Almond Workers’ Strike: one of the largest unorganized workers’ strikes in Delhi

December 21, 2009

15-Day long strike of Almond Workers comes to conclusion

Struggle came to an end with a compromise between the employers and the Union

December 31, New Delhi. The historical strike of almond workers continuing since last 15 days came to an end with a compromise between the employers and the Union. As is well known, this strike began on December 16 and around 20 thousand workers’ families had been participating in it. It has already being hailed as the biggest and longest strike by the unorganized workers of Delhi. Before this compromise, the employer side and the Union had sat across the table for talks earlier also, however, those talks could not establish a common understanding. Following that bipartite, the strike continued and finally on the evening of December 31, a common agreement was reached between both the parties.

Before this 15-day long strike the almond workers had put forward a 5-point charter of demand under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union (BMU), in front of the contractors. These primarily included the rights to which the workers are entitled under the labour laws. Earlier, the almond workers used to get a meagre Rs. 50 for processing of one bag of almonds. Besides, they used to be denied payment of wages for several months. Misbehaviour and abusing workers in godowns by the staff of contractors was a common thing. Moreover, the shells peeled off the almonds were sold to the workers on arbitrary prices fixed by the contractors. These shells are used as fuel for cooking by the workers. Under the leadership of the BMU, the workers had long been demanding that they should be given Rs. 70-80 per bag of processed almonds and the peeled off shells should be given to them at Rs. 10 per bag. They were also demanding that they should be given their due wages in the first week of every month.

The employers were rigid for last 15 days on not increasing the wages and they had been insisting that the workers should first of all call off the strike and return to work then, they will think about wage revision, and that too after January 16. However, the workers found this proposal unacceptable and continued with their strike. The employers’ frustration grew with every passing day as their armoury had been emptied. One of the employers was beaten up by women picketers after he attacked the women workers, the Police administration failed to break the strike by threatening and intimidating workers’ leaders, brokers also failed to break the strike by spreading rumours. After December 29, it was clear that it was just a matter of time when the employers succumb and approaches the workers for compromise. On the morning of December 31, some employers accepted the demands of the workers without talks with the Union and started work. As a result the employers unity disintegrated and they bifurcated into two groups. At last, around 6 PM in the evening of the same day, both the sides held talks and it was decided that the employers will give Rs. 60 per bag of processed almonds to the workers, the peeled off shells will be sold at Rs. 20 per bag, and the workers will be paid their wages in the first week of every month.

With this compromise the workers called off their historical strike and they are returning to work from the first day of the New Year. With this the biggest strike of the unorganized workers of Delhi came to conclusion. Under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union, thousands of unorganized workers proved that they can fight and they can win. Apparently, the workers could not win all of their demands. However, the issue in this strike now was not merely the revision of wages, etc. In an industry where the workers are made to toil like slaves in the most primitive conditions, constantly manhandled, facing abuses and misbehaviour and were considered an instumentum vocale, the workers waged a heroic and historical struggle to win respect for them and win their minimum labour rights. The employers were, for the first time, made to realize the massive force of workers and were made to do away with their misunderstanding, that these workers will keep enduring their excesses silently and would not speak up. Towards the end of the struggle, the employers bowed down to the workers’ power in every respect. Besides, not only the employers were made to realize the force of the united workers, but the population of the entire Karawal Nagar area understood the fact that these workers are not going to keep their lips zipped.

Another accomplishment of this strike was that the trade unions of parties like C.P.I. (M.L.) were sidelined by the workers consciously and they brought their struggle to an end under the leadership of the BMU, without any kind of support or help from any electoral party. The workers made it a point that they would not let any electoral party infiltrate into the movement. The workers rejected all varieties of brokers of electoral Trade Unions. They cleary understood the real character of the electoral parties, the R.S.S., Police administration and similar forces fo the area and realized that they have to fight on their strength only, which is massive.

Ashish Kumar, convener of the BMU, told the media that this struggle is not an end, but a beginning. In future, the almond workers of Delhi will continue to fight under the banner of the BMU for those rights which are still out of their reach. Ashish said that till this whole industry continues to function informally, the workers will remain weak in their legal battle. The next aim of the Union is to make the government’s labour department give formal status to this huge industry.

