Chakan industrial estate on north of the city of Pune hosts hundreds of industrial units operating across various sectors including engineering, automobile, packaging. Pradeep Laminators Pvt Ltd, is one of these units. They manufacture flexible packaging material and employ more than 100 workers.
Fed up with continued oppression, workers under the banner of ’Pradeep Laminators Workers’ Union’ have started a propaganda campaign against the bosses. This began last Friday (7th June). While repression in the workplaces is nothing new to capitalism, the bosses on this industrial estate have been using “goons”(hired thugs or lackeys) to intimidate not only the workers but villagers as well. As police themselves have alleged (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/now-cops-blame-industry-for-rising-crime-in-midc-areas/943259/0 ), the bosses first used “goons” to acquire land from farmers and later continued the practice terrorizing workers. Though the police, for obvious reasons, have been reluctant to say ’industrialists are partly responsible for increasing crime in the area’, the reality is that they are solely responsible for this. Indeed the bosses commissioned these “goons”, who lead their “sponsored” unions(unions taken over by the bosses) to provide them with contract labour. In this way the bosses were able to prevent any genuine worker’s opposition from developing. Government and enforcement authorities also supported these measures in the interest of ’maintaining industrial peace’.
Against this backdrop, the workers at Pradeep Laminators, guided by senior left activists and trade unionist Adv. Vaishali Sareen (Lok Chetna Manch) took the audacious step of forming their own independent union last year on 15th Aug 2012. The management adopted a harsh stance towards this new union. When the previous contractual agreement with workers expired, on 1st Jan 2013 the newly established trade union put forward list of demands including pay hike and requesting management to begin the process of negotiating a new contract. Since then management has been using all manner of dirty tactics to suppress the union. Even after working for 15 years continuously, workers earn near-poverty wages and many have to work for a minimum of 12 hours a day to achieve this!
Responding to the just demands of a pay hike, management has imposed pay cuts on some of the workers and continued threatening them to break away from union. The bosses have been harassing workers by issuing false notices or charge sheets under the pretext of disciplinary action. It has flatly denied negotiating an agreement with workers and is instead threatening to derecognise the union.
During this period we also witnessed a few goons threatening workers and union leaders in an attempt to get them to back down. In the meantime the Union frequently approached the labour office, the labour court and also the police authorities. But this had had no effect on management. Resolute and firm, the workers union under leadership of Adv. Sareen decided to embark upon a peaceful campaign of protests and agitation though without going on strike. They have set up a Pandal (marquee) with red flags flying outside gate. When they finish their shift workers can gather around this tent to demonstrate against their bosses. They shout out slogans and demand immediate negotiations. They have also printed leaflets and have been distributing them amongst workers in the surrounding industrial units and carrying out similar propaganda activities. Various other trade unions across the city have widely supported the agitation and workers are determined to carry through the struggle.
NSA Pune has been closely associated with these workers over past few months. It has been holding regular discussions with them as a part of workers study circle initiative. When on 1st May, Lok Chetna Manch and NSA together organized workers rally in solidarity with farmers and millions of toilers in rural Maharashtra suffering worst drought in decades, the workers of this union actively participated in it. NSA whole-heartedly supports the agitation.
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