Leaflet from IFTU, AICCTU, Amco Sanhati Committee, National Tannery Bachao Committee, IndoJapan Steel Employees Union, etc.

Wages to survive on, work for workers, factories on industrial land – That is what we demand

Leaflet from Nagarik Mancha, IFTU, AICCTU, All West Bengal Sales Representative Union, Kanoria Jute Sangrami Sramik Union, PaschimBanga Khet Majoor Samiti, Benibachao Committee, Amco Sanhati Committee, Sramajibi Samannoy Samiti, Masum and Bisanbad, Krishichakra, National Tannery Bachao Committee, APDR (Srirampur branch), IndoJapan Steel Employees Union.

Translated by Kuver Sinha, Sanhati

Thousands of factories remain closed in the State today. Lakhs of workers are jobless. The number of sick industries is 113846, a number that is almost 46% of the sick industries in the whole of India. Closed factories number 55,000 – of which 29,000 are small village-based industries.

Corrupt contractors have taken control of closed factory land, converting sites into high-rise residential complexes and shopping malls. The rule of the law is meaningless here – land earmarked for industry is being converted into real estate. Musclemen of the rulers are breaking down factory machines, smashing down shades, under the protection of the police. Workers watch helplessly.

The same scenario has unfolded in Singur, as police and goons trampled over land, buried crops and built fences while the State justified it with the Land Acquisition Act and promises of new jobs.

New jobs? Factories close all the time, and new ones crop up. This happens all the time, every year. From 2004-2006, 1106 factories closed down, rendering 4 lakh 24 thousand workers jobless. In that same time, 396 new factories grew, giving jobs to 84,000 people.

When the call comes to build new industries in closed factory sites, the State makes excuses of legal difficulties. But the law is clear on this point. The West Bengal Land Reforms Act of 1891 states explicitly that if the land leased out by the State for industry is used by the owner for any other purpose, or if industries remain closed on that land for a long time, the State can take back or confiscate that land.

In this case, the State does not have to obey orders from any court.

And thus, in response to this crucial question of reconstructing industry on factory land, the Minister for Industry has fumbled his way through tomes of
excuses and laws, without once giving a clear answer to why the State cannot use its force and the Act there.

It isn’t as if the government has never used the Land Reforms Act in the last 30 years. In 1994-1995, finding out that at 317 factory sites illegal use of land for other purposes was going on, the government sent out notices for taking back the land. Signed by the Deputy District Magistrate, this notice said that “the government is resuming its land”. Amco on Jessore Road, Eastern Paper Mill in Dakshindari, Mohini Mill in Belgharia, and in many other cases the same thing happened. One can understand how eager the government is to construct real estate and shopping malls on factory land if one looks at Anwar Shah Road – Joy Engineering has been replaced by the magnificent South City complex, with every illegal deal, every illegal act getting sanctioned by the State.

In 2002, the government made an effort to find out how much land was being used up by sick and dead industries. Sampling only 500 out of the thousands of such factories in West Bengal, the government agency Webcon found that the land used by the 500 was 41,078 acres. The Minister for Industry has told us that this land is stuck in myriad legal complications. We are told that the government “is trying”. And thus the Minister tells us that industrial development of the state cannot wait for legals hassles to disentangle themselves.

It is nice to know that the government “is trying”. What is the result of this “trying” over the years? Workers in closed factories have remained without pay, without P.F., gratuity, pension – nothing! And yet there was a law – yes, a law – the 1950 West Bengal Factory Dismantling Act, which stated that when owners closed down factories and dismantled machines, they had to seek government permission first. Has the government ever, even once, “tried” to use this law to ensure workers got their due wages? Perhaps the Minister doesn’t know that high-rise millionaire flats, malls, and hotels are coming up on factory land, in flagrant violation of this law? The courts have clearly ordered that “if the transfer is made, all able workers have to be given employment”. Not in a single case has this ruling been used by the police to arrest or ward off promoters. A few factories which have suffered this fate are Bongodoy Cotton Mill, Oriental Metal Industries, Indian Rubber Manufacturers, etc.

Let’s look at what happened to National Tannery. The state government bought off this factory for only 50 lakh rupees in a High Court auction, and gave a one-time 15 lakh compensation to workers. Twelve years have passed – the 350 workers have not received a penny of wages, gratuity. At last the State broke its own law, went in, smashed the machinery, and sold off the land for crores of rupees. The State didn’t obey the court ruling. Not a single worker from the Tannery got a job at the proposed “Garments Park”.

Just the other day, at IndoJapan Steel, we saw hundreds of policemen armed with guns and teargas giving protection to illegal takeover by a promoter. Workers have managed to beat back these elements for the moment – but it is impossible to fight the state-police-musclemen protection.

And thus we ask the State:

On 31 January 2006, the central government agency NGMC was taken down. Almost 14,000 workers received V.R.S. This NGMC has 568 acres – can’t new industry be built there?

ISCO’s Kulti factory land has been sanctioned to be sold by the government – that’s 850 acres. Why can’t new industry be built there?

In North 24 Parganas there are 5000 acres of land lying in 32 closed factories – why not there?

Hindustan Motors leased out 400 acres from the State – why were they given permission to build high-rise apartments there? The government wants an automobile hub – why not here?

The Minister may try hard to justify himself and the government, he may go to a hundred “meetings of intellectuals”, but he has no real answer, because he is a puppet in the hand of capital. They have used the Land Acquisition Act to take over Singur and murder peasants, they have perpetrated a massacre of peasants unwilling to give them land in Nandigram, they have muscled in with arms in a dozen other places in the name of industry and development, and yet they have never lifted a finger to listen to worker demands and give them their dues. It is clear that every policy of this government is undertaken to further the interests of the owning class.

At the Hind Motors site, the government sanctioned the use of an extra 400 acres for constructing real estate. And yet they haven’t done a single thing to ensure that workers receive arrears of seven years. When workers democratically went on strike to get their needs met, immediately the State became alert and deployed its army of police and goons.

After IndoJapan Steel closed down, workers of the factory tried all through the 1990s to get the Minister to agree to a workers cooperative. They walked down countless michhils, sent many appeals. They didn’t want money – they simply wanted legal assistance from the government. These workers, who aspired to build an examplary workers intiative were converted into vagabonds. Their attempt at surviving with dignity, having control over their lives died a death in the hands of government apathy, and today the machinery has been dismantled, sold off in auction, under the protection of police. Workers have not received their 16 crore rupees in dues.

This is not a special case. Let the government come forward and give us an example, a single example, where they helped workers simply get their legal dues.

The State wants industrialization – is that it? Who doesn’t! Everybody wants it! There’s land in closed factories – resume and use that. There are laws- use them. The central government doesn’t agree? Courts will step in? BIFR won’t agree? Land mortgaged to banks? Sure, that’s all there. And yet we have examples where the State has acquired closed factory land and done nothing – Mohini Mills for one. It has been lying useless after acquisition for five years now.

It is clear that capital wants to suck in all our land and resources in the quickest way possible, and in that effort the government, State and political parties are prepared to extend every possible help. The Left Front government is simply a puppet in the hands of capital.

It is not possible for any civilized society to accept this inhuman capital control of our lives and deaths. The State is the custodian of all resources that
belong to the people. Workers have every right to appeal to that State to ensure that transfer of industrial land and machinery never take place without
taking care of worker dues and worker rights. Industry that will provide an assured livelihood to workers must be built on industrial land.

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