Abhinav, correspondant of labour monthly Bigul and a researcher of the unorganized workers of Delhi, said that this struggle will stay in the memories of the workers of Delhi for decades to come. This struggle was first of its kind and it dismantled this myth that the unorganized and informal sector workers cannot wage organized struggles. By organizing workers in their areas of residence and working class neighbourhoods, the struggle of the unorganized and scattered workers can be given an organized and huge form. Undoubtedly, it is a challenging task, however, this strike has emphatically proved that this challenge can be overcome.

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Historical Strike of Almond Workers completes two weeks

Strike continues under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union

Thousands of Workers uncompromising on their demands

December 31, New Delhi. The historical strike of almond workers of Delhi completed its two weeks on December 30. As is well known, almond workers of Karawl Nagar area of North-East Delhi are on strike since December 16 under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union, with the demands of implementation of labour laws and granting formal status to this completely informal almond processing industry worth millions of rupees. There is an extensive almond processing industry in the Karawal Nagar area in which 60 almond processing godowns are functioning. Nearly 20 thousand workers are employed in this industry who are presently at strike. This whole industry is linked with the global market as the almonds processed in it come from USA, Australia, etc. The unprocessed almonds are imported by the importers of Khari Baoli, which is the largest dry fruits market of Asia. It is located in the Old Delhi. These importers give these almonds to the petty contractors of Karawal Nagar on contract for processing. Due to this strike, the big importers of Khari Baoli and the petty contractors of Karawal Nagar are facing a crisis of existence, as 80 percent of almond supply has stopped. As a consequence, the rates of almond in the markets have shot up by 30 to 40 percent.

The workers are demanding that the contractors of almond implement the minimum labour laws. Presently, they are being paid Rs. 50 per bag of processed almonds which is Rs. 50 less than the minimum wages which are in effect in Delhi, because a skillded almond worker can process at most two bags of almonds if he or she works for more than 12 hours. That means that his/her day wage equals to maximum Rs. 100 per day. Apparently, this kind of wages is not sufficient for livelihood. As a consequence, the workers have to employ all of their families into this work which often includes children. Besides, these unprocessed almonds come to processing after being soaked in acid due to which workers have to face a lot of health hazards, for example, their hands become badly bruised, nails start melting, and also various kinds of lungs conditions arise. Going by the law of minimum wages, these workers should be given Rs. 80 for every bag of processed almonds. Reportedly, the godown owners get Rs.125 to Rs. 150 per bag of unprocessed almonds. And yet, the contractors are insisting that they would not give more than Rs.60 per bag. However, the workers are not ready to work below Rs. 70 per bag. Ashish Kumar, convener of Badaam Mazdoor Union, contended that if almond processing industry has to continue functioning in the Karawal Nagar area, the contractors will have to pay Rs. 70 per bag of processed almonds. Firstly, these godowns are functioning illegally in this area, and secondly, they are laughing away all labour laws. In such case, either these contractors will be forced to close their godowns and would not be allowed to open godowns in any area of Delhi, or they will be forced to grant the rights of labourers, to which they are entitled under the labour laws.

After the beginning of the strike, the contractors used all kinds of means to break the unity of the workers. First of all, on December 17, the goons of contractors attacked the workers and their leaders and then getting the Police administration into its pocket, got F.I.R. lodged against Union leaders themselves. Three union leaders spent two days in Jail and then got released on bail. But, this, inspite of breaking the unity of workers, strengthened it even further and the strike which involved 60 percent of workers, now had 90 percent of total workers in its support. Following this, the owners tried to run their godowns under Police protection, but the picketing teams of women workers agitated militantly and got these godowns closed and took their labourers in the support of strike. After that, one of the owners, Mr. Vasudev Mishra, who also contested in the MCD elections last year as an independent candidate, attacked the women workers with a stick, but in retaliation women workers beat him up and got him arrested by the Police. However, as is usual with the arrest of owners, he was released after a few hours and no case was lodged against him. Frustrated with the failed attempts, now the owners tried to outsource their work to other areas of Delhi, however, they had to incur huge losses, because unskilled labour of some other areas, ruined a lot of almonds during the processing. And lastly, now the owners have resorted to the old technique of spreading rumours through various kinds of brokers among labourers to break their resilience. But this attempt, too is being foiled by the internal orgainization of the workers and Union leadership. The workers are unrelenting and demanding that either they will work on Rs. 70 per bag, or the whole almonds processing industry will be vanished from the face of Delhi. They themselves will take legal initiative to get these unauthorized and illegal godowns closed down: within Karawal Nagar and beyond it.

