The Ongoing Struggle of Ludhiana Power Loom Workers

September 27, 2010

The struggle of Ludhiana power loom workers enters 9th day

The struggle of hundreds of power loom workers of 52 factories of Ludhiana’s Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar and Madhopuri areas which started on September 16, remained inconclusive as of today. A round of discussions held yesterday (September 23) with factory owners in presence of labour officials bore no results. Rajwinder, President of Karkhana Mazdoor Union which is leading the workers in the strike said that there were sharp divisions among the factory owners and they could reach no consensus among themselves. The factory owners are scared of the organised struggle of the workers and they know that a successful strike this time will boost the confidence of the workers in their organisation which will prove very harmful for them in the long run. On the other hand the spirit of the workers is high and they are determined to lead the struggle to a successful conclusion. The striking workers have been demonstrating in front of the Vardhman Mill (Chandigarh Road) and their strike has now entered into the 9th day.

The strike that started on September 16 in 22 factories of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar and Madhopuri areas of Ludhiana has now spread to 52 power loom units in these areas. The workers have revolted against their pathetic conditions, nearly no existence of labour laws and basic rights, long working hours and low wages and callous approach of the government and administration. The successful strike (august 24 – August 31) of Shakti Nagar, Tibba Road workers has inspired the workers of other areas. After a successful strike in Jindal Textiles now the workers of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar and Madhopuri are staging a militant strike under the leadership of Karkhana Mazdoor Union. A separate struggle is being carried on by the power loom workers of Geeta Nagar area in the leadership of another union Hosiery and Textile Union (affiliated to CITU Punjab). KMU president Rajwinder said that their efforts to establish coordination between both the struggles have not been successful due to the narrow mindedness of the CITU leadership.

Background to the struggle

Ludhiana is among the big industrial cities in India and the industrial capital of Punjab. The main industries here are hosiery, bicycle, tyre, auto-parts, engineering etc. In recent years the workers in Ludhiana have been fighting for their basic rights e.g. the struggle of the thousands of workers of the big factories of Ludhiana such as Hero cycles, Rockman, Avon, Rolson, Highway, Garetave, Bajaj Sons etc; the militant struggle of the thousands of workers against the factory owners and police-bureaucracy after the Hindustan Tyres episode; the outburst of anger of the workers in December 2009 after the Dhandari episode, the workers hitting the road after a recent disappearance of a workers of Poddar Tyres. These outbursts are just a reflection of the terrible conditions of the life which the workers of Ludhiana are forced to live and the total failure of the governance system to protect even the basic rights of the workers. The anger of workers is expressed at times spontaneously and at other times in a planned and organised manner. It is because of this reason that most of the time section 144 of the Cr. P.C. is imposed in the industrial areas of Ludhiana which prohibits assembly of five or more persons and holding of public meetings besides other restrictions.

Most of the workers of Ludhiana are migrant workers coming from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They are treated as aliens in their own country. These workers are subject to abject poverty and extreme exploitation. Despite toiling for 12-14 hours a day, most of the time they do not even receive the minimum wages fixed for a helper for 8 hours work {Rs 3400 (less than 80 USD) monthly}. In case of the power loom workers, there has been no increment in the piece rates and wages for last 10-12 years while the prices of all basic necessities like food, housing, medical care, travel have been skyrocketing. On the other hand there has been manifold increase in the profit level of the factory owners.

The working condition of the power loom workers of Ludhiana is so difficult and so dangerous that it can at best be called inhuman. Serious injuries and deaths at workplace are quite common in the industrial areas. Even basic safety measures and regulations are not implemented by the factory owners. Even the administration does not take any initiative to fulfil its constitutional obligation of implementing the labour laws in these areas. On the contrary in most of the cases, the administration is found connived with the factory owners to serve their interests. No labour law whatsoever is implemented in these factories. Provident Fund, Employees State Insurance, Job Card, Attendance Register have no existence here. The regional labour department is fully hand in glove with the errant factory owners and is suitably compensated for its services. Not only the factory owners have bought up the officials and police, they do not even hesitate to use the services of goons to intimidate the workers if they raise their voices for justice. In the Dhandari episode in December 2009, they unabashedly used the local goons called Bikers’ Gang to brutally attack the agitating workers. Even the police favoured the factory owners and held the workers responsible for the violence. The owners portray any agitation of workers as being launched by “outsiders” and the local politicians and regional media also take the side of the owners only.

