June 2, 2012
June 2, 2012
On 28 January 2012, the leading dailies of the country screamed on its front pages about the incident of the death of the union leader of the Regency Ceramics Factory at Yanam, in Puducherry, following a police lathi charge and about how the enraged workers had reduced the whole factory to ashes and killed the factory manager. Stories of such incidents keep appearing infrequently in the press. They are shown as isolated occurrences by rogue workers who go berserk. But are these to be seen as isolated incidents? Or are they connected by any exterior phenomena that occur around them? Can these incidents occur without any background of history? Is there a pattern to it? Can they be summarized under some general phenomena? These are the questions that arose amongst activists, and it was to seek answers to these questions that a team of trade unionists, scientists and democratic rights activists went to Yanam and met the workers, the authorities and the ordinary people to collect the details. A team was constituted by the Trade Union Solidarity Committee of Mumbai and they visited Yanam twice – from 8 to 10 March and from 9 to 11 April, 2012.
The team – B. Srinivasarao of New Trade Union Initiative (Karnool, AP), Prahlad Malwadkar of Occupational Health and Safety Centre (Pune), Shekhar Gyaara of Mumbai Electric Employees Union (Reliance) (Mumbai), Gopal of Centre for the Protection Civil Liberties (Chennai), Sugumar, a Trade Unionist (Chennai), Deepti Gopinath of Indian Airports Employees’Union (Mumbai). The team was actively supported and assisted by N. Vasudevan, Convenor of the Trade Union Solidarity Committee of Mumbai.
The period of imperialist globalisation has allowed capital, with the covert and overt support of governments, to launch a sustained, unrelenting and brutal attack on the working class. The last few decades have seen unprecedented suppression of democratic and human rights, job losses, drop in real wages, and the contractualization of jobs. The stability of neo-liberal capital is dependent on the recalibration of the rate of profit as a result of the persistent tendency of profit to decline. Expanding the rate of profit takes place principally through reduction in the rate of wages. Hence, undermining workers rights in order to lower wages is central to the strategy of neo- liberalism.
The events leading up to 27 January 2012 at the Regency Ceramics factory in Yanam in Puducherry are symptomatic of this. A rapidly expanding factory, tied into the global production system, employs a large number of workers overwhelmingly as temporaries and under the contract labour system and pays them less than the minimum wages. Repeated attempts by the workers to form a democratic union of their choice, based on a fundamental right protected by the constitution, are thwarted through the collusion of the employer and the different arms of the state. When workers express their demands through morchas, rallies, dharnas, and picketing, all perfectly established forms of public protest in a democratic society, they are physically attacked, shot at and even killed by the police, bringing out the barefaced arrangement of profit-sharing between capital and members of the polity and the bureaucracy.
In the case of Yanam, and in several other working class struggles in the last few years, the viciousness of the attack has become too much to bear and workers have returned the attack. It is only when workers return the attack that it becomes news. And the news is about the debasing of the working class as those who are instinctively violent, mindless, etc. What Yanam and other such incidents actually signal, is that the attack on the working class is becoming intolerable. When exploitation becomes too much to bear and is enforced through physical repression, there is bound to be a counter-attack. When the history and background of what leads up to the counter-attack is not told and made known, it becomes easy to demean and defame the workers’ action, as has been done by some of the mainstream press. But the truth is that the desperation and despair of the working class in the face of this extreme oppression and tyranny is mounting and hitting crisis levels and then retaliation becomes inevitable. We say this while underwriting that this is the state of affairs when, in fact, all value in the world is created by labour.
Many in the left trade union movement in Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry have stood with the workers of the Regency Ceramics since the struggle has escalated in late 2011. The struggle of the workers of Yanam is a part of our common struggle for secure work, decent wages and working conditions and the basic right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. These struggles require the movement of the working class to build mass democratic and militant action within the framework of resistance against imperialist globalisation, by evolving concrete strategies with preparation based on the conscious and determined unity of the workers and the steadfast solidarity of the trade unions and the people. The responsibility to carry forward this task is with the advanced section of the working class,
In order to defend the struggle at Yanam and to draw lessons from it to fortify the struggles elsewhere, it is essential that we have a factually correct understanding of the events at Yanam and the circumstances that led to them. The report of our Fact Finding Team is a step in that direction. We place this report before the trade unions, workers and people with the intention to bring before you the facts and the inherent lessons it has to teach us to strengthen the working class movement.