Some of the godown owners are RSS cadre themselves and the RSS is constantly slandering against this workers’ movement. Today, everyone in Delhi knows that this almond workers’ strike is unique and unprecedented in every sense of the terms. Notably, these workers do not belong to a single factory or a few factories, who could be organized through old TradeUnionist methods. These workers are scattered across an extensive area. They cannot be found under one roof or in one area. This strike is proving to be the largest strike of completely unorganized workers in Delhi, involving more than 20 thousand workers’ families. It has shaken the roots of the globally-linked almond processing industry of India. This huge movement of workers till now has not received any kind of support from any electoral party. On the contrary, all the local political leaders of these electoral parties are trying to sabotage this movement in every possible way. Despite all, these the workers have refused to succumb.

Yogesh, member of Badaam mazdoor Union said that the workers have prapared themselves that either their demands are met or this whole industry will be closed. They understand the fact that they are not dependent on their employers for their livelihood, on the contrary the employers are dependent on the workers. Police administration in face of the militant workers, is now reluctant to take any open offensive against the movement, however, it is trying to cut off the Union leadership from the workers secretly. They are propagating among workers that the Union people are “outsiders”. Replying to this slandering, Yogesh of the Union, said that the Constitution of India gives every citizen of India the right to fight for the legal rights of any section of society including workers and he/she can help, support or even lead that section in the struggle for legal and constitutional rights. If the workers’ rights activists of the Union which also include respectable researchers and students of Delhi University, are “outside elements”, then Gandhi Ji was an outsider for the peasants of Champaran, Medha Patkar is and outsider for the people of Narmada Valley. This whole logic is promoted by the administration when it has to defend the ‘privileges of the employers. Police officials are saying that the Union leadership is causing law and order situation in the whole area. But they are not telling, how are they doing so? Are they breaking any law? They are just trying to organize workers for their just demands. However, this indeed creates a “law and order situation” for the employers and hence, the “nation” and the “country”, which obviously does not include the working class! Apparently, the Police administration’s conception of “nation” and “country” is exclusive of the workers and peasants.

Abhinav, workers’ rights activist, a researcher in Delhi University and correspondant of workers’ monthly Bigul, said that every working class movement in this country is making it more and more obvious and apparent that all the instruments of the State, for example, the Police, military, judiciary, bureaucracy, etc, are working for the protection of the profit machinery of the capitalist class and the property of the propertied class. If there is a just struggle for the legal rights of the workers and it becomes a menace for the smooth functioning of this exploitative machinery, the whole administration creates a hulabaloo of “law and order, unrest, anarchy, chaos” and embarks upon the suppression of this movement. The almond workers have staged a heroic struggle for their legal rights. But this struggle does not stop here, rather it starts from here. They will have to link their struggle to the working class struggles going on in this country and brace themselves for a struggle of systemic change. The problems of workers can be solved permanently only by this way.

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Two Thousand Almond Workers’ Stage a Massive Protest at Jantar-Mantar

Demamded implementation of Labour Laws, condemned the collusion of Police with contractors and employers

December 23, New Delhi. Nearly 2000 almond workers staged a huge demonstration at Jantar-Mantar in the afternoon under the leadership of ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’. As is well known, approximately 20 thousand almond workers have been on strike for past one week. These workers organized themselves into ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’ (BMU) a year ago and since then, they have been fighting for the rights to which they are entitled under various labour laws. The BMU declared strike in the almond processing industry located in Karawal Nagar which is situated in the North-East Delhi, following which 20 thousand workers’ families stopped work, who were engaged in this work. Due to this strike the entire almond processing industry of Delhi has come to a standstill. This pressure is hurting even more because these almonds come from the US, Canada and Australia to India for processing, after which they have to be sent back. These companies outsource the work of processing to India to exploit the extremely cheap labour of India. Khari Baoli, situated in Delhi, is the largest dry fruits market of Asia. The big businessmen located in Khari Baoli take contract for this processing work and then give it on subcontract to petty contractors situated in Karawal Nagar. These petty contractors get this work done by poor labourers on wages which are next to nothing. The workers are given a mere Rs. 50 for the processing of one 23 kg bag of almonds. The total profit on one bag of almonds is arount Rs. 7000. Of this profit, one share goes to the foreign company, another to the big businessmen of Khari Baoli, and yet another to the petty contractor who play in lakhs of rupees, while the workers are constantly on the verge of starvation.

