A Report on Ludhiana textile workers strike and the owners’ propaganda

October 14, 2011

by Amritpal

Does raising voice against exploitation or making people aware of their Rights amount to Terrorism ? Astonishing it may sound, but it is true if we go by the definition of ‘Terrorism’ recently introduced by the Textile Mill Owners of Ludhiana, a big industrial centre in Punjab (India), where according to some estimates, more than 20 lac workers are working. You may be knowing that there is a strike of more than 2,500 textile workers involving more than 150 textile factories of Ludhiana, going on since 22nd Sep for various demands. Instead of listening to the genuine demands of the workers, the bewildered millowners have resorted to a banal propaganda based on big lies. The owners have issued an advertisement that appeared in newspapers of 7th October. The headline of the advertisement reads – “Dear Chief Minister, Terrorism has Struck Ludhiana” and demanded action against the Textile Mazdoor Union and its leadership under the banner of which the strike is going on, based on ‘facts’ which are analysed below.

What are Demands of the Workers ?

One may think workers may be planning some suicide attacks or attacks of 9/11 type on the millowners when one comes to face the bold headline. But to the sadness of such expectations, workers are demanding only what is written in the constitution of India. Workers are demanding increase in wages in view of the ever increasing prices and inflation which has made impossible to arrange for two square meals for working class. Moreover there has not been much increase in wages in last two decades though the workload has doubled. A worker is running double the number of machines what he used to do a decade back, and that too for 12-14 hrs. a day.

Workers are also demanding implementation of their rights like Identity card, maintenance of attendance register, a salary slip, weekly holidays & other holidays, bonus, ESI cards and improving the working conditions at the factory floor & appropriate security measures to prevent frequent accidents that occur in this sector. But the owners, who know nothing other than the sheer exploitation of workforce, are refusing to accept these lawful demands of the workers.

What is the Response of Millowners ?

The workers put their demands in writing in front of the owners and the labor dept. nearly 40 days before the strike. Initially, the owners adopted dilly-dally attitude to the demands of workers and tried to get over the peak season but the workers were well aware of owners’ tactics. They decided to stop the work.

When workers went on strike, the owners spread rumours that the leadership of the union has gone corrupt, a settlement has been reached etc. etc. to confuse the workers but nothing deterred workers from carrying on their brave struggle.

Now after realising the fact that neither the workers can be fooled by rumours nor union leadership can be bribed, the owners have turned to this low-level propaganda. Its amazing that the people who can’t raise the wages of workers, can spend lacs of Rupees on propaganda to defame the workers’ leadership by speaking horrendous lies. But these lies only expose the real character of the capitalist exploitation.

Lets examine some gems out of this basket of lies…

Lie No. 1: Terrorism in Ludhiana

The owners probably didn’t pay enough (it’s their nature not to pay enough!) to author of the advertisement or they hired a illiterate in an attempt of getting cheap labour, result is like the results of Capitalism. Reality upside down – a peaceful strike, constitutional demands by workers is ‘Terrorism.’ All encyclopedias have to be changed to accommodate the absurd whims of the owners. The owners also alleged that union is run by ‘two brothers’ about whom no one knows. It is again a total falsehood. The union has its committee elected by the workers. All decisions are taken in general assembly of the workers. Regular weekly meeting of workers are held throughout the year and workers get full representation in the affairs of the union. Union has office, has opened libraries for workers and all committee members have full public life. Actually, what is distressing for the owners is that the leadership of Textile Mazdoor Union has refused to work as commission agents of owners like many other mainstream unions.

Lie No. 2: Workers were forced to go on strike ?

2500 odd number of persons were threatened to go on strike by some 2-3 union leaders ? Even if someone threatened the workers, but for what demands ? For implementation of Labor Laws, increasing wages of workers and improving security measures! Now one can see, when the lies will be standardized some day, the standard will be lies of advertisement of Ludhiana textile owners.

Lie No. 3: Owners and workers enjoyed very warm relations for last 20 years, but now the union has instigated the workers.