The workers of Ludhiana have been fighting for their rights for years through the established trade unions. But of late they have begun to realise that it is because of the betrayal of the leadership of opportunistic and corrupt trade unions such as CITU and due to the lack of well planned strategy that they have not been able to put up an effective resistance and the factory owners manage to crush their struggle. In a number of struggles of workers of large factories of Ludhiana such as Hero Cycle, Rockman, KW,Avon, Rolson, Highway, Bajaj Sons, Moonlight etc since 2004, the opportunistic, compromising, corrupt and pro-management character of CITU has been thoroughly exposed before the workers.

The recent surge of militant agitation among the power loom workers of Ludhiana began with the strike of the 42 power loom factories of Shaktinagar, Tibba Road areas on 24th August 2010 under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union. It was the apathetic attitude of the power loom factory owners which was mainly responsible for the inhuman conditions of living which forced the workers to halt the work and choose the path of strike. The main demands of the workers were: hike in the piece rates/wages, necessary provisions for the safety of the workers and implementing all the labour laws including identity cards, PF, ESI etc. The bold, organised and determined fight of the workers forced the power loom owners to relent and they were forced to agree to the demands of the workers. On 31st August the workers withdrew their strike after a written agreement with the owners. It was a glorious victory of the workers after a long time. A remarkable aspect of this victory was that the power loom owners were not only forced to hike the piece rates/wages but they also agreed to give half wages for the days of strike. It is very rare that the factory owners agree to pay for the days of strike. On the contrary, one can find many instances in the labour movement of Ludhiana like the shameful Avon Cycle agreement in which due to the compromising, pusillanimous character of the renegade leadership, the workers were forced to work for 9 days without pay as a punishment for going on strike.

After this a strike broke out in the Jindal Textile factory and there too it reached a successful culmination. It is noteworthy that this was after 18 years that a workers struggle had achieved such success in Ludhiana. During the last one and a half decade the workers of Ludhiana had fought many long struggles but they culminated in shameful defeat due to the betrayal of the established trade unions. The recent victory is important in this respect and it has raised the morale of the workers to a new high.

Meanwhile, workers of some other power loom factories agitating under another union were brutally attacked by armed goons of the factory owners last week. Around 50 workers were wounded in this lethal attack, some of them seriosly. Karkhana Mazdoor Union has demanded the authorities to carry out an investigation and punish the culprits.

Taking inspiration from the recent successes in the Shaktinagar and Jindal factory strikes, hundreds of the power loom workers of about three dozen factories of Ludhiana’s Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri etc also decided to call a strike on 16th September 2010 under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union. These workers are on a strike to force the factory owners to increase their piece rate/salary and to implement other basic rights. They are united and determined to make their strike successful. They have appealed to the fellow workers of other power loom factories who are yet to join the strike to come forward and join the strike to make the struggle more united and strong. Along with this the workers have also organised vigilant squads of their own against the possibility of fresh attacks by the factory owners. A great achievement of these strikes is that the workers are no longer terrified of the police and the goons of the owners. Moulder and Steel Workers Union of Ludhiana has supported the power loom workers in their strike. The workers have also distributed pamphlets among the civilian population explaining to them their wretched working and living conditions and the rationale behind their demands. They have also appealed to other factory workers of Ludhiana to support and join their strike. The workers have warned the officials of the labour department not to work as stooges of the factory owners and perform their constitutional duties otherwise their strike will become more vigorous.

On the third day of the strike i.e. on 18th September 2010, the henchmen of a factory owner attacked the KMU members who were distributing the leaflets in a market and also kidnapped two workers. Immediately hundreds of workers gathered outside the factory where the kidnapped workers were being held. The owner ran away and the workers were rescued. This was another psychological victory for the workers.

The strike remains inconclusive as of today but the morale of the workers is high and they are energised by the recent successes and the militant leadership of Karkhana Mazdoor Union. They are determined to carry on the struggle till their demands are met. The workers have appealed to all justice loving people and intellectuals to come forward in their support.