Workers who came to Jantar-Mantar demanded that this almond processing industry which runs in Karawal Nagar and some other areas of Delhi should be given a formal status by the government and it should be regularized, as not a few hundreds are involved in this industry, but thousands of workers are toiling in it to earn a meagre livelihood. Ashish Kumar, Convener of BMU told the mediapersons that the contractors who are at the helm of the affairs in this industry laugh away the labour laws and exploiting the workers in a primitive and barbaric way. It is one of the most glaring example of wage slavery in modern times and that too in the heart of National Capital. For this, they have squandered away money to collude with the Police and local musclemen and political leaders. Against this dictatorship and exploitation, the workers in this strike are demanding that this industry be regularized by the government and labour laws be implemented. The second demand of the workers is that the workers should be given Rs 80 per processed bag of almonds rather than Rs 50. That would be equivalent to minimum wages. Besides, these contractors have not provided the workers with any identity card of job card due to which often they refuse to make due payments to the workers and the latter have no proofs whatsoever, to make a claim. The BMU also demanded that double payment should be made for the overtime. Apart from that, the contractors sell the rind of almonds to the workers. The workers use it as fuel to cook food. As this is a useless by-product of the process of processsing done by the workers themselves, it should not be sold to the workers. It should be given to them free of cost. The workers also demanded that the Police should lodge an F.I.R. against those goons of the employers who attacked BMU leaders and women workers with deadly weapons on the morning of December 17. Ironically enough, the Karawal Nagar Police arrested the Union leaders instead of arresting the contractors and their goons and lodged a F.I.R. against them under section 107 and section 151 and sent them to jail, from where they were released on bail on December 19. The BMU leaders also demanded action against the Karawal Nagar Police.

This strike which started on December 16, is being already hailed as one of the biggest unorganized workers’ strike in the history of Delhi. Almost 20 thousand workers’ families are involved in it. The whole almond processing industry of Delhi has been paralysed due to this strike. Due to the stoppage of almond supply, the prices of almond are increasing. On the other hand, the contractors are dreaming of crushing this huge movement of workers with the muscle power of their goons and tacit support of the Police administration. However, the workers are in no mood to surrender and they are intensifying their strike with every passing day. The BMU leadership demanded the Labour minister of Delhi and the Deputy Labour Commissioner of North-East Delhi to intervene in the matter and ensure the implementation of the labour rights of these workers. If the snatching away of workers’ rights goes on like this, then the workers will gherao the Labour Minister and Chief Minister of Delhi. It is the right opportunity for them to become cautious and implement these laws. They also warned the employers and contractors to wake up before the time runs out. They warned them not to try strength of the workers as it might cost dearly to their profit machinery. They cannot defeat organized working class power with petty street goons. They need to implement the labour laws and give the workers what they are legally entitled to.

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Delhi witnesses one of its largest unorganized workers’ strikes in last 20 years
Strike continues into sixth day despite threats and intimidations by the police and goons of factory owners
Supply to international markets badly hit, Delhi’s almond processing industry paralysed
2000 workers organize a huge warning rally

December 20, Delhi. The huge almond processing industry of Delhi, situated in the Karawal Nagar, continued to be paralysed on consecutive sixth day. As is well known, nearly 30 thousand almond workers’ families went to strike with their families six days ago under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union (BMU). In the meanwhile, on the morning of December 17, the contractors and their armed goons attacked a peaceful procession of women workers, injuring three BMU activists and several workers. In self-defense, workers started pelting stones on the goons due to which 4 of them were injured. However, the Karawal Nagar Police, completely playing in the hands of the employers, unilaterally lodged a case against the Union leaders under section 107 and section 151, and sent them to Tihar Jail. These BMU leaders were released on bail on the night of December 19. The shameless Karawal Nagar Police kept the injured, bleeding BMU activists in the Police Station, without providing them any kind of medical assistance, and doing so intentionally. On the other hand, the real culprits, the hooligans of the contractors were let go by the Police! Not even a single case was registered against them. Even more shameful is the fact that the Police lied to other BMU officials that they were taking the arrested leaders for M.L.C. and a case has been registered against the contractors and their henchmen. The contractors used casteist abuses against dalit workers and dalit BMU activists. And yet, the Police refused to register any case against the contractors and their gundas. The contractors and owners had calculated that with the arrest of the top BMU leaders, the strike will disintegrate. But, contrary to their great expectations, the arrest of BMU leaders, rather than shaking the courage and confidence of workers instilled in them an indomitable resolve to fight till the end. The 20 percent workers who had not joined the strike, joined it on the night of 19th December.

