THE Nagarpalika Karamchari Sangh (NKS) an affiliate of the Sarv Karamchari Sangh (SKS) Haryana , organized a successful 16-day strike of the urban local bodies workers of the state. The main demands that were achieved include ending the contract system of employment and putting them on the rolls of the municipalities. A committee was also formed to frame a policy to regularise these workers. Another major demand that was settled is a minimum wage of Rs13,500 and incorporating 1,360 firemen and drivers of the fire department and drivers in their respective departments.
BACKGROUND OF THE MOVEMENT
The BJP had promised in its election manifesto in 2014, to do away with the contract system, regularise the employees and give a minimum wage of Rs 15,000. Once elected, the BJP did nothing on these demands. The NKS was forced to organise two-day strike on October 26-27, 2016. But the government remained adamant and did not accept the demands.
Series of actions were held since 2016. A strike notice was served by the NKS in July 2017. However, fearing massive participation of the employees a meeting of the union and the urban development department was called. But the employees were cheated even after this meeting. From February 13 to 28, 2018, dharnas and demonstrations were held at the district headquarters and memorandums were submitted. On March 26, a notice was given for three-day strike on May 9-11, 2018. A broom protest demonstration was held on April 27-28 throughout the state.
All the committees of NKS held a 24 hours chain hunger strike on May 2-3 and a torch light procession on May 8. The employees struck work on May 9-11. More than 30 thousand employees representing 10 municipal corporations, 16 municipal councils and 61 municipalities participated in this strike. Owing to the lackadaisical attitude of the government, the strike was further extended to three more days. The RSS-BJP resorted to diversionary tactics by organising cleanliness campaign during the strike. However their tactics even of intimidating and terrorising the workers could not succeed. Since the safai karamcharis are mainly from Balmiki community, the government tried to reach out to them and allured young people for employment. However, the union leaders intervened and appealed asking them not to eat up the jobs of their brethren. This had a profound impact. Failing in their tactics, the government brought in nearly 10,000 village safai karamcharis to clean the cities. The CITU which is leading the rural (village) union intervened and failed the designs of the government.
The government, after realising that the situation has gone out of control, called an emergency meeting of the cabinet and formed a four member sub-committee of the ministers to talk to the NKS. The committee was headed by Kavita Jain, urban development minister. On May 24, a meeting with striking workers was held which continued for over four hours. The government was forced to accept the demands of the workmen.
The following demands were accepted in the sub-committee of the ministers.
- To end the contract system of employment and the present contract workers to be brought in the rolls of the municipalities. Also a policy to be framed in this direction.
- Minimum wage to be enhanced to Rs 13,500 from Rs 11,500
- To fill in the vacant posts of 1,646 firemen and new criteria of incentivising the existing 1,360 firemen and drivers by 10 points for recruitment.
- A committee formed for equal pay for equal work. Ex gratia scheme be drafted after studying the models of Delhi and Punjab. Vigilance enquiry into non contribution towards EPF and ESI funds.
- Increase in allowances for cleanliness – from Rs 350 to 1000, washing from Rs 240 to 440, broom allowance from Rs 5 to 150, work on holidays allowance enhanced from Rs 600 to 1000.
- The striking terminated employees were re-instated with immediate effect.
The following leaders were present in the meeting. Subhash Lamba, general secretary of SKS, Naresh Kumar Shastri, president of NKS, Jarnail Singh Chinaliyan, general secretary NKS, deputy general secretary Shiv Charan, senior vice president Ashok Bohat, Mahender Sangelia, treasurer, Rajender Singh, vice president, Ashok Pracha, Ashok Tharian, Subhash Gunsar, Mangeram Tigra and Seva Ram were also present.
The CITU, CPI(M) and other political parties also supported the strike. The All India State Government Employees Union supported the strike and organised solidarity actions on May 22 in district headquarters in the country.
However, the BMS tried to stab the employees’ movement. The BMS has no presence in the local bodies union in Haryana. A few workers are with them in Ambala and Panchkula cities, who were not on strike and the BMS too had not given a call for a strike. On May 16, a meeting of the SKS was fixed with the chief minister. However the government called the BMS leaders as well and they were present in the meeting hall even before the striking SKS union reached. The SKS and NKS boycotted the meeting saying that they will not sit with the BMS leadership who were not part of the strike. Realising the mood of the agitating leaders, the principal secretary to the CM apprised the CM who intervened and asked the BMS leadership to leave the meeting.
This meeting with the CM failed as the government was holding it just to showcase it. There was no preparation at the behest of the government on the demands of the workmen. Kavita Jain, the minister informed the electronic and print media along with the BMS leadership that the BMS has withdrawn the strike as majority of the demands have been accepted. This was immediately rebuffed by the NKS leadership in front of the media. They said, neither the BMS had given a strike call nor was it a participant. Hence the strike continued till May 24. There is anger amongst the employees over such double standards of the BMS.
The lessons from the 16-day strike are very vivid. In the present order, to lead a successful movement all-in unity of the employees must be ensured. The government tried to form a caste based organisation of the employees to disrupt the unity. But such an organisation cannot solve the problems of the workmen.