May Day Rally in Karawal Nagar

May 3, 2012

Sanhati has received the following videos and report of a rally of unorganized workers from Yamuna Pushta of Karawal Nagar. In December 2009, nearly twenty thousand almond workers (badam mazdoors) in Karawal Nagar (close to the Delhi-Ghaziabad border) went on strike demanding enforcement of basic labor laws such as a minimum wage, double overtime pay, and job cards. It was one of the largest unorganized sector strikes in Delhi’s history. These were not workers in a long established union or workers who all worked in one or a handful of large factories. Rather they were unorganized (informal) sector workers working in dispersed locations, many in godowns housing 50 of them, some at home, spread all over a large residential neighborhood on Delhi’s periphery. Their union, the Badam Mazdoor Union, was also new, having been formed only a year and half ago, in June 2008. A comprehensive Sanhati report on the initial phase of the struggle by Amit Basole is available at this link. In 2011, the Badaam Mazdoor Union was transformed into the Karawal Nagar Mazdoor Union (KMU). KMU was formed as the neighbourhood-based union of the workers of Karawal Nagar.

Karawal Nagar of North-Eastern Delhi is known for thousands of small-scale industrial units. The workers’ population living in the neighbourhoods on the Yamuna Pushta of Karawal Nagar is around 200,000. Workers living in this huge working class neighbourhood have been fighting against the naked and barbaric exploitation of the factory owners as well as police oppression, since 2008. In 2009, the almond processing workers of Prakash Vihar, Karawal Nagal organized a long successful strike from December 16 to December 31 under the leadership of ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’. It was one of the largest strikes of the unorganized workers of Delhi after the 7-Day Strike of 1988. Almost 30 thousand worker families participated in the strike and 95 percent of almond processing units came to total halt during the strike. In 2011, the workers from different professions organized and formed the ‘Karawal Nagar Mazdoor Union’. The ‘Badaam Mazdoor Union’ merged with this neighbourhood-based union.

On May Day, 2012 hundreds of workers organized a huge ‘Mazdoor Adhikaar Rally’ in Karawal Nagar under the banner of ‘Karawal Nagar Mazdoor Union’ , ‘Bigul Mazdoor Dasta’ and ‘Stree Mazdoor Sangthan’. There were almond processing workers, street vendors, rickshaw pullers, factory workers, construction workers, textile workers and other unorganized sector workers in the rally. The rally began from the Labour Chowk of Karawal Nagar and passed through Sadat Pur, West Karawal Nagar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony, Prakash Vihaar and Som Bazaar before being concluded at Mazdoor Paathshala at the office of KMU in Mukund Vihar. The secretary of KMU, Naveen Kumar said that the unorganized sector workers which form the immense majority of the working class in Delhi as well as India have been left at the mercy of revisionist and fascist corporatist trade unions, though they are 93 per cent of the total working class population. The old prejudice of the Indian trade union movement has prevented it from effectively organizing the unorganized sector workers. Until and unless this huge, more radical and class conscious majority of the workers are organized, we cannot expect a resurrection of the working class movement in Delhi, or even India, for that matter.

Abhinav Sinha from Bigul Mazdoor Dasta said that the KMU as the neighbourhood-based union of the workers of Karawal Nagar has shown that the unorganized/informal sector workers can be organized by devising the new strategy of neighbourhood-based organization. Out of 1.5 million industrial units functional in Delhi, almost 85 percent employ less than 50 workers. These small industrial units employ the major part of the industrial working class population of Delhi. These workers can hardly be organized on merely factory floor. Apart from the industrial workers, there are millions of workers who are footloose labour. These workers, unlike their predecessors of 1950s or 1960s, are highly class conscious. Unlike the Fordist era, when the dominant mode of existence of class consciousness was industrial consciousness, now we can find highly class conscious and radical workers among the informal sector workers. These are workers who often have the experience of working in industrial units from Delhi to Panipat and Ludhiana and sometimes even Surat and Mumbai. But the kind of employment that is being provided to the 90 percent of workers of India, makes them footloose labour, who work for a few months in factory, for another few months as street vendor, and for still another few months as construction labour or rickshaw puller. So, this informal sector worker is not the primordial rural worker of the 1950s or 1960s. It is highly class conscious, anti-establishment and radical. This working class does not see one factory owner as its enemy, rather, the entire class of factory owner as its enemy. It also faces the oppression of state and its naked brute force on daily basis. It is more political in the sense that it can see the state as the guardian and defender of the class interests of the bourgeoisie. Abhinav said that the trade union movement needs to get rid of its Fordist prejudices against the informal sector workers as less class-conscious, backward and primordial.

The May Day Rally of the unorganized sector workers of Yamuna Pushta of Karawal Nagar was a message to the local factory owners, contractors, jobbers and police. Recently, the KMU successfully led a strike of paper plate workers to victory. The number of the paper plate workers was hardly 100, but the strike saw participation by workers from all occupations in hundreds. The KMU has prepared a charter of demands of the unorganized sector workers and preparing to organize a long march to the Deputy Labour Commissioner’s office. The meeting at the end of the May Day Rally discussed the demands raised in the charter of demands, which included the demand for an urban employment guarantee scheme, registration of all urban workers by the government, provision of social security, health insurance and free education, implementation of the minimum wages act, the 8-hour workday, double rate overtime payments, equal wage for women workers, etc. The program ended with some revolutionary songs and poetry recital.