After the release of the leaders, workers warmly welcomed them and organized a historical rally on the morning of December 20 in the whole western Karawal Nagar. The rally had been organized as a symbolic warning to the contractors and the Police. Almost 2000 workers participated in the rally, predominantly female. The rally started in Prakash Vihar area of Karawal Nagar and covered the entire western Karawal nagar. During the rally, workers raised various slogans against the contractors, Police, capitalism, etc. The common citizens of Karawal Nagar saw this rally with awe and supported the demands of the workers. It was the biggest workers’ rally in the history of Karawal Nagar. The workers demonstrated their militant unity with this rally and re-emphasized their resolve to continue the struggle till their demands are met.

Due to the continuation of the strike into the sixth day, the almond processing industry of Delhi has come to a halt. Thousands of unprocessed almond bags are lying dump in the godowns of the contractors. On the other hand, the demand for almonds is increasing with every passing day as Christmas and New Year is coming near. It is noteworthy that the almond that is processed in Delhi comes from the companies of the US, Australia and Canada and a number of European countries. These companies, in order to exploit the cheap labour of India and minimize their costs, send their almonds for processing to the big businessmen of Khari Bawli of Delhi, which is the largest dry fruit market of Asia. These big businessmen give this work of processing on sub-contracting to the petty contractors of Karawal Nagar, who laughing away all labour regulations and laws, exploit the workers cruelly. These are the very workers who have been on strike for the sixth consecutive day and who have been demanding for the fulfillment of all their rights given by the labour laws, for example, the piece rate should be fixed in accordance with the law of minimum wages, that is the per bag processing rate should be fixed according to the minimum wages; the workers should be given double overtime payment; they should be provided with identity card and job card; and the due payment should be made in the first week of the month; abuse of workers should be stopped immediately by the contractors. The almond workers formed their Badaam Mazdoor Union last year and since then they have successfully fought on a number of issues. Due to the present strike the rates of almond are increasing swiftly in Delhi’s markets.

Convener of BMU, Ashish Kumar Singh said, “Till now, the Police administration has worked hands in gloves with the contractors to sabotage the strike. We have completely lost faith in the Karawal Nagar Police administration and to initiate action against the goons of the contractors, we will lodge a complaint directly in the office of DCP, North-East Delhi. And if the DCP office fails to take action, we will move to court. The goons of contractors will not be spared and they’ll have to pay for every drop of blood of workers and their leaders. Strike is our weapon. We’ll continue the strike till all our demands are met.”

Yogesh, member of BMU, said, “It is for the first time that the workers have organized themselves in such huge numbers. We have witnessed strikes in the past too, however, then the workers of U.P., Bihar and Uttaranchal failed to come together and the strikes failed. It is for the first time, under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union that the workers have organized themselves across the divides of caste, gotra and region, with their class interests in command.” Yogesh told that they have been reported by various sources that the baffled contractors are planning a fatal attack on the leadership of the BMU, with the Police on their sides. He said that faced with any such attack, we will reply proportionately. Despite the patronage of the Police, the contractors cannot defeat the worker power.

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Almond Workers’ Strike into its Fourth Day: Delhi’s Almond Processing Industry Paralysed

December 19, Delhi. The almond workers’ strike of Karawal Nagar continuing from December 15 intensified with the release of the three arrested leaders of the ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’ (BMU), Ashish Kumar Singh, Kunal Jain and Prem Prakash Yadav. Earlier, almond contractors and their goons attacked on women workers, their children and Union leaders with rods, sticks and hockeys on the morning of 17th December, injuring two BMU leaders, and several workers seriously. In self-defense, workers started pelting stones at the contractors and goons due to which four henchmen of contractors were injured. Police took some people from both parties into custody and recorded their statements. But Police did not take any action on the contractors and their goons, and on the behest of the contractors lodged an F.I.R. against three BMU leaders under section 107 and section 151. The Police provided medical assistance to the injured goondas of the contractors and freed them, whereas the BMU leaders were put into the lock up of Gokalpuri Police Station without providing them any medical assistance or even first aid. Besides, this whole dispute came under the jurisdiction of Karawal Nagar Police Station, but fearing militant protest and gherao by the almond workers, the Police locked the leaders up in the Gokalpuri Police Station, while telling lies to the workers that the leaders have been taken to GTB Hospital for M.L.C. This makes it clear that the Police was acting on the behalf of the contractors. The contractors have learnt that they do not need to keep paid goons; they have the Police!

