Below you can find an interview and translations relating to the history of workers’ struggles at the still existing Thomson Press in Faridabad, near Delhi.
Gurgaon Workers News #39
HMS Thomson Press Union leader in Faridabad in 1970s to 1990s
A short interview with a union official of HMS in Faridabad. He arrived in Faridabad in 1973, worked as a printer at Thomson Press (1) and became the union president there. He covers the events at Nilam Chowk in October 1979 and the turmoil during Devi Lal take-over of Haryana government in the late 1980s early 1990s. Like the main local HMS union leader Sethi, he was invited by the international Trotzkyte movement to speak as an ‘independent’ workers’ leader at various international gatherings. We suggest to read his account together with the Faridabad Majdoor Samachar reports, in particular about the developments at East India Cotton, at Escorts and Thomson Press itself.
I arrived in Faridabad in April 1973 and started working as an apprentice at Thompsen Press India Ltd. Around 250 to 300 workers were employed, most of them permanent workers.
At the time I didn’t know much about trade unions, there was no union at Thomson. But in 1973 workers went on strike for higher wages at Escorts company, Faridabad’s main company, and the police attacked them badly. They arrested workers as soon as they could. It was not possible to hold a meeting in Faridabad, you had to go to Badarpur-Delhi border. At the time there was AITUC, BMS and INTUC union at Escorts, in each of the eight plants here in Faridabad there were different unions. In 1973 there was also a violent incident in front of the Goodyear factory, one worker was shot by the police. But I don’t know too much about this event.
Then came the Emergency 1975. Work-pressure in the factories increased and less bonus was paid. Outside the factories there was the issue of enforced sterilisation and demolitions of slums. AITUC was predominant in Faridabad at the time, AITUC is affiliated to the CP, which had supported the Emergency. Therefore there was silence in Faridabad during this period.
In 1977-78, after the lifting of the Emergency, CITU became more powerful, given that the CPM had opposed Emergency. The National Labour Organisation (NLO) also became stronger, but our leaders had to leave the NLO and formed the Haryana Labour Union (HLU) instead. They met with union leaders of seven, eight factories. At that time our comrade Mr. Sethi started his work as union leader at Escorts. He called various unions and asked: “Why do you work seperately, in this way the bosses won’t be effected and you won’t achieve anything”. He suggested a general union election and contacted workers in all eight plants. A year later secret elections were held at Escorts and he was elected union president in 1978.
After Emergency AITUC was replaced by BMS as the main union at East India Cotton Mill, one of the major textile companies in Faridabad at the time. The workers did not support the new union, they wanted elections, they supported the HLU. A struggle broke out around this issue, this was in 1979. The three HLU leaders got kicked out by East India management, workers opposed this. Unions in Faridabad reacted by forming a Sangarsh Samiti (Struggle Committee) and called for a huge rally, nearby Nilam Chowk.
All main union leaders came, even the AITUC ones. They announced to the government that if it would not give those workers their right to elect their union there would be a general strike on 17th of October. East India Cotton still refused negotiations, so the general strike went ahead and the whole of Faridabad’s industry came to a halt. The union committee had to go underground on the 16th of October in order to avoid being arrested, so there were hardly any union leaders around the next day.
On 17th of October masses of workers came from both directions towards Nilam Chowk, a huge mass of Escorts workers from one side, other from the other side. The police got caught in between. People started shouting slogans. One police officer started shooting and was subsequently killed by the masses. A huge contingent of special police then started firing and chasing people, the terror spread to all areas of Faridabad. A lot of people went hiding, active workers had to hide. The majority of workers went to work next day. During the following days the police continued to arrest individual workers, around 150 to 200 in total. They were charged with 202 or 207, with murder of the police officer or attempted murder. The government had imposed a 144 the day before the general strike.
At that time I was still working at Thomson Press and we were thinking about establishing a union there, we had set-up a committee already. At the time we had no famous leader, it was a small union. The management told my name to the police and ten days after the Nilam Chowk incident I was arrested. The workers at Thomson stopped work in response, for four hours. The management talked to them and promised them to get me out. They denied that they had anything to do with the arrest and accused us of telling lies. They said that they will pay for my court case, give me full facilities, “but please go back to work now”. Management and some of their men then came to the police station and spoke to me: “It was the police, not us, who got you here”.
After Nilam Chowk they also arrested a lot of local peasants who had come out in support of the workers. They had also suffered under Emergency. There was no jail, so we were first sent to Rohtak and then to Bhiwani. The workers at Thomson Press thought that if the general strike scares the management then we might get something out of it. That was there attitude towards the strike.
On 5th of December 1979 I was released from jail, on bail. The workers at Thomson welcomed me, the management joined them. The manager said: “Go, meet the boss. You can stay off work, outside the factory, and he will pay you”. I said that there is no need to meet the boss. We then tried to continue rallying in front of East India Cotton factory, but the police had barricaded the whole area off. They stopped people. It was not a lock-out, production was running, but they did not let the old workers go back inside, neither did they get compensation for redundancy.
At Thomson the union was established in 1980. When I was out in 1979 the workers had elected me as general secretary of the union. The management was not in favor, but they were not too aggressive. Things changed in 1981, when management became rather aggressive towards the union. Because we raised the question of payment for the casual workers, who were paid less than the permanents. The other point of conflict was a three and a half years agreement which had been forged with some “leaders” about one year previous. According to the agreement there was hardly any wage increase, only increase of the housing allowance. This agreement was still pending when I became union leader.
I opposed this agreement, so the management organised a different union group against me, an INTUC union. They called for a gate meeting in order to set-up this union. Local MLAs, ministers, they all came. We also went, we wanted to go to work, but we were stopped at the gate. As long as the meeting went on, we listened. Shift normally starts at 8 am, the meeting went till 9 am. After their gathering was over I called workers over and asked them to listen what I had to say. I asked them: “What need was there for a meeting? Why have you been stopped at the gate? All this is a conspiracy to weaken our union. Let’s go inside now and stop work when we are inside. Let’s demand from management that they should recognise our union and only if they do so, we go back to work”. The workers did this, they went inside and sat down. The police arrived. At that time the casual workers were not members of the union, but they were with the union. They were a minority at the time, hardly ten per cent of the workforce. The production was stopped for the whole day. The labour commissioner arrived. A meeting between the conflicting parties took place. They said that they would increase the basic wage by 30 Rs. So we went back to work. They also started paying minimum wages to the casual workers, which they had not done before.
