On 3rd May, in a shocking incident of firing on workers of Ankur Udyog Ltd., a yarn factory in the Bargadwa area of Gorakhpur (eastern U.P., India), 19 workers were injured, one of them got a bullet lodged in his spine and is still in a serious condition. The workers had just returned from Delhi after attending the May Day rally at Jantar Mantar as part of Workers’ Charter Movement where thousands of workers from different parts of the country had gathered to present their 26 point charter of demands to the Parliament and the Prime Minister. The workers of Gorakhpur had managed to reach Delhi despite all the efforts of threat and intimidation by the factory owners to stop them from participating in this movement. The firing was conducted by the hired goons of the factory owner Ashok Jalan. Pradeep Singh, a notorious criminal of the region, was leading this assault.
The workers had laid siege to the factory and encircled the goons when the police arrived. After arrival, the police dispersed the workers and in the pretext of arresting the goons the police took the goons along with them and freed them at an unidentified location. The police also detained few workers and was planning to implicate them on false charges.
When the workers went in a procession to the divisional commissioner's office he refused to talk to their representatives saying he will not talk to "outside elements". He was referring to Pramod Kumar, who was leading the workers. Mr Kumar belongs to a group called Bigul Mazdoor Dasta which has helped in organising the workers of Bargadwa and also works with the Textile Workers Union formed a year ago. When no official of the district administration was ready to hear them, the workers announced to launch a "Workers Satyagraha" from 9th May.
The resolute struggle of the workers and public pressure forced the administration and the factory owners on the back foot and ensured a partial victory for the workers agitation. The officials released all the detained leaders and workers by late evening and brought the factory owners for talks. The owners agreed to take back all the 18 workers dismissed from Ankur Udyog and start the factory from the next day.
Shocking as it may appear, this entire episode is just an extension of a series of shenanigans resorted by the industrialists in complicity with the administration which has been going on since last two years ever since the workers of Gorakhpur began organizing to press for their just and lawful demands.
Industrial Landscape of Gorakhpur and condition of workers
There are two industrial areas in the Gorakhpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh. On the southern border of the city exists the Bargadwa industrial area and in the east there exists GIDA (Gorakhpur Industrial Development Authority) in Sahjanwa which is 15 km away from the main city. There are around 20 factories in Bargadwa which include 3 yarn mills, a garment mill, iron rod mill and factories making bicycle rim, utensils, plastic sacks, hen’s fodder, ice cream, biscuits etc. Around 80-1000 workers work in each of these factories. About half of these labourers come from the surrounding areas and others come from Bihar. They live in inhuman conditions. No labour law is implemented in these factories. The provisions of minimum wages, fixed working hours, overtime, bonus, PF, job card, ESI etc. exist only on paper. After toiling for 12-14 hours a day, the workers get the wages which is just sufficient for them and their family members to remain alive. There are frequent accidents in these factories in which the workers suffer injury and many of them have even died. Despite working in a hazardous environment, the workers do not get any safety facility. In some of the factories the workers have to work in an environment where temperature reaches up to 80-100 degree centigrade and in order to save electricity the owners even used to switch off the fans. They are often harassed by the supervisors and owners and even beaten up. If they protest, they are fired from their work. The same is the condition of the workers working in GIDA industrial area.
Beginning of an organized movement
It was two years ago in June 2009 that around 600 workers of fibre yarn factory Ankur Udyog Ltd. in Bargadwa industrial area began an organized movement for their basic demands of reducing the working hours, minimum wages, weekly holiday, PF, ESI etc. Soon, another 300 workers of a nearby yarn factory V.N. Dyers also joined the struggle. The owners adopted various strategies of threat and intimidation to break this unity of workers. Their leaders were beaten up brutally by hired goons of factory owners. But despite this, the owners had to yield before the resolute struggle and unity of the workers. On 29 July 2009, the owners of the two factories agreed to meet the demands of the workers in a meeting with the representatives of the workers and the Deputy Labour Commissioner. It was the first victory of the workers of Gorakhpur who had been living a hellish life for years. The factory owners had to buckle under the all round pressure from the workers’ agitation which was amply supported by the ordinary citizens and local intelligentsia.
Industrialist-bureaucrat-politician nexus against the workers
The victory of the workers of the three factories inspired the workers of other factories in Bargadwa region to organize and wage a struggle. In August 2009, around 1000 workers of Modern Laminators and Modern Packaging Ltd. also began an organized struggle for their basic demands. Due to this unprecedented unity of workers, the industrialists of not only Gorakhpur but of entire eastern U.P. were worried as they could see this unity of workers as a threat to their profitability. Suddenly reports started appearing in media that the industrial peace of the eastern U.P. is at risk because of some “outside elements”. Gorakhpur is also a typical case study for the links between the capitalists and fascist political superstructure. The Member of Parliament of Gorakhpur Yogi Adityanath belonging to Hindu Nationalist Party BJP, who openly flaunts his fascist inclination and dreams of making Gorakhpur the next laboratory of Hindutva experiment has very close connection with the industrialists of the region. In 2009 when workers started organising, he gave statements that the movement was run by the “Maoists” and “terrorists”. He even tried to communalise the issue by claiming that the movement is being “funded by the church”.
Mobilization of workers under Workers’ Charter Movement 2011
Despite the initial victories achieved by the workers, no substantial improvement in their living standard was discernible. The factory owners backtracked from their commitments in many cases. Whatever little hike in the wages took place was more than compensated by the ever increasing inflation. There is a realization among the worker that their problems are not only because of the individual factory owners but because of the entire capitalist class which lives on the surplus extracted through exploitation of their labour power. It was against this backdrop that the workers started organizing under the banner of Workers’ Charter Movement which contains wide-ranging economic and political demands of the entire working class of India in 21st century (www.workerscharter.in). This movement is initiated by some independent trade unions, workers' groups and a workers’ newspaper. A large number of workers from Bargadwa and GIDA were mobilized as part of this movement and had announced to join the rally to be held on 1st May at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The factory owners of Gorakhpur were nervous because of the growing popularity of this movement among the workers. They again resorted to threats and intimidation. The labour leaders were arrested again but after the pressure from the workers’ agitation they were soon released. The owners did not grant leave to the workers to attend the rally in Delhi. In the run up to the May Day rally, the industrialists threatened the workers that they would “teach them a lesson” if they dared to take part in any such movement. Even the Commissioner of the Gorakhpur division issued a statement that “outside elements” who were instigating the workers would not be spared.
The workers’ struggle in Gorakhpur has shown that the workers can succeed only if they wage a united and organized fight against the onslaught of capital. The workers have remained united against all attempts to divide them along caste or communal lines, threats, rumours and money and muscle power. In the process they have also achieved what bigger forces have failed to do earlier. They have exposed the anti-poor and pro-rich real face of the BJP MP from Gorakhpur, Yogi Adityanath, who treats the region like his fiefdom and has been running a viciously communal campaign with his fascist brigade called Hindu Yuva Wahini. A remarkable aspect of the Gorakhpur workers’ struggle has been the enthusiastic participation of women. Right from the beginning of the struggle, the women took active part along with their male counterparts. Community kitchens were run by women to express solidarity. The movement also witnessed a marvellous solidarity between different cross sections of people. The workers from all the factories of Gorakhpur including those from GIDA industrial area openly supported the agitating workers. The peasants from adjoining villages supplied food grains and vegetables to the agitating workers. The middle class residents of Gorakhpur also came out openly in support of the workers’ movement. Various mass organisations and pro-people intellectuals put pressure on the administration to stop the repression of workers’ movement.15.5.11
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