March 19, 2023

CITU Campaigns for Minimum Wages in Telangana

S Veeraiah

THE CITU in Telangana has organised an extensive campaign from February 10 to March 5 on the issues of industrial workers, mainly focusing on demands of minimum wages, seven hours a day work and five day week. It had a good effect on the workers. A dharna was held at the Labour Commissioner's office on March 6. This is just the beginning of the united labour movement to come!

Industrial workers see CITU as a beacon of hope, for working on the problems they face. While the CITU is working on the problems faced by workers, some BJP agents have colluded with managements and started campaigning with false allegations against the CITU. They campaigned that the government has fixed a minimum wage at Rs 18,000, but the CITU has been obstructing it by demanding Rs 26,000. The workers did not believe this. What is the actual picture? While there are 73 scheduled industries, the state government has fixed a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 for only five industries. This was also not published in gazette due to the pressure of the management. CITU and other organisations have jointly demanded that those five GOs should be implemented immediately. At the same time, the demand for minimum wage of Rs 26,000 has been justified. Except the BMS, all the unions also took up united struggle. BJP leaders could not digest this activity, because, the central government has issued a floor level minimum wages GO with Rs 178 per day, which is Rs 4,628 per month.

Many problems have come to light in the survey conducted by the CITU. The heartbreaking conditions of the workers were seen. The conditions of the workers in England during the time of Marx are reflected. Under the spell of globalisation, the living condition of the workers seems to have gone back 150 years. If we look at their situation, family life and living standards, the greed and inhuman exploitation of the capitalists becomes clear. Narendra Modi government repealed the labour laws. But, even before this formal process, the legal rights of the workers were denied. This denial is now legalised by the central government.

Some time back, the industrial areas were bustling with workers on the roads in the afternoon. Some people come out after the first shift, while others join the second shift duty. But now the areas look barren and deserted in the afternoon. Bonded workers continue to work in companies. Outside there is nothing to be seen but high walls and closed gates. No one can see what is happening inside. None of this matters to the labour department and ruling parties. A company security guard looking for work with an 8-hour working day, searched the entire Patancheru industrial area for 10 days. Except for the pain in legs, such a job could not be found. This is not his situation alone. This is the case with the majority of workers. They enter the company at sunrise and would come out after sunset. The going and coming out are always in the dim darkness only. A woman worked in one company in the Katedan industrial area for two months. They fired her without giving any wages. When asked about the wage for the work done, they said, "You have never worked in our company". There is no evidence that she worked there. Not an appointment letter... At least there is no name in the register for attending the duty. This situation is not unique to that woman alone. This is the plight of thousands of contract and migrant workers. There used to be some temporary workers along with the regular workers. Now it is reversed. In addition to the contract workers, few are appointed as permanent workers.

In Wanaparthy district, a company management is not even giving drinking water to the working women. Their attitude is, if you drink water, you will go to the toilet more often. Besides, production time is wasted! Profit will decrease! In another company, they appointed a supervisor in front of the women's bathroom who knocks on the door when they think that too much time has been taken. Where are the human values in the capitalist world that works for profit? What is the difference between a beast that tastes blood and a capitalist that tastes profit? Men are being paid Rs 415 per day and women are being paid only Rs 350 in this age of robots and internet. The law of equal wage for equal work does not apply here. Feudal ideology backs modern capitalists to gain profits. They have been working as apprentices and trainees for years. In Karimnagar district, granite workers have only one day off in a month, on New Moon day (Amavasya). There is no toilet facility.

In many areas more than half are migrant workers. But the Migrant Workers Protection Act seems to have migrated from this country! Accommodation facilities for the migrant workers are provided by the management. Unable to sleep in those rooms in Pochampally area, they sleep by the roadside in summer. There is nobody to care of the workers bitten by snakes and scorpions. They are taking food in the dirt dug up by bandicoots in the living room. In Sangareddy area, six to twenty people are sheltered in small rooms with iron sheets. Many workers are staying with families inside the gate. No one can meet them. These workers migrated from North Indian states through agents. The batches change every three to six months. No one is employed throughout the year. On the other hand, local public representatives and leaders of the bourgeois parties also join hands with the management. They work for managements to ensure that these workers do not get support from the locals and the unions.

This is the situation not only in private companies but also in prestigious Singareni Coal Mines. Even in Singareni, which is supposed to be an ideal employer, exploitation of migrant workers is rampant. 8,000 migrant workers working in opencast mines are staying inside the company premises. Union workers are not allowed to contact them. No matter how many days Singareni workers go on strike, the production will continue. This work is done by migrant workers.

Migrant workers who come and work across state borders are in a state of extreme insecurity. They are faced with detention of the management, exploitation of labour, by the management, by the agents who brought them, and the local leaders and then the police raids have become routine. They are asked to show identity cards by police on the roads at night. What do they have? Hence, they are suspected of being thieves and anti-social elements and face harassment. The conditions of migrant workers are similar to those of migrant workers who fall prey to brokers and are forced into slave labour in Arab countries.

The workers are happy after seeing the pamphlets in Hindi and Oriya. They feel that we have come to protect them. On receiving this pamphlet, they felt as if they have got some great weapon in their hand. They are sending it to the workers in their own states and to their friends in other industrial areas of this state through cell phones. But efforts to collect signatures were not very fruitful. They did not come forward to sign. They are afraid of managements. They are participating in meetings and demonstrations in some places. Some of them met personally and explained their problems.

When we brought a pamphlet on the problems of one company, workers of other companies are coming with their issues. The confidence of the workers is increasing where they are getting support from locals. In Ranga Reddy district, Tata Aerospace management has been preventing union registration for four years. More than hundred workers who tried to register the union were dismissed from their jobs. However, the workers did not let go. Two active workers who lost their jobs started working as wholetimers of CITU. In some companies, only local workers, that is in small number are allowed to unionise. But, the collective bargaining power of those unions has been diluted. Unions do not have the strength to stop production when all the workers in the company are not united. A company management in Choutuppal area did not agree to negotiate for wage revision. It was only after going to strike along with the contract workers, they were prepared for negotiations.

Now organising the industrial workers has become a challenge for the trade union leaders. Meeting the workers itself has become an adventure. It is possible to meet the workers in the industrial area only between 5-7 in the morning and 5-7 in the evening. We can organise and motivate the workers only by spending hours together in their residential areas and understanding them. This work is not possible for activists and leaders who leave the home after breakfast in the morning and return home in the evening. But we can achieve this with revolutionary consciousness to build a revolutionary working class movement.