The management then targeted three of our comrades, who had been active during the dispute. They laid a trap and then suspended them and finally kicked them out. At the time I was still inside. We assembled the workers, took the flag and supported the three suspended comrades. This went on for six months. Then the 13th of March 1981 came. Management sent some thugs in order to attack one of the suspended comrades at the factory gate. We thought that this was a provocation and that we should avoid a confrontation, but people pushed forward. We stopped working after the lunch break and people left the factory in order to assemble at the gate in support. There I was attacked by thugs, the beat me with clubs. Police arrived, I was taken to hospital, but a case was registered against me. They said that I started a fight, that I called for strike – there was no case filed against the thugs. A minister intervened in support of the management, while a high-rank police officer asked me whether I knew the thugs. I confirmed and told him who it was. They arrested them shortly after, but I was not taken back on duty.
Management set-up their INTUC union inside the factory. A few workers benefitted from the subsequent settlements and agreements between INTUC and management, but the number of workers hired through contractors and casual workers increased rapidly, from around 300 in 1981 to about 1,000 workers in 1987 – in 1987 there were around 500 permanents employed, by then a minority. In 1987 the Haryana government changed. The Devi Lal / Chautala (2) government replaced the Congress government. Given that we were opposed to the Congress, Devi Lal gave us some support, not much, but some. We called all workers together, after change of government, I was again attacked by thugs. It was actually those guys close to the INTUC leaders, they broke my nose. In reaction to this attack the Escorts workers laid down tools. Our union was the main union at Escorts and at about 70 to 80 other local companies , they shut down the whole of Faridabad in support for us at Thomson. The DC arrived and said that he will set-up elections, to decide whether it should be INTUC or HMS. We received 99 per cent of the votes. Then Chautala saw that unions can be a good support for political parties, so he set-up his own union, the Lok Majdoor Sangh (LMS). They first invited us to join them, when we refused, they started to contest us (1).
After 1990 re-structuring accelerated, now there are hardly 400 permanent workers left. This is the general trend – therefore the union movement has been seriously undermined.
Thomson Press Faridabad
After both the General manager and the (INTUC) union leader attached to him got discharged in 1987, the Thomson Press workers gained some short relief – when recently management started to put pressure on workers again. The capitalist law says without any doubt that after 240 days of constant employment casual workers have to be made permanent – now the management has settled an agreement with the new (HMS) union that all those casual workers will be made permanent who have worked at Thomson for more than four years. After some time of pending this agreement was nullified again on 15th of May. There are still 100 casual workers – with over four years seniority – who wait to be made permanent, plus 65 to 70 casuals who should be made permanent according to law. Now Thomson Press says that there is not enough work and that either 200 workers leave voluntarily or the 1,700 workers, who are now employed on two shifts, are supposed to work on three shifts – or in more straightforward words: the management is eager to increase the work-load by 30 to 35 per cent. The current changes imposed by management correspond with this aim: reduction of last year’s bonus payment of 20 per cent to 10.37 per cent; stopping the process of making casual workers with four years seniority permanent; giving the sack to 40 workers after closing two departments; suspending two workers after minor incidents and threatening them with shift to recently relocated composing department in Okhla.
Three years ago management withdrew the general manager. Management also replaced the very unpopular old (INTUC) union leader with a new one. Despite the fact that the new (HMS) leader openly receives 2,000 Rs monthly payment from management, the fact that the old leader got discharged gave some respite to workers. In exchange for his 2,000 Rs and other crumbs the new (HMS) leader supported management in “getting the company out of its troublesome condition” by cutting down annual company benefits: the annual three-four days company tour got cut, the annual picnic got cancelled, the annual ‘open-day’ and program at the factory, as well. Together with these measures the new (HMS) leader inscribed a work-load increase in the new collective agreement. After having signed the agreement, the union leadership called the workers during a side meeting to stop these measures – a proof of the leadership’s juggling performance. In this way the situation at Thomson Press has aggravated to an extend that some workers started to run back to the old (INTUC) union leader. These developments are part of the reason behind the current beatings and fights within Thomson Press.
But the main reason behind the internal fights is the management’s policy to put their support behind the back of both sides. Thomson Press management is also affected by the intensifying blows of capitalist crisis. Management states that it is difficult to obtain orders and that the company is in trouble due to fierce competition. After having increased the work-load and cut certain company benefits, management now says that either the lottery department is shifted to Okhla or 200 to 250 workers have to go – otherwise the company would get into economic trouble. Workers assume that management wants to get rid offf a total of 500 workers. Speculation increases with aggravating capitalist crisis – the lottery business is booming – but the current management’s schemes to steer the company out of the waters of crisis are little more than speculation themselves. In order to fortify their strategy, management now – after having divided up workers between the increasingly disgraced new union leader and the already disgraced old union leader – prepares their agreeing/favoured workers to offer sacrifice for the company.
(January 1991) (1)
In the August 1990 issue we stated the management policy of putting their hands behind the back of the two conflicting parties as the main reason for the current physical confrontations between groups of workers at Thomson Press. This evaluation was wrong. At that time we saw the events only related to Thomson Press itself. We did not take into account the links between management of Thomson Press, India Today, News Track and the influence of the local capitalist politics. This is why we were wrong then. The agitations of the 6th of December 1990 made this quite clear. Nevertheless, the workers at Thomson Press still try to understand these events on the limited bases of their own company grounds. Workers have been turned into pawns in the struggle between different capitalist leaders – 150 workers cause trouble for the Devi Lal / Chautala government, so 1,500 workers pose a threat to the Thomson Press management. The whole issue is of importance for the workers at Thomson Press, but other workers can also learn a fair share from these developments – let’s therefore consider the whole issue more thoroughly. In a capitalist democracy the big newspapers and publishers play an influential part – their influence even increased when, together with the elections in November 1989, the theatre play of local capitalist parliamentary politics turned into a full-on drama. Concerned about their image, political leaders try to make themselves ‘popular’, while the big publishing houses and daily newspapers use columns like ‘The Nation wants’, ‘The country speaks out’ or ‘India demands’ in order to dictate the political leaders their aims and wants. On this background, after having put a lot of effort into becoming part of the central political machinery, various big capitalist newspapers and publishers started attacking Devi Lal and Chautala, aiming to extend their influence within the political machinery. During election times these attacks became more fierce. Devi Lal / Chautala retaliated, e.g. by verbally abusing newspaper publishers in their speeches.