In the meanwhile, thousands of workers continued their strike in Karawal Nagar on the fourth day. Due to fourth day of the strike the whole almond processing industry of Karawal Nagar has come to a standstill. Naveen of BMU said that the Union will lodge a complaint in the office of DCP, North-East Delhi as the Karawal Nagar Police has acted in a partisaned way in favour of the contractors; and if the DCP fails to take cognizance of the whole matter and take action against the Police of Karawal Nagar and the goons of the contractors, we will be left with no other option but to move to the court. It is noteworthy that almond workers under the leadership of BMU have been demanding for their labour rights and they are also demanding the Delhi government to give a formal recognition to the almond processing industry of Delhi. Presently, all the almond godown owners are working as contractors without any licence of government recognition. Workers working in these godowns are predominantly women, however, there is no arrangement for sanitation or creche for their children. The workers have to break almonds soaken in acid with their hands, feet and teeth. They do not have any security gear or any kind of security arrangement they often succumb to diseases like tuberculosis, asthma, etc. The children of workers often catch fatal diseases. The BMU has been demanding for better work conditions for these workers. However, the contractors and owners are having their own way with application of force, which they have at their disposal in the form of the support of the Police administration and local leaders of various parties. Yogesh of BMU said that now those days are a thing of past when the workers silently endured all the excesses of the contractors and kept working like slaves. They have organized themselves into a powerful union, BMU and they would not stop on anything short of all their legal rights.

Today released leader and convener of the BMU, Ashish Kumar Singh said that the contractors are scared of the workers’ movement. By winning the Police on their sides and cowardly attacking the unarmed workers, they have proved that they can demonstrate their “courage” only in hoardes and that too on women workers and children. However, the women workers replied tit for tat and proved that they can retaliate to any such cowardly attack in the same coin. Those days are gone when the workers silently used to bear the violence and abuses of the contractors. Workers, on the strength of their unity can make any force bite the dust, including the corrupt Police administration as well as hooligans. It is not without reason that the 15 percent of workers who had not joined the strike due to the fear of contractors, have now joined the strike with full might and they have freezed the profit machinery of the owners and contractors.

Earlier, the released leaders of the Union received warm reception by thousands of workers when they reached the venue of strike in Karawal Nagar.

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Police shamelessly in the service of employers
Militant Strike of Almond Workers under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union into its third day

