinary mine-worker. Most of the labourers employed through contractors are local people, while the better-paid jobs in the mechanised mines have been cornered by outsiders. Niyogi took up the cause of the poorly-paid local workers and named his newly-formed union the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh. Although the union was not recognised by the management, Niyogi led many successful agitations and forced the contractors to accept a number of long-pending demands of the workers. Workers began to desert the recognised but inactive AITUC union and join Niyogi’s non-recognised but active union. At this point the authorities discovered that Niyogi was a ‘Naxalite’ and decided that his proper place was behind bars.

So in 1970 he was arrested and sent to prison, much to the relief of the contractors, the officials and the AITUC leaders. It was not till the Lok Sabha elections were announced in February this year that he was released along with other political prisoners. As was to be expected, during the Emergency the AITUC union had turned into a shameless lackey of the management. There was very strong discontentment among the workers and as soon as Niyogi reappeared on the scene a majority of the workers shifted their allegiance to the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, which gave a call for strike in support of its demand for abolition of the contract labour system, payment of bonus, and allied issues. The two-week long strike was a complete success.

What was the AITUC’ attitude to this success of the workers? Homi Daji (1), general secretary of the Madhya Pradesh AITUC, declared that “Most of their [the workers'] demands were unrealistic, which could not be met”. Talking to this writer a couple of days after the Rajahara firing, which he condemned like all the other political leaders by issuing a statement, Daji said that Niyogi and his men ran a trade union in “a non-trade union manner”.”‘They soon started attacking our workers”, he alleged. On May 30, the workers led by Niyogi gheraoed the Assistant Labour Commissioner, the agent of the mines and three of the contractors for 27 hours. They were freed after police intervention. All these officials and the contractors lodged a complaint with the police that they were made to sign an agreement conceding the workers’ demands under duress. On May 31, the workers allegedly attacked the AITUC office and burnt its flag.

On June 1, the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh launched a strike, completely successful again. The contractors and the AITUC leaders were desperate. The CPI addressed a press conference at Raipuir urging the authorities to intervene in the ‘explosive situation’. The district administration duly intervened and arrested Niyogi and his associates for making “inflammatory speeches – and inciting the workers”. The arrests led to the massacre of Itajahata. The ^state government has ordered a judicial enquirv into the incident. The enquiry commission is expected to determine whether the firing was warranted or whether it could have been averted by more tactful handling of the situation. Was there really any danger to the lives of the six policemen gheraoed by the workers, as alleged by the authorities? However, the facts speak for themselves. Two among those killed by the police were children. Among the 18 hospitalised persons 15 are workers. And all the 15, including two women, have received bullet injuries. The condition of two of the injured workers is said to be critical. Meanwhile, the workers’ strike continues.

(1)

http://www.mail-archive.com/marxist-leninist-list@lists.econ.utah.edu/msg09000.html

After the Massacre

EPW no.25, 1977
N K Singh

ALTHOUGH the poor workers of the Dalli-Rajahara mines are literally starving as they have not received their wages for the last three weeks, their two-week old strike continues. And so does the curfew, clamped on June 3, when the police firing on agitating workers resulted in the death of ten persons, including a woman and two children, according to official figures. The toll went up to 11 later when one of the 15 wounded workers succumbed to bullet injuries in hospital. The situation in Rajahara is peaceful, says the government. As anyone can find out for himself, this is the peace of the graveyard. The sirens are silent. The heavy machines at the mining site are silent. Many workers have fled to the nearby villages to avoid harassment by the police and their dark and dingy huts, which are an apology for dwellings, are quiet. The deserted roads and markets of the curfew-clamped township are silent. A pall of gloom hangs over this mining colony of some 11,000 workers.

Considerate as the district administration is, it asked a local merchant to arrange for free rations for the starving families. The merchant promptly agreed and later reported full compliance with the request. Pleased with themselves, the authorities praised the merchant for his magnanimity. And of course the matter received wide publicity in the local press. A check with the recipients, however, later revealed that none had been given the full quantity of five kgs each of rice, one kg of pulses, wheat flour, potatoes and onions. In fact, a few workers had received only just one kg each of rice, two potatoes and two onions. No one in Rajahara is prepared to believe the authorities’ claim that only ten workers were killed in the two police firings. “Anyone who received bullet injury was picked up by the police”, said Gaya Ram, vice-president of the militant Chhattisgarh Shramik Sangh, whose office in the mazdoor basti was the starting point of the trouble. According to the Bhopal correspondent of the Times of India who visited the spot a week after the incident, there had been “apparently some random shooting. A bullet hit the cement wall of a tank far away from the scene of the trouble”. Some of the workers said there had been no warning, while others said that they had been given three minutes to ‘clear out’ before firing was resorted to for the second time at noon on June 3. A large number of bodies, the workers allege, were taken away in trucks soon after the second firing. However, as many of the workers have fled to the nearby villages in panic, the actual number of deaths can be assessed only after the curfew is lifted and all the labourers return. The police contention is that they resorted to firing both the times only when the workers held some policemen as hostages and refused to release them and “even tortured them”. The workers maintain that they held some policemen as hostages only after, and not before, the first firing in which four of their men and a woman had been killed.

Gaya Ram recalls the moonlit dark night: “As the strike was continuing, we could not take any rest. That night [June 2-3] we were discussing our struggle, formulating the strategy for the future, at the union office. About four to five hundred workers were camping outside the office .. . When a strike is going on how can anyone go to sleep? At about 2.30 about three dozen police-men led by the district collector arrived in a vehicle and dragged Shanker Guha Niyogi outside the office. We protested. Meanwhile about five thousand people, including women and children assembled. They started throwing stones at the police party. The police burst tear-gas shells. And then, without any warning, they opened fire. When it was all over, we collected our dead and injured as well as the six policemen who were left behind in the melee by their colleagues. They had taken Niyogi away. So we said, first release Niyogi and only then shall we release the six policemen. They did not release Niyogi and so we did not release the policemen. Now they say that we tortured the hostages, that two of them nearly died of thirst as drinking water was refused to them. In fact, the authorities had themselves cut off our water supply to make us surrender. Now tell us, when we ourselves had no water to drink, how could we give it to them? The workers were very angry, of course. Who would not be when their comrades and their womenfolk and children are killed just because they protested against an obviously illegal step of the police? Was not the arrest made to break our strike? And when they opened fire the second time in the noon of June 3, it was sudden, without any warning.”

Out of the total working force of 11,000, about 3,000 departmental labourers employed. by the Bhilai steel plant get Rs 9.80 per day. Under the rules, those hired through the contractors or the labour co-operatives should also receive the same wages. But they are paid only Rs 4.50 per day. And of course they are denied the other facilities available to the departmental workers. “I had never heard of fall-back’ wages till Niyogi told me about it recently”, said a worker working in these mines for the past eight years. The Bhilai steel plant has been patently guilty of doing nothing all these years to remove the causes of squalor and subhuman living conditions of the workers. For instance, the water mains run right through the cluster of hutments, but there is no water available for the workers. There is just one tap through which some water trickles for half-an-hour in the morning and evening for some 4,000 residents. The immediate demand of the workers is for an increase in the pre-monsoon allowance for repair of their huts (from Rs 20 to Rs 100), payment of ‘fall-back’ wages for enforced idleness during the rainy season and bonus comparable to that given to regular mine-workers of the Bhilai steel plant. The bonus had been reduced from Rs 308 to Rs 70 during the Emergency.

Victory for Workers

EPW no.28, 1977
N K Singh

THE martyrdom of the 12 workers of the Dalli-Rajahara iron ore mines killed in police firings on June 2 and 3 has not been in vain. The striking workers of the mines have emerged victorious in their struggle against the contractors, the co-operative tycoons, the top brass of the Bhilai steel plant and the unscrupulous leaders of the ‘recognised’ trade union – whose unholy alliance had thwarted the implementation of the recommendations of the iron ore wage board. The workers’ demands for bonus, fall-back wages and increase in the pre-monsoon allowance for repair of their huts have been conceded. The workers will receive a bonus of Rs 100 each – to be shared equally by the Bhilai steel plant and the contractors – and the hut-repair allowance has been raised from Rs 20 to Rs 100. A committee consisting of, among others, workers’ representatives has been constituted to fix the norms for fall-back wages for enforced idleness at work-sites. What is more significant, however, is that the agreement was reached with the non-recognised union, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, whose leadership is drawn from the ranks of the workers themselves.

The recognised AITUC union was by-passed by the authorities, in effect conceding the workers’ plea that it had lost its representative character after the formation of the new union. With the settlement and the calling off of the strike, normalcy has been restored and the small industrial town-ship near Bhilai looks peaceful on the surface. But there was tension in the air still when this correspondent visited the area in the last week of June. The workers are particularly agitated over the fact that their leader, Shanker Guha Niyogi, whose arrest had sparked off the trouble, had not been released as yet, though there are no specific charges against him. Workers allege that the administration is using delaying tactics to prevent his release. Although Niyogi has been arrested under section 151, which relates to a relatively minor offence, a bail of Rs 1 lakh has been allegedly demanded. The CPI(M) MP, Ahilya Rangnekar, had visited the area a few days earlier and there was expectation that CITU may use its good offices to get Niyogi released on bail. What shocked this correspondent during his visit to the scene of the firing was the discovery that officials are tampering with and destroying evidence of the brutality of the police. A water tank far away from the scene of the trouble had received bullet marks, as testified by the Times of India’s Bhopal correspondent who had visited the spot a week after the trouble, suggesting the random nature of the shooting that had taken place. However, when this correspondent visited the place he found the walls of the tank all plastered up. It is to be hoped that the judicial commission appointed to probe into the incident will not ignore these pointers. Though the collector and the police superintendent were both transferred in the wake of the institution of the judicial enquiry, they are reportedly on 40 days’ leave and continue to live at Durg, the district headquarters. It is widely feared that they may use their influence to tamper with evidence which goes against the administration.

What marks the Rajahara workers’ agitation is the emergence of a leader-ship from among the workers. All the office-bearers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, the newly-formed militant union, belong to the working class. This is in sharp contrast to the other trade unions functioning in the area, whose leadership is provided by professional trade unionists from the middle class. The only person with a middle class background in the new union is Shanker Guha Niyogi, but he has been working as a farm hand and ordinary mazdoor for the last 10 years. There is no dearth of second-rank leadership in the new union. When Niyogi was arrested after the June 2 firing, the workers carried on their struggle successfully till June 17, when the management had to climb down. Ordinary mine-hands participated in the negotiations held with the contractors, the Bhilai steel plant officials and the Labour Department’s representatives and pleaded their case.

Another significant development is the radical role played by women workers in the agitation. A large chunk of the total labour force consists of women, who have occupied their due place in the new union. Quite a few women are in the executive and one of them, Durga Bai, an illiterate worker, has the reputation of being an excellent orator. Women workers braved police bullets as much as their menfolks (one of the workers killed was a woman). Last but not the least, though the majority of workers are illiterate – a few local educated unemployed persons have joined their ranks of late – the level of their consciousness has to be seen to be believed. It is, however, not political consciousness – the ‘Naxalite’ bogey has been raised by the management and government officials to divert attention from the real issue which is the ruthless exploitation of the workers – but class consciousness. The workers have become aware not only of their exploitation and their rights but also of the hypocrisy of their ‘leadership’ and the power of a
united working class.

“We toil all day long, and they [the contractors] have built up empires… While we get bullets in reward for our hard labour, those babus sitting in the Bhilai offices get high salaries and the benefits”, one worker told me in the shanty office of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh in the mazdoor basti which was dripping all over with the first onslaught of the monsoon. Another worker remarked, “it is we who are the real makers of steel. If we stop work there would be no steel”. When I told a worker that Prakash Roy, general secretary of the All-India Khadam Mazdoor Sangh (AITUC), says that it was his union which had been fighting for the workers’ rights for the last two decades and had secured many facilities for them, the worker retorted: “Yes, we know all about that. He has worked so much for us. And that is why he seems to have developed a disease which can be treated only in Russia. Every time he falls ill – and that happens so often – he takes the flight to Russia … He has the gumption to say that he has worked for us! They have worked for no one but themselves. Have you seen their office building in the main market here? [It is a huge building, whose value is estimated at over Rs 1 lakh. All of them arrived penniless in this town, and now they have purchased lands in the nearby villages, move about on motor-cycles. Where has this money come from?”

Both the government officials and the Bhilai management are afraid of the new militancy of the workers. “These same workers used to be so peaceful”, said a high police official who has been camping at Rajahara since the firing. Manoharlal Jain, a contractor of the Rajahara mines and the treasurer of the Durg District Congress Committee, echoed him and lamented, “hardly a few months back the workers here were such an obedient lot that we used to raise our hands like this [precious stones set in half-a-dozen gold rings glitter in the air as the pot-bellied businessman raises his hands in a gesture of mock-offence] and the workers would flee from the spot. But this time … this time, we just could not believe it: their fellow-workers were dead, bodies were lying all over the place, but it looked as if they had lost all sense of fear. Instead of fleeing from the spot and taking shelter they fought ding-dong battles with the police.” The wealthy contractor confided to me, “they are not the same old workers. They have lost regard for the sanctity of the malik-mazdoor relationship”. “You know”, he whispered, “now they even say that it is we [workers] who labour and the contractors enjoy the fruits of our labour … Have you ever heard of any such thing?” The contractors are worried over this transformation and they blame Shanker Guha Niyogi for it.

But what about the old times, and the old union? “They were good chaps. AITUC used to raise only reasonable demands. They respected the rules, procedures and labour laws”, said Manoharlal Jain. In fact, the contractors and the representatives of the management whom I met were all ga-ga over the role of the old union. A spokesman of the Dalli-Rajahara Mines and Transporters, a private firm owned by Anupchand Jain, a big-wig of the area, told me that it was wrong on the part of the labour department to have by-passed the AITUC union in arriving at the agreement with the workers. “They were a responsible lot.” Most of the contractors asked me, “have you met Prakash Roy and other AITUC leaders? You must meet them”. A visit to both Prakash Roy and his union colleagues at Rajahara proved rewarding. Photographs of Lenin and Rabindranath Tagore hang side by side in Prakash Roy’s modest house in a lower middle class locality of Rainandgaon. He admitted that most of the workers have joined the new union, but contended that “they were forced to do so: coercion was used”. I gently pointed out that may be the workers deserted his union because it was not active enough to protect their interests. This provoked the ageing, veteran trade union leader, “What else we could do? It is obligatory for the recognised union to negotiate with the management. We can take to agitation only when the negotiations fail. This is the pre-condition of the recognised union.”

Roy’s comrades at Rajahara echoed him. “We follow the Industrial Disputes Act … We have also gone on illegal strikes, but never for more than one day. And these people – they are totally irresponsible. Ever since the new union was formed, there has been a spate of wild-cat strikes, gheraos, intimidation of loyal [sic!] workers and what not.” There is an INTUC union also working in the field, though its membership is limited to the co-operative societies that the union is running. The co-operative societies running the mines have a reputation of being as ruthless in their exploitation of the workers as the contractors. A spokesman of the INTUC union told me, “the leadership of the workers has gone into wrong hands. Shanker Guha Niyogi does not want to run the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh on established trade union lines”. The contractors agree. A memorandum prepared by them urges that the problem can be solved only by a “change in the leadership. A stronger, dedicated leadership is required”. But dedicated to whom?

Trade Unionism with a Difference

EPW no.29, 1977
N K Singh

SHANKER GUHA NIYOGI, leader of the ‘Naxalite’ union of Dalli-Rajahara mine workers, has alleged that the police tried to kill him after his arrest in the night of June 2-3. Niyogi – whose midnight arrest had led to police firings in which 12 workers were killed – has alleged that while being taken to the jail at the subdivisional headquarter of Balod, a police official accompanying him stopped the jeep in a jungle and told him, “if you want to escape, you may just slip away: only assure us that you would never again step into this area”. Niyogi says that he was not taken in by “the police trick”. “I know all about encounters and the killed-while-escaping stuff.” Obviously, Niyogi is a dangerous man for the contractors and the authorities. That is perhaps why he has not been released even a month after his arrest, although the ‘offence’ is a bailable one, under section 151 of the IPC. An impossible bail of Rs 1 lakh has been demanded and, of course, the poor workers of Dalli-Rajahara simply cannot manage it. Although at the time of his arrest it was given out that Niyogi had been arrested for “making inflammatory speeches and inciting the workers”, the officials have now discovered that “had we not arrested that man, they could have burnt the entire town the next day”. “We have definite information”, a high police official, who did not want to be named “in view of the judicial enquiry”, confided to me by way of justifying Niyogi’s apparently unjustified arrest.

In fact, the authorities, the contractors, and the CPI have painted such a picture of ‘Naxalite’ violence engulfing the whole area that, while entering the mazdoor basti at Rajahara, this correspondent had almost expected to be accosted by gun-toting guerillas. Instead, he was greeted by a stray dog, some sick workers, and the closed doors of the hut housing the ‘Naxalite’ union. All the workers had left for work, including those whose dear ones had died in the police firing. Mourning is a luxury which the workers cannot afford. After a long wait by me, the union leaders arrived. Exhausted with my encounter with simple workers, who did not know the difference between the prime minister and the chief minister, I tried to strike up a dialogue with the union leaders in Marxist jargon, but drew a blank. There were also no photographs of Mao or Naxalite slogans within miles of the union office. Shanker Guha Niyogi has become a household name in this industrial area of Chhattisgarh. Every one talks about him – many with reverence and af-
fection, and some with hatred and fear. But they all – contractors, police, administration, trade union leaders, and the people of Rajahara – seem to agree on two points: Niyogi is the undisputed leader of about 8,000 workers of Rajahara; and his honesty, integrity and dedication is beyond question. “You can buy every one of these trade union leaders here, but not Niyogi”, a police official told this correspondent at Rajahara. “Niyogi is made of different stuff”, agreed a contractor. “The new union was formed with the backing of the contractors to break the unity of the workers”, alleged an AITUC leader. “Do you mean to say that Niyogi was the contractors’ man?” “No, no, not Niyogi”, the trade unionist hastily added, “It is the other leaders of that union who are dishonest.” Onkar Jaiswal, a local journalist said, “I know all the union leaders of this town, but I had never noticed Niyogi’s presence till May 31, when he led a huge procession of workers to celebrate the acceptance of their demands after a 27-hour gherao of the contractors and the officials. It was the biggest procession in the history of Rajahara.”

Shanker Guha Niyogi denies that he is a ‘Naxalite’. “I have no connection with the CPI(ML) or any of the Naxalite groups. In fact, I violently disagree with them on the issue of trade unions”, said Niyogi in the first interview given by him to a newsman after his arrest. Tall, lean and darkish, the 28-year-old Niyogi, clad in a pair of not-very-clean white pajamas and shirt, was at first a little reluctant to talk – after all, I could well have been an intelligence man – and what he said was mostly about the exploitation of the workers and the complicity of the CPI union. But, gradually, he began to talk about his work among the working class and peasantry during the last one decade. His mission, Niyogi said, was to educate the working class and make them conscious of their rights. “Once they are conscious, nothing can stop them.” “Why talk about me? I am immaterial. A new wave of awareness is sweeping through the people. If I had not gone to Rajahara, they would have got some other leader.” Niyogi comes from a lower middle class family of West Bengal. He came to Durg, where his uncle lived at the time, in the early sixties for studies. Since then, he has identified himself with Chhattisgarh. Though there is a trace of the Bengali accent in his speech, he fluently speaks Hindi and Chhattisgarhi, the local dialect.

Owing to poverty, Niyogi completed his B Sc with difficulty, doing various odd jobs to maintain himself. As a student, he was actively associated with the student movements. He was the joint secretary of the student wing of the CPI. After his graduation, Niyogi plunged into revolutionary politics in 1966-67, the year of ‘spring thunder’ over India. He left the CPI(M) to join the newly-formed Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries. However, later he severed his connections with this splinter group of the CPI(M) too, unhappy with its stand on trade unionism – “they dubbed it as economism”. As a worker of the Bhilai steel plant, Niyogi helped organise the first militant trade union there – the blast furnace action committee. Soon, he was sacked from the plant on “security grounds”. His first arrest took place in 1968, when he started publishing a radical Hindi weekly from Jagdalpur, the heart of the adivasi belt. “Since then I have been arrested more than 20 times.” He has spent about five years in jail altogether, the longest term being 13 months during the Emergency.

Niyogi organised the workers of the Dai Tola mines, near Rajahara. He worked there as a daily, labourer, breaking stones in the quarry. “How can the workers treat you as their man, if you do not live as a worker, merge yourself with them, identify with their hopes and aspirations?” Niyogi also married a Chhattisgarhi mazdoor girl, Asha, working in the quarry. “She still works there.” At Dai Tola, as elsewhere in the area – “I know only about Chhattisgarh. I’ve worked in this region” the problem was the same. There was no honest trade union to protect the interests of the workers. Both the AITUC and the INTUC unions had become stooges of the management. They served the interests of the exploiter rather than the exploited. Niyogi first joined the AITUC union “all the workers were in their grip” and then, through dedicated work and persuasion, organised the workers under a new union. “It was not a difficult task. I was one among them, while the other leaders were outsiders, babu sahibs.” The contractors got worried over this new threat to their prosperity, and Niyogi was consequently arrested several times. Niyogi also tried to build up a peasant movement. He worked as a farm hand in Keri Jungata, a nearby village, and organised the agricultural labourers and landless peasants. “There is basically no difference between the peasants and the workers in the area. Both came from the same families. If the elder brother works in the farms, the younger one goes to the mines. If the father is a peasant, his son works as a miner to augment the family income.”

After the declaration of Emergency, there was a warrant of arrest under MISA for Niyogi. He managed to evade arrest for six months, but was then arrested and was released only at the time of the Lok Sabha election. Meanwhile, the workers of Dalli-Rajahara mines, dissatisfied with the agreement on bonus signed by their recognised trade union had started a spontaneous strike. The strike was also the product of grievances bottled up during the Emergency. The contractors and the trade union leaders thought that the disorganised movement would soon fizzle out. And so it did. On March 23, the workers ended their 19-day strike and signed an agreement for a bonus advance of Rs 50 as against Rs 70 earlier negotiated by the AITUC and the INTUC. Niyogi alleged that the workers were terrorised by the then Collector of Durg – now transferred after the institution of the judicial enquiry to sign this agreement. “He is known for his strong-armed tactics. Do you know, Durg ranked first in the country for the largest number of family planning operations performed? You can just imagine what he was like.”

Things changed radically when Niyogi was released and arrived on the scene. He organised the spontaneous movement of workers into a well-knit union. The contractors, who were initially happy at the recognised union losing its hold over the workers and the split among the workers, got seriously worried when almost all the 8,000 contract labourers joined the new union en bloc. The reason, Niyogi felt, was the same as in Dal Tola. The babu trade unionists had suddenly come into wealth. “What will illustrate the point better than the fact that many union men, like Jivan Mukherjee and Naseem, have left the party (CPI) to join the services of the contractors? The margin is so thin! The workers were becoming aware of this trend – the collusion of their ‘leaders’ with the management.” Niyogi maintains that he was arrested in order to break the morale of the workers, who were on strike at the time. He dismissed the allegation that the second firing in the noon of June 3 had become necessary because there was danger to the lives of the policemen held hostage by the workers. “Had they wanted to kill the policemen, they could have done it in the night, when five of their colleagues had already been killed in the firing.” The police were in a vindictive mood, enraged by the stone throwing of the workers. “All the injured workers have received bullet injuries – and that, too, above the waist.”

The Struggle Continues

EPW no.30, 1977
N K Singh

ON July 9 the pits of Dalli-Rajahara iron ore mines did not work because over 10,000 workers did not turn up. But they were not on strike; they had abstained from work because their leader, Shanker Guha Niyogi, had been released after 35-days’ illegal detention on the orders of the Durg sessions court and they wanted to accord him a heroic welcome. The acceptance of their immediate demands after a 19-day long successful strike which continued even after the police firing and large-scale arrests – an obvious attempt to break the strike – and the release of Niyogi has boosted the morale of the workers. Niyogi, whose arrest on June 2 last was followed by indiscrimninate police firing resulting the death of a dozen striking workers, had been ordered by the subdivisional magistrate of Balod to deposit a personal bond of Rs 25,000 with two sureties of like amount. Niyogi, a poor worker, was unable to manage this heavy bail of Rs 75,000. His lawyers, two CPI(M) sympathisers of Durg, challenged this order in the sessions court of Durg. On July 8, the sessions judge of Durg quashed the order of the subdivisional magistrate which was held “illegal and without jurisdiction”; the judge specifically held that the detention of Niyogi from June 3 to June 6 on the orders of the additional district magistrate was illegal.

Niyogi was initially arrested on June 2 under section 151 Cr PC and produced before the additional district magistrate of Durg who had remanded him to judicial custody till June 17. Meanwhile the subdivisional magistrate of Balod initiated proceedings under section 107 Cr P C on June 6. The case was again transferred to the additional district magistrate on June 13. On July 6, as soon as the section 144 imposed upon the township elapsed, over 10,000 workers brought out a procession to protest against police repression and in support of their demand for unconditional release of Niyogi, end of contract system in the mines and early implementation of the fallback wages envisaged by the wage board. The problem of fallback wages, denial of which means a saving of at least Rs 10 lakhs per year to the contractors and co-operative tycoons, has been hanging fire for the last several years. During the latest tripartite agreement between the workers, Bhilai steel plant, the master employer, and the contractors, the matter was referred to a committee to fix the norms of fallback wages. But if the past experience is any indication, it may take several more years before the contractors relent.

Before the formation of the new union, fallback wages for enforced idleness had never been an issue. The established unions, AITUC and INTUC, avoided the issue by saying that it was very difficult to fix the norms for wages for ‘not working’. The contractors as well as the Bhilai steel plant management were firm in their opinion that once fallback wages were enforced, workers would avoid work, for “who would like to work when one can get wages without working”. The real problem lies elsewhere. For instance, between May 27 and May 30 the contractors denied work to 669 persons on their regular roll as ‘blast’ had not taken place or because there was shortage of vehicles for loading and unloading operations. Such instances are not uncommon and fallback wages envisage payment of 80 per cent of the normal wages for such enforced idleness.

The management of the Bhilai steel plant has also its share of responsibility for the present labour unrest. Though the Bhilai steel plant is the master employer, the management has never cared for the labourers employed by the contractors and the co-operative society. For instance, over Rs 3 crores – half of which is contract workers’ share have accumulated in the welfare cess fund. However, although the departmental workers have been provided w[th quarters, the contract labourers have not received similar welfare benefits. The workers’ money is lying idle, while they live in sub-human conditions. More recently, it was the Bhilai steel plant’s decision to pay plant performance bonus to its departmental workers which sparked off the trouble. The contractual workers did not get their bonus. Unable to distinguish between the ‘plant performance bonus’ and ‘bonus’ – the regular Bhilai workers had not also received any bonus – they were angry that while they were engaged in the same work as the departmental workers, they were denied the facility given to the latter.

The contract system, continuing despite the seven-year-old Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, seems to be at the root of all the trouble. Though a committee appointed by the steel ministry had unanimously recommended in December 1976, after two years’ extensive study of the problem, immediate abolition of contract labour in all the mines except at the loading sites of the railways, the system still continues. One reason for not abolishing it may be that it is very cheap; the cost of mining iron ore in the manual mines run by the, contractors is about Rs 30 per tonne while the mechanised mining by the Bhilai Steel Limited costs around Rs 50 per tonne. Another reason could be ‘the vested
interest developed by a section of Bhilai steel plant management in the contract system. Officials get their ‘cuts’. And it is interesting to learn that the manager of Bhilai Steel Plant is a Jain belonging to Rajnandgaon. This piece of information becomes significant in view of the fact that the majority of contractors too are Jains belonging to the same place. And so the struggle continues.

Shanker Guha Niyogi gave assurance of that while addressing a press conference at Raipur after his release from jail. Niyogi, who said that he and other union leaders had been threatened with dire consequences for opposing the contractors, has demanded a re-election in the Balod and Gunderdehi assembly constituencies from where two-office-bearers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh had contested’ during last month’s assembly election. Supporters of the two contestants were arrested while canvassing and the candidates had to go underground due to police terror. The Election Commission had been informed of these facts. Niyogi has also alleged that there was a conspiracy behind the firing. The contractors, police officials and leaders of the ‘recognised’ union had held a meeting for about two hours in a bar-cum-restaurant of the township in the evening of June 2. According to Niyogi, the police had made a special target of Anusuya, a 30-year-old activist and inspiring folk-singer of his union. The police bullet hit her right on the chest. “They aimed at her straight.” The most nauseating aspect of the whole affair is the role of the CPI. Like many Congressmen, the CPI is now shedding crocodile tears; but it was CPI activists who had instigated the police to “take action against the Naxalite menance”. In fact, on May 31 an AITUC procession of about 1,000 persons, mostly consisting of the departmental workers, had gheraoed the Rajahara police station to press its demand for the arrest of Niyogi.

* Massacre of Kanpur Workers – Government’s Lies Nailed

EPW 1978, No.9
Nikhil Chakravartty, A. K. Roy and Satish Saberwal

The tragic events in Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur on December 6, 1977 attracted nation-wide attention. Though even according to the government’s version 11 workers had been killed and 43 injured in the police firing, the government refused to order a judicial enquiry. In the circumstances, the Citizens’ Committee for Enquiry into the Kanpur Massacre constituted a three-member group (…) to undertake an on-the-spot investigation into the incident. The report prepared by the group after its investigations exposes many lies in the government’s version of the police firing on the workers of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills. Most important of all, the group’s findings established that, contrary to the government’s claim, the police firing did not start after the two officers of the mill, who had been gheraoed by the workers, had lost their lives, it started earlier when the Superintendent of the Police had been hit by some hard substance dropped from the roof of one of the buildings in the mill compound. This gives the lie to the official propaganda that the police had been forced to open fire because the workers had murdered the two officers. The full text of the group’s report is printed below.

We visited Kanpur on February 7-9, 1978 for an on-the-spot investigation about what really happened on December 6, 1977 when a number of lives were lost following police firing within the precints of Swadeshi Cotton Mills in the city.
In the course of our investigation we had the opportunity of meeting a large number of persons including the District Magistrate and other government officials, some of the officers of management of the mill, as also a large number of workers. The cooperation, which we received from different sources helped us to get a clear picture of the happenings that led to the tragic loss of lives in the Swadeshi Cotton Mills on December 6.
The Swadeshi Cotton Mills Ltd. Controlled by the House of Jaipurias, has been passing through a period of crisis, according to the management. Originally the Swadeshi Cotton Mills was started in 1911 by Sir henry Horseman. He sold it in 1946 for Rs 2.10 crores to Mungtu Ram Jaipuria who happened to be his trading agent in Calcutta. It was claimed to be the biggest mill in North India having a labour force of over eight thousand.
This turned out to be such a profitable concern that, over the years, the Jaipurias were able to acquire or establish five textile mills in other parts of the country – at Pondicherry, Udaipur in Rajasthan and in UP at Naini, Maunath Bhanjan and finally at Rae Bareli (Initially a synthetic fibres millwas to be established at Rae Bareli, but the license for this was transferred to Ghaziabad.) The Rae Bareli unit of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills was set up for what the management euphemistically calls “political considerations” – – in other words, to placate former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whose constituency happened to be in Rae Bareli. In fact, quite considerable amount of machinery for the Rae Bareli unit was sent there from the Kanpur unit of Swadeshi Cotton Mills.

From this it is evident that the Swadeshi Cotton Mills, Kanpur, was for a long time fetching considerable profits for its owners so that they could set up five more profitable textile units apart from promoting the Swadeshi Polytex Ltd. In which it owns today 30 per cent of the shares with its block of one lakh shares originally priced Rs 10 each.
The trouble with the Swadeshi Cotton Mills started when the two brothers, Sita Ram and Raja Ram – the former adopted and the latter the real son of old Mungtu Ram – fell out. In November 1975 Raja Ram displaced Sita Ram as the Managing Director of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills while Sita Ram took over as the Managing Director of the profit-making Swadeshi Polytex Ltd. By March 1975, the company on paper showed loss. Meanwhile from 1974 onwards the management at Kanpur was found to be repeatedly defaulting in the matter of paying the workers’ wages while at the same time it was not clearing its dues to the government. It has also eaten up the Provident Fund of the workers to the tune of over Rs 25 lakhs and the Employees’ State Insurance accumulation to the extent of Rs 20 lakhs, both cognizable offence under law but the government did not bother to prosecute them.
From 1974, the workers of this mill had to resort to gherao to get their legitimate wages. This became regular practice from 1975. The state government, under Chief Ministership of N D Tiwari, arranged for the company a loan of Rs 1.50 crores in March 1976 from Punjab National Bank, underwriting the guarantee for it. But within a few months the company again started defaulting in the payment of wages. There are strong grounds for the presumption that this persistent defaulting arises from a sustained effort by the Swadeshi management to drain the company of its resources, possibly into unaccounted channels.

Why is the management creating this crisis? From all the circles we met in Kanpur – the management, the government and the workers – we formed the definite conclusion that the management is bent on pressurising the government to allow it to sell the Swadeshi Polytex shares at an inflated price; in addition, it seeks also to convert half of its capacity from cotton textile into synthetic textile in order to go in for large-scale profiteering.
The situation went from bad to worse last year and several gheraos had to be resorted to by the workers to secure their long-standing dues. In September 1977, the workers gheraoed the son and the son-in-law of one of the officers of the mill and only then the management could be forced to come out with a written assurance that they would disburse the wages long due by October 10. But nothing was done. The workers held a number of peaceful demonstrations including one before the luxuriously appointed Swadeshi House in the affluent part of the city. Meetings at the mill-gate followed in the next few days. Even the clerks of the establishment went on a strike on October 24.
On October 26, 1977, the workers gheraoed the Secretary of the mill, K P Agarwal, for a stretch of 54 hours. It may be noted here that the workers organised the gherao in such a way that production was not interrupted: those who were outside the shift took over, by turn, the task of keeping up the gherao. Agarwal was gheraod in anopen space near the cooling tank inside the mill. The next day the District Magistrate intervened and the state government hurriedly appointed a Receiver and at the same time arranged a loan of Rs 13.50 lakhs for immediate disbursement of the workers’ wages which partly met the huge arrears due to them. During this gherao there was no question of the workers threatening the life of the gheraoed officer. Rather they even helped to instal a temporary telephone connection for the gheraoed officer so that he could speak to the mill authorities. At the end, when actually the cash was brought for immediate disbursement, the workers not only released but garlanded the gheraoed officer. So there was no question of menacing violence on the part of the workers.

The appointment of the Receiver naturally created a sense of expectation on the part of the workers and they rightly hoped that from now on they would be getting back not only their dues but also their wages regularly which were paid in fortnightly instalments. (…) [The Receiver] He was expected to supervise the sales of the products and to ensure the recovery of government dues “after the payment of labour dues and other essential items of the running of the mills”. What was interesting was that the Receiver was appointed “over the mills at Kanpur” and not over the company of the name of Swadeshi Cotton Mills Ltd. In other words, The Receiver was expected to oversee the financial position of only the Kanpur unit of Swadeshi Cotton Mills and had no jurisdiction over the other five thriving mills of the same Company located in different parts of the country. (…)
Towards the end of November it was clear from the testimony of the workers that they had the feeling that the Receiver was soon going to arrange for the payment of the dues by some means or other. But nothing of the sort happened. Even the officers began to disappear from the mill premises. The situation became desperate indeed for the workers whose wages for nearly two months were now overdue.

On the fateful December 6, two officers came to the mill premises on some other work: Iyenger, the Production Manager, and Sharma, the Accounts Officer were gheraoed by the workers roundabout 2 pm. It is to be noted here that on that day and for a few days preceeding there was power break-down in the mill due to a failure at the power station of Kanpur Electric Supply Authority. Most of the workers coming on shift duty were only signing for work were laid off. Only a few departments were functioning through the power supplied by the mill’s own generator.
The two mill officers were gheraoed exactly in the same way as it happened in the case of Agarwal on October 26. They were taken on the very same spot where Agarwal was confined in the open space in one of the yards near the cooling tank within the mill premises. Two police officers were also seen to be sitting near them and there was no sign of any menacing commotion.
From the evidence at our disposal it is clear that a large force of police turned up under the command of Superintendent of Police, Rai, somewhere after 3.30 pm, that is less than two hours of the start of the gherao. It may be noted here that no such force had been seen at such a short notice on October 26. The District Magistrate was on tour on December 6 and instead the Additional District Magistrate turned up, a man who is known to be very friendly to the Jaipurias.
From the evidence collected by us, it appears that the police started its operation first outside the mill premises on the main road and the lanes leading to the main road. There are reports of firing having begun in this area and we examined a number of spots inside the lanes in the crowded bustees opposite the mill gate – even bullet marks at a distance of more than 300 metres from the main road on which the mill stands. We also examined some people who were wounded by the police firing in this part of the town.

Meanwhile the police under the Superintendent of Police began to force its way within the mill compound. According to the version we got from the police, the SP as he was leading his force was wounded on the head by a hard substance (which might have been a brickbar or a piece of iron) dropped from the roof top adjoining one of the buildings within the mill compound. Since he was wounded the police which before that had tried teargas, began shooting.
The firing, according to the police, went on for twenty to twenty-five minutes. All other evidences, however, indicate that the firing lasted for nearly two hours. The police force not only went on charging while shooting but they climbed on the roof of one of the buildings from where they started firing indiscriminately on the workers. Rifles and muskets were both used liberally in this operation. With such large-scale firing most of the workers tried to escape from the backdoor, climbed over the wall at the rear of the factory, or tried to hide in the worksheds; and in course of it some of them broke their limbs also. We examined some of these workers including those who were wounded.
Meanwhile the workers who were still working in some of the departments which had power supply, did not realise that they would have to face the police attack. They were not participating in the gherao at all but they were forced by the police at bayonet point to come down and they were forced to run through two lines of armed policemen in course of which many of them had to suffer severe wounds. This was a totally unprovoked and calculatedly terror operation because these workers had nothing to do with the gherao.
The police rounded up nearly a thousand workers, those they could lay their hands on. Some of these were forced to load the wounded and the dead on the police trucks. After that the police left out the aged and put as many as 231 workers under arrest and sent them to the police lockup in different police stations in the city where in some cases they were beaten up and sent to prison next day.
As for the wounded who were taken to the hospital, most of them had to pay for their treatment and most of the wounded also were taken to prison as soon as they were discharged from hospitals.

What happened to the two gheraoed officers Lyenger and Sharma? A propaganda has been sedulously built up that the police shooting on the workers had to be resorted to because the workers had murdered the two officers. It is clear as daylight from the version we have heard from the authorities themselves that the police firing began when Superintendent of Police was wounded; there is not a shred of evidence of the two gheraoed mill officers having already been killed. The evidence that we have collected points to the fact that as soon as the indiscriminate firing was resorted to, the workers who were gheraoing the two officers ran away; and when these two were last seen they were standing under the portio leading to the building in which later on the police claimed that they found their battered corpses. The staircase leading to the room where the officers were found dead is such that nobody could be dragged through it. This leads to the reasonable inference that the two officers went up on their own for safety from police firing. (…)
In this context, it is worth noting that when the application was moved in court for the release on bail of the arrested workers who numbered over 230, the police at the beginning could not produce the FIR. (…) Most of the workers were released on bail only towards the end of January and the first week of February. We are informed that some of the workers are still in prison.
There is a wide margin of dispute over the casualty figures. The Government figure is that 11 workers were killed in police firing and 43 wounded and hospitalised. Many of the workers whom we examined claimed that a larger number were killed and some even said that they were forced to load the trucks with corpses which if counted would amount to a very large number. However, this requires further examination. What is clear is that the figure of killed in police firing must be more than 11. From the evidence that we collected in course of sixty hours, we could locate two cases in which the workers had not returned home nor could they be found in the hospitals nor in prison nor had gone back to their village homes. The obvious presumption is that they were killed in police firing. These two were Horilal, son of Mangali, living at the village of Macharia, PO Nauvasta (ESI No 237766; PF No UP 12/16367) and Gangaram, son of Narottam, living at 127/126 Juhi Bombaralaya. Both these names do not figure in the official list of the dead.

A lock-out had been declared at the mill since December 6. On January 7, 1978, the Company after getting a further loan of Rs 37.5 lakhs from the government cleared some of the arrears of wages to the workers. (…) Many of the workers, however, had left for their villages. From the side of the mill management we came to know that 267 workers had not turned up to take their wage dues. It is possible that these 267 had not got the information about disbursement of wages on that day. It is equally plausible that among these 267 missing, there might be a number of dead workers killed in the police firing. (…) During our on-the-spot investigation covering extensive talks with a very large number of workers, including trade union cadres of different affiliations, we could not help but realising that there has come about an erosion in the credibility of the trade union movement in Kanpur in the eyes of the working population, particularly at the Swadeshi Cotton where the trade union leadership proved to be ineffective in organising the workers’ struggle for securing the very basic demand of the workers, for their wages. (…)

* Delhi Textile Workers’ Strike 1979
EPW September 1, 1979: Article on strike which became excuse to sack 3,000 workers at East India Cotton Mill and to suppress the general proletarian unrest through police massacre in October 1979.

September 1, 1979
Mukundan C Menon
EPW

DESPITE the change of government from ‘communal Janata’ to ‘left of centre Janata (S)’, and despite Raj Narain’s public assurance at the Ramlila-Ground meeting on the eve of the change, the two-month old total strike ot Delhi textile workers, involving 20,000 workers and affecting around 1 lakh people, still continues without a solution in sight. Everyone expected an initiative to end the strike from the Haran Singh government before August, the day it was billed to seek a vote ot confidence in the Lok Sabha. However, the issue of Delhi textile workers demands was missing in the coalition government’s 27-point programmne, put together specifically for conjuring as many crucial votes as possible on the 20th. The textile strike, which started on June 27, was called by the Joint Action Committee comprising nine unions – three fractions of INTUC, CITU and the Delhi-based break-away CITU, HMS, AITUC, and Delhi Kapra Mazdoor Union – formed at a convention held before the strike.

The strike has paralysed all the five textile mills in Delhi – Birla Mill, Delhi Mill, Swatantra Bharat Mill, Sitrinam Silks, and Ayodhya Textiles belonging to the public sector National Textile Corporation. So far there has been no defined wage structure for textile workers in Delhi. Workers in different categories were getting the same wages and, quite often, those in the same category were paid differently. There were several cases of arbitrary rates fixed by management under the piece-rate system. Revision of pay-scales, rationalisation of the piece-rate system, and differentiation among skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers have been long-standing demands of textile workers in the Delhi area. Under the Vaidyalingam Award of 1973, the workers were to be paid 90 per cent dearness allowance for total working days. However, mill-owners exploited some ambiguities in the wording of the Award to interpret ‘working days’ to mean the days worked by the individual worker instead of the total working days of the mill. Accordingly, since 1973 the managements have been paying DA after deducting 52 Sundays and 9 holidays, in effect reducing the rate to 78 per cent instead of 90 per cent. According to the striking workers, the mill-owners have fraudulently earned around Es 1.5 crores through this interpretation. They, therefore, demand that the 12 percentage-point DA arrears be paid from 1973. Besides, they also demand 100 per cent neutralisation of the increase in cost of living. The mill managements have totally rejected the workers’ demand for revision of the wage structure and DA. According to them, the demand for revision of wage structure is pending before the Industrial Tribunal and the DA question is covered by the Award which is still in operation. Therefore, according to a press note issued by the Punjab, Haryana and Delhi Chamber, of Commerce and Industry, “the strike during the pendency of proceedings before the Industrial Tribunal is clearly illegal under the Industrial Disputes Act”. The workers have argued that Delhi textile workers have suffered -by comparison with workers in other textile centres in the matter of neutralisation of cost of living. When the Consumer Price index (CPI) went up by 41 points from 324 to 365 during 1974-78, the increase in the Delhi textile workers’ earnings was only Rs 52.44. In Coimbatore, on the other hand, when the CI increased by only 35 points during the same period, an average worker got an increase in earnings of Rs 97.46. Likewise, when the average Index in Kanpur was 336 during 1978 a minimum wage of Rs 425.07 was paid, in Delhi a minimum wage of Rs 423.92 was paid against the average Index of 365.

The workers’ demands pertaining to working conditions are to be traced partly to the changes made during the Emergency. In Birla Mills and Ayodha Mills, for example, the workers were forced to work on four looms instead of two looms during the Emergency. Despite the end of the Emergency, this practice was continued, resulting in massive retrenchment in a systematic manner. According lo the Indian Labour Journal, the numbers of workers in textile mills in Delhi declined from about 27,000 in 1973 to 23,957 in 1978. It is estimated that the retrenchment of workers has taken place largely because of workers being forced to work on four looms. This alone has yielded a profit of Rs 1.53 crores to the mill managements annually. None of the workers who were retrenched during the Emergency have been reinstated so far, nor did any of the major unions object to the increased workload when it was introduced during the Emergency. However, before the present strike, the CITU had given a strike call on this issue during the election to the Workers’ Committee. The strike was a failure, as most of the workers treated the move as a vote-catching device and so stayed away from the strike. The CITU called off the strike without making any headway after the election to the Workers’ Committee was over. The mill owners have argued that the higher rates of wages in other centres are due to higher productivity. The press note issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry alleges that productivity in Delhi mills is very low compared to industry standards. Thus, according to the press note, while a weaver operates four plain looms or 12-16 automatic looms at other centres, in Delhi Cloth Mills a worker operates only two plain looms or 4-8 automatic looms. Significantly, the press note is silent about the change effected Birla Mills and Ayodhya Mills during Emergency. There have been tripartite negotiations with the Delhi Administration, but they have ended in a stalemate.

Before the strike started, the managements had repeatedly refused to negotiate with the workers. The managements are also continuing their efforts to get the strike declared illegal. In Birla Mill there was a goonda attack on striking workers in early July when, Sri Ram, leader of the break-away CITU, narrowly escaped a murderous assault upon him. The Delhi High Court, through an order on June 25, restrained all the nine unions from pre- venting “willing workers from entering the mills, from picketing the mills and offices 50 metres from the gates, and from indulging in gherao”. The managements have alleged that the strikers have “disregarded the order” and placed a large -number of workers armed with lathis at the mill gates to physically prevent “willing workers and others from entering the mills and offices”. This is part of the effort of the managements to get the strike declared illegal. One aspect of the Delhi textile strike is of particular significance. This’ is that the move for the formation of the Joint Action Committee, which is now leading the strike, came because of the initiative taken by workers at the grass-roots level. The union leaders, owing allegiance to different political parties and groups, instead of fighting jointly against the mill managements on the demands of the workers, were more interested in fighting among themselves. Realising this, the workers started uniting by breaking union barriers at the departmental and shop-floor level and forming their own ‘Khatha Committees’. The Khatha Committees proved effective in solving problems and soon from the Birla Mills, where it had started, the experiment spread to all other textile units. This forced the hands of the union leaders who formed the Joint Action Committee and decided to go on strike. The Delhi textile workers held a rally before Parliament on August 20. The rally, sponsored by the Joint Action Committee, was not very impressive numerically. This was because more than 60 per cent of the striking workers, after spending two months without work and income, had left the city to go to their villages in the neighbouring states. According to the Joint Action Committee, those who remain in the capital are trying desperately to eke out a living by doing odd jobs on daily wages. “The unions are poor”, the leaders plead, “and the workers do not get any allowance during the strike from the unions”.

* Police Massacre in Faridabad – Report of a Fact Finding Team

EPW, 1979, No.44

In one of the worst orgies of violence in recent times, Haryana police ran berserk and killed innocent people in Faridabad on October 17 and were engaged in concealing and destroying all evidence of their misdeeds, and in misleading the Press as to the actual nature of the incidents on that day. This is the finding of a three-member Fact Finding Team sponsored by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights, Delhi- Branch, which toured Faridabad on October 24, met victims of the police firing, visited the spots where the firing took place and talked to relations of those killed by the police and discovered that even though a week had passed since the incidents, the police were still persecuting innocent people. Contrary to what the police want to be believed, the Team found from its talks with those who had witnessed the police firing at Neelam Chowk’ on October 17, when a strike call had been given by different trade union organisations, that the provocation had come first from the police when Sub-Inspector Brahm Dutt opened fire on an unarmed demonstration of workers which reached Neelam Chowk. The Sub-Inspector had earlier given his policemen orders for a lathi charge to disperse the crowd which was not aware of the imposition of Section 144, promulgated by the police at 2 am on that day. No public announcement had been made. While some workers were engaged in an argument with the police, Brahm Dutt fired, killing one of the demonstrators on the spot. When the dead man’s comrades tried to lift the body, he fired again killing two more people. This enraged the crowd, who were reported to have pounced upon Brahm Dutt, who later succumbed to injuries inflicted by the mob.

The total indifference of the police and local administration towards basic human rights was described by the employees of a hotel at the Neelam Chowk, the epicentre of the incidents, in a statement made to the Fact Finding Team: When the trouble started, some policemen took up vantage positions above the building where the lime shop at Neelam Chowk is situated and started firing on the crowd in the streets. The policemen on the road started beating the people, including school children … The panic-stricken people moved to the railway bridge between Neelam Chowk and Mathura Road. Meanwhile a group of CRP men reached the Mathura side of the bridge to trap the crowd on the bridge between the two police forces. The police from both sides started attacking the crowd with gun shots. Many people jumped from the bridge down to a depth of between 25 and 40 feet. The policemen forced those who were dangling from the bridge to jump down by beating them on their knuckles. Also, some were physically lifted and thrown down from the bridge by the policemen. From the eye-witness reports that the Team heard from several sources, the lack of a properly organised labour force in Faridabad was evident. Those who were present at Neelam Chowk on the day of the incident reported that not a single leader of any union or political party was to be seen there before and after the incidents. This was corroborated by the CITU men whom the Team contacted at their office. Though various Haryana ministers have charged the CITU as having been responsible for the violence and disturbances, the CITU men appeared unaware of the number of dead, injured and missing and were generally ill-informed about the incidents of the17th.

On the other hand, police preparedness much before the trouble started was crystal clear. On the early morning of the bandh, Cr P C 144 was declared at 2 a m. According to the shopkeepers at Neelam Chowk, they were forced to close their’ shops and keep indoors by the policemen much before the trouble started. “The policemen themselves were preparing for a show-down” was how one shop-employee put it to the Team. Evidence suggests that after the death of the police officer, Brahm Dutt, the gun-carrying police force ran amuck, intent upon taking revenge. One engineer working in West Germany who is on a short leave to meet his relatives, told the Team that he saw a policeman stopping two young school children on their bicycles, returning from their school, unaware of the happenings. The school children were beaten mercilessly, although this was five hours after the morning incidents. Everyone in Neelam Chowk corroborated that the worst type of police raj prevailed in the whole area following the morning incidents. Policemen entered even shops and residences to beat up uninvolved and innocent people. One hotel employee showed the Team his right hand shoulder, which was difficult to move due to lathi-blows. He had been pounced upon by policemen while he was cooking inside the kitchen. Though the police and administration claim that no firing took place after 1 p m on the 17th, the gruesome incidents in the residential areas of Press Colony and Punjabi Colony speak otherwise.

The police did not stop at indiscriminately beating up and firing upon people who had either gathered in the demonstration or were watching as innocent by-standers at Neelam Chowk. They extended the range of their atrocities to areas far away from the scene of the demonstration, and to people who had nothing to do with the striking workers. The Team went to Punjabi Colony, 4 to 5 kms away from Neelam Chowk, and visited a house on the roof of which two of its residents, Kashmiri Lal Bali aged 42 and Jagdish Prasad aged 28, had been killed at point blank range by the police who had taken up positions at the landing of a stair-case of a house opposite the roof-top. Bali’s 12 year old son, Anil, who was shot in the abdomen, was still lying unconscious at the Safdarjung Hospital. Another boy, 16-year old Surendra Kumar, who was also standing on the roof-top was injured in the head and back by bullet splinters.

The story of Bali’s killing, as narrated to the Team by his brother-in-law and other relatives who were eye-witnesses to the incident, is pathetic. Bali was a printer at the Government of India Press. After his office closed at 4.30 pm, he came home and was told by his wife that -his eldest son Anil was playing on the roof. Asking his wife to prepare food, he went up-stairs to bring his son down. As he reached the roof, a bullet hit his head from across the road. Seeing him fall, Jagdish Prasad, who was staying in a room on the same terrace, came out to help him, but a bullet hit him in the waist and pierced his abdomen. He died in hospital. Bali’s son Anil was hit next, while the other boy Surendra Kumar, also a resident in the same neighbourhood, was injured by splinters from the bullet that had pierced Jagdish Prasad. This was a case of cold-blooded murder, as neither Bali nor Jagdish Prasad nor the two children were involved in strikes or demnonstrations on that day. That the police were keen on hiding all evidence of this murder was obvious from several facts. First, soon after the killing a police party came to Bali’s house and wanted to snatch away Bali’s dead body from his relatives. After they failed to take it away, a larger police party came headed by the DSP and forced the relatives to part with the body. But in the meantime, Bali’s relatives had managed to get a photographer to take pictures of Bali’s dead body and the scene of the killing.

Bali’s brother-in-law insisted on an inquiry into the killing, but the DSP said that the postmortem on the body would have to take place at Gurgaon on the orders of higher authorities. Bali’s brother-in-law then went to the Circuit House, where a meeting was in progress between a Haryana cabinet minister Khurshid Ahmed, high police officials and industrialists. When after an hour, the minister came out, the brother-in-law requested him to allow him to take Bali’s body and perform the last rites and cremate him. But both the minister and the industrialists who were present there rejected his request on the plea that “if the body was allowed to be cremated at Faridabad, it will further worsen industrial relations”. Finally, Bali’s relatives were allowed to accompany the dead body in a police van to the cremation ground at Gurgaon.

At the Gurgaon cremation ground, Bali’s relatives found that at least six more dead bodies were lying there to be cremated. The burning ghat people told them that the bodies had been brought by the police from Faridabad and were being secretly burnt there. They remained- unidentified. Bali’s brother-in-law told the Team that the same fate would have befallen Bali, had not his relatives insisted on getting back his body. The body of Jagdish Prasad was not handed over to his relatives after his death in hospital and no one still knew what happened to it. When relatives of the other dead people contacted the doctor at the Gurgaon Civil Hospital for post-mortem reports, he pleaded helplessness because of “limitations”. The relatives were in a state of utter desperation and helplessness. No one, including any political or trade union leader, had come to their rescue.

The story does not end here. On October 22, four days after Bali’s murder, a police party headed by an ASI visited the spot. Before killing Bali, the policemen who had aimed at him from the opposite house, had missed their target and one of the bullets had got lodged in the outer wall of the neighbouring house. To destroy this evidence, the police party which came on the 22nd climbed up the wall and with bayonets dislodged the bullet from inside the wall. The Team saw the original hole made by the bullet, further enlarged into a wide gap by the police team. The local people told the Team that the police were still on the prowl in the area to recover the cartridges of the bullets fired by them in the area on that day, so that they were not later produced by the residents to prove the misdeeds of the police. The police had also come to know of the photographs taken of Bali’s dead body. The photographer was being constantly harassed by the police. He told the Team that a senior police official had threatened him and even offered bribes to get back the film roll from him.

Thus, it was evident that the police were busy hiding and destroying all traces of their murderous activities of October 17. Plainclothesmen were prowling all over Faridabad, arresting people whom they suspected of giving out the real story. Reporters had not been allowed to enter the Badshah Khan Hospital where those injured on that day were being treated. The members of the Team managed to smuggle themselves into the male ward, and saw at least six persons with bullet injuries. They were shocked to see four of them – all with their hands or legs in plaster, and in no condition to move – chained to their beds in a separate corner of the ward and being guarded by armed police-men who were occupying some of the beds meant for patients. One of the injured was a post and telegraphs employee, who on the day of the firing was on duty on the bridge leading to Neelam Chowk. Hira Lal, Devi Lal, Jagdish K Pande and Tilak Kapoor (who is deaf and dumb) with bullet injuries on their bodies and chained to their beds, were workers who had been trapped in Neelam Chowk and shot at by the police. As they could not flee due to their injuries, the police arrested them and were planning to produce them as miscreants who had provoked the October 17 incidents. The Team also saw a 12-year old boy with bullet injuries under arrest. It came to know that at least three people who had been brought to the hospital on that day had succumbed to bullet injuries.

The Team also visited the neigh-bourhood of the bridge connecting Neelam Chowk with Mathura Road. During the day-long firing- and lathi charge, the police had spilled over into the outlying areas and beaten up innocent residents of the jhuggis and jhopris. One such victim was 60-year old Bishan Singh, a saintly looking Sardarji with white hair and beard. He showed the Team -the wall of his courtyard broken open by the police who entered the house as he was sitting on his charpoy and asked him to bring out those who were supposed to be hiding in his room. Bishan Singh said that no one was hiding, and offered to take the police to his room to prove the truth of what he was saying. Not satisfied, the policeman started beating him. With an injured leg, old Bishan Singh was now confined to bed. Children seemed ‘to have been a special target of the police. Wherever the Team went people complained that children were beaten up mercilessly.

The cases of Bali’s son and 16-year old Surendra of Punjabi Colony have already been mentioned. People with whom the Team talked at Faridabad estimated that from 50 to 120 people were still missing. Among them were a large number of children’. There was a widespread suspicion that the police had disposed of the dead bodies by burning them’ secretly – as evident from eyewitness accounts of the Gurgaon cremation ground – or by throwing them into the river. The Team found that there was widespread distrust among the people of Faridabad towards the local police force. For one thing, it was evident to all that the police had been giving out false reports. Immediately after the October 17 ‘incidents, they had said that firing had stopped at 1 pm on that day. But the Team was unanimously told by the people that at Neelam Chowk firing had continued till the evening. The killing of Kashmiri Lal Bali and Jagdish Prasad took place after Bali had returned from office, between 4.45 pm and 5.15 pm. As for the number of casualties also, the figure of eight given out by the police was dismissed as too small by the local people, many of whom were still searching for their missing relatives and friends who were suspected to have been killed. The people were further infuriated by the government’s immediate announcement of an award of Rs 15,000 to’ relatives of the dead sub-inspector. “What about the innocent people who were killed by him and his colleagues?” ask the people of Faridabad.

The Team was told that at every stage the local industrialists were influencing the police. At the Circuit House meeting where the industrialists, police officials and minister Khurshid Ahmed discussed the post-firing situation, it was the industrialists who had offered to pool the money and give the award to the dead policeman. It was they again who pressurised the Minister against giving Bali’s dead body to his relatives. There was a widespread feeling that the magisterial inquiry ordered into the October 17 police firing by the Haryana government would not lead anywhere, excepting defending the police. The people were demanding a judicial inquiry and suspension of the guilty policemen. The local people also complained that none of the major political parties or trade union leaders had bothered to visit the relatives of the dead or the injured. No help had been rendered to the victims in the hospital. The injured boy, Anil Bali, was lying alone in a critical condition when the Team visited him at the Safdarjung Hospital. In its report the Fact Finding Team has noted that the industrial climate at Faridabad had deteriorated over the years primarily because of the aggressive attitude of the local industrialists who habitually employ ‘goondas’ in the name of security guards to beat up workers active in the trade unions. For instance, it was alleged that on October 17, the ‘goondas’ employed by the management of a cotton mill near Press Colony, Faridabad, had chased workers belonging to the union. Eye witnesses told the Team that the police were protecting the goondas who hurled stones at the workers.

The Team has raised a number of questions in its report:

(1) Why is it that no arrests are made when organised goondas (working under the cover of security guards) attack workers whereas innocent victims of police firing are kept in chains in the hospital?

(2) Why is it that authorities in Faridabad impose Section 144 whenever there is even a notice of a strike in a single factory?

(3) Why is that compensations are paid by the government and the industrialists to the police personnel, while the victims of indiscriminate police firing are paid none?

(4) Why is it that seriously injured victims of police firing are kept in chains at the hospital with three armed guards? Summing up its findings about the events of October 17, the Fact Finding Team has stated that:

(1) Imposition of Sec 144 at 2 am, unannounced, was a deliberate provocative step.

(2) Disappearance of 150-200 men and children since October 17 was too much of a coincidence to be ignored.

(3) Threats, destruction of evidence and offer of bribes in some instances by the authorities proved their complicity in the incidents of the 17th.

(4) Disposal of dead bodies at Gurgaon without proper religious rites and the secrecy surrounding the act tended to suggest that the number of dead was much more than what the authorities want to be believed.

(5) People of Faridabad, workers, shopkeepers, housewives, children, etc., were all in fear of the police and critical of their acts.

(6) The reign of terror let loose by the authorities had to end before anything else could be done. A judicial inquiry must be held to inquire into the violent incidents of October 17 and the role of the police in them.

* From Emergency to Rural Maoism to Leninism in Faridabad

GWN conversation, 2010

We met some communist still active in Faridabad industrial area. Some of them entered reputable universities in the early 1970s, and spent their first years as ‘unpolitical’ students on the campus. Things changed during Emergency. Under the heavy atmosphere of the Emergency any kind of dissent obtained a new significance. Some of them had to leave university and joined a far-left organisation. The organisation sent these new recruits to work in the countryside, with Adivasis, the ‘indigenous population’. The Naxalite organisation had a kind of scale, there were class I areas, they were the poor Adivasi areas, class II for certain areas of poor peasantry, class III for urban working- class areas and so on. The Adivasi areas were not characterised by’ self-sustained communities’, most of them were wage workers for the timber industry. During these days these young comrades travelled from village to village, the organisation had contacts, often to village teachers or similar people. While being ‘underground’ the original organisation had split several times, but the young comrades were not aware of this. They continued their ‘organisational work’ for a non-existing organisation.

Some of them ended up in the ‘semi-tribal’ area of Mewat, a poor Muslim-dominated area in Haryana. They focused their activities less on the peasantry, but on the educated, unemployed poor youth. “We wanted to turn them into professional revolutionary cadres. We had some contacts within the Haryana electricity board. Some guys had been on strike in 1972, they knew people in various villages. In those days people liked revolutionaries, many people would help us and hide us from the state forces, give us food and shelter. Particularly in Mewat people were angry. The police had rounded up villages to enforce sterilisation – a sensitive issue particularly in the Muslim areas. We tried to break the encirclements, but this proved to be difficult. People were put into trucks and brought to the primary health centres. Each block and district local state officials were gratified for achieved numbers of sterilisation.”

The comrades met interested locals in B., a bigger village near Faridabad. They stayed with a mechanics and local teachers. Many underground revolutionaries arrived in B. after years of’ activities with the rural people’. There were CPI committees amongst peasants. Some clerk who had gone to Chandigarh to work had brought Marxist literature. “Although the official CPI line was against the Maoists and pro-Emergency, the CPI peasants in the village supported us. They were mainly from the Dagger tribe and had a history of resistance reaching back to feudal times. Every now and then the peasants of this village blocked power-stations, in order to protest against the lack of electricity. Police brutality in the area during Emergency had further radicalised them. A CPI official in the village had been to the Soviet Union as part of a party delegation. He was open towards the far-left, he managed to get people – who had returned from ‘activities’ in country-side – jobs in factories.”

Some of the peasants who had ‘joined the revolutionaries’ turned ‘workers’ for political reasons and went to work in factories in Faridabad during the late 1970s and early 1980s. “The factory was kind of a shock for the peasants. They were used to hard physical work, but not to having to stay in one place under surveillance and noise and the rhythm of the machines. Some of them wrote poems and songs about these experiences. Not just about the work, also about the ‘cultural changes’, e.g. at Bata shoe factory they found the village Pandits sewing leather sandals or Dalits in the restaurants serving food to the wider public, which was something unthinkable in the village. With the help of some of these ex-peasants we started our activities in Faridabad. We had broken with our Maoist heritage and had become urban Leninists.”

* Worker in Faridabad in early 1970s, Full Time Activist, Sangarh Samiti 1979

GWN conversation, 2010

I came to Faridabad in 1970. I got a job at Universal Electric Limited, a company manufacturing devices for the defence industry. There I worked for one year, I worked on a lathe machine. There was a strike by the union and in this I was thrown out.

Then I was employed at Porritts&Spencer Asia Limited, which was a British company, it still exists, but is now owned by Germany and America. In Porritts Spencer, I worked on the loom machine on which clothes are made. It was a factory where all the workers had to do all the jobs. They were trained in all jobs. So I was also trained in all the machines. At that time, in 1977, about 300 workers were employed. There was a strike in 1977. In that strike, I was the General Secretary of the union. Then I was thrown out.

Then I was fulltime with the CPI. Then I joined CPM full time. After that I worked for the Naxalite movement. In 1979 we formed the Sangharsh Samiti, the Struggle Committee. We brought the whole of Faridabad to a stop in 1979. Guns were fired in which many workers were killed. At that time, the Bhajanlal Congress government, ordered the gun fire. The guns were fired at the Neelam square which we today call the Martyr Square. The workers became martyrs. The government said 17 people had died. The workers and some police officers were hurt. The workers said that about 150-175 people had been killed. But the government made the dead bodies disappear. Because there were many arrests, in fear, the protest went down a little for some days. We could not find out whose dead bodies were missing.

Before that there were demonstrations in many different factories which the government could not control. At that time there were unions in about 50% of the factories and they helped one another. The police oppression was also very great, but the workers then were so militant that they used to fight with the police. This is the reason why in the Faridabad strike there was a struggle with the police, where the police fired guns and the workers were killed.

After that the workers movement declined, automation was introduced in the companies and the number of workers decreased. Many factories closed, a large number of textile factories closed and unemployment increased. Many factories were computerized and workers went back to their villages. The factories started outsourcing. Permanent work was reduced. People started to work on contracts. So the movement went back.

* Escorts/Ford Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s

GWN conversation, 2010

In the late 1970s and early 1980s trouble was brewing at Faridabad’s biggest company Escorts. The trouble was intensified and shaped by an internal fight between different management factions respectively supported by different political formations. In 1982 instigations against the old management started – a new management faction under Swaraj Paul and backed by Congress tried to ‘take over’. The emergence of a new union within Escorts was instrumentalised in order to attack the old management. After Indra Gandhis death in 1984, the new management under Swaraj Paul sold his shares. The old management and the old union were back in the seat. We mention these ‘power-games’ because they influenced and still influence any union formation in the bigger industry. We had a conversation with N., a comrade who worked at the Ford tractor department of Escorts in the 1970s and 1980s. N. got involved in union struggle on the side of ‘the new union’ – reading his story we have to see the double dynamic of workers’ unrest and internal management fights.

“I came to Faridabad from Kerala, in the early 1970s. In Kerala I had been engaged with the illegal CPI(ML), mainly struggling against land-lords. At the time it was not unusual for workers to come the long way from far – south Kerala, there must have been more than 20,000 of us working in Faridabad at the time. There was a huge demand for skilled workers which could not be satisfied from northern areas like Bihar or UP- that has changed quite a bit since then. In 1972 I got a job in the Ford tractor plant, where about 2,500 workers were employed. A comrade and me became elected as representatives of a left-wing union, which organised the vast majority of workers in the plant.

These were rebellious times. Workers were questioning a lot. Take the example of a struggle lead by a marginal work-force in the factory: the cleaners. Take their example of struggle over a seemingly minor issue: canteen food. During these times workers’ desires turned badly cooked vegetables into social dynamite. There was a canteen for workers and a canteen for the management. The production workers were allowed to use the canteen first, when they left, the cleaners could eat. This was not because workers would not have sat together with cleaners, it was because the cleaners would work while machines stood still during the workers’ break. Nevertheless, when the cleaners came to the canteen there were little vegetables left, just rice or roti. The canteen might have cooked more veggies, but they were often half done or there were literally five minutes left of the cleaners’ break for having a meal. The cleaners were not happy about this. They complained. The management did not listen. They addressed the left-wing union and asked them to do something. The management ignored the union. The next day about 150 cleaners entered the management canteen in protest and ate all kind of nice food, fish, deserts and so on. This was not heard off before and the management was in shock. The shock-waves entered various levels. The first reaction was to purify the canteen with Ganga water, purify it from the spiritually dirty cleaners’ hands. The next reaction was an attempt to suspend not only some of the workers involved, but also some ‘ring-leaders’. This was not that easy…

The management tried to ignore our union in the Ford plant. The Escorts and Ford management and the main Escort union plotted all kinds of coups against us. But they basically tried to keep us away from any kind of negotiations. The workers were rather angry about that, they had voted for us, because they wanted us to do things. When a general negation between Escorts management and unions took place about 2,000 Ford workers gathered in front of the administration building. They demanded that their reps could be heard. The management refused. Workers wrote a demand notice: “Either the management talks to our representatives or they will be beaten with sandals”. The management remained deaf. Workers then pushed into the main building and surrounded the management, started beating it with sandals like promised. This was hot. In Kanpur, where a similar thing happened in 1977 the police shot and killed hundreds of workers in side a textile mill – that was after the Emergency, in the so-called’ new democratic phase’. The next day Faridabad was full of police looking for sandal-wearing workers…

The police-force itself was not too reliable at that time – a clear sign for the depth of social discontent. The lower ranks of the police were badly paid and had to work long hours. In Faridabad they went on strike. Some of them were from Kerala and we got in touch with them. In the end they had to bring in the special police force CRPF. They sacked half of the local police and the CRPF disarmed the other half. We put up posters “Police against Workers – CRPF against Police – Army against CRPF: This is Indian Socialism!”. The activities inside Ford got us more and more into the focus of repression. Escorts paid the police good money to find and beat us. During these days most of the arrests were unofficial and never documented. They would pick you up, take you to a faraway station and give you a good beating. The home guards, a rather poorly paid part of the police informed us about the police plans.