The owners of Thomson Press, India Today and Newstrack were at the forefront of attacks against Devi Lal / Chautala government. The attacks in India Today and through video in Newstrack were publicly debated issues. The Hindi and English version of India Today is printed by Thomson Press in Faridabad, Haryana. Devi Lal / Chautala are in control of the government apparatus in Haryana and, in the name of trade unionism, the LMS is their hooligan organisation. It was therefore easy for Devi Lal / Chautala to take steps against their opponents in Haryana. In July 1990 the struggle between Devi Lal and the publishers emerged and expressed itself through the violent confrontations between groups of workers at Thomson Press.
In 1987 Thomson management replaced the old general manager and the old union leader attached to him. The HMS leader took his position. After his take-over workers felt some relieve and did not object to the HMS leader openly receiving a monthly payment of 2,000 Rs from management. Discontent grew after the union leader helped management to cut three lakh Rs for annual company-provided conviniences and to increase work-load. Their discontent came together with the start of Devi Lal’s intervention at Thomson Press through his union LMS and the old union leader. Despite their discontent with the HMS leader, the majority of workers refrained from re-grouping around the re-emerging old leader. In July 1990 the series of violent clashes started. Through the middlemen of HMS and LMS the struggle between Devi Lal and the publishers has turned into a struggle between workers.
The struggle was still in full swing when Devi Lal, after having been pushed out of the centre of power in August, re-entered the central power in November. Their efforts to obtain control over the publishers intensified. As part of this chain of events the LMS put up their flag at Thomson Press on 6th of December 1990. The stir caused by Chautala and his men cause trouble in the management departments of companies in Faridabad. Escort management fears that after having done so at Thomson Press, Chautala could post the LMS flag at Escorts, too – a fiery former Escorts leader, who had been kicked out of the Ford plant (part of Escorts), is with Chautala. Here Mr. Sethi, the main HMS leader in Faridabad also plays his role. As president of the Escorts workers union he openly supported the Nanda management in the struggle with Swaraj Paul over Escorts take-over in 1983. He also helped enforcing increased work-loads. Having been a follower of Devi Lal this main HMS leader has recently left him and started to support the Janata Dal. In this way the front against Devi Lal / Chautala has been fortified behind the leadership of Thomson Press management. The Faridabad Industries Association has expressed its support of the Thomson Press management against Devi Lal in front of the SP – DC. On 6th of December Escorts management ordered ‘a strike’ for the first shift in all Escorts plants against the setting up of the LMS flag at the Thomson Press gate. On the background of all these facts it seems that this ‘strike’ happened after a signal of the SP – DC, and on the very same 6th of December at 2pm the HMS leaders uprooted the LMS flag from the Thomson Press gate. The police just watched. In order to demonstrate their loyality towards Chautala and Devi Lal the SP – DC removed the HMS flag again later at night of the 6th of December. The capitalist factions opposed to Chautala and Devi Lal took further steps. The HMS leaders staged a gate meeting at Thomson Press assembling central leaders of the Janata Dal. All this resulted in Devi Lal and Chautala withdrawing slightly from the attack.
Lock-Out at Thomson Press
After having instigated clashes within the factory on 21st of March, management has imposed a lock-out under the name of ‘suspension of production’. The lock-out continued at least till the 4th of April, the time we received our latest news. But this time neither the big newspapers issued big headlines about it, nor did the big party leaders arrived at the gate in order to deliver big speeches, nor did the management association raise their voice, nor did any middlemen come to agitate. This time the atmosphere is absolutely different from the one in december 1990, when the struggle between Chautala / Devi Lal and the publishers were in full swing. It seems that this time the issue is between management and workers alone.
Thomson Press in Faridabad, employing 1,700 workers, belongs to the most important printing presses of India. Since 21st of March a lock-out continues, labelled as ‘suspension of production’. The wages for the first 21 days of March had not been paid by beginning of May. It seems that management’s plan consists in imposing their conditions on starving workers. And the complete silence by all those capitalist elements, which in December 1990 stirred up a huge noise around the conflicts at Thomson Press, plays in the hand of management plans. To consider this issue in more depth might also be useful for other workers.
Currently thirty big printing presses in India are declared as ‘sick units’. Thomson Press is one of them, but up to this point has been able to hide their crisis behind the ‘booming condition’ of India Today. According to the opinion of some experts working in the printing industry the main reason for the ‘sickness’ of Thomson Press is located in the confusion within management. The printing of lottery tickets and other security relevant documents required investment of large sums in machinery, but Thomson Press seems to have difficulties to establish themselves in the market, both in terms of quality and price. The Thomson Press policy is to employ highly qualified workers at high-tech machinery, but to pay them very little. When economic trouble started at Thomson Press around six, seven years ago the owners sacked some low-skilled managers and instead put high-degreed managers in charge of leading the business. These managers got involved in large-scale irregularities and in order to cover them up they declared that Thomson’s ailment was due to superfluous work-force. The current events are part of their plan to enforce large-scale retrenchments. Recently 50 workers were dismissed under allegations that they had been involved in fights. It is obvious that the main ‘sickness’ is the capitalist system in itself, where the main daily work of the representatives of capital is to play poker with workers income, subsistence and life. Let us have a look at the events of the 21st of March and the subsequent developments. It looks like the event of the 21st of March has been result of an instigated conflict in the factory. And given that the outcome of the fight plays in the higher management, it seems that the instigation had its origin in Thomson management itself. At about 4:30 pm, after the fight, two shifts of total 1,500 workers were inside the factory. One Escorts union leader, who is attached to HMS, and the Thomson Press union leader told the workers that management will lock-up the factory and that all workers should come to the union office at 10 am the next day for a meeting. On the 22nd of March the union leadership said that on the previous night management had started to remove material from the factory and that therefor workers should encircle the factory in order to prevent management from taking away stuff. Between 21st of March and the beginning of May there had been no demonstrations/processions or public gathering about this matter. These events express the non-understanding of the Thomson workers and the collusion of management and middlemen.
