October 22, 2023

WB: CWFI Holds Women Construction Workers Convention

Swati Sil

THE second West Bengal state convention of women construction workers was successfully held on October 15, 2023 at Comrade Sujit Mukherjee and Comrade Shyama Prasad Roy Nagar and Comrade Anju Das Chatterjee Manch, Berhampore, Murshidabad in West Bengal. The convention resolved to organise women construction workers with vigor and determination and scale up the struggles engaging more women construction workers to achieve their basic demands.

The convention started with flag hoisting. Md Nizamuddin, president, CITU Murshidabad district committee, hoisted the Red flag amidst thunderous slogans; delegates and guests paid floral tributes to the martyr’s column.

Inaugurating the convention, CITU Murshidabad district general secretary Jyotirup Banerjee said, the convention is being held at a very critical juncture when both the governments at centre and the state are unleashing unbridled assault on working class in general and women workers in particular. All the hard-won rights of the workers are being snatched away for the sake of corporate profits. BOCW Act and construction workers welfare board is a product of persistent struggles of CWFI. He highlighted how under this Modi led BJP regime, registered workers are being deprived of getting stipulated social security benefits, and how therefore it is the class duty of the members and activists of the CWFI to link up the issues with policies of ruling class and expose the politics behind the policies. He said, women construction workers are the more vulnerable sections of the working class, they have to bear the brunt of these policy attacks. Criticising the anti-worker role of TMC government, he said on policy matters there is no difference between the BJP government at centre and the TMC government in state. TMC government is siphoning off crores of rupees from construction workers welfare board; women construction workers of Bengal are being deprived of stipulated benefits. Emphasizing the importance of organising women workers in the movement, he said it is the duty of the entire working class movement and it is duty of the CWFI and CITU leadership to raise the class consciousness of women workers to strengthen the organisation.

The convention was presided over by a presidium comprising Sarswati Das, Jaba Mandi, Swati das and Asmina Khatun. Swati das, state committee member of CWFI, moved the condolence resolution. Sonali Das Sharma, convener of the women sub-committee, placed the report for discussion. The convention report highlighted the dwindling participation of women in labour force. For the age group 15 years and above, in the year 2020-21, LFPR for men was 77.2 per cent while for females it was 32.8 per cent. This shows how difficult it is even today for women to participate in the labour market and only roughly one-third of the total women in the working age group participate in the labour market. With regard to employment, that is proportion of people being employed or the worker population ratio (WPR) for different age segments, the gender gap continues to be significant. The report highlighted the gender gap in wage. Women construction workers have to face multifarious forms of attack from patriarchy driven ruling classes. Sexual harassment in the workplaces is growing, they are being deprived of basic facilities at the worksites, even the employers or contractors are not willing to provide separate toilets for the women workers. The convention report self-critically assessed there is a consistent weakness in organising women workers.  There are also shortcomings on the part of concerned working women representatives in the CWFI committees. Many do not take the necessary initiative and assert their roles and responsibilities in the concerned CWFI committees in keeping the working women sub- committees collectively active and functional.

A total of 15 women workers and organisers deliberated upon the report. Women workers shared their experiences at the worksites; many workers expressed their concern regarding growing trend of domestic violence at home, as well as sexual harassment at the worksites.

Addressing the convention, CWFI national vice-president and West Bengal state president Debanjan Chakraborty said, despite serious efforts, we have not been able to organise women construction workers under our fold and compared to the numbers of workers involved in the construction industry, our membership among women workers is very tiny. Construction has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, but an army of invisible women remain the backbone of the workforce. Most women workers are illiterate and married off at a young age, often joining their husbands in cities where they are recruited by contractors. They work as concrete mixers, diggers, stone breakers and brick haulers, but are never considered skilled enough to work as masons or carpenters. Yet even at those lower levels, women are paid less than their male counterparts. Highlighting the Kozhikode document of CITU, he stressed upon the importance of organising women workers and promoting them to the leadership role. He called upon the entire leadership at various levels to undertake serious efforts to overcome this weakness. 

CWFI West Bengal state general secretary Pranab Mazumder and veteran CITU leader Tushar Dey also addressed the convention.

The convention unanimously adopted six resolutions: On price rise, against sexual harassment at worksites, defeating communal divisive forces, defending democratic rights in West Bengal, and legal assistance to women workers. Chinmoy Bhattacharya, convener of the credentials committee placed the credential report. 72 women participated from in the convention from 14 districts, out of that 54 were workers.

The convention unanimously adopted a 12 point charter of demands and decided to have a statewide extensive and intensive campaign on the basis of this charter of demands. The convention vowed to intensify the struggles of women construction workers in achieving their basic rights. 15 women workers and organisers will participate in the all India convention of women construction workers organised by the CWFI to be held at Kanyakumari on November 6.