THOUSANDS of tea workers marched to ‘Uttarkanya’, the state government office in North Bengal on January 24, in a historic show of unity. Tea workers in northern Bengal are suffering from severe distress. Many tea gardens are closed since long, triggering starvation deaths and large scale migration. In other gardens, workers are being paid paltry wages, their ration and health facilities have gradually declined. The state government has remained criminally callous to the widespread crisis in tea gardens. The workers, on the other hand, have come into a broad united platform of Joint Forum and launched sustained movement on urgent issues. One of the major demands of the workers is minimum wage. The owners and the state government have consistently refused to heed to this basic demand. Instead, without consultation with trade unions, the TMC government has declared a so-called interim relief of Rs 17.50. Tea workers unitedly rejected this meager increase. The march to Uttarkanya has raised the slogan of minimum wage forcefully. They also raised the demand of land tenure for tea workers in their homestead land.
In many respects, the rally through Siliguri-Jalpaiguri highway was unique. More than 24 trade unions of different political affiliations joined in the rally. They included CITU, INTUC, unions backed by Adivasi Vikash Parishad. Workers from the hills, after a long period, came to Siliguri to march with workers of the plains. Workers from the gardens of Kalimpong, Karsheong, Sonada, Mirik walked side by side with the workers from Doors and Terai. It was a rally of all shades of religious, social identities and a river of different languages.
The rally started from Noukaghat in Siliguri broke though police barricades. In Tinbatti crossing, the workers blocked the road for nearly an hour. Later a meeting was held there. Joint Forum leaders warned that either the state government move forward to ensure minimum wages or face serious consequences. Coming days will see militant struggle of the tea workers. A delegation of trade union leaders submitted a memorandum to the divisional commissioner.