The main HMS leader in Faridabad, who had helped management to enforce their lock-out on 21st of March and had then given full support to maintain the lock-out for 70 days, now claims on a printed leaflet that the “Thomson Press workers are not ready to fight”. Workers should know the truth in order to be able to learn from the painful experience of the Thomson Press workers and to escape the clasp of the management-middlemen alliance. Here, as well, management keeps Dal Fry-type of gangs; here, as well, in the name of INTUC-AITUC-CITU-HMS-BMS-LMS middlemen practice every day to enforce management policies. Again and again workers in Faridabad reject these shopkeepers of various colored flags, but given the lack of alternatives, workers get caught in the tread-mill of choosing ‘the lesser of two evil’. In order to prevent the return of the old infamous LMS leader, even Thomson Press workers who are dissatisfied with the HMS rally around them. During the battle between Thomson Press management and Chautala the HMS leaders made use of the workers to take sides of management, and afterwards, when they helped to fulfill management’s plan of attacking workers. On 21st of March the HMS leaders helped to get the assembled two shifts of workers out of the factory, so that management was able to implement their lock-out. Following the example of CITU at Gedore, which physically attacked workers and made 1,500 workers sign their resignation, HMS established their role at Thomson Press during the lock-out. Between the beginning of the lock-out on 21st of March and the re-opening of the factory on 31st of May the HMS leaders did not organise even one protest march, not even one public gathering. It seems too remote to even think about stopping work at Escorts in solidarity or to take other measures of struggle. After two months of lock-out around 80 per cent of the Thomson Press workers have returned home to their villages: to sit and sit in front of the factory doing nothing had caused too much trouble for them. And then the HMS leaders came to ‘an agreement’ with Thomson management. The ‘agreement’ was so bad that the remaining workers openly opposed it. This discontent was then covered with the veil of democracy by making even less than the remaining twenty per cent of the work-force take part in a secret ballot – in order for the main middleman to be able to shout about that the Thomson Press workers are not willing to fight.
Chautala’s men attack Press workers again
The Telegraph, 21-01-1991
Chautala’s men attack Press workers again
Faridabad, Jan. 22: After a brief lull, violence erupted once again at the Thompson Press here when five employees owing allegiance to the Chautala-backed Lok Mazdoor Sangh (LMS) alongwith two outsiders fired at point blank range upon the vicepresident of the elected Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Mr Ashok Kumar, yesterday morning. Mr Kumar escaped by running into the factory premises.
The LMS, which has been creating trouble at a number of factories in the industrial township here in order to establish itself as the recognised union without facing an election, has since the middle of last year injured 22 employees of the Thompson Press in various attacks. No arrests have been made against the FIRs registered at the police stations by the HMS. The police have consistently turned a blind eye to these incidents of violence. In this case also, the HMS has registered an FIR naming some of the alleged attackers but no action has been taken so far.
The HMS union, which was being strongly backed by the management of the Thompson Press so far, is now alleging that the management too is trying to shield the culprits in order to weaken their elected union. The Thompson Press management had put up a notice in the factory earlier this month saying that any employee indulging in violence on or outside the premises will be suspended. Citing this, the HMS president, Mr R.D. Yadav, has been demanding suspension of the five employees who indulged in yesterday’s attack.
A senior manager of the Thompson Press admitted putting up the notice but he did not want to implement the warning because, in that case, the HMS employees, who had attacked LMS men on December 29, will also have to be suspended. Requesting anonymity, the manager said the HMS was free to make any allegations it liked.
However, the fact that the Thompson Press management had changed its tune was evident as it had not admitted that the HMS men had beaten the LMS boys on December 29 till now. In fact, they had been saying just the contrary and blaming the LMS men for the attack.
The manager also said that whether it was the LMS or the HMS, they were both harmful to the Thompson Press as the continuing violence had affected their work badly. “The HMS employees resorted to work stoppage for one hour each on January 15 and 17 and for five hours on January 20 when LMS men, who had earlier incited violence, reported for duty.”
The continuing violence at the Thompson Press by the LMS so far was alleged to have been inspired by the Janata Dal (S) secretary, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, who was said to be settling scores for exposing the violence during the Mehem byelection in the India Today magazine which is printed here. But neither the management nor the HMS union has made any mention of Mr Chautala in this round of violence.
* Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar: January 1989 to February 1997
Articles covering re-structuring process and struggles in jute mill, powerloom department and table-printing department of Faridabad’s major company.
East India Cotton
Nowadays Chhotelal cycles a rickshaw. He had been hired at the Jute Mill of East India Cotton Company in 1974. In 1983 the mill was suddenly closed. Since then Chhotelal stays in Faridabad in the hope that he will get his outstanding wages, his PF money and seniority bonus. In order to survive he cycles rickshaw in the meantime. Five years have passed, but Chhotelal hasn’t seen any money yet. Chhotelal is one of 900 workers, out of which 200 to 300 are still in Faridabad – waiting like him. The rest could not make ends meet, they have disappeared. There are many factories like the Jute Mill in Faridabad, closed factories. There are thousand workers like Chhotelal who wait for outstanding wages, which are due to them according to capitalist law.
Jute Mill, Powerloom, Dabar, Ajanta are the names given to the different departments of Eastern India Cotton company. Apart from the jute mill, the rest still exists within Eastern India Cotton. When the dismissed jute mill workers asked for their money the management refused to have anything to do with the workers. They said that the workers belong to Fibre Processors Limited. Whenever necessary the Eastern India management creates new companies within the company. This happens in many other factories in Faridabad. When workers – hidden behind the many company names within the factory premises – want to file a case against management, their lawyer will say that the management actually belongs to a different company.