Finally they caught us and drove us to a station near Balabgarh. There, the night-shift guards knew us and refused to beat us up. In the end we got a thrashing in the police station in Sarai. It was dark, we could not see who thrashed us, but they always asked: “Will you know leave Haryana?!”, and unsatisfied with the answer they would continue. I was kicked out of the Ford plant, six years of legal battle followed…”

* Gedore Tools Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s
GWN, Conversation 2011

Gedore opened the first plant in Faridabad in 1961, the second in the mid-sixties, the third plant in 1971. I grew up in Bihar, in a village, in a poor family. There was very little money. I started smuggling rice, going back and forth between village and the nearest town in West Bengal. That was the time of the Naxal uprising. A lot of trouble also for the industrialists, bombs being thrown, workers on strike and all that. Many companies shifted to Faridabad, for example Orient Fan. They hoped to find more peaceful conditions there. I also went to Faridabad in the late 1960s and started working at Gedore. At that time you even got an appointment letter, you had a six month trial-period and that received a confirmation letter that made you a permanent employee. But there was no peace in Faridabad either.

In 1969 East India workers went on strike for higher wages and double rate for overtime. They went on strike for 22 days. The police picked workers up, drove them out of Faridabad and dropped them somewhere in the jungle near Rewari (Rajastahan border). They had to walk back on foot. A lot of workers from Faridabad got detained in Gurgaon prison during that struggle.

In 1973 a big strike took place. We at Gedore took part, Gedore was the first plant in Haryana where a CITU union got established. The strike spread to most of the big companies, apart from Goodyear, they had an INTUC union there. We organised a major demonstration to Goodyear, in order to convince them to take part. More than 10,000 workers, the whole National Highway towards Bhalabgarh was one big procession. The police in riot gear. I saw how they shot the worker, he was alone, not in a mob, but they shot him dead. The other strikes stopped shortly after, our strike continued for three month. I had no income, so I started selling roasted corn-cobs. The strike ended, the company paid 500 Rs for the strike period on the first working day. We could see that they wanted to re-establish good relations. The agreement brought higher wages, but through an incentive scheme. Since this strike there was peace at Gedore.

There was silence inside the factory during the time of Emergency, but trouble in the workers bastis. I lived in Mujesar, police would come in troops and enforce sterilisations. There were also a lot of slum demolitions and re-locations going on. People lived in fear, we slept on the roof hiding. After one raid people got angry and lynched five cops. Gedore increased exports during the Emergency, business went well. Before 1973 workers used to throw around spanners and other metal parts against police or goons. After the strike and the agreement things calmed down. Gedore workers did not take part in the turmoil of the 1977-1979 period, neither in the general strike of 1979. The situation changed from ‘privilege’ – after Metalbox we were paid the highest wages – to fear. The union and management linked up arms, the re-structuring of the 1980s hit us hard (see various reports on Gedore in the ‘History’-section).

* HMS Thomson Press Union leader in Faridabad in 1970s to 1990s
(GWN, Conversation 2011)

A short interview with a union official of HMS in Faridabad. He arrived in Faridabad in 1973, worked as a printer at Thomson Press (1) and became the union president there. He covers the events at Nilam Chowk in October 1979 and the turmoil during Devi Lal take-over of Haryana government in the late 1980s early 1990s. Like the main local HMS union leader Sethi, he was invited by the international Trotzkyte movement to speak as an ‘independent’ workers’ leader at various international gatherings. We suggest to read his account together with the Faridabad Majdoor Samachar reports, in particular about the developments at East India Cotton, at Escorts and Thomson Press itself.

——

I arrived in Faridabad in April 1973 and started working as an apprentice at Thompsen Press India Ltd. Around 250 to 300 workers were employed, most of them permanent workers.

At the time I didn’t know much about trade unions, there was no union at Thomson. But in 1973 workers went on strike for higher wages at Escorts company, Faridabad’s main company, and the police attacked them badly. They arrested workers as soon as they could. It was not possible to hold a meeting in Faridabad, you had to go to Badarpur-Delhi border. At the time there was AITUC, BMS and INTUC union at Escorts, in each of the eight plants here in Faridabad there were different unions. In 1973 there was also a violent incident in front of the Goodyear factory, one worker was shot by the police. But I don’t know too much about this event.

Then came the Emergency 1975. Work-pressure in the factories increased and less bonus was paid. Outside the factories there was the issue of enforced sterilisation and demolitions of slums. AITUC was predominant in Faridabad at the time, AITUC is affiliated to the CP, which had supported the Emergency. Therefore there was silence in Faridabad during this period.

In 1977-78, after the lifting of the Emergency, CITU became more powerful, given that the CPM had opposed Emergency. The National Labour Organisation (NLO) also became stronger, but our leaders had to leave the NLO and formed the Haryana Labour Union (HLU) instead. They met with union leaders of seven, eight factories. At that time our comrade Mr. Sethi started his work as union leader at Escorts. He called various unions and asked: “Why do you work seperately, in this way the bosses won’t be effected and you won’t achieve anything”. He suggested a general union election and contacted workers in all eight plants. A year later secret elections were held at Escorts and he was elected union president in 1978.

After Emergency AITUC was replaced by BMS as the main union at East India Cotton Mill, one of the major textile companies in Faridabad at the time. The workers did not support the new union, they wanted elections, they supported the HLU. A struggle broke out around this issue, this was in 1979. The three HLU leaders got kicked out by East India management, workers opposed this. Unions in Faridabad reacted by forming a Sangarsh Samiti (Struggle Committee) and called for a huge rally, nearby Nilam Chowk.

All main union leaders came, even the AITUC ones. They announced to the government that if it would not give those workers their right to elect their union there would be a general strike on 17th of October. East India Cotton still refused negotiations, so the general strike went ahead and the whole of Faridabad’s industry came to a halt. The union committee had to go underground on the 16th of October in order to avoid being arrested, so there were hardly any union leaders around the next day.

On 17th of October masses of workers came from both directions towards Nilam Chowk, a huge mass of Escorts workers from one side, other from the other side. The police got caught in between. People started shouting slogans. One police officer started shooting and was subsequently killed by the masses. A huge contingent of special police then started firing and chasing people, the terror spread to all areas of Faridabad. A lot of people went hiding, active workers had to hide. The majority of workers went to work next day. During the following days the police continued to arrest individual workers, around 150 to 200 in total. They were charged with 202 or 207, with murder of the police officer or attempted murder. The government had imposed a 144 the day before the general strike.

At that time I was still working at Thomson Press and we were thinking about establishing a union there, we had set-up a committee already. At the time we had no famous leader, it was a small union. The management told my name to the police and ten days after the Nilam Chowk incident I was arrested. The workers at Thomson stopped work in response, for four hours. The management talked to them and promised them to get me out. They denied that they had anything to do with the arrest and accused us of telling lies. They said that they will pay for my court case, give me full facilities, “but please go back to work now”. Management and some of their men then came to the police station and spoke to me: “It was the police, not us, who got you here”.

After Nilam Chowk they also arrested a lot of local peasants who had come out in support of the workers. They had also suffered under Emergency. There was no jail, so we were first sent to Rohtak and then to Bhiwani. The workers at Thomson Press thought that if the general strike scares the management then we might get something out of it. That was there attitude towards the strike.

On 5th of December 1979 I was released from jail, on bail. The workers at Thomson welcomed me, the management joined them. The manager said: “Go, meet the boss. You can stay off work, outside the factory, and he will pay you”. I said that there is no need to meet the boss. We then tried to continue rallying in front of East India Cotton factory, but the police had barricaded the whole area off. They stopped people. It was not a lock-out, production was running, but they did not let the old workers go back inside, neither did they get compensation for redundancy.

At Thomson the union was established in 1980. When I was out in 1979 the workers had elected me as general secretary of the union. The management was not in favor, but they were not too aggressive. Things changed in 1981, when management became rather aggressive towards the union. Because we raised the question of payment for the casual workers, who were paid less than the permanents. The other point of conflict was a three and a half years agreement which had been forged with some “leaders” about one year previous. According to the agreement there was hardly any wage increase, only increase of the housing allowance. This agreement was still pending when I became union leader.

I opposed this agreement, so the management organised a different union group against me, an INTUC union. They called for a gate meeting in order to set-up this union. Local MLAs, ministers, they all came. We also went, we wanted to go to work, but we were stopped at the gate. As long as the meeting went on, we listened. Shift normally starts at 8 am, the meeting went till 9 am. After their gathering was over I called workers over and asked them to listen what I had to say. I asked them: “What need was there for a meeting? Why have you been stopped at the gate? All this is a conspiracy to weaken our union. Let’s go inside now and stop work when we are inside. Let’s demand from management that they should recognise our union and only if they do so, we go back to work”. The workers did this, they went inside and sat down. The police arrived. At that time the casual workers were not members of the union, but they were with the union. They were a minority at the time, hardly ten per cent of the workforce. The production was stopped for the whole day. The labour commissioner arrived. A meeting between the conflicting parties took place. They said that they would increase the basic wage by 30 Rs. So we went back to work. They also started paying minimum wages to the casual workers, which they had not done before.

The management then targeted three of our comrades, who had been active during the dispute. They laid a trap and then suspended them and finally kicked them out. At the time I was still inside. We assembled the workers, took the flag and supported the three suspended comrades. This went on for six months. Then the 13th of March 1981 came. Management sent some thugs in order to attack one of the suspended comrades at the factory gate. We thought that this was a provocation and that we should avoid a confrontation, but people pushed forward. We stopped working after the lunch break and people left the factory in order to assemble at the gate in support. There I was attacked by thugs, the beat me with clubs. Police arrived, I was taken to hospital, but a case was registered against me. They said that I started a fight, that I called for strike – there was no case filed against the thugs. A minister intervened in support of the management, while a high-rank police officer asked me whether I knew the thugs. I confirmed and told him who it was. They arrested them shortly after, but I was not taken back on duty.

Management set-up their INTUC union inside the factory. A few workers benefitted from the subsequent settlements and agreements between INTUC and management, but the number of workers hired through contractors and casual workers increased rapidly, from around 300 in 1981 to about 1,000 workers in 1987 – in 1987 there were around 500 permanents employed, by then a minority. In 1987 the Haryana government changed. The Devi Lal / Chautala (2) government replaced the Congress government. Given that we were opposed to the Congress, Devi Lal gave us some support, not much, but some. We called all workers together, after change of government, I was again attacked by thugs. It was actually those guys close to the INTUC leaders, they broke my nose. In reaction to this attack the Escorts workers laid down tools. Our union was the main union at Escorts and at about 70 to 80 other local companies , they shut down the whole of Faridabad in support for us at Thomson. The DC arrived and said that he will set-up elections, to decide whether it should be INTUC or HMS. We received 99 per cent of the votes. Then Chautala saw that unions can be a good support for political parties, so he set-up his own union, the Lok Majdoor Sangh (LMS). They first invited us to join them, when we refused, they started to contest us (1).

After 1990 re-structuring accelerated, now there are hardly 400 permanent workers left. This is the general trend – therefore the union movement has been seriously undermined.

(1)

http://www.thomsonpress.com/international-business.asp

(2)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaudhary_Devi_Lal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_Prakash_Chautala

* Revolutionary “Termites” in Faridabad

Loren Goldner

For complete text see: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-termites-in-faridabad-a-proletarian-current-in-india-confronts-third-worldist-statism

1980’s Struggles in Faridabad

The CITU in 1983 was involved in another militant strike in Faridabad, this time at Lakhani Shoes, which then employed 500 workers and is now much larger. The CITU carried out physical attacks on managers and supervisors, but the strike, which lasted for months, ended in defeat. It later came out that Lakhani had paid 35,000 rupees to the Faridabad leader of the CITU. (Subsequently, the CITU was ousted and replaced by unions affiliated with the Congress Party and then with the JP.)
Such union activity is not merely limited to manipulating struggles with management while covertly collaborating with the latter. In 1983, Dewanchard Gandhi, a CITU leader in Faridabad, was involved in a brazen use of union goons for a real estate scam. People from nearby village had occupied land in Faridabad’s Sector 6 and had set up a tea shop, thereby becoming de facto owners. The owner of the land sold it to Gandhi and his brothers. The Gandhi brothers’ own goons would not vacate the land for them because some of them were from the same village as the occupiers. Thus Gandhi organized a union in a nearby factory of 300 young workers, and called a strike. While they were on strike, he used them to forcibly vacate the land and to wall it off, in one night, telling them it was to be the site of a union hall. This accomplished, the workers went back to their picket lines, but the union stopped food deliveries to strikers. The workers resumed work and left the CITU. Ghandi kept the land. In the same year, a militant CITU union at J.M.A. Industries called a strike. Bombs were thrown, and the state arrested and brought to trial four strike leaders. Regional CITU leaders came in to replace them and announced a deal. It later emerged that the company had built a new roof on the house of one of the regional leaders; meanwhile, the four local leaders stayed in jail, 18 militants were laid off, and management’s aim were imposed.

In 1988, a struggle began at the Bata Shoe Company, a Canadian-based firm also operating plants in Batanagar, near Calcutta, in Bihar, and in southern India. Bata Shoe launched a plan to restructure and diversify into marketing. The offensive began with a lock-out of the roughly 13,000 workers of the Batanagar plant, where both Communist Parties had unions. As part of the strategy, the management of the Faridabad plant went from a 5-day to a 7-day work week, with the cooperation of the CP unions there. A month later, an all-India one-day strike against Bata Shoe was called; two months later, this was followed by a 3-day all-India Bata strike. Four months after the management offensive began, it imposed all 37 of its restructuring demands. The union in the Faridabad plant called another strike in April 1989, and 10,000 workers went out, followed by further strikes later the same year. At the beginning of the management offensive, Bata Shoe in Batanagar had 13,000 workers; at the end, 7,000. (KK points out that at every turn the Indian media gave very favorable coverage to the unions’ toothless strike strategy.)
In 1989, at K.G. Khosla Compressors Ltd., a plant with 2,000 permanent workers and 350 casuals, the union signed an agreement with the company in which they gave away the workers’ dues (“dues” in India mean severance pay, outstanding wages, pension funs and bonuses. It is common for management to quietly loot these dues in anticipation of a plant closing.) (Six years earlier, in 1983, the INTUC had led a militant strike which was crushed, ending in layoffs. When confronted, the local INTUC leadership said they signed the contract because the national leadership signed, and the national leadership said they signed because the local leadership signed.
Things came to a head in August 1991 as Khosla management declared a lockout, terminating 250 casuals, announcing 326 layoffs of the permanent work force, and offering only the minimum annual bonus of 8.33%, threatening closure of the plant if these demands were not accepted. No wages were paid for August and the lockout began in early September, lasting 8 months and breaking worker resistance. A similar downsizing was pushed through at Thomson Press, a printing plant in Faridabad, which reduced its personnel from 1700 to 900 between June 1989 and June 1991.

In 1987, Thomson brought in a new manager, replacing one who had had a close working relationship with the Congress-affiliated INTUC. The new manager preferred to introduce the JP-Iinked HMS, to the relief of the workers, who hated the INTUC leader. The new HMS leader was himself a dismissed Thomson worker. To start off the new regime, the company agreed to make casuals permanent.
In 1989, however, Thomson demanded 200 layoffs and the new HMS leader signed a giveback agreement. In August 1990, the workers responded by bringing back the old deposed leader. In response to this, the company announced the closing of one of the plant’s printing operations, cutting jobs. Two factions of workers formed around the two leaders. The state government exacerbated the division by cultivating ties to the INTUC leader, and fights broke out between the two factions. In March 1991 management suspended all production because of the fighting. Whereas the media had given wide coverage to the situation up to that point because of the state’s ties to the INTUC leader, there was a complete blackout of news on this lockout. Both leaders convinced the Thomson workers to leave the factory during the lockout, and that night the management removed machinery from the plant. The lockout continued for 70 days, at the end of which the HMS leadership announced that the workers did not want a fight. The plant reopened, with a very bad agreement in effect, and over the next 4-5 months 800 workers were forced to resign.

Relevant Struggles Elsewhere In India

One icon of the official left in India is the worker buy-out of Kamani Tubes Ltd. in Bombay, the Indian variant of the French LIP strike of 1973 (8), or the more recent ESOP’s (Employee Stock Option Purchase) in the U.S. Kamani Tubes Ltd. was taken over in 1987 by its work force of 450, after 60 workers were laid off. The workers raised the buyout funds by taking out mortgages, and received support from the Bureau of Industrial Finance and Reconstruction. The Kamani Tubes experience of self-managed austerity is still used as a paradigm by India’s NGOs and official left, and has been copied in a few other well-publicized instances, such as the Kanoria Jute Mill in Calcutta after 1993.

Not all workers’ struggles in India, however, are successfully contained or manipulated by the unions. In 1989, 35,000 textile workers in Kanpur, an old industrial city in Uttar Pradesh, revolted against all local unions and blocked the railway lines through the city, taking turns by shift. 100 trains were cancelled, and the government conceded their demands in 5 days. In this case, in contrast to the nation-wide, union-controlled Bata Shoe strikes, government propaganda and the media weighed in heavily against the action, and trade union officials also attacked it. (In 1977, just after Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency had been lifted and the anti-emergency Janata Party had taken power, the government had fired on Kanpur textile workers inside the Swadeshi Cotton Mill, killing between 30 and 150 workers and running off all trade union leaders. The textile mill had been nationalized shortly after the shootings.) In 1989, however, an impending election year militated against government violence. Nonetheless, once the struggle had died down, the government announced a retrenchment program and pushed it through over the next 4 or 5 years.
Similarly, in December 1988, at the No.7 mining area at the Dhanbad Coal Mines in the state of Bihar, the piece-rate workers, fed up with the unions and their goon squads, revolted. They drafted demands and started a hunger strike at the union regional headquarters, and surrounded the regional management offices with slogans denouncing both corrupt management and corrupt unions.
In July 1990, another struggle outside and against union control erupted. 5,000 miners from the Munidih mines of the Bahrat Coking Coals Ltd. (BCCL) struck on their own. The police opened fire, killing two miners. All unions opposed the strike, and denounced the influence of “outsiders”. Management refused to negotiate, until Aug. 7, when 2,000 workers surrounded BCCL headquarters and forced talks, in which management persisted in pressing charges against the strikers. On Aug. 10, fighting erupted with police, and union goons threatened workers. Under this pressure, 50-60% went back to work, but after an Aug. 17 solidarity demonstration that mobilized 1,000 workers, management caved.

The workers at Bengal Jute, living under the “Marxist” state government of the CPI (M) in West Bengal, were not so fortunate. Bengal Jute operates 49 jute mills, in which the CPI (M)’s own union, the CITU, and the INTAC were dominant. In 1984, in a previous strike, management had agreed to no layoffs of 250,000 workers, but subsequently managed to retrench 110,000. In June 1992, the two unions launched a strike demanding the reinstatement of the laid-off workers; during the ensuing, failed strike by its own union, the CPI (M), with state power, said nothing.

1990’s Struggles in Faridabad

Lakhani Shoes, which currently operates 19 plants in Faridabad, had been the scene of mass layoffs in 1983 (described earlier) and 1988. By the mid-90’s, it had become a joint venture with Reebok, using a large number of casuals in very hard work with low pay, rapid aging on the job, and loss of fingers. Many workers are Nepali, with a young work force because of the previous mass layoffs.
In these conditions, in May-June 1996, the workers decided to organize and went to the Hind Majdoor Sabha (HMS), mentioned earlier as the union affiliate of the Janata Dal. In July-August 1996, management suspended the union activists, and in September the union called a strike. Permanent, casual and contracted workers all struck. The strike continued into the spring of 1997, when workers began to disperse. The management resumed work using new hires, with the ex-leaders from the HMS as the labor contractors. A court order demanded that strikers stay 100 yards from the gates, and all strikers were ultimately fired.

In June 1995, a new struggle erupted at the East India Cotton Mills in Faridabad, where the 1979 strike was one of KK’s first formative experiences in the working-class milieu. In 1995, the mills employed 3,000 workers in two factories. When some equipment was dismantled and workers complained, six of them were suspended. 2,500 workers walked out and the six were reinstated. Management, however, wanted 600 layoffs. Without leaders among the workers, they were unable to control the work force. In the run-up to a confrontation over the layoffs, hunger strikes took place, and a group of rank-and-file leaders, demanding a “good contract”, took over. In June-July 1996 295 workers were forced to resign. Management floated a voluntary retirement scheme which found no takers. On July 10, they declared a lockout. 18 days later, the lockout was lifted and an agreement to resume work was signed, with 18 days pay lost.
In August, management simply paid no wages, and on Sept. 12 declared a lockout in both plants, backed up by the arrival of the police. In an unusual move in a lockout situation, the rank-and-file leaders told the workers to leave the factories. The lockout continued into the fall, with the workers dispersed. The rank-and-file leaders threatened to close down Faridabad if the lockout did not end before Diwali (a Hindu festival). At the same time they avoided demonstrations because they were afraid of losing control. The leaders tried taking the case to the Supreme Court. In January 1997, the smaller plant reopened, but two months later resumed the lockout, with management still demanding 600 layoffs. As of December 1997, the lockout continued.

* Some Agitation in Faridabad

FMS, September 1983

* At Biko Engineering situated at Mathura Road the pressure from management increased after the issuing of a demand notice. Workers got suspended.

* After workers at Elson Cotton raised their voice against lay-offs, they got beaten up and some of them suspended. The bosses hired goons.

* At East India Textile Mill INTUC keeps beating the drum and the management cries about’ worsening situation’ for the company while at the same time sending lots of workers back home.

*At Atul Glas workers are determined in their battle for creating a union. Management and police try to suppress the workers by beatings and arrests.

* At Usha Spinning Mills the lay-offs of workers continue. Workers are laid off without being paid outstanding wages. Now the union leader says that he will do something about it.

* After Indian Aluminium and Mahindra and Mahindra have fused and the atmosphere amongst the Indian Aluminium workers is heating up.

* The back-and-forth between JMA management and workers continues. In order to break the union the management has kicked out four leaders and now talks about a contract/agreement.

* Five workers at the Electricity Board have been suspended. The processions and protest-meetings continue. There are a lot of posters-meetings-slogans etc. about forming this or that union, but most of it is the usual ritualistic procedure.

* Some Agitation in Faridabad II

FMS, October 1987

* The company HYDERABAD ASBESTOS LTD. has changed its name to Hyderabad Industries Ltd., but in the Faridabad factories, the company continues to use the asbestos material like before, causing fatal cancer and asbestosis lung disease. The infamous management is in the first line when it comes to make workers fight among themselves. During the last ten years, whenever the management saw that trouble is brewing amongst workers, it used incantation-bribery-threats-divisions in order to make the workers smash each others heads. After having seen this happening again and again, this time the workers countered the management at the very attempt. This time, on October 14, the police shot at the workers. After this the management enforced a lockout. Apart from enduring the usual back-and-forth of the INTUC-AITUC-BMS, this time the Hyderabad Asbestos workers also had to see the pretentiousness of the HMS.

* Nukem Plastics manufactures by using poisonous gas, putting at risk the health of workers and the wider population. In the course of conflicts among workers, incited by management and trade unions, a worker died in October 1987. In 1977, the management of this factory used the BMS as their weapon. Being squeezed between management and this union, the workers tried to turn sometimes INTUC, sometimes CITU, sometimes HMS into their vehicle of rescue. A lot of empty promises have been made, causing damage to the workers and usually ending in a sell-out. This time the HMS, while hailing the Lok Dal government, created a big fuss in order to take over the chair at the negotiation table from its relative, the BMS. In the course of the dispute the workers anger got vented, a worker died in action, the workers got locked out from the factory and finally the union sold out. The factory management first locked-out the troubled workers and then handed out food to them. Now it has restarted production and disseminates its poisonous gas again – and both BMS and HMS are looking out for new grazing grounds.

* After having suffered under CITU, the Autopin workers are now pretty fed-up with BMS. In order to take over another chair at the table, the HMS created a lot of fuzz – they tore the BMS flag from the gate pole. They workers got agitated, the management resorted to lock-out. After ten-twelve days the HMS showed its true colours – exactly the same as BMS. Thanks to the new agreement signed by HMS, the bonus has decreased from 16 to 10 per cent, the September wages were paid in November and god knows when the October wage will be paid.

* At Bombay Rubber plant the CITU makes fools out of the workers. After two months of strike against the dismissals of five workers, the CITU now has signed an agreement which accepts the dismissals and has taken aback the rest of the workers – while the management distributes sweets amongst the workers.

* At Metal Box many workers had been dismissed in the recent passed. Management started to pay the remaining workers wages which are relatively higher than in other factories. Some of the Metal Box workers then felt big and they saw themselves as being different from other workers. Now, as consequence of capitalist reality, Metal Box has to face a new round of redundancies and Metal Box demonstrates the workers their essential existence as workers. In order to enforce the redundancies, the management of Metal Box has issued a lock-out.

* At Escorts Anciliary the union HMS has negotiated such great agreement that the workers organised a tool-down strike against it. HSM’s plan to sweeten the increase in work-load with a little wage hike – the two results of the agreement – did not go down well with the workers. The HMS leaders reacted by turning an issue, which essentially only concerned workers at a different Escorts plant into a point of conflict. In return management was then able to announce a lock-out in order to break workers resistance. In this way union and management forced workers to accept the work-load increasing agreement.

* Since ten years the workers in East India Textile Mill are looking for a messianic-miraculous solution of their problems. They have seen one Messiah after the other trying to perform these miracles, but the workers are still not satisfied. After the Lok Dal took over government in Haryana, workers once more stare at the performance of the HMS leaders. A series of meetings and speeches has been put into motion… on the other side the management smears honey around the mouth of the union president and sends him off in a specially provided car…

* Workers Movement in the Industrial Area of Dharuhera in the 1980s

Sangharshrat Mehantkash no.3, 2011

The Workers Movement in the Industrial Area of Dharuhera – by Bhoop Singh

In 1977 Dharuhera was declared an industrial area by the government of Haryana. At that time Banarsi Das Gupta was prime minister. For the industrial area the government alloted thousands of acres. At that time there were already some production units situated in Dharuhera, for example Sehgal Paper, which claimed to produce ‘carbonless paper’ in India. Other units were of Suri Paper, Haryana Detergent, Multitech, Dharuhera Chemicals and East India Synthetics. At around 1981 a huge plant with the name Pashupati Spinning and Weaving. To that date the Haryana State Industrial Development Corporation (HSIDC) did not exist yet, so these industrial areas were developed by Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA).

With the time some of the famous industries like Sehgal Papers closed – these companies had been given cheap land by the government, which they still owned. But the name of Seghal Papers turned Dharuhera into a landmark on the map of India. In the 1980s the mentioned companies ran well – during that time the factory bosses linked up with local thugs, this is why during this period no worker in no company was able to raise their voice for their demands. Up to 1984 there was no movement in this industrial region.

Dharuhera’s first workers’ movement

The first movement was kicked off by the East India workers in June 1984. The workers were fully organised but given the lack of a proper leadership and future perspective the company bosses were a able to suppress them with the help of local leaders, one of them a member of the national cabinet, and state machinery. At the time Choudary Bhajanlal was chief minister of Haryana. His government was completely immersed in corruption. In the whole of the nation the corruption of Bhajanlal was the word of the day. Up to June 1986, as long as Bhajanlal was in government, the exploitation of workers was the most blatant. In Haryana the condition of the Congress government had become merciless. The government ministers didn’t even let the village meetings being taken place. When a minister who had a different post in the Haryana cabinet entered the village meeting of the village Bharouda (Rohtak), he was chased away together with his staff. In consequence, the state ministers ordered to ban the village meetings and stopped visiting the villages [of the state Haryana]. As a result Indira Gandhi central government revoked Bhajanlal from his position and chief minister and made him a minister in the central government and installed Bansilal as chief of state.

Radhu Yadav’s Unemployed Army

In 1985 Radhu Yadav organised the Unemployed Army [Berojgar Sena]. This organisation called for a huge rally during the same year, calling people in the area reaching from Rewari to Dharuhera. When they heard this all the industrialists and their middle-men became alarmed. They started preaching that Radhu would loot and burn the entire region. It was the plan to stop the demonstration at the Sahbi river. The leading figures behind this conspiracy were members of a Dharuhera based ziledar [superintendent] family. Not by chance these people were agents of the Pashupati Mill. As little by chance as the fact that it was well known that the exploitation was worst in the Pashupati Mill – this company paid the most meagre wages in Haryana. The owner Jain was in cahoots with the local council leaders. The Unemployed Army arrived at the planned day in Dharuhera and held an enormous mass meeting – in this way the demonstration was successful and the local conspiracy did not manage to obstruct. On that day the nephew of Lilu Kutbi – who was part of the industrialists middlemen – received a beating. He had tried to obstruct the rally in Dharuhera. [link to PUDR text]

Hero Honda Group establishes industrial units

In 1985 Hero Honda opened its motorcycle plant in Dharuhera. The partts supplying auxiliaries also opened factories, such as Omax Auto, Rico Auto or KJ Auto. For one or two years exploitation was going on in these plants. No workers raised his voice. In October 1986 the workers at Omax Auto started a mobilisation. For their interested they set up a union, the “Omax Auto Workers Union”, whose presidents were comrade Surat Singh and Sachiv Raj Singh. The workers presented their demands to management and in order to enforce them they went on strike. After a few days of strike and after the SDM in Revari had given his signature the strike was ended. This was an organised movement and in this way workers’ unions started here. After a few days the Omax Auto workers again struck over a certain issue. The entire workforce set up a tent in front of the company gate and stopped production. This continued for some days when during night the police arrived, they loaded the workers into buses and threw them into Mehandrgarh jail, I can remember very well when we went to SDM court in Rewari in order to bail them out the police started beating the hand-cuffed workers. Some of them got injured. I opposed this together with some lawyers. All this reminded me of the atrocities and abuse of the English which they inflicted upon Lala Lajpat Rai. This type of abuse was contemptible in a free India. But the workers here are still not fully organised, this is why they can still be abused. After a few days of back-and-forth the good son of Choudhray Bansilal intervened, he made the company take the Omax workers back on duty and a union under the name of “Dharihera Kamgar Union” was registered. The leadership was with CITU. By this time the workers in Dharuhera were awakened. The workers at KJ Auto also set up a union. (To be continued)

* Intro Escorts

GWN, 2010

In the 1980s the Escorts Group belonged to the ten biggest manufacturing companies in India, an industrial giant active in various product segments, such as tractors and agricultural machines, motorcycles, cranes, earth moving machines, parts for the railways. Like Maruti Suzuki or Hero Honda, Escort collaborated with various international companies, such as JCB, Claas, Yamaha, Ford Motors. Till the mid-90s about 24,000 permanent workers worked directly for Escorts Group, the main company in Faridabad at the time, which had various plants in the area. Hundreds of smaller factories and work-shops still depend on Escorts as their main ‘client’. From the late 1980s onwards permanent workers were attacked by various management schemes to increase the work load and productivity, often in collaboration with the union leader-ship. The union leader at the time, Subhash Sethi, interestingly enough presented himself as an anti-Stalinist revolutionary – see interview with ANC journal below. The underlying battle about re-structuring went on during the early 1990s; management used various strategies, such as shutting down certain plants for one or two weeks, putting pressure on older workers to accept early retirement etc.. This process got aggravated by various market slumps, which management used as a pretext to threaten workers with job cuts. From 1996 onwards the re-structuring process made great leaps forward: JCB, Yamaha and Claas split off from Escorts, the telecom division was sold. From then on Escorts focussed on the agro-machinery sector, of 24,000 former permanent workers now only 6,000 are left. This is not only due to the carve up of the former Escorts Group, but also because permanents were increasingly replaced by casual workers or workers hired through contractors. Till 1992 the number of casual workers in production was less than two per cent, today it varies from 10 percent to 50 percent, as per demand, and whereas there used to be no workers hired through contractors in the immediate production, now their numbers increase significantly. For current conditions at Escorts see:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no5/#fn1

* “Interview with President of All Escorts Employees’ Union”

Journal of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress, October 1981

Inqaba interviews
SUBHASH SETHI,
President of All Escorts Employees’ Union,
Faridabad

India – ‘Workers must organise for Power’

India under capitalism is a giant In torment. With a population of 700 million (almost double that of Africa) and vast natural resources, India is potentially one of the most productive and wealthy countries in the world. Instead, after centuries of plunder by British imperialism, followed by the parasitic rule of the rotten Indian capitalist class, the country has been reduced to indescribable poverty and seething social tensions. Under the Impact of the mass struggle, India became politically Independent In 1947. British lmperialism handed power to the representatives of Indian capitalism. Though the trappings of a parliamentary system were established, for the mass of the people democracy does not exist. Enormous power has been concentrated fn the hands of Indira Gandhi and her corrupt family clique at the head of the Congress government. This power Is used In the most ruthless manner to enforce the interests of the big capitalists and landowners. Under their rule, over half the Indian people live below the official poverty line. 200 million working people survive on less than 20c a day. 100 000 children die of malnutrition every month. 80 % of children In the countryside will never go to school. The Indian workers and peasants struggle against these intolerable conditions. In every industrial city, heroic strikes have been fought in the face of murderous repression; in vast areas of the countryside, civil war reigns between landlords and landless peasants. In 1979, according to government calculations, there were 216 riots per day-nine riots every hour!

Pre-revolutionary turmoil

The capitalist class is completely incapable of solving the problems of the country. India has entered a period of pre-revolutionary turmoil. In the coming years the question of power will have to be decided-whether the present rulers will succeed in crushing the mass movement and stabilising their grip on the country, or whether their the only force capable of displacing them: the 21-million strong urban proletariat at the head of the countless rural masses. The most critical element in the workers’ struggle will be that of unity, leadership and programme. Thus far, the magnificent movement of the workers, in the towns and on the land, and the no less heroic struggles of the peasants, have been held back not by the power of the state, but by the failures of an utterly bankrupt and opportunist leadership. The leaders of the main organisations of the Indian working class-the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-cling to the bankrupt position that India is not ripe for the overthrow of capitalism. Therefore the task, according to them, is to consolidate ‘democracy’ on a capitalist basis. In practice, this means a series of compromises with reactionary have increasingly been driven into nightmare regime will be broken by capitalist leaders, watering down their half-hearted reformist programmes even more, and losing further support among the working people. It is due to the failure of the workers’ leaders to provide a socialist alternative that Indira Gandhi-brought down by a wave of mass struggle in 1977-was replaced by an equally bankrupt capitalist regime, and was then able to return to office last year. But the election result itself revealed the isolation of the ‘victorious* Gandhi regime. According to the official figures (despite widespread vote-rigging in Mrs Gandhi’s favour) little more than half the electorate voted; in all, less than a quarter of Indian voters supported Mrs Gandhi! In office, the Gandhi clique have continued to enrich themselves while building up the machinery of a police state to protect themselves against the anger of the masses. Their latest reactionary measure has been to declare a total ban on strikes in the main sectors of the economy. A punishment of a year in prison is laid down for organising strikes, and 6 months for taking part in a strike! These attacks will spur the workers on to even more determined struggles. Country-wide protests are already taking place. Everything points at an explosive sharpening of the class struggle in the period ahead. The capitalist class has no answer to the struggles of the workers and peasants except increasingly barbarous repression. Already sections of the ruling class are calling up the dark forces of communalism (ultranationalist fascism) as a bludgeon against resistance among minority national groups. Nationalist movements in different stales of India, reflecting a mood of despair, are struggling lo break free from the hated regime In New Delhi. Under capitalism, India faces a nightmare future of ruin and disintegration. Only the development of a Marxist leadership within the mass organisations of the Indian working class can provide a rallying point for the workers and peasants in struggle and show a way out of the present crisis. Organised on a socialist programme, the Indian working class can draw behind it the mass of the people, demolish the capitalist system and, on the basis of nationalised production under democratic working-class control, develop the resources of the country to meet the need of the mass of the people. The fate of the Indian revolution is of vital concern to the workers of South Africa and the entire world. If successful, it would enormously strengthen the workers in every country; If crushed, it would be a demoralising blow to workers everywhere.

INQABA has discussed some of the crucial questions facing the Indian working class with Comrade Subhash Sethi, a union leader from the Delhi area and a supporter of the ideas of Marxism. Shortly after giving this interview, Comrade Subhash Sethi was a leader of a 30 000 strong demonstration of workers in Delhi against the antistrike legislation. Many of the tasks of the Indian workers-in particular, the building of a united national trade union movement-are similar to the tasks, which face us in South Africa today. Many lessons can be learned from the experience of the workers in India, which will assist us in carrying forward our work.

INQABA :
Workers in South Africa are eager for information about the pre-revolutionary movement of the Indian workers and peasants, which has brilliantly begun over the last period. Could you describe this movement?

Sethi:
Sixty per cent of the people in our country are living below the poverty line. That means earning less than two rupees a day (20c). 74% to 80% of the people are living in the villages. Some are peasants, some are landless labourers. But when they go to the cities they see the capitalists living like princes, with cars, big homes and servants. Due to all these social evils the masses want revolution, they want to change society. They realise they are working hard and getting nothing. But the main problem is the lack of revolutionary organisation, the lack of national leadership. The left in India is split into many parties like the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party. But none of them provide a real alternative, a revolutionary leadership for the struggling workers and peasants.
None of the political parties is working democratically. This is a big problem and that is why they are divided. Anyone who criticises the leadership is sent out of the party. Also if he wants any change in the policy or programme, he is sent out of the party. Most of the trade unions are controlled by political parties and work in the same undemocratic way. What we need is to build one country-wide trade union organisation that will work democratically and carry forward the struggle for change. In the meantime we will also be building a revolutionary political leadership.

INQABA :
The name of Gandhi is well known in South Africa since Mahatma Gandhi was active In South Africa as well. Can you tell us about the regime which Indira Gandhi has set up in India today?

Sethi:
No doubt Indira Gandhis’ family were involved in the fight for independence, but she was not elected for this reason. 60% of the people have voted against her, always. Indira Gandhi game back to power in 1980 because the previous Janata Party government did not give what they had promised, and because of the failure of the main workers’ parties to provide any clear alternative. Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party is a nationwide party, but the other parties are regional parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the biggest left party. It is the ruling party in three states – West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In other parts the Communist Party of India has a hold. If the left put up a united front nationally Indira Gandhi could not win. She has to use bribery and vote-rigging in order to stay in power. But the left parties don’t unite. They are Stalinist parties, by which I mean that the upper leadership are the bosses of the parties. They dictate, they don’t want democracy in the party, they don’t want to lead the revolutionary struggles of the masses. That is why Mrs Gandhi is able to stay in power. This government of Indira Gandhi is pro-capitalist, anti-trade union and anti-working class. A new law has just been passed to ban strikes. But I tell you, half a million workers will march on 17 August to say to Indira Gandhi, you shall not pass this law. We in Faridabad are planning a strike on that day. But Indira Gandhi knows that the national trade union leadership do not have the courage to fight. After passing this law repression will increase. After that some workers’ leaders will be forced to come out in opposition because of the pressure of the workers. The workers will demand of their leaders that they to organise a united struggle.

INQABA:
What has been your experience of the struggle to create a united trade union movement?

Sethi:
Until 1974 I was working at Escort in Faridabad, when I was sacked for trade union activities. There were six trade unions in Escort, in a workforce of 10 000. The strongest of those unions were led by the CPI (M), the CPI and the Congress Party (Indira). I said to the leaders of the unions, why are we divided into six parts? We are crying that the employers are exploiting us, but we are doing nothing for the workers. We can’t get anything until we unite. The leaders agreed and said we should form a front. I said no, we should form one organisation, one union, and the workers should elect the leadership. The leaders said no. Then I went to the workers directly. I told them of my discussion with the leaders and explained to them that if we are divided our demands will not be met. The workers agreed. Then I asked them, why don’t we form one union and leave those other leaders? So they all left their unions and we formed one union. For the last four years we have had elections every year, and I have been elected President every time. After we formed this union we had a strike. It involved 10 000 workers, and we won it in three days. At first the employer said he would kill me. He said he would fire his factory before he would talk to me. But after three days he agreed to talk. Then we had a meeting with the management and got an increase of 125 Rupees (R12,50) per month per worker. And within three years we got another increase of 350 Rupees (R35.00). In the history of India there have never been such increases in such a short period. On that basis I went to the workers of the whole region of Faridabad. I asked them, why are we divided, why should we not form one organisation as we have formed in Escort? The workers agreed. We organised 15 000 workers more. Now we are the strongest organisation, in Faridabad. Within the next two years our aim is to organise 100 000 workers into our organisation, out of 200 000 workers in the region. They will come into our organisation because all the workers can see we are following the right path, we are following the democratic path and we are fighting for the workers’ interests.

INQABA:
How does democracy operate inside your union?

Sethi:
Democracy means, the leadership must be elected by the workers, if the workers believe they are right. I may be the leader of our organisation, but the leadership can be changed if it is not working in the interest of the working class. So I am not saying that I should be the leader, but that the leader should be elected every year. Any leader who is not working for the interests of the workers should be dismissed by election, according to the will of the workers.

INQABA:
What are the prospects for building trade union unity in India as a whole?

Sethi:
On the basis of our work in Faridabad we will try to form one trade union organisation all over India. I am working around Delhi but other people are organising the workers in every other part of the country. They are many and they are militant, but they cannot fight if they are divided. They will come together because they have similar ideas. When that happens we will form one national trade union organisation. That will provide the basis for a united political leadership of the working class.

INQABA:
What is the role of the present political leadership of the workers?

Sethi:
All the workers and the left should be united on the basis of a program and policy that is decided democratically. Every leader should be elected, from the bottom, to the city committee, district committee, state committee or central committee of the organisation. But at present the left parties are run by a dictatorial system. That is why there are splits. If there had been democracy in the party, there would be no need for splits. With democracy, the reformist leaders will be sent out because the working class want a militant leadership, they do not want reformists who cooperate with the authorities. The CP leaders have had many opportunities to build a mass revolutionary movement in India. But because of their policies they have always thrown these opportunities away. Instead they have taken their line from Moscow and betrayed the struggles of the Indian workers and peasants. The most notorious betrayal was in 1942-1945. At that time there was the ‘Quit India* movement to drive British imperialism out of India. The CPI opposed that movement, it opposed it because of Russia- because the Stalinist regime was in alliance with the British imperialists against Germany at that time. Because of its attitude to the independence movement the CPI was held in low esteem by the masses of India. If the CPI had been willing to support the struggle for national independence, then the workers’ movement would have become very strong, it would have led the national struggle. Instead, the people saw that the CP went against the movement, it was helping British imperialism. People were being hanged, people were sacrificing, and the CP went against it. Today the workers are very militant but the leadership is leading a princely life. The poor people are not able to eat; 70 million people don’t have houses but the leaders live like princes. How can it be possible for the people to believe in such a leadership? I can give you an example. In 1979 there was a one-day strike in Faridabad. This call was supported by all the left trade unions, so there was a complete strike. Everything was closed. The police prohibited any assembly of workers. We had a meeting already arranged but the police said, the order has been made so you have to leave this place. The workers said no. Then one of the police inspectors fired and a worker was killed. The workers then dispersed, and two workers carried the body away. The police inspector said, don’t touch the body, but they ignored him. Then he fired again and both the workers were killed. The other workers were watching this. After the police inspector fired, they ran at him and killed him. Minutes later, huge contingents of police arrived. They fired at the workers and more than 50 were killed. The workers had the support of all the people in the area. There was a mood of militancy. But this situation was turned into defeat by the leadership of the CPI and the CPI (M). The workers wanted to stay out on strike the second day but the leaders in Delhi said no, no strike. So the workers went to work. We were forced to go underground for three months. The workers said to me, what kind of leader are you-you tell us to go to work after 50 of us have been killed? I said, can there be a complete strike if only our union calls it? If the CP leaders ask you to work, can I alone ask you to strike? The workers were betrayed, very much betrayed. From that day the workers have been thinking very carefully before taking any action- whether under this leadership we should fight, or not.

INQABA:
How do you think the task of building the workers’ organisation can be carried forward in the period ahead?

Sethi:
I am going to collect 200 000 Rupees (R20 000) from the Escort workers for the purpose of organising the exploited, unorganised workers. We will ask 30 Rupees (R3) from each worker. We will explain to them that the unorganised are getting only 200 Rupees (R20) a month, whereas we get 600 Rupees (R60). We will explain that unless we can organise the working class in millions, there can be no social change. If this money is collected we can take on at least 15 to 20 full-time organisers. At present we only have 8 to .10 cadres working full-time for the union. In India the financial problem is a very big problem of trade union organisation. This problem has been caused by our leaders. Many of them are very dishonest. They have used the workers’ money for themselves. You have mentioned the problem of money and financial control, which is crucial lo prevent corruption in the leadership.

INQABA:
How do you tackle this problem in the union?

Sethi:
Our union is one of the most organised and financially stable in North India because we account to the workers, and the workers have control over the union’s finances. We show the workers every month, this is the income, this is the expenditure, and this is in the bank and in cash. We cannot draw more than 1 000 Rupees (R100) from the bank at once, and we cannot draw more than
3 000 (R300) in a month. If we need to draw more than 10 000 Rupees, the whole of the Executive Committee has to meet; and we have to get permission from a general meeting of the workers to draw so much money for such and such work. Then, if they give permission, the whole Committee has to sign. All these instructions have been given to the bank. This is the system we have. In the coming years we will have a very strong financial position. With these resources we will be able to meet our target of organising 100 000 workers.

INQABA:
We would like to turn now to the relations between India and the surrounding countries. A lot is said about the conflict between India and Pakistan. Can you give us your views on that?

Sethi:
Indira Gandhi says that we have a danger from Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Zia says that he has a danger from India. But Indira Gandhi has no danger from Pakistan, not at all, she is only making excuses to divert the attention of the people. The people are not afraid of Pakistan. The only thing the people want is to change society, they want to throw out the capitalists. There are so many struggles in different corners of India. The peasants have been fighting in Maharashtra, in Karnataka, in Tamil Nadu, in Haryana. They want lower prices, cheaper fertilisers, lower electricity costs. At least 100 have been killed. In Bangalore, 130 000 public sector workers were on strike for 70 days. They were only defeated due to a weakness of leadership. All these struggles are against Indira Gandhi, not against Pakistan. We need a national organisation to expand these struggles all over the country. There is no danger at all from Pakistan or China. The people are not thinking about it at all, they are only thinking about changing society.

INQABA:
What has been the attitude of the Indian workers’ leaders towards the struggles of the workers in Sri Lanka and other countries?

Sethi:
The more militant workers* leaders know the history of the revolutionary Sri Lankan working class, and know how the general strike was defeated. But the mass of the workers are not yet very conscious of the working-class struggle internationally. That is due to the nationalist policies of the workers’ political leaders. The CPI (M) and the CPI (ML) gave no help to the Sri Lankan revolutionaries at all. As for the CPI, it takes its line mainly from Russia.

INQABA:
We often hear about the caste system in India, which splits up the people and harshly discriminates against those who are born into the lower castes. How do you fight against this system in the workers’ movement?

Sethi:
Under capitalism it is very, very difficult to overcome caste divisions. Society is in such a form that caste differences are linked to economic and social privilege and power – The harijans (the lowest caste; the so-called ‘untouchables’-Ed.), for example, have almost no land, while the highest caste, the Brahmins, have among them many landlords and capitalists. But the workers’ leaders have failed to campaign on these issues, and so there is no clarity among the masses about the way in which casteism and religion are being used to divide and oppress them. In our agitation we concentrate on speaking against capitalism, why the workers are being exploited and how we can overthrow the capitalist system. When the working class takes power, casteism will be eliminated. But among the cadres we should always discuss these questions. We need to be clear about it at all times or we will have problems in the future.

INQABA:
Some of our leaders in the South African liberation movement still regard Indira Gandhi as an ally. She even gives out medals for the struggle of the South African masses. What is your comment on this?

Sethi:
Indira Gandhi did not fight for the masses, either in India or in South Africa, not at all. The working people of India are against Indira Gandhi. The people of your country should know this.

INQABA:
What do you see as the prospects for the Indian workers’ struggle in the period ahead?

Sethi:
In the next elections Indira Gandhi will probably win again because no alternative is being provided by the leaders of the left. If she does not win, then other rightist parties will come to power. But in the election after that, definitely we can come to power. By “we” I mean our organisations, like the CPI (M) and the CPI, when we have reformed them. The people will demand a leadership and a government that will make an end to the oppressive conditions of the capitalist system. We must use the time now to build that leadership. The conditions are very favourable. Thousands and thousands of cadres in the CPI, the CPI (ML) and the CPI (M) want to bring in their own revolutionary policies instead of the reformist policies of the leaders. If we can unite these cadres on the basis of a revolutionary programme, we can establish democracy in the parties and replace any leaders who don’t want to struggle for the demands of the workers and peasants. If this kind of party is formed in India, the left will be united, and a socialist government will be elected. It is possible that the capitalists will not give up their power peacefully, they will end democracy if they see that the workers and peasants will put their own parties in power. In that case there will be a fight. But with the revolutionary cadre united, and with the trade unions united, the revolution will be successful. The consequences of the Indian revolution will be very great. India is a country with the second-largest population in the world. If the revolution comes to India and capitalism is thrown out, the whole of Asia and indeed the whole world will be affected.

The things you have explained will contribute an enormous enthusiasm to the South African workers. Like the workers in India, we have the task of building a mass united trade union movement on the basis of a Marxist programme. We must do everything possible to link our struggles together, and with those of workers throughout Africa and internationally.

Trade unionists in South Africa who would like to get in touch with Comrade Subhash’s union directly can write to:
Subhash Sethi, President, All Escorts Employees’ Union, Neelam Chowk, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar – May 1983 to February 1993
Ten years of articles covering re-structuring and workers’ resistance in Faridabad biggest factory.

* FMS – May 1983

Article on conflict between two management factions and the implication for the workers – from an internationalist perspective.

* FMS – June 1983
Update on struggle about the Escorts ‘take-over’ through Gandhi – Swaraj Paul

* FMS – October 1983
Old Escorts union leadership breaks up workers’ protest and attacks new trade union leadership

* FMS – November 1983
Analysis on how both Nanda and Swaraj Paul make use of different trade union factions

* FMS – January 1987
Critique of Escorts Union president Subhash Sethi’s intimidating leaflet to the Escorts workers

* FMS – March 1987
Report on new agreement which settles a 50 to 80 per cent work-load increase

* FMS – December 1988
Report on how productivity bonus scheme has lead to productivity increase and piling up of inventory

* FMS – April 1989
Report on new agreement, which contains new work-load increase

* FMS – July 1989
Escort Union’s president resigns after only 17 workers turn up for 1st of May celebration

* FMS – February 1990
Report on introduction of compulsory pension scheme

* FMS – April 1990
Report on temporary closure of motor-cycle plant and mass lay-offs of temporary workers

* FMS – May 1990
Article on workers refusing the new agreement proposed by management and union

* FMS – July 1990
Article on reduction of over-time payment and the word-games attached to it

* FMS – November 1992
Article on the results of the formal breaking up of Escorts into various companies

* FMS – February 1993
Article on over-capacities and lay-offs in both motorcycle and tractor plant

* Escorts economic situation in 1998
News on take-over of motor-cycle division by Yamaha, of piston production by Mahle etc.

* FMS – May 1983

Mr. Swraj Paul (1), a London-based citizen close to Shrimati Indira Ghandi, has stirred up trouble amongst the circles of local industrialists. Having his roots in the wealthy Amichand Pyarelal family, Swaraj Paul has become an English citizen. He controls the Caparo Group. The Caparo Group also owns 16 tea plantations in Asam. Swaraj Paul’s brother runs the APJ Company here in Faridabad.

In the current budget the Indira Gandhi government has dished out many offerings to the NRI’s. These ‘friends in the distance’ have replied to these offerings in the appropriate manner… Swaraj Paul has bought company shares from share-holding members of Escorts and DCM management. In a state of agitation the group around Birla-Jain-Modi-Shriram-Nanda has met the Finance Minister on 20th of April requesting, that the right of NRI to vote in share-holder companies should be abolished! So to hell with “Vasudeva Kutumb (2)”, what has become of the “Indian-ness” of the Birla friends?!

On 22nd of April we could see the troubled face of the Escorts chairman HP Nanda in the Financial Express. He announced that he would buy Escorts shares at all costs… Mr. Nanda said that those people eager to take-over Escorts are nothing but “money bags” who want to “trouble” companies which are run according to the national customs. So, Mr. Nanda, the aversion against “money bags” has now also entered yourself?! The pot calls the kettle black! And in regard to the “trouble”, Mr. Nanda, this is still the issue of the working class movement, isn’t it?!

Well, so trouble has broken out between “foreigners” and “locals” – and what do insecure wrestlers tend to do: they scream out loud. The BJP party-leader Vajpayee (3) met the Finance Minister on behalf of Birla and Nanda. A member of the Congress (S) asked the government during a session in Parliament to stop Swaraj Paul creating trouble in 300 factories! The Haryana Government announced through a district judge that it will make use of the National Security Act against Mr. Paul – based on the fact that he is a social enemy, a national enemy… Mr. Nanda, why don’t you throw Mr. Swaraj Paul into jail under the National Security Act – after his leave for London he seems to have forgotten that there are laws allowing to lock people up without trial!

On the 30th of April the Economic Times printed the declaration of ten senior MP’s of Indira’s Congress – denouncing Mr. Swaraj Paul to spoil the game. Factions are competing, and the niggling continues. Rajeev Gandhi and the Central Finance Minister position themselves in the middle… In the meantime Mr. Paul said in an interview with a London-based newspaper that he has invested capital after having been instructed by important people in Delhi – ‘in the interest of Hindustan’. He will make use of his shares of Escorts and DMC in order to give a push to the big corporations in Hindustan, given that most of the owners of big companies in Hindustan have actually invested very little themselves. Mr. Swaraj Paul said that he will free those companies from their feudal roots…

Obviously, in the majority of companies, banks and insurance, ‘state capital’ has the dominant position. Nevertheless these companies are categorised as ‘private’. These companies are managed by Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda tycoons, whose shares constitute only around 10 to 15 per cent of total capital. A company of one crore Rs share-capital takes out tens of crore Rs of credits from the banks. In this way, the money of Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda will amount to less than one per cent of the total sum invested in the company (Sanjay Gandhi, who holds 3,000 Rs shares runs Maruti, a three crore Rs company).

Mr. Swaraj Paul has bought one or two per cent of the shares of Escorts and DMC and… he has become part of the management. If the state-leaders want him to, he will take-over the leading position. There is another clear issue. The managing figures within Escorts and DMC will – now more than ever – try to intensify their good relations with the Delhi political class… the financial offerings will increase. This is the actual meaning of Swaraj Paul’s ‘putting an end to feudalism in companies’. Mr. Swaraj Paul has made Birla-Tata and friends realise the power of state capital, the power of Indira-Rajeev Gandhi. This is the current motive behind the wrestling.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swraj_Paul (in October 2010 he was suspended from the British House of Lords for fraud)
(2) Hindu concept meaning that the world is one family
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atal_Bihari_Vajpayee

* FMS – June 1983

From speculators at the Delhi Stock Exchange: Escorts chairman HP Nanda went to London to meet Mr. Swaraj Paul. Swaraj Paul bought thousands of 10 Rs-Escort-shares for 40 to 80 Rs each. Initially Nanda had offered the shares for 150 Rs each. Paul replied to Nanda by making following offer: Sell me all the shares you have for 200 Rs each. Given these large amounts of money, the Escorts workers are able to guess how much they are exploited. Swaraj Paul, a person close to Indira Gandhi, continues to put pressure on Escorts and DMC.

Nanda-Shriram and friends acknowledge the declarations of the government – Capitalists know their governments, therefore they don’t sit back and tighten their belts, no, they move their fat bellies and join the struggle over influence. Workers can take this as a lesson: they should give up their believe in the capitalist government’s promises. Obviously, behind all the chitter-chatter hides this main question: for whose private interest and to which extend is state capital employed. Therefore there is no clash between Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda and Swaraj Paul. Their opponent is the head of state capital, Indira Gandhi. Nanda or Swaraj Paul? Whoever will benefit her more, will have Indira Gandhi’s hand in his back. Once either Escorts or DMC is handed over to Swaraj Paul there will be sweets in both of Indira Gandhi’s hands. From now on Birla-Tata-Nanda will be found more often in the palaces of state power – there will be more bribes changing hands.

Workers should take advantage of the in-fights between the different representatives of capital. This is a great opportunity for Escort workers to enforce their demands. Hence, it is time to put pressure on management through organised struggle, but the union leaders are entangled in a low level quarrel among themselves.

* FMS – October 1983

It has been an intensive week since the hunger strike of two dismissed Ford workers started on 23rd of September. The Ford workers have demonstrated a great unity and the workers in the second Ford plant have started to show on which side they are. But the Ford union leaders break the Ford workers’ eagerness to struggle by spreading the following wrong reasoning: if you fight back you might get hurt… so give up all this talk about struggle! On the eighth day of the hunger strike the leaders turned from being ‘peaceful’ to being ‘revolutionary’ – they stopped the demonstrations and the ‘lunch and tea’-boycott of the Ford workers! Instead of relying on the strength of the Ford workers the union leaders hope for miracles. And then suddenly they order to pack up the sleeping-mats of the hunger strikers on 3rd of October.

After having finished off the hunger strike, suddenly started to stir up trouble. Beatings in the Ford plant are followed by arrests of dozens of workers and the situation finally ends in a lockout.
Congress vultures turned all of a sudden pro-worker and bailed out the arrested Ford workers. The current situation, the conflict between Nanda management and other factions, are a golden opportunity for Congress to portraty themselves as ‘workers’ supporters’. These “workers’ supporter”-vultures of the Congress might bail out Ford workers, but are not bothered about the JMA workers being still in jail. How could they?! The order to put the JMA workers behind bars came from their INTUC [Congress Union} brothers.

DCS, PD, LC are experts in opportunism. In the current period the skills of these representatives of capital are coming into full bloom – the local lord is Nanda, but the main parental-power is Indira. Nanda’s current interest is to keep ‘peace’ at Escorts, while Indira and Swaraj Paul are interested in ‘trouble’. The bosses are solving this contradiction in an excellent manner. Presenting it as an ‘external constrain’ the ‘peace-keepers’ create ‘controlled trouble’. The representative of the state are actually more ‘militant’ than both union leaderships: more than the leadership of the Escorts Union, who has been turned into Nanda’s pawns and who preach that ‘we have to keep the peace, because it is time for re-negotiating the agreement [collective contract]‘; and more than the leadership of the ‘troublemaking’ Ford leadership, who became pawns of Indira and Swaraj Paul.

Whoever portrays factions of the state as being ‘on the side of the workers’ has also to talk about the involvement of the state’s ‘law and order’… about the Atul Glas workers who have committed the crime to form a union have been stripped naked and beaten up in the police station; the lathi-attacks to prevent workers from holding meetings; the arrests of JMA Atul Glas workers, who were held in custody for four days without arrest notice. The police make sure that the Escort issue ‘is kept completely within the realm of the law’. To stick to the capitalist law in times when the bosses are in struggle with each other is hard work for the state representatives: “It is the order from above, what can we do, we are forced”…

* FMS – November 1983

In Faridabad, the struggle about the take-over of Escorts, which has erupted between the advancing Indira-Swaraj Paul faction and the Nanda clique, is heating up. Here the Indira – Swaraj Paul faction turns the Ford Workers Union leaders into their pawns, while Nanda does the same with the Escorts Employees’ Union leaders. At this point of time the main struggle at Escorts is not about the agreement. It is neither about the two leaders sacked at Ford. Neither is the struggle against the All Escorts Union leaders – so unpopular figures among the Ford workers – currently the main question at Escorts. Nevertheless, some stupid elements have used these questions to get workers entangled in a fight between each other: workers at the Ford plant on one side and workers of other Escort plants on the other side. At this point of time the struggle between Indira-Swaraj Paul and Nanda over Escorts is the central point of development and main concern at Escorts. To take advantage of the exploiters’ weakness – their factions being locked in a tug of war – is the workers’ task of the hour.

* FMS – January 1987

Leaflet of the Escorts Union Leader Subhash Sethi
When the struggle about the take-over of Escorts between Nanda and Swaraj Paul was still in full swing, the local trade union backed Nanda openly. During the peak-time of the tug-of-war over Escorts, the time came for a new three years agreement between management and union. The union presented a proposal to the workers: 20 per cent workload increase for a wage increment of 191 Rs per month. The workers ripped the proposal into pieces and demanded an agreement without inscribed workload increase. The union then proclaimed that they had achieved an agreement which would guarantee more money without higher workload – and they sold this to the workers as the most marvellous agreement under the sky of workers’ rights. Finally the Nanda management reclaimed the control over Escorts. Immediately after the successful re-instatement of Nanda management, both management and union told the workers to fulfil their part of the ‘whole agreement': the wonderful agreement, which had guaranteed wage hike without asking for more work, contained I.E. Norms. And I.E. Norms meant that the workload of the Escort workers would be increased by 30 per cent. Facing this fraud, and given that they had turned a 20 per cent work-load increase agreement into shreds, the outburst of workers’ anger was not surprising. When the workers spat on an offered sweetener of 50 Rs wage increase, the union started to enforce the management’s policy by using threats and measures to create divisions among workers. When the workers faced a 30 per cent work-load increase the main union leader of Faridabad came out with a leaflet, with the headline “Two Issues”, which was distributed amongst the Escorts workers. The union leader’s [Subhash Sethi] leaflet reads:

“You can refuse the proposal for the agreement… but what right does exist to accuse leaders to have mingled with management… during the last negotiations the issue of 20 per cent production increase came up and you refused the issue, and we accepted your resistance. We then settled an agreement about the I.E. Norms and you were informed about this. Here and now we refer only to the decision about this issue, we don’t raise any new issues here.

It might well be that you have misunderstood things, we will have to explain to and understand from each other. “…but why all this general talk here”, you might think. “Why all this nonsense talk”, you might ask. “He is talking, but he does not say anything, and then he will complain again that all workers say that union leaders and management have mingled. Why all this double-faced attitude? Say what you want to say, speak straightforwardly. Unsubstantial nonsense-talk will not be tolerated. And we will have to find ways to deal with all this.”

Last year we have settled a mini-agreement. In this agreement the production increase was inscribed in ‘increase per cent’, but it failed. Now the management raised again the demand of production increase, again in terms of ‘percentage’. But one question comes up: if we apply a ‘percentage increase’ then those people who currently work 3 to 4 hours per shift will have to work only 40 to 45 minutes longer. Those who already work 6 to 6.5 hours will have to work 7.5 hours. The question has to be raised how this problem can be solved. One solution would be that those who work less will have to work the proper hours while those who work the full amount already, will not be bothered.

So now please tell us, should we have accepted the IE norms or not? Some were not accepting it. We – the union – thought that, alright, give us 50 Rs wage increase in the name of I.E. Norms. The management did not agree to this at all. Some people said at this point that “together with the I.E. Norms there will be a major increase in production targets”. Relating to this we told the management, that if there is a production increase, there should be a wage hike, too. So the management presented us this scheme. We did not agree to this scheme, but given that the I.E. Norms have to be introduced and that the workers should get something out of it, we thought that there will be no harm… Now, you will say: “this scheme is nothing else than the I.E. Norms in disguise”.

If you will not accept this agreement either, then you will have to accept that those people who work only 3 to 4 hours will continue to do so and those who work 6 to 6.5 hours will do so, too. Now you might reply that we should stop all the talk about I.E. Norms altogether, that the demands of the last settlement have been fulfilled from your side. The management will use this attitude of yours in order to obstruct the next settlement. To sort this out will take two months and the new settlement will be useless by then.

Now the question is: what are I.E. Norms? The management might have their position on this, but that does not mean that our union will have to agree. Our union delegates will see and find out how much work a worker is able to perform during 6.5 hours. Our union delegates and representatives of the management will meet and come to a decision about this. The norm that both sides agree on – which will have to be accepted by the workers – will be the I.E. Norm. You will receive 50 Rs wage hike for the I.E. Norm, if you will fetch more than that, that should be alright, and you should not worry about getting less than this. It is our task to establish the I.E. Norms, and in return there has to be a good settlement. Some people might now think that they could just work less during the I.E. Norms establishing process, or to create trouble. This was the case at Escorts plant in Bangalore – but go and ask the union leaders at plant 1 about the current conditions of the workers in Bangalore, these leaders have seen them with their own eyes. You will have to work double as much and will not get any wage increase at all – this is exactly what has happened in Bangalore.” [End of leaflet]

* FMS – March 1987

Three years agreement
At the beginning of every year Escorts management deducts the union dues from the wages of all workers and hands them over to the union – nowadays the annual dues amount to more than 200,000 Rupees. The last three years agreement between union and management is an example of how workers have to pay. Referring to the ‘last agreement’s conditions’ management and union asked workers to accept a 30 per cent increase of the work-load, which resulted in the workers becoming even more suspicious towards the union. Given this suspicion of the workers, the union did not manage to get the workers drawn into the whirls of their usual routine mobilisations, such as symbolic strikes “because the management is not willing to negotiate” – routine mobilisations, which, like at the moment, take place before the finalisation of a new agreement. When ordinary workers started to take the piss out of the union leaders cunning tricks, the union came up with their own remedy. Suddenly the union announced that in a struggle over life and death they have settled an agreement, which would guarantee the workers a 301 Rs increase of wages. For the desperate workers this was a rather surprising announcement – and the agreement received a nice applause.
But nowadays Nanda management is not engaged in any ‘internal’ struggle like during the last agreement, when the fight with Swaraj Paul was going on. Therefore it took less than a month before the workers had to face the truth of the current agreement. Shortly after the announcement workers were told that a further 50 to 80 per cent workload increase will be attached to the increase of wages. And the management in each plant made clear that the workers will have to meet the new targets first, before getting more money count in their leisure time.
The Escorts workers did not openly lament against this agreement, but in their groups they undertook steps against it. In all plants the maintenance workers strengthened their opposition against the agreement and formed collectives against it. In the third plant some department workers interrupted production and on the 28th of March in the Ford plant workers stopped the entire production acting against the agreement.

Here are some sections from the union-management agreement:
10. b) The union and the workmen agree that they will accept the production level defined by management and that they will undertake the effort to meet it.
c) If any workmen fail to meet the production level defined by management or are found being absent from their workplace, then the ‘no work no pay’ rule is applied.
e) …the union accepts that the company has the right to set time standards for different work tasks and methods. The workmen will deliver performance according the time standards defined by the company. The union also accepts that the time standard at one point defined by the company can be altered if there are changes in the production system, in the material or product, in machinery or tools or jig fixture, or any other factor which has an impact on the production system.
f) For production and productivity reasons a worker can be shifted from one machine or work station to another. If according to his skills the worker is able to run another or several other machines then the union will not interfere with or obstruct the worker being employed at this machine or these machines.
11. Whether the full amount of the wage is paid to the workmen will depend on the condition that the minimum production target is met, which is defined in the efficiency scheme.

* FMS – December 1988

Escorts: In Faridabad’s main company an incentive scheme has been introduced, based on last year’s agreement between management and union. Initially the workers were enraged about this work-load increasing scheme – but then, once earning two Paise extra, they only swore a bit and joined the scheme. Once the incentive scheme runs, the workers turn blind and drudge on. After only ten months the workers had already fulfilled the annual production target. At the beginning of November 5,500 Rajdoot motor-cycle stock started to pile up at the second plant. The situation is more or less the same at the tractor plant.

In this way ‘lay-offs’ entered the agenda of the management. The fact that now there is talk about a slow-down strike coming up, is not seen on the background of the looming lay offs. To suddenly come up with demands about pensions and to make workers engage in a slow-down can only be a measure to pull the wool over workers eyes. By having met the 12-months target in 10 months workers have handed over a sword to management, a sword to tackle and cut down 20 per cent of superfluous work-force.

* FMS – April 1989

Chess-Board Struggles
At the beginning of March, news about a “marvellous” agreement – all for the benefit of the Escorts workers – were published in the newspapers. In fact it was made to be published. But the Escorts workers were not too happy about this “marvellous” agreement, which the leaders had made ‘in the interest of the workers’. The same “marvellous” words were used during the 1986 agreement – which was forged in 1983 during the chess-board fights between Nanda and Swaraj Paul and which brought the I.E. Norms into effect.

Back then in 1986, the Escorts union president got enraged and threatened the Escorts workers in a leaflet named “Two Issues”. In the arbitrary name of I.E. Norms the work load of the Escorts workers had to be increased by 30 percent – and in the end the management and union leaders were able to force it upon the workers. The three-years agreement of 1987 again meant an increase of the workload for the workers – this time in the name of the incentive scheme. The Escorts workers verbally protested also against this agreement, but together the management and union were able to enforce it against the workers. For more and more incentives [productivity bonus] the Escorts workers started to speed up their work, exhausting themselves, shortening their lifetime. The workers, already running out of breath, had to face yet another “marvellous” agreement, which union and management put on their shoulders within less than a years time.

