November 12, 2023

CWFI Holds Women Construction Workers’ National Convention

Arka Rajpandit

THE All India Convention of Women Construction Workers was successfully held on November 6, 2023 at Comrade Anju Chatterjee Nagar and Comrade Maithili Sivaraman Manch, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. The convention resolved to reorient the organisation among women construction workers and to intensify the struggles to unleash more militant actions to achieve their just demands.

The convention started with flag hoisting. J Lordu Ruby, vice- president of the Construction Workers Federation of India, hoisted the Red flag, and delegates and guests paid floral tributes to the martyr’s column. 90 women workers and organisers participated in the convention.

On behalf of the reception Committee, Indira, veteran trade union leader of Tamil Nadu gave the welcome address detailing the rich heritage of women construction workers’ movement in Tamil Nadu. She said, this convention should discuss and deliberate upon manifold challenges of the women workers and chart a concrete action programme to move forward.

Inaugurating the convention, CITU and CWFI all India president, K Hemalata said, the convention is being held against the backdrop of unbridled attack on lives and livelihood of working people. Reflecting on the developments in the nine months since the last All India Conference of CWFI, she affirmed that the current circumstances, though challenging, present opportunities to propel the class struggle forward. It is crucial to bear in mind that our constitution underscores the significance of class struggle as the means to attain our goal of changing the society and ending all exploitation.

Emphasizing on worker-peasant joint actions, she said, workers and peasants, the two sections of our toiling people who produce the wealth of our country have joined together to unitedly fight on a common charter of demands and gave the call to defeat the Modi led BJP government in the ensuing parliament elections. The joint platform of trade unions representing the overwhelming majority of the working class, and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha representing all sections of the peasantry have been till now extending mutual support and solidarity to each others’ programmes. Now they have decided to take up joint actions on common charter of demands. This decision, if effectively carried out, taking the unity of these two sections up to the grassroots level with conscious efforts to heighten united struggles, has the potential to galvanise people’s struggles against neoliberal policies in our country. It is the only force that can safeguard the unity of our people against the communal divisive machinations of the RSS Hindutva forces which find echo in other communal outfits as well.

Hemalata said, defeating the BJP government is a prerequisite for strengthening the struggle for alternative pro-people, pro-worker policies. We have to campaign among the people, always keeping our two slogans – ‘Reach the Unreached’ and ‘Link up issues with policies and expose the politics that determine the policies’, in mind. We have to campaign on the basis of an alternative policy agenda. By intensifying our campaign and struggles alone we can ensure that the demands of the working class find a place in the political discourse.

The convention was presided over by a presidium comprising K Hemalata, J Ruby, Sonali Dash Shrama, Ledha Chandran, Kumari, Anushuya and Renuka. The condolence resolution was moved by Sonali Dash Sharma.

Sheela Alex, national secretary of CWFI placed the convention report. The convention report dealt with various issues of women workers in general and construction workers in particular. Highlighting the low participation of women workers in labour market, the report said, World Bank estimates (2022) show that the worldwide LFPR for women was 47.3 per cent in 2022. Despite the so called ‘growth’ observed in the global economies, there has been a persistent decline in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women in developing nations. The estimates also indicate that female labour force participation in India between 1990 and 2022 has decreased from 28 per cent to 24 per cent. It clearly shows under the neoliberal phase, women workers participation has reduced by 4 per cent. Men earn more than women across all forms of work. In 2023, male self-employed workers earned 2.8 times that of women. Male regular wage workers earned 24 per cent more than women and male casual workers earned 48 per cent more. The gender gap in earnings is still a persistent phenomenon. The report pointed out, women workers are employed in semi-skilled/skilled jobs in other industries but in the construction industry women are employed mostly as unskilled labourers. They clean building sites, carry bricks, gravel, mortar and water up, to the skilled carpenters and masons, irrespective of the number of years they worked there. 

A total of 10 workers and organisers deliberated upon the report. They shared their experiences of various challenges. Women workers are deprived of basic facilities in worksites. There are no separate toilets for women; no crèches and hence they have to care for their children during work. Though women workers are entitled to get maternity benefit under BOCW act, but in practice they are denied the rights. They are deprived of weekly paid leave. They are deprived from crèche at the worksites.  Sexual harassment of female construction workers is a serious problem. In many cases, women workers are forced to please a sub-contractor to get the job. Women workers are exploited by the sub-contractors both sexually and economically.

Summing up the discussions, U P Joseph, general secretary, CWFI said the convention entails upon us to discharge our political organisational duty to reach the unreached sections of women workers and bring them into union fold and equip them to unleash more militant struggles.

The convention unanimously adopted four resolutions on: stop sexual harassment at worksites, immediate ceasefire on genocidal war on Gaza, speedy implementation of women’s reservation bill and stop assault on free independent press.

The convention unanimously adopted a 12-point charter of demands and decided to have a nationwide campaign from November 2023 to January 2024. The convention constituted a 38-member all India women’s sub-committee representing 21 states with Sheela Alex as convener. Malathi Chittibabu, CITU national vice-president and veteran leader of CWFI gave the vote of thanks.