In September 1983 the jute mill management laid off workers for a months – they said that this was due to lack of raw materials. At this point the company owed workers two months of outstanding wages. Workers were given 200 Rs and told that they should go back home until the necessary raw material arrives. By October no jute was to be seen. Eastern India management closed the factory and only left their security guards sitting at the gates. Through some middle-men workers filed a case in 1983, but nothing came out of it. In the meantime banks also filed a case in order to get back their money and in 1986 the jute mill machines were auctioned. When machines were about to be retrieved from the factory, workers became agitated. New middle-men entered the stage. The new middle-men took 50 to 100 Rs from each mill worker still hanging out in Faridabad and they filed a case. At this point the machines had not been taken from the factory yet and the middlemen delivered endless and promising speeches. After the machines were taken from the factory in December 1988, the middlemen would not be seen at the gates of East India jute mill anymore. Till today the 900 workers of the jute mill haven’t received their final pay.
Kanpur – Textile Workers blockade railtracks
The developments at East India in Faridabad cannot be seen isolated from the wider development of textile industry in India. Below you can find a short article relating to the struggle of textile workers in Kanpur, which took place at the same time.
On 22nd of February around 35,000 textile workers blocked the main railtracks in Kanpur. Every day, after end of their shift, around 10,000 workers met and blocked the tracks. Only once the other shift had arrived at the tracks, the workers would get up and leave. Only after the government accepted their demands, the workers gave the tracks free on 27th of February. For five days the workers did not let any train pass through Kanpur. The government had to cancel 100 trains every day. Please read the article published in Indian Express on 27th of February:
“The railtrack-blockade movement of the textile workers is exceptional in many ways. The workers have become leaders themselves, and the old trade union leaders are left standing aside.”
We can learn some valuable lessons from the marvellous movement of the Kanpur workers. We will talk about some aspects here and hope that we will be able to provide more material in the next issue. The Kanpur textile workers have clearly demonstrated that the whole capitalist machinery is nothing but a thing and that during struggle workers can harm this machinery in sensitive and important spots. The Ministry of Railroads has announced in thir propaganda, that the struggle of the Kanpur textile workers is between the workers and the management of the textile mills, and that the workers should not draw the railways into this conflict. The workers refused this capitalist nonsense-talk and as a result, they won. Police, army, court, parliament, village council: this whole machinery is the workers’ enemy.
The Kanpur workers have chosen the right time to start their struggle. On 6th of December 1977 the Janata Partty government sent police into the Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur, where subsequently more than 150 workers were killed in a police firing. The Janata Party had just got to power and thousands of workers did not create to much commotion around these deads. This time the government did not put into action their action plan to evict the workers from the tracks. The ruling Congress Party has no problem with spilling workers’ blood, but it is election year and in the vote-games the party might have to pay a high price for a bloodbath. Instead of applauding to the election circus, the workers should accelerate the struggle for their demands.
East India Cotton
In order to suppress the 1979 strike, the East India management mobilised the infamous Dal Fry goons [a union section]. Even after the open mobilisation of goons became unnecessary the management continued to make use of them. The DC tried several times to explain to the management that their behaviour was rather unintelligent. Seeing that the anger amongst the provoked workers increased and re-calculating the expenses for the goons, the management finally understood what the DC had try to explain. Suddenly, on 28th of February, the management announced union election for the 4th of March. The agitation among workers was considerable. Although they knew that the elections will not change anything, they got tied up in the hope that something will change. The Dal Fry goons and some others ‘got elected’.
East India Cotton
On 8th of June the workers at East India Cotton achieved their first victory over the alliance of management and goons in ten years. This victory happened after a sad incident.
At East India, particularly in the printing and processing department, the capitalist health and safety rules are ignored to such an extend that, if the system was not as rotten as it is and the makers of the rules did not break their own creation, the company would have to be closed for security reasons. But it is the worker, who dies in accidents, while management can claim some money from insurances for ‘damage’. Therefore the company keeps on running – after putting some money into this or that official’s pocket.
On the 8th of June at 1 am a worker died in an accident. The corpse was sent to hospital, where the doctors announced death and immediately sent the corpse on to the mortuary. So far this would have been a common event at East India. It seems that the Dal Fry goons tried to get 5,000 to 10,000 Rs out of the worker’s death. Instead to the mortuary the corpse arrived in the factory at 4 am. All workers assembled around the dead worker. The workers of the 6:30 am early shift joined them. The news spread and the workers of the powerloom and dabar department also arrived, so did the next 8 am shift – in the end about 3,000 to 4,000 workers gathered. The Dal Fry goons and people of minor importance staged a drama of negotiations with management. Up to this point the game of the Dal Fry goons seemed to go according to plan, the workers were a mass, but only a mass. Then a worker from the powerloom department arrived and gave the silent mass a voice. The speech of this worker spoilt the game for the Dal Fry goons. Thousands of worker raised the demand of 1 lakh Rs compensation for the family of the dead worker. The district president of the LMS, who is also the legal advisor of the Dal Fry-union, tried to rescue things for the Dal Fry. The workers gave him a good beating. At this point the 100 to 150 Dal Fry goons, who had been well fed over years, also lost their good senses. A leader among them threatened the powerloom worker when police was already about to arrive – the angry response of thousands of workers shook both management and the arriving police. The things had gone out of hand of the Dal Fry and their ally from the personnel management – so the main company management took over. As soon as the management accepted to pay the due compensation to the relatives of the dead workers, apart from 100 – 150 individuals, all workers left the factory together. The relatives haven’t received any money yet.
East India Cotton
On 12th of August the union leaders hold a gate meeting. At the meeting workers complained about the fact that workers were laid off, while leaders were paid the full 30 days without having worked. The leaders were stunned at these signs of workers’ resistance against the leader-management alliance. On 13th of August a worker who had raised his voice during the gate meeting was refused entry to the factory. It is the rule at East India Cotton that workers who are refused entry are not given the obligatory charge sheet or any other written reason for the refusal. The capitalist rules are broken by the representatives of capital themselves. Knowing that East India Cotton normally undertakes steps against those workers who oppose the union leaders, the powerloom workers had been expecting the move. Up to this point the steps taken by management had frightened the workers, this time they organised a counter-move. In protest against their work-mate having been kicked out, the night-shift of the power-loom department refused to leave and the early shift did not start working. Within an hour management and leaders started to run around. No one wanted to be responsible for the decision to refuse the worker entry, everyone said that the worker should start working and that everything will be fine. After the reassurances by management and leaders the workers started working after one and a half hour strike, and the night-shift said that in case the worker is not taken back as promised, they would undertake steps during the next shift. The worker was taken back on the 13th, during morning shift.