The incentive scheme ‘proved’ the management that the workers can easily work even more and that, up to now, they had intentionally worked less than they could. The Escorts union leader-ship agreed with the leading management – in their “Two Issues” leaflet distributed during the time of the I.E. Norms agreement they said: “Some people might think that they can work less and cause trouble… but in the end you will work double as much and will get nothing in return”. And the same union president, in order to enforce a 15 per cent work load increase, told the workers in March 1989 in a leaflet: “You will now say that we keep listening to the wrong advisors and that we should ensure that you will keep getting everything without being compelled to work a little bit: Then sorry! Such kind of leadership will not be given by Subhash Sethi!”

We actually do not know who is doing the wrong thing – the guy in the fine dress driving around in a car, agitating people; or the worker who uses the bike, wears blue-collar and drudges at his or her machine. But one thing is clear, that management and union have made the decision to threaten the Escorts workers. Having toughened the incentive norms, management will pay less for the workers, while at the same time they have increased the workload by another 15 per cent. In the last six-seven years again and again the Escorts workers and the union leaders have confronted each other over each and every main issues. It is clear that either the Escorts workers are to stupid to know their own interests; or the union leaders are wastrels who, in the name of the favour of the workers, do everything for the good of the management.

* FMS – July 1989

Union election
When out of the 12,000 members only 17 followed the call to come to the Mayday meeting, the union president made this the issue for his resignation. The actual issue is that during the last six to seven years the union has played a supervising and co-managing role when, under this pretext or the other, the work load of the workers has been increased. Therefore the union has lost its trust and credit amongst the workers. In the interest of the leadership of both union and management, something had to be done about this lack of credibility. The resignation was a step within the attempt to restore the credibility. The election of a new leader-ship was announced. During earlier elections it happened several times that the leadership had declare its resignation only in order withdraw it again shortly afterwards. This time they try to prevent this by ‘proper elections’, but actually the elections were hardly more than a drama. All leaders and their muscle men created a lot of pressure in order to prevent people from voting, and this actually made an impact. Nevertheless, 3,300 votes were counted and a new leader-ship elected.

* FMS – February 1990

Compulsory Pension Fund
The public workers got a little agitated about the current wage re-vision, they created a lot of fuss about the state’s announcement to transfer the outstanding wages – outstanding at the time of the wage re-vision – and the Dearness Allowance money into a compulsory public workers saving account. The government does not justify this compulsory saving scheme by saying that it is in the interest of the workers. The government says that it is forced to introduce it, it cries tears about having its hands tied. But look what’s going on here at Escorts.

In the name of the pension scheme the middle-men at Escorts do not just force the workers to pay into the scheme, but they directly cut money from their wages. Furthermore, this deed is portrayed as being a step in favour of the Escorts workers. This is published all over Faridabad. Lies don’t know any limits.
Every month Escorts deducts 125 Rs from each worker’s wage and pays it to the insurance. We do not know who will put commission-money from these crores Rs of insurance money into their own pockets, but fact is that the business of insurance companies is profit business and that in this case they extract this profit from the workers’ wages.

The Escorts pension scheme is actually a reduction of workers’ wages. Even according to the government’s own standards, a monthly wage of 3,000 Rs is hardly enough to fill the stomachs of a three-member family. Therefore, those who force us to cut money from a 1,500 Rs wage by beating the drum of a golden future actually make our black present even darker. And how should there be a golden future? One glimpse at the current Provident Fund policies is sufficient to see that if workers want to get their deposited money they have to pay bribes. In reality the Escorts pension scheme is a management scheme. Escorts biggest share-holder, the public company Indian Life Insurance Neegam (Bhartiy Jivan Bima Neegam) is already making money from the scheme, Escorts company also will use the gathered money of the workers, will invest for their own profit it and/or use it as credit.

* FMS – April 1990

Temporary plant closure
Since 23rd of March, production at the Escorts plants in Faridabad and the Yamaha plant in Surajpur has been stopped. On 23rd of March, 2,000 casual workers have been kicked out from their jobs. About 12,000 permanent workers will only get 22 days of wage paid for March. On 5th of April, the printing time of this issue, the production at the Faridabad plant was still down and the workers in a state of confusion. According to their business figures these are good times for the management – so why the production stop? In order to understand the management’s plot behind the decision to stop production for 14 days which produces more than 2.5 crore Rs per day, it is necessary to reflect on some facts in detail. The statistics we have taken from the management’s publication “Escorts News”.

In 1986 the production of Escorts was 382 crore Rs, in 1987 it was 482 crore Rs and in 1988 it was 600 crore Rs. Instead of taking January – December period as bases for their calculation of 1989 production they referred to the financial year period from April till 31st of March, meaning that they took a total of 15 month of production into account for 1989. From January 1988 to March 1989 the production was 783 Rs. The managing chairman told the share-holder meeting on 20th of September 1989 that production during the five months period between April to August 1989 was 308 crore Rs, which is a major jump compared to the 248 crore Rs during the same period in 1988. The profits in the April – August 1989 period were 80 per cent higher than those of the some period in 1988. And management and middle-men preach that Escorts workers work only four hours a day!

Given that their propaganda has an affect on some workers we refer to the figures given by management to the capitalist listeners, so that people can have a look at the bare facts. Obviously, from a superficial point of view in a production process, which runs in quick succession, any ‘resting’ workers look like they are idle. Actually, these workers subjected to the speed of work drown their mental and physical health – one expression is the increase in alcohol and gambling.
Well! In the Times of India of the 3rd of April 1989 it said that, according to a spokesperson of the chairman, the management proposed a 50 per cent increase in production – instead of a yearly production of 775 crore Rs an annual production of 1,200 crore. The management and the chief of their middle-men announced that he and his comrades are ready to increase the workload in order to obtain the 1,200 crore production… but management has to pour some sugar on this poison in order to enable the middle-men to get the 1,200 crore annual production down the workers’ throats.

After 18 years of increasing the work load, the collaborating union and their honoured management know very well that some minor incentives won’t do in order to further increase the work load: they will have to take more drastic measures against the workers. The current mini agreement which enforced 15 per cent workload increase and which was accompanied by speeches of the union middle-men, saying that there won’t be any further increases in the future, are recent events. Therefore, in order to grind workers down and to make them ready for the increased load, the management and middlemen arranged the drama of shutting down production on 23rd of March. Those 12,000 workers, who produce 20 per cent of all tractors and 40 per cent of all motor-cycles in India, have to face up to a serious issue.

* FMS – May 1990

Workers refuse agreement
The management and their middle-men announced the restart of production for the 20th of April, putting an end to their drama of shutting down production, which started on 23rd of March. In the last issues we had a look at the reasons behind this drama, based on the written announcements published by management and their middle-men: “In order to prepare workers for a 50 per cent workload increase, management and middle-men arrange this drama”. But this time the announcement that production would resume on the 20th of April, which was made by management middle-men during a meeting on the 19th of April, was torn to pieces by the Escorts workers. On 20th of April restarting production was not on the agenda, most of the Escorts plants were not even cleaned. It seems that the alliance of management and union middle-men, having their true pretensions revealed, will have to hurry up and get their own hands dirty.

Being irritated by the unaccomplished re-start of work the union middlemen called for another meeting on the 20th of April. Despite the drama staged by the union chief and his followers the workers could not be moved. For the first time since the events at Ford in 1983 the attempt of the union middle-men to silence the Escorts workers by threats and attacks failed. Despite being beaten and kicked the workers raised their hands against the 50 per cent work-load increasing agreement – those who raised their hands in favour of the agreement were mostly office staff who would not have been affected by the work load increase. The Escorts workers stand firm to oppose the workload increase. Having expressed their anger the workers also managed to extol money for the work (un)done in March.

* FMS – July 1990

Word games
The representatives of capital in India are experts in word games. English being the business language for the upper ruling layer, this game is their daily bread. In Faridabad there are two recent examples of how the representatives of capital use the ‘trap of words’ against workers.

In order to quell the initial collective steps of workers’ resistance at East India Cotton Mill, management suspended several workers in the power-loom department in December 1989. After six month of ‘investigation and inquiry’-drama around the question of suspension, management and workers were getting soft. Management told the suspended workers that they could be “dismissed”, but that they will actually be “discharged”. In this way, the power-loom workers at East India Cotton were sacked by management. In order to explain the mighty difference between ‘dismissed’ and ‘discharged’ capitalist scholars might meet you in that matter, but if you need a legal decision then please wait for the decision of the supreme court via high court via labour court – which, first of all, has to make a case concerning ‘dismissed in the name of being discharged’, which needs a decision of the supreme court and so on. Escorts management makes use of the mighty difference between ‘discharged-dismissed’, too.

At Escorts, nowadays workers do not work ‘over-time’, they do ‘over-stay’. You don’t need a Plato to explain the difference between ‘over-time’ and ‘over-stay’. For the Escorts workers the difference between these words is so big that an elephant could pass between them: for over-time double-rate was paid, while for over-stay only single-rate is given. Obviously, the law which fixes double rate for over-time is rather old. Most capitalists in Faridabad break this law without any shame – by changing hours in the over-time register etc.. But Escorts is a reputed and famous company and there are so many people employed in the middle-management strata that the top management does not dare to engage in such blunt swindles. But then Escorts is forced to make workers work over-time and they have to pay less for it – what has to be done? Together with the union the management made an agreement that at Escorts there will not be any over-time, instead workers will be stopped from leaving after their duty-time in order to work and they will do ‘over-stay’, paid at single rate.

* FMS – November 1992

In hundreds of small factories in Faridabad work for Escorts is done. Thousands of workers working in these factories are usually not paid according to the minimum wage fixed by the government. In the Escorts plant itself there is a notable amount of casual workers and workers hired through contractors who work extremely hard for very little money. And then there are 14,000 permanent workers, who have been subjected to a continuous series of workload increases issued by management-union agreements. These conditions have the combined effect that in the last ten years the business of Escorts has increased four fold, which amounts to an annual production of more than 1,200 crore Rs.

Normally the workload increase is accompanied by a nominal wage increase. But the real purchasing power is constantly falling. In this way the real wages of the permanent Escorts workers, like the wages of other workers in India, have fallen continuously. The reasons for taking an additional part-time job, to work over-time, to let children and wife run a shop, has to be found in the fall of wages. And concerning the right to leisure-time: workers would be shocked if they’d compare the official 60-70 years old laws and their reality.

Normally the statutory bonus is paid on company or factory level. Despite the fact that within Escorts there are various ‘Companies Ltd.’, bonus had been paid on the bases of the All Escorts Group as a whole. But this year there has been a change. ‘All Escorts’ is finished and the bonus payment on plant level has also ended up in the furnace. In the Escorts Plant I bonus is paid on department level. It was announced that workers in some departments get 20 per cent, while other get only 8.33 per cent annual bonus. Furthermore, while the 20 per cent bonus was paid on Diwali, the people who are paid 8.33 per cent received only 500 Rs as an advance payment. In the Motorcycle Division Rajdoot, Plant II) management announced the same thing: only 8.33 per cent, only 500 Rs advance. The Escorts management uses their union middle-men to whitewash these dangerous procedures.

Managements of other factories are not far from following the example given by Escorts: separate bonus for different departments. New machinery, difficult situation on the market, tight financial conditions: Escorts management plans some new and major attacks on the permanent workers at Escorts. To only swear at the union middle-men will not be a sufficient response, neither will a physical attack change anything.

* FMS – February 1993

Crisis kicks in
After the motorcycle department, now the tractor division is in trouble. The market slump gave Escorts a blow. The management reacts by cutting production, in one plant it is down to a half, in the other to a third of the normal level. Instead of two or three shifts only one shift is run. In addition to Sundays there are one or two more days off per week. The incentives [productivity bonus] drop. Permanent workers having to pay their instalments for their house-TV-fridge have to reduce their food to dal and roti. The supplying small factories and workshops are in trouble, too. There is less work and Escorts payments are delayed: Escorts pays only after six months, instead of every three months. The vendors at the Ford plant are only paid after 9 to 10 months. The situation of workers employed on 12-hours shifts in these smaller factories and workshops go from bad to worse.
Given the generally bad economic situation at Escorts, the internal wheeling and dealing of the Nanda management comes to the open more quickly. There are talks about the damaging impact of ‘corrupting relations’ on the company, e.g. there are fights between the sons of the chairman and other stories follow in rapid succession.

The situation in 1993 will be very complicated. The managers themselves don’t know what is going to happen. Insecurity is a normal atmosphere at Escorts. The sometimes 5,000, sometimes 8,000 casual workers know this atmosphere already, so do the workers hired through contractors; now 11,000 permanents and 3,000 staff and 800 managers know it, too. All Escorts Group wants to sacrifice 30 per cent of its work-force. On the Escort agenda is the dismissal of 3,300 permanent workers, 600 supervisors and staff and 240 managers. To blame this or that person for this situation only means to disguise the actual reasons.
Escorts is not an exception: in Italy thousands workers, managers and supervisors are laid off. It becomes necessary to look at the deeper reasons behind the possible lay-offs at Escorts. Individual workers have been replaceable and secondary, now managers and supervisors have become secondary, too. Nevertheless, managers and supervisors normally see the current system as being in their interest. Don’t the facts contradict this view? What does it mean that – once it becomes a ‘necessity’ – managers and supervisors are thrown on the scrap heap like unnecessary parts of the machine? Do these ‘necessities’ not increase on a world wide scale? And the issue does not confine itself to the workers. You might be a chairman, a managing director, a chancellor or prime minister: in front of the crisis of the industrial market system they are all helpless.

Having become parts of global competition means that in terms of their quality there is no difference between socialist, progressive, nationalist, culturally conservative or governments of other labels. There is only a formal difference: between the 60,000 lay offs at computer-giant IBM since 1986 (and the plan to sack another 30,000) on one side and the usage of armed police to quell workers resistance at Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea on the other – the methods are different, the essence is the same. Behind their various veils the actual differences between Thatcher and Major, between Indira and Narasimha Rao, between ‘shining’ and CP political leaders are neglectable. So is the difference between the work of a highly paid genius, specially hired to run the company, and the old men of inherited family business with their rather general experience.

Production cuts, lay offs, reduction of wages and benefits, workload increase, continuous automation, growing numbers of unemployed – it might be Japan or America, Germany or Russia, Korea or India, the melody-rhythm of this lullaby-truncheon is present everywhere. General Motors is sacking 74,000 production workers in its global manufacturing units. There is the saying that what is good for General Motors is good for America (it is self-evident that workers are not part of this ‘America’). Having given the waking call of industrial revolution and it’s coal-steam force to spread around the globe, the English government has recently sacked 40,000 workers from the coal mines and moves heaven and earth to layoff another 30,000. Having used brute force to mitigate unemployment and to climb the ladder of development, Russia now makes big sacrifices to the crisis, which, apart from the usage of brute force, puts things topsy-turvy. The same process is happening in Vietnam and China. The seemingly solid foundation of the public sector has turned into a difficulty for the Indian government and the discussion about ‘privatisation as being the remedy or not’ continuous, despite the fact that it has ceased to say anything.

In this context of the fundamental issue the particularities become secondary. The company particularities become secondary. National particularities become secondary. In the times to come this fact will become more and more noticeable.
So should workers, should humans put their hope into ‘individual particularities’ when looking for a solution to their problems? Is there a solution on the level of ‘company particularities’? And can there be a solution to workers’ problems, to the problems of human-kind on a national level?

According to our understanding

After five hundred years of creating stronger ties and links day by day, the global market has now obtained a concrete form. Production for the market is now established on a world scale. All elements of human life are now controlled by the market or are affected by it.
Profit and competition are two essential elements of production for the market. Given that the market is now a global market, both profits and competition are now relating to a global level. It is for this reason that governments, which came to power because of their popular stance, might suddenly be forced to undertake unpopular measures. It is for this reason that companies – booming in terms of local competition and leading in terms of the national market – suddenly start to tremble. The new economic policies of the Narasimha Rao government and the collapse of Gedore Handtools company in 1982 to 1984 are current examples.
But to reduce production temporarily instead of increasing it; to take measures to cut losses instead of making profits; and to intensify the struggle over subsidies are becoming world-wide phenomena which make the fact more prominent that production for the market is prone to crisis. The path of fulfilling human needs through production for the market has become undermined. To leave human needs unsatisfied while cutting production at the same time… what is this about?
There is no lack of raw materials, no lack of machinery, no lack of people able to work… and reduce production! Lay people off! Cut wages! Drive forward automation!
America-Japan-Germany-Russia-England-India-China-Brazil-Egypt-South Africa: the wheels keep on turning faster and they run off track. The crisis is omnipresent and deepening. In order to overcome the crisis governments and managements in each country and company turn workers into offerings to be sacrified – as a result of which we seen two world wars and dozens of other wars in this century, killing 15 to 20 crore people. The devastating argument to save the hand by cutting off the fingers is established widely.
Today we do not face the problem of not being able to produce. The problem is that we produce for the market. From the issues mentioned above it becomes clear that the production for the market has entered a dead end and has turned increasingly anti-human. Therefore the search for an alternative to production for the market is an urgent agenda. This is where a solution to our problems can be found.
Once having broken the ties of production for the market and advanced on the path of a production for human needs, we will be able to build true relationships between individuals, as a society, with nature.
Be it the workers at Escorts, the mining workers in England, the General Motors workers in America or the steel workers in Brazil – the problem is identical. Not only that, the root problem of all workers is identical. Therefore we might struggle against the layoffs at Escorts or against wage cuts in Australia, the focus of our struggle should be to end the production for the market.

* Escorts economic situation 1998

EPW no. 4, 1998

With a view to concentrating on its core business of manufacturing and selling agri-machinery, the company undertook a major restructuring exercise during 1996-97 which involved divesting its piston and motorcycle businesses. The company’s automotive pistons business was divested to Escorts Mahle – an equal joint venture with Mahle GmbH (Germany) to enable this activity to access the latest technology vital for growth and expansion. The Rajdoot motorcycle manufacturing business too was transferred to Escorts Yamaha Motor on conclusion of negotiations with Yamaha Motor Co, Japan, while automotive shock absorbers will be transferred to a joint venture company with COFAP of Brazil. COFAP already has a large share of the international market in this field. The tractor market remained firm and Escort’s FARMTRAC brand maintained its leadership position in the market in the segment of 50 HP and above. While total vehicles sold increased from 2.28 lakh to 2.79 lakh vehicles, representing an increase of 22.3 per cent, sale of two-wheelers touched 2.36 lakh units while that of tractors touched 42,234 units as against 21,415 tractors sold last year. The company sold 4,349 more ESCORT brand tractors during 1996-97 than in the previous year, representing an increase of more than 20 per cent. With a view to upgrading the quality of its products to bring them on par with international standards, the company is now forging alliances with international industry majors in the field of engines, transmissions, hydraulics, etc. Escorts plans to set up a joint venture with Carraro SpA of Italy for manufacturing axles and transmissions for tractors, construction equipment, etc. In addition to introducing a special range of tractors from 60 to 85 HP, Carraro will support Escorts to upgrade its axles and transmissions for its full agri-machinery range including those that are currently being produced. The company fared well both in the domestic and export front. The export demand for tractors is expected to be in the region of 15,000 per annum, which is likely to materialise in the next three to four years. In order to meet this demand the company now plans to set up a new generation manufacturing unit near Pune at a cost of Rs 175 crore. This will be financed through internal resources. The company also plans to enhance the combined production volumes of all its tractor plants at Faridabad and Pune to 80,000 units per annum.

* Self-Activity of Wage-Workers: Gedore Jhalani Tools

Kamunist Kranti/FMS, 1998

Background Gedore Hand Tools, headquartered in Germany, had three plants in Faridabad exploiting 3500 wage-workers. U.S.A was a major market for its produce. Hand tools enterprises located in China and South Korea were Gedore’s market competitors. Shrinkage of production in the auto and engineering industries in the early 1980s sharpened the competition in the hand tools market. In this scenario, in order to maintain its competitiveness, Gedore management planned a major intensification of work through automation and large-scale retrenchment. For installation of an automatic plating plant Gedore management took a loan of Rs. 2.5 crores (~ $2.5 millions) from the Industrial Development Bank of India, a government of India enterprise.

The unfolding of events

In the beginning of 1982 incidents of chargesheeting, suspensions, transfers from one department to another, shifting workers from one job to another, wage-delays, downgradation in canteen quality, insistence on quality in production, strictness about production targets, time strictness, no rest during shift hours etc. increased noticeably.
In a gate meeting on June 7, 1982 union leaders spoke at length about capitalism, global crisis, company in crisis, and then asked the workers to make sacrifices in the larger interest. They put forward three alternatives to choose from:
– 25% reduction in wages.
– Go on special leave for six months at half wages.
– Retrenchment of 600 workers.
Workers rejected outright all these options put forth by the leaders. At this rejection, managements’ escalated their strong-arm tactics and instigation. Leaders and ex-leaders oiled their networks and accelerated mobilisations around caste and regional identities.

Workers disenchantment with leaders increased rapidly. Their self-activity became more pronounced. Large number of workers stopped paying union dues, attending union meetings, side-stepping leaders in day to day activity and began to deal directly with management individually and in small groups. Graffiti inside the plants increased. A group of workers belonging to, or influenced by, the fringe left posed inconvenient questions in a signed handbill on June 12, 1982. The handbill read “… management says that it does not have money even to buy raw materials – then where are the crores of rupees (millions of dollars) for automation coming from? Is it not because of automation that 600 workers are being told to resign? Soon, will you not talk of the need to retrench a thousand workers? Instead of struggling against it, haven’t union leaders become advocates of the management?”

The confidence of the leaders was shaken. Management was put on the defensive. Uneasy questions in the workers’ minds became points of widespread discussion. The tactic deployed by leaders and management – of announcing their attack in the gate meeting – had turned out to be a blunder. For damage control, the leaders adopted silence and the management took steps – show cause and advice l etters were issued to the signatories of the handbill. Through a circular, management warned workers to beware of disruptive forces. It said that automation was for the health of the workers. The management claimed that it had never had any intention of retrenching workers who would be made surplus by automation. If the management had wanted, it could have retrenched half the workers as it had been paying full wages to idle workers for one and half years. The circular ended with a rhetorical flourish: “Increase production OR perish!” A twisted version of the management slogan: “Increase production AND perish!” became popular amongst the workers.

The sequence of events at this point is as follows : there are prolonged delays in the payment of wages, machinery for automation reaches the plants, leaders maintain a strict silence, and ex-leaders attempt to form a rival union. There are physical attacks, by leaders and their network, on workers who still try to focus discussion on the looming retrenchment. To silence these voices, management uses suspensions. Besides the delay in wages, the issue of the annual bonus is used as another diversionary entanglement. Further on, the management goes for work suspension at half wages for three days and says that this may continue for quite some time.

Leaders complement these steps taken by the management for an open confrontation by ordering a tool down strike on February 12, 1983. Fiery speeches at gate meetings became a regular feature. Dissenting workers who have been trying to focus attention on looming retrenchment are denounced as disruptive elements and attacked. On February 21, 1983 leaders announce at a gate meeting that they have reached an agreement with the management. In the agreement it is agreed that no further work suspensions would take place but wages of January’83 would be paid in January’84. The workers reject this agreement. The management then tries, unsuccessfully, to instigate violent confrontations amongst workers through ex-leaders.

The same agreement is again put for approval at the gate meeting of February 28, 1983 after a number of thundering speeches challenging the management to lockout the factory if it wanted. The workers again reject the agreement. After the second rejection, the leaders announce that the way now is to go for an ‘open struggle’. A meeting of factory delegates (who had been elected in 1980) and other militant workers is called and suggestions asked for. Leaders then reject the suggestion for demonstrations on the plea that the conflict was with the Gedore management and not with the government. However, as soon as t he question of steps against the management comes into focus, the leaders somersault and announce a demonstration & a sit-down at the district administration chief’s office to be organised on Mar, 21.

On March 20, leaders call another gate meeting. Besides members of their network in the three plants, leaders bring their supporters from other factories and spread them out strategically. The same agreement is announced yet again. It is immediately hailed by the strategically placed supporters! And before the workers can react, leaders and their henchmen jump the factory gate and rush in to the plant to switch on the machines. The leaders had here used a time tested and most effective strategy. By switching on machines and restarting the plants, the workers would now be split into confronting groups, where one section would demand a continuation of the tool down strike while the other would be in favour of resuming work. This clash amongst the workers, and the concomitant unfolding of violence, would then facilitate large-scale retrenchment.

But in this case this strategy failed miserably. Enraged, the 3500 workers rush into the plant, shut down the machines and then beat up the leaders who are forced to run away. The President of the union who was also beaten and had to turn tail, had been the president of the union for ten years and was also the President of CITU, Faridabad district unit of the central trade union of Communist Party of India (Marxist). Production does not resume. There is now massive police deployment. Leaders again try to start the machines at night. They are again forced to retreat. Tool down continues.

Some workers belonging to the fringe left call a general body meeting on 23rd March, the weekly rest day. All the workers attend it. A committee proposed by militant, articulate workers and ex-leaders to obtain the resignation of leaders is not opposed. In view of the mounting discontent of workers, the leaders have to resign. After the resignations, the struggle committee, however, does not materialize and the ex-leaders take over. Tool down continues till April 14, 1983. The workers reluctantly accept the agreement that they had rejected earlier.
Stalemate. The issue of retrenchment has got bogged down.

The cycle of shopfloor instigation and wage-delays reemerges as a part of renewed attempts to retrench workers. Police are now posted inside one of the plants. Mobilisations being made on the basis of region and caste come to the fore. There is now a delay in the payment of wages to supervisory and clerical staff.
The management obtains government approval for retrenchment of 300 workers. Leaders hide the list and deny that there is any retrenchment on the cards. They start talking about a new long-term agreement and preparation of a demand charter for it.

At this juncture, management steps up attempts at violent confrontations amongst workers. Old leaders form a committee with the claim that they will negotiate a good agreement with the management. Mobilisation by the two lead-ry networks on the basis of caste, region and plant identity became frantic. The management flames the fire by locking out the third Gedore plant in February 1984. Enraged workers attack the existing leaders and the committee of old leaders uses this opportunity to take over leadership. Lockout in the third plant is lifted.
The finishing off And then began joint action by the management, leaders, police, state administration and the media, to retrench workers in Gedore Hand Tools. A gang of 15 to 20 leaders and their musclemen freely roam the three plants. They pick workers from their machines, take them to the plant time-office and force them, through physical violence and threats, to sign resignation letters. In this way, up to 50 workers are forced to resign in a single day. Workers coming to factory for work and those leaving after shift hours are attacked on the roads and forced to resign. Workers are threatened at their homes and forced to resign. Workers who had lodged complaints with the police find that the police have framed cases against them. Government administration merely files away the complaints made at the District Administration office. Newspapers do not print any news of these events. Not even letters about a fellow worker who committed suicide on the rail tracks after he was forced to resign.

In these circumstances hundreds of workers sought shelter in their villages for months. And the environment at Gedore? Armed police in tents inside the factory, armed police in trucks making rounds of the three plants. This is how the stalemate was broken and retrenchment implemented. Even then, it took one more year to retrench 1500 workers out of the 3500 in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad.

*** SELF-ACTIVITY OF WAGE-WORKERS AGAINST POLITICS OF CLOSURE DEFINING CLOSURE

A viable enterprise means that enough surplus is being extracted and realised in order to be appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends. For financial institutions, management & state apparatus, a company becomes non-viable & sick when the extracted and realised surplus is not sufficient to meet the existing levels of taxes, interest rates, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends.

It is not uncommon to find that state apparatuses, financial institutions and management are sometimes forced to reduce their amounts of surplus appropriation to keep an enterprise running. But the overriding tendency, of course, remains one of perpetually increasing the amounts that are appropriated, resulting in increasing “sickness” and “unviability”. The dominant propaganda and media, however, all the while speaks of “sickness” and “closure” in terms of either mismanagement or lack of profitability (i.e. inability to pay dividends). This screens the fact that the major portion of extraction from wage-workers is appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions and managerial lifestyle.

POLITICS OF CLOSURE

The common interests of management, financial institutions and state apparatus dictate the survival, running and growth of an enterprise. In their common interest, they collaborate to increase intensity of work & workload, decrease wages, retrench workers and create techniques to counter wage-workers’ self-activity.

Despite all the cunning and guile, force and deception used to keep an enterprise viable, when an enterprise “becomes unviable”, then it is in the management’s interest to swindle as much as it possibly can of the company’s assets. When a goose no longer lays golden eggs, wisdom advises – ‘Cut and Eat the Goose’.
There is a well-tried out management method to grab as much as is possible of wage-workers’ legal dues before the closure of a factory. Along with the months of outstanding wages, years of provident funds/ pension funds, gratuity/ retirement benefits, years of bonus and leave travel allowances, etc. are also not paid. Company properties are then sold off with the management taking large cuts & commissions. This has been a routine exercise in a large number of factories which have been closed in Faridabad and other places. The dominant schema is:
When a factory “becomes sick”, and closure has been decided, management – through union leaders – instigates strikes, and/or violent incidents to create conditions for lockouts. This facilitates the dispersal of workers. In these situations, management stops coming to the factory and wage workers are channelised into long drawn out civil and criminal court cases – fifteen years is very common. During all this, closure is very actively camouflaged. In the rare cases where the court cases are finally decided in favour of the workers, and the workers are at hand to take their legal dues, there is no property in the company’s name to pay. Banks’ and state apparatuses’ dues (taxes and other bills) gulp most of the little that remains.

A BREACH IN THE POLITICS OF CLOSURE

This is the scenario that is being tried out in Jhalani Tools Limited, Faridabad. But the wage-workers in Jhalani Tools are actively countering this management-leaders-state administration schema to gobble-up workers dues through various modes of self-activity. These steps of self-activity, in our opinion, have wider ramifications for wage-workers. Management of Jhalani Tools stopped paying wages to workers from Mar’96. The past experiences of wage-workers in Faridabad and specifically in Jhalani Tools, have thoroughly discredited leaders amongst wage-workers. Through silence and passivity, the 2,000 workers countered leaders’ and management’s methods of instigation around tangential issues. No heed was paid to grand agreements, identity politics, change of union affiliation, change of leaders, provocation by transfers, instigation to violence etc. Four groups of leaders have come (have been brought) and gone, banging their heads against this wall of ‘dull and dumb’ silence.

With mounting legal dues and increasing hardships, workers had hesitatingly started looking for alternative courses of action. Initially a small group of workers in Sept.’96 had on their own demanded back wages from the state labour department officers. Slowly, in affinity groups of 5-8, workers complaints to the state officials increased. And very soon the working of the labour department and district administration was almost jammed when 300 small groups of workers separately started approaching the officers. Legal obligations of separate dates and hearings were done away with, but then talking to hundreds of workers at the same time was another impossibility. Like the management, the district officials desperately tried to foist leaders on workers, but failed. Faced by this stubborn refusal to accept anyone as leaders, district officials then tried their best toinstigate workers to violence. They failed again.

Another facet of this incident is that collecting a crowd by giving a single date to 300 affinity groups facilitates the spread and legitimization of the ageless rhetoric of unity and delegation (for negotiation with management and administration). This was attempted by the district administration. But an interesting metaphor to counter this arose from within the crowd outside the administration office. A worker responded to the call for “unity and delegation” by calling out that – “Bees united in a hive can easily be smoked off and their honey taken away. But if affinity groups of bees swarm about, no one dares to touch their honey”.

Then the management tried to create leaders and instigate strikes through summary dismissals of workers. But even when the number of dismissals reached a hundred, the workers neither made leaders nor took to violence.

With this stepping up of pressure by management, leaders and state officials, the workers of Jhalani Tools in August’97 started taking very simple steps to take their predicament to more than 300,000 co-workers in Faridabad & Delhi. Overcoming hesitation, fear & shame, some workers in small groups of 8-10 started standing along various roads during morning and evening shift hours with hand written placards. This was done to engage in discussions with workers of other factories without any intermediaries. They have been doing this daily since Aug’97.
On the placards is written:

“We are from the 2000 workers who have not been paid their wages for (so many) months”;
“What is to be done when management does not pay wages?”;
“We have changed leaders four times and union flags three times, but each time it has been from the frying pan into the fire”;
“We have made many complaints to govt. officials and ministers but conditions have gone from bad to worse”;
“Metal Box, Delta Tools, Electronics Ltd. and now Jhalani Tools workers. Whose turn tomorrow?”; etc.

Everyday they space themselves along a different road. Along each route that they stand on, workers from hundreds of factories pass by. The response of workers at large has been tremendous. Dispersed, multi-nodal conversations without intermediaries are emerging about the urgent need for new modes of self-activity of workers. Over this period of eleven months, more than 200,000 workers have read these placards and thousands of workers have stopped to have extensive conversations with them. In almost all factories of Faridabad (and large number of factories & offices in Delhi) questions posed by these workers are being debated.

What is being discussed by an ever-increasing number of wage-workers is how to act on their own strength against the triumvirate of state, management and representatives. It is a constant process of conversation, argument and counter-argument as to the ‘Whats’ and ‘Hows’ of steps of self-activity. There is awareness that the charted out paths and networks of representatives, leaders and their organisations are all geared to subvert this process.

Management, leaders and state officials are finding it difficult to instill fear in workers at large as they can find no appropriate targets for their terror tactics. More difficult than the small numbers of workers on the roads, is the problem that the straight and silent faces of workers are posing for the bosses. An additional difficulty for the bosses is the workers’ refusal to go to court despite all the advice that the specialists have been doling out wholesale.
More and deeper discussions have been taking place amongst Jhalani Tool factory workers. These have found visible expression in forms like wall letters and graffiti, but a truly significant fallout has been that workers have innumerable and extended conversations within and outside the factory premises and with co-workers as well as workers from all other factories. From being a problem of one fac tory, it has now become a problem of all workers.

To counter the increasing self-activity of wage-workers, the provincial government organised elections, in Oct’ 97 in order to establish a new leadership in the factory. From Dec’ 97 the management started paying wages. However, these steps failed to put a brake on the workers’ self-activity. Neither the issue of back wages & other dues could be side tracked, nor could the management sell the IIIrd plant of the factory, nor could it make leadership credible amongst workers.
In this situation, in Apr’ 98, the management resorted to massive wage-cuts in order to instigate workers. Failing again, the management then created an atmosphere of fear & violence and threw out the elected leaders – replacing them with its hand picked works committee in the first week of June’98. This hand picked committee has resorted to direct physical attack and identity politics. But the continuous rise in workers’ self-activity has put a hold on this.
Small groups of workers with placards standing on the roads have increased and are increasing in number and so are the workers in conversations with them. Thereby not only creating problems for Jhalani Tools management, which has not been able to close the factory, but also for managements of thousands of factories.

KK / Collectivities, June, 1998. Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

* Revolutionary Termites: Gedore Jhalani Tools

Loren Goldner
For complete text see: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-termites-in-faridabad-a-proletarian-current-in-india-confronts-third-worldist-statism

The extracts from Goldner’s article below can serve as a summary of the various articles in FMS covering the dispute.

In 1982, a struggle erupted at the German-owned Gedore Hand Tools works, consisting of three plants and employing 3,500. The dominant union was the CITU, the affiliate of the CPI (M). Gedore management demanded 600 “resignations” (6) and a 25% pay cut or six months of “special terms” for pay. All demands were rejected. Management attempted a “pinprick” strategy, to which the union responded with a “tools down” strike. Management attempted a lockout, and the union struck. As is often the case, the union called the strike just before payday, ensuring that the workers would go into the strike with the least possible financial cushion. A month passed, and two contracts were rejected; with a third offer, the union packed the strike meeting and ordered a return to work. The strike continued nonetheless, as strikers occupied their own union hall and demanded the resignation of the leadership, which took place, after which a new leadership took over the CITU. The strikers returned to work, but nine months later management locked out one of the three plants. A “Committee of 15″ was formed to get a better agreement, but it was then learned that the new leadership which had taken over in the original ouster had collaborated with management in the lockout, which brought the “Committee of 15″, which had ties to the original leadership, to power in the union. The “Committee of 15″ in turn began forcing people to resign by force. Armed police and police trucks were posted inside the plants. On some days as many as 50 workers were forced to resign and beaten by union goons. Many workers went back to their villages to avoid being forced to resign. In this conditions, it took a year to force 1,500 resignations (7), and in May 1985 the struggle was over. Later, the German management sold off the company, which became Jhalani Tools.

The (ongoing) struggle at Jhalani Tools Ltd. is one of the most recent struggles in which Kamunist Kranti has been involved, one of the most dramatic, and the one about which I have the most documentation so, at the risk of overkill I will give it more space. Jhalani Tools provides an unusually clear illustration of what Faridabad workers (and workers in other parts of India) are up against. Workers everywhere are familiar with asset-stripping by management. But most workers in Europe and America, when their company goes bankrupt or is absorbed in a leveraged buyout, at least expect to be laid off with a final paycheck, collect some unemployment compensation, and perhaps eventually some part of a pension. Of course in the fly-by-night sweatshops of Los Angeles and New York, as in similar maquiladora operations on the US-Mexican border, there are constant cases of companies folding up and disappearing while owing workers weeks of pay. But there have to date been few cases of decades-old, well-known “mainstream” companies operating for nearly two years without paying any wages.

Not so in Faridabad. Jhalani Tools Ltd. (9), the successor to Gedore Hand Tools (cf. above for the account of the 1982-85 struggle there) has not paid wages to 2183 workers since March 1996. Since there has been no hiring at Jhalani since 1978, (and the forcible “downsizing” of the work force in 1984) these 2183 employees have been at Gedore/Jhalani for a minimum of 20 years. They are the target of an asset-stripping strategy that is not uncommon among Indian firms. Jhalani Tools is not merely attempting to loot two years of back wages; it is also looting money owed workers for two annual bonuses, three years of “leave-travel” allowance, 3 years’ payments to the group medical plan, and other “contracted” benefits. It is able to blackmail workers in this way because of the difficulty, not to say impossibility, for them to find other jobs by walking away from their “legally guaranteed” employment.

After reducing staff almost by half by goon terror in 1984, as described earlier, Jhalani in 1989 colluded with the union to ram through a contract containing three secret clauses that were withheld from workers (the contract was read aloud, minus these clauses, at a gate meeting). The clauses linked wages to production targets (requiring a minimum of 200 tons before any wages would be paid), absolved the company of the obligation to pay workers when production was impossible because of electricity blackouts or raw materials shortages, and gave the company the right to assign work irrespective of job classification. Even after pay had been docked for electric outages and materials shortages, these clauses remained in a new contract pushed through in 1993. Pleading poverty from various causes, Jhalani Tools in December 1995 got an “ad hoc committee” to agree to a 50% pay cut until further notice. The company began paying wages months in arrears and finally, in March 1996, stopped paying wages altogether, largely blaming work stoppages and indiscipline for the company’s problems, using further endless salami tactics and manoeuvres, and blithely ignoring the occasional labour board and court decisions in the workers’ favour (the latter hardly being news).

Seasoned by decades of these tactics by management and the unions, Jhalani workers refused to be provoked into a set-up strike or other easily-targeted actions and instead took their case to the Faridabad working class as a whole with roadside informational pickets. (For further details cf. KK’s response to this article published in CAN, Fall 1998). As of this writing (March 1998), the standoff remains unresolved.

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar – March 1983 to March 1993
Ten years of articles on workers’ struggles at Jhalani Tools.

* FMS – March 1983
Summary of 9 months of dispute previous to the tool down strike, which started on 12th of February 1983. The strike happens on the background of the threat of automation and mass lay-offs

* FMS – April 1983
Report on conflict between CITU and workers after workers’ rejection of agreement on 20th of March 1983, CITU leadership first tries to break strike, then has to resign

* FMS – May 1983
Short news item on union leader’s ‘excuse’ for signed agreement on 1st of May protest

* FMS – June 1983
First attempts of management to further delay wage payment and to provoke workers

* FMS – September 1983
Management pays outstanding wages to supervisors and staff after on one-day strike

* FMS – October 1983
Report that union leaders held plan for redundancies secret from workers

* FMS – November 1983
Short criticism of article on Gedore dispute published in the paper “April Kranti”

* FMS – January 1984
After having not been paid for three months staff of all three plants went on strike

* FMS – February 1984
Quarrel over minor issues between CITU and INTUC factions undermine workers’ unity

* FMS – March 1984
Lock-out at the third plant as first step for redundancy drive. CITU thugs start resisting workers (followed by summary of events between 1984 and 1988)

* FMS – December 1988
After having laid off over 1,500 workers in 1985-85 management started to loot the company – automation machinery has not been introduced

* FMS – May 1989
Several months of outstanding wages amount to 8,000 Rs per worker – the union suggests that the workers accept the companies’ ‘motor-cycle’-deal

* FMS – January 1990
Union leadership misinform workers about new agreement, workers confront them when they find out

* FMS – February 1992
Management cuts 800 Rs from monthly wage of some workers – according to the new agreement they have not met the production target

* FMS – July 1992
More arbitrary wage cuts based on ‘new agreement’, workers write collective letter

* FMS – March 1993
Wildcat strike and gathering against the new agreement on 9th and 10th February

* FMS – March 1983

Since 12th of February 1983, Gedore workers in the three plants are engaged in a tool down strike against the enforced two days layoff per week. Without understanding the root of an illness it is impossible to cure it. This is why a report about the events of the last 8 to 9 months is necessary. The plans of the Gedore management to go ahead with mass redundancy were made public during a [union] gate meeting on 7th of June 1982. Please read the leaflet distributed in the name of six workers shortly after the meeting, on 12th of June 1982:

“At the gate meeting of the 7th of June 1982, the union leaders advocated following measures of the management: wage cuts of 25 per cent; lay offs; dismissals of 600 workers; workload increase. But the workers scolded their leaders. Let’s have a deeper look at the arguments presented by management and their advocating union leaders. The management and leaders claim that currently the bosses don’t have the money to pay for the raw materials. Therefore it is necessary to cut wages in order to be able to run the factory. Why don’t they take the money they spoil on air-conditioning, cars, bungalows and other luxuries? Moreover, the management drives forward automation and both management and union now say that the workload will have to be increased. Therefore additional raw materials will become necessary. So it seems that these people tell us that in order to keep the factory running we are supposed to work for free and that, apart from our last shirt, are supposed to hand over our money to the bosses – the January 1983 wages are now supposed to be paid in January 1984!

The situation of the bosses is bad. This is the argument of the bosses and their drum beating leaders for why the dismissal of 600 workers is necessary. To increase production through automation and thereby to create a surplus of workers is a common issue in capitalism. This is why workers fight against capitalism. But these leaders give support to the bosses, they became advocates for class collaboration. Even the INTUC leaders barely conceal their open advocacy for wage cuts. According to their argument it is necessary to cut wages in order to save the Gedore bosses in the current crisis of global capitalism: so that the workers still find work and their daily bread. The fact that these leaders not only put forward this line of argumentation, but at the same time shout slogans denouncing CPI(M) and CITU of ‘collaboration’ with the capitalists’, have crossed all the boundaries of shamelessness.

We ask the management and their advocate leaders: Where did the crores of Rupees for automation come from? Although it was not openly mentioned, wasn’t it clear already when automation started that 600 workers would become superfluous? Will you not very soon say that actually 1,000 workers have to go? Work-mates and comrades, it is a fact that in order to introduce automation a quarter of the work-force will have to go. This is why management cries about how bad their economic situation is. The management’s current trajectory is to incite us by paying wages late, by dishing out charge sheets at the smallest occasion.”

This was written in the leaflet from 12th of June 1982. After that the CP(M) – CITU leaders turned into silent ascetics. The reply to the leaflet was issued by the general manager (personnel and administration). He replied on behalf of these leaders and the Gedore management. He circulated a two-and-a-half page leaflet in English on 14th of June 1982. Some days later the Hindi translation was circulated amongst the workers. On 17th of June 1982, the management issued a letter [official warning] to those workers who had distributed the initial leaflet – on 16th of July 1982 management issued an advance letter to the same workers, making clear that they want to silence the whole dispute. In July 1982, in issue no.4 of our publication, we expressed some thoughts about the reply of the Gedore manager. Please consider some excerpts:

“On 4th of June 1982 the General Manager, Personnel and Administration, Gedore Tools announced following ‘facts’, in order for the Gedore workers to receive ‘information for finding a true position’, who ‘had been let astray by troublemakers’.

“1. Automation in the plating plant is being introduced for the benefit of workers’ health. It was never management’s intention to sack those workers who have become superfluous as a result of the automation. If the management had intended to sack workers, they would have been able to sack half of the workforce already. Management has paid the full wage to all those workers who sat idle during the last one and a half years.”
Capitalism obviously considers workers’ health a lot! And obviously you did not intend to lay off workers! We accept your words, but… the rule of capital does not function according to your will. So what will you do? It is a very good deed to pay full wages to those workers who sit idle – but how many unemployed are included in your royal court? Your endowments are also paid in order to save taxes and to give workers their bit of opium to smoke. In the current system we live in, every new machinery embodies both, the workload increase for some, the lay off for other workers. Therefore the managers, in the end, have to give out the slogan ‘increase the workload or be destroyed’, which obviously means ‘increase the workload and be destroyed’.

This was on 1st of July 1982. We ask the management: when you stopped paying wages to workers in January and February 1983, the time when they suffered hunger, you only had their health in mind, didn’t you? The CITU / CP(M) leaders kept on remaining silent, now the Gedore management, as well, retreated into convenient silence. In this situation we wrote in the issue no.5 on 7th of August 1982:

“At Gedore, the production runs on full steam now. But workers should not fool themselves by adhering to false hopes… machinery for automation has arrived in heavy trucks. The Gedore management is wielding the blank sword to sack at least 600 workers. On the bases of a proper understanding of the situation, the Gedore workers’ unity can secure workers’ own interests.”

This was on 7th of August 1982. In order to diffuse the workers’ attention regarding the threatening mass redundancies, the Gedore management resorted to the manoeuvre of delaying payment of wages. The CITU leaders, during the gate meeting on 7th of June 1982, did not open their mouth about this issue. In issue no.6 on 7th of September 1982 we wrote:

“The August 1982 wages of the Gedore workers are again delayed. In order to debate about the current threat of automation and dismissals, 200 workers asked the union leaders to call for a general union body meeting on 20th of August 1982 – they confirmed this demand with their signature.”

But why should the CITU leader get involved in a general body meeting? What kind of value should workers’ signatures have for them? In the meantime the Gedore management arranges religious ceremonies and offerings inside the plant in order to fool the workers. In issue no.8 on 7th of November 1982 we commented:

“And regarding the question of fear, you keep the sword of mass redundancies above of the heads of your (Gedore management) workers.”

After that the Gedore management tried to entangle the workers into the issue of bonus payment, while the attempt to form a second trade union inside the company failed. The CITU leaders escaped from the elections – everyone was now able to see them as what they are. In order to obstruct the elections they grabbed for the brought up issue of bonus payment. From the management’s perspective the redundancy program started to get more pressing. The Gedore management started to put pressure on the CITU leaders. This is when the leaders, trained by the CP(M), revealed their true character. While previously the CITU leaders used paid thugs, they now themselves beat up those leading workers who had showed opposition towards the collaboration between Gedore management and CITU leaders. The Gedore management fulfilled their part of the job by suspending one of the leading workers.

But the situation at Gedore developed in quite a different direction from what management and leaders had expected. Instead of being intimidated and silenced the leading workers stood firm on the side of their co-workers. At this point the Gedore management withdrew their believe that the CITU leaders will be able to arrange a ‘silent process of redundancies’. The management forged a new scheme. They suddenly enforced lay-offs [lay off meaning that people were not dismissed, but forced to stay at home or idle]. The CITU leaders saw no other chance but to call for a tool-down strike. After having been fooled around for months, the Gedore workers were now determined to fight back. After having called for the strike, the CITU leaders withdrew into their usual business. As a worker in the third plant put it: “At Gedore, the leaders don’t get engaged in struggle, it’s the workers who fight”.

Previously the conflict between workers and CITU leaders had never been as open as now. After having torn to pieces the agreement between Gedore management and leaders of the 21st of February 1983, the workers also rendered useless the management’s attempts to break them. On 28th of February 1983, the workers turned into shreds another agreement proposed by the CITU leaders, which would have meant that current January wages would have been paid in January the following year. The leaders also said: if the management wants to lay-off, they will do so, there is nothing we can do to stop them.

* FMS – April 1983

Since the 12th of February a tool down strike is on in three Gedore plants. A summary of the events in March: After the workers rejected their negotiated deal on 28th of February, the CITU leaders announced to ‘fight’. Those leaders elected as delegates in 1980 (and some others) called for a meeting and demanded suggestions. The CITU leaders refused to call for a demonstration, saying that the struggle is with the management, not with the government. Then the question was put in front of them to undertake steps against the management. In response to this question the CITU leaders made a u-turn and suddenly announced a protest and procession on 21st of March in front of the DC office. The CITU leaders started to plan their manoeuvring.

On 20th of March they held a gate meeting. They secretly placed external lumpen-elements in the meeting… and the CITU leaders announced that they have come to an agreement with management. The workers shouted enraged. The CITU leaders escaped and started the machines in the second plant. But… the Gedore workers taught the CITU president of Faridabad and the president of the Gedore Workers Union a little lesson. Work in the factory was not resumed. The CITU leaders disappeared. The police arrived. During the night the CITU leaders again tried to start running the machines. Again the leaders were forced to run from the scene. The tool-down continued. In fear, the CITU leaders tried to break the strike.

On 23rd of March, a bank holiday, the Gedore Workers Union called for a general body meeting. Having seen the strike-breaking role of the leaders, the general body meeting decided to make them resign from their posts. In order to enforce the resignation a committee was formed and the decision was made that after the resignation of the leaders another general body meeting would be called and that a struggle committee elected. Neither on 24th nor 25th of March the CITU leaders announced that they would resign. The discontent amongst the workers started to increase. On 26th of March a meeting was called for the morning and the CITU leaders were finally forced to resign. The tool-down strike in three plants continued. On 26th of March a faction of INTUC took over the leadership of the Gedore Workers Union and during the gate meeting on 1st of April they revealed their true nature to a lot of workers. They focussed the hope of some workers on a meeting with the Prime Minister of India on the 6th of April.

* FMS – May 1983

The same eminent leader, who had praised the agreement of the 14th of April as “a marvellous agreement”, said on the occasion of the 1st of May that “we ourselves have not been too happy with the decision [regarding the agreement]“. We see the same helpless state of being. But yes, it has helped the Gedore Workers to understand: ‘Neither the prime minister, nor the minister, neither the DS, PD, nor the LC will act in the interest of the workers, because they are all representatives of capital’. This is the outcome of two months of tool-down strike.

* FMS – June 1983

The 15th of May was fixed as the payday for the February-March-April wages. Management paid some wages between 20th and 25th of May. In any case, in front of some well-known people the INTUC-Leaders have settled the date for payment of salary and of the bonus. They have ‘settled’ dates before, why should the problem of payment suddenly disappear? And the management has put up a notice saying that the workers do not work properly! In order to prepare dismissals on a larger scale management is busy making use of lumpen-elements for provocations.

* FMS – September 1983

From the leaflet of the Gedore general manager, published on 14th of June 1982:
“Don’t be lead astray by instigating forces! The automation is implemented in order to benefit the health of the workers. The management does not intend to make workers redundant.

In the meantime, on 2nd of September 1983, the circular of the general manager reads: “The company can not be run with the current number of workers. We have to reduce the work-force by at least twenty per cent.”

The management cries about lack of money. “We nevertheless spend the little amount of money that we have. What can we do, we are forced by the circumstances”. In the first and third plant, the staff [middle management] engaged in a one-day strike. The following day management paid out the total bonus to staff of all three plants and sacked eight people. Suddenly there was money available, wherever it came from! The staff in the third plant showed their courage and went on strike against the dismissal of their eight colleagues. Management paid the first and second plant staff the June wages, as well. Where have they kept the money? After the staff of the third plant stayed determined, staff in the other two plants went on strike in solidarity – the management bowed a little. The strike of the staff has stripped the management plans for mass redundancies.

* FMS – October 1983

Since 16 months now, everyone who warns Gedore workers about redundancies is denounced as ‘misleading’. Some of those people who were busy denouncing the ‘misleading troublemakers’ had actually received lists with details about imminent redundancies. Hiding these lists from the workers they asked: what do you mean by redundancies? Now these friends of indecency themselves say that there will be redundancies. Redundancies are on the agenda, but the recently published demand notice of the INTUC faction does not even mention them. Let’s not believe in the reassurances of the state representatives; those representatives, who, while trying to appear as being on the side of the workers, set up police posts inside the plants.

* FMS – November 1983

“This is not a sweet agreement after all… there is no mentioning of the bonus anymore… and the management does not talk about the agreement anymore – they say that we first have to talk about redundancies! In fact, the issue of redundancies is nonsense talk.” This is how the current situation is portrayed by the ‘watch-guards’ of ‘April Kranti’. To cling to power they should lie upon lie. But the Managment is shameless. After all, how long can these ‘watch-guards’ keep telling lies ?

* FMS – January 1984

The management has not paid the staff the wages for three months. On top of that management started to threaten the staff. In response the staff in the three plants went on strike for their rights. The staff cooperated with the workers during the time of the workers’ tool-down strike. Management eagerly tries to break workers of the first-second-third plant, using the issue of the 75 per cent [bonus?].

* FMS – February 1984

The management has started again to lay off staff. In order to go forward with the lay offs, the management encourages the middlemen to break up workers unity. Sometimes the hand of the management is in the back of the INTUC faction, sometimes in the back of the former leaders belonging to the CITU. These leaders suddenly started a minor row about the 200 Rs agreement. They showed themselves outraged. They brought up the issue of union elections. The INTUC faction raises the issue of the 75 per cent and the bonus in order to prevent new elections. On 21st of January a decision was supposed to be made during a gate meeting. But on 20th of January the former leaders belonging to the CITU – who had raised the demand for union election – organised a separate meeting and instead of elections decided that their committee will recognise the 200 Rs agreement. On the 21st of January the CITU leaders created clamour. The police, the DLC and the management [mathadhisha] all showed full support to the CITU leaders. Since then there are two adhoc committees who claim to represent the majority – one of the INTUC faction the other of the CITU – both work day and night in order to undermine workers unity.

* FMS – March 1984

With the help of their middlemen the management has been successful to break the unity of workers. With the lock-out at the third plant management has given the scheme of mass redundancies a final form. In order to foster workers’ unity, individual workers of the first, second and third plant have gone on hunger strike at the gates. The middlemen try with all might to prevent these steps, which have been taken by workers. Thugs of the CITU have used brute physical violence to drive away the hunger-striking workers.

(Due to the fact that the newspaper ceased to be published between May 1984 and January 1987 there is a gap in the coverage of the events at Gedore. Given the importance of the events we summarise them in the following.)

Instrumentalising the anger of the locked-out workers of the third plant, the clique around the Faridabad CITU president beat up and chased away the leader of the CITU recognised Gedore Workers Union. Having started, the CITU and their thugs joined the ranks of Gedore management, the police, the state administration and the press in their effort to enforce the lay offs against the Gedore workers.

The management walked around the factories unrestrained in groups of 15 to 20 men. The workers were forcefully taken from the work-place to the time-office, they were beaten and threatened by groups of CITU thugs and forced to sign their notice letters. In this way they managed to force 50 workers per day to resign. They stopped workers on their way to or from work, beat them up on the street and forced them to sign their notice. They went to works homes, and forced them to resign through beatings and threatening. If workers went to the police in order to complain, the police filed a case against these very workers instead. The state administration piled up the workers’ complains untouched in a remote and forgotten corner. The daily newspapers refused to publish any reports about these incidents. After a worker – who had been forced to resign – committed suicide on the rail-tracks his work-mates wrote a letter about this: which the big daily newspapers refused to print. In this social atmosphere dozens of workers decided to leave Faridabad and go back to their villages. On the premises of the factory, inside the company gate, the armed police put up tents. The armed police patrolled the three Jhalani factories in trucks. The management unleashed an open regime of violent intimidation inside the factories. The labour department, the state administration and the press were their silent henchmen.

In this atmosphere Gedore management put into effect their redundancy policy. Nevertheless, it took them one year to lay off 1,500 out of 4,500 workers. This noteworthy chain of events at Gedore, which took place between 1982 and 1985, confront the workers’ movement with some serious questions. Can workers wage struggles over important issues successfully if the struggle is limited to the level of a single factory? Are unions still organisations on the side of the workers?

* FMS – December 1988

The company name is now Jhalani Tools. Seven years ago the management took out a 2.5 crore bank loan and installed machinery for automation. After violent repression 1,500 workers left their jobs in 1984. But five years later the automation machinery still waits to be switched on and used for production. It seems that in 1985 management realised that even after mass redundancies of 1,500 workers and introduction of automation the business will not yield too great a profit – since then management started to fill their pockets individually. Be it the money from the service and PF of workers or the money put in the pockets of managers in the name of loans for the company – from wherever it is possible Managment is busy collecting money.In the last three years the company stumbled and teetered. The root of the struggles around this or that director lies in this wider condition of the company. The company has already been declared as sick. The management is now engaged in looting before the company is declared bankrupt and finally closed.

* FMS – May 1989

Don’t ask for outstanding wages – take the motorcycle offer instead!
The Gedore management has been engaged in various rip-offs during the last four years: they did not pay the statutory contributions to the Provident Fund; they did not return the money taken from workers for a housing scheme even after having sold the housing plot; they did not account for the money collected for a company society. After four years of promises-postponements they have now taken seven months of outstanding wages from the workers. About eight to ten months ago management said that they will pay the outstanding wages in 200 Rs monthly instalments. But they even messed with the payment of the 200 Rs, so that now they owe each worker around 8,000 Rs to 10,000 Rs of unpaid wages. The union leaders gave a hand to the company in order to reduce the workers’ discontent – they suggested that instead of the wages the workers should take a motorcycle or scooter. Please be informed that the current union leader is the president of the CITU gangs of thugs who engaged in the beatings of workers in 1984, when Gedore management started their lay-off policy; the beatings resulted in 1,500 workers signing their notice letters. After the dirty involvement of the CITU president made too wide rounds, the Delhi CITU committee dismissed him and the Faridabad branch joint secretary from the CITU in 1987.

Currently a lot of workers think that in a situation where everything and nothing can be expected of the Gedore management, it might be better to take the offer of the motorcycle and sell it quickly. The workers have to understand that if the motorcycle-scheme comes into effect the actual bank loan will be in the name of the workers, the management will only give their name as security. The actual documents of the vehicle will stay with the bank, which therefore has the final word about selling it. There is another serious issue: if the worker does not pay the instalments in time the bank can fine the worker, who him/herself might not be aware of it, thinking that the management is responsible. A management, which evades paying the instalments for outstanding wages and does so openly in front of all workers, if such a management pays even one monthly instalment as a result of a bank letter demanding the instalments of the last six months – workers could count themselves lucky. The fine will be paid by the worker and together with the interests, the bank will cut the money for the fine from the workers’ service or seniority bonus etc.. In 1976 Gedore management took over a similar role as ‘guarantee for security’, when some workers were encouraged to take out a 2,000 Rs housing loan from the New Bank. Management deducted the monthly instalments from the monthly workers’ wages, but transferred this money only with three months delay to the New Bank. In the end the bank fined the workers – not the management – for not keeping up with the due payments.

* FMS – January 1990

The methods of the middle-men
At Gedore alias Jhalani Tools, union leaders called for a meeting on 20th of December in order to announce the next three years agreement. Workers from all plants and all three shifts came along. The leaders started their speech with the complain that once meetings concern issues of interest for the workers, thousand arrives – but that when the AITUC calls for a union meeting not even hundred workers attend. Then the leaders announced the agreement and repeated several times to the workers that they should accept it. Having heard this, the workers thought that the agreement will be alright.

Then union leaders went to plants separately and told single groups of workers that there have been wrong information in the announcement of the agreement. The union leader said that they were forced to speak untruthfully, because if they had announced the correct content of the agreement they would have been attacked – facing thousands of assembled workers. As a result of this betrayal a wave of workers’ anger surged in the three plants. The union president, once encircled by workers of the first plant, said: “The mistake has happened, now do what you want!”

The next day the union leaders announced that the reason for having lied is that otherwise – given the general chaotic situation – the ‘evil’ former Faridabad CITU president, who had just been expelled by the union, would have returned. Now the current CITU union leaders, who were goons of the former CITU president, have adopted the same attitude of 1984, when they compelled 1500 workers to sign an agreement: an agreement about which the workers had not been informed beforehand – just like today.

* FMS – February 1992

On 10th of January the workers of the second plant were thrown into confusion. Management had cut 800 to 900 Rs of the December 1991 wages of many workers. The wage cut was also documented on the pay-slip.

The management and their middlemen at Gedore alias Jhalani Tools are ill-reputed in the whole of Faridabad. After major efforts to lay-off workers failed in 1982-83, management and middlemen forced 1,500 workers to re-sign in 1984 by brute physical and mental violence. After the redundancies the remaining 2,500 workers stirred every now and then, but most of the time they kept being silent and afraid.

The wages of the 150 workers in the second plant have been cut. With the spreading of the news, the workers’ anger erupted and replaced the previously pre-dominant fear. Facing this anger the management and middle started whispering and finally paid out the missing amount to the workers. The issue over the wage cut calmed down, but workers’ worries increased. Some workers, who asked the middle-men for the reasons behind the wage cuts, were intimidated in response and the middle-men tried to silence them – but the workers did not keep silent about this. After consulting each other, workers decided to ask management in written form about the reasons for the wage cuts. The management refused to take the workers’ letter. If a worker would refuse to receive a document issued by management, this worker would be accused of and officially warned for not following orders. So, Jhalani Tools workers sent the letter by UPC post and informed the DLC of the issue.
Obviously, the cutting of wages of workers of the second plant was a way for management and middle-men to instil fear among workers and to find out how they would react. The management and middle-men came to the important decision to enforce the collective agreement upon the workers. Please have a look at the details of this agreement:

“Eight hours work performed by workers will be counted as four hours of production. The management will not be responsible for supplying workers with material and electricity. Any worker can be employed at any machine, for any job or task.”

It becomes clear that the issue is not about some workers at the second plant, but that we have to deal with a general attack on workers of all three Jhalani Tools factories in Faridabad. This is a serious issue for the Jhalani Tools workers. Only the collective strength of the workers will be able to take care of the workers’ interests. The Jhalani workers should remember that in 1983 their collective power made the chief of middle-men, the Faridabad CITU president, bite the dust. Their collective power also made Gedore management feel rather uneasy. But it was the united strength of management and middle-men and state together which the Jhalani Tool workers alone were not able to come up against. Workers managed to deal with the thugs of the CITU president in 1984 as long as it was just them. If Jhalani Tool workers continue to establish and strengthen the unity with workers of other factories they will manage to deal with the unity of management, middle-men and state. Courage and tenacity will be necessary.

* FMS – July 1992

In May, for the duration of a week, each worker of the rough grinding department (in the second plant) was given a letter – one on every single day of this week. The letters were written by management and written in English. The workers went to the union leaders in order to show them the letters. The leaders said: “This doesn’t mean anything, the management has always issued this type of letters.”
When May wages were paid, management had cut 100 to 150 Rs of the wages. After a lot of running about, workers found out that management’s letters stated that workers had not met the production target and had remained idle despite having been told to perform their duty. In fact, during the respective period there had been power cuts for two and a half hours each day and the electricity from the generators had not been supplied to the rough grinding department.

The workers reported this fact to both management and middle-men, but were only told that “we will see” – nothing else. Actually the CITU union and Jhalani Tools had just signed an agreement saying that wage levels depend on production levels… and that the supply of material and electricity is not part of the responsibility of the management. In June workers received another letter, similar to the May ones. This time workers replied to the management, but management refused to take the workers’ reply. The fact that workers showed resistance will surely have had an impact, given that the management refrained from sending a second, third, fourth, … letter like in May.

* FMS – March 1993

The management and leaders are very happy about their three years agreement. After announcing the agreement during a gate meeting on 6th of February, the leaders said that the first shift can take the rest working day off and management did not cut wages for these four hours of extra-holiday. The production target fixed in the previous agreement had already been difficult to meet. Stating that production levels were too low, management had sent various letters and cut wages of workers of all three plants several times, by in total around 800 to 900 Rs. After back-and-forth the deducted amounts were paid later on. In the new agreement production targets were raised by 25 per cent!

During the 6th of February meeting, some people who don’t have to work but nevertheless get the productivity incentives for ‘topping the target; plus some people who are close to the leaders; and some workers of departments where wages had not been cut, raised their hands in support of the agreement. These workers accounted for about 20 per cent of the total workforce. The leaders did not even come to their usual tricks of asking if there is anyone opposing the agreement. No one will speak against the agreement at this meeting – this is what leaders repeatedly said on 6th of February. One worker asked about the wage cuts, but his question was smothered by general racket and the announcement of the half-day holiday. Then the meeting was over.

Eighty per cent of the workers, those workers opposed to the increase of work-load – they kept silent during the meeting. Those workers whose wages had been cut under the pretext of ‘too little production performance’ – they, too, kept silent. This is not all: without even knowing its full content, workers signed a blank document in support of the agreement. For the last agreement it took groups of ten to fifteen musclemen to surround single workers at their machine in order to make them sign a blank document. “I signed because these hooligans forced me to.” This time no worker was surrounded and forced to sign, nevertheless they gave their signature? Why? What reason for?

On 9th and 10th of February wages of many workers were cut by 800 to 900 Rs – because “production was to low”. In the morning of the 11th of February – on the initiative of the workers of the grinding and forging department – workers of the first plant stopped production and gathered in front of the administrative block. The workers of the packing department acknowledged the fact that raising their hands in support of the agreement had been a mistake.
Union leaders came running from their office. One of them tried to appear commanding and to intimidate workers. The result of giving this guy a beating was that the president, the secretary and the cashier turned all soft. Facing the open and fierce opposition towards the agreement, the union leaders announced that they had not signed the agreement yet. The leaders gave their assurance that they would call for a meeting and only once all workers agreed they would sign the agreement.
The production was put to a halt from 8 to 11 o’clock – management put up a notice saying that three hours would be cut from wages. Not only this, seeing their plan going down the drain the management called the DLC. Within four hours after production was resumed, management and union signed an agreement in the presence of an official from the Haryana State Labour Department. In the end… union leaders are also entitled to democratic rights!

* The Company They Keep A Report on Workers of Jhalani Tools Ltd., Faridabad

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, November 1997

JHALANI TOOLS LTD. is a well known company which makes hand tools such as spanners, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, etc. It is a reputed exporter and has six plants in India 2 in Aurangabad (Maharashtra), 1 in Sonepat and 3 in Faridabad (Haryana). The company started its Faridabad operations in 1960 as a German collaboration project called Gedore Hand Tools. When Gedore withdrew from the company in 1985, it came to be known as Jhalani Tools. In 1986 Jhalani Tools had been declared a sick company but its process of recovery started by 1992 and currently it is no longer considered sick.

Today, at New Industrial Town, Faridabad only 2 plants are functioning. The third plant was shut down in 1984 but the workforce was absorbed in the other two. Through the decades of the sixties and the seventies the workforce had built upto about 4000. However, following mass retrenchment in 1984 this number today stands at 2183. All these workers are registered, permanent workers of the company. There has been no new recruitment since 1978, which means that almost all of these 2183 workers have served the company for at least 19 years. This report concerns such workers who have not been paid any wages for the last 19 months; who have been reduced to pulling rickshaws, setting up thelas of petty merchandise, or depending insecurely for survival on other family members.

Jhalani Tools has not paid its workers wages due for the period March of 1996 to September 1997. The company also owes its workers many other dues. For the last two years no bonus has been given, for three years no Leave Transport Allowance; and no dues for uniforms, shoes, soap or saafi (protective head gear) for a similar period. Further, the company has not paid its Employees State Insurance (ESI) dues for more than three years, and Provident Fund amounts have not been deposited since May 1994 (see Box-1).

However, it is the issue of non-payment of wages that is central to the current deadlock prevailing in the Faridabad plants. It is also the issue that brings out the complex role played by various mechanisms of governance and justice, including even trade unions, in helping the company to extract the maximum possible from its workers. And what’s more, to justify that extraction. In its investigation, PUDR team spoke to many company workers, the current workers union, the senior management of Jhalani Tools, the Deputy Commissioner (Faridabad), the Deputy Labour Commissioner (Faridabad), and other functionaries of the Labour Department.

Background

The history of the relationships between workers and management, workers and their unions, since the early eighties, seems to have been problematic. The company has played a visible role furthering, manipulating and gaining from this.

Over the years the unions in Jhalani Tools have not been chosen through election. Instead, barring the odd exception, groups have staked their claim to leadership by collecting in their favour signatures of a simply majority of workers, and sometimes by sheer muscle power. The groups that thus come to power are called “ad hoc committees”. It is such groups that negotiate with the management on behalf of workers and formalise labour-management agreements. The Gedore/Jhalani ad hoc committees have mostly been affiliated with CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) and sometimes with INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress). An example of the manipulative role that Jhalani Tools management has played in the functioning of these ad hoc committees is in the matter of union chanda (contribution). The management deducts the chanda directly out of the workers salaries and hands over a lumpsum to the committee in charge.

