Vol. XLI No. 26 June 25, 2017

WEST BENGAL: Historic Strike by Tea Plantation Workers

From our special correspondent

TEA workers in West Bengal went into a historic two day strike on June 12-13, defying repression from state administration. The strike, at the call of the Joint Forum of Trade Unions, was near total in three tea producing districts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Darjeeling, along with two sub divisions of North Dinajpur and Coochbehar districts.  

The strike, with a focused demand of minimum wages in tea industry, came after long and arduous struggle of the workers. The Joint Forum has conducted different forms of protest and movement, entered into negotiations with the owners and the state administration. But in the most brazen manner, the TMC government in the state has openly sided with the owners when they flatly refused to consider the demand of the minimum wage. After intensive campaign in gardens, the strike was organised in the hunger-land of Bengal where hundreds have succumbed to malnutrition and lack of food.

The unity of the workers was overwhelming. Except the TMC union, all trade unions, irrespective of affiliation and political trends, joined in the widest platform of Joint Forum.

As usual, the chief minister declared the strike ‘illegal’ though, all lawful measures were taken to notify the strike to proper authorities. Her declaration was followed by police raids in gardens and workers’ quarters before the strike. The response was stubborn determination. On the first day itself 97 per cent of nearly 300 gardens were totally closed. After a long period, tea gardens in the hill areas remained closed along with Dooars and Terai. Police moved in and tried to force some workers to join in the strike. They faced resistance in gardens, particularly from the women workers.

The Joint Forum has called upon the people of concerned districts to join in general strike and solidarity actions with the workers. Left Front and Left parties supported this call. On the second day, not only the strike in gardens was total, life remained disrupted in tea areas. Rallies and processions, demonstrations took place all over the area. Once again police brutalities were witnessed as large contingent of police and special forces began to chase workers in gardens and adjoining areas. In Jalpaiguri, a large gathering of workers blocked National Highway 31 and faced brutal lathi charge by police. Police detained more than 40 workers including women. Trade Union leaders and activists of democratic organisations rushed to Jalpaiguri police station where they were beaten mercilessly in front of the police station. CPI(M) Central Committee member Mridul De, Party’s Jalpaiguri district secretary Salil Acharya, former MP Jiten Das were among those who faced the attack. As information of these arrests reached gardens, thousands of workers started marching towards the police station. Eventually the arrested workers were released on bail.

In the struggles and street battles in Alipurduar and Darjeeling Terai areas, workers showed unprecedented unity and fought in unison against state repression. Mamata Banerjee and her authoritarian politics were squarely defeated in tea areas.

CITU, DYFI, SFI and other organisations organised protest marches throughout the state against police attacks on tea workers.