The power-loom workers learned quite a lot from this incident. Having examined the situation, they did not engage in an ‘all out’-struggle. The workers did not say: “Take the worker back on, then we will work”. The workers have given the management both, a blow and time to think about the damaging consequences. And the workers were successful.
In general workers tend to engage in an ‘all out’-struggle even when it concerns small daily conflicts. It has turned into an ideology that, disregarding the impact of the blow, the struggle has to be advanced to the outmost degree. As long as the factory was owned by an individual person, who had invested their private money, this way of struggle had usually increased the strength of the workers. The greater the impact of their attack, the higher the possibility that workers would win the struggle. A long strike used to be able to force a capitalist to his knees. But over time important changes have taken place concerning the ownership of capital. Nowadays individual persons or families do not tend to invest to much of their private money into a single factory. This is obvious when looking at state-owned factories, but the relation is not much different in the private sector. Today, workers face a management, instead of a boss. Management are representatives of capital and ministers-DC-SP-judges -generals are their colleagues. Given that management has invested only little money themselves, a long strike does not impact on their individual condition much. Therefore, an ‘all-out’-struggle in a single factory tends to first of all harm the workers. At the printing and processing plant of East India Cotton, as well, a worker was refused entry due to having opposed the leaders. There, as well, workers were rather angry, but this anger was vented by merely engaging in verbal cannonades. The workers did not undertake any steps for their work-mate. This worker is still struggling to get his job back.
In the dabar plant, East India management has removed 400 permanent workers and hired worker through contractors. On the first working day of the workers hired through contractors, the management made sure that police was around. The fact that the workers did not raise their voice against the shift from permanent to contract work, reveals the weakness of the workers.
Workers in Faridabad undertake some steps during the drama of capitalist elections
During the times of election the whole capitalist regime spreads their illusionary net in order to entangle workers. But it seems that the workers in Faridabad have learnt their bit during the last years. This has become obvious during the current elections in various forms.
Firstly, the fact that AITUC-CITU-HMS-LMS-BMS unions call workers to support the candidate of the Janata Dal does not seem to have much of an impact on the workers. This might be because the current Congress candidate was the chief minister of the Haryana Janata Party government in 1979 and the current Janata Dal candidate was a minister in his cabinet at the time – a time when in October 1979 the police firing on workers in Faridabad took place and killed many. Many workers remember this. The unions fail in covering up the current regime of hooliganism and looting of the Janata Dal. More important than the disillusion towards the elections are the steps, which workers currently take in their own interest.
The steps undertaken by East India Cotton workers for the 800 Rs rate are worth mentioning. During his election campaign the chief minister of the Janata Dal had announced in April that the minimum wage in Haryana will be 800 Rs. The Janata Dal and their big-mouthed chief minister spread this promise everywhere, but nowhere in Haryana it has been turned into reality. After six months the Haryana government hasn’t even published the new wage in its newsletter. AITUC-CITU-HMS-BMS-LMS-Bank Employees Federation praised the chief minister Devilal on 13th of June for his wage announcement. The announcement of the new wage has been published in the government newspaper’s in due time before the parliamentary elections, but there wasn’t any factory in Haryana, where the new wage would have been paid on payday in November. At this time the union of the Janata Dal LMS was the leading union at East India Cotton. At the gate meeting on 3rd of November the Haryana president of the LMS beat the drum against the current Congress candidate and his involvement in the police massacre of 1979. One of the reasons for the 1979 firing was – apart from the quelling of general discontent – the long strike of workers at East India Cotton. In the period and in the shadow of the 1979 strike the East India management implemented their automation scheme and made 3,000 workers redundant. The LMS president whole-heartedly reassured the workers about the 800 Rs rate and in return asked the workers to vote for the Janata Dal.
But on 7th of November management paid the old rate. In response the 4,000 East India workers of the powerloom and Ajanta department displayed great unity and refused to take the old rate wages. The workers demanded the new 800 Rs rate. Seeing the unity of the workers, the LMS leaders became confused. Given that it was election period the whole situation was rather tricky, therefore East India management hesitated to make use of its goons. Shortly before the East India workers had given the LMS regional president a beating while the Dal Fry goons stood and stared. Seeing that the election harvest might get spoilt, the LMS Haryana president was given the role to entice the workers. On 8th of November this leader held another gate meeting. During this gate meeting the leader reassured the workers that before election the new rate would be paid, and he tried to convince the workers to accept the old rate this time and take their wage. But the workers were not be moved. After he did not succeed during the gate meeting the leader organised a side meeting, but even after hours of bullshitting the workers insisted on the 800 Rs rate. The leader got very agitated and left in his Maruti, while the workers shouted slogans containing his name and ‘down with’.
The East India workers continued working peacefully, but they refused to take the old rate wages. During the next days four thousand workers resisted the pressure in this way. The workers had only started to debate amongst themselves about possible further steps, such as demonstrations to the DC after shift, when the management made a full-force attack and broke the workers unity. The management was successful due to the stay notice drama, usage of the Dal Fry goons and the hesitations of the workers to take next steps. On 14th and 15th of November all workers had taken the old rate wages. During the movement of these four thousand workers it became clear for everyone that in no factory in Haryana the new rate was paid.
Workers at Gedore alias Jhalani Tools could also not be bothered to take part in the election theatre. Workers took part in a gate meeting, because they thought that it was about the demand notice. But the leader of the CITU in Faridabad started talking about support for the Janata Dal candidate. The workers told him to say something about the demand notice, otherwise they would go, because they had nothing to do with the elections. Then management and union put up a notice saying that workers should come to work on Sunday in order to take Wednesday off to cast their vote on the election day. In the first plant workers encircled the manager and told him that they will keep the Sunday as rest day. They told him that the workers had nothing to do with the vote, if management want, they can take the Wednesday off, but we will come to work. After having been encircled for one and a half our the manager withdrew the notice. At Gedore, workers took Sunday off and worked on election day. But in most of the other factories in Faridabad management and union forced workers to shift their rest day to Wednesday.