The most controversial year in the company’s history was probably 1984. In its drive towards automation the management decided on massive retrenchment. In Faridabad as many as 1500 workers were retrenched in one year. According to the company these workers had opted for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS). But according to the workers and the press, the company used brute force, the complicity of the then CITU union and the help of armed police to terrorise the workers into resigning. The presence of a police chowki within factory gates in 1984 speaks for itself. Union leaders are alleged to have been directly involved in drawing up lists of workers to be targeted and in aggressive tactics used against the workers. (The President and General Secretary of this union were eventually expelled by CITU’s Delhi Committee in l985.) Notably, the company, having gained its ends in l984, today in all its statements and letters to authorities, glosses over that year as the year of “Voluntary Retirement”.

Another instance of management-union leaders collusion appears to be the 1989 long term agreement which workers today describe as a “terrible agreement”. At that time they were given no idea as to the specific clauses it contained. After the agreement had been signed, at a gate meeting, the leaders read out a certain version of the agreement. The very next day they confessed to individual workers that they had withheld information about three crucial clauses so as to avoid the eruption of workers protest. These 1989 clauses set the precedent for all later settlements. The main point was the linkage of wages to production targets. In 1989 it was agreed that the workers would be given wages only after they produced 200 tons of goods. Secondly, the company refused to take responsibility if there was shortfall in production due to shortage of raw materials and electricity. Thirdly, the company could switch around workers from one job to another, irrespective of their skills.

The impact of the first and second clauses proved to be lethal to workers interests. For example, in May 1992 wages were reduced for non-achievement of targeted production, even though this was due to erratic electric supply. Electricity shortage in effect thus became workers responsibility! The electricity problem grew to such an extent that, according to the management [letter to Deputy Commissioner, 17 October 1986], “there had been long periods of 100% power cuts from 1993 onwards”. Yet in the agreement signed in 1993, there was no attempt to take into account the electricity problem. At the same time the production targets were extended by 25%.

The latest agreement signed on 6th June 1997 once again links wages to production but it nowhere takes into account the lack of raw materials. At the time of signing, the ad hoc committee showed the Deputy Labour Commissioner (DLC) authorising signatures from workers in what the DLC calls “an irregular format”. Later he received complaint letters from as many as 1600 workers denying that they backed this agreement. The DLC formally declared it null and void (circular, 30 July 1997). The Jhalani Tools management, however, is still trying to uphold this officially invalidated agreement. In a notice signed Yogesh Jhalani 26 September 1997, workers are told “your agreement has taken place…under the care of CITU’s national Joint Secretary who has the trust of 20-25 lakh workers”. The invalidation of the agreement is explained away as the “pressurising” of the DLC by a few disruptive workers.

An important facet in the company’s history has been its `sickness’. In 1986 the company was declared sick under the Sick Industrial Companies Act, 1985. According to the management this was because a steep rise in the price of steel in 1981 made the company unviable in the international market. From 1989 remedial measures could be implemented as the government started providing steel at international prices. The management states that the next few years, till 1992-93, showed substantial improvement and the company started implementing a rehabilitation package approved by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction. The Annual Report for 1996 states that the company has been consistently earning profits for the last six years and that the net worth of the company is now positive.

Today whenever the Jhalani Tools management has to answer for its workers’ problems this background of sickness is heavily invoked. The management admits that its problems have been mainly due to factors such as competitive international markets, the price of steel and, in the 1990s, massive power cuts, difficulties with creditors, postal and transporters’ strikes etc. Nevertheless, in dealing with the current problem it insists that the workers are mainly responsible for the company’s losses and cites go slows, stoppage of despatch and carelessness in handling material by workers as a cause of heavy damages.

The logic of the financial crisis is used to compel workers into agreements such as that of December 1995, in which the ad hoc committee agreed that workers would accept only 50% wages till conditions improved. And, as we shall now discuss, by explaining the present crisis in terms of workers `non-co-operation’ and misdeeds the management absolves itself of all responsibility for giving workers their dues.

The Current Problem

“Today the world is one of competition and no company can exist without productivity. Therefore every agreement is linked to production. In future too, any agreement, of any kind, at any time, will be linked to production.”

Translation of a Hindi notice to workers, signed Y.C. Jhalani, 19 September l997

The three agreements of 1989, 1993 and 1996 (and various interim mini agreements) established the linkage of payment of wages to specified production targets. Simultaneously, by 1996, lack of electricity or generated power, of raw material, and non-maintenance of old machinery were entrenched problems. So was the tradition of late wage payments. For example, wages given in March 1996 were for work done in November l995. Similarly wages given in May 1996 were for work done in January 1996. The current problem relates to wages for the period March 1996 to September 1997 which, on various grounds, the company refuses to pay.

March 1996 and part of May 1996 were times of no production because of intermittent work stoppage due to workers’ anger with the then ad hoc committees. There were resultant leadership changes. Workers did report for duty in April, part of May, and June to August. Lack of raw material remained a serious problem. In this period the management made statements that they had no cash to disburse. In July a date was announced, hopes were raised but no wages were paid.

According to the current ad hoc committee, in August 1996, production upto 200 tons was ready, with only 5 tons or so lacking. But the management contends that the shortfall was actually of 50 tons. With the management refusing to pay six month due wages, on the grounds of this shortage, the workers committee decided to stop despatch of goods at the beginning of September 1996. In retaliation, the management got the electricity connection cut so that no production could take place anyway. This stalemate lasted from September 1996 to January 1997.

Work was resumed in January 1997 after a settlement was reached between the ad hoc committee and the management via an interim memorandum of understanding. Instead of wages, this settlement announced “advance payment” for the next four months. About Rs.8000/-was given to each worker as advance. This was cold comfort to workers as the management announced that losses of the company from September to January would be `recovered’ from workers’ back wages and that this `recovery’ would continue till the loss was compensated. The recovery was thus to be effected from wages that had not been paid in the first place and from allowances and benefits that had not been paid for years. For workers, it meant that there was no hope of subsequent wages either. For the management, the issue of wages seemed to be taken care of.

Thus, barring the advance, no wages were paid throughout 1997 even though the workers reported for duty. (In fact a management notice of 3 July 1997 takes cognisance of the good work being done by the workers). On 6th June l997 another agreement was negotiated demanding a minimum 100 hours worth of production before wages would be paid. As noted above, this was invalidated by the DLC. Matters reached a stalemate as the management’s proposals continued to revolve around this agreement. In August the company tried to give another Rs.1000/- as advance, but the workers refused and demanded their back wages.

Meanwhile from 24th July to end of August 1997, the management illegally terminated the jobs of about 100 workers. The mandatory enquiry into the charges against them was not conducted. The dismissal notices cite “serious misconduct” and state that “since the atmosphere in and around the factories is totally surcharged it is not possible to conduct any enquiry against you…you are dismissed with immediate effect.” Through this tactic it appears that the management has simultaneously got rid of the more vocal workers and created an atmosphere of insecurity to pressurise the rest of them.

The Management

“Management advises all workmen….to accord top most priority, over their own payments, to inputs and to outside commitments to suppliers and bankers… You are however free to continue your present stand and jeopardise your own jobs.”

Notice to workers, signed by the entire top management, 28 October 1996

The nature of the agreements signed by the management and the unions, and unwillingly borne by the workers, lies at the centre of the problem for the past two years (see Box-2). It is clear that under the norm of wages linked to specific production targets, there is the potential situation of production shortfalls due to external factors. And the responsibility for external factors has been shifted onto the workers.

This has meant that the workers spend months without wages. It becomes possible for a permanent worker with 20 years of service behind him to not even get the statutory minimum wages. This situation is sometimes explained by the management, and even by the Deputy Labour Commissioner, in terms of “no work-no pay”. But the truth is that the workers have been reporting for work and producing as much as external conditions allow. Thus a recent production report signed by a supervisor shows in an 8 hour shift, most workers have put in 2 hours of work and for the remaining 6 hours there was “lack of material”. This is a situation more akin to “no production targets-no pay”.

Another attempt to shift responsibility for external factors onto the workers is evident from the interim memo of understanding of January l997, according to which it was agreed that workers would be paid in terms of despatch. While `production’ refers to the goods produced, `despatch’ refers to goods actually taken out of the factory for sale. Thus it is possible that only a part of the production is despatched in a given period of time. According to the agreement 17% of the despatch value was to be distributed among the workers. This distances wages from the actual amount of work put in by the workers. The agreement went even further than linking wage payment to production targets and sought to link wage payment to the ability of the company to sell its goods.

Wages have not been paid not only to workers but also to staff members. According to workers, staff salaries have not been paid for 19 months. The situation is not very clear, but salaries have definitely not been paid since September l996. In a letter to the Deputy Commissioner (17 October 1996), the management has offered this explanation for its conduct: “We do not wish to believe that the staff members have instigated workmen for negative activities… However, there appears to be no inclination on their part to make efforts to increase productivity or to guide workmen away from negative activities….and if assuming they are inclined to do this they are not effective at all”. These reasons are patently absurd not to mention illegal. For example, a telephone operator’s duty is not to persuade protesting workers. Nor can the company in such an arbitrary fashion thus deny wages to the staff for not being “effective” in curbing worker protest.

Administrative Response

According to the Deputy Commissioner (D.C) the Jhalani Tools issue deserves consideration on humanitarian grounds. He believes that the Jhalani family want to make money by selling property and wants “to get out of Faridabad”. He states that the company would not be allowed to sell any immovable property without paying the workers’ dues. However the D.C. sees no point in dealing with the middle level management and is waiting for the senior Vice President (who was in Germany at the time of the interview) to return to Faridabad.

The chief labour officer dealing with this issue in Faridabad is the Deputy Labour Commissioner. According to him such a problem can be dealt with in two ways. First, there is the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, under which a company can be fined for not paying wages to its workers. However, this Act applies only to those companies whose workers earn less than Rs.1600 per month and the Jhalani workers do not fall into this category. (On the other hand the Jhalani Tools workers point out the case of another company, Hitkari Potteries, that was `challaned’ for non-payment despite its workers earning more than Rs.1600 a month. This is confirmed at the DLC’s office and provides a clear instance of differential application of the law).

A second possibility is for the workers to formally make a `dispute’ of the matter and approach a labour court under the Industrial Disputes Act. The DLC says he cannot help in this matter since the contesting versions given by different parties necessitate the gathering of proper evidence, which only a court can do.

The bottomline in every statement of various officials involved is that the workers must move the labour court. They even give off-the-record assurances that the court verdict would certainly be in the workers’ favour. An unavoidable question arises. Why has the Jhalani management, who is said to be sure to lose in a labour court, not faced any punitive action from the labour department (except challans from the Provident Fund department) for all of 19 months? The workers disbelieve such assurances and understand them as the bureaucracy’s attempts to avoid having to deal with their case. This is not surprising since over the last few months these authorities have sent the workers to seek help from sources as diverse as the General Manager of the District Industrial Centre, Faridabad, and the local Grievance Committee constituted by the town’s eminent persons.

While officials ascribe the reluctance of workers to move court to their illiteracy and ignorance, workers themselves point out the countless examples of litigation that they have observed around them in Faridabad. The average worker cannot afford the time, money and energy that he must invest, from the labour court in Faridabad, to the High Court in Chandigarh to Supreme Court in New Delhi. Workers pointed out the case of the East India Cotton Company in Faridabad as an example of the near irrelevance of the legal machinery to their cause. The Jute Mills of this company were closed in 1983. Despite a prolonged court case the 900 workers retrenched at that time have still not managed to retrieve their due wages and gratuity in 1997. In August this year, they went back to sitting in demonstration outside company gates.

Conclusion

“…ration shops do not give us food on credit any more…electricity connections are getting cut…children’s education is in jeopardy…our daughters are of marriageable age…please do get our husbands their wages or we will be forced to commit suicide.”

letter to D.C signed ‘wives of workers of Jhalani Tools’, August 1997

Over a long period of time the Jhalani Tools management has deprived its 2000 workers of their wages and other rightful dues for no fault of theirs. In a vicious cycle, the management first created (and allowed to exist) such conditions that work could not efficiently take place. Then, the workers were denied remuneration on the grounds that no work had taken place. And when the workers protested against this injustice, remuneration was further cut in terms of fines and `recovery’. Moreover, they have had to face arbitrary dismissals, without any right of reply, from their 20 years of service.

In such a context many workers are being forced to seek new sources of livelihood, however ad hoc and insecure these may be, and are unable to pursue the matter of their dues any further. It is possible that some would accept a pittance from the management and in return forsake their rights to much larger dues. Thus, while the management has already laid off its workers without giving the situation its correct name (see Box on page 8), it is further, effectively creating a situation of retrenchment without having to bear the responsibility of calling it retrenchment.

Today, the fear of the workers is that the management does not wish to run the company any more but is not openly saying so. Jhalani Tool’s background of sickness in the 1980s and, even today, the management’s constant references to paucity of funds for paying wages, and to a backlog of problems, make workers apprehend that the management would prefer to close down the company and is trying to extract all that it can from various sources, before closure. The workers dues provide a large number of such sources to the management.

Many instances discussed in this report support such an argument. First, it is not just workers’ monthly wages that are in dispute. The crores of rupees involved in unpaid Provident Fund, E.S.I, gratuity etc. take this issue far beyond the realm of controversial agreements and disputes over work done or not done. Second, arbitrary non-payment of staff salaries also adds to the suspicion that the management is fomenting problems with the workers, to not only save on their dues, but also to appropriate money from other sources. Another pointer is the management’s attempts to sell the third plant which was closed in 1984. Questions are particularly raised about the closure of this plant, when of the three plants, it was in best running condition. The workers have petitioned the Deputy Commissioner to prevent this eventuality since, according to them, this would foreclose any possibility of third plant workers getting their wages and gratuity. Finally, even the Deputy Commissioner’s reading of the situation is the same. He asserts that the owners want to close the plant, sell and withdraw from Faridabad.

As things stand today the Jhalani Tools workers find themselves in a beleaguered state. Yet another ad hoc committee has been formed recently which is waiting for the management to initiate a fresh round of negotiations. The administrative machinery claims not to be able to respond to their problem and pushes them towards court. And courts provide an expensive, time consuming option that seems to be no option at all. For Jhalani Tools workers, will a backlog of unpaid wages, an absence of Provident Fund or gratuity to fall back on and prolonged litigation with no guarantee of results, ever compensate for a lifetime of labour?

BOX-1

Saving on the Workers’ Bill

“The gain of the company is our collective gain. In its realisation some delay may take place. But it is an unbreakable law that when we gain from something [i.e. the company], or may gain from it sometime in the future, then it is essential that we have reverence and gratitude towards it”.

Translation of a Hindi notice to workers
sd/- Y.C. Jhalani and P.C. Jhalani, 27 December 1996

Non-payment of wages: Wages have not be paid to 2183 workers between March 1996 and September l997. According to the workers their salary ranges from Rs.2800/- to Rs.3200/-. Taking Rs.3000/- as a rough average the amount gained by the company at the workers’ expense adds up to 12 crore 44 lakhs and 31 thousand rupees.

Non-payment of bonus: 2183 workers have not been bonus for 2 years. At about Rs.800/- per worker, per month, this amount is 34 lakhs 92 thousand rupees.

Non-payment of Leave Transport Allowance : LTA is Rs.1500 per worker per year and has not been paid for 3 years. This works out to 98 lakhs 23 thousand rupees saved by the company.

The loss to each worker on account of the above three categories amounts to approximately Rs.60,000. However, the workers have also been denied other dues, of a qualitatively different nature.

Non-payment of ESI dues: The workers have complained to the Regional Director, Employees State Insurance Corporation that despite having ESI cards they get no medical facilities at ESI hospitals for 3 years now. “On being asked the officials say that the company has not deposited dues”.

Non-payment of P.F.: The current union calculates that Provident Fund amounts have not been deposited since May 1994. P.F dues are also missing for 5 years in the mid-eighties. (This is partially confirmed by the company’s annual report for 1995-96). According to Labour Department officials, challans have been issued against Jhalani Tools in this regard.

Non-payment of Gratuity: Workers allege that the company has not paid service gratuity due to them for many years. This too has been confirmed by Labour Department officials.

BOX-2

Relevant Legal Provisions

Minimum Wages Act, 1948: Under Section 25, “any contract or agreement whereby an employee either relinquishes / reduces his rights to a minimum rate of wages, or any privilege or concession accruing to him under this Act, shall be null and void in so far as it purports to reduce the minimum rate of wages fixed under this act”.

Indian Contract Act, 1872: Under Section 23 ,”the considerations of or object of an agreement is lawful, unless it is of such a nature that if permitted it would defeat the provisions of any law or the court considers it opposed to public policy”

Industrial Disputes Act, 1947: Under Section 2 (kkk), ‘lay off’ is a failure, refusal or inability of the employer on account of shortage of coal, power or raw material, or the accumulation of stock, or breakdown of machinery, or for any other reason, to give employment to the workmen.

Under Section 25-M lay off is prohibited:

sub-section (1) no workman in an establishment employing 100 or more workers are to be laid off except with prior permission of the government, unless lay off is due to shortage of power or natural calamity.

sub-section (2) a copy of the application for permission is to be served on the workmen.

sub-section (8) lay off without adequate permission is illegal and workmen are entitled to all benefits as if they had not been laid off.

Section 25-C entitles workmen who have been laid off (with adequate permission) to 50% of the total of their basic wages and dearness allowance.

Further, under the Provident Fund Act, (Section 14, Section 14A, Section 14 AB) non-payment of Provident Fund deposits and under the Employees State Insurance Act, (Section 85) non-payment of P.F. and ESI contributions are punishable offences. Criminal cases can be instituted, responsible persons arrested and prosecuted to ensure compliance. Payment of Bonus Act (Section 28) similarly makes the non-payment of Bonus an offence.

* Unorganised Workers of Delhi and the Seven Day Strike of 1988

Indrani Mazumdar

Introduction

Delhi has never been considered significant in the history of labour or its movements. And yet below the surface of documented history, the city has been one of the most powerful magnets for migrant labour in independent India. Periodically, a hue and cry is raised by the vocally and politically dominant sections of the middle class in the city about the dirt and filth spread by the poorer sections of the city and their consumption of the amenities of the capital. But the lives of this vast mass of workers, who are today numerically dominant, are mostly unrecorded even in the statistics of the administration.

In 1988, Delhi was the site of a major 7-day strike of industrial workers, whose spread far outstripped the strength of the unions that had given the call. The magnitude and duration of the strike set it apart from other similar industrial actions of preceding and later years. It’s scale and impact may be gauged from the fact that it forced the government to bring about a major revision of minimum wages in Delhi, and introduce the variable dearness allowance (VDA) within the minimum wages. As a result, Delhi has among the highest minimum wage rates in the country today.

Apart from its sweep and scale, its electrifying effect on the industrial workers, and its impact on the administration, the 7-day strike was unprecedented, due to the fact that perhaps for the first time in the country workers in the small scale sector banded together across industries in a protracted struggle to, by force, raise the fundamental issues of the unorganised among them, and fairly succeeded in wresting major concessions. It roused many in the otherwise somnolent middle-class of Delhi to come in support of the struggle, including white collared employees, teachers, students, artistes, etc. It subsequently inspired several strike struggles all over the country and also brought into focus the conditions obtaining in the small scale and unorganised sector – both for trade unions as well as labour bureaucrats. One of its special features was the active participation of women, drawn not from the factory floor level, but from the working class bastis by new generation women’s organisation.

The reasons why documentation of a significant event like the 7-day strike is necessary need not be emphasised. Delhi was never a major industrial centre – its industrial workforce largely comprised, and was led by, the textile workers’ movement for decades. However, even as the textile industry slowly declined and its workers fought ever more desperate battles to survive, a steady growth in the small-scale sector was occurring which turned into a veritable explosion by the end of the seventies. Drawing upon, and often actively fuelled by, powerful political patronage which permeates even the interstices of this vast city, entrepreneurs flocked to the capital to avail of the multiple benefits of cheap infrastructure, concessional taxation and access to a huge market (in the city as well as with most of north India, through trade). Delhi, it must be remembered was also home to a gigantic bureaucracy and the biggest wholesale trade centre in north India for several goods. This lodestone attracted immiserised peasants from all quarters who sought, and often found, some kind of gainful employment, some relief from the harsh realities of the rural hinterland. These immigrants, willing to work for nothing, for they had nothing to lose, provided the cheap labour on which the industrial boom flourished. Industrial activity was always on the fringes of legality – it violated land use laws, stole power, bribed its way through tax authorities and, needless to say violated labour laws. The workers were scattered in small units, and lived in either jhuggies, resettlement colonies or in kacchi (unauthorised) colonies. Inevitably the need for space in a city where their existence remained unrecognised by planners, brought about links with political overlords and practices which led them into the grey world of illegality. Aliens in a strange land, they adapted to the new urban order through a quiescent acceptance of their domination by oppressive class and caste practices and subhuman living conditions. The story of the 7-day strike is the story of the first major outbreak against such domination, where the call of a small political force led to a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger.

Embedded in this larger picture, there lie thousands of almost identical tales of individual workers or for that matter individual factories which upon scrutiny, reveal in shocking vividness, the sweated conditions of industrial workers, and the shifting continuum between industrial work and the multifarious uses that the metropolis can put any cheap labour to – in the form of informal relations. It was only a fraction which ended up in secure jobs with minimal facilities in the medium sized factories.

All that was required to ignite this tinder-box was to convince the workers that something could be done about the key issue of wages and organise/direct the anger. In other words, sustained propaganda by an apparently powerful organisation, and militant picketing at crucial points – led to a spectacular response and a memorable upsurge. Related to and feeding into such events and experiences lies the context – the growth and characteristics of the giant metropolis of Delhi, the ascribed and actual part played by labour in this process, the domination of unorganised employment relations in modern organised production, the interweave of the economic, political and administrative processes which shaped the lives of workers, and the impelling course of the trade union movement in determining the form and characteristics of the industrial action observed in the 7-day strike.

The strike itself was called for by only one of the central trade unions, the CITU, with all other major unions either opposing or distancing themselves from the call. And yet, it remains the most widespread and sweeping action of the industrial workers of the capital city. How was it that but a small force and a minority contingent of the organised trade union movement was able to ignite the unorganised industrial workers across Delhi in the teeth of opposition from within and without? What were the conditions that led to such an explosive outbreak of mass anger upon which the scale of the strike was necessarily predicated? What were the methods by which this anger of an essentially migrant and unorganised workforce was harnessed into industrial action? What were the compulsions that forced the administration to concede the workers’ demands, if only partially? This is not merely a matter of historical curiosity alone, but also of relevance to the future where globalised industrial policy is increasingly taking recourse to informal and semi-formal relations in order to break working class unity and disempower the organisation of labour.

In documenting the events that led to this historic strike, and outlining its course in industrial areas in north, south, east and west Delhi, this study attempts to arrive at some answers to the above questions. Through recording and recovering the experiences of participants in this struggle, it also seeks to observe and describe the life processes and experiences of individuals and communities within the metropolitan working class of Delhi, stretching beyond the events to probe into recesses of social and economic conditions and subjective processes that often remain hidden from recorded history.

Unorganised small scale industrial workers

It should be clear at the outset that the section of unorganised workers that form the subject of this report are those who work in the small scale industries in Delhi. Although, the shifting nature of the forms of work that characterises the lives of urban unorganised workers has emerged in many of the interviews, the focus has remained on industrial workers. For, the seven day strike took place in the industrial estates of Delhi, each of which houses hundreds of factories. Why and how this section of workers are termed unorganised, is based, not just on their exclusion from the regulating force of labour laws, but also the economic and social and even political relations that generate unorganised conditions and relations of employment.

Casual, contract or even regular but unprotected and impermanent conditions are the common characteristics of small scale industrial workers. In an era when we are witnessing the dismantling of many of the protective structures for labour, and the reintroduction of unregulated employer-employee relations in the regulated centres as well, it has become increasingly necessary to understand the dynamics of unorganised and informal relations of production, and from within the trade union movement evolve practices which will strengthen the organisation of labour. For such purposes, the method of clubbing all forms of unorganised work within a single omnibus category of the informal sector, has proved to be of little use to workers themselves, since it rarely, if ever, addresses the concrete nature or form of class exploitation which dominates their lives. Implicit in the failure to do so, is the absence of the necessary slogans and demands around which workers can be organised in movement towards eradication of the worst forms of exploitation and becoming greater masters of their own destiny.

As emerges in the story of the seven day strike, other atomised members of the family of workers in the city of Delhi, including those who work outside direct industrial production, are magnetically drawn to the power of mass industrial action. For in such industrial action can be seen an assertion of working class power that offers inspiration to others. Action through which, the abject subjugation that they all suffer at the hands of the rich and powerful, can be demonstrably and dramatically reversed, even if temporarily. This only highlights the potentialities of industrial workers and industrial action in advancing the struggles of other sections of urban unorganised labour, and therefore, the need to pay specific attention to industrial, yet unorganised labour.

Methodology

Much of the methodology involved in collecting the material for the archival submission and preparing the report suggested itself from the objectives outlined above. There was an advantage in addressing an event of only a little more than a decade past. Many of those involved, who organised or participated were accessible in the city, and the rich resource of their memories and observations was therefore available. These have been recorded through a series of taped interviews which include those of workers who worked, participated or saw the strike in a number of industrial areas, namely Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road areas in north Delhi, Mayapuri in west Delhi, Okhla in south Delhi, and Shahdara-Jhilmil-Friends Colony located east of the river.

The interviews themselves, were not confined to the events of the strike alone, but were also directed towards eliciting information and observations about the individual lives and experiences of the workers. This was done in order to achieve insight into the various objective and subjective processes that shaped the social and economic relations within which the unorganised workers of Delhi live and work. Generally the interviews begin with their backgrounds, and move through the process of entry into Delhi, towards the nature of their working and living conditions and the various changes experienced therein. Through this pathway, their experiences in the strike were approached. The interviews themselves, thus open up avenues of investigation and interpretation, of which only a few are touched upon in this report.

The seven day strike was not and could not be a purely spontaneous action of a leaderless mass, although the spontaneity of the upsurge of workers marked its every step. Both its protracted nature and sweep across industrial areas, required planning and organisation. Successful documentation of the strike and its various threads, therefore, required collection of material from the organisers and leaders of the strike and their perceptions as well. Here too, interviews formed a preliminary basis of acquiring information at various levels. Interviews of the leaders of the CITU and other organisations involved in the strike, at the state and local level have been recorded as part of the oral record. However, this oral record forms only one aspect of the documentation process, and written documents, published and unpublished have been collated, which provide many forgotten details, correct faltering and even sometimes confused memories. Unexpectedly, for so recent an event, much has been lost. Many of the filed leaflets, posters, press releases, etc., were found to have been destroyed by damp and termites. However, detailed minutes of important committees that planned, implemented, and reviewed the strike, at the state and local level were available and constitute one of the most valuable elements of the record of the strike. At the same time, newspaper reports, provided the frame of events during the actual course of the strike.

One of the problems of even the written records is the fact that many of the important characters involved are unknown, their backgrounds and positions shrouded in obscurity. While personal knowledge of many of them has obviously been an important aid to understanding, referencing and contextualising statements and records, life stories of a few were also recorded in archival interviews. It requires some mention here, that such personal knowledge and, perhaps a certain experience of association and comradeship with them, gave access to many of the workers interviewed and laid the ground of trust for a degree of informal frankness. Similar knowledge, as well as cross checking with both people and written records provided the basis for discounting (in the report) some of the mythification of events, the mixed up memories and observations that are but natural.

In the writing of the report, some of the descriptions, particularly in relation to the form of the strike, are also perhaps influenced by personal observation and experience as a mass worker and participant in the strike action. But this has played a limited role, as research of the minutes of the committees and the various interviews revealed so much that was unknown to me. Generally, field participants in such actions have a view of only one slice of the events, and it is only when all the various pieces are put together that the larger picture and even the complete storyline becomes clear. For the record, it must be stated that the story of the preparations for the strike, its background, and the course of events as outlined in the report, emerged from the written and oral documentation, and it is only in the case of the description of the strike in Mayapuri, that one’s own personal memories were also drawn upon. However, general familiarity with the organisational structures, practices and even individuals involved, no doubt, made perusal and understanding of the various documents much simpler than would perhaps be the case for a complete outsider.

The study outline
The study report begins with on overview of the part played by workers in the making of the modern day metropolis that is Delhi (Ch 1). The scale of migration, the nature and development of industry, the information on the settlements of workers, and the changing contours of the city, have primarily been drawn from secondary sources. But many of the generalised descriptions of the working and living conditions of workers, the analysis of paths traversed by them individually and as a class, and some of the related political processes, have been culled out from the interviews. Such an overview was considered essential in order to understand the background objective conditions in which the strike took place.

The overview is followed by a brief account of the trade union context (Ch 2), foregrounding the continuities of experience of militant action, the emergence of the key demands of the strike in the united trade union movement, the breakdown of this unity and the forerunner of the seven day strike-the CITU’s 72 hour strike of 1987. This chapter is the outcome of attempts to trace the roots of the experience and imagination that propelled the form of action observed in the seven day strike. From interviews with senior trade union leaders, links were discovered between organised and unorganised workers, between movements of textile and engineering workers, stretching back to the period before the emergency of 1975-77, and are outlined in the report. Similarly, the breakdown of trade union unity on the question of protracted strike in 1987, and the experience of the CITU in independently organising the 72 hour strike, have been looked at to gain insight into some of the subjective trade union processes. The focus here, is on those processes involved in the development of new organisational strategies and tactics of working class action, required by the emerging dominance of unorganised small scale industries in the city of Delhi. The archival interviews, minutes of joint trade union meetings and conventions, reports and minutes of CITU conferences and committees provided the principal sources for this chapter.

The report on the seven day strike itself has been divided into two chapters. The first (Ch 3), details the various preparations for the strike. It describes the manner of the decision to give the call for the strike, the campaign details, the involvement of sections other than the trade union, the forging of a broad front of workers’ and other mass organisations, and also looks at the various internal processes and discussions among the organisers. These aspects have been principally derived from the written archival documents collected of minutes of various committees of the CITU and the CPI(M). The minutes themselves provided rich details of the internal discussions among the organisers of the strike, and were a most important source for comprehension of the process by which a small organisational force was able to engage with the task of implementing such a widespread strike.

The following chapter (Ch 4), addresses the events as they unfolded during the seven days of the strike in five industrial areas. Here, the chronological frame has been primarily drawn from the newsaper reports of the time. But both the generalised and particular descriptions of the strike and its form have emerged from the experiences of the participants. Within the common experience of overwhelming participation of the mass of workers, there were uneven levels of the strike in the different industrial areas. Clashes with the police which marked the strike in Wazirpur, GTK Road and Mayapuri, were not a feature in Shahdara-Jhilmil and Okhla. Similarly, the extent of actual strike varied from 90% in Wazirpur and GT Road to 25-30% in Mayapuri. These have emerged from newspaper reports, interviews as well as the internal organisational reviews of the strike, and the day to day course of events in select industrial areas have been described. This chapter also includes the public record of reactions to the strike, and some of the events in the aftermath.

In the concluding chapter (Ch 5) of the study, an attempt has been made to look back at the events from the context of the present situation and analyse some of the more longterm and wider trajectories and implications of the seven day strike.

Ultimately, this is the story of a strike. Of a strike of unorganised workers. Not just a formal strike as a tactic of the negotiating table. Not just a token strike. But a more widespread, protracted, bitter and more realised strike. The hows, whys and wherefores as much as the whos and the whens are, in the final analysis, the background of a universal story. It is not a new story. It is not a unique story. But it must be told again and again for any of us to comprehend its meaning for and in the life of a worker.

Chapter 1 : Workers in the making of the Metropolis

In its spectacular leaps in population since 1941, Delhi is known to have outpaced all million plus cities in India. From somewhat more than 9 lakhs in 1941, the population almost doubled at over 17 lakhs by 1951 and thereafter continued to maintain a decennial growth of over 50%. In 1991, the population in Delhi stood at over 94 lakhs. Within these bare statistics is represented the lives and aspirations of lakhs of people who have been drawn to the capital by its promise of infinite advantages, for economic and social advance.

Table 1: Decennial rate of growth in Delhi’s population

Period
Population
Decennial % variation

1941
917939
44.27

1951
1744072
90.00

1961
2658612
52.44

1971
4065698
52.93

1981
6220406
53.00

1991
9420644
51.45

Source: Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1999, Bureau of Economics & Statistics, Govt. of the National Capital Territory of Delhi

Generally, accounts of the making of Delhi in independent India have, no doubt legitimately, focussed on the huge influx of Punjabi refugees during partition, their fortitude, enterprise and role in the economic development of the city. And yet, alongside the official refugees, for whose rehabilitation five arms of the Government [Ministries of (i) Rehabilitation, (ii)Works, Housing and Supply, (iii) Railways, (iv) Defence and (v) Health], and the local municipal authorities went to work, there was a parallel and expanding movement of non-refugee migrant workers who also contributed to the broadening and diversifying of a labour force base necessary for such development.

Along with their refugee brethren, these migrant workers too displayed fortitude, resilience and enterprise, if of a somewhat different order. They too were making a transition from their earlier, traditional occupations and living patterns in movement towards the construction of a metropolitan working class. Unlike the refugees who were predominantly of urban origin (95%)[1], the majority of the migrant workers came from rural backgrounds. For them, there were no arrangements for settlement, and no organs of Government working for the establishment of their place in the metropolis. And while the root causes for their influx may be located in the continued process of agrarian immiserisation in independent India, the myriad tales of their adaptation to and survival in the capital also encapsulate ambitions and aspirations for social advance beyond the realm of the purely economic. By the 1980s, the sheer numerical dominance of these migrants began to determine the electoral fortunes of the dominant political parties of the capital city.

Among the migrant workers who entered the city in ever swelling waves, (4.45 lakhs in 1951-61, 5.25 in 1961-71, and 12.29 in 1971-81, and over 19 lakhs in 1981-91)[2], a significant feature has been the drawing in of the most socially oppressed sections. This is evidenced from the rising proportion of dalits or those belonging to the scheduled castes in the population of Delhi, from an initial 12% in 1951 to 19% in 1991. Yet another feature has been the increasing number of women representing the settling down process through which male migrant workers have brought in their families to become an intrinsic part of the people of the capital city. Many of these women were to enter the labour force of the capital, in forms of work that would have been unacceptable to them in their native areas.

Table 2: Decennial growth and % of SC population, and sex ratio in Delhi
Period
Decennial growth of SC population (%)
% of SC to total population
Sex ratio (Females per 000 of Males)

1951
-
11.98
768

1961
63.73
12.84
785

1971
86.12
15.63
801

1981
76.44
18.03
808

1991
60.00
19.05
827

Source: Census Hand Book, 1991.

The process of migration into the capital began even prior to independence, from the decade 1931-41, during which the population increase of about 5 lakhs was double that of the preceding three decades taken together. Came partition, and, within a few years, displaced Hindu refugees (more than 4.5 lakhs) flooded into the capital. Prior to 1951, Delhi drew its labour force mostly from the adjoining districts of Gurgaon, Rohtak, Bulandshahr and Meerut,[3] but in the years that followed, migrants have entered the city from a widening radius, but ever dominated by the vast Hindi heartland of the country.[4] The state of Uttar Pradesh, consistently provided the largest contingent of migrants into Delhi constituting 41% of all migrants before 1961 and rising to 50% in the decade 1971-81[5]. However, the fact is that within U.P., the cultural divide between the east and the west is considerable, with the purabiyas (easterners) often being clubbed with Biharis in the perception of the westerners. Unfortunately, the distribution of migrants according to district of origin is not available. But there can be little doubt that from 1961 onwards, significantly increasing numbers of purabiyas and later Biharis have been coming in to Delhi.

Development of Industry and its workers

Unlike Bombay and Calcutta which grew largely on account of their industrial development, Delhi emerged first as an administrative city. Nevertheless, taking off from its location as a commercial and trade centre with access to an expanding internal and external market, industry grew rapidly. But whereas in Bombay and Calcutta, the industrial structure was dominated by large industries, industrial development in Delhi has been dominated by numerous small units. In fact, the setting up of large scale and heavy industries in Delhi was ruled out by the Master Plan for Delhi adopted in 1962.

By the end of the ’60s, Delhi had “emerged as the single biggest centre of concentration of small scale industries in the country” with the small scale industries constituting 99.2% of the number, 76.3% of the employment, 53.50% of the investment and 55.62% of the production of all industries in the capital.[6] In the same period, there were only 65 large scale industrial establishments which employed about 45,044 workers (in1969). Of these workers, the five textile mills of DCM, DCM Silk, Swatantra Bharat, Ajudhia and Birla Mills alone accounted for over 22,000[7]. It was the textile workers of these mills who laid the foundations of the trade union movement among the industrial workers in Delhi and who served as a beacon of inspiration for the organisation of workers in the small scale industries as well.

Given the fact that small scale industries were so designated, solely on the basis of an upper ceiling on investment in plant and machinery[8], it is by no means true that all of them had small numbers of workers. For, at a time when designated large scale units such as Delhi Flour Mills employed about 250 workers[9] some of the units designated small scale industries employed up to 500 workers. Thus, the 1969 census of industrial units recorded 388 industrial units (of which only 65 were large scale) having more than 50 workers per unit, with 216 of them having more than 100 per unit.

Despite the existence of a significant number of medium sized units in the small scale sector, it remains a fact that the vast majority of factories that came up even in organised industrial estates employed less than 30 workers. By 1988, an industrial survey revealed that about 30% of all industrial units in Delhi employed 4 workers or less[10]. This is additionally confirmed by the three Economic Censuses of 1977, 1980 and 1990. It was this sea of units with small numbers of workers that eluded registration with the Factories’ Inspectorate, which accustomed many workers towards the acceptance of the domination of unregulated, non-formal or informal employer-employee relations in Delhi’s industrial scenario.

The number of industrial units in Delhi grew from 8,160 employing some 95,137 workers in 1951 to 26,000 employing 2.91 lakh workers in 1970-71. In the following decade, the number of industries jumped to 42,000 (by 1981), registering an increase of 16,000 industries, and then a further increase of 23,000 bringing their number to over 76,000 by 1988[11]. Various rounds of the NSSO survey also indicate that about 25% of the workers in Delhi were engaged in the manufacturing sector between 1977-78 and 1991-92. While not wishing to dwell on what are known to be unreliable statistics, nevertheless, they have been introduced here in order to show the explosive increase in the number of industries effected between 1971 and 1988 (39,000 in 18 years), the year of the strike. Through the seventies and eighties, these industrial units were spread all over the city, in 20 officially constituted industrial estates, as also in many other areas, predominating in 37 industrial areas, termed non conforming on the basis of the land use mapped by the Master Plan for Delhi. Most of the official industrial areas came up during and the period following the emergency.

Table 3: Growth of Industrial Sector in Delhi, 1951-91

Year
Number of Industrial Units
Investment (Rs. crore)
Production (Rs. crore)
Employment (number of workers)

1951
8,160
18.13
35.35
95,137

1961
17,000
60.00
121.00
1,87,034

1971
26,000
190.00
388.00
2,91,585

1981
42,000
700.00
1,700.00
5,68,910

1991
85,050
1,659.00
4,462.00
7,30,951

Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000

Accompanying this rapid increase, was the development of a substantial segment of wage labourers employed in these various industries. They worked in various types of factories and under masters ranging from organised managements, small and large individual proprietors, to fabricators and labour contractors or thekedars. They produced a wide range of goods, for local markets, external markets within the country as well as export markets. A survey of industries in 1988[12] showed that Textile products, i.e., primarily garments, constituted the single largest number of units, numbering 15,166. This was followed by the manufacture of machine tools, machine parts and electrical machinery which had 7,236 units. However, if one clubs the latter with all other groups that may be broadly classified as Engineering and light Engineering industries[13], their number was 19,892.

Of a total number of 76,559 industrial units identified by the 1988 survey, less than 7% were registered under the Factories’ Act.[14] The overwhelming majority of workers in modern factory production in Delhi, therefore remained outside the protection of any of the labour laws. Of the units registered with the Small Industries Development Organisation, (SIDO), as identifiably modern small scale industries, less than 17% were registered under the Factories Act in 1988, although, about 59% of them qualified for registration[15]. Thus the widespread evasion of the application of labour laws reflected also the relentless drive of the majority of Delhi’s capitalist class towards both extraction of absolute surplus value, as also its inevitable companions, the use of direct coercion and brute power to enforce domination.

Embedded in this broad statistical picture lies a world of the direct experience of the individual worker. Occasionally, stories of the conditions of labour in these small scale industries made their way into newspaper reports, albeit in the Hindi Press. Thus, in October,1986 appeared the story of Ras Bihari who had worked in seven factories within the space of eight months, and was at the time working in a rubber chappal factory in Mayapuri and living with seven other workers from his district in a single room. He was working from seven in the morning to seven in the evening on a compulsory 12 hour shift, and additionally being made to work overtime, actually being able to return to his room only by 11 or 12 o’clock at night. His room mates would leave a few rotis and onions and green chillies for him which constituted his dinner. He had spent just eight months in Delhi and had been reduced from being healthy to a state where his hands constantly trembled and suffered from perpetual cough and fever. Another worker, Khel Ram reported that in his factory, which housed five grinders in a space where there should not be more than three, five workers had died during the year, four from electrocution, and one due to being injured in the back by the handle of a grinder, while he was working on another machine.[16]

In the Shahdara handloom and powerloom units, and in the readymade garment industry, where the number of workers ranged from 10 to 50, they would be made to work for 15-16 hours, without their names being on any records. Many would be living on the factory premises and would be turned out of both residence and work at the signs of any dispute. Raj Prasad who had worked in one unit for five years as a casual worker reported that whenever an industrial dispute was raised, the management would change the name of the factory such as from “Saryu Textiles” to “Gupta Textiles”. It was not only the small sized units where bad conditions prevailed. In a cycle tyre factory with about 1000 workers, workers were made to work without the stipulated masks and within fifteen days of work, their faces would start to swell. A prominent factory, it was well known for violation of labour laws.[17]

Looking back at 1988, and remembering that first year of his trade union life, an activist[18] recounted the following stories: Shafiq who used to work in A-15, GT Karnal Road. They were 28 people. There were 14 jodis (pairs). They worked round the clock, one would sleep on the floor at the back of the hall while the other worked; then they switched. They were paid 400 rupees per jodi. They were not allowed outside. They had no weekly off. Shafiq’s first holiday in one and a half years was in the seven day strike when the juloos[19] nearly tore down the main gate and his malik hustled the workers out from the back gate. Then there was Shamsuddin, who after a full day’s work, additionally stitched clothes at his jhuggi in Gur Mandi. He used to say, “It is tiring, and my eyes are failing. But I can’t carry on in the wage given by the factory. I have three daughters you see….” Ram Kumar, a worker in Wazirpur, would go to his jhuggi in Kaushalpuri after factory duty got over at 5:30 in the evening, prepare and have dinner. From 8 till 12 midnight he would ply a rickshaw from Azadpur. Charges are higher at night, and he managed to earn 20 rupees on an average. Then back to the jhuggi to sleep. Morning duty in the factory began at 8:30.

Yet it was in these factories that were learnt, the skills of understanding and operating a range of machines and production processes. Industry provided the economic foundations for the absorption of the migrant worker into the metropolis. The state from which our worker entered factory life was described by the trade union activist as follows: “Arriving and adjusting to the city is a painful process. Cases were reported where a particularly docile young man became incapable of speech for the first week or so. This may be an extreme and rare occurrence, but the shock of so many people, the traffic, the noise, the struggle at each step, from daily ablutions to the philosophy of the city, all these wrench the man into a state of insecurity and trepidation. He fixes himself to his group, his residence and finally to his work. Usually he spends the first month or so just hanging around, increasingly pretending to look for work but lethargic and worried. He gets food and shelter from some friend or relative, but knows that he has to earn his khuraki (expenditure on food) very soon”[20]. And so, at the instance of someone known or connected to him in the city, he is introduced to work in some factory or other. Whether from rural or urban backgrounds, some with education and even technical training[21], but many illiterate, these workers then developed the various skill differentiations and production relations that characterise modern factory production and an industrial proletariat.

The layers of skills, classified as unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled in minimum wage notifications, were all defined in relation to machinery. Purely manual operations being categorised as unskilled, simple operation of machines without the task or responsibility of maintenance as semi-skilled, and the operation of machines plus the responsibility of care and repair as skilled. Education was no guarantee of skilled employment[22]. Most workers learnt on the job, and developed a degree of professionalism. They would look for jobs in their “line” as they term it. It is this section of industrial workers that constituted the important core of the vast army of toilers in the capital. However, they remained strongly bound through economic and social connections with a whole range of other forms of labour, ranging from the individual household producers to hawkers, rickshaw pullers, those in menial service, and others providing the multiple services required by the metropolis. Some toiled in both factories as well as in informal services. Others, when thrown out of factories, and sometimes out of choice, would often take to these other forms of labour. But the security of a monthly wage with no investment other than labour, despite its prevailing impermanency, would more often than not, draw them back to the factories[23].

The sheer spread and magnitude of numbers which enfolded our capital’s industrial workers and the ever flowing in stream into the ranks of the job seekers, determined the conditions of not only their work, but also of their organisation and consciousness. On the one hand, it would have seemed to the worker coming from either the impoverished rural hinterland (60% by 1991) or even other urban centres (40%) that with so much of development and expansion, opportunities for work only had to be sought out. Entering an unknown city, their search for work and a place to stay was generally channelised through corridors of association, based on kinship, regional, and community affinities, through which they looked for and found their elements of opportunity[24]. On the other hand, the acute economic competition for employment, among workers themselves remained a perennial pressure towards depression of wages and degraded conditions of work and residence. This, in turn fuelled processes of simple cultural or linguistic variation being transformed into social antagonisms even within the community of workers. Thus, as migrants from the eastern Hindi belt entered in ever increasing numbers, the simple nomenclature of “Bihari” on the tongues of many “locals” from Delhi and its surrounding rural areas, or even an earlier generation of migrant workers could be turned into an insult. Such antagonisms reflected the struggle and competition among workers themselves – competition for wages, conditions of work, and the basic amenities required for the pursuit of life.

In the eighties, official minimum wage rates in Delhi were lower than even the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Low wages led to life sapping dependence on overtime or supplemental work for survival. As evident from the stories above, very often workers were made to work on 12 hour shifts, plus overtime in unregistered factories. Easy replacement made victimisation or dismissal simple, forcing them to acquiesce to both humiliation and demands made on them by their masters. Unions, when formed, were often quickly suppressed leading to acceptance among workers of open flouting of laws and norms even when made familiar with them.

Thus, the conditions dominant in the market for wage labour in Delhi cannot be sought in the industrial boom reflected in the expanding numbers of industrial units alone. For while industry grew in numbers, it failed to provide either regular employment or a secure livelihood to the mass of workers. The 2nd All India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, 1988, revealed that 27.6% of the modern small scale industries were non-functional or had closed down, while another 13.06% were not traceable. While small scale industry seemed to be flourishing, within the expansion of its numbers, lay many a story of closure, shifting, changing of names of companies, dismissal and retrenchment of workers.

At another end, first through automation, and then the moves towards closure in the textile industry, the reduction of the workers in the major mills began from the seventies. Through intensification of crisis in the organised textile industry in the eighties, and the final closure of some of the mills, began the sunset of the most organised and major force in the trade union movement in the city. By 1988, the workforce of the five textile mills had been considerably reduced. At the same time, hundreds of independent producers were caught in the toils of the collapse of the traditional industries such as handloom. Where the sixties and early seventies had seen an increase in the number of handloom workers, going back to their traditional occupation and becoming organised in cooperatives, the competition of advancing power loom by the seventies, and the rise in the prices of yarn in the eighties, was condemning handloom workers to penury, destitution and even imprisonment due to non return of bank loans[25]. Their looms empty and rotting, these workers and their families too were being thrown into the market for wage labour, a market where the sellers had to constantly engage in bitter competition amongst themselves. And so, the context in which the modern industrial proletariat of the capital was being fashioned out of a predominantly rural migrant workforce, was ridden with internal crisis and decay in the land of opportunity itself.

Price rise, wages and the appropriation of value

In the three years preceding the seven day strike, the prices of all essential commodities had risen substantially. This was the case, not only in the open market, but also in the government controlled rates in ration shops, imposing an unbearable strain on working class family budgets. The reflection of such price rise in the consumer price index for Delhi, was an increase of 334 points (Base 1960=100), between March, 1982 and March, 1988. The minimum wage rates for the same period, through four revisions had been increased by a mere 262 rupees for unskilled workers, from Rs 300 in 1982 to Rs 562 in March, 1988.[26] Below subsistence at inception, the nominal increases in wage rates fell behind the actual rate of increase in prices.

While this was the situation of labour, the evidence of the increasing wealth of its appropriators in metropolitan Delhi could not escape observation. In the small scale industrial (SSI) sector, a comparison between the 1st and 2nd All India Census of SSI units, shows that the the Net Value Added (NVA), in this sector in Delhi, rose from 36.34 crore rupees in 1972 to 396.17 in crores in1987-88. In other words, the NVA per worker, rose from Rs 5,601 to Rs 32,480 in the intervening fifteen years. The wages paid in the year 1987-88 were 114.44 crores[27]. Thus at a rough estimate, the surplus over wages (NVA minus wages), in these small scale industries, amounted to 281.76 crores, and an average of Rs 23,000 per worker for the year 1987-88. The monthly minimum wages for that year were Rs 489 for unskilled workers and Rs 719 for skilled. Even this amount was not paid to a majority of the workers, while the surplus generated by each worker was more than three times the unskilled worker’s wage and twice that of the skilled.

Many economists may laugh at these statements as crude generalisations, but it is not so easy to laugh at the realities of the crude experience of workers. New cars, spacious and luxurious houses for those who commanded capital, ostentatious marriages and gifts for their children, sometimes extensions to their factories, perhaps the opening of another one, all pressed upon the senses of the worker. In the words of Ram Rato of Mayapuri, whose factory, in which he had worked for twenty years, had been closed and then reopened with a fresh lot of workers, “Malik to tarakki kar gaye. Hum wahin rah gaye.” No amount of use of the instruments of informal social control could completely erase these sources of elemental conflict that were part of the direct experiences of labour in the capital. Nor could their increasing absolute and relative numbers in the city’s population, fail to impress itself upon their minds. Such was the situation in 1988, when the seven day strike took place, on the central demand of a minimum wage of Rs 1050 and a dearness allowance of Rs 2 per point rise in the price index.

The settlements of workers
The jhuggi bastis

Through successive generations, the destination of a substantial section of migrant workers in Delhi, turned out to be the jhuggies or squatter settlements of the capital. An estimated 16% of the migrants in 1951-61 were squatters, but their numbers swelled to form 40% of the total entrants between 1971-81 and about 60% in 1981-91.[28]

Table 4: Growth of squatters in Delhi from 1951 to 1991

Year
No. of squatter families
Increase

1951
12749
No.
%

1961
42815
30066
235.83%

1971
62594
19779
46.19%

1981
98709
36115
57.70%

1991
259344
160635
162.73%

Source: Slum and JJ Department, Delhi Slum Improvement Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (Based on record of Food and Supplies Department)[29]

The above table cannot claim to be anywhere near a complete enumeration of jhuggies in Delhi, based as it is, on the records of the Food and Supplies Department. In other words, it is an enumeration of ration cards allotted to families living in jhuggis. Anyone who has had an association with jhuggi dwellers of Delhi will know that at any given moment, a substantial number of them do not have such ration cards. Nevertheless, the table can be taken as a broad outline of the growth of jhuggis in Delhi.

These jhuggis have constituted the rough schools where the migrant workers of Delhi learnt the arts of survival in the metropolis. Within the story of the jhuggi bastis can be found the contours of the social networks of the working class of the metropolis, the space it has carved for itself in the city, its multiple relationships with commerce and industry on the one hand, and with the government and politics on the other; relationships out of which many of the characteristics of the social and political consciousness of workers in Delhi had been shaped. Within the story of the jhuggies lie encapsulated, the experiences of degradation, debasement and illegality that marks the pathway of the development of the working class in Delhi. Similarly, may be found the carrot and stick tactics adopted by the administration and the dominant bourgeois political parties towards moulding and utilising the life force and consciousness of the workers in order to maintain their class and political hegemony over the capital city.

Although some industrial workers of a new generation today may seek to distance themselves from the dirt, filth and humiliation of jhuggi life, the story of the more established working class colonies cannot ever be dissociated from the jhuggis that formed the imperative towards their establishment. Nor can the profits of business and industrial enterprise have accrued to the wealthy and established sections of the populace without the foundation of the jhuggis that provided the cheap labour and services for their growth. For, it was the elimination of house rent and transport that lowered the cost of bare (if subhuman) survival of workers and allowed the continuation of low wages, upon which the visible wealth in Delhi, was built.

It was the jhuggi bastis adjacent to industrial areas that played an important strategic role in industrial action by the workers during the 7-day strike of 1988. The attention paid to propaganda in these bastis, the incorporation of the demand for their permanent settlement rights, and the force of growing resentment among jhuggi dwellers at their degraded conditions of life contributed in no small measure to the success of the strike itself.

However, the direct relationship between the jhuggies and the strike is but one part of the story, an episodic insight into the interconnected world of experience of workers. It begins with the intersection between caste and class experience that marks the lives of the unorganised workers of Delhi. For the jhuggi bastis of the 1950s were almost universally referred to as Harijan bastis, Bhangi Colony, etc. Their upgradation or resettlement was at that time largely done through the Harijan Welfare Board.[30] When the first phase of clearance of jhuggis from the central zones of Delhi took place, there was an accompanying shift in the scheduled caste population, dropping in New Delhi from 40,000 in 1951 to 30,000 in 1961 while increasing by more than three and a half times in the then peripheral areas of Shahdara, Civil Lines-Subzimandi, South Delhi, West Delhi and the Cantonment where they were resettled at the time.[31]

The crowded yet exposed nature of life in the jhuggies made the practices of segregation, exclusion based on ‘pollution’, and the seclusion of women that marks the life of caste ordered social hierarchies, virtually impossible to maintain[32]. Thus, the jhuggis were initially, the natural homes of the outcasts, and thekedar tied low caste migrant construction labour. And yet, upon such foundations, increasing numbers of workers from all communities, driven by inability to afford house rent, began to be absorbed in the jhuggies.

Giant jhuggi clusters emerged, particularly in places adjacent to the industrial areas. For years they had to remain outside official administrative recognition, denied the facilities of municipal water, drainage and latrines. Initially rural habit, and later because of the absence of facilities, jhuggi dwellers were forced to perform basic bodily functions on open land, leaving them vulnerable to searing humiliation at the hands of the more privileged. Middle class revulsion at the use of open parks for such purposes caused them to invoke the courts and police against the residents of the jhuggi bastis, the cruel nature of which was exemplified in the beating to death by the police, of a youth caught defecating in a park in Ashok Vihar in north Delhi.

Surrounded by industrial wastes, garbage, and excreta, breeding grounds of frequent epidemics of malaria, gastroenteritis and even cholera[33], the jhuggies were the base areas of both resentment and aspiration of the migrant worker. The need to fend off their elimination by the administration through police action, caused them to seek shelter in the political patronage provided by the Congress. From their patrons, they learnt the art of bribing and developing close connections with corrupt police officials[34], a process through which a criminal nexus was established between a cadre of jhuggi pradhans, their political overlords in the ruling Congress, and the police. This nexus then turned to regulating and controlling the rights of existence of other jhuggi dwellers, using their muscle power to browbeat and cow down many an independent thinking worker[35]. Premised as they were on illegal existence, in many places the lines between protection of the right to residence of the migrant worker and protection of outright criminal activity within the jhuggies became blurred.

At the same time, the common residents of these bastis, taking heart from their numbers, sensed an increased bargaining power for their own place in their own name which fuelled attachment to their jhuggi and acceptance of the leadership of the pradhans. The first phase of this sense of bargaining power included the enrolment of jhuggi residents in the electoral rolls, and particularly in acquiring ration cards. In the seventies and eighties, prices of such essential commodities as grain and kerosene were still far less in ration shops than in the open market. But equally important was the fact that the ration card was a proof of residence, a small acknowledgement of the jhuggi resident as a citizen of the metropolis, that might entitle him to resettlement, rather than be rendered homeless in case of demolition. If it meant giving 100 rupees to the local Congress pradhan, people gave it. (And the pradhans of the eighties, were overwhelmingly Congress).

As periodic resettlement programmes were undertaken by the administration, the aspiration for ownership of land or house in the city often came within their reach. Thus, many a rural migrant clung to the makeshift shanty, sometimes in preference to rented accommodation in better colonies. But where the capital, at first offered open land space for these settlements to come up, with the expansion of commercial, industrial and residential property of the more affluent sections, their space became increasing constricted. And jhuggi bastis began to come up in more hostile lands, with added vulnerability to floods and fires that could devastate thousands in one stroke.

The expanding presence of the jhuggi bastis forced the administration to take notice of the housing needs of workers. The Master Plan of 1962, had allocated only 5% of land for housing the multitude of labour. Characteristic of the need to profit from labour, but maintain the sensibility of contempt for its wretched existence, official policy was directed at pushing residents of jhuggis out from the centre to the periphery of the city, at every stage of their development. Brutality and the arrogance of privilege marked this process, of which the most infamous incidents were during the Emergency (1975-77), when naked terror took the form of not just razing the small hutments built for themselves by workers, but even killing of those who resisted. Such clearing was a policy doomed to failure as the presence of jhuggies close to work centres were the basis on which labour costs could be kept low and profits increased. And so inexorable economic forces compelled the cycle of return to, and expansion of jhuggi settlements, sometimes at the same places where they had been previously bulldozed out of existence.

The Resettlement Colonies

The expansion of jhuggies generated various resettlement schemes. The record of policy in such resettlement programmes is testimony to the declining status of workers and the poor of Delhi in the eyes of the city’s planners. Where initially, 80 sq yards per unit were the norm for resettlement in the fifties, by the late sixties, and the seventies, it had been reduced to 25 sq yards. By the eighties, it was increasingly being reduced to flats of just 12 sq yards[36]. Such resettlement took place in phases, of which the emergency alone saw the removal of 1,53,310 households from jhuggies and relocated in the wild lands of the periphery.[37]

The emergency experience of the manner in which masses of people were uprooted from their jhuggies and thrown into wild lands without either connections or facilities, kept the terror of the bulldozer alive in the minds of all jhuggi residents. But slowly as the wilderness of the periphery was transformed into pucca settlements of workers[38], contiguous belts of these colonies created giant legal settlements of workers, within and around which, further illegal jhuggi settlements sprang up. Although DDA surveys show that the number of original allottees in the resettlement colonies, range from 50% to 37%, there can be little doubt that the initially low price of the land sold off (either by the allottees or otherwise by property sharks who captured unoccupied plots) allowed a section of the more permanent workers, otherwise living on rent, to acquire homes in the colonies so established. Of course, a whole breed of property dealers, many of whom came from the dominant castes of the local villages, profiteered from this process and acquired considerable political influence over the lives of the new residents. Industrial estates were also established near these settlements, some within the parameters of the Master Plan, while others came up in unauthorised manner, in non conforming industrial areas. The scale of movement, the direction and political correlations so established can be discerned from the changing numbers of voters in the various parliamentary constituencies of the capital.

The growing concentration in the two constituencies that together form a ring border to Delhi, viz., Outer and East Delhi may be observed. In outer Delhi lay large resettlement colonies in the contiguous belts of Madangir, Tigri, Ambedkar Nagar in the south, and Mangolpuri, Sultanpuri and Nangloi in the west. Similarly, Jahangirpuri, in North Delhi was a part of the East Delhi constituency, as was Nand Nagri, Seemapuri, Seelampur falling north east of the river Jamuna, and Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri and Khichripur in the south east. Although the process of expansion of the periphery has remained a fairly continuous process, the most dramatic transformation can be seen from 1980 to 1989, when the proportions of electors in the two constituencies of Outer and East rose from 41% to 57% of the total electorate of Delhi.

The unauthorised colonies
The establishment of the resettlement colonies in the periphery, and the development of their political economy through the establishment of new industrial estates near them, opened the doors for the beginnings of new unauthorised colonies of workers around them, and in similar areas. And the receding rural outskirts became the areas where many of the workers with slightly more longstanding employment, established themselves in unauthorised colonies that can be found in all the directions of the city. Lured by the feeling that property provided security and stability and the cheap prices of illegal[40], barren and undeveloped land, the emotive content of this drive for acquisition of residential property by the worker, could perhaps be traced to the agricultural social background of so many. But equally, if not more importantly, it lay in a rejection of the conditions to which they were otherwise condemned in both jhuggies, and in some cases resettlement colonies too, a rejection for which they were prepared to pay the price of begging and borrowing and sometimes even mortgaging their lives to their employer through loans and advances[41]. Such a drive also laid the basis for continued association with the powerful local politician, who could protect them from demolition at the hands of the DDA. Bereft of municipal water, roads and sewerage, with low cost, and often kuccha housing, the working class unauthorised colonies presented a sharp contrast to the idyllic farmhouses of the rich of Delhi, that had come up in similar unauthorised manner.

Elements of political control
Compelling economic and social processes behind large scale migration in combination with the strategies of urban development have to be considered as the real foundations of this dramatic expansion of the periphery, and therefore these two constituencies. But the form it took cannot be separated from the electoral tactics of the Congress Party in the post emergency era. Nor can it be separated from the political careers of two of its emergency dons – H.K.L. Bhagat[42] and Sajjan Kumar[43], whose goonda storm troopers vitiated the entire process with criminal politics. It is possible to speculate that these two netas represented a combination of, on the one hand the commercial and capitalist classes constructed out of the the post partition influx of Punjabi refugees and, on the other, the local Jat dominated landowners who were benefiting from speculation in land as the metropolis expanded. Whatever the case may be, the goonda, neta, police nexus so established in the settlements of workers, spilled over into the industrial areas as a convenient tool for owners of capital to strangle and suppress any tentative rumblings of protest among their workers. At the same time, the relationship of dependence of the workers on these netas, for the securing the right of the migrant to residence in the capital, gave the Congress an expanded electoral base with which to first recoup from the electoral reverses of 1977, and then maintain political power. It was the domination of these political overlords and their criminal culture in the working class bastis in the eighties that found such sickening expression in November, 1984, when the horrific mass scale slaughter of Sikhs took place in some of these newly constructed giant settlements of workers[44].

Description of the powers that predominantly influenced, directed and controlled workers’ lives in Delhi in the seventies and eighties, would be incomplete without touching upon the concentrated power of the organs of the state through which the bureaucracy emerged as a third corner to the triangle of power in Delhi. This is most clearly represented in the gigantic organisation of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), established by the Delhi Development Act, 1957.

Being the capital, the Central Government has always had a palpable presence in the lives of the people of Delhi. From 1956, when the capital had became a Union Territory directly administered through a Lieutenant Governor, and the earlier (post independence) legislature and council of ministers ceased to exist, Delhi had come under direct central rule. From 1958 to 1966, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi remained the only elected state level body with any degree of accountability to the people of the city. The real power and direction of policy was in the hands of the central government, and therefore remained with the party in power there, even when it lost 6 of the total 7 Lok Sabha seats in the capital (1967).

In 1966, the passing of the Delhi Administration Act did create an elected Metropolitan Council, but it was a purely deliberative body without any legislative powers. Its Executive Council, presided over by the Lieutenant Governor (LG), appointed by the centre, had some authority in matters enumerated in the State List (in the constitution),but not on law and order, land and buildings and services, which remained within the sole jurisdiction of the LG as a representative of the centre. This system was to remain in place till the early nineties, and was under review during the year of the strike. It was a system in which the main levers of political power in the capital remained firmly in the hands of the Union Government.

The Act, that brought into existence the DDA as an agency of the centre, conferred on it, overwhelming powers to acquire, hold and dispose of land and property, for implementing a Master Plan to be formulated by it. Accordingly the Delhi Master Plan of 1962 was brought on the Statute book, and the DDA became the all powerful agency of its implementation. Thus began the largest nationalisation of urbanisable land by undertaken in any capitalist country in the world, and the DDA became the largest landowner in Delhi.

The rise of the DDA as a direct agency of repression in the lives of the workers of Delhi, while stemming from its lack of accountability to the people, was closely linked to the centralisation of economic and political power in the hands of the Union government. The control, so established through centralised licensing for industries, associated advantages of low taxation and other incentives provided in the capital by a central government that could draw on far greater resources than elsewhere, had seen a gravitation of medium level capital towards the capital. But it was the DDA through which, industrialists bribed their way into the the fast growing industrial areas in the city. It was such a nexus that established an authoritarian power over the lives of workers, which found its high point of expression during the emergency. But even in the period following, it was the DDA, that on the one hand, directly administered the availability or rather lack of basic civic amenities in the resettlement colonies of workers[45], and determined the insecure conditions of their lives in the jhuggies and unauthorised colonies.

Out of such an economic, social and political context , grew the force of sullen and resentful anger of a class of workers, that was to burst out in a militant and dramatic upsurge in November,1988. In a sense the seven day strike represented an assertion of working class power, that highlighted the often hidden, but nevertheless elemental conflict between the unorganised worker and those who benefit from the exploitation of his labour. But it was also the signal of the workers’ rejection of the supremacy that the goonda mafia spawned by the emergency and authoritarianism, had established over their lives. Not surprisingly, in the 1989 elections, the sharpest swing away from the Congress was in precisely in East and Outer Delhi, the two constituencies where the workers predominated.[46]

Chapter 2: The Trade Union Context

It is not the intention here to provide an exhaustive account of the trade union movement in Delhi. But rather to touch upon some elements of the earlier phases of militant activity and struggles, that laid the foundations of experience upon which the 7-day strike of 1988 was planned and successfully executed. For the imagination, ideas, and objectives which drove the leadership of what was but a small contingent of the trade union organisation into such a movement, were fashioned in part out of the combined experience of earlier struggles and forms of organisation. A struggle not merely against the owners of capital, but also against trends that existed within the trade union movement, – trends towards containment of militancy on the one hand, and maintenance of a segmented division between workers in organised industry and their less fortunate brothers and sisters in the unorganised sector on the other.

Militant continuities in the trade union movement of Delhi

Sunrise and sunset – the textile workers movement in Delhi
The largest contingent of the industrial workforce being initially the textile workers, trade union organisation had acquired strong roots in the textile industry by the fifties. With wages comparable to the lower echelons of government service and over 22,000 workers in five mills, textile workers represented the most concentrated section of the industrial workforce, and were a force to be reckoned with. For decades the movement in Delhi was led by these textile workers, who traversed various phases of militant struggle. 1954 saw a major strike struggle that led to the establishment of the supremacy of the Kapda Mazdoor Ekta Union, affiliated to the AITUC and led by the then united Communist Party of India, among textile workers. When in 1962 the government cracked down on the militant section of the party, some textile workers of Delhi were imprisoned for periods ranging from 2-4 years. 1964-65 saw a spontaneous action in DCM, over the issue of bonus. The numbers, militancy and strategic position of the workers in this action generated emotions that went far beyond the limited economic demand. “The police did not dare to do anything, ‘it looked like revolution’ the workers had captured the factory for 10-12 days they remained inside DCM, cooking their food in the mill canteen..”.[47] The fire of such militancy was enhanced when workers emerged victorious with a bonus of 16.4% in place of the earlier 8.33%.

This advancing militancy of the workers was sought to be restrained by the leadership of the AITUC, and by the seventies, the influence of the Ekta Union was on the wane. Influential militant workers in each mill gravitated towards leadership provided by the CPI(M), despite the fact that following the 1964 split in the party, all the major leaders of the united party in Delhi remained with the CPI. It was upon the militant trade union foundations of these workers that the first units of the CPM in Delhi came into existence. When in 1973 workers of all 5 mills went on strike demanding full neutralisation of price rise in their DA, this time it was called for by only the CPI(M) led Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union affiliated to the CITU(which was founded in 1970), and one faction of the INTUC (led by Kishore Lal). The strike was opposed by the other unions including the AITUC.

The strike of 1973 lasted for 26 days during which there was a call for a Delhi Bandh on 30th April against unemployment and price rise. Although the effect of their call could not reach all areas of the city, for the first time textile workers mobilised workers of other industries in this bandh action. They fired the imagination of workers in the small scale industries, when thousands of textile workers took out processions that went around closing both factories and markets. It was the first major demonstration of working class power, making its political presence felt “in a city where it had been difficult to even take the name of a bandh”.[48] Once again, where the demand was rooted in the economic interests of the textile workers alone, the movement threw up the possibilities of a wider mobilisation of the working class. The ambition to expand working class power in the capital grew among the ground level textile leaders themselves.

Having won a victory for themselves in 1973, with the Vaidyalingam award of 90% neutralisation of price rise, militancy lost some support among the workers, when another 42 day strike failed to deliver strike wages to them. But the fighting stance of workers had already spread to other sections of workers in the expanding industrial estates located in Najafgarh Road and Kirti Nagar where the red flag could now be seen at many a factory gate. The emergency regime during which the decline of the textile industry began, brought in automation, while repression took further toll on the militancy of textile workers. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Birla Mill witnessed two successful strikes even during the emergency. Some of the trade union leaders who were to play a crucial role in advancing militant movement into the ranks of the unorganised workers of small scale industry were textile workers whose class consciousness and militancy grew out of these movements of the early seventies.

