05 October 2015

Campaign For Alternative Politics Gets Going From North Bengal

The Osanghatit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch’s statewide campaign began on October 2 from Newlands Tea Garden near the Assam border. The campaign was formally started by Kiran Kalindi, president of the Progressive Plantation Workers Union (PPWU), with participation of about forty motorcycles, and about 90 people who set off for the rally. Many women workers from neighbouring tea gardens also arrived to send off the rally.

The main issue of the rally was the burning need for an alternative politics that is based on working people’s demands and needs. The rally also focused on four main local issues:
  • The unresolved issue of yearly bonus to the workers, for which negotiations are presently underway. Workers are demanding 20% while the employers association wants to get away with only 8.33% or at most 13.5% in most gardens
  • The pending issue of declaration of a minimum wage for tea workers by the State Government;
  • The long-standing demand of the workers for a right to their homes, as all of them are homeless and live on company land, always under threat of eviction
  • The illegal closure of the 16 gardens owned by Duncans , as well as the demand to re-open 7 other gardens.
A gate meeting on the above issues was organised at the Newlands factory. Soon after at about 3 p.m. the rally set off for Alipur Duar. At Alipur Duar, from seven till nine at night, the rallyists along with a pick-up and a microphone campaigned through the streets. A street corner meeting was also organised at one of the most important cross roads in Alipur Duar town. The rally was joined by APDR members and individuals from other Left parties like the SUCI and CPI(ML) Liberation. Also present were members of a local platform who focus on violence against women and members of other cultural organisations in Alipur Duar. The main organiser was Suman Goswami of APDR.

On October 3, the rally travelled to Kalchini, covering tea estates like Dima, Rajbhatkuwa, Atiabari, Mechpara, Chuapara , Kalchini, Raimatang etc. They were joined at Dima by 6 members of the Uttar Banga Banshramajivi Manch on motorcycles.

All throughout there was campaigning on the need for alternative politics and the 4 local demands. At Kalchini, again a street corner meeting was organised where, despite having given prior information to the police, the rally was stopped and warned against entering the next block till 5 p.m. as by-elections were going on there.  A police escort then joined the rally, without even being requested for.

The rally stopped for lunch and a meeting with local people at Chinchula Tea Gadren, where the members of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists) organised lunch for the rallyists at their local Buddhist temple. A great festive air prevailed with colourful Buddhist prayer flags fluttering, and all the women workers and their families present. The unit secretary of Progressive Tea Workers Union joined the meeting, which was addressed by Baijnath Naik, General Secretary of the PPWU. Both spoke of taking up the issue of 20% bonus unitedly at the next bonus negotiation meeting on October 6.

The rally then travelled to Sishubari in Madarihat, starting at 3.30 p.m. in the afternoon. It covered Hashimari and gardens such as Varnabari on the way to Madarihat. With some minutes left for the 5 p.m. deadline, they were stopped by the Madarihat police, who insisted on their waiting for the 5 p.m. Election Commission deadline. After campaigning on the way, the rally ended at 6 p.m. at Shishubari, where the local unit of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity had organised a local school for their night stay and dinner and breakfast the next day.

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