East India Cotton
After having been shaken by the demonstrated unity of the 4,000 workers during the 800 Rs conflict, on 10th of December management decided to stop one power-loom worker at the gate and refuse to let him go to work. They just stopped him, they did not issue any charge sheet or any other written paper explaining the reason. This time the power-loom workers made a collective step in response. When they heard that their work-mate was kicked out, they stopped working. After machines stood for two hour the management gave the worker a one line letter, saying: “You have been suspended. The charge sheet will be issued later”. On 10th of December, East India management suspended five workers in response to the displayed unity of the workers.
East India Cotton
It has been 15 months now since the announcement of 800 Rs minimum wage by the Haryana government, but in the majority of factories in Faridabad the new obligatory wage is not paid. In those big factories where permanent workers have been able to enforce the new wage, management engages in all kind of crooked ways to undermine it. Workers in the power-loom department of East India undertook a collective step against one of these crooked attempts. According to the state’s own definition, workers operating ‘Two-Loom-Drawbacks’ are graded as ‘highly skilled’. The minimum wage for these workers is 975 Rs per month, but East India pays them 910 Rs. Again and again workers have individually tried to enlighten management about this issue, but management did not bother too much. As a result workers operating the ‘Two-Loomk-Drawbacks’ decided to undertake a collective step in order to make management understand. The letter signed by all East India workers caused some commotion within company management.
East India Cotton
East India Cotton Mills is a well-known Faridabad based company, engaged in cloth weaving, pressing, printing and sewing. The company operates under various names and in different official branches. During the times of workers’ uprising in 1977 – 1979 the East India workers were in the frontline. In order to quell the workers’ discontent East India management made use of the system of goons which made it infamous all over Faridabad. In October 1979 the police managed to suppress the unrest by firing and massacre. East India company established the Dal Fry gang of goons, which, during the last 12 to 13 years, have used all kind of ways and means to crush workers’ actions. In 1983 East India closed its Jute Mill, and years later the 900 dismissed workers still haven’t received their wages and pensions. Against this infamous management the power-loom workers have recently obtained a victory. The workers have been able to get out of the grip of management to a certain extend and open space for their fellow workers.
East India management – amongst many other local company managements – have filed a case at the high court against the new minimum wage grades, which have been announced in June 1989. In May 1990 the high court came to a verdict: The Haryana government and the company lawyers came to the agreement that the new grade would be put into practice not from June 1989 onwards, but from January 1990. many unions had collected money from workers in order to send their own lawyer to the court case, but in the end they did not. In this way several crore Rs endced in the pockets of management and ruling party leaders and several lakh Rs in the pockets of union middlemen. After the court case some power-loom workers realised that they were not paid according the new pay scale. Around 100 workers went – rather hesitantly – to meet management officials and union leaders, but their voice was not heard. In October 1990 these 100 workers sent a signed letter to management, that they are paid 65 Rs too little. Management did not respond. After a month union leaders told workers that they will be paid according to ‘fixed standard’.
After 12-13 years of company-organised violence these scared workers collectively signed their protest letter in order to demand their full wage from management. The workers undertook a second step. In November 1990 these 100 workers sent an application to the DLC. East India management swung into action. The advance payment and the ration and the cooperative store were cancelled for these workers. The intimidations started, but the workers did not bow. Management usually did not attend the meeting the DLC invited them to – and if they attended, then their representative said openly that according to the new rate those workers should receive 65 Rs more, but that management won’t pay them more, because the main issue was not concerning those 100 workers, but how to control 5,000 workers. The fact that these workers undertook steps themselves and put forward demands, this fact could not be accepted by the management. The management representatives said openly that the company would take the case up to the supreme court, but they would not pay. The resposibility of the DLC and the labour inspector was to make sure that minimum wages are paid according to the legal norm and to enforce this against management – but they did not. The DLC issued a request to management and the labour inspector kept on extending the request period.
East India Worker
After management had not paid February wages by 13th of March workers gathered and demanded payment from management, they also gave a beating to one of the union leaders. Management consequently suspended two workers. On 14th of March the night-shift stopped at the gate after shift and the morning shift decided not to start working. They demanded that the suspended workers should be taken back on and the wages should be paid. The police arrived. The management promised to take the workers back and pay wages by 2:30 pm.
But since seven to eight months it is number one on the East India management’s agenda to replace the table printing by Tex Print machines and to sack 500 workers from the Ajanta department. Therefore the management started to stop people at the gate, to announce lay-offs and to refuse to give a job to the 500 casual workers, who had been employed as ‘badlis’ on a constant basis since eight to ten years. In order to diffuse the resulting collective anger, management obtained a court order saying that workers’ protest has to keep a distance of 100 metres from the company gates – but given the current election time the DC enforced that the whole conflict should be postponed. The old union leaders were kept away from it all.
Eight months earlier the East India workers had elected the last leader as their saviour, but soon enough tasted his betrayal. This time workers abstained from chosing leaders, but for some people it is necessary to look out for leadership. This time there were no ready-made leaders to buy off, therefore the East India management will be forced to practice how to produce leaders in advance. In this context an East India worker said: “We will not let them continue in the old style. We have challenged them by having beaten up an old leader. Let them run their case about union contributions [?], if they won’t work at the machines next to us, we will give them another beating. Today no one will be able to push workers around.” Another worker said that based on the last collective agreement a wage increase of 500 Rs is legally obligatory. However, we have to bear in mind that the aim of East India management is the dismissal of 500 to 600 workers.
East India Worker
On 1st of July management put up a notice saying that any worker who leave the job voluntarily by 10th of July will get extra-money. In times when you need all kinds of personal connections and bribes to get a job, who would voluntarily leave? Voluntarily or not, in order to make people resign East India Cotton Mill management locked out the workers of the Ajanta Table Printing department and the colour room on 11th of July, and they did not pay the June wages. The fact that despite the lock-out production continued in the rest of the factory made management more than happy. Having stolen ten days of wages from the workers in the Ajanta department, after the meeting between management and leaders at the labour commissioner in Chandigarh on 18th of July the lock-out was lifted on the 19th of July and management put up a notice saying that the scheme for voluntary resignation would be extended to the 31st of July.