However, despite the ability of textile union leaders to push forward a militant line and execute major strike actions, a substantial section (60%) of workers remained outside the membership fold of all trade unions put together. It was this that created the conditions for the growing helplessness of the workers in the face of increasing attempts to automate and downsize the workforce. It also laid fertile grounds for the rise of individual populist leadership towards the end of the seventies.

After the loss of direct political power following the election of 1977, many a Congress leader was bidding for mass support to feed their taste for personal aggrandisement and brute power acquired during the emergency. The entry of Lalit Maken into the textile workers’ movement in Delhi was a part of this phenomena which took a variety of forms in Delhi, some of which have been touched upon in the previous chapter. He was brought in as a textile leader from the top, by being incorporated in the worker management negotiations, during the ebb tide of a joint strike movement launched in 1979 for the full implementation of the Vaidyalingan award. It seemed to many workers outside the fold of the existing organisations that he was able to use his connections with the then ruling party [49] in order to arrive at a settlement. On such patronage based foundations, he was able to later capture the militant edge of workers’ discontentment against large scale automation and retrenchment in the textile industry, lead a strike action in Birla Mill and DCM in 1980, and feed his personal support through a barrage of expensive poster propaganda. It was through such a process that he became the most prominent leader of textile workers at the time which facilitated his re-entry into the ruling Congress. Such a phenomena[50] was necessarily short lived, but served to direct the textile workers further away from the broader class vision that had been in the making in the earlier era. Increasingly opportunist and insular politics began to dominate the textile workers’ movement. Lalit Maken’s influence spread to other sections of organised workers such as DTC, whose workers’ illusions that the leadership of a ruling party figure would protect them from repression were ultimately smashed in the face of police brutality and repression in the summer of 1988.[51]

In the eighties, in the face of a concerted attack on textile workers’ jobs through closure of departments (particularly weaving) in all the major mills, or as in the case of DCM, closure of the mill itself, workers fought many a bitter struggle culminating in their 114 day strike in 1986. This time, although the strike call was given by all the unions, the final agreement signed by all unions save the CITU led Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, accepted increased workload. The declining numbers of textile workers became further unable to resist reduction in their numbers and the onset of closures. An era of struggle of textile workers came to an end and their role in the working class movement of Delhi became marginalized. The centre of the movement shifted from this declining and retreative section to the expanding workforce in the small scale industries located in industrial estates that had by now become established. And minimum wages became the focal issue around which trade union struggles were to be centred.

Trade Unions in small scale industry

In the manufacturing sector, second to textiles, was the engineering industry, which in 1968 accounted for 38.2% of the employment in industry. Although large scale industry had some presence in engineering, only 10% of the workers were employed there, leaving 90% in the small scale sector. This was in contrast to the textile industry where the large scale sector employed close to 64% of the workforce.[52] As such the course of development of the engineering unions followed a different trajectory from the textile unions.

A wage board set up for the engineering industry never came into operation, and from the outset engineering workers’ bargaining for wages centred around statutory minimum wages. On one side were a few company based INTUC led unions in the few large scale units, which maintained a distance from the broader issues affecting other workers. On the other, stood the communist led engineering union, whose most prominent leader in the sixties was Sadhu Singh.[53] It was this union that constituted the initial bridge between the organised and unorganised workers. By the 1970s as industry diversified its products, broad based unions of workers regardless of trade, came up, foremost of which was the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, affiliated to the CITU. It was no accident that while its first and second President were textile leaders Pyarelal from SBM and then Nathu Prasad from DCM, its Secretary Puran Chand came from the Engineering Union[54].

The centre of militant activity among these workers, was the Karampura Motinagar area, where the SBM colony was located and which was adjacent to the Najafgarh Road industrial complex. This complex included some of the important large scale factories such as Shri Ram Chemicals and Sylvania Laxman side by side with a whole range of small scale units of mainly engineering in the Rama Road area. Here, the densely populated bastis of workers provided an additional strong support base for industrial action. It was in Motinagar that in 1968, thousands of workers gheraoed the police station’ in anger against police intervention against workers involved in industrial disputes, which resulted in tear gassing and lathi charge and the arrest of 50 workers. 5 of them were convicted to 3 year imprisonment.[55]

However, despite these burgeoning struggles of workers, in 1973, the Delhi Gazetteer concluded “The problem of trade union organisation is not serious in the small scale sector”. There was some truth in this observation as the unions had a limited strength when compared to the growing size and spread of small scale industry. It was upon this fledgling movement that waves of repression were unleashed in the seventies. Union leaders such as Puran Chand and Pyarelal were singled out by the police and publicly thrashed on the streets of Motinagar. Then came the emergency, during which union activity was completely curtailed, while the base areas of jhuggi support in Karampura were bulldozed out of their strategic location. According to Sadhu Singh, the strength of the movement was forever weakened by the shifting of the jhuggies of Karampura during the emergency. Where earlier, a union call would spread like wildfire through the basti by word of mouth alone, where thousands could thus be mobilised with ease to provide strength to the trade union movement, this became impossible after 1976.

The emergency marked a turning point in trade union organisation among the small scale industrial workers. On the one hand, it had succeeded in stifling the developing unions of the early seventies. On the other, with the establishment of industrial estates in as many as 20 official industrial areas, the manning of the multiple centres of industrial activity, required a wider cadre base for effective intervention. Karampura could no longer remain the focal point of trade union organisation as in the earlier period. At the same time, a new force began to emerge in the trade union organisations in these scattered industrial areas, a breed of individual and opportunistic operators, known as the 10% wallahs, whose greatest interventions for workers revolved around getting them to settle their accounts and leave their factories, rather than sustain disputes with the maliks in order to secure rights for the workers. In the process of settling of accounts or hisab the operator would pocket 10% of what the worker received, and often simultaneously take a percentage from the malik whose sole interest lay in getting rid of workers, who started disputes. Many were the maliks, who in order to get rid of the demand for minimum wages for all their workers, would be prepared to give some money in lieu of a settlement and get rid of the worker who was in the lead of such a demand. They would therefore be amenable to the intercession of an individual, who would in the name of a union lubricate the process and make the worker willing to back off from a protracted dispute. Already the conciliation machinery, and the labour administration was available for such settlements. But the eroding confidence of workers in the integrity of the labour department , as workers saw the inspectors generally consorting with the maliks, made them turn to these unions, who claimed to represent them, and then proceeded to sap them of all collective fighting energy and abandon positions of principle. The rise of 10% trade unionism was not confined to the petty unions alone. The traditions of legalism in many of the central trade unions, which increasingly involved workers in only conciliation and case based proceedings, also leaned in this direction.

United action and Minimum Wages
The decade following the emergency saw a major spurt in united action of trade unions initiated at the central level. The many joint conventions and struggles at the all India level created conditions for the state level organisations to come together on many issues[56]. It was in such a context that the first Delhi level joint convention on minimum wages was held in July ’79, which gave the call for a one day strike of all sections of workers for a need based minimum wage, variable dearness allowance and solidarity with the textile workers who were on strike at the time. It may be recalled that this was the time of tremendous spurt in the prices of essential commodities and the consequent alienation of the people from the first non-Congress government at the centre, one of the key factors leading to the return of the Congress the next year. It was a time when the battle for increase in the minimum wage constituted the key element of trade union action against the burden of price rise that was eating up the small earnings of workers.

In 1979, the minimum wage was Rs.185 and the demand was put forward for an increase to Rs.350 The convention was attended by the CITU, AITUC, HMS, BMS and UTUC. A platform of unity of the non-Congress trade unions was thus being formed reflecting the principal clash of political interests in the capital. For even after the defeat in the elections of 1977, the Congress continued to exercise its goonda domination over the city. A domination that was rooted in their corruption ridden nexus with the local bureaucracy and the police, muscle power acquired during the emergency, and their manifold direct associations with the profiteering classes in the capital.

From this convention onwards, joint meetings of trade unions on the question of minimum wages became a regular practice in Delhi. It helped the trade unions to put forward common demands on behalf of the workers of Delhi, in the Minimum Wages Advisory Board. But the combined strength of the trade unions in Delhi was like a drop in a sea of unorganised workers. The strategic industries in the organised sector, such as power and transport remained dominated by different factions of the Congress who successfully engaged in keeping their organisation separate from the rest of the industrial workers. The unity forged on the issue of minimum wages from this convention led to a number of joint calls for one day strikes through the early eighties. By the late eighties, such calls had however, become increasingly ritualised. Although these strikes did succeed in maintaining a pressure on the administration, leading to revision of minimum wages five times in the course of 9 years, such revisions were far behind the rise in prices and real wages continued to fall. The administration remained adamant in not linking minimum wages to the consumer price index for industrial workers, while the boundaries of joint action became increasingly confined to token action before any revision, rather than a sustained movement towards achievement of the substantive goal of linking minimum wages to the realities of price rise.

Experience of these successive strike actions showed that often the call given by the state level leaders in joint meetings did not necessarily get carried through at the level of the industrial areas. This was a reflection of the narrow base of the trade unions, as well as the growing distance between many of the leaders and the mass of workers. Periodic attempts were made to deepen such state level unity by convening preparatory meetings at the zonal or area level. The success of such attempts, was however, uneven as was also the scope and strength behind strike calls. And so, despite joint and united calls, the call for struggle on the issue of a need based minimum wage could not reach all workers on whose behalf it was called, let alone mobilise them in action.

The demand for Rs. 1050 minimum wage which was to capture the imagination of the workers in 1987 and 1988 (based on the formula recommended by the Indian Labour Conference of 1956, for calculation of minimum wages), was a product of this joint action. It was first voiced at a joint convention on minimum wage, held in December 1986, when the official wage for Delhi was Rs. 414 for unskilled workers. The convention called for a one day strike on 16th January ’87. Unlike the previous years, this time, at the insistence of the CITU, joint review meetings and follow up action after the strike took place in February ’87. However, after the announcement of revision of the wage to Rs 489 in May ’87, other unions felt that workers would not respond to a call for further action. At this point, the state leadership of the CITU decided to push ahead on their own towards a 72 hour strike in November ’87.

There can be little doubt that the eight years of joint action from 1979 onwards had succeeded in bringing the issue of need based minimum wage into sharp focus among workers, and exercising pressure on the administration. But it was equally true that tokenist forms of struggle were leading to torpor in the middle level ranks of even the most militant trade union leadership. More importantly, such actions no longer reflected the seething discontent of the mass of workers that was crying for a higher stage of struggle.

The Independent Initiative

CITU and the 72 hour strike
Reports that came first in an activists meeting on 16th February, ’86 (178 workers attended) and the review of the 16th January strike within the Delhi Committee of the CITU (dated 27.2.87), revealed that in north Delhi (industrial areas of Wazirpur and G.T.Karnal Road), other unions had not participated at all and the CITU had conducted the strike on its own. The HMS was reported as having participated in Motinagar and Kirti Nagar in west Delhi, but in Nangloi again the CITU was on its own. The AITUC was reported to have participated half heartedly in Okhla (south Delhi), and the UTUC with a little more strength in both Shahdara (east Delhi) and Okhla. In textiles, apart from the CITU union, all others broke the strike. The IFTU, which was not a part of the front and which had independently called for a one day strike earlier (on 31st December), came out in opposition on the 16th. In many areas, the strike mobilisations of 16th Jan, were largely of only the core strengths of organised workers alone, as winter rain discouraged wider participation.

At this same meeting, came the report that police had arrested 3 workers at Nangloi, where the CITU had been the lone organiser of the strike, but the strength of the workers’ mobilisation forced them to release them. This was the first recorded indication of spontaneous response of the unorganised workers since the union had no strength in that area. The secretary, in his review pointed out that even the CITU had been unable to pitch its full strength into the actions, although its mobilisation was good in the follow up demonstration. It was apparent that there was growing dissatisfaction among all the area level leaders of the CITU at the limited and in some places even restrictive role of the other unions.

The minutes of the Delhi Committee of the CITU from the last months of 1986 through 1987, provide a sketchy but eloquent record of the initial process by which the spreading torpor in the trade union movement was broken by the CITU leadership which was pushing for a line of building a movement, and not just an organisation. It would seem that such central political vision is a requisite for building of a movement among unorganised workers in particular. The ordinary unit level struggles and protests of workers in the unorganised sector, carried the inherent weakness of being too scattered and easily overwhelmed to either make a big impact or to force their way through, even on minimalist demands. The local leaders that grew out of such struggles, having to reckon with overwhelming odds, either succumbed to the pressures of conciliation or came to realise that fighting power and sustained support is dependent on much wider militant mobilisation of the class. For this alone could bring social and political pressure to bear on the individual masters, many of whom had the most direct associations with the ruling party and its goonda base in metropolitan Delhi.

The available written record in conference documents and minutes at various levels of the CITU and the CPI(M) makes it clear that there are many levels of experience that fed the development of the understanding of its leadership. Where leaps in imagination may be seen, they are grounded in a living engagement of the organisation with the complex matrix of political events and circumstances in Delhi. At the same time, the slogans and forms of action contemplated were a logical culmination of the experience of the concrete course of the development of trade unionism in the capital. And just as there are many stories in the lives of the ordinary worker that created the conditions of their consciousness and spheres of action, so also there are many stories in the evolution of the consciousness of the leadership that conceived, organised and led the strike of ’88. It was the fusion between the two levels of consciousness that led to the success of the 7-day strike and the potentialities of a break in the stagnation that characterised the trade union movement in Delhi at the time. The key to such a break had to lie in evolving an effective approach to the issues, methods of organisation and forms of struggle that could draw in the vastly expanding unorganised workers of Delhi.

In the first half of the 1980s, the movement led by the CITU and its habits of organisation was dominated by the struggles of the organised sector workers. Repeatedly in the internal documents of the organisation, stress was laid on the bigger industries as priority areas for expansion. The scale of domination of the small scale industries over the industrial skyline of Delhi was not as yet so visible. In Delhi, the CITU’s most important contingent remained the textile union. The Delhi State CITU organisation included Faridabad and Ghaziabad, where too the larger units were predominant. As the movement in these sections weakened in the face of closures and lockouts, sharp internal criticisms of the organisation’s inability to fight this with wider action were made. But the expansion of small scale industry and the numbers of workers drawn into it, was too rapid for the organisation to follow. Its full impact was perhaps difficult for the organisation to initially even comprehend.

Up to 1986, the focus had remained on the bigger industries and a CITU state conference report of that year was thus dominated by the experience of individual sectional struggles at either industry or unit level. As such the collection of 15,000 signatures on minimum wages, by the small scale industry based General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union was appreciated, but its potential was not highlighted. Nor was the changing profile of the workers of Delhi reflected in the report. The report stressed the fact that independent initiatives had been maintained on minimum wages, through signature campaigns, demonstrations, dharnas etc., but the united front of trade unions remained the principal tactic conceived for determining the course of the movement on the issue.

It was in the latter half of 1986, that the leadership of the CITU can be seen making it clear that minimum wages was the key issue around which the movement of workers could grow in Delhi. Side by side with the issue, came the stress on the organisational strategy of maintaining committees of the trade union at the level of the jhuggi basti or resettlement colonies where the bulk of the workers lived. In meeting after meeting of the Delhi committee, secretary Bharadwaj is recorded exhorting the area level leaders to realise the significance of the struggle for minimum wage for the unorganised workers, and pushing for the formation of residential area based committees of CITU members.

Despite this, CITU’s mobilisation for the December, ’86 joint convention on minimum wage was inadequate. It may be remembered that in the month of December’86, a citywide mass campaign had culminated in one of the largest marches against communalism,[57] in which the biggest contingent was of workers, all mobilised by the CITU. For one and a half months the energies of the organisation had been concentrated on this campaign against communalism, reflecting the complex range of issues that the trade union movement in Delhi had to face. For, from the early eighties, divisive politics, had taken deep roots in the city, making quick inroads into the residential concentrations of the workers. In 1984, Delhi had already been witness to the frustrated aspirations of the metropolitan underbelly, organised and turned towards the carnage and slaughter of Sikhs, on a scale unmatched by any other part of the country. And then in 1986, following the opening of the locks at the supposed Ram janmabhoomi site at Ayodhya, aggressive Hindu fundamentalist propaganda could be seen sweeping across the city. Its implications for workers’ unity upon which trade unions are founded, needs little elaboration. But even apart from that, the conditions of social and political instability, and the periodic eruptions of communal violence in various parts of the city every few months, provided little space for the advance of wage struggles of workers in Delhi.

It was within such multiple demands on the trade union movement, that the tactics and organisation of a major movement had to be worked out and carried through. This process was initiated during the preparations for the 72-hour strike in 1987, when not only the CITU, but organisations of women, youth and middle class employees were also pitched into the struggle for minimum wages.

The 72-hour Strike of 1987
By August, ’87, CITU secretary Bharadwaj[58] was asserting that with the growing discontentment among workers, the situation stood in favour of a major movement, and that on the slogan of Rs. 1050/- minimum wage, workers could be brought out in struggle. He reported to the Delhi secretariat that the other trade unions were not prepared to accept CITU’s proposal for a 72 hour strike on the issue of minimum wages and sought support for a decision to take an independent initiative. He placed the proposal for a two month campaign followed by an independent call for a 72 hour strike in November. It received strong support from the area leaders, with some members asserting that with a proper campaign, they would be able to organise a much bigger strike than they were able to when tied to other unions. [59]

In September ’87, with the finalisation of the dates of the strike (25, 26, 27 November), and the adoption of a comprehensive demand charter, a week by week plan was prepared, viz., central convention on the 28th of September, taking the demands to each unit of the organisation during the first week of October, wall writing through the second week, followed by loudspeaker announcements through the third week, distribution of 60,000 leaflets in the last week of October, and, a demonstration on the 11th of November. Throughout this period factory gate meetings were to be organised propagating the strike call, while in the last week before the strike, processions were to be taken out in all industrial areas. Along with minimum wages, the demands included, regularisation of jhuggies, abolition of contract labour and regularisation of contract workers, crches for women workers, reopening of closed factories and, an end to police intervention in union matters and the corruption in the labour department.[60]

In October through 150 general body and gate meetings, the message of the strike had reached all CITU members. Through these meetings 22 hartal committees were constituted ranging from 30 to 100 members. In the course of the campaign, 600 street corner meetings and over 40 processions were taken out , 2 lakh,40 thousand leaflets were distributed and 45,000 posters put up. At the same time, over 60 meetings were organised in the jhuggi bastis adjacent to the industrial areas. [61]

The 72 hour strike was a success far beyond the expectations of its leaders. This was illustrated by a frantic call from Nangloi to the CITU office on the second day of the strike, saying that the juloos was too big to control and CITU activists could not be held responsible if anything untoward happened. When the central leadership went there on the third day, they found the police defensively hugging the walls alongside the huge procession which was packed from side to side.[62] In Rajasthan Udyog Nagar, where again the CITU had no union, in the unprecedented mobilisation, one factory was set afire.[63] In the Najafgarh Road area, workers of even big factories such as Campa Cola were drawn into the strike. Initial pickets of 60-70 workers in many areas soon swelled to form processions of 3 to 4000.

One of the features that distinguished the strike from previous ones was the pitching in of organisations, other than the trade union. The involvement of committees of the CPI(M) at every level contributed in no small measure to rallying the workers in the strike. Militant women activists of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti whose membership was primarily drawn from the working class areas of the city joined the pickets, as did students and youth from the SFI and DYFI, contributing to the inspiration of the workers in many areas.

The success of the 72 hour strike was primarily determined by the fact that the campaign had been able to reach every industrial area. Wall writing, leafleting, street corner meetings, processions, etc. all served to take the call directly to the ordinary unorganised worker. It was their response that led the course of the strike. Remembering the 72 hour strike, one of the CITU activists of west Delhi, said that during the campaign, other union leaders were mocking them saying that where a one day strike was so difficult to organise, a 3-day strike could never succeed and was just a stupid idea in Bharadwaj’s head[64]. CITU leaders themselves were inconfident in many areas. But the bold call had touched the minds and hearts of the workers as no previous action had done. It was the 72 hour strike that gave the confidence to call for a 7-day strike the following year and was the training ground for its leadership.

Chapter 3 : Run up to the seven day strike

The Call
“Jeena Hai to Ladna Hoga” -To Live you have to fight. This was the caption of the CITU leaflet which called for a demonstration on 4th February, 1988 at the Delhi Administration, Old Secretariat. Such was the momentum built by the success of the 72 hour strike, that the leaders of the CITU felt compelled (on the basis of impromptu consultation at the demonstration itself) to make the announcement that if the administration continued to ignore the demands of the workers, the next stage of the struggle would be in the form of a 7-day strike. Thus the very idea of the 7-day strike was born out of the surge of working class militancy that was demanding inspired leadership. There was some small criticism at the time of the impromptu nature of the decision without a discussion and formal decision in either the secretariat or any other committee, but it was swept aside by the wave of powerful support from the workers themselves.

When in March ’88, the government announced a revision, raising the minimum wage from Rs 489 to Rs 562, far from taking the edge off the militancy of the workers, the slogan that became most popular among them was “Joote maro 562″ (kick this 562)[65]. That same month, workers of the Delhi Transport Corporation went on an indefinite strike on their own specific demands, during which police brutality against workers reached its peak in the famous lathi charge on DTC employees at AIIMS. This was despite the fact that their strike was led by the INTUC, with political links with the ruling party. Resentment and anger at the repressive stance of the administration acquired an even greater edge.

CITU begins its preparations
By 25th of June, it was decided that the strike would be in November, and the main task was identified as forming campaign committees at the industrial and mohalla level[66]. In August fresh efforts were made to make the strike a joint movement. B.D.Joshi of the AITUC and Raj Kumar Gupta of the BMS were individually consulted by Bharadwaj, and a joint meeting was fixed with their consent for 24th August. But on the 21st of August, the other trade unions held a separate meeting and decided to boycott the meeting called by the CITU.[67] Clearly the other unions were bent upon isolating the CITU and not prepared to intensify the struggle.

It was only after this that the dates of the strike were finalised and the details of the public campaign preparations were worked out in the 8th September meeting of the Delhi Committee secretariat. They were to begin with a central convention of activists on 16th September. But the 8th September secretariat minutes reveal that there were doubts among one or two leaders about the ability of the CITU to take on such an ambitious strike alone. There was some talk about the difference between Ghaziabad where the trade union base was much stronger, and Delhi, where it was very weak and additionally burdened with debts. The actual position of CITU membership at the time would have to be considered infinitesimal for the mammoth task ahead. The Engineering Workers’ Lal Jhanda Union and the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union together had a total of just 5652 members in Delhi at the time[68]. However, the plans for the strike continued to be put into operation. Following the convention, a number of demonstrations were organised at the area level and 7000 posters calling for the strike were released by the CITU state centre. By mid October, the report came in that the workers were responding well to the call, and that campaign committees had been constituted in all 4 areas of Delhi, namely north, south, east and west. A demonstration was planned for the 2nd of November, at the headquarters of the Delhi Administration, Old Secretariat. [69]

From this point onwards, it becomes apparent that the centre of planning and decision making for the strike had shifted from the CITU committees to the state and local committees of the CPM. While in the 72 hour strike, the party had played a crucial but limited role, in the 7-day strike it became the moving force. This was perhaps inevitable due to three fundamental differences between the strike of 1987 and the strike of 1988. The first related to the fact that the success of the ’87 strike had not been anticipated by the administration or the major political groups including the other trade unions. As such their opposition had been muted. By 1988, opposition had acquired a more hardened stance and included the attempt to puncture the one week’s call by holding a pre-emptive one day strike on the 16th of November. The position of isolation of the CITU was, therefore, much more acute than before. The second related to the higher level of repression by police in this period which had been illustrated by the police action against DTC workers. But the most important difference lay in the fact that it was a call for a much more protracted strike of 7 days which would require far greater resources than could be provided by the limited organisational strength of the CITU alone. It was thus clear that without the full involvement of other mass organisations from the start, the strike could not be successful. The leadership of such a broad front of workers’ and other organisations could only be provided by the party. As such, even the record of the organisation of the campaign and the preparations for the strike have to be sought in the minutes of the local committees of the CPM and the trade union subcommittee of the party at the state level.

The rallying of the party and its leading role

It was at the state conference of the CPM held on 8 – 10 October, that the push was given to the mobilisation of all ranks of the party in an all out drive to make the 7-day strike a success. Applauding the work of the CITU among unorganised workers, the secretary’s report contained a sharp criticism of the party committees and branches for failing to realise the importance of this work. Referring to the success of the 72 hour strike of ’87, the report further exhorted the party ranks to recognise the changing objective conditions and adapt their organisational practice accordingly. But the written report provides only a fraction of the force exerted by the state leadership of the party towards rallying its cadre in preparation for the 7-day strike.

On 18th October, a time bound plan of wall-writing, postering, distribution of the CITU leaflet and one round of street corner meetings was worked out to be completed by 31st October. In the same period unit general body meetings of all the mass organisations in which the party had influence were to be organised in order to prepare and mobilise the mass organisation members. On the 30th of October, the party secretariat met and planned out a two phase intensive mass campaign before and after Diwali (13th Nov). It further decided that along with minimum wages, price rise, police repression and the animal like living conditions prevailing in both factories and jhuggies, must be stressed. This campaign emphasis on addressing the broader social experience of the unorganised workers in the city, played an important role in reaching deep into the cauldron of resentment of the workers and widening the base of support for the strike. On the 2nd of November, a large central demonstration was held at the Old Secretariat where observers recall that the atmosphere was more charged than before[70]. By the 10th of November, posters had been put up in every single area, wall writing done and that the different mass organisations had started moving for the strike.

The Campaign

The scale of the campaign may be estimated from the fact that after an initial 1,60, 000 leaflets and 7000 posters, the CITU brought out another 1 lakh leaflets, and 10,000 posters. The party brought out 1,50,000 leaflets and 8000 posters. The Ghaziabad, south Delhi and Municipal Corporation Union committees brought out 10,000 leaflets each, the DYFI[71], 24,000 and the JMS[72] another 15,000 in support of the strike. Bank employees and LIC employees brought out 3000 posters each. A group of independent intellectuals too brought out 1000 leaflets extending their support to the strike. All told 6,80,000 leaflets, 40,000 posters and 24,000 poster strips were used in the campaign.[73]

At the same time, street corner meetings served to both reach and rouse workers in every area. In north Delhi 300 such meetings reached about 30,000 workers, in west Delhi there were less with 37 meetings reaching 15,000, in south Delhi 133 reaching 10,000, in east 57 touching over 5000, in the old city 64 approaching 1000, while in Ghaziabad it was 251 reaching 23,000 workers. These were supplemented by 270 such meetings by the JMS as also an unspecified number by the DYFI.[74] Thus over a thousand street corner meetings spearheaded the campaign into the heart of industrial and working class residential areas. Apart from these area level organised meetings, a central hartal rath or a mobile platform on a tempo carrying central leaders, went to every area from the 11th of November till the 21st. The mammoth meetings addressed through this sweeping tempo campaign had a powerful charging effect on the workers and raised the pitch of the preparations to new heights.

One of the unique features of the 7-day strike campaign was the use of a play created specifically for the strike. The play “Chakka Jaam”, was written and performed in 28 shows in various industrial areas and working class bastis by the Jana Natya Manch. The political and class message of the play, which was unambiguous, and drew rapt audiences everywhere, reached over 18,000 workers in the course of the campaign. The popularity of this play even inspired many a hesitant local activist into moving into the mass with greater confidence. It was at a performance of a variant of this very play, just over a month after the strike, that Safdar Hashmi was murdered by Congress goondas in Sahibabad. Revolutionary songs sung directly or on tape by the song group called Parcham were also used. The most popular of their songs contained the lines, “Sar par kafan baandh kar nikli mazdooron ki toli, bam barse chaahe barse goli”.

It was this massive propaganda blitz and the supreme efforts of both leaders and cadre of the CPI(M)), the CITU, the JMS ,and the DYFI that reached into the very depths of the working class bases in the capital; that captured the imagination of the unorganised workers and drew support from them for the strike. But even middle class employees from banks, LIC and government offices could be seen during the run up to the strike, distributing leaflets in the industrial areas in the evenings and exhorting workers to participate in the strike. In a memorable demonstration of solidarity, on the 21st of November, intellectuals, artists and students took out a procession in support of the strike. The involvement of these sections who were otherwise cut off from the lives and conditions of industrial workers gave confidence to the workers who began to feel that they were not isolated and completely alone in their struggle.

Glimpses of the Internal Process

Behind this overall picture of the public campaign, there lie hundreds of small details of preparatory work, of tedious, and sometimes confusing, organisational processes that were finally welded together in a unified and common endeavour. There lies the engagement, of uneven strengths, capabilities and perceptions of different individuals and contingents of the organisation, with the task of galvanising and moving such a widespread and vast unorganised force into action. And, of course, there lies the story of the imprint of the response and support of the workers on the activists in the campaign, that inspired many a tired cadre into enthusiasm. There is some limited record of this process in the archival collection of minutes of some of the party committees[75]. It is to an examination of this record that we turn now.

Although it was the October state conference that kick-started the direct campaign of the party, it was preceded by an internal process whose beginnings may be located in the Trade Union sub committee report of April,’ 88. (This is a sub committee of the party state committee for party work in the trade union front). In the report, the review of the follow up of the 72 hour strike clearly stated that the public conventions of workers which had been planned to actually elicit the opinions of the workers had not been successful. It was in this meeting that the formal decision to prepare for a week long strike was taken. And further, that an attempt to bring the other unions into the strike should be made, but failing which, the CITU should go alone. [76]

This report of the TU sub committee was given to the local committees (LCs) of the party, and the LCs were entrusted with checking up on the implementation of particularly the formation of campaign committees at the area level[77]. Such campaign committees of locally based workers were constituted in all the major industrial areas and played a role in organising the campaign there. They also provided the initial stock of cadre in some of the industrial areas. However, their strength and mobility was highly uneven and from perusal of the local committee minutes, it would seem that through the months of June, July and August, the process of involvement of the key party committees in order to push forward these organisational preparations, still remained at a formal level. Although the minutes show a preoccupation with other matters, the fact was, that the position of the other unions in relation to the strike, was as yet unclear.

It was only after the breakdown of talks with the other unions and the finalisation of the dates, that the strike itself appears directly on the agenda of the LC meetings[78]. The minutes themselves provide a record of the manner in which the party committees were being motivated for the formidable task ahead. In the west, it appears that the report on the impending strike remained at the level of a perfunctory announcement and not much more. [79] Here, it was the intervention of the state leadership that made things start moving. It began with a meeting of the office bearers of all the mass organisations on 21.10.88 attended by the party state secretary[80], and again when he attended the LC meeting on 31.10.88. From the minutes of these meetings, the driving role of the state leadership can be clearly seen. The secretary’s words, “The working class of Delhi is unorganised. It has no power of intervention. As a class, it must be awoken. And learn to fight long struggles… this one week call has been made after the success of of the 3-day strike..”[81] Emphasising the broader issues in the campaign, he insisted on propaganda in jhuggies and resettlement colonies, and gave a clear direction that no other programmes that would interfere with the strike preparations were to be undertaken. It was in this meeting that the concrete working out of the details of the responsibilities of LC cadre for the held before the strike. Further details for the area can only be found in the state TU sub committee minutes.

In the east, whose LC had just come into existence, the record is far more explicatory through four LC meetings, (3.9.88., 12.9.88.,18.10.88., and19.11.88). Here the minutes provide a record of the establishment of a 33 member hartal committee in September itself[82]. What emerges as a significant feature is the small membership of the CITU in the area (209 in 9 units, out of which 6 had worker strengths of 10 and below, and only three units of more than 50 workers)[83]. Additionally, a persistent tension in balancing Municipal Corporation (MCD) Union responsibilities and industrial area work may be observed, expressed in a tussle over where the LC should concentrate its cadre. Once again, here, pressure was exerted by the state leader, Bharadwaj on giving priority to the industrial area work. In the south LC, on 3.9.88, the political context of the strike was discussed, but only broad guidelines were worked out. The next meeting was more than two months later, on 15.11.88, by when the campaign was in full swing.

Consolidation of forces, the central drive

It is in the minutes of the TU sub committee which met on the 10th and again on the 18th of November, that a clearer picture of the overall situation in different areas is available. In the 10th November meeting of the state level Trade Union subcommittee of the CPI(M), 12 days before the strike, the picture was of an uneven campaign in the areas with the east and west Delhi local committees far behind the other areas in the level of preparations.

From North Delhi, came the report that JMS and DYFI activists had already started moving in the jhuggies and resettlement colonies in the area on a regular daily basis. The TU had planned four torchlight processions in the industrial areas, a daily mike campaign on 1 scooter and 2 cycle rickshaws from the 17th and a district tempo campaign. Activists had been told not to take on any overtime work in their factories in the coming days. Summing up the position in the north, Nathu Prasad asserted that there was enthusiasm among the workers but until the CITU members became fully active, the atmosphere (mahaul) would not be created. The South Delhi report was on a lower key, but even there, youth, students and even a few teachers had started coming in the campaign. Pushpendra[84] placed the assessment that in the south, TU members were enthused, but the role of local party members including those in the trade union was weak. At the same time the campaign had been so extensive that they had run out of leaflets and needed more. In Ghaziabad which included Noida, the campaign was obviously more based on the trade union itself, with Tewary[85] reporting that more than 291 TU activists had been mobilised. In all the three above areas, the street corner meeting campaign had begun.

The report from the west and east was of a different order with elements of disarray apparent. In the west, where five of the eleven LC members were textile workers, paucity of funds was dogging the campaign, and Inderpal[86] reported that neither the local party members, nor the activists of the trade union had been as yet able to move either extensively or intensively in any area. In east, according to the report of Chacha Shadiram[87], the absence of any takeoff in the campaign seemed to revolve around the fact that the Municipal Corporation union had not been able to depute its cadre for the campaign, although long overdue funds had been collected from them for the strike. It would be easy to attribute such weakness in both east and west to the substantial presence of organised sector workers in these two committees. But on the other hand, the west had seen some of the most successful moments of the 72 hour strike, and the east committee had actually been formed only a few weeks before (from a bifurcation of the earlier common local committee of the walled city and east), and was still grappling with establishing itself. Both these committees had other organisational problems, among which were the lack of funds and whole timers for trade union work in the industrial areas. Nevertheless, the fact remains that in these two committees, the organised sector workers had so far not displayed the necessary drive and initiative required to make a success of the campaign. The push in these two areas was thus given by the TU subcommittee, by giving an immediate loan of Rs 1000/- to west Delhi to step up the campaign, while in east, the MCD whole timer was instructed to concentrate on the work in the Shahdara-Jhilmil industrial area. At the same time, the details of the central tempo campaign were finalised which was to have an electrifying effect on the overall mass campaign in all areas.

It was in the 10th November TU sub committee, that the tactics for dealing with the 16th November strike called by the other unions were worked out. It was decided to one, raise of the pitch of the propaganda for the seven day strike, and two, to openly take the line that the 16th call was designed to sabotage the 7-day strike and instruct CITU workers to go to work on that day. At the same time north, west and Ghaziabad reported talks with local area branches of the other trade unions as well as small independent unions. In both north and west, the local unions were reported as saying that they would not support but would not come out in opposition. The efforts to neutralise the opposition of the other trade unions were thus maintained at the local level.

Regarding textile workers who had been called upon to go on a one day solidarity strike on the 23rd , there was an initial division of opinion. Although the notice for the strike had been given, textile leader Inderpal, was of the view that if the strike was not successful in the surrounding industrial area, it would not be possible to have a successful strike in the textile mills. Clearly he was speaking on the basis of his experience in west Delhi of SBM and DCM Silk (He himself was a worker in DCM Silk). Nathu Prasad, from north Delhi held the view that in the mills where the strike could be implemented, it would help the industrial area workers since the police would be preoccupied at the mill gates. This was in reference to Birla Mill and ATM, both located in north Delhi, where the comrades were confident of being able to pull off the strike. Finally, it was decided that textile workers would be asked to take leave and deployed in the industrial areas during the strike. But as we shall see in the course of the strike, in the north, the industrial area mobilisation actually picketed at ATM and closed down one shift, while Birla Mill saw a complete hartal, on the second last day of the strike.

The final push

By the next meeting of the TU sub committee on 18.11.88, there was a qualitative change in the internal atmosphere. From south the report came that the crucial TU branches of Ranbaxy (Okhla) and NTPC (Badarpur), that had earlier been lagging were now in the thick of the campaign. Teams from the women, students, and even teachers were coming on a daily basis. Some other small TU organisations in the area were in touch and wanting to take out posters and leaflets in support. Workers were keen to participate.

From the west, a more confident Inderpal reported that a turnaround in the situation had been achieved in the last three days. He asserted that in Naraina, Najafgarh Road, Rama Road and Kirti Nagar, a full strike had become possible’ although Mayapuri remained difficult. Here the owners’ association was very powerful, and workers were demanding that the juloos should start from the chairman’s office. In No. 4 (industrial area adjacent to Mangol Puri located in Nangloi), although propaganda was as yet inadequate, new militant factories would be able to implement the strike. Other unions were not willing to attend a meeting, but prepared to talk. Street corner meetings were being held daily by the JMS teams. He also reported some attempts by the police and owners’ associations to harass workers. In Motinagar, the police were going around threatening to send activists to jail. Some owners were asking workers to do daily overtime, anticipating closure during the strike.

From the east, Ranjana[88] reported regular mike campaigns, a central tempo campaign by the women, well received shows of the play in two areas, and an increased participation of corporation workers, some of whom were coming daily. She reported that the response of the workers was at two levels, at the first level, spontaneous support for the demands and anger, but at a second level they were not confident that 7 days would be successful.

In the north, the campaign was obviously the most organised and intense. Corner meetings had been held in all industrial areas and jhuggies. From the 17th had begun a series of daily julooses in the industrial areas, followed by campaign committee meetings. Some students and lawyers were coming regularly in the campaign. This was not so true for teachers. Some workers were arrested while wall writing, but later released. Meetings in GT Karnal Road and Wazirpur were getting bigger, with participations up to 500. In Rajasthan Udyog Nagar and Nirankari Colony too LC members had been sent and julooses were being organised. However, the campaign was driven by the LC and all party members were as yet not so involved. According to Nathu Prasad, the tempo for the strike had been made, and owners were terrorised. About 20 Congress unions had offices in the jhuggis. They had been contacted and had said that they would not oppose. But the LC anticipated that the local SHO (police) and some unions would try to make mischief. 2 other unions had come out in support. He summed up with the assessment that the strike would be there, and if attempts were made to break it, there would be clashes.

And from Ghaziabad, Tewary too reported that preparations were almost complete. The Noida owners’ association had issued a circular against the strike. The assessment of the Ghaziabad committee was that apart from Meerut Road and phase II Noida, the strike would be good. They anticipated a police crackdown on Sector 4, Sahibabad where the owners were terrorised.

This last meeting of the TU sub committee, in a sense anticipated the actual events of the strike itself, and was a measure of how close to the ground the campaign and its leaders had reached. It was summed up with the conclusion that although they had been successful in creating the atmosphere for the strike, there yet remained the task of consolidating this into 1) actual organisation of the strike, and 2) the ability to sustain this for seven days. For police intervention to be countered , “big julooses were necessary in order to dominate them”, and for sustaining over the days, responsibilities of experienced leaders would have to be concretely fixed. As secretary Jogendra Sharma put it, “3 lives must be there, if not 7 (for each activist)…militants must be there in each group for confrontation”

A persistent question that had come up in the earlier meeting (10th Nov) came up again. Where were the julooses to be formed – from the jhuggies or elsewhere? The question was posed by Brinda Karat[89], who felt that the jhuggies should be the starting points. But obviously the situation was not uniform. In the south, the consensus that had emerged was to form the pickets at various strategic entry points to the different phases of Okhla. In the west, Inderpal had suggested that the julooses should be formed inside the industrial areas and not from the entry points. In the east, mobilising at the jhuggis was not a viable proposition. Although, it was clear from the experience of the north, and particularly Wazirpur, that the base area provided by the jhuggis opened out routes for workers’ mobilisation, protection and movement, which could not be manned by the police, the same tactics could not be operated everywhere. The discussion was therefore summed up by Bharadwaj on the note that flexibility of approach would have to be maintained according to the concrete situation prevailing in different industrial areas, with the perspective of eluding and avoiding unnecessary confrontation with the police. Unfortunately the record of the finishing touches to these preparations at each area level are not available, and we are left with the conclusions of the TU sub committee itself as the last words before the curtain opened on the strike itself. “If police repression is there, then running fight and stoning, etc.”

Chapter 4: The seven days of the strike

” 7-Day CITU strike begins” ran on the front page of the Indian Express on 22nd November, the opening day of the strike. “One million workers to go on strike today” was the banner headline of a four column write up in the Times of India on the same day. Quoting a press release, the Times reported, “the workers are demanding the right to a minimal human existence, a minimum relief from the present situation where work is savage exploitation and leisure a living hell,” while the Indian Express focussed on the statements of retired judges of the Supreme Court and some High Courts supporting the strike and requesting the Police Commissioner, Delhi and District Magistrate, Ghaziabad “to ensure that no police intervention is undertaken in any way hindering the workers from the legitimate exercise” of the right to strike. At the same time they also reported, “At least 10 police companies have been told to gather around the industrial pockets” where the strike was to start. Almost all the papers reported the rally of “poets, professors, artistes, students, lawyers, jurists, intellectuals” in support of the workers demands which had been held the previous day.

From then onwards till the last day of the strike, it continued to be reported upon at a daily level, providing a valuable record of the day to day frame of events which would otherwise perhaps have been impossible to recover with any degree of accuracy. The oral testimony of the participants in the strike, having been taken 12 years after the event, provide great insight into the experience of the strike, but for establishing the chronology of events, the daily newspaper reports have been a more reliable source.

For the first time an action of the capital’s marginalized working class, had demanded the notice and attention of the media. What was it about this strike that was able to bring a movement of workers onto the front pages of the major newspapers of the city? No doubt the propaganda blitz unleashed by the organisers had been able to highlight the pitiful wages and conditions of life that the unorganised workers of Delhi were condemned to. No doubt the mobilisation of artists, legal luminaries, and intellectuals had made the media sit up and take notice. No doubt the throbbing anger and force of huge processions of workers during the strike touched chords in the minds and hearts of many a hardened and sceptical journalist. Despite the persistent efforts by some of the other unions to downplay the impact of the strike, despite the series of contradictory statements emanating from the owners’ associations, despite the massive deployment of the police and repeated lathicharges, tear gassing and arrests, every day from the 22nd to the 28th of November, 1988, the industrial areas of the city witnessed huge mobilisations of workers, and churning unrest that penetrated all corners. For the seven days of its course, its impact could be underestimated, events and facts could be distorted and lied about, but its scale and sweep were such, that the seven day strike could not be ignored by the media.

For beyond its immediate issues, the strike of 1988, carried within it, a much more widespread popular anger against the growing repression of all popular protest and open corruption in the government of the day. It was an anger tinged with a sense of betrayal since in 1984, following the assassination of his mother, the people had given Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress such a huge mandate. This overall political context, from which the middle classes of the capital were not excluded, was to be reflected in the defeat of the Congress in the election that followed the next year. It was also a major factor in determining the space given to a clearly anti-government working class movement by the media mandarins in Delhi. The result – for a few moments, the mass of workers in Delhi were able to acquire visibility in a city which otherwise continues to mete out the most callous indifference to their concerns. Extracts of the newspaper reports covering the day wise series of events and the responses of other unions, owners’ associations, as also the stances and actions of the police have been attached in annexure. In this section is detailed, the events as they unfolded in three industrial areas – Wazirpur, GT Karnal Road, and Mayapuri, But before such a description, some words on the form and nature of this strike, that most suits the conditions of unorganised workers.

The strike of the unorganised

Unlike strikes in the organised sector, the key to success of the seven day strike lay in effective picketing at major entry points to the industrial areas, not at an individual factory gate. The pickets would turn into demonstrations which would then go around the area, knocking at every factory gate and calling out workers to join the strike. It was a form that was given birth to during the textile workers’ strike and bandh call in April ’73. A juloos of workers that moved from factory gate to factory gate, powerful enough to terrorise the managements or maliks with its size and potential for damage of property. A juloos which drew into its fold ever expanding numbers of workers who poured out of the factory gates, now emboldened by numbers, to implement a strike.

For it is not just the demands that impel workers to action. Who among them would disagree with the demand for increase in wages? The crucial question that had to be answered before his participation therefore, was: would the strike be successful enough? Would the organisers be able to close down all the factories? For the common worker, unprotected by the union, at the mercy of his employer, and afraid of losing his job, would not want to risk being absent or be identified by his malik going around in the procession of workers. He knew that should he be dismissed, there were thousands ready to take his place. So, he had to be convinced that there were forces more powerful than he, in his alienated and atomised individual existence could mobilise, that would ensure success. The organisers, aware of this had pushed forward a veritable blitzkrieg of a campaign. And the confidence level of ordinary workers went up by leaps and bounds through the progress and heightening pitch of the campaign.

Firstly, the primary campaign of street corner meetings (over one thousand of them), mike announcements, processions in the areas and bastis, public meetings, had informed the workers about the issues and the plans. Through them workers had learnt what the demands were and why. Leaflets and posters had been avidly read by them. They had stopped and listened to speeches in both street corner meetings and the tempo campaigns. They had clapped and laughed at the mockery of their oppressors in the play, Chakka Jaam. They had noted that there was a whole range of people giving the speeches and campaigning for the strike. They had been enthused by daily reports of how the preparations were going on in their own area as well as in other areas. They appreciated the fact that the speakers challenged and openly criticised not only the maliks but also the police, whom they feared, but also resented. And of course they had responded to the fact that the campaign content was speaking about their own lives and its details. As leaflets, speeches, plays and songs touched and presented the class basis of their multiple experiences, as the demand for increased wages and DA appeared as a concrete programme of action to deal with the rise in prices over which they had no control, as the tragic experiences of disease and even deaths due to cholera that year, were condemned and its cause identified, the thirst for explanations was also being quenched.

Secondly, they were impressed by the fact that what each was observing and being part of, was being duly reported by others also. In factories, in buses, in jhuggi bastis, friends and neighbours confirmed and added to this experience. The reassurance that what was taking place was a widespread powerful event and not just an aberrant risky adventure began to grow through this. The very sweep of the campaign touching all industrial areas and also the residential settlements of workers, constituted an important element of the depth of contact established with the individual worker.

Thirdly, the papers were also reporting upon the preparations. This was very unusual for the worker. He was used to reading reports only of distant events, rarely if ever about the struggles of his class. And finally, the flurry of activity by his malik and his ilk, and the local police confirmed the fact that they too were perturbed by the preparations. They abused CITU, repeatedly threatened their employees that any absenteeism would be severely dealt with, had meetings with the thanas. The worker while getting nervous about all this also realised that the strike call had to be of some weight, otherwise, as in the past, the maliks would not be so active.

Here it must be emphasised that the organisers of the strike have an instinctive understanding of this process that goes on in the minds of the workers. They plan the campaign accordingly. They consciously arranged a series of meetings, processions, street corner meetings and street plays, all harping upon the same theme. They brought in bank employees, insurance employees, college teachers, students and union leaders from bigger units to address meetings. Reports (sometimes exaggerated) of momentous preparations, huge meetings and processions, brave resolutions were routinely declaimed in meetings so that the workers of one area learn about and draw inspiration from other areas. Speeches by the more experienced leaders always strike a chord as they never fail to warn the employers and police that any interference against the strike will not be tolerated. The role of women’s teams in their campaign, especially in the residential areas was also important. The worker was impressed by the fire and commitment of these activists. Moreover, his family also started talking about the strike, supporting it. Thus the hesitant, suspicious worker was not only convinced but also became confident.
However the strike does not become successful only by correct slogans and intensive propaganda, as many organisers realised to their dismay. One leader of north Delhi[90] summed it up by saying that a successful strike is 50% propaganda and 50% picketing. This was a lesson learnt directly from the textile mill gates where a militant fighting picket at the gate was essential. In the seven day strike, the success or otherwise of the strike varied, among other things, with the planning and positioning of the picket. Places were selected from where the maximum number of workers enter the industrial area. Depending upon the strength of the union in the area, members were deputed to report at the pickets at about 7:30 in the morning, because workers start arriving by 8 o’clock. Leaders were also deployed according to the importance and difficulty of each spot. By 8 a.m., the picket is in position. If it was a gate then it was blocked by flag waving, slogan shouting workers. If it was simply a path then it too was blocked. A wide road, though not a good spot for picketing, required more people on both sides. Preferable pickets were near jhuggi bastis where the picketers could take shelter in case the police intervened, as happened at Wazirpur.

By 8:30, a sizeable number of workers would be held up at the picket if it was successful, if the workers were confident. The individuals manning the picket were crucial for this. An active, angry militant picket which was willing to take on anybody would immediately draw the support of workers and boost their morale. For, just as the workers, the police and the employers’ associations also knew the importance of the picket. Police was present in force at each picket, as soon as they get to know its location, or when it was pre-determined by circumstance. Often, the employers associations were present too. In GTK Road, for instance, the association was present in full strength behind the main gates of the industrial area, exhorting workers to come in, and directing the police to break the picket.

The leader of the picket decided the time when, seeing that a sufficient number of workers had collected, the mass should be organised into a procession which would enter the industrial area and go around the streets mopping up all those who had either entered the factory or were hanging around. This was always a tedious, tense process. The police usually did not want any such thing to happen. On the other hand the workers would by then, be in a state of frenetic jubilation – they would want each and every factory checked so that not a single worker was left inside. As the procession slowly wound its way through the streets of the industrial area, the numbers would swell to several hundreds, sometimes thousands. Initially the procession would simply do a couple of rounds along the main roads, even as the CITU activists tried to maintain order, lead the slogans, negotiate with policemen and generally direct the proceedings. However, after some time, the impatience and frenzy of the workers would become over-riding. Rumours about such and such factory running full swing, of so and so malik locking up his workers and forcing them to work etc .would grip sections of the procession. It would stop at a factory gate while leaders peered through grills and chinks to ascertain the status. Slogans would reach a crescendo making the accompanying police posse nervous. First they would try to convince the leadership that the factory was empty. However, a peering face from the second floor or a glimpse of cycles in the porch might point to the contrary. Workers would beat the iron gates with sticks. From behind, someone might hurl stones at the glass panes which if shattered would send a thrill down the crowd. Ultimately, the police might convince the factory owner to let a couple of activists in to check. Often they came out escorting a group of sheepish workers, eyes downcast. They were greeted with jeers and insults. If it has taken too long, then some of them might even be manhandled. After celebratory slogan-shouting the procession would move on dragging excited workers with it. Of course, more often than not, the police would not allow this dominance of the proceedings by the workers. They might not have let the workers enter the area itself, or prevented them from searching factory premises. In either cases the equilibrium was determined by the strength of the workers. If the gathering was large, no amount of police presence would deter the workers from proceeding with the meticulous implementation. On the other hand, if their strength was low, they instinctively realised that most of the workers had gone in, and the police would then escort the procession around. In some places, especially in the north it was reported that groups of workers were deputed to patrol the streets in the night and stone factories where work was going on. This helped in not so much stopping the work actually, as creating an atmosphere of terror amongst the employers.

What the collective strike of all industrial units in an area does is to treat the whole area as a unit, thereby obviating the individual disability of workers of each unit to fight against their respective employers. Although the strike is actually directed against the government, in terms of the demands that are being raised, the worker is actually fighting against his or her employer. And thence arises the anger and fire that marks the striking workers. They are no longer afraid of being identified by their maliks, or losing their jobs. They are part of a larger collective which provides safety and security. Under the protection of this collective, each worker sheds the fearful and submissive integument he has acquired to tide him through his tough life. This breaking down unleashes an overflow of pent up anger, resentment and suffering from his soul. He exults in his freedom. He openly disobeys the policeman, disregards the threats of employers and babus, fights hirelings of the management and generally is willing to take to violence against any sign of interference from the rich. Even a car trying to enter the industrial area is objected to! Leaders who try to exercise some control are criticised for being too soft, although the veterans realise that restraint is always more paying than just arbitrary running around. The strike is thus a celebration for each worker, an assertion of his individuality and freedom even as he is part of a larger collective. He realises this intrinsic link between the class to which he belongs and his own life, in a strike. The whole uncertainty and insecurity of his atomised and solitary existence pitted against the uncontrollable forces of capital and urban life, is transformed into an exhilarating sense of belonging and purpose rooted in the collective of his brethren and backed by the confidence in an organisation. This feeling is not permanent – but it incrementally contributes to his growing consciousness. Thus he may not join the union immediately afterwards, but he develops an attachment which lasts.

North Delhi: Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road

From newspapers as well as organisational reports, it is clear that Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road, were the most advanced centres of the strike. The internal review of the CPI(M) assessed that the strike was 90% in both areas. Located at right angles to each other, the two industrial areas almost meet through the contiguous belt of jhuggis that lie along the railway line adjacent to, and within Azadpur and Lal Bagh. The presence of the old industries of Ajudhia Textile Mill at the entry to Azadpur, and Birla Mill on the GT road itself, just a little further inwards towards the centre of the city, had given this area, a longstanding working class character. Organised mill workers and unorganised small scale industrial labour were socially mixed here as nowhere else in the city, and many a worker effected entry into the smaller factories of the area through association with mill workers. Associations that stretched from deep in the rural hinterland.

The industrial area of GT Karnal Road, established in the sixties, was divided into A block, on the northern side towards Azadpur, and B block on the other side of the Satyawati College Road flyover. Almost completely dominated by the manufacture of auto parts, GT Road housed some 300 factories. In 1988, the strongest unions of CITU was in Sigma, Chaman Rubber and Smart (universally referred to by workers as Samrat). It was these workers, who provided the core organised force in the area during the strike. Another prominent factory was D.D. Gears with an independent union[91], which later affiliated itself to the CITU some time after the seven day strike. The Wazirpur industrial area which came into existence in the mid seventies, was much larger (84 hectares as compared to 50 for GT Road), housing some 1,000 factories. It was dominated by steel rolling units, although many other types of industries – auto parts, electricals, and hosiery factories were also located here. Bordered on two sides by the goods railway line which curves away from the main Northern Railway Amritsar line[92] to connect with the line towards Ferozepur[93], the Wazirpur industrial area lies alongside Ring Road as it moves away from Azadpur alongside Shalimar Bagh. Flanked by thousands of jhuggies all along the railway line, in both character and appearance, Wazirpur reflected unorganised labour to a far greater extent. The predominantly contract labour in the steel rolling units set the standard for the area.

The chronology of events in these two areas as recorded in the newspaper reports, show that on the first day of the strike, the police lathi charged and tear gassed a workers’ demonstration in Wazirpur, while an aggressive police blockade at GT Karnal Road prevented workers, gathered at the entrance to the industrial area on the main GTK Road, from entering the industrial area.

At GTK Road, the owners of factories openly stood at the entrance to the area, with rope barricades and large numbers of police. The method of preventing the workers from entering the area, was through arbitrary arrest of those in the leadership, which included women. Asha Lata[94] and Kamla[95], both of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti recall that during the campaign in the industrial area, the owners, were already perturbed by the atmosphere, as they felt that if the strike succeeded, there would be some raise in the wages. This they wanted to prevent at all cost. From the first day of the strike, the maliks in concert with the police tried to get the strike broken.

On the morning of the first day, Kamla, north Delhi district president JMS, along with some women from Sawan Park,[96] reached the entry to B block of GTK Road at 8 a.m., where some 50-60 workers were gathered, while others were standing scattered around on the road in the expectation of formation of a procession. The police was everywhere in force. The workers told her that the police had already beaten up and taken away the leading CITU whole timer of the area, Subodh. At that point she decided that they should form the procession on the main road itself and march towards A block, tie up with the workers there, and with greater force effect entry into the industrial area. In the meantime Asha Lata, who was at A block from 7 a.m., along with another contingent of women and workers, was facing similar problems. The police, who were standing there with the maliks, were harassing the workers and not even allowing them to stand together. A “policeman in civilian dress”, told her that some of her comrades were standing at another point and the police was picking them up. She went to see what was happening, and from behind, the police picked up the group of Sigma workers who had been standing with her. When she saw what had happened, she and the group of Azadpur women who were with her, went into the jhuggies of Azadpur and mobilised more workers. They had gathered again when the other group from B block arrived. Together, they tried to break through the manned rope barricade put up by the police. As the two segments of the workers met, the numbers became very large( reported to be 1500 by the newspapers). It was already clear that the bulk of the workers in the area were on strike, and most of the factories were closed. But in the scuffle at the barricade, a few stones were thrown, and then the police lathi charged and scattered the workers. During the lathi charge, they dragged away and arrested both workers and some of the women who were in the lead. Asha Lata recalls that just as they were attempting to breach the barricade, she was given a letter from Nathu Prasad, the convenor of the hartal committee instructing her not to allow herself to be arrested. So when she was dragged to the other side of the road, amidst the confusion, the diminutive Asha quickly covered her head with a shawl and slipped away from the place of confrontation.
But about 12 of the women, and a number of workers were arrested at the spot, while the remaining workers were scattered. They remained unable to enter the industrial area that day. Later, in a JMS meeting on 16th December, ’88, one of the women, Chamela, is recorded as having described the incident in the following words,[97] “When Asha and Kamla beaten, I took a policeman’s lathi. Police said, “Catch this fatty”…Four were dragging Asha. I said leave her and gave him 2 slaps. They pushed Kamla into the van. We took Asha out of the van and courted (allowed?) arrest”. At the police station, Kamla said that they were being pressurised to sign a statement saying that they were trying to setting fire to the factories. They refused. While the others were let off in the evening, Kamla, Chamela and Maya[98], who were among the key militants, were sent to Tihar Jail. They were to gain release only on the 25th night.
Meanwhile, in Wazirpur too, from the first day, police repression was let loose on the workers. Pickets were organised at four strategic points: A-block jhuggies, petrol pump, aara machine (wood-sawing factory in B-block) and Steel Ball Bearing[99] (near Azadpur railway station). Participants at the latter recall that they collected in the morning in large numbers and the factories were closed up. As the juloos moved from B block to A block, the police lathi charged the procession. Explaining the events, Shrawan Kumar[100] said that the maliks association used to run from A block and it was therefore here that the police used to intervene. Along with many other workers who were injured in the lathi charge, Jagdish Manocha, a senior leader of the CITU was badly beaten and then arrested. Devi Prasad, a worker of the area recalled the police beating Jagdish Manocha, who “just kept on going” .[101] The case that was registered, against five of the leaders of the CITU (although all could not be arrested), came to a close only in May, 1999, eleven years after the event. Shiv Sharan, of Premier Electricals in Wazirpur, who was injured in the attack recalls that after the lathi charge, many of them came to the CITU office at Kamla Nagar, where their injuries were attended to. He added that the more “hungama” there was, the greater was the support for and success of the strike.[102]
Newspaper reports (23 Nov 1988) on the events of the first day in Wazirpur were as follows: “In the Wazirpur industrial area, a procession of about 4,000 workers was tear-gassed, as they were moving around the locality urging the few workers to come out.” (TOI). “The police action followed stoning on various factory premises and on the police about 11 a.m. by a mob of about 1500 workers who had abstained from work1/4″(HT) “Violence at several places marked the first day of the seven-day industrial strike… The police fired about a dozen rounds of tear-gas at workers taking out a procession in Wazirpur around noon. As the police lathi-charged and tear-gassed the strikers, many from the crowd hurled stones at a police vehicle and at a factory.” (Indian Express) “At 12.30 in the afternoon, a procession of about 4,000 workers was going around Wazirpur industrial area.” (Navbharat Times).
According to Jaimangal, one of the key CITU leaders in Wazirpur, there was stoning on the procession from some factories, and the plan of the police was to create an incident, lathi charge and arrest the leaders, so that the strike could not be sustained.[103] Obviously, despite the police attack, the strike was a big success in the area.
The second day of the strike was a Wednesday, the weekly off day in the north. Again on the third day, there was a lathi charge and injuries to women activists at GT Karnal Road, where Asha Lata and Suman of the JMS were arrested, but the police blockade at the GT Road industrial area was broken that day. Shiv Sharan recalls that he and some others went from Wazirpur into GT Road, entering from the back by going along the railway line along which Azadpur and Lal Bagh jhuggies are located. But the main juloos from Wazirpur went along the main road to cross the police barricade. Jagdish Manocha (not taped) recalled that there were some negotiations with the police, and finally when it was clear that the juloos would not budge, the police let them in. There could be little point in stopping them, since in any case most of the factories were closed. Asha Lata recalls that earlier that morning, she and another young girl Suman, were surrounded by police at the bus stop on the main road, but newspaper reports quote eyewitnesses saying that they were arrested while leading a 3,500 strong juloos in the area. Obviously, the juloos in the area and the arrests were mixed up in the perception of both reporters and participants. But the fact remained that the blockade was broken and the police were no longer in a position to stop the workers. The workers were exhilarated and newspapers reported that there was a 7,000 strong procession which culminated in a meeting at Wazirpur, addressed by Jogendra Sharma.

It was on the fourth day that conflict became more intense, when an attack was launched on the workers by Congress supporters from inside a factory in Wazirpur. Soda bottles were thrown at the procession of workers, followed by a lathi charge and tear gassing by the police. Such was the uncontrolled ferocity of the police attack, that they entered the jhuggies and indiscriminately beat up women and children. That day, in the afternoon, the Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road processions, instead of winding up for the day within the industrial area, converged in a big demonstration at the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Northwest district), at Ashok Vihar.

The incident was reported in the newspapers as: “In Wazirpur, eyewitnesses said, a peaceful procession of about 3,000 workers was attacked with stones and soda bottles when it was near factory no. A-115 by a group of about 50 anti social elements led by a Congress member, Nandan Singh. According to eyewitnesses, the retreating workers were lathi-charged by the police and a 15 year old boy was severely injured. Irate workers then set up roadblocks and were soon joined by a procession of more than 1,000 from the adjoining GT Karnal Road industrial area. They later gheraoed the Ashok Vihar police station for about two hours and demanded immediate action against the factory owner and the Congress member. Ashok Vihar station house officer refused to comment on the incident.” (TOI, 26.11.88)

“The police reported that it had to fire four rounds of teargas shells to disperse a crowd and rounded up at least 11 persons, all “hired by the local managements” who were obstructing a CITU workers’ procession. According to the police spokesman, nearly 20 men belonging to local management groups and armed with lathis, attacked the procession which was accompanied by a small police posse. The workers retaliated by throwing stones. Soon a larger police force arrived and fired teargas shells to disperse the clashing groups. The police said that the incident took place outside factory no. A-115.The CITU claimed that the police aided the attackers and the local SHO in collusion with the management ordered simultaneous lathi-charge on the workers. Several workers were injured in the process and a 15-year old boy who has not been identified received head injuries.”(Indian Express, 26.11.88)
The brutality of the police attack had shaken the workers, and Krishna Prasad, of Premier Electricals recalls that they went that evening and campaigned among the jhuggi residents, but he himself was worried as to whether people would turn up the next morning after such an attack. He says, “we campaigned in the jhuggies till 12 at night… but we thought tomorrow the public will not join us..” But on the next (sixth) day -“when we went in the morning to establish our morcha,- when the eight thirty bus comes,- that is the time we take out our procession – but when it started, the public was already out, carrying big ballis and lathis, and the police seeing this began to run ahead…the road was so jammed that if anyone thought of crossing from one side to the other, it was not possible. That was a scene we had the fortune to see comrade, with the police almost fleeing ahead and the public racing behind…there was an urge in the people to break up and smash things, but Comrade Nathu said, ‘look, we have to work in there. If we smash it up, then we will only harm ourselves. Wait now, we will see on the last day (Aakhree din hum dekhenge)'” Both Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad saw this as the basis of the power of the demonstration on the last day of the strike.[104]
Thereafter, the police was no longer able to intervene in the industrial areas of Wazirpur or GT Road and took recourse to trying to pick up leaders at night. Although some activists were arrested, the main leaders were able to evade the police[105]. The extent of the enthusiasm and sense of power among the unorganised small scale industrial workers acquired in the course of the preceding days, became a force with which the organised textile workers in the area were also drawn into the strike. On the sixth day, early in the morning a strike picket was established at the gates of Birla Mill, while leaders of the other unions stood around ready to encourage workers to enter the mill. A restive and heavy police picket was stationed there, but when the clash between the striking workers and the police took place, the other union leaders standing around could not be distinguished from the strikers.[106] The result, Birla Mill closed down for the day. At ATM, the morning picket was not so successful and a number of workers had reported for duty. But the juloos from GTK Road reached the ATM gates in time to close the afternoon shift. A most interesting incident was the story of Lakshmi, wife of an ATM worker who had broken the strike and gone into work that morning. Lakshmi remained standing for hours at the factory gate, and when he emerged in the afternoon, just as the juloos from GT Road arrived, she spat on his face and abused him. She is recalled to have said, “Are you not ashamed of yourself for going to work when all the workers are struggling?”[107]
A mighty momentum was revealed on the last day of the strike, when ten thousand workers, according to participants and 5,000 according to newspapers, marched out from the industrial areas of Wazirpur and GT Road, Nirankari Colony and Rajasthani Udyog Nagar, swept through the main arterial roads of North Delhi to the Labour Office at Rajpur Road, and thence to the Old Secretariat in a culminating demonstration, which even the newspapers referred to as “a massive rally”. Krishna Prasad recalled that they carried bamboo sticks in the front to keep the crowd together and that the police were running ahead telling shopkeepers that a bandar sena is coming. Others recall that the workers had broken off branches from trees and were carrying them like flags, and as the procession approached the market area at Kamla Nagar, the sound of a series of shutters rolling down could be heard.
Of this demonstration, Sudhanwa Dehpande, a college student at the time, and an actor in the Jana Natya Manch play, Chakka Jaam, said, “one of the things I remember, was the fact that we did not walk, we ran. It was actually difficult to keep pace with the workers. They were going forward with tremendous speed…not the kind of walk one does in various demos. Here it was very very fast and I remember when I came to Rajpur Road I was exhausted, I was huffing and puffing… I was vividly struck by the strength, the sheer physical strength of that entire procession. It was really like a bullet, very powerful, that power was very palpable, I remember that very very vividly.” [108]

West Delhi: Mayapuri

In the Mayapuri industrial area, on the other hand, the actual strike (the number of factories that were closed during the strike), was much less than elsewhere. In its internal review, the CPM assessed the strike to be 25 – 30% peaking on the third day at 50%. Yet, its impact on the workers was quite dramatic, and in the period following the strike, large numbers of workers enrolled in the union, while some of the organised unions changed over and began to affiliate to the CITU.[109]

Dominated by the imposing presence of two large scale industrial units of Metal Forging and Ashoka Machine Tools, Mayapuri is located along the main line of the Northern Railway, just beyond its intersection with the Ring Road in west Delhi. The bulk of the factories here came up in the mid seventies along a grid of wide lanes that stretched between the Mayapuri Road and the railway line which further east ran alongside the Naraina and Kirti Nagar industrial areas. Along the railway line was an almost continuous line of jhuggies, although they had different names at each major point.

The western entrance to the industrial area on the Mayapuri Road was itself, a strategic point in the campaign since through it travelled thousands of workers from the huge stretch of unauthorised colonies in Sagarpur, Uttam Nagar, and the Pappankala areas (Dwarka), who worked not only Mayapuri, but Kirti Nagar, Naraina and Motinagar as well. Early in the morning, a sea of cycles would stretch across the Mayapuri Rroad, where leafleting was most effective.

Unlike in other areas of west Delhi, the three day strike of 1987, had not been very successful in Mayapuri. It had been essentially confined to phase II, while phase I, with bigger units and containing the heart of the owners’ association, had remained untouched. It may be recalled that the Mayapuri industrial area had been identified as one of the weakest points in the last meeting of the TU sub committee before the strike, with an aggressive owners’ association. At the time of the strike, the CITU had only one union in phase II of the area and a membership of about 50. The campaign and the strike, had to therefore be organised by outsiders, and women played a key role in this area.

As in GT Road, the women activists played an initiating role here in the course of the strike. Their participation began during the campaign itself. It was unusual for women to be standing on the roads and distributing leaflets and, the curiosity of the workers was aroused. Rushing to work in the morning, they would stop their cycles to take the leaflets, or stretch out their hands from buses, asking for them. As the word spread, the second time round workers were prepared. At lunchtime, generally workers were out on the streets since it was winter, and they preferred to come out in the sun. Lunchtime meetings attracted huge crowds, and workers, both organised (mostly in other unions) and unorganised, started coming to the CITU office to express their support.

Lacking experience of effective strike in this area, two nights before the strike it had been decided to establish two pickets inside the industrial area. The first was to be at the gates of the BEC factory in phase II which had the lone CITU Union in the area. It was to be manned by DYFI activists along with the BEC workers. The second was to be established at the gates of Lumax in phase I, whose workers, although members of Sadhu Singh’s union, had displayed keen support for the strike, and assured support. This picket was to be manned by JMS activists from Sultanpuri. In the early hours of the morning, workers had begun to gather round the pickets, but they were not as yet prepared for police action. And the police quickly dragged away and arrested the main picketers at both points, so no juloos was formed within the industrial area.[110] Although later in the day, workers did demonstrate at the police station against the arrests, the effect of the strike remained limited to a degree of absenteeism, but few closures. Workers, although sympathetic had not yet crossed out of the boundaries of inhibition and remained inactive spectators to the police actions.