Workers have to work for 12-14 hrs a day and live in poverty-ridden conditions of extreme lack of hygiene, overcrowding, conditions which are insult to a human being. Still owners cry words like warm relations ? No complaint of workers ?? Prosperous workers ??? One can only laugh at these empty claims. If one does not complain against oppression, it means he is happy with his own oppression & getting exploited and have warm relations with the oppressor. If the exploited oppressed people have raised voice against the exploitation, then it is instigation, it is terrorism, it is dangerous for peace of Nation. No wonder, every oppressor brings such logic. British did the same things during colonial plunder of India and sent Bhagat Singh and his fellows to the gallows for ‘instigating’ Indian people. Skin color of oppressors changed, but the logic remains the same. Workers upon facing exploitation of decades were forced to form a union. They are getting aware of their rights and diginity, for which they are on struggle path. Moreover workers have full right to determine on what price they will sell their commmodity i.e. labour power.

Lie No. 4: Workers in textile mills are unskilled workers and work on contract !!?

It is again a banal lie. Textile workers come under skilled workers category. They work on piece-rate, not on contract. Textile factories are not temporary estabilishments, so if workers are employed on contract basis, it is unlawful.

Lie No. 5: Powerloom workers earn 8,000-10,000 per month

Even workers don’t know this truth. It is possible that a few workers may be earning this much per month, but it occurs only in 3-4 months of peak season. Majority workers earn less than 7,000 Rs. Per month even during peak season. In other times, workers are able to earn only 3000-4000 per month, many times even less than it. So on average, monthly wages for whole year reach nowhere near to owners’ claim. And what is more important, owners have not told that how the workers earn this much money ? It is work-duration of 12-14 hrs. a day that makes possible for the workers to reach 7,000 Rs. Per month in peak season. If the work-day of 8 hrs./day applied, workers can’t cross 5,000 even in peak season. It seems that some things don’t have any limit, one of these is the capacity of textile millowners for howling lies.

Lie No. 6: Union is forcibly collecting funds from workers

Every sane person knows that workers’ union will be run obviously by workers’ funds, Or will the millowners finance the workers’ union ?! The workers give funds voluntarily to the union, secondly full record of income-expenditure of union is kept which is made public and any worker can ask for the record any time. Owners can lie as much as they can (after all it is matter of democratic rights of millowners !), but no sane person will be ready to buy their lame chickens.

The millowners are terming the strike ‘illegal’. It is amazing to listen to the talk of ‘legality’ from those who themselves openly state that they will not implement the labor laws, those who openly defy the laws in their factories and doing this from decades. Secondly while recruiting the workers, they act on ‘hire & fire’ basis. And, they are now showing the laws to the workers !

The owners are leaving no stone unturned to convince the administration to crush the workers’ strike. They are terming union leaders as anti-social elements who are a danger to the city & state. The main worry of the owners is the formation of union by workers and emerging awareness among them. They know it is union of workers which will hamper the exploitation of workforce, that’s why they are hell bent to dismantle the union at any cost. But the workers are now clearly understanding what the union is meant for them.

Response of Labour Department

The labour department is like white elephant & working ‘hand in glove’ fashion with the owners to deny the workers their rights. The officials say that they are nothing more than mediators between workers and owners, such mediators who even didn’t wanted to sit as third party in the talks. Only on pressure from workers, they got ready to do so. Regarding their law-bound duty of making sure the implementation of labor laws, inspection of factories for proper security measures & working conditions and listening the problems of the workers, they are completely running from this responsibility, and this is what the labour department is doing from decades.

The strike of the workers was going on till the writing of these lines. Let us see what the future course will this strike is going to take but one thing that is to be earnestly welcomed is the rising awareness of working class in industrial sector, be it textile workers of Ludhiana or Maruti-Suzuki workers or many other strikes in recent times. From the viewpoint of social progress, it is a positive sign that the workers are now breaking their silence. All progressive minded people should now come to the support of workers.