Liberty Shoes, Strike and Cycle Rikshas

An account and chronology of a strike at the Liberty Shoes factory in Gurgaon, India in 2006.

Submitted by Steven. on February 16, 2010

Silaam is from West Bengal, he came to Gurgaon about two years ago, in spring 2005. He first worked at Liberty Shoes in Haryana, he did a lot of overtime, earned about 3,000 Rs per month. He says that he did not like the work, the control. About a half year ago he bought a cycle riksha. He now has regular customers, for example two women from Maruti Vihar who work in Call Centres. He cycles them every day. His monthly income is 5,000 Rs now, although it is unclear whether he has to pay back a loan for the riksha. If you want to lease a riksha, and this is what most of the riksha-valla do, you have to pay the owner 25 Rs per day. This is the big deal for all those who think that you can save the world by handing out micro-credits: give people a 20,000 Rs credit and they can be their own employer. The riksha then becomes the mill-stone around their self-empowered necks, while waiting with dozens of other small entrepreneurs at street corners, fighting over passengers to transport, not being able to go back to their village, because invested capital has to be moved. The alternative? Staying at Liberty Shoes stitching for nothing? The following news item on the last strike at Liberty Shoes show that conditions there are bad, but that at least there is a possibility of collective response.
26th of June 2006
Over 30 people, including policemen, were injured after the Haryana Police resorted to lathicharge on hundreds of protesting workers of Liberty Footwear who had blocked National Highway No 1 near Gharaunda on Monday afternoon. Police officials said that they had to resort to lathicharge after the workers pelted stones at them and refused to lift the blockade. About six policemen sustained injuries in the stone pelting, they said. Many of the workers, including women, were detained to clear the highway that had remained blocked for over three hours, leading to nearly 10-kilometre-long queues of stranded vehicles on either side of the industrial town of Gharaunda.
28th of June 2006
Nearly 3,500 of Liberty Shoes’ 4,000 employees went on a strike on Tuesday after about 50 of them were injured on Monday in a police lathi charge near the company’s Karnal plant in Haryana while protesting against low wages. Low salaries and lack of bonus have been the bone of contention between the two sides for the last nine-ten months. According to Dilawar Singh, union leader, Liberty Workers Union, “The company has not paid any bonus in the last one and a half years after reducing it from 20% to 10%. There hasn’t been any major hike in salary as well for many years. The management raised the salary from Rs 1,600 to Rs 2,300 over a period of 10 years. The management also misbehaves with the employees quite often.”
The company has about 4,000 employees working in its three units based at Kutail, Gharonda and Karnal. Employees of the two units at Kutail and Gharonda boycotted work on Tuesday and only 15-20 employees turned out in Karnal plant which has about 500 employees.
Liberty, though, seems confident of meeting its production targets despite the strike. “The employees at these three units had been producing very less since the last 6 months and keeping in mind their lackadaisical attitude we have increased our production in Uttaranchal unit by 30-40% by adding two more lines to it. We have about 170 employees there but the target is easily achieved due to major outsourcing of component part. There will be shortage of the products but we are hopeful to cover the losses soon,” said Bansal. The company also plans to set up 3 new units in Uttaranchal and Ponta.
The company workers say they will return to work only if their colleagues are released from jail and all false cases imposed on them are withdrawn. The Liberty Shoes workers have been in protest mode for the last three days ever since eight of their leaders were arrested by the police after a clash with two senior officials of the company who were reportedly seriously hurt.

From Gurgaon workers news #2, 2007