The Times of India reported, “Most of the factories in the Mayapuri industrial area remained open, and the police arrested seven women volunteers..for leading a procession. These women volunteers were dragged away by policemen into the police station and detained there for a long time1/4.The volunteers also alleged that they were beaten up with lathis in the stomach and on the wrists inside the station premises.On the other hand, the situation was most peaceful in the sprawling industrial area and there was not a single incident of violence as the majority of workers abstained from work1/4″ (23.11.88)

Confident that the picketers, being outsiders, would not be able to do much, those arrested in the morning were let off at 5 o’clock. A change in tactics was in order and the next morning, a single picket was established on the Mayapuri Road at the point where leafleting had been so successful. The experienced trade unionist, Puran Chand ( the then president of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union), led the picket. The change had immediate effect. Workers on foot and on cycles were effectively gathered together and a juloos of about three hundred workers was formed on the second day. The procession was able to enter and go around both phases of the industrial area, but it remained surrounded by a large police posse. It was decided not to make any attempt to close factories as many were already closed due to GuruPurab, and the day passed off peacefully.

It was on the third day, that the strike action struck root in the area, as a juloos of over two thousand workers was formed on the main road itself. The morning picket had been strengthened by about 10 JMS and 10 DYFI activists who had been brought in from Shakurpur on this day. For the first time the police were outflanked, being initially confined to the front part of the juloos, before whose strength, many factories started shutting up. More and more workers came out and joined the procession. The tail end which had itself swelled to about 5,000, packing the road from side to side, closed up the remaining factories. The factories so closed included two belonging to Chawla, the most feared malik of the area. It was at this point that one Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ajay Kashyap decided to personally intervene. Accompanied by a force of some fifteen policemen, he ordered them to arrest one of the women activists who was in the lead of the rear end of the juloos. But by this time, the workers had become a fierce force, and they physically prevented his men from arresting her.

While the front was led by a more orderly group, the rear could no longer be called a procession, rather a huge mass stopping at and shaking factory gates, and calling workers out. The mass seemed frightening to the few women workers, who came out of the factories that were getting shut. With great difficulty passageways were made through the press of innumerable male workers for the women workers to come out without being shoved around. In the meantime, police reinforcements had been brought in including the CRPF women’s battalion. It was then that the police lathi charged the workers from the rear.

The opportunity for the lathi charge came when the rear end of the juloos was stuck outside one factory in phase I for an inordinate length of time, as over 500 workers emerged from within. For almost 15 minutes, the workers had been stationary, their attention fixed on the emerging workers who had to pass through a tortuously slow process of body search by security guards at the gate. Twice messages were sent from the front leaders of the juloos which had already reached the next phase, that the rear should be made to move on, but the mass pressure to ensure that every worker had come out from the factory was too intense and nobody would budge. The factory was located close to the end of a lane which was blocked by a wall virtually enclosed on three sides. The density of workers packed from side to side, and lack of lateral space gave the workers almost no space to escape. Hampered by their cycles, they were almost helpless in the face of the lathi charge and ensuing stampede.

After the lathi charge on the rearend juloos, activists from both front and rear julooses gathered within minutes at the CITU office in Mayapuri. Many of the scattered workers too converged there. State leaders who had been informed immediately arrived there within the hour. The leaders, accompanied by the activists and some 200 workers who were still hanging around went immediately to the police station where it was felt that some of the workers including a young woman worker who had been among the most militant might have been detained. Since the numbers were still sizable, and state leaders as well as journalists were present, activists were allowed to search the thana premises to assure themselves that no worker had been detained there. One BEC worker and some few others who had been were thus quietly let off. ACP Kashyap could be seen to be fuming and fretting but was unable to prevent the search since the reinforcements had left and only the local thana police were there.

Newspapers reported, “The day began with large demonstrations in almost every industrial centre in the city. One of the largest of such rallies was held at Mayapuri.The procession began peacefully, doing rounds of all working units. It would stop outside these units, exhort workers to join the strike and move on.The procession made one such stopover outside a unit in ‘A’ block. CITU activists say they were only shouting slogans when the police attacked them, but an eyewitness said a stone hurled at the factory had stirred the police into action.” (TOI, 25.11.88). The Navbharat Times reporter who reached the area shortly after the lathi charge wrote, “Today, the workers of Mayapuri industrial area were the worst victims of lathicharge by the police. The workers allege that when they were demonstrating in full strength, then ACP Kashyap got them lathicharged1/4about 150 workers were injured. Among the injured was a 13 year old boy named Kanchan Das. Hundreds of broken cycles of workers were lying around at the place where the lathicharge took place in Mayapuri, phase-I….Workers told us that one of the factory maliks supplied the lathis to the police. There was talk about a white Maruti with some people in civilian clothes who were threw stones at the workers and police and then escaped. Workers said that when they were holding a meeting at night in the jhuggis, the police came, surrounded and terrorised them, but they did not get terrorised. After the lathicharge, a women’s jatha was singing with gusto: “Chahe lag jaye hathkadiyan hartal karayenge” (Even if put in handcuffs,we will keep the strike going on)1/4″(Navbharat Times, Nov 25).[111]

From the next morning, Mayapuri took on the appearance of a police camp. Police were lined up at every entrance and many of the key activists were picked up from the CITU office in the early hours of the morning. Puran Chand who had been first to arrive, quickly saw the lay of the land and bundled the first woman activist straight from the bus stop towards hiding at a nearby petrol pump. She was practically the lone leading figure to escape arrest that day. Others were not so fortunate. Shakuntala recalled that five or six of the women had come with from Sultanpuri in her husband’s three wheeler. As soon as the vehicle halted in front of the office, they were surrounded by the police. She tried to pretend that she was an ignorant, but the police were not taken in and arrested them. [112] At the same time, two of the women coming in from Shakurpur were also arrested. Puran Chand himself, Tripurari (textile worker, who was secretary of the west engineering union branch)[113], Brij Bhushan Tewary, secretary of the Textile union, and Vimal Paliwal from the DYFI were all arrested. By evening, Party lawyers managed to get three of Shakuntala’s associates from Sultanpuri released that evening, but four of the women and all the men were sent to Tihar. Later, some Mayapuri workers reported that the maliks had had a meeting with the police on the 24th evening resulting in the police crackdown. “Earlier, about hundred factory owners under the banner of the Mayapuri small industries welfare association staged a protest march in the locality against yesterday’s attempts by some CITU activists to force workers out of some establishments. Mr. S.K. Khurana, president of the Mayapuri small industries welfare association, praised the role of the police in handling the ‘ugly situation’ which might have escalated into an uncontrollable situation. (TOI, 26.11.88)

For that day, the police lied and refused to admit that such arrests had been made. “However, the Naraina ACP, Mr. Ajay Kashyap, denied that any arrests were made. A delegation of Communist Party of India (Marxist) which included two MPs, Mr. Basudev Acharya, and Mr. M.A. Baby, who went to inquire the whereabouts of their activists were told the same.” (TOI, 26.11.88) One of the arrested women, Ram Piari of Shakurpur said in a meeting, “..on 25th – Kashyap caught hold of me. Slapped me and beat me with a lathi. When I saw Nikki was caught I decided to stay on and not escape arrest. Taken to Cantt. thana. Then to Vasant Vihar, Patiala House. In the evening went to Tihar Jail.”[114]

As soon as news of the arrests reached them, the state and local committee leaders came to the area and instructed the remaining activists not to try to take out any procession that day, and to remain out of sight of the police. But the police repression left a palpable tension in the air, and the success of the strike on the 24th had fired a resistance in the workers of BEC, who had earlier displayed little enthusiasm for the strike. The next day evening (it was Saturday, the weekly off in Mayapuri and the day had been spent in individually contacting workers in the jhuggies and nearby unauthorised colonies), at the initiative of the BEC workers, a meeting was called in the Lajwanti Garden park which lay west of the industrial area, and was attended by some 200 workers from within Mayapuri.The picket point was shifted further east on the Mayapuri Road and picketers were told to stay in the shadows until a signal was given.

On Sunday morning, (27th November), in their enthusiasm, BEC workers brought red chilly powder in their pockets to throw at the policemen’s eyes if necessary. Reinforcements came in the shape of the night shift of DCM Silk workers, of whom about 15 came to Mayapuri straight from their factory in the morning. The police were caught unawares since all their officers and main force was concentrated in the original picket area. Once again a thousand strong juloos was formed on the main road that was then able to go round the industrial area, albeit flanked on either side by a substantial police force. Similarly, on the final day, workers from other areas in the west also converged at Mayapuri which had become a symbol of police repression during the strike.The strike action in the west culminated in a march from Mayapuri to Tihar Jail where about 10 leaders and activists of the area were still imprisoned. So fired were the workers and activists, particularly the women, that they wanted to break through the jail gates as they had broken through so many factory gates. It took all the skill of the remaining leaders to restrain them and remind them that they had still to march back to the police station in Mayapuri to protest against the actions of the district police. The demonstration ended at the Mayapuri police station, with angry slogans directed against ACP Kashyap who was held as being primarily responsible for the scale of police repression in Mayapuri.

South Delhi: Okhla

The Okhla Industrial area, sprawls over 294 hectares, with about 2000 industrial plots, many of them larger than is the norm in other areas. It is the single largest industrial area in Delhi. Divided into three phases, it moves southwards from Phase III to Phase I, i.e., from the outer Ring Road and alongside the main Central Railway line between Maa Anand Mayee Marg and Mathura Road (NH 2). Phase III, which stands somewhat apart from the other two phases, is flanked by the old style large scale factory of Modi Flour Mills at its northern end and G.B.Pant Poytechnic at its southern side. It is separated from Phase II by green “orchard” land and Harkesh Nagar. Phase I lies contiguous to Phase II on its southern side and is bounded at its eastern end by Tekhand. Both Harkesh Nagar and Tekhand are built up urban villages, increasingly dotted with very small industrial units and commercial establishments. Many Okhla workers also live in rented quarters here. The number and concentration of jhuggies both in Okhla (such as Sanjay Colony, Indira Vihar, Rajeev Camp, etc.) or close to Okhla (such as the contiguous belt of Navjeevan Camp, Nehru Camp and Bhumiheen Camp along the Govindppuri Road), is among the largest series of squatter settlements in Delhi. Bhumiheen Camp alone is officially recorded as having the maximum number of jhuggies in any such cluster in the city.

In Okhla, the seven day strike was not marked by any clashes with the police or with employers’ associations, although all newspapers reported large julooses on the first two days of the strike. Both the Times of India and Navbaharat Times reported Okhla as being among the areas where the strike had maximum effect on the first day, and in fact photographs of closed factories and julooses of workers in Okhla appeared in almost all papers. Indian Express, however, said that factory gates were “kept closed, but work continued in most factories.” For the second day, the Times reported, “As for Okhla, CITU claimed near total success in phase I and I, but not in Okhla-III. A sample survey showed that they were probably right” (TOI, Nov 24). Even the Indian Express reported “The workers staged a massive rally in Okhla, marching to each factory where work was going on and try to get it to close. Many factory-owners relented after rally had been held outside their gates. Workers who came out invariably said that they had been forced to work.” (Indian Express, Nov 24).

Mohammed Azeem Khan, a worker in Punj Sons during the strike, recalled that whereas during the 72 hour strike, there had been little response in his factory, in 1988, there was greater anger among the workers, and almost all them joined the strike. Leaders of the CITU, such as Mohanlal[115] had come to the factory gate during the campaign, and the workers had decided among themselves to support the strike. In Khan’s words, “we even came to the CITU office and told them that if they came to the factory gate at 8.30…and with flags and sticks (jhanda danda) and tried to hold us back, we would stay out, because we had to show our management that union wallahs had stopped us, and by adopting such tactics, we would participate in the strike….On the first day of the strike, the leaders came to the gate…and appealed to us to join in….we stopped outside the gate and then at about 9.30, we joined all the others in the juloos and went around Phase III… when the juloos was formed and we saw the others–workers from other factories, then our morale was greatly boosted.. and we felt that in this condition if we formed a union, then, we could dominate over our own management a little and live a life of some little respect.”[116]

Punj Sons is located just outside Phase III, and had about 850 workers. Almost all the workers were employed as contract labour at that time of the strike. Most of them joined the juloos. From an initial strength of 500, as the juloos went around Phase III, “as all the factories started closing and the workers came out”, the crowd swelled and at 2.30 when it was concluded at Modi Mills, the number was at least 2000″. The same process was followed on the second day, but this time, the juloos spent only about two hours in Phase III and then moved on to Phase II. The third day was the weekly off and most workers stayed at home. On the fourth day, the Punj Sons workers went back to work as the management had put up a notice that anyone who failed to report on duty, would be dismissed.[117] For the workers of Punj Sons, the seven day strike created the groundswell for the formation of their own union, whose later struggles and tortuous destiny was to have a longlasting impact on the CITU led trade union movement and organisation in Okhla, but that is another story.[118]

Minutes of the South Delhi LC of the CPI(M), written in greater detail than elsewhere, contain a fairly comprehensive account of the course of the strike in Okhla, including mid-course discussions among the organisers. The last meeting of the LC before the strike (19.11.88) had drawn up an ambitious plan of establishing pickets at nine central entry points to the three phases. Additionally a women’s group led by Kalindi Deshpande[119] was to gather at the jhuggi basti known as Navjeevan Camp, and enter the industrial area of Phase II from its western side. Despite the small strength of the CITU in the area, it was possible to man the many picket points due to the infusion of student cadre from JNU, DYFI members from the neighbouring areas of Govindpuri, C.R. Park and Ambedkar Nagar, and JMS women primarily from the jhuggies of Bhumiheen Camp and Alaknanda.

Such a dispersal of picket points served as an effective strategy for the first two days off the strike, when the response of the mass of workers was at its peak. But after the third day, it became apparent that there was a decline in the level of mass participation, and the thin spread of the organisation across so many pickets was leading to small julooses which naturally could not effectively implement the strike. This is evident from the discussions in the LC meeting of 25.11.88. Reports from all three phases came in common refrain in the meeting-the response of workers on the first two days was good, factories closed down and big julooses were formed. But workers were now beginning to go back to work. Even those who joined the processions were going back into their factories after an hour or two. One member reported that the fear of wage cut was sending workers back into the factories. It was therefore decided that for the last two days, the number of pickets should be pared down and Phases I and II should be concentrated upon.

The acute frustration felt by the strike activists in south Delhi at the decreasing participation of workers[120], was reflected in the demand for what one of them called “planned militancy”. A senior leader of the NTPC union, who was in charge of the strike action in Phase I, argued for concluding the juloos by noon and targeting of a few factories by individual groups of militants later in the afternoon. According to him, the general feeling among workers was that the “leaders were sadhus” and as a result factories were not being closed. On “seeing the police, workers gradually disperse leaving only the ‘outsiders'”. Ranbaxy TU activist, Bhola, reported that workers were saying that “stoning the factories is necessary”, while JMS leader, Kalindi argued that as the factory owners were no longer afraid, the stage for peaceful work was over, and a greater show of militancy was required.[121] Obviously, the reports of dramatic clashes with the police in Wazirpur, GT Karnal Road and then Mayapuri had caused some activists to think that the Okhla action was too tame. The strike was entering a phase of internal struggle as its leaders strained against an ebbing tide in mass participation.

However, other senior LC leaders and state committee representatives[122] carried the day with the argument that provocation for a police crackdown in the given situation was meaningless and would only lead to the end of any strike mobilisation. They placed the view that the strength of the organisation in Okhla was less than other areas, and so the situation was not comparable. Concentration of forces and taking the juloos to new and expanded areas became the strategy for the last two days of the strike. Thus, the decisive state review of the strike placed the peak of the strike in Okhla on the first day with 70% closure in Okhla, phase-I and II, and 60% in phase III, declining to 60% and 40% respectively on the second day, and concluded that thereafter no proper assessment of actual strike could be made.

One of the special features of the strike in Okhla was a larger participation of women workers. In the JMS meeting, Kalindi reported that there were 200 – 250 women in their processions. This feature was observed by newspaper reporters as well. A Jansatta report (28.11.88) for the second last day of the strike says “In the three phases of Okhla, workers took out large processions. In which women workers participated in large numbers. The strike could be seen to have a wide impact in Okhla, phase one and two. But some more factories had opened in phase three.”. Such a presence of women was not merely of JMS or students. It also reflected the greater numbers of women workers in the Okhla industries.

East Delhi: Shahdara, Friends Colony and Jhilmil

The course of the strike in East Delhi was somewhat similar to that of Okhla, with big julooses and widespread closure in the beginning and tapering participation of workers towards the end. The focus of the strike in east Delhi was in the industrial areas lying northeast of the Shahdara railway Station. It stretched from the industrial belt located in Rohtash Nagar East and Ram Nagar[123] to the north of GT Road (NH24), moving further eastwrds along the southern side of GT Road, i.e., through the industrial areas of Friends Colony and Jhilmil virtually upto the Seemapuri border. The first day of the strike was the weekly off in east Delhi and thus, the strike actually began on the 23rd of November in the industrial areas of Shahdara, Friends Colony and Jhilmil.

Unlike the Friends Colony and Jhilmil Industrial areas which are completely industry dominated, the area to the north of GT Road displays more mixed characteristics of industry and commerce interspersed and located within a sizable residential area. It is in this area that the older industries (some of 1940 vintage) are located. Among the prominent old and large scale engineering units located here are GD Rathi, KL Rathi, and Delhi Steel Mill. And it was here that on the 23rd of November, the juloos characteristic of the seven day strike, was first formed. Given the low membership of the CITU in east Delhi (69 in General Mazdoor and 150 in Engineering), and the relatively much smaller stock of cadre available from the just constituted local committee of the CPIM), it had been decided in the LC meeting of 19.11.88, not to disperse the cadre over more than one picket. Accordingly, on the morning of the 23rd they gathered at a park on Loni Road and began their march through the industrial areas. Within a short while the procession had swelled into hundreds as ordinary workers joined in, and as factories in Ramnagar started being closed down. Thus, a juloos of over one thousand marched through and crossed GT Road to enter Friends Colony. According to participants, the effect of the juloos and strike was most in Friends’ Colony, where the already impressive number of workers in the juloos were able to completely dominate the narrow roads and close up the factories that were open. The coverage of Jhilmil was partial on this first day and the juloos concluded at Friends Colony. [124]

Of day one of the strike in east Delhi, the Times of India (24.11.88) reported, “As for the Shahdra area, a representative of the area’s manufacturers’ association estimated that 10 percent of the units were working. The reason, he said, was fear of violence and today’s religious festival. Even so, it was an impressive performance for CITU; there are an estimated 30,000 workers here and barely 1,000 claim allegiance to this union”. The Jansatta reporter, who probably saw the workers as they marched along GT Road wrote “In the industrial areas of trans Yamuna – Shahdara, Jhilmil and Friends Colony, workers took out a long procession1/4 In these areas, due to the strike, work came to a standstill. Except for a handfull of factories in Shahdara, the strike was a great success in the transYamuna areas.”(Jansatta, 24.11.88).

In the east, since the strike in three industrial areas was essentially dependent on the formation of a single juloos, it had been decided to change the morning picket point on a daily basis. Memories of participants are somewhat hazy as to the chronological order of the picket points, which on some days was located at an open space near the railway line at Friends Colony, probably once more within the Ramnagar area, and once from the Jhilmil end of the industrial area. This was done both in order to touch all parts of the area and also to avoid any police intervention before a sizable juloos had been formed.

In the minutes of the LC meeting reviewing the strike (2.12.88), details of important factories and the overall extent of the strike record the closure of Delhi Steel Mill (250 workers) for five days of the strike, despite the fact that the dominant union there was the UTUC which was opposed to the strike. Similarly, K.L. Rathi (500 workers), which had no union was closed. On the other hand two major units in Jhilmil–Sahni and Dhawan, could not be closed. But workers from numerous smaller units were reported to have enthusiastically participated. The maximum effect of strike was on the first two days, with assessments ranging from 75% to 90%, and declined thereafter from 50-60% to less than 40% on the last two days. That the strike in the east had quite some impact may be gauged from the confused and contradictory statements issued by the Shahdara Manufacturers’ Association. Its president, Mr. J.R. Jindal, was reported to have claimed on the one hand “that 75 percent of the factories are functioning normally” but on the other, “urged the administration to declare the strike illegal and appealed to the workers to return to duty immediately” (TOI, 27.11.88).

Reactions to the strike: The war of words

In the various newspaper reports on the seven day strike, a singular feature was the absence of any official statement from the Government of the day, either on the demands of the strike or on its scope and reach. This was despite the fact that the principal demands of the strike were addressed to the government. The war of words through the strike was primarily conducted by the various manufacturers’ associations. Other unions mostly remained quiet during the actual strike, although statements from the IFTU, INTUC and UTUC did appear, generally clubbed by the newspapers along with those of the manufacturers’ associations.

Among the union statements during the strike, on the 24th , the Times of India reported “The city branch of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, affiliated to the ruling Congress party, issued a joint statement blaming the CITU, the employers and the government for the current situation. The employers need a kick in the pants, the CITU was playing with workers’ jobs and the government “has not taken due care of these unhelpful conditions.” It ended with an appeal for the Prime Minister’s intervention.”[125] On the 26th , according to the Indian Express, “the Delhi state committee of the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), denied the CITU contention that six major trade unions are opposing the strike call. Claiming that the response to the CITU strike call was feeble, the UTUC stated that this was primarily because CITU chose to ignore the other six major central unions and preferred to go it alone.

But the most prolific series of statements came from the IFTU. On the 24th, the Jansatta reported, “The Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the General Mazdoor Front, Mazdoor Kalyan Manch, Jhuggi Sangharsh Manch have condemned the police attacks on the striking workers and warned that if the police, factory maliks and goondas intervene during the strike, then they will retaliate with force. On the 25th, the Hindustan Times said, “However, the CITU today received a jolt from the Indian Federation of Trade Unions which in a statement said the response to the strike had been muted underlining the “fact that the working class of Delhi wants a systematic and united struggle on the demands” of the workers.While strongly condemning the “lathicharge, teargassing, arrests and other forms of repression on the groups of striking workers..during the course of the present agitation for raise in minimum wage..”. . and on the 27th, in the Times of India, “Meanwhile, the IFTU has condemned the reported repressive measures adopted by the government during the week long strike sponsored by the CITU.The IFTU president, in a statement, said the lathi-charge and arrest of a small group of activists of CITU and the Janwadi Mahila Samiti at Mayapuri yesterday were uncalled for1/4urged the government to stop its repressive policies..and concede the demand for raising minimum wages to Rs 1,050..He said the government is mistaken if it thinks that the workers’ struggle could be suppressed by repression just because the CITU strike has met with only “lukewarm” response.”

While none of the union statements were in opposition to the demands of the strike, the INTUC statement targeted the CITU for having gone into strike action itself on the grounds of the risk of workers losing their jobs. The UTUC and the IFTU statements, on the other hand, were geared towards undermining the influence and strength of the strike by trying to show that workers were not supporting it. It was the latter set of statements that echoed some of the statements by manufacturers’ associations whose intentions were clearly more oriented at ensuring that the demands were not conceded.

Accordingly, the first of the Delhi level employers’ statements that appeared on the 25th was directed against the demand for increase in minimum wages. “According to Delhi Factory Owners’ Federation, the employers in Delhi, particularly the small factory owners and shop keepers, feel greatly disturbed because of the Delhi Administrations’s proposal to further increase the minimum wages, though the last two wage revisions have already taken place in My 1987 and again in March 1988. Mr. Krishan Kumar, president of the federation, has voiced concern at such frequent wage revision, which in turn leads to higher costs of production and consequently increasing general price levels and again requiring revision of wages. The employers strongly feel that the rates of wages should be linked with productivity and production, as in the absence of such linkage, the revision of wage has become a self defeating exercise (Hindustan Times, 25.11.88)

Statements from industrialists were often alternately conciliatory and aggressive, bemoaning their losses while portraying the strike as a failure and demanding government and police action against it. In the flurry of these confused and contradictory statements and actions by the various area and state level manufacturers may be discerned not just the strength of the strike, but also the attempts to shift the anger of their workers away from themselves towards the government. Thus, on the day after the lathi charge in Mayapuri, “The Mayapuri Small Industries Welfare Association has declared that it is willing to accede to the workers’ demand of Rs 1,050 per month as minimum wages provided the Government directs the employers to do so. A statement issued by the general secretary of the Association, Mr. S.K. Choudhary, while declaring that 90 per cent of the units were functioning in Mayapuri area, praised the police for its role. The statement said, “the deployed police force in the area is exhibiting its vigil and sense of duty very well to maintain peace and law and order.” (Indian Express, 26.11.88) In similar vein, “Mr. R.S. Gujral, president of the Rewariline small industries welfare association, told this reporter that the owners were not against any increase in the minimum wages.”If the Delhi administration raises it, we will readily comply with them, as we have very cordial relations with our workers,” he observed. The association’s general secretary claimed that more than 99 per cent of the factories in the area were functioning normally and alleged that a handful of activists are trying to disturb them” (TOI, 26.11.88)

Again for the next day, the Times reported, “A number of organisations representing the factory owners have claimed that the strike was not successful and appealed to the striking workers to return to duty. The Wazirpur Small Industries Association president, Mr. R.P. Singh, said they have no objection regarding the increase of minimum wages from the present Rs 562 to any extent. “The minimum wages are to be fixed by the Delhi Administration and not by the managements of factories”, he said. Mr. J.R. Jindal, president of the Shahdara Manufacturers’ Association1/4Claiming that 75 percent of the factories are functioning normally, he urged the administration to declare the strike illegal and appealed to the workers to return to duty immediately (TOI, 27.11.88)

As the strike drew to a close, manufacturers veered away from trying to bring their workers back to work to once again oppose the central wage demands of the strike. Thus, “The Wazirpur Small Industries Association general secretary, Mr. R.P. Singh, who on November 26 claimed that the employers have no objection to the Delhi administration raising the minimum wages from the present Rs 562 per month to any extent, today said they will agree only for a reasonable amount but not Rs 1,050 per month”, while at the Delhi level, “In a statement, Mr. Gupta said instead of raising the wages, the government should bring down the price index and take steps to prevent strikes and maintain production. The Federation of Delhi Small Industries Associations estimated that the 70,000 factories in the capital suffered a production loss worth Rs 14 crore a day during the week long strike. This is about 20 per cent of the total daily production worth Rs 70 crores a day.The Federation president, Mr. M.R. Gupta, said the labour absenteeism did not exceed five per cent on all days of the strike, and most industrial estates reported normal production. He urged the trade unions to motivate workers to shun violence, produce more in the national interest, maintain industrial harmony and thus improve their living conditions (TOI, 29.11.88).

Away from the public war of words, in its internal review, the CPI(M) had the following assessment of the actual percentage of closure of factories during the strike. In north Delhi, GT Karnal Road and Wazirpur, which faced the maximum number of police interventions, the strike was 90%, in Nirankari Colony, 70-80%, while in Rajasthan Udyog Nagar it was 50% till the 23rd and thereafter, 40-50%. In the west, 90% of Rama Road was closed, initially 70% and later an overwhelming 95% in Nangloi, 50-80% in Naraina followed by 40-60% in Kirti Nagar. In Mayapuri, where police repression was amongst the most severe, the strike was 25-30%, extending on the third day to 50%, while in Lawrence Road, it had a negligible effect. In the south, the first day saw the peak of the strike with 70% closure in Okhla, phase-I and II, and 60% in phase III, declining to 60% and 40% respectively on the second day, and thereafter no proper assessment of actual strike could be made. In the east again, the maximum effect was on the first two days, ranging from 75% to 90%, and declined thereafter from 50-60% to less than 40% on the last two days. In the Ghaziabad area, the strike was 95% in Sector 4, Sahibabad, while in Noida its success was 60%.[126]

Solidarity and outside support

The strike brought the issues of the unorganised workers of Delhi into focus on a larger stage than ever before. Never before had a movement of workers in Delhi aroused such widespread support. Earlier the solidarity demonstration of artists and intellectuals has been mentioned. Two days into the strike, following arrests and clashes with the police, a joint letter was issued by four retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asking “the police commissioner to keep his force from “subjecting the striking workers to force and coercion”. Mr. V.R.Krishna Iyer, Mr. Rajinder Sachar, Mr. Devi Singh Tewatia and Mr. Subramanian Potti in the letter, accused the commissioner of having had his men do just that” (TOI, Nov 24). Condemnation of police attacks also came from central leaders of AITUC, Chaturanan Misra and Indrajit Gupta, who “expressed distress that the police is acting as an agent of the mill maliks”[127], although the Delhi unit remained silent.

But solidarity with the strike was not confined to the middle class sections in Delhi alone. CITU itself had given a call for a one day strike in six states of northern India in support of the Delhi workers on 28th November, the last day of the strike. Calcutta workers held a solidarity rally on the same day. The bold and brave stance taken in the strike in Delhi had an inspirational effect on movements of workers across the country.

Within Delhi, hotel workers organised by the CITU had joined the strike. Similarly, the CITU led Delhi Shop Employees’ Union observed a one day strike in support. But it was not only the CITU workers who were being moved by the issues and events of the strike. On the 24th November, newspapers reported, ” Hotel and restaurant workers took out a rally in Connaught Place in support of the striking industrial workers. In the forefront was the AITUC affiliated hotel workers’ union president, Bhagat Ram”(Jansatta, Nov 24)., Similarly, on the 28th “a torchlight procession organised jointly by the Hotel Workers’ Union, the Shop Employees Union, the DYFI and the Janwadi Mahila Samiti through the walled city late last night attracted thousands of industrial workers who marched along with the procession1/4 (The Hindustan Times, Nov. 28). Most of the programmes and actions of solidarity were planned and initiated by the organisers of the strike, some before the strike began. But like the strike actions themselves, solidarity support too was marked by a much wider participation than that circumscibed by organisational boundaries.

The aftermath of the strike

The most protracted strike of unorganised workers in Delhi ended on 28th November, 1988. Through the following months the aspiration and hopes of the unorganised workers were fixed on what it would achieve. As the emotional pitch and intensity subsided, workers and organisers faced the return to normalcy with all its usual travails and uncertainties. For some days tension prevailed, particularly in the areas where clashes with the police had taken place. There was a spate of victimisation of workers with Unions being flooded with complaints of illegal terminations and wage-cuts. In the months that followed, all concerned sifted, evaluated and reviewed the highs and lows of the strike, and the organisers were confronted with the long and even more arduous task of consolidation. In January, 1989, theatre activist Safdar Hashmi and a local CITU member Ram Bahadur were murdered by Congress goondas at a performance of the play that had become the continued cultural expression of the strike movement. They were murdered in Jhandapur, located in the heart of the industrial area of Sahibabad[128], where a “pardesi” industrial worker was contesting in the municipal elections as a CPI(M) candidate. His murder came as a reminder that movements for working class assertion was not without tragic price.

The responsibility of carrying the struggle forward drove the organisers into further campaigns and on 15th March, 12,000 workers were mobilised again for a rally threatening to escalate the struggle further if the demands of the seven day strike were not conceded. The next month, the new wage rates were announced raising the minimum wages from Rs 562/- to Rs 750, an unprecedented hike of more than 33% from the previous year. More importantly, a bi-annual variable dearness allowance of 85 paise per point rise in the consumer price index for industrial workers was incorporated in the minimum wage. Although still short of the demand for 1050/-, the workers had won a substantial wage hike, and the principle of price indexed dearness allowance. Behind the victory also lay the impending elections, and the awareness in the Congress rulers, that such a concession was necessary for their electoral considerations. But it was the mass participation by workers in the industrial strike that brought about the realisation of this necessity; the popularisation and assertion of demands which brought focus to the issue of minimum wages and dearness allowance as the key issue requiring addressal.

Chapter 5 : Retrospective on the Seven Day Strike

With all the euphoria of a decisive advance achieved for workers in the increased minimum wages and the inclusion of the bi-annual VDA, the course of development of the life of labour in the capital was not significantly altered by the seven day strike. The strike did play a catalytic role in the unionisation of workers.[129] For a brief spell during the prime ministership of Janta Dal’s V.P. Singh (1989-90) when tokens were issued to jhuggi dwellers, illusions had begun to grow among the poor and dispossessed that they would also acquire full and more permanent legal foothold in the capital. But following the fall of the government in 1990, the capital’s electoral politics veered towards two-party polarisation between the BJP and the Congress.[130] Such a polarisation between parties with longstanding links with the city’s commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, became further embedded in the new structures of power established when Delhi became a state with its own elected government (1993). Domination of electoral polarisation on the political life of the city was reinforced by frequent elections-seven within the decade.[131] The earlier trajectories of independent assertion by the working class were thus diffused in the melting pot of given electoral correlations in which workers had no voice.

The marginalisation of the political presence of labour in the nineties, in a sense, reversed the gains made by the movements of ’87 and ’88. While official minimum wages in Delhi continued to rise, and VDA was increased from 85 paise per point rise in the consumer price index to Re.1, its violation rather than enforcement became more and more the rule. By the end of the decade, even official announcements of VDA began coming only once a year instead of twice. From an all time high of 18,55,915 in 1988, trade union membership dropped to less than half at 9,02,567 by 1995.[132] Dogged by declining influence and even absolute numbers, the trade union movement among the small scale industrial workers in Delhi, once again reverted to token forms of resistance.

Although, following the 1991 New Industrial Policy, a series of industrial strikes did take place, they remained essentially determined by all India calls, and functioned more as campaigns among unorganised workers, rather than all out struggles by workers themselves. As the metropolis moved into the era of ‘globalisation’, government and court inspired moves towards redrawing of the industrial map of Delhi led to the closure of thousands of industries and ensuing mass displacement of labour. Workers were mobilised in a few sporadic surges of militancy against such closures and ostensible relocation of industries, but this time they were mostly led by the owners of affected industries, rather than their own class representatives. Such mobilisation which left outside its ambit, the burning issues of conflict between labour and capital such as wages or compensation for displaced workers, could have little sustaining force.

The apparent ebb in the tide of trade union and working class militancy in Delhi during the nineties raises several questions as to how and why such a widespread movement as the seven day strike was unable to sustain or advance working class assertion any futher. To some extent, the heightening of communal divisions and tensions in the period following the strike led to conditions of diversion from such class based struggles. From the rath yatra in 1989 demanding construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, aggressive and communal Hindu mobilisation swept through the capital to consolidate behind the BJP. It echoed in a Muslim backlash that was put down by heavyhanded police action. Democratic sections of the trade union movement, were thus preoccupied with fighting the tide of communalism, and once again, left with little space or resources for concerted focus on consolidating the movement of unorganised workers.

Was then the seven day strike just a flash in the pan propelled by extraneous political forces? Does the declining membership and inefficacy of trade unions mean that such movements are no longer possible? Is such a decline of trade unionism predicated by structural changes in production processes, and the moving away from the old style factory organisation towards smaller informal own account systems of production? When small scale industries are being critically affected by global market forces or recession, are higher minimum wages realisable? Will not militant wage struggles and strikes in them be detrimental to the interests of labour and employment? Some of these questions have been voiced by trade union activists, some by students and scholars of labour history. It is beyond the scope and capacity of this study to do even minimal justice to any of these questions. However, at this point we would contend that there are several remarkable similarities between the situation in 1988 and today. It might therefore be useful to conclude by looking at some of the wider social trajectories and implications of the seven day strike that have emerged from this study from the context of the present.

A movement perspective

Documentation and study of labour from an earlier generation of recorders focussed primarily on large scale industry, not merely because of ideological predilections, but because large scale industries were centres of class conflict and class organisation as well as anti-colonial nationalist political action. The social, ideological and legal constructs that were hammered out of such struggle between labour and capital in the areas of large scale industry, laid the foundations of the initial phase of labour policy and labour legislation in independent India. The formal sector so constructed, was marked by state regulation allowing for a degree of collective bargaining, relatively better wages and security of employment, all associated with some dignity in work life. Such formal sector industry continued to be in political focus and constituted the principal centres for the organisation of labour for many years, particularly as the organised public sector expanded to lay the financial and material infrastructure for the industrial advance . Such a focus was perhaps natural since large scale industry doubled its numbers and share of industrial employment at an all India level, from 3 million and 15% in 1961 to 7.78 million and 31% in 1981. In comparison, the trajectory of growth of numbers and proportions of wage labour in the small scale unorganised industries, began its rapid rise in the 1970s topping large scale industry by 1.76 million in 1981 and by 5.46 million within the next decade to become 48% of all industrial employment and over 62% of wage employment in industry by 1991.[133]

Literature on labour from the last quarter of the century, on the other hand, has progressively concentrated on what is termed the informal sector. Definitions of the informal sector incorporate all sectors of economic activity that fall outside the formal sector. Considerable work has been done on identifying characteristics of employment–the sweated conditions of work, instabilitity and fragmentation of labour at the lower end of the informal sector. However, differences in production relations, methods and scales of appropriation of surplus-value, or even between pre-capitalist and modern organisation of production within the informal economy, remain shrouded in an opacity inherent to the concept. While there can be little doubt that the vast majority of workers, industrial or otherwise, are located in the unregulated sectors, mere statement of such a fact provides little insight into the nature and character of class differentiation that operates there. Further, the essential links between labour and capital operating within and between the informal and formal sectors tend to become camouflaged by a rigid categorisation of the two sectors. It is perhaps no coincidence that such prioritisation of the informal sector coincides with the increasing and vociferous influence of demands to dismantle the regulatory regime in the formal sector and the protections offered to labour therein. Whether celebratory of the so-called dynamism of the informal sector with its unregulated conditions of labour in terms of economic or employment growth, or critically placed with more insidiously inserted concepts such as the dualism of the labour market, a tacit line uniting both is a fairly wholesale rejection of trade union led movements of organised labour. It is such an approach that persistently seeks to project micro-enterprise as the principal, sometimes only, method of organising poor informal sector workers as opposed to traditional wage labour based trade union organisation. This is despite accumulating evidence that wage labour, rather than self employment is on the rise in the informal economy.

Such a wholesale rejection of trade union movements of the past is unwarranted and diverts from the shared social experience of organised and unorganised workers in terms of class exploitation, methods and forms of struggle, in relation to their day to day existence as citizens, as well as the elements of historical continuity in their movements. No doubt many of the practices prevalent in trade union organisations of formal sector workers are deservedly criticised for narrow economism, opportunism, inwardness, and exclusion of workers in the unorganised sector. The destiny of such practices, as we have seen in the case of textile workers, has been a weakening on matters of trade union principle, followed by demoralisation and surrender of basic rights and protections acquired by formal sector workers. But on the other hand, our study of the seven day strike shows how movements of formal sector workers also laid the foundations of both conception and advance of movements and struggles of unorganised workers. Deliberate or involuntary blindness to such processes can only lead to further disorganisation and political atomisation in working class ranks, and a dissipation of the accumulated collective historical experience of working class movements. The transmission of such experience naturally falls on the shoulders of trade union and other political leaders of working class based organisations. When creatively and actively pursued as in the seven day strike, what was considered impossible became possible. A hitherto fragmented mass of unorganised workers rose in collective protest that could not be ignored.

It is clear from the strikes of ’87 and ’88 and the conditions obtaining in the nineties, that the issue of low wages remains an enduring issue for unorganised industrial workers. What is also clear from the report on the strike preparations, is the importance of addressing the issues of their degraded civic conditions and status. From the recorded interviews it is apparent that such civic experiences are shared in common by many organised sector workers as well as other poor own account workers, many of whom came out in support of the strike. The emphasis on the living conditions of workers is not new in the history of the organised trade union movement. But with the concentrated spread of the slums and settlements of workers, such an emphasis acquires a greater potential to unite industrial labour with the reserve labour force in other sections of the urban poor. For the settlements of workers are important venues of the shifting continuum between organised sector workers and unorganised workers, and between industrial wage work and other forms of labour. There are sufficient indicators of rising discontent among the urban poor particularly in the jhuggi settlements, however uneven, scattered and sporadic its expression. When viewed from the perspective of potential for broadbased movement towards changing the balance of class forces, the picture appears quite different from the doomsday approach that characterises those demoralised by the declining influence and weakening of the movement of workers in large scale industry and the formal sector. At the same time, a movement perspective as seen during the seven day strike, led to continuous emphasis on below subsistence wages as the core issue for unorganised workers. The validity of this emphasis was tested, not only in the large scale participation of unorganised workers, but remains reflected in the trend of low paid wage work in the informal small scale industrial sector. A class based movement perspective thus led to a quite different form of organisation and mobilisation of workers than the purely micro-enterprise based strategy forwarded and often funded by agencies of the political project of liberalisation and globalisation.

Tactics of struggle

The situation preceding the seven day strike had not been favourable to individual factory or section based struggles. Among the large scale industries, DCM was in the process of closing down. The DTC workers’ struggle had been pulverised by repression. Every industrial area was teeming with stories of how such and such a factory had closed down, some following or preceding union action. Hundreds of victimised, retrenched or dismissed workers could be found in and around industrial areas, often engaged in forms of petty enterprise. They were full of stories how unionised and regular workers were being replaced by contract and casual workers, either within original units or by dispersion of production through subcontracting. Many of the retreative positions of other unions were also a product of a lack of ability to force the demands of workers through by individual factory level struggles, and were reflected in the fears of the common workers. From the interviews, awareness of such a situation of frequent defeat in localised sectional or unit level struggles was part of the consciousness that drove the initiators and leaders of the strike[134]. The answer and tactics that they evolved at the time was to widen the base of action beyond the individual units with unionised workers, bring the unorganised mass into industrial action, and raise the struggle to a higher phase. It served as an effective strategy against the attrition and stagnation that was eroding the value of organisation in the eyes of workers. It also broke the barriers of conciliatory legalism which was the gift of the economism and opportunism so influential in large scale industry based unionism in its phase of decline and surrender.

However, it was really the demonstrable force and power of collective industrial action that shook the administration and left such an imprint on all who saw or participated in the strikes of ’87 and ’88. As we have seen, this force was enhanced by a tide of popular resentment and discontentment that was not confined to industrial workers, a fact which draws attention to the importance of timing in calls for struggle. Nevertheless without the priority given to work among unorganised workers in the industrial areas, the rousing call to action, and the focus on campaign at the jhuggi and basti level by the organisers and leaders, such a forceful strike would not have been possible. Obviously the underlying process behind the organisation of a movement of such an order lay in the uncompromising priority given to industrial area work and the understanding that unorganised industrial workers formed the most significant core of the working class of Delhi. It’s success also lay in the conception of sweeping scale of campaign and action, required for netting and unifying the migrant and floating character of this industrial workforce. And finally, it was the militant picketing and julooses that suceeded in unleashing the force of these workers’ own anger at the economic and social degradation meted out by the rich and powerful, and directed it towards purposeful advance.

Despite the signs of decline of the share of the secondary sector, and the absolute drop in manufacturing in the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) in the nineties, it is unlikely that the policies and practices of today can alter this core role of industrial workers in Delhi. [135] It is hardly conceivable that the demand for industrial goods will completely evaporate. Industrial work, perhaps propelled towards more casualisation and subcontracting, unstable and dominated by flighty movements of capital, and a degree of reconfiguration and spatial distribution in and around Delhi, is likely to remain a significant presence in the lives of workers. Even as large sections of workers are being displaced, formal industrial estates, both in and immediately around the metropolis, have grown in number and new factories continue to be established. In fact, it is the smaller own account industrial enterprises that face greater danger of elimination in the ongoing restructuring of the city spaces, throwing more and more workers into the market for wage labour, and thus enlarging the numbers of unorgainised wage workers.[136] In such a context, the experience of the seven day strike, as a movement of unorganised industrial workers has acquired a renewed relevance.

The role of women

Among the organisations and sections of people outside the trade union, SFI students of Delhi University and JNU, teachers from the DTF, DYFI members, bank, insurance and other middle class employees, who all played a direct and important role in the seven day strike, women from the JMS had a unique status. From the information gathered on the events of the strike, it is apparent that in almost all industrial areas, these women were a presence in the picket lines, and often played a catalytic role. Many were the factories which the women entered and inspected, drawing out reluctant or fearful workers to participate in the strike. The fighting and militant stance of the women alternately shamed and inspired the predominantly male workers, often propelling them away from passive observation into direct participation.

In earlier strikes of textile workers, wives of striking workers had sometimes been mobilised in solidarity actions and also against strike breakers. An old textile worker often tells the tale of how in one of the textile strikes, these women stood at the Birla Mill gate and tarred the faces of exiting strike breakers.[137] But the participation of women in the seven day strike was of a qualitatively different order. The women from the Janwadi Mahila Samiti who were in the forefront of the strike mobilisations, were the cadre of new generation women’s organisation, products of the renewed and reorganised women’s movement that grew out of the post emergency surge in female ferment. Statedly a multiclass organisation, the JMS’s perspective on the women’s movement adhered to an ideology of liberation of women as members of the oppressed classes, as citizens, and as women. Such an ideology which wedded women’s struggle against inequality and discrimination to the struggle against class exploitation ensured that the numerical strength and base of the JMS was entrenched in working class settlements in Delhi. The fire, dedication, and inspiring role of these women, observed by workers and acknowledged by the leaders of the strike,[138] was thus, the product of a much deeper and multidimensional emotional association with the movement of workers than could be achieved by mere organisational dictat. It also gave to the women an expanded social identity and role beyond that of only gender, the implications of which requires far greater exploration than has been possible in this study. With the rising numbers of women working in the factories of Delhi and its neighbourhood, such exploration, particularly by trade union and women’s organisations has perhaps acquired a greater force of necessity than before.

Working class movements and communalism

The divisive influence of communalism formed an inherent part of the political context during the strikes of ’87 and ’88, although perhaps in less politically consolidated form than in the nineties. The force of its negative influence on struggles of workers has been touched upon earlier. What is of special interest at this point is the manner in which a broad based and multi-class alliance and campaign against communalism was interwoven with a movement of workers. It also helped forge some of the unique aspects of effective solidarity intervention during the seven day strike.

In 1986, a mass campaign against communalism had been conducted under the aegis of a broad based Committee for Communal Harmony. Consisting of many prominent intellectuals, artists, writers, and legal luminaries, the Committee included CITU and CPI(M) leaders at whose initiative it had been formed. Its mass campaign targeted workers as well as other sections among the middle classes of Delhi. The initiating role of leaders who were among the architects of the seven day strike, in conceiving the Committee’s campaign, and the CITU’s large scale mobilisation of workers in the anti-communal rally of December ’86, had already made for closer links between progressive sections of middle class intellectuals and this left led fighting contingent of workers in Delhi. Sections of the middle class who were linked together in this campaign then came out in unambiguous and open solidarity with the seven day strike. The most significant incidents of solidarity that grew out of the broad based anti-communal campaign organisation were the demonstration in support of the strike on the day before it began (referred to in the previous chapter), and the public warnings against and condemnation of police action by some well known retired judges.[139] In the forging of this solidarity, a special role was played by cultural activists, whose more direct association with the movement was expressed through the play Chakka Jaam.[140] This mobilisation of sectional resources unified by the anti-communal campaigns towards solidarity interventions during the seven day strike, was not a spontaneous process, but consciously embarked upon by the leaders of the movement. It contributed significantly to the overall visibility and pressure that the strike movement was able to exert on behalf of the unorganised workers of Delhi.

However, the association of the anti-communal campaign in forging solidarity with the workers is but one aspect of the issues and processes linking anti-communalism and working class action. In an era when communal and other forms of non-class identity politics have emerged as a pre-eminent method of social mobilisation and control, issues of class exploitation have frequently been pushed into the bystanders’ gallery of the political stage. The consequence has been a growing ineffectiveness of political intervention on the economic and social demands of workers. It has left too many of them helpless in the face of the aggravated and multi-dimensional forms of exploitation that mark the ongoing globalisation process. As we have seen the elements of such a relationship between communalism and weakening of economic struggles by workers existed in the eighties as well. The experience of the strikes of ’87 and ’88 in Delhi point to the possibility of combining the different levels of action towards gathering momentum and greater force of intervention.

From the context of Globalisation

Already, from the mid-eighties the policies towards integration of the Indian economy with the international capitalist order had begun, although its comprehensive and formal introduction came in 1991. Since then, liberalisation has moved apace, with opening up to foreign goods and capital, increasing bonds with international markets, privatisation of the public sector and further concessions to industry as some of the features of this regime, supervised by international financial institutions, multinational corporations and WTO. An inherent part of the process has been relentless pressure to ‘de-regulate’ industrial relations by diluting and finally scrapping many of the existing protections for workers in labour laws. In this context, industrial workers, especially those in the small-scale industries are bearing the brunt of this offensive. Already marked by instability, informal relations and gross violation of labour laws, this sector has become further exposed to the vagaries of international markets, to competition from cheaper imported goods, to pressure from larger units entering previously reserved sectors, and changes in the composition of markets and goods. Its workers are facing retrenchment and closures, wage-cuts, withdrawal of social security and insecurity of employment.

The decline in the share of the secondary sector and particularly manufacturing in the GSDP of Delhi, referred to earlier, has to be seen in this context. In the earlier section, the implications of many of the commonalities between the situation faced on the ground by unorganised industrial workers in the strike years and today, have been touched upon. At the same time, what may be observed in the nineties as characteristic of the impact of globalisation, is the rising share of the tertiary sector in the GSDP of Delhi, and within the tertiary sector in the case of three categories of 1) financing, insurance, real estate & business services 2) trade,hotels and restaurants, and 3) community, social and personal services. Typically, the first category’s increase has most dramatically outstripped all others, its contribution to the GSDP rising from Rs 4,945.3 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 16,016.2 in1999-2000, and its share increasing from a little less than 26% to just short of 36%. In the same period, trade, hotels and restaurants also grew steadily increasing their share in GSDP marginally from 21% to 22%, similar to community, social & personal services which rose from 15.5% to a little over 17% of GSDP. Manufacturing, on the other hand, displayed the maximum fluctuation both within the secondary sector and in comaprison with categories in all sectors, rising from Rs 3,721.3 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 5,263.7 crores in 1994-95.[141] It then declining steeply to reach a low of Rs 2907.2 crores in 1997-98, and thereafter again showed some increase to reach Rs 3482.6 crores in 1999-2000. Overall, from an initial 18.5% in 1993-94, the share of manufacturing had dropped to 7.8% of GSDP by 1999-2000.[142]

Visible corporate and multinational entities have also entered the tertiary sectors in the city’s economy. But the employment relations that characterise this expanding sector – low wages, long hours of work, insecurity of employment, are extroardinarily similar to those of the unorganised workers in the industrial sector. Common to all is the prevalence of a hire and fire policy that has become increasingly acceptable labour practice under the reigning influence of of the ideology of globalisation and deregulation. While the central role of the industrial worker in giving force to any attempts to alter the balance of forces in favour of the working class has been stressed earlier, the strong trends of increasing appropriation of surplus value by finance, trade interests, and through the service sector have added new dimensions to the situation today. It has also brought into the working class vast numbers of informal wage workers of the tertiary sectors who share many issues in common with the unorganised industrial workers. In the seven day strike, widespread industrial action had inspired hotel workers and others organised by the shops and other establishment unions into participatory or supportive action. The experience so acquired could provide the grounds for unified and concerted forms of struggle to meet the new aspects and correlations obtaining today.

Finally, where the numbers of people living below the official poverty line declined from 18.39 lakhs in 1983 to 10.25 lakhs in 1987-88, from then to 1993-94, they increased to 15.51 lakhs. Their proportions rose from 12.41% in 1987-88 to 14.69% of the total population of the city by 1993-94.[143] The decennial rate of growth of the population may have fallen to 46.31% between 1991 and 2001, i.e., a drop of 5.14% from the previous decade,[144] but the squeeze on the lives of the poor in Delhi has become greater. The pressure for further depression of the incomes of various contingents of the working class thus seems to have heightened and the need for greater intervention has acquired new urgency. Looking back at the experiences of the seven day strike may perhaps have more value today than mere stirring of the slumbering embers of memory.

Annexure

Table: Distribution of in-migrants in Delhi by region /state of origin*

* Percentages are indicated in brackets.
** States included in diifferent regions are: North: Apart from the states given in the table, it includes Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Chandigarh; West : Madhya Ppradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Daman&Diu; East & North East : West Bengal, Orissa, Trippura, Ngaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh; South : Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Pondicherry, A & N. Island, Lakshadweep and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
***Till 1961 the state of Haryana was part of Punjab.
Source: Census of India, Migration Tables (Table D-1) of 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991, Series I, India.

REFERENCES
Publications

* Ashok Mitra, Delhi Capital City, 1970.
* Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides,1991
* Conceptual Plan, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986, till 1981.
* DDA Annual Report of 1985-86.
* Delhi Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT,
* Delhi Gazetteer, 1973.
* Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989.
* Delhi, and WWF, 1995.
* Economic Survey of Delhi, !999-2000.
* Industrial Profile Delhi 2000, from the Office of the Commissioner of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi.
* Labour Statistics 1998, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
* Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.
* Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, 1997, Akalank Publications
* Provisional Population Totals, Census of India 2001, Series-1, India
* Report of the Census of Industrial Units in the Union Territory of Delhi,1969, Directorate of Industries, Delhi Administration.
* Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)
* R. L. Frykenberg ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986.
* Sabir Ali, S.N. Singh, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.
* The DDA Annual Report of 1985-86
* Tirthankar Roy, Outline of a History of Labour in Traditional Small-scale Industry in India,NLI Research Studies Series,2001

Reports in Newspapers of November, 1988 from:
* Hindustan Times
* Indian Express
* Jansatta
* Navbharat Times
* Times of India
Organisational Documents:

* Minutes CITU Delhi committee, 1987-88
* Minutes of Trade Union Sub Committee (TUSC) of CPI(M) meetings dtd 10.11.88 and 18.11.88
* Minutes register of JMS state committee
* Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi local committees, 1988-89
* Report of the 7th conference of CITU, Delhi State Committee
* Report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975
* Review of 72 hour strike document.
* Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document.
* Review of TUSC document, April, 1988.
Taped Interviews

Name
Interviewed in
Venue
Asha Lata, from Janwadi Mahila Samiti (JMS).

December 2000
Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Baleshtar, Birla Mills worker.

February 2001.
Nand Nagri, East Delhi.
Bholanath, former worker of Ranbaxy, Okhla.

October, 2000.
Giri Nagar, South Delhi
Brij Bhushan Tiwari, former DCM Silk Mill worker.

November 2000
Karampura, West Delhi.
Chhotey Lal, former SBM worker.

November 2000.
Karampura, West Delhi.
Debi Prasad, industrial worker and rickshaw puller.

March 2001.
Wazirpur, North Delhi
Jaimangal, former worker in Steel Ball Bearing, Wazirpur.

December 2000.
North Delhi
Jogendra Sharma, CPI(M) leader.

November 2000
Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Kamla, JMS

September 2000.
Sawan Park, North Delhi
Mohammad Azeem Khan, former worker of Punj Sons, Okhla.

December 2000
Giri Nagar, South Delhi
Krishna Prasad, former worker of Premier Electricals, Wazirpur

November 2000.
Kamla Nagar, North Delhi
Moloyshree Hashmi, Jana Natya Manch (JANAM)

September 2000
Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi
Nagendra, worker in Anupam, Moti Nagar.

March 2001.
Sikandra Road, New Delhi
Nathu Prasad, CITU leader

October 2000.
Sawan Park, North Delhi
Raghuveer, engineering worker, Okhla.

November 2000
Giri Nagar, South Delhi
Raja Ram Rato, former industrial worker
October 2000.

Mayapuri, West Delhi
Ram Lakhan, former industrial worker
October 2000.

Mayapuri, West Delhi
Ram Yadav, industrial worker
October 2000.

Mayapuri, West Delhi
Sadhu Singh, HMS Union leader in west Delhi.

November 2000.
Karampura, West Delhi
Shakuntala, JMS.

November 2000.
Sultanpuri, West Delhi
Shanti Devi, JMS

February 2001.
Nathu Colony, East Delhi
Shiv Bachan, former worker of Punj Sons,Okhla.

October, 2000
Giri Nagar, South Delhi
Shiv Bachan and Bhola joint discussion, November 2000.

November 2000.
Giri Nagar, South Delhi
Shiv Sharan, worker in GT Road

November 2000
Kamla Nagar, North Delhi
Shrawan Kumar, Handloom worker and jhuggi pradhan

November 2000.
Sawan Park, North Delhi
Shyamkali, formerly of JMS

March 2001.
Safdar Hashmi Marg, New Delhi
Sudhanwa Deshpande, JANAM.

September 2000.
Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi
Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, CITU

September 2000
Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Tripurari Jha, former worker in DCM silk

November 2000.
Karampura, West Delhi
Uday Chandra Jha, CITU leader

November 2000.
Sector 8, Noida

REFERENCES

Publications

* Ali Sabir and Singh, S.N, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.
* Annual Report of the Delhi Development Authority,1985-86.
* Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides, LM Books,1991
* Census of India 2001, Provisional Population Totals, Series-1, India
* Conceptual Plan for Delhi, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986.
* Delhi Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 1995.
* Delhi Gazetteer, 1973.
* Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989, Bureau of Economics & Statistics, Delhi Administration.
* Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000, Planning Deptt, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.
* Frykenberg, R. L. ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986.
* Industrial Profile Delhi 2000, Office of the Commissioner of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi.
* Labour Statistics 1998, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
* Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
* Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, Akalank Publications,1997.
* Mitra Ashok, Delhi Capital City, Thomson Press (India)1970
* Reports of Economic Census,1977, 1980, 1990, Bureau of Economics & Statistics, Delhi Administration.

Reports in Newspapers of November, 1988 from:

* Hindustan Times
* Indian Express
* Jansatta
* Navbharat times
* Times of India

Organisational Documents:

* Minutes CITU Delhi committee, 1987-88
* Minutes of Trade Union Sub Committee (TUSC) of CPI(M) meetings dtd 10.11.88 and 18.11.88
* Minutes register of Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Delhi state committee, 1988.
* Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi local committees of CPI(M), 1988-89.
* Report of the 7th conference of CITU, Delhi State Committee, 1990.
* Report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975
* Review of 72 hour strike, CITU document, 1987.
* Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document, 1988.
* Review of TUSC, CPI (M) Document, April, 1988.

Taped Interviews (referred to in text)

[1] V.B.Datta, Panjabi Refugees and Greater Delhi, in Frykenberg ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986.
[2] Source: Conceptual Plan, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986, till 1981. 1981-91 calculated from census data on population, and births and deaths in Delhi, from Delhi Statistical Handbook.
[3] Ashok Mitra, Delhi Capital City, 1970
[4] See annexure.
[5] From Delhi Environmental Status Report, 1995, sponsored by Govt. of NCT,1995. The difference between the figure given here and the Annexure table is explained by the exclusion of refugees form Pakistan.
[6] Report of the Census of Industrial Units in the Union Territory of Delhi,1969, Directorate of Industries, Delhi Administration.
[7] Ibid
[8] Of Rs. 7.5 lakhs in 1966, raised to10 lakhs in 1975, 20 lakhs in 1980 and 35 lakhs in 1985.
[9] Delhi Gazetteer, 1973
[10] Economic Survey of Delhi, !999-2000
[11] 1988 figure given in Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989, Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Delhi Administration is 73,000. However, based on the same source – the 1988 survey of Industries by the then Directorate of Industries, the Industrial Profile Delhi 2000, from the Office of the Commissioner of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi, gives a figure of 76,559.
[12] Unfortunately, this survey remains in unprocessed data form with the Directorate of Industries. For some unknown reason, they did not publish a report. Thus, although the number and type of industries counted by this survey is recorded in Industrial Profile, Delhi 2000, the distribution of factories according to size of employment is not.
[13] Includes industrial units falling under the Major Group ’34’ ‘Basic Metal industries, ’35’ Manufacture of Metal Products except Machinery, ’37’ Manufacture of Electrical Machinery, Apparatus, Appliances and Supplies, and ’38’ Manufacture of Transport Equipment.
[14] 5247 according to Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi. On the other hand, in the Delhi Statistical Handbook of 1989, Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Delhi Administration, there is a different figure given for 1988 of 5,371 registered factories.
[15] Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)
[16] Mukul Sharma, Delhi’s Small Scale Industries, Navbharat Times, 8th Oct., 1986
[17] Ibid
[18]Subodh Varma, a Delhi University student, and erstwhile state secretary of the SFI, had just become a CITU wholetimer in north Delhi in 1988, a few months before the 7-day strike.
[19] Juloos here means workers procession implementing the strike
[20] Subodh Varma in interview (untaped).
[21] See taped interview, Uday Chandra Jha, Noida, , Raghuveer, Okhla. Among the illiterate, Shiv Sharan, north, Ram Rato, Mayapuri.
[22]See interview, Shiv Bachan, Okhla
[23] See interviews with Shiv Sharan, Krishna Prasad, Debi Prasad.
[24] See taped interviews of Shiv Sharan, Krishna Prasad, and Jaimangal from north Delhi, Shiv Bachan, Bholanath, and Khan from south, Baleshtar from east, and the three interviews from Mayapuri, west.
[25] See interview of handloom worker, Shrawan Kumar. Hailing from district Mathura, entering the city of Delhi in the fifties, Shrawan Kumar’s story captures, the destiny of the handloom workers in Delhi.
[26]Ready reckoner of minimum wage rate for Delhi from1.1.1980 to 1.2.1996, in Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, 1997, Akalank Publications.
[27] Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)
[28] Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT, Delhi, and WWF, 1995.
[29] Sabir Ali, S.N. Singh, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.

[30] See interview of Shanti Bua.
[31] Ashok Mitra, op.cit. For a personalised account of the path traversed by jhuggi dwellers in North Delhi, see Interview with Shrawan.
[32] See joint discussion and interviews with Shiv Bachan and Bhola, the former a resident of Sanjay colony jhuggies within Okhla, the latter of the Navjeevan Camp close to the same industrial area.
[33] 1988 was the year in which a staggering 1500 people died in a gastroenteritis/cholera epidemic which had spread to 625 jhuggi clusters and 44 resettlement colonies in Delhi. ( EST)
[34] See discussion with Bhola and Shiv Bachan.
[35] See interview with Shyamkali.
[36] See interview with Shiv Sharan.
[37] The DDA Annual Report of 1985-86 proudly speaks of the forcible relocation during emergency in the following words, “Within a brief span of 12 months, the programme emerged as the largest peace time resettlement operation ever undertaken by any country. So swift was the speed and so brisk was the implementation of the resettlement programme that in a matter of months, 7 lac persons were taken from the slushy slums to 27 new resettlement colonies.”
[38] See interview of Shakuntala from Sultanpuri for a graphic description of the initial and later consolidated position of the resettlement colonies.
[39] Source: Election Commission data in Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides,1991.

[40] Since it was mostly land already acquired by the DDA, that continued to remain undeveloped and was illegally sold.
[41] See interview with Nagendra
[42] HKL Bhagat came in as a partition refugee, and was Deputy Mayor of Delhi in the fifties and sixties. In 1971, he became MP from the East Delhi, but lost the election in 1977, to again return in 1980 and become a Union minister. Shahdara had housed one of the three refugee camps set up in Delhi following partition. However, all the new colonies established for official resettlement of refugees for both commercial and residential purposes, were in west, south and north Delhi. The exploitation of the land on the east of the river, was thus undertaken by Bhagat who established a virtual empire of unauthorised colonies for commercial and business sections in the trans Jamuna area. Among the political classes of Delhi, he and Madan Lal Khurana of the BJP, are viewed as the two leaders of the commercial and business classes constructed out of the refugee population in Delhi. For an entertaining account of his tactics of political mobilisation, see interview with Shrawan Kumar. Bhagat was one of the key leaders implicated in the 1984 pogrom.
[43] Sajjan Kumar, from a local Jat family received his political training as as a Youth Congressman and associate of the Sanjay Gandhi group in Delhi under the emergency. By the eighties , he had established virtually absolute domination in the Outer Delhi parliamentary constituency after being elected MP in 1980, through a combination of open goondaism, and involvement with the development of resettlement colonies and unauthorised colonies established by the resale of DDA land acquired from the one time landowners of the villages located there (such land that remained undeveloped or was marked for open space was illegally resold by local colonisers). Denial of a ticket in 1984 and 1989, enabled the shift of Sajjan Kumar’s pringboard support base of the locally dominant classes of the area to the BJP. Like Bhagat, he was one of the key figures involved in the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. See Shakuntala’s interview.
[44] The worst and most known incidents of mass scale slaughter took place in the resettlement colony of Trilokpuri in east Delhi. Less known were the incidents in Sultanpuri, where a JMS survey of women widowed at the time listed more than three hundred Sikhs killed within the space of two days. (See Shakuntala’s interview for a descrition of what happened in one block in Sultanpuri) Similar surveys in other resettlement colonies of Nand Nagri, Jahangirpuri, and Ambedkar Nagar too listed hundreds who were killed.
[45] The slum department which was responsible for the civic amenities in the jhuggies and resettlement colonies, was transferred to the Municipal Corporation in 1977, but was brought back under the DDA in the eighties.
[46] The Congress vote dropped from 72.7% of the total vote in 1984 to 42.9% in 1989 in Outer Delhi, and from 76.9% to 49.8% in East Delhi. This represents a swing of 30% and 27.1% away from the Congress in the respective constituencies, which together held 57% of the total electorate o Delhi. While all constituencies in Delhi had witnessed such a swing, in the other areas, it ranged from 18.9% in Delhi Sadar (a commercial heartland) to 26% in New Delhi (largely a constituency of government servants).
[47] Interview with Nathu Prasad
[48] Secretary Ghanshyam Sinha in his report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975. Ghanshyam Sinha was a trade union leader from Kanpur who was brought into Delhi to organise the CITU in the early seventies.
[49] At the time Lalit Maken was in the Congress (U) which was sharing power with Charan Singh.
[50] Similar to the influence of Datta Samant among the Bombay textile workers.
[51] See reports of the police attack on DTC workers at AIIMS chowk.
[52] Calculated from Report on Census of Industries, 1969.
[53] Sadhu Singh came to Delhi from Ballia, where he had been an Inter college student, shortly after the first general elections when he had canvassed for Sarjoo Pandey. He was with the CPI from the fifties, went with the CPI(M) in ’64, was imprisoned as a result for four years, but broke with the party later. When, in 1970 the CITU was formed, he remained with AITUC, although, in fact, his union had become an independent and purely individual leader oriented union. He joined the HMS in 1988.
[54] Pyarelal, of Punjabi origin was one of the early leaders of the Lal Jhanda Kapda Mazdoor Union, was victimised and uncompromisingly fought his case to successful conclusion. Jailed repeatedly for long stretches including during the emergency, he was the founding president of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, playing a prominent role in organising small scale industrial workers in west Delhi. During the emergency, while he was in jail, his son became involved in a murder case and in order to protect him, he established links with the Congress party. This led to the severance of his association with the CITU. He later ran an individual based union from Karampura, affiliated to the INTUC. His sons have been running the union since the late eighties, which is still referred to as Pyarelal’s union after his death.

Puran Chand started his union work assisting Sadhu Singh in the Engineering industry union of the AITUC. He became a wholetimer following victimisation during a period when Sadhu Singh was in jail. He joined the CITU when it was formed and was the founding secretary of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union. Completely illiterate, of scheduled caste background, Puran had run away from his home in Sultanpur (UP) and come to Delhi as a 12 year old, some time in the fifties. He emerged as one of the most important union leaders of small scale industrial workers in the Karampura area by the early seventies. He was the Delhi district CITU president and a state committee member of the CPI(M) during the seven day strike. In the mid nineties during the course of factional disputes in west Delhi, he left the party and the CITU and joined the CPI and the AITUC. Since his political inclinations continued to lean towards the CPI(M), shortly before his death, in informal discussions with party leaders in the CITU, he had often expressed his desire to return.