Contact for further information:

Rajwinder – 098886 55663, Lakhwinder – 096461 50249

Email: lakhwinder0143@yahoo.co.in

Office: Karkhana Mazdoor Union, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Pustkalaya, Gali No.5, Lakshman Nagar, Gyaspura, Ludhiana, Punjab

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Press Statement

21 September 2010

The Ongoing Struggle of Powerloom Workers of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri

The Huge Public Rally of Workers’ Union In front of the Labour Office

The Karkhana Mazdoor Union (KMU) organized a huge rally today in front of the labour office. This rally was organized to assert the demands of striking workers of more than fifty powerloom factories of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Ludhiana. Apart from powerloom workers, large number of laborers from other factories of Ludhiana participated in this rally. Demanding a 22% increase in piece rates and implementation of labour laws, the workers’ of Ludhiana powerloom factories have been on strike since 16th August, 2010. This strike has been growing consistently and by now (sixth day of the strike), fifty two powerloom factory workers have joined the struggle. They have pledged that even if they have to starve, they would not return to work until their just demands are accepted.

Addressing the rally, Rajwinder, the leader of Karkhana Mazdoor Union, has warned the labour department and the administration that the union will further intensify its struggle if the demands of striking workers are not considered seriously. Leaders of other organizations such as Dr Parminder of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Dharmendra from Bajaj Sons Karkhana Mazdoor Union, Harjinder Singh and Vijay Narayan of Moulder and Steel Workers’ Union, Gallar Chauhan of Lok Ekta Sangathan, Sher Bahadur of Mazdoor Chetna Manch, Kasturi Lal of Lok Morcha Punjab, and Jaswant Jirakh of Inkalabi Kendra, Punjab participated in the rally and expressed their organizations’ solidarity with the struggles of powerloom workers. Welcoming the support of these organizations, KMU leader Rajwinder commented that their participation would further strengthen the struggles of powerloom workers.

It is important to note that despite consistently increasing cost of living, in the last 10-12 years, the wages of powerloom workers have remained more or less stagnant. Moreover, labour laws are practically non-existent in these factories. The labour department, the administration, and the police have merely been the silent witnesses to the gross violation of labour laws in powerloom factories. The poverty and total lack of constitutional rights have forced workers to live amidst inhuman conditions. In this situation, they are compelled to strike work and struggle for their rights.

Lakhwinder
Secretary, Karkhana Mazdoor Union

Press Release in Hindi

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September 20 Press Statement announcing strike

Workers of 46 factories of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri on strike

A huge demonstration-dharna at the labour office tomorrow

Many organisations join in support of the strike going on from 16th September

Ludhiana, 20 September, 2010. The striking power loom workers of 46 factories of Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri and other areas of Ludhiana will stage a demonstration-dharna at the labour office, Ludhiana tomorrow. The workers are demand a 25% increase in their piece rate/salary which has not increased for the past 10-12 years, and implementation of other labour laws.

The strike of the power loom workers is spreading with each passing day. The strike which started on 16th September in 22 factories has now spread to 46 factories on the fifth day. The president of Karkhana Mazdoor Union, Rajwinder today said that the morale of the workers was high and they will fight for their rights till the end. He informed that hundreds of workers of Bajaj Son’s (C-103) factory will also join the dharna tomorrow. Along with this Moulder and Steel Worker’s Union, Mazdoor Chetna Manch, Inqulabi Kendra Panjab, Lok Morcha Panjab and several organisations have also joined the struggle in the support of the power loom workers. These organisations have expressed strong solidarity with the striking workers.

Rajwinder has warned the factory owners, police and administration to refrain from the ploy of portraying this peaceful, disciplined and organised struggle as a threat to law and order. He strongly denounced all such tactics.

It is noteworthy that there have been no significant increment in the wages of the workers for the last 10-12 years while the cost of all commodities have have sky rocketed during these years. The power loom factories follow no labour laws. The factory owners pay no regard to the constitutional rights of the workers and the labour department, police and administration are hand in glove with them. The condition of the workers has deteriorated beyond imagination and their life has become a living hell. These circumstances have forced the workers to go on strike.

Released by,

Lakhwinder, Secretary, Karkhana Mazdoor Union, Mobile: 96461 50249

1 Comment »

One Response to “The Ongoing Struggle of Ludhiana Power Loom Workers”

  1. Dr Sushil Kumar Bali Says:
    August 11th, 2011 at 10:49

    Dear Sir
    I read the article. We all feel about the wages and working conditions. We are left with no alternative but to agitate thereby losing our wages, putting our family to pangs of hunger etc. My advice is to first fight for proper working conditions based on both health and safety, enforcing these conditions, proper job description with no deviation, provision of all facilities for contributions made towards any service like the ESI etc and the respect and dignity of the worker. I have been involved with the ESIC in the state and am ready to offer my advice towards solving a number of your problems for the betterment of your workers. Pl. feel free to contact me. My (M) is 9988696658
    Regards
    Dr. S.K.Bali

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