Since about a year the management aims at finishing off the table printing department and to kick out 600 to 700 workers. The initial scheme of large-scale retrenchment by locking out the complete factory – through attempted provocation pf mistreating one of the leaders – failed. Now management has brought up new leaders and prepared the trap for the lay-off of 600 workers. After management of Calvinators succeeded to lay off 2,500 workers with the help of the ‘great agreement’ facilitated by the Chandigarh officials, now East India management might well repeat this success. In 1979, on the background of automation, East India had to lay off 2,500 to 3,000 workers. Back then leaders could say whatever, the workers would follow. The workers suffered a lot, but the outcome was rather tragic. The fact that workers stand up-sit down-walk-stop on command makes things easy for the management. The East India workers can stop the redundancy drive if they think and decide together. Currently the main aim of East India are redundancies. Currently the new [wage] agreement is not the main concern. In 1979 redundancies were also the main point on the agenda, while the strike was initiated about bonuses.
East India Worker
In June 1995 management stopped two workers from entering the factory. When their work-mates arrived at their workplaces, they laid down tools. After four hours management bowed down and only after letting the two workers get back to their job, production resumed. Some days later management stopped five workers at the gate. Again a sudden strike, again management bowed down.
During these days the workers at East India did not listen to any of the union leaders. Workers took steps according to collective discussion and decision. To continue this process was in the interest of every worker, while it was a necessity for management to break it. Management brought forth new leqaders and workers – instead of continuing to make their own decision – started to stare at the mouth of the new leadership.
One year later, in July and August 1996:
The management locked out workers in the Ajanta Table Printing department on 11th of July and did not pay June wages. In the rest of the factory production kept running and workers took their June wages – ignoring what was happening in the department next door. In August 1996 management produced a list with the names of 90 workers who were supposed to be made redundant. After five, six years of employment these workers were suddenly kicked out. The production in the rest of the factory continued and workers kept silent about the enforced redundancies – instead they focused on the play-fight of the collective [wage] agreement dispute. Another list with names of 65 workers was produced, again silence from the rest of the work-force. A list with 140 names appeared, workers were kicked out, while the [wage] agreement drama continued.
Currently workers listen to what the leaders say, they sit down – stand up, when they are told to. The leaders keep quiet about the dismissals and create a drama about the [wage] agreement. Following their example, workers also keep quiet about the lay offs and joined the drama.
“The leaders work very hard for the agreement, they are busy day and night, run back and forth, but they are not heard. What more can they do, we ask from them? The management is behaving very badly.”
And the East India management is able to lay off people, as they are pleased. Could anything better happen to management? Currently management breaks one finger of the hand, while the remaining keep silent. Workers hope that someone else should think for them and make decisions. We wish that someone else would find a solution for us. As a result leaders spring up like mushrooms. It will not change much if we later on cry about mushroom poising if we don’t change our state of inertia.
East India Worker
In August East India management sacked 300 workers in three batches. On 2nd of September management put up a notice at the gate saying that the table printing department is closed due to running losses. The 600 remaining Ajanta printing workers were told to do this or that useless work in other parts of the factory. Anyone can predict that this increased the discontent amongst workers. Management announced on flyers that August wages would be paid on 8th and 9th of September, but by 10th of September wages were not paid. People kept silent about the redundancies , but got agitated about the [wage] agreement and announced the decision for a tool down strike. On 12th of September management of the East India Group enforced a lock-out at the printing and processing plant based in Faridabad Industrial Area and at the power-loom section based in Sector 24. The late shift was stopped by police at the factory gate at 2:30 pm, the early and general shift was slowly released from the factories by 10 pm. Management used to lock-out workers on their weekly day off, because it was hard work to get them out of the factory – whereas it has become rare that workers enforce entry to the factory against a lock-out, given the entanglement in legal procedures. East India management made the decision to lock-out workers while the whole shift was still inside the factory, in believe that they will not face major difficulties to get them out. Given that August wages were not paid, for the workers the lock-out essentially started not on 12th of September, but 10th of August – the original pay date. From 12th of September till 30th of September about 3,000 workers sat together during lock-out, but they did not use the time to debate and decide amongst each other, which would have been the necessary thing to do – during the whole time leaders gave only two speeches. From 12th September onwards a daily demonstration should have been organised in the morning and in the evening, but till 30th of September not a single protest-march was organised. This means that the workers did not undertake any step to increase their strength. What is the reason for this? “The leaders are very busy and if the workers do something without telling the leaders this could cause problems. The leaders are so busy, but what should we do, the police and administration have all sold out.” If the East India workers lose their strength in this way and hand over control to others, than management will impose their conditions. Three thousand workers are not a piece of straw that could be easily chewed by anyone. If workers would decide together, if they would organise protests marches, they strength would increase.
East India Worker
After the lock-out in September workers were sitting together, but they were losing strength day by day. No protest march was organised in September, neither in October – which could have changed the balance of forces. The 3,000 workers dispersed bit by bit. After having been let out of the factory and made to sit inactive until most workers left the protest, the workers were preached from above that ‘Workers have to stay firm’. Apart from protest marches workers should try to enforce entry to the closed factories. In this context it is important to focus on the fact that in the powerloom factory redundancies are not on the agenda – management therefore tries to keep the powerloom production running. The redundancies concern the printing and processing plants in Industrial Area, these workers should undertake the first step to get entry to the factories. Breaking through the inertia of police and administration, workers could succeed in forcing government and management into retreat.
East India Worker
After four and a half month of lock-out leaders came to an agreement with the management on 20th of January. According to the agreement 350 workers started production in the powerloom plant on 21st of January. Management reassured the remaining 2,100 workers of the printing and processing factories that the lock-out will be lifted on 3rd of February and that before that a good agreement would be found… aim at the end of the process will be the redundancy of the superfluous 600 workers. Roaming around during the months of lock-out, looking for work and being refused – workers at East India found out that it is difficult to find a job nowadays…