Nathu Prasad was the son of a DCM worker (from Rajasthan), born near the mill, in Manakpura, Delhi. He was himself a worker in DCM Silk from 1961 to 1970, when he was victimised. A militant in the textile workers’ movement, Nathu Prasad was drawn to the CPI(M) group among the AITUC led textile workers’ union in the sixties, and joined the CITU when it was formed in 1970. He was the most prominent trade union leader in North Delhi during the seven day strike. He remains a prominent leader of the state CITU and a state committee member of the CPI(M). His biographical interview is part of the archival collection.
[55] Interview with Sadhu Singh
[56] One of the most significant issues uniting trade unions was their opposition to the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill by the Janata Party Government.
[57] On the 18th of December. It was called for by a broad based Committee for Communal Harmony constituted at the initiative of the state leadership of the CPM.
[58] Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, from distt. Muzaffarnagar, U.P., was politicised during the national movement. As an employee in JK Cotton in Kanpur where he faced victimisation, he emerged as a textile union leader in the AITUC, became a member of the united CPI in 1961 and upon its formation of the CPI(M) in 1964. Following differences with other union leaders in Kanpur, he went back to Muxaffarnagar, from where he was brought to Ghaziabad to build the CITU by Major Jaipal Singh (of Telengana armed struggle fame) who was reorganising the party in the Delhi region. Having established the trade union in Ghaziabad, he was elected General Secretary of the Delhi State Committee of the CITU. He is at present the state President of CITU, and
[59] Delhi Committee Secretariat meeting,18.8.87.
[60] CITU Delhi committee minutes, Sept.,1987.
[61] Review of 72 hour strike document.
[62] Interview with Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj.
[63] Interview with Jaimangal.
[64] Interview with Brij Bhushan Tiwari, textile worker from west Delhi.
[65] Interview with Chhotey Lal, west Delhi.
[66] Delhi CITU, secretariat minutes, 25.6.88.
[67] Ibid and interview with S.B.Bharadwaj.
[68] TU sub committee of CPI(M) document, April, 1988.
[69] CITU Sectt minutes,16.10.88.
[70] Interview with Mala and Sudhanwa
[71] Democratic Youth Federation of India
[72] Janwadi Mahila Samiti (All Inda Democratioc Women’s Association).
[73] Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document.
[74] Ibid
[75] Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi locaal committees, minutes of two TUSC meetings and some cyyclostyled reports of 1988. Minutes of the North Delhi local committee were unavailable.
[76] TUSC Report, 4.4.88
[77] see south Delhi LC minutes dtd 2.6.88 and east Delhi dtd 9.5.88
[78] South LC meet dtd 3.9.88, West dtd 11.9.88, and east dtd 3.9.88
[79] see west LC mts dtd 11.9.88.
[80] The Delhi CPI(M) secretary was Jogendra Sharma, also at the time Vice-President of the Delhi CITU. A lecturer in Hindi, he combined his job with party secretaryship for some years, but later became a wholetimer. He is presently a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M), and in thhe Delhi state secretariat of the party.
[81] west LC mts dtd 31.10.88
[82] see East LC mts dtd 30.9.88
[83] see east LC mts dtd 12.9.88
[84] PMS Grewal, a History teacher in Delhi University, President of the South Delhi unit of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union and also a major functionary of the south Delhi local committee of the CPI(M) in 1988. At present he is the Delhi state secretary of the CPI(M).
[85] K.M. Tewary, who started his trade union life as a worker in Sahibabad Industrial Area in the seventies, later became a wholetimer, and was secretary of the Ghaziabad district CITU in 1988. He hails from Gonda, eastern U.P., and as a young boy, spent some years as a dancer with a nautanki troupe in Kanpur district. A brief part of his early working life was spent in Jamshedpur, where his father in law was a member of the INTUC. Considered one of the ablest trade union leaders of Ghaziabad, he has been prominent in leading the workers of many large scale units such as Hero Cycles in Sahibabad and Phoenix in Noida.
[86] Inderpal was a textile worker (weaving) of DCM Silk in Karampura. Migrating to Delhi from Pratapgarh, U.P. in the sixties, he was drawn to the militant trade unionism of the Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, and was its state secretary in the eighties. Of backward caste, as a young worker, he was ideologically and intellectually inclined towards Marxism, and had started an informal library of Marxist writings among textile workers. He was the west Delhi district secretary of the CITU in 1988. In his early fifties, he died after a severe attack of malaria while this study was in progress.
[87] Chacha Shadiram, the seniormost CITU leader in 1988, hailed from Haryana and was one of the founder members of the Municipal Workers’ Lal Jhanda Union in Delhi. As an old stalwart from the pre-independence era, he was widely respected and known for his simplicity of character and unquestionable probity. For more than four decades he had led the workers of the water department of the MCD, and was still the President of the union when he died shortly after the seven day strike.
[88] Ranjana Nirula, secretary of the east Delhi local committee and joint secretary of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti at the time. From a well to do Delhi middle class family, she was initially a teacher of disabled children. Ranjana became a CITU wholetimer in Faridabad in the in the seventies and then a key functionary of JMS which was founded in 1980. She was brought in as secretary of the newly formed party local committee of east Delhi in 1988, and was a leading organiser of the strike there. She now works with the All India Co-ordination Committee of Working Women (CITU), at its central office.
[89] More known as a major figure in the all India fwomen’s movement today, Brinda entered the Delhi trade union movement as an underground activist among textile workers during the emergency, under the name of Rita, and became a popular leader at the textile gates in north and west Delhi. Many are the old textile workers who still refer to her by this name even today. Later, till 1985, as party secretary of the North Delhi local committee, she oversaw the development of the General Mazdoor Union in north Delhi, and played a prominent role in industrial actions in the area. During the strike, she was at the state centre, where apart from being a state secretariat member of the CPM, she was the Delhi secretary of the JMS.
[90] Kamal Narain, affectionately called Doctor saab (see interview with Nathu Prasad), started his trade union life in the early sixties in Delhi while working as an electrician in DCM from where he was later thrown out due to his union activities. He had spent a fairly wandering life after leaving his native Lahore, having travelled through many industrial centres. One of the founder members of the KMLJU, Doctor saab was a prominent textile leader, who remained underground through the emergency, when he ran a small stall of Marxist literature in Kamla Nagar. As party secretary in north Delhi in 1988, he was one of the main coordiators of the strike in the area, and also responsible for the success of the one day solidarity strike in Birla Mill.
[91] then run by Nagaraj, better known as the most prominent leader of press workers.
[92] This line connects Delhi to Amritsar and runs parallel to GTK Road upto Badli
[93] This line runs alongside Rohtak Road
[94] Interview with Asha Lata, secretary of the north Delhi JMS in 1988. Daughter of a P&T Union leader, Asha Lata was the first wholetimer JMS in Delhi from the early eighties.Presently she is the Delhi state secretary of the AIDWA
[95] Interview with Kamla, resident of Sawan Park and north Delhi JMS President.
[96] Sawan Park is located on the other side of the railway line behind GTK Road industrial area. The women from Sawan Park who came for the strike live in the jhuggis there and had been organized by the JMS
[97] The minutes are written in English, but Chamela was an illiterate working class woman and obviously spoke in Hindi.
[98] Both Chamela and Maya were working class activists of the JMS from Sawan Park and Azadpur respectively.
[99] See Jaimangal’s interview for account of the history of Steel Ball Bearing.
[100] Interview with Shrawan.
[101] Interview with Debi Prasad, at that time working in a factory in Wazirpur.
[102] Joint interview with Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad.
[103] Interview with Jaimangal
[104] See interview with Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad
[105] See interview with Shrawan for details.
[106] Jaimangal and Kamal Narain in untaped interview
[107] Interview with Asha Lata. Lakshm’s intervention had a salutary effect on her husband who remained loyal to the union thereafter. She herself died the year before this project was undertaken.
[108] Interview with Sudhanwa Deshpande
[109] see west LC minutes in meetings after the strike.
[110] In the JMS meeting of 16.12.88, minutes record Shakuntala saying “1st day in front of factories – 500 workers. SHO asked to get away grom gate. Arrest all of them , the SHO said. They caught Indrani, then we felt that we now have to fight them. 25 police against us (7).
[111] Minutes record of report of Nirmal Rana, a JMS activist from Shakurpur in JMS (16.12.88) says, ” Mayapuri-big section of workers ready to fight…Lathi charge in a spot where we were surrounded on all four sides. That we should avoid arrest. Pulled Indrani away with me. Strong procession. Those arrested released.
[112] Interview with Shakuntala
[113] Interview with Tripurari Jha
[114] Minutes of JMS dtd 16.12.88
[115]Mohanlal, hailing from Mirzapur, UP, began his trade union life in the Modinagar textile mill, where he was a worker in the weaving department. Activised following the firing on striking workers in Modinagar (1966), he was dismissed and had to leave Modinagar in search of work. After working for a short while in Kanpur, he came to Faridabad in 1969, joined as a worker in Bengal Suiting, and over the years became the most prominent CITU leader in Faridabad. From 1984, he has been a wholetimer, and is at present the Delhi state secretary of the CITU.
[116] Interview with Khan
[117] Ibid
[118] See interviews with Khan, Shiv Bacchan and Bhola for details of history of Punj Sons
[119] Kalindi Deshpande was the key functionary of the JMS in south Delhi, and its state President at the time. Wife of a JNU professor, she became a JMS activist during the anti- dowry campaign in the early eighties, and despite her entry into the movement at a senior age she became one of the most energetic and respected mass activists and organisers of women in the working class areas, first in south Delhi, and later at the Delhi state level. She is currently a central office bearer of AIDWA.
[120] From available accounts of the Okhla activists, there had been no such decline during the 72 hour strike of the preceding year. Other than Punj Sons, the 3 day strike of 1987 (which in Okhla amounted to two days since the second day was the weekly off), had been a great success throughout the the industrial area.
[121] South LC minutes, 25.11.88
[122] LC secretary Baldev, Pushpinder, Madhu Banerjee in meeting on 25.11.88
[123] Rohtash Nagar and Ramnagar are separated from each other only by a narrow strip of Loni Road.
[124] From Aditya Nigam, (who was a CITU wholetimer working with the MCD Union in 1988, and deputed to the industrial area during the strike) and Ranjana Nirula in untaped interviews.
[125] TOI. 24.11.88
[126] See the Review of the Seven day Strike
[127] Jansatta, 24.11.88

[128] Sahibabad, Site 4 had been one of the most successful areas of the seven day strike.
[129]The Delhi state CITU membership, for example, rose by more than 17,000 from 1986 to reach 50,000 in 1989 breaking the stagnation of the earlier period. Where Ghaziabad more than doubled its membership from a little over 7,000 to 23,000 , Delhi alone saw a rise from 20,000 to 27,000.
[130] Aggressive upper caste agitations against reservation for backward castes in government (recommended by the Mandal Commission and implemented by V.P.Singh), had inevitably led to disengagement of the Janta Dal from the dominant propertied classes in the city, and ensured its political marginalisation.
[131] Lok Sabha elections: 1989, 1991,1996, 1999. State Assembly elections: 1993, 1998. MCD elections: 1997.
[132] Inclusive of all industries and sectors. Source:Labour Statistics 1998, Office of the Labour Commissioner, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.
[133] Figures taken from Table on Employment in Industry in Tirthankar Roy, Outline of a History of Labour in Traditional Small-scale Industry in India, NLI Research Studies Series,2001. The extent of employment in large scale industry is based on Factories’ Act registration. It may be borne in mind that a few small-scale industries would also be in the registered sector.
[134] Interview with Jogendra Sharma outlines the concerns of the leadership just before the strike and the factors that shaped their thinking at the time, including the impact of communalism on the sectional struggles of workers.
[135] The share of the secondary sector in the GSDP of Delhi dropped from 27.44% in 1993-94 to 16.06% in 1999-2000. Yet the numbers of industrial workers has continued to rise. Even the grossly underestimated official figures show industrrial employment as having increased from 7.31 lakhs in 1991 to 11.36 lakhs in 1996.Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000.
[136] For example, the loss of employment suffered by handloom workers as the dyeing processes have been closed down under the Supreme Court order on closure of polluting industries.
[137] As told by Harish Chandra Pant, a former worker of Birla Mills (untaped).
[138] See minutes of CITU meeting dtd.
[139] See interview with Jogendra Sharma for details.
[140] Sudhanwa Deshpande in his interview describes how at Safdar’s direction, the Jana Natya Manch members campaigned and mobilised for the solidarity demonstration of 21st November.The details of the more direct association with the trade union struggle stretched from the preparatory stages of script writing of Chakka Jaam, when members of the Jana Natya Manch had sessions with CITU workers in order to grasp the issues and conditions of the strike to the campaign and actual participation of some members in the picketing can be found in the interview with Moloyshree Hashmi.
[141] The rate of increase in manufacturing was more than 41% as compared to 19% for finance, etc., 30% for trade, etc. and 15% for community and personal services between 1993-94 and 1994-95. In the year 1994-95, manufacturing contributed Rs 5263.7 crores to Delhi’s GSDP, not much behind the 5,871 crores of finance, etc. or 5,542.9 crores of trade, and considerably more than the 3585.5 crores of community & personal services.
[142] Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000.
[143] Ibid
[144] Source: Provisional Population Totals, Census of India 2001, Series-1, India

http://www.indialabourarchives.org/publications/Indrani%20Mazumdar.htm

Thomson Press Faridabad

* Faridabad Majdoor Samachar: June 1989 to June 1991

(June 1989)
After both the General manager and the (INTUC) union leader attached to him got discharged in 1987, the Thomson Press workers gained some short relief – when recently management started to put pressure on workers again. The capitalist law says without any doubt that after 240 days of constant employment casual workers have to be made permanent – now the management has settled an agreement with the new (HMS) union that all those casual workers will be made permanent who have worked at Thomson for more than four years. After some time of pending this agreement was nullified again on 15th of May. There are still 100 casual workers – with over four years seniority – who wait to be made permanent, plus 65 to 70 casuals who should be made permanent according to law. Now Thomson Press says that there is not enough work and that either 200 workers leave voluntarily or the 1,700 workers, who are now employed on two shifts, are supposed to work on three shifts – or in more straightforward words: the management is eager to increase the work-load by 30 to 35 per cent. The current changes imposed by management correspond with this aim: reduction of last year’s bonus payment of 20 per cent to 10.37 per cent; stopping the process of making casual workers with four years seniority permanent; giving the sack to 40 workers after closing two departments; suspending two workers after minor incidents and threatening them with shift to recently relocated composing department in Okhla.

(August 1990)
Three years ago management withdrew the general manager. Management also replaced the very unpopular old (INTUC) union leader with a new one. Despite the fact that the new (HMS) leader openly receives 2,000 Rs monthly payment from management, the fact that the old leader got discharged gave some respite to workers. In exchange for his 2,000 Rs and other crumbs the new (HMS) leader supported management in “getting the company out of its troublesome condition” by cutting down annual company benefits: the annual three-four days company tour got cut, the annual picnic got cancelled, the annual ‘open-day’ and program at the factory, as well. Together with these measures the new (HMS) leader inscribed a work-load increase in the new collective agreement. After having signed the agreement, the union leadership called the workers during a side meeting to stop these measures – a proof of the leadership’s juggling performance. In this way the situation at Thomson Press has aggravated to an extend that some workers started to run back to the old (INTUC) union leader. These developments are part of the reason behind the current beatings and fights within Thomson Press.
But the main reason behind the internal fights is the management’s policy to put their support behind the back of both sides. Thomson Press management is also affected by the intensifying blows of capitalist crisis. Management states that it is difficult to obtain orders and that the company is in trouble due to fierce competition. After having increased the work-load and cut certain company benefits, management now says that either the lottery department is shifted to Okhla or 200 to 250 workers have to go – otherwise the company would get into economic trouble. Workers assume that management wants to get rid offf a total of 500 workers. Speculation increases with aggravating capitalist crisis – the lottery business is booming – but the current management’s schemes to steer the company out of the waters of crisis are little more than speculation themselves. In order to fortify their strategy, management now – after having divided up workers between the increasingly disgraced new union leader and the already disgraced old union leader – prepares their agreeing/favoured workers to offer sacrifice for the company.

(January 1991) (1)
In the August 1990 issue we stated the management policy of putting their hands behind the back of the two conflicting parties as the main reason for the current physical confrontations between groups of workers at Thomson Press. This evaluation was wrong. At that time we saw the events only related to Thomson Press itself. We did not take into account the links between management of Thomson Press, India Today, News Track and the influence of the local capitalist politics. This is why we were wrong then. The agitations of the 6th of December 1990 made this quite clear. Nevertheless, the workers at Thomson Press still try to understand these events on the limited bases of their own company grounds. Workers have been turned into pawns in the struggle between different capitalist leaders – 150 workers cause trouble for the Devi Lal / Chautala government, so 1,500 workers pose a threat to the Thomson Press management. The whole issue is of importance for the workers at Thomson Press, but other workers can also learn a fair share from these developments – let’s therefore consider the whole issue more thoroughly. In a capitalist democracy the big newspapers and publishers play an influential part – their influence even increased when, together with the elections in November 1989, the theatre play of local capitalist parliamentary politics turned into a full-on drama. Concerned about their image, political leaders try to make themselves ‘popular’, while the big publishing houses and daily newspapers use columns like ‘The Nation wants’, ‘The country speaks out’ or ‘India demands’ in order to dictate the political leaders their aims and wants. On this background, after having put a lot of effort into becoming part of the central political machinery, various big capitalist newspapers and publishers started attacking Devi Lal and Chautala, aiming to extend their influence within the political machinery. During election times these attacks became more fierce. Devi Lal / Chautala retaliated, e.g. by verbally abusing newspaper publishers in their speeches.
The owners of Thomson Press, India Today and Newstrack were at the forefront of attacks against Devi Lal / Chautala government. The attacks in India Today and through video in Newstrack were publicly debated issues. The Hindi and English version of India Today is printed by Thomson Press in Faridabad, Haryana. Devi Lal / Chautala are in control of the government apparatus in Haryana and, in the name of trade unionism, the LMS is their hooligan organisation. It was therefore easy for Devi Lal / Chautala to take steps against their opponents in Haryana. In July 1990 the struggle between Devi Lal and the publishers emerged and expressed itself through the violent confrontations between groups of workers at Thomson Press.
In 1987 Thomson management replaced the old general manager and the old union leader attached to him. The HMS leader took his position. After his take-over workers felt some relieve and did not object to the HMS leader openly receiving a monthly payment of 2,000 Rs from management. Discontent grew after the union leader helped management to cut three lakh Rs for annual company-provided conviniences and to increase work-load. Their discontent came together with the start of Devi Lal’s intervention at Thomson Press through his union LMS and the old union leader. Despite their discontent with the HMS leader, the majority of workers refrained from re-grouping around the re-emerging old leader. In July 1990 the series of violent clashes started. Through the middlemen of HMS and LMS the struggle between Devi Lal and the publishers has turned into a struggle between workers.
The struggle was still in full swing when Devi Lal, after having been pushed out of the centre of power in August, re-entered the central power in November. Their efforts to obtain control over the publishers intensified. As part of this chain of events the LMS put up their flag at Thomson Press on 6th of December 1990. The stir caused by Chautala and his men cause trouble in the management departments of companies in Faridabad. Escort management fears that after having done so at Thomson Press, Chautala could post the LMS flag at Escorts, too – a fiery former Escorts leader, who had been kicked out of the Ford plant (part of Escorts), is with Chautala. Here Mr. Sethi, the main HMS leader in Faridabad also plays his role. As president of the Escorts workers union he openly supported the Nanda management in the struggle with Swaraj Paul over Escorts take-over in 1983. He also helped enforcing increased work-loads. Having been a follower of Devi Lal this main HMS leader has recently left him and started to support the Janata Dal. In this way the front against Devi Lal / Chautala has been fortified behind the leadership of Thomson Press management. The Faridabad Industries Association has expressed its support of the Thomson Press management against Devi Lal in front of the SP – DC. On 6th of December Escorts management ordered ‘a strike’ for the first shift in all Escorts plants against the setting up of the LMS flag at the Thomson Press gate. On the background of all these facts it seems that this ‘strike’ happened after a signal of the SP – DC, and on the very same 6th of December at 2pm the HMS leaders uprooted the LMS flag from the Thomson Press gate. The police just watched. In order to demonstrate their loyality towards Chautala and Devi Lal the SP – DC removed the HMS flag again later at night of the 6th of December. The capitalist factions opposed to Chautala and Devi Lal took further steps. The HMS leaders staged a gate meeting at Thomson Press assembling central leaders of the Janata Dal. All this resulted in Devi Lal and Chautala withdrawing slightly from the attack.

Lock-Out at Thomson Press
(April 1991)
After having instigated clashes within the factory on 21st of March, management has imposed a lock-out under the name of ‘suspension of production’. The lock-out continued at least till the 4th of April, the time we received our latest news. But this time neither the big newspapers issued big headlines about it, nor did the big party leaders arrived at the gate in order to deliver big speeches, nor did the management association raise their voice, nor did any middlemen come to agitate. This time the atmosphere is absolutely different from the one in december 1990, when the struggle between Chautala / Devi Lal and the publishers were in full swing. It seems that this time the issue is between management and workers alone.

(May 1991)
Thomson Press in Faridabad, employing 1,700 workers, belongs to the most important printing presses of India. Since 21st of March a lock-out continues, labelled as ‘suspension of production’. The wages for the first 21 days of March had not been paid by beginning of May. It seems that management’s plan consists in imposing their conditions on starving workers. And the complete silence by all those capitalist elements, which in December 1990 stirred up a huge noise around the conflicts at Thomson Press, plays in the hand of management plans. To consider this issue in more depth might also be useful for other workers.
Currently thirty big printing presses in India are declared as ‘sick units’. Thomson Press is one of them, but up to this point has been able to hide their crisis behind the ‘booming condition’ of India Today. According to the opinion of some experts working in the printing industry the main reason for the ‘sickness’ of Thomson Press is located in the confusion within management. The printing of lottery tickets and other security relevant documents required investment of large sums in machinery, but Thomson Press seems to have difficulties to establish themselves in the market, both in terms of quality and price. The Thomson Press policy is to employ highly qualified workers at high-tech machinery, but to pay them very little. When economic trouble started at Thomson Press around six, seven years ago the owners sacked some low-skilled managers and instead put high-degreed managers in charge of leading the business. These managers got involved in large-scale irregularities and in order to cover them up they declared that Thomson’s ailment was due to superfluous work-force. The current events are part of their plan to enforce large-scale retrenchments. Recently 50 workers were dismissed under allegations that they had been involved in fights. It is obvious that the main ‘sickness’ is the capitalist system in itself, where the main daily work of the representatives of capital is to play poker with workers income, subsistence and life. Let us have a look at the events of the 21st of March and the subsequent developments. It looks like the event of the 21st of March has been result of an instigated conflict in the factory. And given that the outcome of the fight plays in the higher management, it seems that the instigation had its origin in Thomson management itself. At about 4:30 pm, after the fight, two shifts of total 1,500 workers were inside the factory. One Escorts union leader, who is attached to HMS, and the Thomson Press union leader told the workers that management will lock-up the factory and that all workers should come to the union office at 10 am the next day for a meeting. On the 22nd of March the union leadership said that on the previous night management had started to remove material from the factory and that therefor workers should encircle the factory in order to prevent management from taking away stuff. Between 21st of March and the beginning of May there had been no demonstrations/processions or public gathering about this matter. These events express the non-understanding of the Thomson workers and the collusion of management and middlemen.

(June 1991)
The main HMS leader in Faridabad, who had helped management to enforce their lock-out on 21st of March and had then given full support to maintain the lock-out for 70 days, now claims on a printed leaflet that the “Thomson Press workers are not ready to fight”. Workers should know the truth in order to be able to learn from the painful experience of the Thomson Press workers and to escape the clasp of the management-middlemen alliance. Here, as well, management keeps Dal Fry-type of gangs; here, as well, in the name of INTUC-AITUC-CITU-HMS-BMS-LMS middlemen practice every day to enforce management policies. Again and again workers in Faridabad reject these shopkeepers of various colored flags, but given the lack of alternatives, workers get caught in the tread-mill of choosing ‘the lesser of two evil’. In order to prevent the return of the old infamous LMS leader, even Thomson Press workers who are dissatisfied with the HMS rally around them. During the battle between Thomson Press management and Chautala the HMS leaders made use of the workers to take sides of management, and afterwards, when they helped to fulfill management’s plan of attacking workers. On 21st of March the HMS leaders helped to get the assembled two shifts of workers out of the factory, so that management was able to implement their lock-out. Following the example of CITU at Gedore, which physically attacked workers and made 1,500 workers sign their resignation, HMS established their role at Thomson Press during the lock-out. Between the beginning of the lock-out on 21st of March and the re-opening of the factory on 31st of May the HMS leaders did not organise even one protest march, not even one public gathering. It seems too remote to even think about stopping work at Escorts in solidarity or to take other measures of struggle. After two months of lock-out around 80 per cent of the Thomson Press workers have returned home to their villages: to sit and sit in front of the factory doing nothing had caused too much trouble for them. And then the HMS leaders came to ‘an agreement’ with Thomson management. The ‘agreement’ was so bad that the remaining workers openly opposed it. This discontent was then covered with the veil of democracy by making even less than the remaining twenty per cent of the work-force take part in a secret ballot – in order for the main middleman to be able to shout about that the Thomson Press workers are not willing to fight.

(1)
Chautala’s men attack Press workers again

The Telegraph, 21-01-1991

Chautala’s men attack Press workers again
Faridabad, Jan. 22: After a brief lull, violence erupted once again at the Thompson Press here when five employees owing allegiance to the Chautala-backed Lok Mazdoor Sangh (LMS) alongwith two outsiders fired at point blank range upon the vicepresident of the elected Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Mr Ashok Kumar, yesterday morning. Mr Kumar escaped by running into the factory premises.

The LMS, which has been creating trouble at a number of factories in the industrial township here in order to establish itself as the recognised union without facing an election, has since the middle of last year injured 22 employees of the Thompson Press in various attacks. No arrests have been made against the FIRs registered at the police stations by the HMS. The police have consistently turned a blind eye to these incidents of violence. In this case also, the HMS has registered an FIR naming some of the alleged attackers but no action has been taken so far.

The HMS union, which was being strongly backed by the management of the Thompson Press so far, is now alleging that the management too is trying to shield the culprits in order to weaken their elected union. The Thompson Press management had put up a notice in the factory earlier this month saying that any employee indulging in violence on or outside the premises will be suspended. Citing this, the HMS president, Mr R.D. Yadav, has been demanding suspension of the five employees who indulged in yesterday’s attack.

A senior manager of the Thompson Press admitted putting up the notice but he did not want to implement the warning because, in that case, the HMS employees, who had attacked LMS men on December 29, will also have to be suspended. Requesting anonymity, the manager said the HMS was free to make any allegations it liked.

However, the fact that the Thompson Press management had changed its tune was evident as it had not admitted that the HMS men had beaten the LMS boys on December 29 till now. In fact, they had been saying just the contrary and blaming the LMS men for the attack.

The manager also said that whether it was the LMS or the HMS, they were both harmful to the Thompson Press as the continuing violence had affected their work badly. “The HMS employees resorted to work stoppage for one hour each on January 15 and 17 and for five hours on January 20 when LMS men, who had earlier incited violence, reported for duty.”

The continuing violence at the Thompson Press by the LMS so far was alleged to have been inspired by the Janata Dal (S) secretary, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, who was said to be settling scores for exposing the violence during the Mehem byelection in the India Today magazine which is printed here. But neither the management nor the HMS union has made any mention of Mr Chautala in this round of violence.

* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar: January 1989 to February 1997
Articles covering re-structuring process and struggles in jute mill, powerloom department and table-printing department of Faridabad’s major company.

East India Cotton
FMS
(January 1989)
Nowadays Chhotelal cycles a rickshaw. He had been hired at the Jute Mill of East India Cotton Company in 1974. In 1983 the mill was suddenly closed. Since then Chhotelal stays in Faridabad in the hope that he will get his outstanding wages, his PF money and seniority bonus. In order to survive he cycles rickshaw in the meantime. Five years have passed, but Chhotelal hasn’t seen any money yet. Chhotelal is one of 900 workers, out of which 200 to 300 are still in Faridabad – waiting like him. The rest could not make ends meet, they have disappeared. There are many factories like the Jute Mill in Faridabad, closed factories. There are thousand workers like Chhotelal who wait for outstanding wages, which are due to them according to capitalist law.
Jute Mill, Powerloom, Dabar, Ajanta are the names given to the different departments of Eastern India Cotton company. Apart from the jute mill, the rest still exists within Eastern India Cotton. When the dismissed jute mill workers asked for their money the management refused to have anything to do with the workers. They said that the workers belong to Fibre Processors Limited. Whenever necessary the Eastern India management creates new companies within the company. This happens in many other factories in Faridabad. When workers – hidden behind the many company names within the factory premises – want to file a case against management, their lawyer will say that the management actually belongs to a different company.
In September 1983 the jute mill management laid off workers for a months – they said that this was due to lack of raw materials. At this point the company owed workers two months of outstanding wages. Workers were given 200 Rs and told that they should go back home until the necessary raw material arrives. By October no jute was to be seen. Eastern India management closed the factory and only left their security guards sitting at the gates. Through some middle-men workers filed a case in 1983, but nothing came out of it. In the meantime banks also filed a case in order to get back their money and in 1986 the jute mill machines were auctioned. When machines were about to be retrieved from the factory, workers became agitated. New middle-men entered the stage. The new middle-men took 50 to 100 Rs from each mill worker still hanging out in Faridabad and they filed a case. At this point the machines had not been taken from the factory yet and the middlemen delivered endless and promising speeches. After the machines were taken from the factory in December 1988, the middlemen would not be seen at the gates of East India jute mill anymore. Till today the 900 workers of the jute mill haven’t received their final pay.

Kanpur – Textile Workers blockade railtracks
FMS
(March 1989)
The developments at East India in Faridabad cannot be seen isolated from the wider development of textile industry in India. Below you can find a short article relating to the struggle of textile workers in Kanpur, which took place at the same time.
On 22nd of February around 35,000 textile workers blocked the main railtracks in Kanpur. Every day, after end of their shift, around 10,000 workers met and blocked the tracks. Only once the other shift had arrived at the tracks, the workers would get up and leave. Only after the government accepted their demands, the workers gave the tracks free on 27th of February. For five days the workers did not let any train pass through Kanpur. The government had to cancel 100 trains every day. Please read the article published in Indian Express on 27th of February:
“The railtrack-blockade movement of the textile workers is exceptional in many ways. The workers have become leaders themselves, and the old trade union leaders are left standing aside.”
We can learn some valuable lessons from the marvellous movement of the Kanpur workers. We will talk about some aspects here and hope that we will be able to provide more material in the next issue. The Kanpur textile workers have clearly demonstrated that the whole capitalist machinery is nothing but a thing and that during struggle workers can harm this machinery in sensitive and important spots. The Ministry of Railroads has announced in thir propaganda, that the struggle of the Kanpur textile workers is between the workers and the management of the textile mills, and that the workers should not draw the railways into this conflict. The workers refused this capitalist nonsense-talk and as a result, they won. Police, army, court, parliament, village council: this whole machinery is the workers’ enemy.
The Kanpur workers have chosen the right time to start their struggle. On 6th of December 1977 the Janata Partty government sent police into the Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur, where subsequently more than 150 workers were killed in a police firing. The Janata Party had just got to power and thousands of workers did not create to much commotion around these deads. This time the government did not put into action their action plan to evict the workers from the tracks. The ruling Congress Party has no problem with spilling workers’ blood, but it is election year and in the vote-games the party might have to pay a high price for a bloodbath. Instead of applauding to the election circus, the workers should accelerate the struggle for their demands.

East India Cotton
FMS
(April 1989)
In order to suppress the 1979 strike, the East India management mobilised the infamous Dal Fry goons [a union section]. Even after the open mobilisation of goons became unnecessary the management continued to make use of them. The DC tried several times to explain to the management that their behaviour was rather unintelligent. Seeing that the anger amongst the provoked workers increased and re-calculating the expenses for the goons, the management finally understood what the DC had try to explain. Suddenly, on 28th of February, the management announced union election for the 4th of March. The agitation among workers was considerable. Although they knew that the elections will not change anything, they got tied up in the hope that something will change. The Dal Fry goons and some others ‘got elected’.

East India Cotton
FMS
(July 1989)
On 8th of June the workers at East India Cotton achieved their first victory over the alliance of management and goons in ten years. This victory happened after a sad incident.
At East India, particularly in the printing and processing department, the capitalist health and safety rules are ignored to such an extend that, if the system was not as rotten as it is and the makers of the rules did not break their own creation, the company would have to be closed for security reasons. But it is the worker, who dies in accidents, while management can claim some money from insurances for ‘damage’. Therefore the company keeps on running – after putting some money into this or that official’s pocket.
On the 8th of June at 1 am a worker died in an accident. The corpse was sent to hospital, where the doctors announced death and immediately sent the corpse on to the mortuary. So far this would have been a common event at East India. It seems that the Dal Fry goons tried to get 5,000 to 10,000 Rs out of the worker’s death. Instead to the mortuary the corpse arrived in the factory at 4 am. All workers assembled around the dead worker. The workers of the 6:30 am early shift joined them. The news spread and the workers of the powerloom and dabar department also arrived, so did the next 8 am shift – in the end about 3,000 to 4,000 workers gathered. The Dal Fry goons and people of minor importance staged a drama of negotiations with management. Up to this point the game of the Dal Fry goons seemed to go according to plan, the workers were a mass, but only a mass. Then a worker from the powerloom department arrived and gave the silent mass a voice. The speech of this worker spoilt the game for the Dal Fry goons. Thousands of worker raised the demand of 1 lakh Rs compensation for the family of the dead worker. The district president of the LMS, who is also the legal advisor of the Dal Fry-union, tried to rescue things for the Dal Fry. The workers gave him a good beating. At this point the 100 to 150 Dal Fry goons, who had been well fed over years, also lost their good senses. A leader among them threatened the powerloom worker when police was already about to arrive – the angry response of thousands of workers shook both management and the arriving police. The things had gone out of hand of the Dal Fry and their ally from the personnel management – so the main company management took over. As soon as the management accepted to pay the due compensation to the relatives of the dead workers, apart from 100 – 150 individuals, all workers left the factory together. The relatives haven’t received any money yet.

East India Cotton
FMS
(September 1989)
On 12th of August the union leaders hold a gate meeting. At the meeting workers complained about the fact that workers were laid off, while leaders were paid the full 30 days without having worked. The leaders were stunned at these signs of workers’ resistance against the leader-management alliance. On 13th of August a worker who had raised his voice during the gate meeting was refused entry to the factory. It is the rule at East India Cotton that workers who are refused entry are not given the obligatory charge sheet or any other written reason for the refusal. The capitalist rules are broken by the representatives of capital themselves. Knowing that East India Cotton normally undertakes steps against those workers who oppose the union leaders, the powerloom workers had been expecting the move. Up to this point the steps taken by management had frightened the workers, this time they organised a counter-move. In protest against their work-mate having been kicked out, the night-shift of the power-loom department refused to leave and the early shift did not start working. Within an hour management and leaders started to run around. No one wanted to be responsible for the decision to refuse the worker entry, everyone said that the worker should start working and that everything will be fine. After the reassurances by management and leaders the workers started working after one and a half hour strike, and the night-shift said that in case the worker is not taken back as promised, they would undertake steps during the next shift. The worker was taken back on the 13th, during morning shift.

The power-loom workers learned quite a lot from this incident. Having examined the situation, they did not engage in an ‘all out’-struggle. The workers did not say: “Take the worker back on, then we will work”. The workers have given the management both, a blow and time to think about the damaging consequences. And the workers were successful.
In general workers tend to engage in an ‘all out’-struggle even when it concerns small daily conflicts. It has turned into an ideology that, disregarding the impact of the blow, the struggle has to be advanced to the outmost degree. As long as the factory was owned by an individual person, who had invested their private money, this way of struggle had usually increased the strength of the workers. The greater the impact of their attack, the higher the possibility that workers would win the struggle. A long strike used to be able to force a capitalist to his knees. But over time important changes have taken place concerning the ownership of capital. Nowadays individual persons or families do not tend to invest to much of their private money into a single factory. This is obvious when looking at state-owned factories, but the relation is not much different in the private sector. Today, workers face a management, instead of a boss. Management are representatives of capital and ministers-DC-SP-judges -generals are their colleagues. Given that management has invested only little money themselves, a long strike does not impact on their individual condition much. Therefore, an ‘all-out’-struggle in a single factory tends to first of all harm the workers. At the printing and processing plant of East India Cotton, as well, a worker was refused entry due to having opposed the leaders. There, as well, workers were rather angry, but this anger was vented by merely engaging in verbal cannonades. The workers did not undertake any steps for their work-mate. This worker is still struggling to get his job back.
In the dabar plant, East India management has removed 400 permanent workers and hired worker through contractors. On the first working day of the workers hired through contractors, the management made sure that police was around. The fact that the workers did not raise their voice against the shift from permanent to contract work, reveals the weakness of the workers.

Workers in Faridabad undertake some steps during the drama of capitalist elections
FMS
(December 1989)
During the times of election the whole capitalist regime spreads their illusionary net in order to entangle workers. But it seems that the workers in Faridabad have learnt their bit during the last years. This has become obvious during the current elections in various forms.

Firstly, the fact that AITUC-CITU-HMS-LMS-BMS unions call workers to support the candidate of the Janata Dal does not seem to have much of an impact on the workers. This might be because the current Congress candidate was the chief minister of the Haryana Janata Party government in 1979 and the current Janata Dal candidate was a minister in his cabinet at the time – a time when in October 1979 the police firing on workers in Faridabad took place and killed many. Many workers remember this. The unions fail in covering up the current regime of hooliganism and looting of the Janata Dal. More important than the disillusion towards the elections are the steps, which workers currently take in their own interest.

The steps undertaken by East India Cotton workers for the 800 Rs rate are worth mentioning. During his election campaign the chief minister of the Janata Dal had announced in April that the minimum wage in Haryana will be 800 Rs. The Janata Dal and their big-mouthed chief minister spread this promise everywhere, but nowhere in Haryana it has been turned into reality. After six months the Haryana government hasn’t even published the new wage in its newsletter. AITUC-CITU-HMS-BMS-LMS-Bank Employees Federation praised the chief minister Devilal on 13th of June for his wage announcement. The announcement of the new wage has been published in the government newspaper’s in due time before the parliamentary elections, but there wasn’t any factory in Haryana, where the new wage would have been paid on payday in November. At this time the union of the Janata Dal LMS was the leading union at East India Cotton. At the gate meeting on 3rd of November the Haryana president of the LMS beat the drum against the current Congress candidate and his involvement in the police massacre of 1979. One of the reasons for the 1979 firing was – apart from the quelling of general discontent – the long strike of workers at East India Cotton. In the period and in the shadow of the 1979 strike the East India management implemented their automation scheme and made 3,000 workers redundant. The LMS president whole-heartedly reassured the workers about the 800 Rs rate and in return asked the workers to vote for the Janata Dal.

But on 7th of November management paid the old rate. In response the 4,000 East India workers of the powerloom and Ajanta department displayed great unity and refused to take the old rate wages. The workers demanded the new 800 Rs rate. Seeing the unity of the workers, the LMS leaders became confused. Given that it was election period the whole situation was rather tricky, therefore East India management hesitated to make use of its goons. Shortly before the East India workers had given the LMS regional president a beating while the Dal Fry goons stood and stared. Seeing that the election harvest might get spoilt, the LMS Haryana president was given the role to entice the workers. On 8th of November this leader held another gate meeting. During this gate meeting the leader reassured the workers that before election the new rate would be paid, and he tried to convince the workers to accept the old rate this time and take their wage. But the workers were not be moved. After he did not succeed during the gate meeting the leader organised a side meeting, but even after hours of bullshitting the workers insisted on the 800 Rs rate. The leader got very agitated and left in his Maruti, while the workers shouted slogans containing his name and ‘down with’.
The East India workers continued working peacefully, but they refused to take the old rate wages. During the next days four thousand workers resisted the pressure in this way. The workers had only started to debate amongst themselves about possible further steps, such as demonstrations to the DC after shift, when the management made a full-force attack and broke the workers unity. The management was successful due to the stay notice drama, usage of the Dal Fry goons and the hesitations of the workers to take next steps. On 14th and 15th of November all workers had taken the old rate wages. During the movement of these four thousand workers it became clear for everyone that in no factory in Haryana the new rate was paid.
Workers at Gedore alias Jhalani Tools could also not be bothered to take part in the election theatre. Workers took part in a gate meeting, because they thought that it was about the demand notice. But the leader of the CITU in Faridabad started talking about support for the Janata Dal candidate. The workers told him to say something about the demand notice, otherwise they would go, because they had nothing to do with the elections. Then management and union put up a notice saying that workers should come to work on Sunday in order to take Wednesday off to cast their vote on the election day. In the first plant workers encircled the manager and told him that they will keep the Sunday as rest day. They told him that the workers had nothing to do with the vote, if management want, they can take the Wednesday off, but we will come to work. After having been encircled for one and a half our the manager withdrew the notice. At Gedore, workers took Sunday off and worked on election day. But in most of the other factories in Faridabad management and union forced workers to shift their rest day to Wednesday.

East India Cotton
FMS
(January 1990)
After having been shaken by the demonstrated unity of the 4,000 workers during the 800 Rs conflict, on 10th of December management decided to stop one power-loom worker at the gate and refuse to let him go to work. They just stopped him, they did not issue any charge sheet or any other written paper explaining the reason. This time the power-loom workers made a collective step in response. When they heard that their work-mate was kicked out, they stopped working. After machines stood for two hour the management gave the worker a one line letter, saying: “You have been suspended. The charge sheet will be issued later”. On 10th of December, East India management suspended five workers in response to the displayed unity of the workers.

East India Cotton
FMS
(October 1990)
It has been 15 months now since the announcement of 800 Rs minimum wage by the Haryana government, but in the majority of factories in Faridabad the new obligatory wage is not paid. In those big factories where permanent workers have been able to enforce the new wage, management engages in all kind of crooked ways to undermine it. Workers in the power-loom department of East India undertook a collective step against one of these crooked attempts. According to the state’s own definition, workers operating ‘Two-Loom-Drawbacks’ are graded as ‘highly skilled’. The minimum wage for these workers is 975 Rs per month, but East India pays them 910 Rs. Again and again workers have individually tried to enlighten management about this issue, but management did not bother too much. As a result workers operating the ‘Two-Loomk-Drawbacks’ decided to undertake a collective step in order to make management understand. The letter signed by all East India workers caused some commotion within company management.

East India Cotton
FMS
(August 1991)
East India Cotton Mills is a well-known Faridabad based company, engaged in cloth weaving, pressing, printing and sewing. The company operates under various names and in different official branches. During the times of workers’ uprising in 1977 – 1979 the East India workers were in the frontline. In order to quell the workers’ discontent East India management made use of the system of goons which made it infamous all over Faridabad. In October 1979 the police managed to suppress the unrest by firing and massacre. East India company established the Dal Fry gang of goons, which, during the last 12 to 13 years, have used all kind of ways and means to crush workers’ actions. In 1983 East India closed its Jute Mill, and years later the 900 dismissed workers still haven’t received their wages and pensions. Against this infamous management the power-loom workers have recently obtained a victory. The workers have been able to get out of the grip of management to a certain extend and open space for their fellow workers.
East India management – amongst many other local company managements – have filed a case at the high court against the new minimum wage grades, which have been announced in June 1989. In May 1990 the high court came to a verdict: The Haryana government and the company lawyers came to the agreement that the new grade would be put into practice not from June 1989 onwards, but from January 1990. many unions had collected money from workers in order to send their own lawyer to the court case, but in the end they did not. In this way several crore Rs endced in the pockets of management and ruling party leaders and several lakh Rs in the pockets of union middlemen. After the court case some power-loom workers realised that they were not paid according the new pay scale. Around 100 workers went – rather hesitantly – to meet management officials and union leaders, but their voice was not heard. In October 1990 these 100 workers sent a signed letter to management, that they are paid 65 Rs too little. Management did not respond. After a month union leaders told workers that they will be paid according to ‘fixed standard’.
After 12-13 years of company-organised violence these scared workers collectively signed their protest letter in order to demand their full wage from management. The workers undertook a second step. In November 1990 these 100 workers sent an application to the DLC. East India management swung into action. The advance payment and the ration and the cooperative store were cancelled for these workers. The intimidations started, but the workers did not bow. Management usually did not attend the meeting the DLC invited them to – and if they attended, then their representative said openly that according to the new rate those workers should receive 65 Rs more, but that management won’t pay them more, because the main issue was not concerning those 100 workers, but how to control 5,000 workers. The fact that these workers undertook steps themselves and put forward demands, this fact could not be accepted by the management. The management representatives said openly that the company would take the case up to the supreme court, but they would not pay. The resposibility of the DLC and the labour inspector was to make sure that minimum wages are paid according to the legal norm and to enforce this against management – but they did not. The DLC issued a request to management and the labour inspector kept on extending the request period.

East India Worker
FMS
(April 1996)
After management had not paid February wages by 13th of March workers gathered and demanded payment from management, they also gave a beating to one of the union leaders. Management consequently suspended two workers. On 14th of March the night-shift stopped at the gate after shift and the morning shift decided not to start working. They demanded that the suspended workers should be taken back on and the wages should be paid. The police arrived. The management promised to take the workers back and pay wages by 2:30 pm.
But since seven to eight months it is number one on the East India management’s agenda to replace the table printing by Tex Print machines and to sack 500 workers from the Ajanta department. Therefore the management started to stop people at the gate, to announce lay-offs and to refuse to give a job to the 500 casual workers, who had been employed as ‘badlis’ on a constant basis since eight to ten years. In order to diffuse the resulting collective anger, management obtained a court order saying that workers’ protest has to keep a distance of 100 metres from the company gates – but given the current election time the DC enforced that the whole conflict should be postponed. The old union leaders were kept away from it all.
Eight months earlier the East India workers had elected the last leader as their saviour, but soon enough tasted his betrayal. This time workers abstained from chosing leaders, but for some people it is necessary to look out for leadership. This time there were no ready-made leaders to buy off, therefore the East India management will be forced to practice how to produce leaders in advance. In this context an East India worker said: “We will not let them continue in the old style. We have challenged them by having beaten up an old leader. Let them run their case about union contributions [?], if they won’t work at the machines next to us, we will give them another beating. Today no one will be able to push workers around.” Another worker said that based on the last collective agreement a wage increase of 500 Rs is legally obligatory. However, we have to bear in mind that the aim of East India management is the dismissal of 500 to 600 workers.

East India Worker
FMS
(August 1996)
On 1st of July management put up a notice saying that any worker who leave the job voluntarily by 10th of July will get extra-money. In times when you need all kinds of personal connections and bribes to get a job, who would voluntarily leave? Voluntarily or not, in order to make people resign East India Cotton Mill management locked out the workers of the Ajanta Table Printing department and the colour room on 11th of July, and they did not pay the June wages. The fact that despite the lock-out production continued in the rest of the factory made management more than happy. Having stolen ten days of wages from the workers in the Ajanta department, after the meeting between management and leaders at the labour commissioner in Chandigarh on 18th of July the lock-out was lifted on the 19th of July and management put up a notice saying that the scheme for voluntary resignation would be extended to the 31st of July.
Since about a year the management aims at finishing off the table printing department and to kick out 600 to 700 workers. The initial scheme of large-scale retrenchment by locking out the complete factory – through attempted provocation pf mistreating one of the leaders – failed. Now management has brought up new leaders and prepared the trap for the lay-off of 600 workers. After management of Calvinators succeeded to lay off 2,500 workers with the help of the ‘great agreement’ facilitated by the Chandigarh officials, now East India management might well repeat this success. In 1979, on the background of automation, East India had to lay off 2,500 to 3,000 workers. Back then leaders could say whatever, the workers would follow. The workers suffered a lot, but the outcome was rather tragic. The fact that workers stand up-sit down-walk-stop on command makes things easy for the management. The East India workers can stop the redundancy drive if they think and decide together. Currently the main aim of East India are redundancies. Currently the new [wage] agreement is not the main concern. In 1979 redundancies were also the main point on the agenda, while the strike was initiated about bonuses.

East India Worker
FMS
(September 1996)
In June 1995 management stopped two workers from entering the factory. When their work-mates arrived at their workplaces, they laid down tools. After four hours management bowed down and only after letting the two workers get back to their job, production resumed. Some days later management stopped five workers at the gate. Again a sudden strike, again management bowed down.
The reason?
During these days the workers at East India did not listen to any of the union leaders. Workers took steps according to collective discussion and decision. To continue this process was in the interest of every worker, while it was a necessity for management to break it. Management brought forth new leqaders and workers – instead of continuing to make their own decision – started to stare at the mouth of the new leadership.

One year later, in July and August 1996:
The management locked out workers in the Ajanta Table Printing department on 11th of July and did not pay June wages. In the rest of the factory production kept running and workers took their June wages – ignoring what was happening in the department next door. In August 1996 management produced a list with the names of 90 workers who were supposed to be made redundant. After five, six years of employment these workers were suddenly kicked out. The production in the rest of the factory continued and workers kept silent about the enforced redundancies – instead they focused on the play-fight of the collective [wage] agreement dispute. Another list with names of 65 workers was produced, again silence from the rest of the work-force. A list with 140 names appeared, workers were kicked out, while the [wage] agreement drama continued.
The reason?
Currently workers listen to what the leaders say, they sit down – stand up, when they are told to. The leaders keep quiet about the dismissals and create a drama about the [wage] agreement. Following their example, workers also keep quiet about the lay offs and joined the drama.
“The leaders work very hard for the agreement, they are busy day and night, run back and forth, but they are not heard. What more can they do, we ask from them? The management is behaving very badly.”
And the East India management is able to lay off people, as they are pleased. Could anything better happen to management? Currently management breaks one finger of the hand, while the remaining keep silent. Workers hope that someone else should think for them and make decisions. We wish that someone else would find a solution for us. As a result leaders spring up like mushrooms. It will not change much if we later on cry about mushroom poising if we don’t change our state of inertia.

East India Worker
FMS
(October 1996)
In August East India management sacked 300 workers in three batches. On 2nd of September management put up a notice at the gate saying that the table printing department is closed due to running losses. The 600 remaining Ajanta printing workers were told to do this or that useless work in other parts of the factory. Anyone can predict that this increased the discontent amongst workers. Management announced on flyers that August wages would be paid on 8th and 9th of September, but by 10th of September wages were not paid. People kept silent about the redundancies , but got agitated about the [wage] agreement and announced the decision for a tool down strike. On 12th of September management of the East India Group enforced a lock-out at the printing and processing plant based in Faridabad Industrial Area and at the power-loom section based in Sector 24. The late shift was stopped by police at the factory gate at 2:30 pm, the early and general shift was slowly released from the factories by 10 pm. Management used to lock-out workers on their weekly day off, because it was hard work to get them out of the factory – whereas it has become rare that workers enforce entry to the factory against a lock-out, given the entanglement in legal procedures. East India management made the decision to lock-out workers while the whole shift was still inside the factory, in believe that they will not face major difficulties to get them out. Given that August wages were not paid, for the workers the lock-out essentially started not on 12th of September, but 10th of August – the original pay date. From 12th of September till 30th of September about 3,000 workers sat together during lock-out, but they did not use the time to debate and decide amongst each other, which would have been the necessary thing to do – during the whole time leaders gave only two speeches. From 12th September onwards a daily demonstration should have been organised in the morning and in the evening, but till 30th of September not a single protest-march was organised. This means that the workers did not undertake any step to increase their strength. What is the reason for this? “The leaders are very busy and if the workers do something without telling the leaders this could cause problems. The leaders are so busy, but what should we do, the police and administration have all sold out.” If the East India workers lose their strength in this way and hand over control to others, than management will impose their conditions. Three thousand workers are not a piece of straw that could be easily chewed by anyone. If workers would decide together, if they would organise protests marches, they strength would increase.

East India Worker
FMS
(November 1996)
After the lock-out in September workers were sitting together, but they were losing strength day by day. No protest march was organised in September, neither in October – which could have changed the balance of forces. The 3,000 workers dispersed bit by bit. After having been let out of the factory and made to sit inactive until most workers left the protest, the workers were preached from above that ‘Workers have to stay firm’. Apart from protest marches workers should try to enforce entry to the closed factories. In this context it is important to focus on the fact that in the powerloom factory redundancies are not on the agenda – management therefore tries to keep the powerloom production running. The redundancies concern the printing and processing plants in Industrial Area, these workers should undertake the first step to get entry to the factories. Breaking through the inertia of police and administration, workers could succeed in forcing government and management into retreat.

East India Worker
FMS
(February 1997)
After four and a half month of lock-out leaders came to an agreement with the management on 20th of January. According to the agreement 350 workers started production in the powerloom plant on 21st of January. Management reassured the remaining 2,100 workers of the printing and processing factories that the lock-out will be lifted on 3rd of February and that before that a good agreement would be found… aim at the end of the process will be the redundancy of the superfluous 600 workers. Roaming around during the months of lock-out, looking for work and being refused – workers at East India found out that it is difficult to find a job nowadays…

* Dedicated to the Memoirs of Shankar Guha Niyogi

* FMS – October 1991

On 28th of September 1991, the central figure of the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh – Shankar Guha Niyogi – was killed through gunshot. With the explicit intention to quell the workers’ movement in the Bhilai area he was shot dead at three to four o’clock in the morning, in his house, asleep. This murder took the workers’ movement, which had been influenced by Niyogi during the last 15 years, to an important turn on its way. While the account of these 15 years is, above all, of utmost significance for the Bhilai area, its importance is true for the workers’ movement as a whole. Following we try to give a wider account.
The setting-up of the Bhilai steel plant forms an important link in the collaboration between Russian and Indian capitalists. Manufacturing hundreds of thousand tons of steel, the factory requires an immense supply of raw material. About eighty to ninety kilometres from Bhilai are the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhara, source of the main raw material. In these mines about 12,000 male and female workers hired through contractor are engaged in bone-breaking work for 5 Rs a day. In 1977 these workers started a strike for bonus payment under the joint leadership of INTUC and AITUC. Seeing that the strike increased in might, the INTUC-AITUC leadership announced the end of the dispute, saying that the bonus has always been an exclusive entitlement of the permanent work-force alone and that the workers hired through contractors have no right to it. The striking workers reacted by chasing the INTUC-AITUC leaders away. They formed a strike committee and continued the struggle. Finally they chose the recently released Shankar Guha Niyogi as their strike leader – Niyogi had been accused of being a Naxalite and put into jail during Emergency. The strike carried on.
In 1977 the Janata Party Government – in an attempt to break this strike – managed to arrest Niyogi in a swift-raid, but the police unit did not manage to break through the subsequent encirclement formed by ten thousand workers. Under the pretext of freeing the trapped police unit a huge deployment of police started shooting on the assembled workers. The shooting continued throughout a day-long operation, killing eleven male and female workers. Even after the killings and the following wave of state repression the workers did not budge. After four month the strike forced the government to give in and the Bhilai Steel management had to offer a deal to the striking contract workers. In this way the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh obtained its concrete foundation and Shankar Guha Niyogi came to the fore as its central figure.
The 1977 incidents of the Bhilai iron ore mining area Dalli Rajhara and the person of Shankar Guha Niyogi became of importance for the manoeuvres of the Indian political landscape – the Indian state being situated between the capitalist blocs of America and Russia. The CPI, for example, presented Niyogi as an agent of the CIA. The liberal and patriotic factions of capital started to get excited by Niyogi’s private life and by what they portrayed as his reformist efforts. For the section supporting ‘national capital’ – under the cloak of Naxalism – Niyogi became a bone in their throat, which they were neither able to swallow, nor to spit out. In Madhya Pradesh Niyogi was made into a part-taker in the in-fights between factions within the Congress Party and in the regional capitalist election politics. In the current elections he was a member of the Indira cabinet and he supported openly the Congress candidate for the Kanker (Chattisgarh) regional constituency, Arvind Netam, and the Janata Party candidate from Bhopal, Svami Agnivesh… but we think that the important fact remains that Niyogi has played a central role in starting a continuing workers’ struggle in the Bhilai area.

In 1977 the contract workers in the mining areas of Dalli Rajhara had been paid 5 Rs per day. Today they get 80 Rs daily wage. Since 1977 they are paid stand-by wages – before that they used to be sent back home unpaid once there was no work available. The workers were successful in halting a major redundancy drive, attempted by the management through mechanisation. Although only few people are able to get permanent job, the contract workers managed to enforce gratuity bonus (service) and 7 days casual and 5 days paid annual leave – a certain degree of job security. The workers fought a long and hard battle for this. In 1981 the struggle for job security and against mechanisation turned into a strike – Niyogi and Sahdev Sahu were arrested. During the long strike each demonstration of the workers in Dalli Rajhara got lathi-charged by the police and each following day the strikers returned and demonstrated in front of the main administration of Durga district. Nevertheless, over time mechanisation increased and numbers of workers fell due to, among other reasons, a stop in hiring – both diminished the power of the Dalli Rajhara contract workers. In the meantime Niyogi made a noteworthy active effort to foster the emergence of workers’ movements in the factories neighbouring the Byhilai Steel plant. The successful outcome of the three-month long struggle of contract workers at ACC Cement factory in July 1990 was the first gain of Niyogi’s union in this area.

According to the enforced contract at ACC Cement the contract workers were entitled to 20 days guaranteed work per month, provident fund, paid and casual leave, medical treatment and school education for children paid for by the company management. This agreement had an immediate effect on the workers in Bhilai industrial area. Only very few workers employed in the 105 factories of the area were permanent. The management in the area would not even stick to the capitalist labour laws. In the majority of the factories there were recognised unions affiliated to the two central trade union organisations, but instead of working in the interest of the workers they rendered their service to the management. Motivated by the success at ACC Cement tens of thousand workers started to get organised towards this new direction. A workers’ movement erupted in the area demanding higher wages, better working-conditions and 20 per cent bonus. In order to change the situation and calm things down the government tried to detain the general assembly of Niyogi’s union in Bhilai.
Despite the management’s unity, alertness and open intimidations a strike started under the lead of Niyogi’s union in the four Simplex factories – Bhilai’s biggest industrial complex. After attempts of bribery, threats, framing and arrests of 800 workers by the police did not prove successful in stopping the movement, the government came forward with an ancient legal case against Shankar Guha Niyogi and arrested him on 4th of February 1991. After two month he had to be released on bail. The workers’ struggle expanded and gained in strength. On 25th of June 1991 the demonstration of Chattisgarh Distilleries workers was attacked by police with lathis and gunshots – 150 workers were injured, 107 workers were arrested. In response to this attack workers in 1,000 factories of the area stooped work an demonstrations started in Dalli Rajhara and other places. Seeing that they could not control the workers the government tried to ban Shankar Guha Niyogi from the area of Bilaspur-Raypur-Durga-Rajanandgaon-Bastar – the High Court (only) officially put a halt to this ban. At the beginning of September 1991 hundreds of workers followed Niyogi to Dehli and protested in numerous places.
To keep the struggles in Bhilai Steel Plant area running, the support of the Dalli Rajhara mining workers 80 kilometres away played an important role. The Shahid Hospital in Dalli Rajhara – founded and run by the mining workers in memory of the victims of the 1977 police-attack – gave treatment to those Bhilai workers injured by goons and police during the dispute. Once a week a doctor from Shahid Hospital would go to the bastis of the striking workers for medical treatment. Despite having to be cautious given the running bail-cases, Niyogi’s union kept on supporting the striking workers with rice-dal and financial support. After ten months of strike a worker from one of the factories said in his own words: “This is a union of a different kind.”

To put it brief: in this situation, where many attempts to get workers back under control had failed, certain capitalist factions decided to have Niyogi murdered. In the current situation it is necessary to have a look at the weaknesses of the workers’ movement under Niyogi’s leadership, too. The importance of the permanent workers employed in both the mines and in Bhilai Steel plant has been neglected: this is to a significant extent due to Niyogi’s ‘ideology’. At times ‘tactics’ can be important, but in the attempt to ‘forge a unity at all costs’ the importance of individuals-particularities can grow in result. The way that Niyogi has operated in the area contributed to this tendency. In 1981 the workers hailed the Bharatiya Janata Party after the party gave some speeches against the arrest of Niyogi, after that the workers applauded the Janata Dal, they asked to vote for the Congress candidate, they praised Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi… this did not contribute to the development of a revolutionary workers’ movement. Once in this position it is not too difficult to turn workers into pawns for the various capitalist groupings. Today the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh is pretty much in a similar situation to 1981, after Niyogi’s arrest. At that time a striking worker said: “Shankar Guha Niyogi is our eye, without him we are blind,” a meaningful comment then and still. Currently the the workers’ movement in Bhilai-Dalli stands at crossroads, the active people within the movement are confronted with a decisive moment. The swamp of liberal capitalists, the whirlpool of militant national-capitalists or revolutionary workers’ movement: the time has come to chose. The murder of Niyogi has made matters urgent.

[The movement in Chattigarh continued after Niyogi's death. The strike for better conditions continued till July 1992, attacks from state and companies increased, various parties tried to jump on the movement and at the same time tried to prevent a called for general strike, 800 workers were kicked out of Chattisgarh Distilleries in 24th of January 1992 by mass police force. In mid-June workers started rail-road blocks, e.g. the Calcutta-Bombay lines, In July 1992 police opened fire on a protest of 5,000 male-female workers, killing 16 people. A curfew was imposed in the area]

http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=M02JB6WZmKkgF5BNPH1tJmFN1G6j6sX2GPJbFmgf6kPpJZyLpylr!1896127874!1380883283?docId=98203572

[EPW Files]

* Police Firing on Striking Workers

EPW no.25, 1998

Striking workers of a textile mill were fired upon by the police, workers’ houses and property destroyed and residents of the colony beaten up. What led to this brutal attack?

ON February 19, a contingent of the Haryana police fired upon protesting workers of the Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill at Dharuhera, Rewari district, Haryana. Four workers were killed in the firing and five others received bullet injures. The workers then blocked National Highway 8 (on which the factory is situated) through the night. In order to remove them the police carried out a lathi-charge on the morning of February 20. In the course of this operation, they entered workers’ houses, destroyed household goods, smashed doors and windows,and beat up the residents, including women and others who were not associated with the mill. Twenty-one people were seriously injured in the process, and many others received minor injuries.

The Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill is part of a nationwide group of 50 companies, controlled by the Jain Shudh Group. It is a public limited concern, in commercial operation since 1981. It had a turnover of Rs 103 crore in 1997. The Mill is part of the Dharuhera Industrial area about 20 km away from the district headquarters at Rewari, and about 60 km from Delhi. The highway in front of the factory is the main trunk route between Delhi and Jaipur. There are four plants in the Mill, which operate on 3 shifts – A, B and C, each of eight hours duration, starting at 8 am, 4 pm, and 12 midnight respectively. In all, there are 3,000 workers in the factory. There are very few women workers. Most of the workers are migrants from eastern UP and Bihar and live in rented tenements owned by local residents next to the factory or in the nearby Kapdiwas village. About 200 labour quarters are provided by the management behind the factory. In the factory, workers are divided into unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled categories. While the nature of jobs vary, there is comparatively little variation in the wages received by them. These amount to about Rs 2,200 per month, for skilled workers while those in the semi and unskilled categories get somewhat less. None of the workers get proper appointment letters or proof of employment. Nor do they have attendance cards or leave cards guaranteed to them by the Factory Act (1948). The management therefore conveniently shifts permanent workers who go on legitimate leave for a short period into the temporary category when they return. There are at least 1,000 temporary workers in the factory at any given time. Many remain in this capacity even after working for several years. Such action by the management is violative of the right of the worker to be considered to be in continuous service if he goes on legitimate leave (under Section 25 B of the Industrial Disputes Act) and thus get their due wages. While the management claims that Provident Fund is being deducted from the salaries of the workers, no records to this effect have been maintained for a number of years. Some of the workers have not been covered under the Employees State Insurance (ESI) scheme and cannot avail the benefits of the ESI dispensary at Dharuhera. Non-payment of PF deposits and not giving ESI benefits are offences punishable under S 14, 14 A and 14 A-B of the PF Act and S 85 of the ESI Act. Compliance to these norms can be enforced by the labour court.

Union-building efforts had been started in 1987 under the Haryana-based trade union, Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan and its leader Sukhbir Singh Arya. This was smashed soon afterwards by the general manager, J S Marattha. The Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan, however, remains the official union in the factory. In October 1997, after a conciliation process, the management arrived at a 3-year wage settlement with this union before the deputy labour commissioner (DLC) at Gurgaon. The issues raised by workers were annual increment, issue of attendance cards, leave cards, maintenance of PF records and covering all workers under the ESI scheme apart from appropriate wage revision. None of the general demands were addressed by the settlement, and the wage revision too was an inadequate one. The DLC was guilty of not ensuring that the settlement was done with a union that genuinely represented the workers. Workers were not satisfied with the limited settlement. Subsequently another union, the AllIndia Textile
Mazdoor Janta Union (AITMJU), affiliated to the ANURAG Federation and headed by K K Shukla, started organising the workers around the same issues raised in the settlement. The workers under the new union also demanded that though inadequate, the conditions of the earlier settlement be implemented immediately. The agitation intensified in January 1998, and large meetings of the workers were held. The dispute between the workers, the new union and the management at the DLC’s court continued. The management on the other hand claimed that the settlement made in October had stated that no fresh demands would be made for three years, so the demands for PF records, employment proof, etc, were illegitimate. It also failed to implement the existing settlement. In February, workers launched a go-slow agitation over the same issues. The management then arbitrarily suspended one of the most active and articulate protesting workers on the grounds of deliberately preventing production and inciting workers. This amounts to an ‘unfair labour practice’ punishable under S 25 U of the Industrial Disputes Act.

Whatever may be the case the management had kept the police informed and demanded police assistance to put a stop to union activity from January onwards. The police were called during each of the meetings of the union. In February, the management, determined to break the union and to bring ‘indisciplined’ workers to heel, called upon the SP and the DC to give them extra policemen to deal with the go-slow agitation, which had been leading to loss of production and profits for the management. Industrial disputes do not fall under the jurisdiction of the district police. However this was not the reason given by the administration’s inability to aid the management in early February. It was said that the police were required for conducting the forthcoming national elections and would be able to assist only afterwards. And on February 19 therefore, the police served the ends of the Pashupati management and fired upon the workers.

At about 5.45 pm on February 19 (about a week after the go-slow agitation had been launched) soon after the second shift (B shift) workers had started work, most of them were ordered to go outside the factory by an enraged management, on the ground that if they were not interested in carrying out production work then they should leave the premises.
The management was assisted in carrying out this illegal lock-out by its own goons and policemen of the Dharuhera P S. The lathi-wielding police and goons numbering about 50 in all, roughly pushed workers out. About 200 workers were kept inside. As second shift workers were thrown out, other workers came out of their houses in the vicinity of the factory and joined them. All of them together demanded that the workers still confined inside by police and management should be allowed to come out. The police, having helped the management in throwing out workers, stationed themselves inside the factory gates. Instead of complying with the workers’ demand for the release of their fellows they ordered the 500-strong crowd of workers to vacate the area outside the factory. The SHO called the SP Rao Sohan Lal and SDM Roop Singh. They reached at about 7 pm. Tear-gassing was started by the SDM’s orders. According to the police, about 50 tear-gas shells were fired. However workers insist that tear-gassing lasted for a very short while. The police, under the SDM’s instructions, started firing even as the tear-gas shells were exploding. Approximately 50 rounds were fired. No warning of firing was heard. According to some of the injured, firing occurred in spurts. This is borne out by the accounts of two workers who have bullet wounds. Thinking that the firing had stopped, they went forward to help a fellow worker Pramod, when they themselves were shot. Two workers, Pankaj and Sardaru Singh, died on the spot, while Pramod and Vinod were seriously injured, and later died. Some of the workers also sustained injuries from country weapons fired by goons of the management working in concert with the police. The firing stopped at about 8.30 pm. The workers locked inside were allowed to leave the factory only at night. Many workers then blocked the highway in front of the factory and sat there guarding the two dead bodies till the morning. Reinforcements of police started arriving from 4 am on February 20 from the neighbouring districts of Mahendragarh, Faridabad and Gurgaon to clear the highway, under the orders of the DC. Over 200 policemen removed the protesting workers from the highway by lathi-charging them. What was described by the DC as a ‘mild lathi-charge’ led to several workers sustaining severe and multiple fractures. As workers ran off to safety into the nearby Lal Singh and Roshan Lal colonies, the police followed them. Long after their objective of clearing the highway had been achieved, the police continued to break down doors, window grills and locks, and even thrashed sleeping women, children and others not associated with the Mill. When our team went to Dharuhera on February 22, we saw broken doors hanging on hinges and bent and twisted window grills. After this assault, over 150 workers were rounded up and taken for ‘questioning’ to the police station. Eighty-six of them were brought back to Dharuhera at about 2 am on February 22, after pressure was exerted by workers of nearby factories, as they were found to be ‘innocent’. Seventy-one workers were found to be ‘guilty’ and arrested. Out of these 33 were arrested for the incident on the 19th (FIR No 100/98, Dharuhera P S) and sent to Rohtak jail, and 38 were arrested for the incident on February 20 (FIR No 101/ 98) and sent to the jail at Bhiwani. They were arrested under Sections 148, 149, 307,436, 341, 332, 353, 186, 283,506,450 of the IPC (for rioting, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, arson, wrongful restraint, injuring and obtructing public servants, obstructing roads, trespassing and criminal intimidation). Those arrested for the incident on the 19th were also charged under S 25, 54, 61 Arms Act, solely on the basis of a police claim of having recovered a bullet casing of a country weapon from the spot. In fact (as mentioned earlier), it was the goons of the management who were wielding and firing country guns at the workers.

It is not clearon what grounds some workers were identified as guilty and others treated as innocent. The workers or their union were not given list of those picked up and arrested. This aggravated the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty as workers were unaware of the whereabouts of their fellows. In addition, after the lathi-charge on the 20th, the workers who used to occupy the few labour quarters provided by the factory were also forced to vacate by the management, and their property thrown out. Mostly migrants, some of the injured workers had no families at Dharuhera nor any alternative support system, and were dependent on their co-workers for medicines and money. Of those lying injured in the hospitals, some workers had families living near the factory, but were not aware of the condition of their families.