December 18, Delhi. Almost 30 thousand workers’ families are working in the almond processing industry of Karawal Nagar area of North-East Delhi. This whole industry is a global industry. These workers toiling in the most primitive conditions process the almonds of overseas companies of the US, Australia and Canada. These companies come to India for the processing of their dry fruits in their quest of cost minimization as labour in India is far cheaper as compared to that in these countries. Khari Bawli of Delhi is the biggest wholesale dry fruits market of Asia. The big businessmen of Khari Bawli bring unprocessed almonds from these countries, get them processed and then send them back. These businessmen get the processing done by entrusting this work on contract basis to small-time contractors based in Karawal Nagar, Sant Nagar-Burari, Narela and Sonia Vihar. These contractors run small processing workshops in these areas. These workshops are working hell for workers and are not licenced by any government agency. These workshops are completely illegal. Each workshop has 20-40 workers, mostly women and often with their children. Working hour might vary from 12 hours in normal season to 16 hours in peak season. On processing one 23 Kg bag of almonds, they are paid Rs. 50. A skilled worker can break at most 2 bags of almonds in one day. Abusing, harassing and sexual exploitation of workers are common.These workers are on strike for last three days under the leadership of their Union ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union.’ They are demanding that per bag rate should be increased from Rs. 50 to Rs. 80, they should be paid double for working overtime, they should be provided identity card and job card by the contractor, etc. Its noteworthy that all these demands are in accordance with the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Contract Labour Act (Prevention and Abolition) 1971, etc. On the second day of the strike, the contractors with their henchmen attacked a peaceful procession of women workers, who were with their children, led by a few Union workers. This attack wounded two Union workers seriously, while a number of women workers and their children sustained minor injuries. During this attack contractors and their goons used casteist remarks to humiliate dalit Union workers as well as women workers. Dalit workers were their particular targets. In defense, workers started pelting stones at the crowd of the contractors and their goons as a result of which 4 goondas of the contractors sustained injuries. In the meanwhile, the Police arrived at the scene and escorted the four injured goons to hospital and provided them with Medical assistance. On the other hand the injured Union members and labourers were arrested by the Police and taken the Police Station. They did not provide them with medical assistance. A few activists were bleeding seriously, but even that did not move the Police. They were kept there in the same conditions for 5 long hours and the Police intentionally delayed the whole process of recording statements. In the meanwhile, the injured workers and activists kept bleeding. After this whole inhuman behaviour, the Police took the activists from the Police Station and lied to the workers who had gheraoed the Police Station, that they were being taken to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital and then they will be taken to the Karkardooma court. However, Police took them to the Gokalpuri Police Station which is away from Karawal Nagar so that the workers cannot reach there and did not tell anyone about it. F.I.R. had been lodged against the Union activists on the statement of the hooligans of the contractors; however, no F.I.R. was lodged against the contractors and their goons on the statements of the workers and Union activists. The arrested people from the side of the contractors were freed immediately. The arrested activists were produced in the Seelamput SDM court today, but due to some technical reasons they were granted bail and were sent to judicial custody by the Special Executive Magistrate Nirmal Kaur. In the meanwhile, strikers in Karawal Nagar vowed to continue their fight till the end and they pledged that they would not give up until their leaders are released and all their demands are met. The whole almond processing industry of Karawal Nagar has come to a standstill as the strike intensified even more after the deceitful arrest of the Union activists and shameful collusion of the Police administration with the godown owners and contractors. Till the evening of December 18, thousands and workers are gathered at the strike venue. Naveen of Badaam Mazdoor Union said that the arrest of the Union activists, rather than demoralizing the workers, has made their resolve to fight till the end even stronger. Now every worker considers it his or her first priority to take this struggle to final victory.When Union activists and correspondants of ‘Bigul’ workers’ monthly demanded an explanation from the Police administrated as to why no F.I.R. was lodged against the attacker contractors and their henchmen on the statements of the Union activists and workers and why the Police is working on the guidelines of the contractors by taking unilateral and unjustified action against the Union activists, then the senior officers of the Police bluntly said that the Union walahs need to be taught a lesson and the strikers will be disciplined with force. It is clear as daylight the the Police administration is working on the dictates of the contractors and employers. It has been trying to suppress the workers’ movement with all its might and will. It is noteworthy too that all the small time local leaders of Congress, BJP and the RSS have come in open support to the contractors. Ironically, a number of employers and contractors themseves are local leaders of these electoral parties.This is not the first time that the Police has worked on the behalf of the contractors. A year ago, in August 2008, when the workers had organized a strike for their legal rights, then the Police had arrested Ashish Kumar, the convener of Badaam Mazdoor Union, in an arbitrary fashion. However, at that time almost a thousand workers laid siege to the Police Station and freed Ashish. But this time, the Police acted more cleverly and lied to the workers that they had lodged a F.I.R. against the contractors and their goons and they were taking the three Union leaders for M.L.C. to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital and then both the parties will be produced the the court. However, they were taken to a far away Police Station of Gokalpuri and were locked in the lock up there. Its crystal clear that the Police has acted conspiratorially to safeguard the interests of the contractors. Reportedly, lakhs of rupees were transacted in bribing the Police in the Police Station. One can understand that the Police must have charged their share for the bizarre inconvenient exercises that they had to do to acquit the culprits! The employers had hoped that the locking up of top Union leaders for one day will break the strength and endurance of the workers and the strike will be sabotaged. However, all their estimates and hopes went haywire as the strike emerged to be even stronger. Workers elected their new interim leadership democratically and the movement marched ahead. Presently, thousands of workers are on the roads of Karawal Nagar and the whole scene is of a working class carnival.

It is noteworthy that these workers have been demanding for their legal rights. These include the workers’ rights to which they are entitled under the Minimum Wages Act, Contract Labour Act, Trade Union Act, etc. For this purpose, the Union activists have visited the Office of the Deputy Labour Commissioner of the zone a number of times, but every visit proved its own futility. The whole labour commissionary plays in the hands of the employers and contractors. They are not willing to enforce any labour law and there is a whole network of mutual loyalties and obligations is working to ensure that the workers are kept like slaves and instumentum vocale.

One particular thing to note about this movement is the massive participation of women workers, who constitute the majority of the total worker population in the almond processing industry. These workers are resolved to take this struggle to the ultimate limits.