Monday, October 10, 2005

Organizing an Industrial Strike:

Long time since I updated my blog. I have to blame the bloody internet vala who was supposed to get me connected but screwed up owing to a plethora of reasons. I still remain the only owner of a Toshiba Laptop which stays stand alone in the world, I guess.

Anyways, since Chander and Guru (the closest guys during my undergrad days) are insistent that they read out this insignificant blog with intent, it is my duty to honor their request.

Firstly, the first and only industrial strike that I sorta organized along with others on September 29th. So much has been said about the neo-liberal economic reforms and its impact on the working class by the Left in the country. Having been part of the "coupon-clipper" white-collar software sector for 4 years and seen the better side of globalization, I was eager to see the bad side of it for real. The Honda-Gurgaon incident was one example but again I hadn't seen the working class in throes again in the front of my eyes. Hence the expedition to Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi on September 29th.

I was woken up by a senior comrade of SFI, Rohit (former twice president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students' Union), in the wee hours of the morning (at least for me) at 6:00 AM. Alongwith other comrade students and activists, we made it to Okhla on a makeshift vehicle. We crowded the "entrance" to one industrial sector of the area and started sloganeering (after being joined by flag-toting CITU activists). The slogans went "Mazhdoor Hiton ka hanan hua to khoon bahega sadko par", "Tekedaari Nahi Chalegi", "Tekedaariprathaa Bandh Karo", "Nijikaran nahi sahenge", "Vyaaparikaran Murdabaad" [translated in English: "If Workers' rights were not respected, blood would flow on the streets", "We would not accept Contract System", "Liberalization in the form of loans would not do", "Privatization wouldn't do"] and other such ones. The entourage of 10 odd activists (including me) were soon joined by curious onlookers. One senior comrade then went on the podium (a makeshift chair) and gave an impromptu speech beseeching the workers (on their way to work) to resist work for a day and join us in organizing the strike, which was called on a national scale by CITU and other left trade unions to protest pro-imperialist (read Globalization/ Pro-WTO diktat/ pro-Privatization and Liberalization/ Labour-Reform) policies followed by a neo-liberal friendly government headed by the Congress-I and Manmohan Singh, the architect of the economic reforms programme of 1991. In essence, the message was clear: Today was a day when even airport workers/ bank workers had joined the strike and it was hence necessary that ordinary industrial workers who were feeling the worst brunt of the neo-liberal economic reforms lend their muscle toward the nationwide strike.

The curious onlookers were growing in strength, directly in proportion to the amount of curiousity that was growing within me. As the sloganeering and beseeching gathered momentum, so did the impromptu repeating of the slogans being raised by the onlookers themselves. When the gathered crowd neared around 75-80, it was decided that "we" would take a procession around the industrial estate. Led by senior comrades carrying flags and raising rousing slogans the procession started off slowly and gradually gained momentum.

As we took a junket around the industrial estate (which, in my opinion had appalling standards of hygiene and high pollution levels), more people joined us in the march. In 3 hours or so, the number of people around us neared 250. The problem was that, as the numbers increased, so did a bit of indiscipline. The workers (many of them who came to work in cycles), started getting restless and pulled the air out of cycles parked outside their respective companies (obviously letting out pent-up frustration by means of this gesture as part of the strike). It took some wise counselling from my fellow students to force them to become more disciplined and objective in their procession building. Nearing 12:30 in the afternoon (after some withering away of a few workers due to the long march and the hot weather), we still had around 150 people as part of the procession, still in "worked up" state and still raising and richocheting slogans. That is when, this group joined yet another group in a larger procession, taking the total number to nearly 350 odd workers.

By this time, we were tired and decided to let the workers be by themselves. We had successfully "organized" the strike that day and I, for one, could see the spontaneous response of industrial workers, worked up by a plight of temporary jobs, inclement work conditions, insufficient payment, increasing "contract"ualization of work, letting out their anger through noisy slogans. This was yet another eye-opener for me.

The media's reaction: The Hindu observed that the the strike evoked very strong response in large parts of the country, especially in the Left dominated areas. It didn't polemicize the reasons for the strike and was objective in its reporting. The Indian Express, however was scathing on the Left. A slew of editorial opinions, followed by a Op-Ed piece by Inder Malhotra etc were very critical of the Left's call for a nationwide strike affecting travel and banking services. The industrial strike effected, was however not mentioned in any detail, nor was the fact that there indeed was a flip side to globalization policies and its effect on the industrial working class of the nation.

I was keen on writing to Shekhar Gupta, but somehow as usual, tardiness prevented me.

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