OFFICIAL STORIES

The police account states that they had gone to the factory on February 19 in response to an earlier complaint by the management. The management had accused some workers of breaking machinery and assaulting a supervisor. The police say that the workers voluntarily walked out in protest against the suspension of their colleagues and started throwing stones, after which they shut the factory gates in order to protect the machinery and the remaining workers inside. After appropriately warning the workers, the police fired from inside the gates. However, the police and the DC say that this was directed at the air, and not at the workers. Since workers were standing on roofs of nearby houses and trees in front of the factory, they got hit and some got killed. Three policemen were injured but none seriously. It is important to note here that there are no buildings in front of the factory gates, and the nearest houses are low roofed tenements located at a considerable distance on one side of the factory walls. The trees in front of the factory are of the tall, smooth-trunk variety, with very few branches. The workers continued to pelt stones even as some of them were getting injured and killed. According to the DC, they would break up into groups, collect stones, re-group to throw stones at the police, ‘like guerillas’. Although she was not herself present at the time, she felt that the response of the police was justified under such fierce resistance. The DC’s explanation for the attack on people on the morning of February 20 is that the workers who had been blocking the highway were given shelter by the residents in the colonies. Many of these residents were also fellow workers and guilty of stone- throwing the previous evening. According to her, women and non-workers had to be beaten to catch the ‘guilty’ workers. The workers had clung to the window grills, and had to be prised apart from them by the police, causing the grills to get bent and twisted. While maintaining that they had summoned the police because the workers had walked out voluntarily and started throwing stones at the factory, the management stated that the entire incident took place outside the factory gates, which allows them to disclaim all responsibility.

Treatment of those injured in the police firing and assault, a legal right of the injured was completely denied to the victims at Dharuhera. On February 19 night, five of the more seriously injured workers were brought by other workers and local residents to the Rewari Civil Hospital. One of them 20-year old Pramod Kumar, was referred from there to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, where he died. Another, Vinod died soon after he was taken to Gurgaon Civil Hospital. The remaining four in Rewari Hospital had not even been x-rayed till February 21, and their bullet wounds had merely been sown over. On February 21, three of them were sent to the government hospital at Bawal, about 25 km away, to be x-rayed. Most of the expense for this had to be borne by the workers themselves. Even at the government hospital every x-ray exposure costs Rs 60, instead of which the doctor at Bawal asked for Rs 110 each. The DC finally intervened on February 22 and two workers got x-rays through the Red Cross. Twenty workers had been admitted to Rewari Hospital on February 20, all with injuries sustained in the lathi-charge. Again, they were brought in by the co-workers and not by the police. One of the patients who had been sleeping in his room when the police raided,
said the police repeatedly tried to hit him on the head. He managed to fend the blows off with his arms and hands, which bore the marks of severe beating. The DC has persuaded the management to declare compensation of Rs I lakh to the families of the dead; Rs 20,000 for seriously injured and Rs 10,000 for simple injuries. The DC was trying unsuccesfully to get the management to give at least part of the money as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the workers on February 22 itself so that they could use it for their treatment. The management is clear that this is not ‘compensation’ since they bear no responsibility for the firing, but merely an act of largesse. The union has demanded Rs 5 lakh per deceased victim, which was refused by the management. No compensation has been declared by the state, in clear violation of the right of citizens to compensation when the state kills and injuries in blatantly unjustified firing.

The firing at the Pashupati Mill shows the way in which the law and order machinery was used to serve the interests of the Jain group. While The SP and SDM gave the actual order for firing, knowing well that the police were being used as a private army of the management, while the DC justified the firing and the lathi-charge. However, now that the police have served their purpose, the management is trying to distance itself from the firing and lay the entire blame on the police and the workers.
The NHRC is currently conducting an inquiry into this case. The agitation of the workers is now temporarily stalled. The same policemen continue to operate at the Dharuhera P S. Workers with fractured limbs and injured heads have used up savings to get themselves treated at private hospitals and some have gone back home. Ironically, through this one-sided intervention of the state, it is workers who were denied their rights, thrown out of the factory, fired upon, beaten up and are now in jail under grave charges punishable with terms up to life imprisonment.

A joint action committee (JAC) of representatives of workers and unions of different factories as well as 10 representatives of the AITMJU was set up on February 21 and a large demonstration of workers numbering between 5,000-10,000 was held. It demanded arrest of the GM, payment of due compensation and meeting all earlier demands of workers. The GM was arrested to humour the workers, under a minor charge (S 216, IPC harbouring criminals) for apparently giving shelter to the goons who he had engaged to break the union. He is out on bail. Through continuous meetings before the DLC between February 27 and March 6, a temporary agreement was reached between the management and the union regarding compensation. It finally agreed to a compensation of Rs 1.75 lakh for death. Moreover it promised to extend ESI facilities to all workers and also provide a job for one member of the family of each worker killed. The JAC meanwhile held another large public demonstration on March 5, and continues to push ahead with its demands. In the firing at Pashupati Mill both the state and the management stand completely exposed by the management agreeing to pay compensation for firing actually executed by the police. Instead of ceding the workers’ demands earlier, or even negotiating with workers the management decided to end the workers’ agitation by declaring an illegal lock-out without any prior notice. This led to the police firing. The brutal fact remains finally that the management agreed to a few of the reasonable and legitimate demands of the workers only after four workers were killed. Several demands have still not been agreed to.
[This is a slightly condensed version of a report on the incident. The People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) which sent a five-member fact finding team to Dharuhera and Rewari on February 22. The team met the factory workers, Navraj Sandhu, the deputy commissioner at Rewari, Ram Kumar, the SHO of the Dharuhera PS and Ramesh Jain of the Pashupati Mills management at Delhi.]

* PUDR-Report on Police Firing at Pashupati Mills in Dharuhera, 1998

Hand in Glove, PUDR Report, March 1998

http://www.pudr.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/hand_in_glove.pdf

On 19 February 1998 a contingent of the Haryana police fired upon protesting workers of the Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill at Dharuhera, Rewari district, Haryana. Four workers were killed in the firing and 5 others received bullet injuries.

The workers then blocked National Highway 8 (on which the factory is situated) through the night. In order to remove them the police carried out a lathi – charge on the morning of 20 February. In the course of this operation, they entered workers’ houses, destroyed household goods, smashed doors and windows, and beat up the residents, including women and others who were not associated with the mill. Twenty one people were seriously injured in the process, and many others received minor injuries.

People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) sent a five member fact finding team to Dharuhera and Rewari on 22 February. The team met the factory workers, Navraj Sandhu, the Deputy Commissioner at Rewari, Ram Kumar, the SHO of the Dharuhera PS and Ramesh Jain of the Pashupati Mills management at Delhi.

THE CONTEXT OF THE POLICE FIRING

The factory

The Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill Ltd. is pan of a nation-wide group of 50 companies, controlled by the Jain Shudh Group. It is a public limited concern, in commercial operation since 1981. It had a turnover of Rs. 103 crores in 1997. The Mill is part of the Dharuhera Industrial Area about 20 km away from the district headquarters at Rewari, and about 60 km from Delhi. The highway in front of the factory is the main trunk route between Delhi and Jaipur.

There are 4 plants in the Mill, which operate on 3 shifts- A, B, and C, each of 8 hours duration, starting at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and 12 midnight respectively. In all, there are 3000 workers in the factory. There are very few women workers. Most of the workers are migrants from eastern U.P and Bihar and live in rented tenements owned by local residents next to the factory or in the nearby Kapdiwas village. About 200 labour quarters are provided by the management behind the factory. In the factory, workers are divided into unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled categories. While the nature of jobs vary, there is comparatively little variation in the wages received by them. These amount to about Rs. 2200[7]- per month, for skilled workers while those in the semi and un-skilled categories get somewhat less.

None of the workers get proper appointment letters or proof of employment. Nor do they have attendance cards or leave cards guaranteed to them by the Factory Act (1948). The management therefore conveniently shifts permanent workers who go on legitimate leave for a short while into the temporary category when they return. There are at least 1000 temporary workers in the factory at any given time. Many remain in this capacity even after working for several years. Such action by the management is violative of the right of the worker to be considered to be in continuous service if he goes on legitimate leave (under Section 25 B of the Industrial Disputes Act) and thus get their due wages. While the management claims that Provident Fund is being deducted from the salaries of the worker, no records to this effect have been maintained for a number of years. Some of the workers have not been covered under the ESI (Employees State Insurance) scheme and cannot avail the benefits of the ESI dispensary at Dharuhera. Non payment of PF deposits and not giving ESI benefits are offences punishable under S. 14, 14 A, and 14 A-B of the PF Act and S.85 of the ESI Act. Compliance to these norms can be enforced by the labour court.

The Union

Union building efforts had been started in 1987 under the Haryana based trade union, Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan and its leader Sukhbir Singh Arya. This was smashed soon afterwards by the General Manager, J.S. Marattha. The Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan however remains the official union in the factory. In October 1997, after a conciliation process, the management arrived at a 3 year wage settlement with this union before the Deputy Labour Commissioner (DLC) at Gurgaon. The issues raised by workers were annual increment, issue of attendance cards, leave cards, maintenance of PF records and covering all workers under the ESI scheme apart from appropriate wage revision. None of the general demands were addressed by the settlement, and the wage revision too was an inadequate one. The DLC was guilty of not ensuring that the settlement was done with a union that genuinely represented the workers. Workers were not satisfied with the limited settlement. Subsequently another union, the All India Textile Mazdoor Janta Union (AITMJU), affiliated to the ANURAG Federation and headed by K.K Shukla, started organising the workers around the same issues raised in the settlement The workers under the new union also demanded that though inadequate, the conditions of the earlier settlement be implemented immediately.

The agitation intensified in January 1998, and large meetings of the workers were held. The dispute between the workers, the new union and the management at the DLC’s court continued. The management on the other hand claimed that the settlement made in October had stated that no fresh demands would be made for 3 years, so the demands for PF records, employment proof etc. were illegitimate. It also failed to implement the existing settlement. In February, workers launched a go-slow agitation over the same issues. The management then arbitrarily suspended 10 of the most active and articulate protesting workers on the grounds of deliberately preventing production and inciting workers. This amounts to an ‘unfair labour practice’ punishable under S. 25 U of the Industrial Disputes Act.

The Management and the Police

Whatever may be the case the management had kept the police informed and demanded police assistance to put a stop to union activity from January onwards. The police were called during each of the meetings of the Union. In February, the management, determined to break the union and to bring ‘indisciplined’ workers to heel, called upon the SP and the DC to give them extra policemen to deal with the go-slow agitation, which had been leading to loss of production and profits for the management. Industrial disputes do not fall under the jurisdiction of the district police. However this was not the reason given for the administration’s inability to aid the management in early February. It was said that the police were required for conducting the forthcoming national elections and would be able to assist only afterwards. And on 19th therefore, the police served the ends of the Pashupati management and fired upon the workers.

THE FIRING ON 19 FEBRUARY AND ITS AFTERMATH

At about 5.45 p.m on 19 February (about a week after the go- slow agitation had been launched) soon after the second shift (B Shift) workers had started work, most of them were ordered to go outside the factory by an enraged management, on the ground that if they were not interested in carrying out production work then they should leave the premises. The management was assisted in carrying out this illegal lock-out by its own goons and policemen of the Dharuhera PS. The lathi-wielding police and goons numbering about 50 in all, roughly pushed workers out. About 200 workers were kept inside. As second shift workers were thrown out, other workers came out of their houses in the vicinity of the factory and joined them. All of them together demanded that the workers still confined inside by police and management should be allowed to come out. The police, having helped the management in throwing out workers, stationed themselves inside the factory gates. Instead of complying with the workers’ demand for the release of their fellows they ordered the 500 strong crowd of workers to vacate the area outside the factory. The SHO called the SP Rao Sohan Lal and SDM Roop Singh. They reached at about 7 p.m. Teargassing was started by the SDM’s orders.

According to the police, about 50 teargas shells were fired. However workers insist that teargassing lasted for a very short while. The police, under the SDM’s instructions, started firing even as the tear gas shells were exploding. Approximately 50 rounds were fired. No warning of firing was heard. According to some of the injured, firing occurred in spurts. This is borne out by the accounts of 2 workers who have bullet wounds. Thinking that the firing had stopped, they went forward to help a fellow worker Pramod, when they themselves were shot. Two workers, Pankaj and Sardaru Singh, died on the spot, while Pramod and Vinod were seriously injured, and later died. Some of the workers also sustained injuries from country weapons fired by goons of the management working in concert with the police. The firing stopped at about 8.30 p.m. The workers locked inside were allowed to leave the factory only at night. Many workers then blocked the highway in front of the factory and sat there guarding the two dead bodies till the morning. Reinforcements of police started arriving from 4 a.m on 20 February from the neighbouring districts of Mahendragarh, Faridabad and Gurgaon to clear the highway, under the orders of the DC. Over 200 policemen removed the protesting workers from the highway by lathicharging them. What was described by the DC as a ‘mild lathicharge’ led to several workers sustaining severe and multiple fractures. As workers ran off to safety into the nearby Lal Singh and Roshan Lal colonies, the police followed them. Long after their objective of clearing the highway had been achieved, the police continued to break down doors, window grills and locks, and even thrashed sleeping women, children and others not associated with the Mill. When our team went to Dharuhera on 22 February, we saw broken doors hanging on hinges and bent and twisted window grills.

After this assault, over 150 workers were rounded up and taken for ‘questioning’ to the police station. Eighty six of them were brought back to Dharuhera at about 2 a.m on 22 February, after pressure was exerted by workers of nearby factories, as they were found to be ‘innocent’. Seventy one workers were found to be ‘guilty’ and arrested. Out of these 33 were arrested for the incident on the 19th (FIR No. 100/98, Dharuhera PS) and sent to Rohtak jail, and 38 were arrested for the incident on the 20th (FIR No. 101/98) and sent to the jail at Bhiwani. They were arrested under Sections 148, 149, 307, 436, 341, 332, 353, 186, 283, 506, 450 of the IPC (for rioting, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, arson, wrongful restraint, injuring and obstructing public servants, obstructing roads, trespassing and criminal intimidation). Those arrested for the incident on the 19th were also charged under S. 25, 54, 61 Arms Act, solely on the basis of a police claim of having recovered a bullet casing of a country weapon from the spot. In fact (as mentioned earlier), it was the goons of the management who were wielding and firing country guns at the workers. It is not clear on what grounds some workers were identified as guilty and others treated as innocent.

The workers or their union were not given a list of those picked up and arrested. This aggravated the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty as workers were unaware of the whereabouts of their fellows. In addition, after the lathicharge on the 20th, the workers who used to occupy the few labour quarters provided by the factory were also forced to vacate these by the management, and their property was thrown out. Mostly migrants, some of the injured workers had no families at Dharuhera nor any alternative support system, and were dependent on their co-workers for medicines and money. Of those lying injured in the hospitals, some workers had families living near the factory, but were not aware of the condition of their families.

Official Stories

Police and District Administration: The police account states that they had gone to the factory on 19 February in response to an earlier complaint by the management. The management had accused some workers of breaking machinery and assaulting a supervisor. The police say that the workers voluntarily walked out in protest against the suspension of their colleagues and started throwing stones, after which they shut the factory gates in order to protect the machinery and the remaining workers inside. After appropriately warning the workers, the police fired from inside the gates. However, the police and the DC say that this was directed at the air, and not at the workers. Since workers were standing on roofs of nearby houses and trees in front of the factory, they got hit and some got killed. Three policemen were injured but none seriously. It is important to note here that there are no buildings in front of the factory gates, and the nearest houses are low roofed tenements located at a considerable distance on one side of the factory walls. The trees in front of the factory are of the tall, smooth-trunk variety, with very few branches. The workers continued to pelt stones even as some of them were getting injured and killed. According to the DC, they would break up into groups, collect stones, regroup to throw stones at the police, ‘like guerillas’. Although she was not herself present at the time, she felt that the response of the police was justified under such fierce resistance. The DC’s explanation for the attack on people on the morning of the 20th is that the workers who had been blocking the highway were given shelter by the residents in the colonies. Many of these residents were also fellow workers and guilty of stone throwing the previous evening. According to her, women and non workers had to be beaten to catch the ‘guilty’ workers. The workers had clung to the window grills, and had to be prised apart from them by the police, causing the grills to get bent and twisted.
The Management: While maintaining that they had summoned the police because the workers had walked out voluntarily and started throwing stones at the factory, the management stated that the entire incident took place outside the factory gates, which allows them to disclaim all responsibility.

Treatment of the Injured

Treatment of those injured in the police firing and assault, a legal right of the injured was completely denied to the victims at Dharuhera. On 19th night, five of the more seriously injured workers were brought by other workers and local residents to the Rewari civil hospital. One of them, twenty year old Pramod Kumar, was referred from there to Safdarjung hospital in Delhi, where he died. Another, Vinod died soon after he was taken to Gurgaon Civil Hospital. The remaining four in Rewari hospital had not even been x-rayed till the 21st, and their bullet wounds had merely been sown over. On the 21st, three were sent to the government hospital at Bawal, about 25 km away, to be x-rayed. Most of the expense for this had to be borne by the workers themselves. Even at the government hospital every x-ray exposure costs Rs. 60, instead of which the doctor at Bawal asked for Rs. 110 each.. The DC finally intervened on the 22nd and two workers got x-rays through the Red Cross. Twenty workers had been admitted to Rewari hospital on the 20th, all with injuries sustained in the lathi charge. Again, they were brought in by co-workers and not by the police. One of the patients who had been sleeping in his room when the police raided, said the police repeatedly tried to hit him on the head. He managed to fend the blows off with his arms and hands, which bore the marks of severe beating.

Compensation

The DC has persuaded the management to declare compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the families of the dead; Rs. 20,000 for seriously injured and Rs. 10,000 for simple injuries. The DC was trying unsuccesfully to get the management to give at least part of the money as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the workers on the 22nd itself so that they could use it for their treatment. The Management is clear that this is not ‘compensation’ since they bear no responsibility for the firing, but merely an act of largesse. The union has demanded Rs. 5 lakh per deceased victim, which was refused by the management. No compensation has been declared by the state, in clear violation of the right of citizens to compensation when the state kills and injures in blatantly unjustified firing.

EPILOGUE

The firing at the Pashupati Mill shows the way in which the law and order machinery was used to serve the interests of the Jain group. While The SP and SDM gave the actual order for firing, knowing well that the police were being used as a private army of the management, while the DC justified the firing and the lathi charge. However, now that the police have served their purpose, the management is trying to distance itself from the firing and lay the entire blame on the police and the workers. The NHRC is currently conducting an inquiry into this case. The agitation of the workers is now temporarily stalled. The same policemen continue to operate at the Dharuhera PS. Workers with fractured limbs and heads have used up savings to get themselves treated at private hospitals and some have gone back home. Ironically, through this one-sided intervention of the state, it is workers who were denied their rights, thrown out of the factory, fired upon, beaten up and are now in jail under grave charges punishable with terms upto life imprisonment.

A Joint Action Committee (JAC) of representatives of workers and unions of different factories as well as 10 representatives of the AITMJU was set up on 21 February and a large demonstration of workers numbering between 5000-10000 was held. It demanded arrest of the GM, payment of due compensation and meeting all earlier demands of workers. The GM was arrested to humour the workers, under a minor charge (S. 216, IPC- harbouring criminals) for apparently giving shelter to the goons who he had engaged to break the union. He is out on bail. Through continuous meetings before the DLC between 27 February and 6 March, a temporary agreement was reached between the management and the union regarding compensation. It finally agreed to a compensation of Rs. 1.75 lakh for death. Moreover it promised to extend ESI facilities to all workers and also provide a job for one member of the family of each worker killed. The JAC meanwhile held another large public demonstration on 5 March, and continues to push ahead with its demands. In the firing at Pashupati Mill both the state and the management stand completely exposed by the management agreeing to pay compensation for firing actually executed by the police. Instead of ceding the workers’ demands earlier, or even negotiating with workers the management decided to end the workers’ agitation by declaring an illegal lock-out without any prior notice. This led to the police firing. The brutal fact remains finally that the management agreed to a few of the reasonable and legitimate demands of the workers only after four workers were killed. Several demands have still not been agreed to.

CONCLUSION

From the evidence collected by PUDR, several features emerge clearly:

The firing was directed at workers, and not in the air as the administration, police and management has claimed

There are clear indications of collusion between the state forces and the Pasupati Mill owners. At the same time, their own interests lead them to provide conflicting versions, in order to evade responsibility.

While the workers have been charged with heinous crimes, and have suffered bullet injuries and lathi wounds, the management has got off with minimal compensation. This too, they portray as an act of goodwill alone.

The police and the district administration failed to even provide medical help to workers injured in the firing. They were left to fend for themselves.

The state has not accepted any culpability and provided compensation.

The police, which in this case, has functioned as an agent of the management, has got off without any charges.

The legitimate demands of the workers have not been addressed. By throwing out workers on 19 February, the management declared an illegal lock-out punishable under S.26(2) of the Industrial Disputes Act.

The Deputy Labour Commissioner colluded with the management in reaching a settlement with the union without ascertaining whether it was representative of the workers.

The suspensions of the workers active with the new union are illegal. These amount to ‘unfair labour practices’ under S. 25 U of the Industrial Disputes Act and are punishable. The lack of any action in this regard by the DLC only strengthens the charge of collusion.

PUDR DEMANDS

Judicial enquiry by a High Court Judge into the incident.

Adequate compensation to the injured and to the families of those killed.

Immediate removal of charges against workers.

Reinstatement of workers and immediate acceptance of their legitimate demands

Punishment of guilty management, the officials responsible and the police who fired.

The laying down of distinct guidelines to prevent the use of police by managements to settle industrial disputes.

Published by: People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi

* Self-Activity of Wage Workers

Theories and practices of representation & delegation are a stumbling block in the self-activity of wage-workers. They hinder wage-workers’ resistances, refusals and steps of change. What follows is a part of a larger critique of representation & delegation that we are engaged in. We invite you to join us in this attempt.

CONTENTS

*** Lead-ry
*** Routine lead-ry
*** Lead-ry – Department of conflict management
*** Self-activities of wage-workers
*** Activities of a fringe left
*** A critique of a fringe left
*** A preliminary sum-up
*** Self-activity of wage-workers against Politics of Closure

KK/ Collectivities, April, 1998 Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

*** Lead-ry

For over four years now we have encountered numerous arguments and counter-arguments in conversations amongst wage-workers on the role of leaders in routine factory life. The backdrop to these conversations has been the unfolding of events in factories where workers find themselves trapped. What is attempted here is a systematization of numerous experiences and observations to obtain a better understanding of shop-floor life in order to confront it more effectively.

“On the shopfloor we are at all times in direct antagonism with the supervisor/ foreman. This antagonism is because of the supervisor’s constant attempt to maintain work flow.”

“Supervisors constantly keep their eyes on us. They threaten us with charges, threets & suspension, placate us with overtime & advance payments and use outright deceptions to keep us in check.”

“Supervisors constantly nag us to fulfill production quotas and maintain quality. They perpetually hassle us to ensure a minimal rejection of products. Raw material utilization is another never-ending bone of contention.”

“We never tell supervisors what is in our hearts. No supervisors can know what we are thinking and planning. They are actually in constant fear of us.”

“Routinely we engage in slowdowns, quality slackening, wastage, breakage and clogging. Breakage and clogging are what we all do, all the time – but never talk about it, even with each other. We never even voice our appreciation or acknowledgment of what someone has done … its an open secret.”

“Whenever the discontent on the shopfloor becomes very sharp and the atmosphere surcharged, supervisors lose their voice.”

*** Routine Lead-ry

“Leaders are from amongst us. We have an ambivalent relationship with them.”

“Because they are from amongst us, leaders know a lot about us, about our inclinations and our thoughts. Leaders do not work themselves. They tell us to ensure that production does not fall and promise to take care of the rest as they claim to be our watchdogs (pahredar).”

“Leaders have financial clout. This is not just from union dues & other collections. A lot of money comes from cuts & commissions in the purchase of uniforms, shoes, festival sweets, festival gifts like blankets, almirahs, suitcases, watches and kitchenware. Cuts from canteen contractors and scrap-dealers. Lumpsums from managements for long term agreements. Control of cooperative societies and welfare funds.”

“Contenders for leadership spend a lot of money during elections (in the factory). Because leadership means financial clout.”

“Being a leader entails no work in the factory and much money. This is enough to sway a lot of workers.”

On small benefit networks

“Leaders, ex-leaders and potential leaders create and maintain intricate networks spread throughout the factory through incentives like advances, loans, lighter jobs, preferable shifts, employment to kith & kin, gate passes, tours, better food from the canteen without any payment, grants from welfare, first preference.” Networking by leaders also uses caste and regional identities.

“Leaders and ex-leaders are often found ensconced in the offices of the personnel manager or some other official. Persons with close links to this or that managerial faction can provide facilities to their close followers (laguea-bhaguea). Leaders and their camp-followers makeup ten to fifteen percent of the factory’s workers.”

“Those who constitute the networks are articulate in various ways from muscle power to slippery tongues.”

“These networks which are constituted on the basis of material incentives and favours are very intricate. They make a “tantra” and “jaal” (apparatus and mesh) to keep constant tabs on, as well as affect the weather and temperature on the shopfloor.”

“Those who constitute the networks are conduits for the circulation of rumours, baits, airy-fairy promises, and even lies. These networks make constant efforts to justify and valorize leaders and their powerful social & political links.”

“Leaders are basically middle-persons. And like all middle-persons they sometimes get small things done for us on an individual basis.”

“We have everyday fears of disciplinary actions, chargesheets, suspensions and physical attacks. Leaders’ networks routinely highlight, heighten and exaggerate these fears to keep us pacified.”

During shopfloor confrontations

“Supervisors run away from the shopfloor whenever worker discontent grows and workers take an openly confrontationist stance. In such cases management refuses to talk to workers directly. It sends leaders to the shopfloor.”

“Most of us weigh the situation again and again, and hesitatingly take steps back and forth on contentious issues. Leaders’ networks try to pacify us by exaggerating our fears. Meanwhile, the networks of ex-leaders and potential leaders try and instigate us to an openly confrontationist stance in an attempt to establish their leaderships.”

“Leaders’ pet rant to pacify us is that ‘you start the work, we’ll take care of the matter’. When workers refuse to listen and open confrontation continues, selective suspensions and dismissals begin.”

“In such situations, suspensions and dismissals force workers to talk to the leaders. The leaders then scold workers for having taken steps without their advice. They present the suspensions and dismissals as a consequence of not heeding them.”

“The issues of contention are effectively sidelined by the leaders. They shift the focus to suspensions and dismissals.”

“Routinely, when workers demand small relief on individual or group basis, the management does not act. When leaders say the same thing, the management acts. This increases the power of the leaders.”

Some conclusions

“We used to give union dues on the understanding that we would get benefits in exchange. Wages will increase and our jobs will be safe. But during the past twenty years things have been just the opposite.”

“For twenty-eight years I have been witnessing a reduction in the number of workers and an increase in production.”

“Earlier we used to give union dues but now the management deducts union dues from our salary.”

“Trapped by one assurance or another, we contribute union dues. It is only later that we find that all these assurances were hollow.”

*** Lead-ry: Department of conflict management

Lead-ry is an art and a science, mastered only by a few, and used to sit on our heads. It requires:

• Sharp skills in discontent measurement and the ability to arrive at swift quantitative solutions i.e. ‘at what’ and ‘at how much’ will the workers accept the disagreeable. This involves a wide spectrum of activities ranging from passing on sums of money to slapping a supervisor’s face.
• Highly developed rhetorical skills, which are used to sway, to create prejudice and to convince.
• Organising skills, which are used to build and sustain well-oiled networks at minimal cost. These skills involve astute psychological reading of individuals and groups of individuals. They also require a down to earth grasp of identity politics and maneuvers.

Managements’ regime of work, productivity and discipline is routinely confronted and opposed by wage-workers. Routine activity of lead-ry is to coax, cajole and threaten wage-workers into accepting these regimes. Lead-ry routinely negotiates agreements with management and attempts to implement them by overcoming wage-workers’ opposition. “Whenever a new machine or fixture is brought workers refuse to work on them. Leaders are the main instruments to implement these changes. Placation, suspension and fear are used by leaders for this.”

The main activity of lead-ry is to actively discourage the routine self-activity of wage-workers. Individually and in small groups, workers are always taking steps on their own that disrupt the work-routine. These seemingly minor irritants are a major threat to production and discipline. Leaders and their networks, i.e. lead-ry, is constantly engaged in hindering, devaluing and hijacking the self-activity of wage-workers.

To put it bluntly: higher management makes strategies, leaders & personnel managers act as tacticians, and supervisors & leaders’ networks execute these strategies.

*** Self-activities of wage-workers

Perhaps not universal, it is still true that most people have the capacity as well as the ability to act and participate as “NOT AS UNEQUALS” in small informal groups. The layering of experience, the excitement and the unpredictability associated with what takes place each day is not because we participate as ‘equals’. Instead, it is because each of us carries our individuality and is able to express it freely in such groups. This participation as “NOT AS UNEQUALS” is spread over various facets of life and an individual is often a participant in more than one informal group at most times. The wider implications of these informal groups of “NOT AS UNEQUALS” stand out clearly when we look at their play in some detail in institutional structures, whether factories, offices, banks or the media.

The moment of entry into a factory is the moment of entry into the disciplinary grid of work & productivity, as well as a jungle of informal groups. Strict entry schedules set up by managements are transformed into stretchable entry times. The act of punching-in is often put into disarray by proxy-punching or transformed by kicks that literalize the machine into a punching bag. ‘Entry time’ is made distinct from ‘commencement of work’ by long handshakes – backslaps – chitchat. It is often that work commences after 9 o’clock tea in an 8 A.M. shift. Management strategies like changing the placement of the ‘punch-in’ from factory gate to departments, the imposition of fines, like a fifteen minute wage-cut for being late by one minute, are visible signs of managerial desperation.

Proxy-punching in the Goodyear Tyre factory has forced the management to issue identity cards containing computer floppies, even though it has meant an increase in cost. Workers’ kicks in the Bata Shoe factory repeatedly dysfunctionalized the punching machine and forced the management to appoint an attendance clerk to go to each department and mark workers’ attendance.

Using lead-ry networks, management conducts time studies to work out grids of intensification. These are the periods when the wink of an eye and the utterance of a phrase put into practice well thought-out schemes involving co-ordinated steps by small affinity groups of seven-eight workers. And, whether they are premised on time studies or on agreements with leaders, the biggest stumbling block to increases in the workload are the informal groups of workers.

Keeping the immediate supervisor in check is a task that all workers have to take up. It is a very common sight to find five-six workers heckling a supervisor when s/he is trying to boss over some worker. Immediate supervisors are often nervous, tense and anxious despite the brave face they put up. In a hand tools factory, a supervisor who bullied and humiliated workers was lucky to survive. On a cold winter night shift, the machines lay idle because of shortage of material and the supervisor went to sleep in his cabin with a coal fire to keep him warm. Workers slept on as a factory ghost locked the supervisor’s cabin door. It was the routine round of security personnel that led to the breaking open of the door and the saving of the supervisor’s life.

Helping one-another does not remain confined to affairs dealing with the company. Discussions of events in one-another’s residential locality, schools, hospitals, etc. are very common amongst groups of workers during breaks which are often extended, to the constant chagrin of managements. Intricate inter-linking amongst workers coagulates them into entities where a member is never alone. This plays a major role in keeping the bossism of management or the goonery of lead-ry in check, whether in the factory, on the road or in residential localities. Anyone mistaking an individual to be only an individual is immediately shown the real side of things. In fact, the affinity groups in factories are a continuation of affinity groups at large in society.

Innumerable actions, immense diversity and an extremely high unpredictability of affinity groups keep management and leaders in check. A phrase often floating in management-lead-ry negotiations is “Will the workers accept this?” Rules and regulations are easily made. Agreements can easily be signed. Workers not accepting or fulfilling given production targets can have their services terminated. Given the universal co-option of unions and leaders by managements, there seems to be nothing stopping managements from doing what they want. Then, why the ever-present, ever-troubling question “Will the workers accept this?”

In a factory manufacturing wires, management stream-rolled workers from one job to another. Anyone saying ‘NO’ was shown the gate. The coolness and quietness with which small groups of workers accepted this and interchanged operations, from acid to water to oil back to water, oil and acid, only infuriated the management when they discovered that ninety tonnes of wire was sent back by a consignee as being defective. Arbitrary job changes came to an abrupt end. To counter the delay in wage-payment, a handful of workers working for a contractor in a textile factory simply went to the canteen and sat there. The workers’ silence in response to the haranguing of the chief executive completely unnerved the management.

A management of a tractor factory increased production quotas using agreements with the union. Workers operating computerised machines responded by changing around the tapes that governed work sequences. The management had to very quickly replace the machines.

Anyone blowing the whistle is shown his or her place. In a hand tool-manufacturing factory, new machinery even further cut down the time between two operations. In order to obtain some breathing space, two cranes were made to move from opposite sides, clash and cause a breakdown. A maintenance worker complained to the management. One day, cranes were in operation but were said to be not working. The maintenance worker was called for repair. He climbed a crane and when he was checking it, the other crane began moving towards his crane. His shouts for mercy braked the other crane, but they proved to be a brake for management schemes as well.

And then, things like not greeting a boss. The management of a factory stopped overtime payments to pay clerks. The five pay clerks responded to this loss of dues by moving like automatons whenever they came across their boss. The silence of the clerks got on his nerves and the management had a nervous breakdown. Overtime dues were restarted.

It is these constant innumerable, insidious, unpredictable activities by small groups of workers that underlie the stress that managements give to representation – articulation – long term agreements. Representation – articulation – unity – long-term agreements versus wage-workers’ silences – mumbling – incoherence – constantly nagging non-unitary demands are expressions of the functioning of a large number of small informal groups in an institution. They are the signs of expressions of the individualities of workers.

In a factory, workers in small groups would often go to the general manager to put up their grievances or seek relief. The harassed manager met this self-expression of workers by posting a guard in front of his office and issuing explicit instructions that workers would not to be allowed to enter his office in groups and only one worker would be allowed to go in along with a leader. In this way, not only was his paternal mask shattered but also the upkeep of his position demanded new costs. Management responds to the adamancy of these small groups of workers by harping on the threat to harmonious industrial relations. Lead-ry denounces the actions and demands of these small groups as a selfishness that poses a threat to workers’ unity.

Sixteen hot chamber workers in a factory left their place of work on a hot summer day complaining of excessive heat. Operations involving five hundred workers came to a standstill. Hot chamber workers had been demanding relief during summers through a lowering of temperature, but the management was not willing to agree, as this would lessen the pace of drying and therefore slow down the chain of work. Assurances had been aplenty and many a long-term agreement had completed its tenure. This step of the hot chamber workers was met by the leaders with such epithets: “All these years they did not feel the heat, it is only today that they have acquired this delicacy. They want to spoil our relation with the management. Wheat advance is around the corner – now the management will refuse to give it. They only look at themselves. Their selfishness is harming all the other workers. The management listens to us because we represent you. But if small groups do not listen to us and take steps on their own, then why will the management talk to us? It is only our unity that is holding back the management, otherwise it will do whatever it wants. These hot chamber workers are harming our unity, and if tomorrow the management takes action against anyone we will not be responsible.”

In the Escorts Yamaha motorcycle manufacturing factory, disenchantment with and denunciation of leaders was similar to innumerable other places. In a confrontation with the management, 300 workers on the assembly line refused to have anything to do with leaders and jammed the assembly line on their own. Leaders denounced these workers and reciprocated by saying that they would not intervene on their behalf – this would teach them a lesson. Workers in other departments did not lay down their tools in sympathy with the assembly line workers. Instead, what was observed was that management and leaders were conspiring for a lockout/strike to launch a major attack on the workers. There are two thousand five hundred workers in the factory. All the workers side-stepped the leaders and decided to continue production in other departments while the assembly line workers would keep the line jammed. Meanwhile, money would be collected department-wise to compensate their financial loss. As the assembly of a motorcycle per two minutes stood still, management and leaders bid their time, confident that the past would repeat itself and workers would have to accept the mediation of leaders. A week after the jam, overtime payments of the previous month were made. One hundred rupees was contributed by each worker, and collected in a rota department-wise. It was decided that a like amount would be contributed when monthly wages were to be paid. This step of the workers unnerved the management as well as the lead-ry. Leaders on their own started holding talks with the management and an ex-partie agreement fulfilling the assembly line workers’ demands was made to get the assembly line moving.

Refusals

Self-activities of wage-workers also encompass layers and layers of routine refusals. A few such refusals are:

“Never make a complaint against a co-worker to a supervisor or to a manager.”
“Never to give evidence in favour of management against a co-worker.”
“Not to get entangled in competition. To give more production in competition with co-workers is unacceptable.”
“Refuse to be carried away by managerial appreciation & recognition to give more production.”
“Even the shadow of money is unacceptable in inter-personal relations.”

Seismic lead-ry

It is not un-often that competitiveness in the market demands sharp rise in productivity. This entails a major attack on wage-workers. Major attack means large-scale retrenchment, big increase in work intensity, sharp cuts in wages besides other cost cutting and efficiency drives.

In these conditions managements plan new strategies and lead-ry adopts new tactics. The unfolding of events is very intricate. To discern the intricate web of strategy and tactics we take as an illustration the unfolding of events in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad in 1982-1984 of which we have a first hand experience.

Background Gedore Hand Tools, headquartered in Germany, had three plants in Faridabad exploiting 3500 wage-workers. U.S.A was a major market for its produce. Hand tools enterprises located in China and South Korea were Gedore’s market competitors. Shrinkage of production in the auto and engineering industries in the early 1980s sharpened the competition in the hand tools market. In this scenario, in order to maintain its competitiveness, Gedore management planned a major intensification of work through automation and large-scale retrenchment. For installation of an automatic plating plant Gedore management took a loan of Rs. 2.5 crores (~ $2.5 millions) from the Industrial Development Bank of India, a government of India enterprise.

The unfolding of events

In the beginning of 1982 incidents of chargesheeting, suspensions, transfers from one department to another, shifting workers from one job to another, wage-delays, downgradation in canteen quality, insistence on quality in production, strictness about production targets, time strictness, no rest during shift hours etc. increased noticeably.
In a gate meeting on June 7, 1982 union leaders spoke at length about capitalism, global crisis, company in crisis, and then asked the workers to make sacrifices in the larger interest. They put forward three alternatives to choose from:
– 25% reduction in wages.
– Go on special leave for six months at half wages.
– Retrenchment of 600 workers.
Workers rejected outright all these options put forth by the leaders. At this rejection, managements’ escalated their strong-arm tactics and instigation. Leaders and ex-leaders oiled their networks and accelerated mobilisations around caste and regional identities.

Workers disenchantment with leaders increased rapidly. Their self-activity became more pronounced. Large number of workers stopped paying union dues, attending union meetings, side-stepping leaders in day to day activity and began to deal directly with management individually and in small groups. Graffiti inside the plants increased. A group of workers belonging to, or influenced by, the fringe left posed inconvenient questions in a signed handbill on June 12, 1982. The handbill read “… management says that it does not have money even to buy raw materials – then where are the crores of rupees (millions of dollars) for automation coming from? Is it not because of automation that 600 workers are being told to resign? Soon, will you not talk of the need to retrench a thousand workers? Instead of struggling against it, haven’t union leaders become advocates of the management?”

The confidence of the leaders was shaken. Management was put on the defensive. Uneasy questions in the workers’ minds became points of widespread discussion. The tactic deployed by leaders and management – of announcing their attack in the gate meeting – had turned out to be a blunder. For damage control, the leaders adopted silence and the management took steps – show cause and advice l etters were issued to the signatories of the handbill. Through a circular, management warned workers to beware of disruptive forces. It said that automation was for the health of the workers. The management claimed that it had never had any intention of retrenching workers who would be made surplus by automation. If the management had wanted, it could have retrenched half the workers as it had been paying full wages to idle workers for one and half years. The circular ended with a rhetorical flourish: “Increase production OR perish!” A twisted version of the management slogan: “Increase production AND perish!” became popular amongst the workers.

The sequence of events at this point is as follows : there are prolonged delays in the payment of wages, machinery for automation reaches the plants, leaders maintain a strict silence, and ex-leaders attempt to form a rival union. There are physical attacks, by leaders and their network, on workers who still try to focus discussion on the looming retrenchment. To silence these voices, management uses suspensions. Besides the delay in wages, the issue of the annual bonus is used as another diversionary entanglement. Further on, the management goes for work suspension at half wages for three days and says that this may continue for quite some time.

Leaders complement these steps taken by the management for an open confrontation by ordering a tool down strike on February 12, 1983. Fiery speeches at gate meetings became a regular feature. Dissenting workers who have been trying to focus attention on looming retrenchment are denounced as disruptive elements and attacked. On February 21, 1983 leaders announce at a gate meeting that they have reached an agreement with the management. In the agreement it is agreed that no further work suspensions would take place but wages of January’83 would be paid in January’84. The workers reject this agreement. The management then tries, unsuccessfully, to instigate violent confrontations amongst workers through ex-leaders.

The same agreement is again put for approval at the gate meeting of February 28, 1983 after a number of thundering speeches challenging the management to lockout the factory if it wanted. The workers again reject the agreement. After the second rejection, the leaders announce that the way now is to go for an ‘open struggle’. A meeting of factory delegates (who had been elected in 1980) and other militant workers is called and suggestions asked for. Leaders then reject the suggestion for demonstrations on the plea that the conflict was with the Gedore management and not with the government. However, as soon as t he question of steps against the management comes into focus, the leaders somersault and announce a demonstration & a sit-down at the district administration chief’s office to be organised on Mar, 21.

On March 20, leaders call another gate meeting. Besides members of their network in the three plants, leaders bring their supporters from other factories and spread them out strategically. The same agreement is announced yet again. It is immediately hailed by the strategically placed supporters! And before the workers can react, leaders and their henchmen jump the factory gate and rush in to the plant to switch on the machines. The leaders had here used a time tested and most effective strategy. By switching on machines and restarting the plants, the workers would now be split into confronting groups, where one section would demand a continuation of the tool down strike while the other would be in favour of resuming work. This clash amongst the workers, and the concomitant unfolding of violence, would then facilitate large-scale retrenchment.

But in this case this strategy failed miserably. Enraged, the 3500 workers rush into the plant, shut down the machines and then beat up the leaders who are forced to run away. The President of the union who was also beaten and had to turn tail, had been the president of the union for ten years and was also the President of CITU, Faridabad district unit of the central trade union of Communist Party of India (Marxist). Production does not resume. There is now massive police deployment. Leaders again try to start the machines at night. They are again forced to retreat. Tool down continues.

Some workers belonging to the fringe left call a general body meeting on 23rd March, the weekly rest day. All the workers attend it. A committee proposed by militant, articulate workers and ex-leaders to obtain the resignation of leaders is not opposed. In view of the mounting discontent of workers, the leaders have to resign. After the resignations, the struggle committee, however, does not materialize and the ex-leaders take over. Tool down continues till April 14, 1983. The workers reluctantly accept the agreement that they had rejected earlier.
Stalemate. The issue of retrenchment has got bogged down.

The cycle of shopfloor instigation and wage-delays reemerges as a part of renewed attempts to retrench workers. Police are now posted inside one of the plants. Mobilisations being made on the basis of region and caste come to the fore. There is now a delay in the payment of wages to supervisory and clerical staff.
The management obtains government approval for retrenchment of 300 workers. Leaders hide the list and deny that there is any retrenchment on the cards. They start talking about a new long-term agreement and preparation of a demand charter for it.

At this juncture, management steps up attempts at violent confrontations amongst workers. Old leaders form a committee with the claim that they will negotiate a good agreement with the management. Mobilisation by the two lead-ry networks on the basis of caste, region and plant identity became frantic. The management flames the fire by locking out the third Gedore plant in February 1984. Enraged workers attack the existing leaders and the committee of old leaders uses this opportunity to take over leadership. Lockout in the third plant is lifted.
The finishing off And then began joint action by the management, leaders, police, state administration and the media, to retrench workers in Gedore Hand Tools. A gang of 15 to 20 leaders and their musclemen freely roam the three plants. They pick workers from their machines, take them to the plant time-office and force them, through physical violence and threats, to sign resignation letters. In this way, up to 50 workers are forced to resign in a single day. Workers coming to factory for work and those leaving after shift hours are attacked on the roads and forced to resign. Workers are threatened at their homes and forced to resign. Workers who had lodged complaints with the police find that the police have framed cases against them. Government administration merely files away the complaints made at the District Administration office. Newspapers do not print any news of these events. Not even letters about a fellow worker who committed suicide on the rail tracks after he was forced to resign.

In these circumstances hundreds of workers sought shelter in their villages for months. And the environment at Gedore? Armed police in tents inside the factory, armed police in trucks making rounds of the three plants.
This is how the stalemate was broken and retrenchment implemented. Even then, it took one more year to retrench 1500 workers out of the 3500 in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad.

Fallout

The inability of the management, lead-ry and state administration to entrap wage-workers in time tested snares, forced them to divest themselves of their constitutional garbs as well as leader militancy. They had to resort to brute force to implement their policies. This repression, however, could not bring with it the myth of “glorious defeat” with its martyrs and heroes as well as the attendant mortgaging of wage-workers’ critical evaluation.

But not getting trapped was not sufficient for the workers and they were disabled by the methodical repression of the management. This could happen, fundamentally, because management repression did not create sufficient ripples and repercussions amongst other wage-workers. Workers’ self-activities had remained disjointed, unlinked and uncoordinated even within the enterprise. A dynamic expansion of wage-workers’ self-activities is critical for linking wage-workers of one enterprise with those of other enterprises. But the unfolding of workers’ self-activity was impeded by their not questioning of representation & delegation.
Seismic lead-ry – at a higher level The frequency of extensive area-wide, region-wide, nation-wide attacks on wage-workers, compressed in ever-shortening periods of time is increasing. The attacks entail huge wage-cuts, enormous increase in work-load and mass scale retrenchments. And they are implemented, primarily, in two ways.

One: through instigation to mass violence by playing the politics of identity, and
Two: through the foisting of credible, militant leaders.
In Indonesia, 1997-98, through the massive attacks on wage-workers, one can see these strategies being played out:
I. Media highlighted riots between ‘ethnic Indonesians’ and ‘migrant Chinese';
II. “Confirmed reports say that the US has been pressuring Jakarta to release one of the top political dissenters from imprisonment. ‘The US move is to enable Jakarta to cool the rising temperature down to some extent’, say sources”. [HT, Delhi 29 March 1998]

*** Activities of a fringe left

The fringe left that was a participant in the events in Gedore Hand Tools in 1982-84 existed around a monthly workers newspaper. Some workers of Gedore were members of this fringe left and we have emerged from this background.The activities of this fringe left had been geared:
– to unmask the collaboration of leaders with managements.
– to keep in focus the issues that managements and leaders seek to hide.
– to unmask formal and phoney steps like one-day token strikes, token demonstrations and formal mass meetings that are organised by leaders.
– to create and establish an effective alternate leadership to be constituted by militant, credible leaders from amongst the workers.
– to unify workers around this alternate leadership.
– to launch organised, conscious struggles under this alternate leadership.
– to push for demonstrations, mass meetings & strikes.

*** A critique of a fringe left

The process of unmasking management-leader collaborations brought into focus contentious issues that management and leaders seek to hide. This centre-staging of otherwise hidden agendas helped unleash the self-activity of wage-workers. Management notices and leaders rhetoric, demand charters and agreements, all came under constant scrutiny by wage-workers. “What to do?” and “How to do? ” became topics of routine discussion. Routine self-activity of workers as individuals and in small groups increased.

The medium of circulation of information around these activities was through a regular monthly newspaper, frequent handbills, wall-letters and conversations. These simple acts created considerable hurdles in the implementation of the retrenchment policy at Gedore Tools.

But it is the alternative proposed by fringe left that is problematic, in fact, fatal. The mobilisation of wage-workers envisaged by the fringe left, in fact, is premised on the erasure of the self expressions and self-activities of wage-workers at large.

The problem of militant and credible leaders

In the latter half of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, fierce polemics raged on the question of real and phoney representations/ representatives of the interests of wage-workers. The polemics spanned ideology, strategy and tactics. ‘Reform or Revolution’ was often the high point of the debate. The reality that has unfolded since has, however, made the very premises of this debate redundant. Towards the last quarter of the 19th century, requirements of production enterprises for accumulated labour reached such dimensions that individual ownership of production enterprises became unfeasible. to to as the major source of funding for production enterprises are what has unfolded in these one hundred years. Individuals as owners/ part owners of production enterprises have increasingly become insignificant. Acts forcing bankruptcies of individual owners have lost their cutting edge. Enterprises have acquired institutional forms. With enterprises becoming monoliths of massive amounts of accumulated labour, head-on collisions of living labour with these institutional monsters are counter productive for living labour, whether in the form of an individual wage-worker, a group of wage-workers or a mass of wage-workers. And, working for head-on collisions is the raison d’etre of the fringe left.

In this scenario, the blurred boundaries between phoney, formal and real struggles have melted, become indistinguishable, giving way to a continuum. Formal-token, phoney-instigated-provoked, militant struggles, despite some differences of form, have in essence become indistinguishable. It is through repeated experiences that large numbers of wage-workers have learnt that these are harmful for them. It is this that underlies the unwillingness of workers to struggle – the word ‘struggle’ is here being used in the sense of the dominant meaning s that it has come to have. And it is this that underlies the fringe left’s activities to ‘agitate workers’ in order to overcome what it decries as the apathy and passivity of wage-workers. It is in this context that the fringe left creates the polemics of militant & credible leaders.

In general, the alternate leadership, the militant & credible leaders for whose creation the fringe left is geared, is a fringe phenomenon like itself. It is only in the event of major attacks on wage-workers that the alternate leadership of militant & credible leaders can and often does acquire leverage amongst large numbers of workers. And it is only then that the ‘dead-endness’ of militancy, and the fact that it actually causes serious damage, becomes obvious.

Unity and unifocality are the mantras of state and proto-state apparatuses. Even those fringe left groups that are explicitly anti-state have as their axis activities that are geared to unity and unifocal forms. This is what makes even such fringe left groups proto-states.

In fact, it must be stated that it is very doubtful if representation was at any time in the interest of wage-workers. A hundred years compel us to engage in a critical retrospective analysis. With all that wage-workers have experienced in this time, history proves that any and every representation is counter-productive for wage-workers.

Demonstrations, mass meetings and strikes are all events premised on unity and unifocality, and implicit in them are both representation and delegation. The logic for these events is that these are shows of strength and thus in the interest of wage-workers. Facts, however, point to the contrary.
Demonstrations Demonstrations involve an elaborate plan of date, time, route, destination, pace, slogans, demands, those to lead, those to maintain order, those to address and those to talk ‘on behalf’. Organisational infrastructure is a prerequisite for a demonstration. Ninety-five percent of wage-workers cannot organise demonstrations themselves, they can only join in as followers. For a worker to become a part of a demonstration, the worker has to in effect erase any idea of self-activity and self-expression, or, has to deceive him or herself by parroting the pre-written script as self-expression.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations are means and occasions for displaying the strength of organisations and leaders. The index of strength is numbers and the index of militancy is the number & intensity of skirmishes with the police, which range from charges by mounted police, water cannon charges, tear gas shelling, arrests, and firing. The success of a demonstration is measured by the grandiosity of the spectacle it provides to the media. What are erased are the injuries and the long court cases inflicted on wage-workers. Those who are killed are made into martyrs and transformed into icons to shackle any criticism or questioning. Workers, by and large, are aware that demonstrations make them easy targets for police attacks besides gagging their self-expression. This is evident from the distance that workers maintain from demonstrations. In fact demonstrations often have to be organised during shift hours with the connivance of managements.

Mass Meetings

Mass meetings Most frequently, mass meetings that wage-workers have to encounter are gate meetings at the factory and office. Gate meetings are held by leaders. The rule is that only leaders will speak in the gate meetings. The logic put forward is that any other vocalization will show disunity amongst workers to the management and weaken bargaining power. To see to it that the rule is implemented, lead-ry musclemen are strategically placed in gate meetings in order to summarily deal with any worker who tries to speak. Recognition of a new leadership hap pens with the successful holding of a gate meeting, because holding a gate meeting constitutes a challenge to the existing leadership.

The most encountered mass meetings, i.e. gate-meetings, exclude wage-workers self-expression both by logic and force. The fringe left often called for general body meetings (GBM) away from the factory premises in order to overcome the prohibition of any expression of dissent at gate-meetings. However, an elaborate organisational apparatus is also a prerequisite for holding general body meetings. These are occasions that require venues, agendas, stages, stage-managers, order keepers and elaborate time management. By their very nature, general body meetings are arenas for fights between leaders, ex-leaders and potential leaders with their lists of articulate speakers and cheer groups.

General body meetings demand from wage-workers time bound (two to three minutes) coherent presentations on specific agenda. These presentations have to be speeches to audiences of hundreds or thousands. This demand on the workers by itself excludes most workers from expressing themselves in general body meetings. Those who are not thus excluded have to filter through the lists of speakers of contending lead-ry networks. Workers have seen through general body meetings for what they are. Now the norm is that out of a thousand workers, approximately 150 will attend them.

There are other kinds of mass meetings that play on higher scales of representation. An illustrative example: From 1977 to 1979 in Faridabad, there were sporadic multi-nodal outbursts of workers discontent in hundreds of factories. In October 1979 unions jointly called a mass meeting. Around 100,000 workers assembled and the atmosphere was very charged. The huge number of workers spilled out of the meeting ground and road and rail traffic was forced to halt. Well-prepared police and paramilitary forces then began indiscriminate firing. Factories functioned normally from the next day. This incident ensured a smoother functioning in the industrial b elt for the next few years. And a martyrs’ column was duly erected.

Strikes

This fringe left’s activity regarding strikes was on two planes. One – phoney strikes called by leaders for the implementation of management policies and formal strikes to make their presence felt, were denounced. Two – The call was given for real strikes, and for militancy in real strikes.

Denunciation of phoney and formal strikes opens greater possibilities for workers self-activity as questions regarding what to do, what not to do, how to do, how not to do are unleashed. However, calling for real, militant strikes has disastrous consequences for wage-workers.

Vis-a-vis management, work stoppage at either factory or larger levels is no longer a powerful weapon of wage-workers. On the contrary, lockouts by managements and strikes by leaders are powerful instruments used to launch major attacks on wage-workers. In the last twenty years we have not come across any strikes, anywhere in the world, that have not resulted in large-scale wage cuts, retrenchments, work intensification or closures.

A few illustrative examples:

Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-83 in 60 textile mills. 250,000 workers unified under a militant leadership on a charter of demands. Management policy was to retrench 90,000 workers and close down old mills & sell the premium land. Under normal circumstances, such large-scale retrenchment would have taken more than ten years. Through the strike, however, this policy was implemented in one year.
East India Cotton Mills, Faridabad, 1979. Automation was to be implemented. Management needed to retrench 3000 out of 6000 workers. A strike was called by the union for a one-percent increase in bonus. Militant strike, and a lot of violence. Three thousand workers dismissed. Lakhani Shoes, Faridabad, 1983,1988,1996. Three major strikes by three different unions. Each time there is violence and militancy. Each time all workers are dismissed. Lakhani Shoes has registered a very fast growth rate in output. Number of factories of the company has increased from 3 in 1983 to 22 in 1997.

Requirements of a strike

The requirements of a strike are factory-wide issues and an elaborate organisational structure. Also, mobilisation of workers through persuasions, deceptions, hopes and threats. The activity of fringe groups during strikes that are not organised by them is geared to make the strikes increasingly militant. In factories where they have a physical presence and they are able to get an echo they may be able to take over the leadership of the strike by forming struggle committees of militant workers. What are the courses open to these struggle committees?
Prolongation of the strike does not help. Rather, the longer the strike is stretched, the weaker becomes the strength of the workers vis-a-vis management. Such being the reality, struggle committees are forced to resort to:
• Direct confrontations with state administration to pressurize the state-apparatus to act on the management. The steps are big and volatile, be they demonstrations, mass meetings, road jams and railway stoppage. These steps provide easy and visible targets to repressive organs of the state-apparatus. Given past experience, workers rarely follow those advocating these steps.
• Mobilisation of media, artists, stars, influential persons, other representatives, parliamentarians, grass-root activists to persuade state administrations to act on management.
Wage-workers are initially hopeful spectators to these performances and then slowly disperse as disenchantment sets in.
Both these action-courses lead to an immobilization and dispersion of workers and ensure an implementation of management policy.
Unified militant struggles, whether in the form of demonstrations, mass meetings or strikes, are akin to military operations with their generals, captains, sergeants and, of course, foot soldiers. Organisations linked to the management or organisations that are proto-states are alone capable of running such operations.

*** A Preliminary Sum-up

In general, when wage-workers resistances, refusals and steps of change are discussed, the imagery that crop up is that of mass demonstrations, mass meetings, strikes, pitched battles, insurrections. The corollaries to these are the non-mundane qualities of heroism, sacrifice, bravery, martyrdom, courage, wisdom, articulation, discipline and unity. By these very definitions, the self-activities of most wage-workers are excluded. This imagery inherently posits a spectacular arena for lead-ry to deprive the wage-workers of their voices. More painful still is that big, mass, spectacular movements make easy targets of wage-workers for managerial apparatuses to control, manage and, if necessary, crush.

Big implies mobilisation on a mass scale. Conducting and directing committees are intrinsic to such events. Seemingly a large number of people become active, but actually it is representatives and leaders who think, decide and issue orders whereas numbers at large have to march to the tunes trumpeted. Mobilisations by representatives are for representatives. Defeats are camouflaged as victories in order to legitimize the re-creations of these representational forms. Repeated experiences with ‘big’ have led wage-workers at large to keep aloof from them. This is often characterized as passivity and apathy of wage-workers.

When wage-workers daily routine oppositions become too much for a management or when a management has to go in for a major restructuring, retrenchment, wage-cut or intensification, it often resorts to spectacular work stoppage. Since production enterprise is no longer the private property of individuals (i.e. capitalist), prolonged stoppage of production is no longer a question of life and death for a management as it was for a capitalist. When necessary, managements resort to strikes, lockouts, work suspensions, suspension of operations by creating big factory-wide, area-wide issues with the help of representatives.With strikes becoming the weapon of managements, those attempting to genuinely represent wage-workers’ interests are crushed. Furthermore, individuals have become so insignificant vis-a-vis institutional structures that commitments or personalities hardly make any difference.

For all of us self-activity of wage-workers is of paramount importance. It is this area that we want to open out for discussion and debate. As wage-workers we know that all of us, everyday and at everyplace, have to contend with oppressive and exploitative conditions around us. Individually and in small groups we take steps on our own. In small groups, we interact with each other ‘not as unequals’ ensuring the self-expression and self-activity of each one of us. Confining ourselves to workplace experiences we can say that each one of us has an affinity group of half a dozen or so amongst whom all participate ‘not as unequals’. In these affinity groups a lot of premeditation and co-ordination takes place. The activities of affinity groups span from mutual help to routine resistances against productivity and discipline, along with refusals and steps of change that question and challenge hierarchy, competition, money relations and wage slavery. The problems as we see them are:

I. The importance of self-activity as reflected in these steps taken by affinity groups is denied. The steps by themselves are small and thus belittled. When they are talked about, they are derisively characterized as insignificant workplace skirmishes, or merely survival calisthenics.

II. Constant attempts are made by managements to suppress these self-activities through representation.

III. Wage-workers often do not give much importance to their self activity because of the invisibility of the social effects of the small steps engendered by their self-activities.

IV. There is a tremendous lack of linkages between affinity groups (which can only be horizontal and multi-nodal). This lack makes wage-workers vulnerable to getting coagulated into a mass whenever wider level issues are forced or arise. This coagulation if not created by representatives (which is ofttn the case), then in itself engenders representation.

V. More importantly, co-ordination between affinity groups is hampered by a lack of discussion on experiences of affinity groups.

Lest we be misunderstood, we would like to make it clear that we are not for small steps per se but our concern, rather, is for self-activity. Self-activity in terms of routine resistances, refusals and steps of change by wage-workers at large on a sustained, extended and expansive scale, encompassing a multifaceted global reality.

*** SELF-ACTIVITY OF WAGE-WORKERS AGAINST POLITICS OF CLOSURE DEFINING CLOSURE

A viable enterprise means that enough surplus is being extracted and realised in order to be appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends. For financial institutions, management & state apparatus, a company becomes non-viable & sick when the extracted and realised surplus is not sufficient to meet the existing levels of taxes, interest rates, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends.

It is not uncommon to find that state apparatuses, financial institutions and management are sometimes forced to reduce their amounts of surplus appropriation to keep an enterprise running. But the overriding tendency, of course, remains one of perpetually increasing the amounts that are appropriated, resulting in increasing “sickness” and “unviability”. The dominant propaganda and media, however, all the while speaks of “sickness” and “closure” in terms of either mismanagement or lack of profitability (i.e. inability to pay dividends). This screens the fact that the major portion of extraction from wage-workers is appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions and managerial lifestyle.

POLITICS OF CLOSURE

The common interests of management, financial institutions and state apparatus dictate the survival, running and growth of an enterprise. In their common interest, they collaborate to increase intensity of work & workload, decrease wages, retrench workers and create techniques to counter wage-workers’ self-activity.

Despite all the cunning and guile, force and deception used to keep an enterprise viable, when an enterprise “becomes unviable”, then it is in the management’s interest to swindle as much as it possibly can of the company’s assets. When a goose no longer lays golden eggs, wisdom advises – ‘Cut and Eat the Goose’.
There is a well-tried out management method to grab as much as is possible of wage-workers’ legal dues before the closure of a factory. Along with the months of outstanding wages, years of provident funds/ pension funds, gratuity/ retirement benefits, years of bonus and leave travel allowances, etc. are also not paid. Company properties are then sold off with the management taking large cuts & commissions. This has been a routine exercise in a large number of factories which have been closed in Faridabad and other places. The dominant schema is:
When a factory “becomes sick”, and closure has been decided, management – through union leaders – instigates strikes, and/or violent incidents to create conditions for lockouts. This facilitates the dispersal of workers. In these situations, management stops coming to the factory and wage workers are channelised into long drawn out civil and criminal court cases – fifteen years is very common. During all this, closure is very actively camouflaged. In the rare cases where the court cases are finally decided in favour of the workers, and the workers are at hand to take their legal dues, there is no property in the company’s name to pay. Banks’ and state apparatuses’ dues (taxes and other bills) gulp most of the little that remains.

A BREACH IN THE POLITICS OF CLOSURE

This is the scenario that is being tried out in Jhalani Tools Limited, Faridabad. But the wage-workers in Jhalani Tools are actively countering this management-leaders-state administration schema to gobble-up workers dues through various modes of self-activity. These steps of self-activity, in our opinion, have wider ramifications for wage-workers. Management of Jhalani Tools stopped paying wages to workers from Mar’96. The past experiences of wage-workers in Faridabad and specifically in Jhalani Tools, have thoroughly discredited leaders amongst wage-workers. Through silence and passivity, the 2,000 workers countered leaders’ and management’s methods of instigation around tangential issues. No heed was paid to grand agreements, identity politics, change of union affiliation, change of leaders, provocation by transfers, instigation to violence etc. Four groups of leaders have come (have been brought) and gone, banging their heads against this wall of ‘dull and dumb’ silence.

With mounting legal dues and increasing hardships, workers had hesitatingly started looking for alternative courses of action. Initially a small group of workers in Sept.’96 had on their own demanded back wages from the state labour department officers. Slowly, in affinity groups of 5-8, workers complaints to the state officials increased. And very soon the working of the labour department and district administration was almost jammed when 300 small groups of workers separately started approaching the officers. Legal obligations of separate dates and hearings were done away with, but then talking to hundreds of workers at the same time was another impossibility. Like the management, the district officials desperately tried to foist leaders on workers, but failed. Faced by this stubborn refusal to accept anyone as leaders, district officials then tried their best toinstigate workers to violence. They failed again.

Another facet of this incident is that collecting a crowd by giving a single date to 300 affinity groups facilitates the spread and legitimization of the ageless rhetoric of unity and delegation (for negotiation with management and administration). This was attempted by the district administration. But an interesting metaphor to counter this arose from within the crowd outside the administration office. A worker responded to the call for “unity and delegation” by calling out that – “Bees united in a hive can easily be smoked off and their honey taken away. But if affinity groups of bees swarm about, no one dares to touch their honey”.

Then the management tried to create leaders and instigate strikes through summary dismissals of workers. But even when the number of dismissals reached a hundred, the workers neither made leaders nor took to violence.

With this stepping up of pressure by management, leaders and state officials, the workers of Jhalani Tools in August’97 started taking very simple steps to take their predicament to more than 300,000 co-workers in Faridabad & Delhi. Overcoming hesitation, fear & shame, some workers in small groups of 8-10 started standing along various roads during morning and evening shift hours with hand written placards. This was done to engage in discussions with workers of other factories without any intermediaries. They have been doing this daily since Aug’97.
On the placards is written:

“We are from the 2000 workers who have not been paid their wages for (so many) months”;
“What is to be done when management does not pay wages?”;
“We have changed leaders four times and union flags three times, but each time it has been from the frying pan into the fire”;
“We have made many complaints to govt. officials and ministers but conditions have gone from bad to worse”;
“Metal Box, Delta Tools, Electronics Ltd. and now Jhalani Tools workers. Whose turn tomorrow?”; etc.

Everyday they space themselves along a different road. Along each route that they stand on, workers from hundreds of factories pass by. The response of workers at large has been tremendous. Dispersed, multi-nodal conversations without intermediaries are emerging about the urgent need for new modes of self-activity of workers. Over this period of eleven months, more than 200,000 workers have read these placards and thousands of workers have stopped to have extensive conversations with them. In almost all factories of Faridabad (and large number of factories & offices in Delhi) questions posed by these workers are being debated.

What is being discussed by an ever-increasing number of wage-workers is how to act on their own strength against the triumvirate of state, management and representatives. It is a constant process of conversation, argument and counter-argument as to the ‘Whats’ and ‘Hows’ of steps of self-activity. There is awareness that the charted out paths and networks of representatives, leaders and their organisations are all geared to subvert this process.

Management, leaders and state officials are finding it difficult to instill fear in workers at large as they can find no appropriate targets for their terror tactics. More difficult than the small numbers of workers on the roads, is the problem that the straight and silent faces of workers are posing for the bosses. An additional difficulty for the bosses is the workers’ refusal to go to court despite all the advice that the specialists have been doling out wholesale.
More and deeper discussions have been taking place amongst Jhalani Tool factory workers. These have found visible expression in forms like wall letters and graffiti, but a truly significant fallout has been that workers have innumerable and extended conversations within and outside the factory premises and with co-workers as well as workers from all other factories. From being a problem of one fac tory, it has now become a problem of all workers.

To counter the increasing self-activity of wage-workers, the provincial government organised elections, in Oct’ 97 in order to establish a new leadership in the factory. From Dec’ 97 the management started paying wages. However, these steps failed to put a brake on the workers’ self-activity. Neither the issue of back wages & other dues could be side tracked, nor could the management sell the IIIrd plant of the factory, nor could it make leadership credible amongst workers.
In this situation, in Apr’ 98, the management resorted to massive wage-cuts in order to instigate workers. Failing again, the management then created an atmosphere of fear & violence and threw out the elected leaders – replacing them with its hand picked works committee in the first week of June’98. This hand picked committee has resorted to direct physical attack and identity politics. But the continuous rise in workers’ self-activity has put a hold on this.
Small groups of workers with placards standing on the roads have increased and are increasing in number and so are the workers in conversations with them. Thereby not only creating problems for Jhalani Tools management, which has not been able to close the factory, but also for managements of thousands of factories.

KK / Collectivities, June, 1998. Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

10 Responses to “Workers’ History”


  1. [...] *** Past Tense / Present Unrest – Local Working Class History – We put online various historical documents on working class experience in Faridabad in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite having been one of the largest industrial areas in India at the time and a hotspot of post-Emergency proletarian turmoil, the experience of workers in Faridabad rarely entered the realm of official labour history. For the current generation of workers and communists a critical engagement with the voices from the past is essential part of the search for new trajectories and new forms of organisation. In the near future we intend to bring more documents and voices back into our present discussions and extend the archive on this site. Get involved! [...]


  2. [...] Past Tense / Present Unrest – Local Working Class History – Faridabad, India [...]


  3. [...] *** Past Unrest / Present Tense: Faridabad/Delhi Textile Workers’ Struggle 1979 to 1997 – For the ongoing quarry work of local working class history we added following material to the website: /// Notes from a short conversation with a worker formerly employed at Gedore Tools about smuggling rice in Bihar in the late 1960s before coming to Faridabad and getting a factory job; he recalls the 1973 general walk-out and riot at Goodyear plant, the police-raids and proletarian retaliations during the Emergency; /// An old text on the 1979 Delhi textile workers’ strike; the dispute became the necessary lock-out excuse for sacking 3,000 superfluous workers at East India Cotton, one of Faridabad biggest companies at the time; /// A long report on the 1988 Delhi ‘unorganised’ workers strike, by Indrani Mazumdar; /// Several articles from Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar covering the restructuring process at East India Cotton from 1989 to 1997 http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/workers-history/ [...]


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