TEA workers in West Bengal observed militant three-day strike demanding minimum wages. The strike was observed after a long drawn struggle which passed through different stages.
On August 6, the state government called a tripartite meeting in Siliguri. Leaders of joint forum of tea workers joined the meeting. The initial offer from the state government was abysmally low. Trade union leaders offered their proposal. In a bizarre turn, the labour secretary and other government officials left the meeting suddenly. Trade union leaders stood their ground and started a sit-in there itself. They refused to leave Uttarkanya, the government secretariat. The joint forum also called for a 72 hour strike in all tea gardens in Dooars and Terai. They called upon the tea workers to march towards Uttarkanya. Under tremendous pressure, the joint labour commissioner was forced to come back and assured of a fresh meeting on the next day.
Tea workers strike started on a high note from the beginning. The gardens in Dooars and Terai remained closed. Workers staged demonstrations in front of the gardens. In many places, tea workers began their march towards Siliguri. They were blocked by police on the roads. Huge barricades were set up surrounding Siliguri. In many places workers blocked the road for some time. The scene was same on the second and third day too.
The most notable feature of the strike was participation of workers from the Darjeeling hills. There was no strike call in the hills. Though the tea garden workers unions of the hills have their representation in the Joint Forum, serious struggle was absent. The closed barrier got opened like a flood gate. Tea workers in Sonada, Mirik, Sukhia spontaneously joined in the strike. They even invited Joint Forum leaders to address them. CITU leader Saman Pathak addressed one after the other meeting in the hills. On the third day of the strike, hundreds of tea workers from the hills marched towards Siliguri and in their local areas.
The strike struggle has further intensified the demand for structured minimum wages in tea gardens. Workers are now demanding wages through a legal structure, not only through bipartite bargaining. It has also strengthened the class unity of the workers at a time when fissiparous tendencies are spreading their tentacles on the basis of identity politics.
The CPI(M) state committee adopted a condolence resolution. It said Somnath Chatterjee, a former member of Party’s Central Committee and an eminent parliamentarian would be remembered for his important contributions on many issues in parliament. He later raised his voice against attack on democracy, secularism and human rights along with the Left. In recent panchayat elections in West Bengal, he sharply criticised the attack on peoples’ democratic rights.
The state committee meeting was stopped. CPI(M) leaders went to hospital, Left MLAs went to the state assembly. Later Sitaram Yechury, Surjyakant Mishra, Biman basu, Rabin Deb and others went to his house where the body was kept for paying respects. Yechury termed Chatterjee as a distinguished parliamentarian whose absence can be felt at this hour. His body was donated to SSKM hospital.