Vol. XLIII No. 08 February 24, 2019
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Chemplast Workers Chastised For Joining All India Strike, Stand Ground

Gopi Kumar

SANMAR Group, Chemplast (Plant III) in Mettur, Salem district, Tamil Nadu, dismissed 94 workers for joining the general strike call given by trade unions on January 8 and 9. Recently, 100 workers of the Plant had joined the CITU and despite serving prior strike notice to the management, 94 of them were dismissed and were obstructed from entering the Plant on January 10.

Chemplast had many examples of worst industrial relations and intolerance towards trade union activities in the past. It may be noted that last year in January 2018, the Chemplast Plant II management had dismissed 22 workers illegally without any notice for joining the CITU. It provoked a stay-in strike by the entire workforce for a week, at the end of which, the management was forced to reinstate the dismissed workers.

The Sanmar Chemplast is engaged in the manufacture of PVC resins and it engaged 110 interns, in addition to 60 permanent workers and hundreds of contract workers. The interns were appointed for three years in regular and permanent jobs, and were placed in independent positions in operations and maintenance along with regular workers. Regular manufacturing activities of the plant may not be sustained without these interns. 

The interns were paid a consolidated amount of Rs 9,500 per month, including stipend and the permanent workers, on the other hand, are getting a salary of Rs 50,000 at the bottom of the scale.  Even though they are termed as interns, the company has not followed the stipulated ratio for engagement of apprentices.

The Sanmar Group, a leading chemical manufacturer, is earning huge profits every year out of sheer exploitation of the workers, employing them in the garb of interns, casuals, contract etc.  The firm drew cheers declaring their commitment towards social responsibility, when in real terms, they disown their fundamental responsibility towards minimum wages, conditions of service and trade union rights as provided in the statutes.

Under the circumstances, demanding better wages, service conditions and regularisation, more than 100 workers of Chemplast (Plant III) had joined the CITU union recently. A charter of demands was submitted for the consideration of the management. This development has infuriated the management, leading to summary dismissal of five workers without any notice. Conciliation proceedings are pending on this.

In the meanwhile, notice of strike was served well in advance that workers of Chemplast (Plant III) would participate in the January 8 and 9 all India general strike and the management did not issue any advice to the workers against participation in the strike.

As many as 94 workers responded to the strike call and expressed their solidarity with the rest of the working class across the country. The Chemplast management which did not expect the overwhelming response to the strike call given by the union, did not allow the workers to enter the plant on January 10 and served dismissal orders in front of the Plant gate.

The workers got agitated over the illegal and wild form of suppression unleashed by the management, refused to accept the dismissal orders and squatted before the gate enmasse.

The union immediately took up the issue with the district labour department.  In the conciliation proceedings held on January 10 evening, assistant labour commissioner, Salem, had understood the gravity of the situation and the vindictiveness of the management towards genuine trade union activities and advised the management to reinstate the workers immediately. Subsequently there were four conciliation meetings, but the management did not relent to accept the advice issued by him.

The management did not expect the valiant reaction of the workers, tried to evacuate the workers by influencing the administration and the police.  Police served an eviction notice on January 16.  The workers refused to move away from the premises and from then on, they have been resisting the attempts and various threats of the police without fear.  

The struggle against the anti-labour Chemplast management has drawn widespread support from among the fraternal trade unions and the public. Every day, cadres from CITU affiliated unions assembled in front of the gate and extended their solidarity with the fighting workers.

A separate arrangement was made to feed the workers every day.  CITU unions, fraternal organisations like AIIEA, BSNL, government employees, electricity, transport,  steel federations,  mass organisations AIDWA, DYFI, Agricultural Workers and Farmers’ Associations, Progressive Writers and Artists Associations, small traders of Mettur and individual comrades came forward spontaneously to contribute to the struggle fund.

The management got restless over the growing support for the struggle.  It moved the Chennai High Court to evict the workers from the Plant gate.  On January 24, the Court had directed the respondent police to identify a place for the workers nearby the Plant gate premises to continue their agitation to save their livelihood.

The writ petition seeking their reinstatement was listed for hearing after four weeks. The unrelenting struggle by the young workers has crossed 20 days as on January 29 when the CITU state committee has given a call for state-wide demonstrations against the anti-labour Chemplast Sanmar Group. They demanded immediate intervention of the state government to direct the Chemplast Sanmar to abide by the advice rendered by the ALC. District-wise mass hunger strike is planned during the first week of February 2019 at Mettur.  

Recently, Yamaha and Enfield witnessed heroic struggles by the workers which lasted for more than 50 days, against the dismissal and victimisation for exercising trade union rights and collective bargaining as enshrined in the constitution.

Particularly, the past 48 months of Modi rule has enslaved itself to meet the aspirations of the corporates to loot the natural resources and exploit the human resources as well. The madness shown by the Modi government to implement the neoliberal policies is reflected in the amendments to various labour laws and packaging them into four labour codes to deprive the Indian working class of its hard won TU rights and attempts to divide the working class on communal lines to weaken the unity of workers with an ulterior motive to satisfy the interests of the corporates.

The type of environment created by the Modi government in the social and economic sphere has encouraged the MNCs and big corporates to undermine the rights enshrined in the constitution itself.