28 December 2011

Defending Rights of Midday Meal Cooks

Convention of Midday Meal Cooks on 28 December, 2011 at University Institute Hall Library

Our Demands:
·          Minimum Wage, Regular Payment And A Corruption Free Midday Meal Scheme
·          Teachers Get Back To Teaching, Women Must Manage The Midday Meal Scheme,
·          Keep Corporates And NGOs Out Of The Midday Meal Scheme
·          To Maintain Nutritional Value, Increase The Cooking Costs With Inflation
·          Provide Self Help Group Members With More Jobs And Bank Loans At Low Interest

Our Government has once again shown its ability to turn women into slave labour.  With 1 crore 21 lakh children being covered under the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) in West Bengal, it has become a large provider of new jobs for poor women in rural and urban areas. It has thus provided more than 1.5 lakh women with work in their own villages and communities and at their own skill levels. In a labour surplus market, where poor women are desperately looking for work, the Government breaks its own Minimum Wages Act to give a subsistence wage of Rs 1,000 per month to cooks. Most often, even this is not paid regularly and women (for example from Uttar Dinajpur district) have reported non-payment for 6-8 months.

With increasing costs of cooking, groups of women who have formed self-help groups and are given the responsibility for the cooking and purchasing find themselves unable to give good food to children. On top of this is the boss-ism of school teachers, many of whom, despite clear orders otherwise, have kept the management of the MDMS to themselves, with many finding in it an easy way of making money. Some cooks have also become involved in this, willy-nilly.
A statement by the West Bengal Education Secretary a few weeks ago showed that the Government was thinking of taking away even this meagrely paid work from self-help groups, and of handing these over to mainly male-controlled NGOs, clubs etc. The new Food Security Bill by the Central Government goes a step further and is paving the way for the entry of large corporate companies by allowing for ready-to-eat meals or packaged food instead of cooked meals.

Women from self-help groups, who are responsible for the Midday Meal Scheme, are also charged exorbitant interest rates for funds provided to them as bank loans, despite many of them being BPL cardholders. They are deprived of suitable jobs (such as supervision of NREGA, supply of food to ICDS centres, cooking in hospitals etc.), many of which have been reserved for them by court orders and Government policy for self-help groups.

At the initiative of Shramajivi Mahila Samity, women from all over West Bengal are coming together in a Convention of Midday Meal Cooks on 28 December 2011 to protest against all such malpractices and to unite for their rights.

Time:  11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 28 December 2012
Venue:  University Institute Hall Library (2nd Floor)
Open Session at 3 PM

09 December 2011

Mamata Regime's Dismal Record With Unorganised Sector Workers

The Ashanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (Platform of Struggle for Unorganised Sector Workers), made up of 12 unions working for the rights of the unorganized sector workers, released a report on December 8, 2011, at Kolkata Press Club on the first 200 days of Trinamool Congress government's progress on issues and demands raised by the workers of the state.

The press conference, which was attended by various leading newspapers and news channels, addressed a number of issues like the progress of the MNREGA (100 days of work), the public distribution system for cheap food, minimum wages, state of contract workers and Forest Rights.

The Manch released a booklet containing data and information related to all the issues presented at the conference and, along with it, a mark sheet on the government's performance in four areas where it was assessed (MGNREGA, minimum wages, protection of contract workers and forest rights). The government barely passed in one (public distribution system for cheap food).

The organisers also pointed that fighting for better wages for unorganized sector workers was a dangerous pursuit, with death threats being received by Prithvish Bose, adviser of Shramjivi Sammanvay Committee, one of the constituents of the Manch, because of their demands to raise the wages of brick kiln workers. They said that brickfield owners, cutting across party lines, had held a secret meeting in Akash brickfield and it is suspected they have hired professionals to kill Prithvish Bose.

The PHE Water Supply Employees Union (West Bengal), another constituent whose members operate drinking water pumps of the State Government, claimed both the present and the past governments had cheated them. Pump operators receive a daily wage of Rs169. Payment is irregular, with some workers having dues for 12-15 months. The work, which is of a perennial nature, continues to be contractual in violation of the law. The union said it would start a dharna in front of their Minister’s office from December 12, which would be then converted to a hunger strike if their demands for timely payments, permanent status and minimum wages were not met. It said that all pump operators would also resort to mass casual leave from December 26 if the government persisted in ignoring them.

The unions, who are part of the Manch, are far from happy with the performance of the government on issues related to the deprived classes and the unorganized sector. There was enough evidence to believe that the government was not doing what it could do and that it had diverged from the pre-election promises.

Summary In English
Report Bangla
Summary of Report in Bangla

07 December 2011

Unorganised Sector Workers Will Release Report on Mamata Government

Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch
4/1A Bhabanath Sen Street , Kolkata 700004


Dear friends,

The Mamata Banerjee Government is completing 200 days in office. How has this Government (which came to power on the slogan of Maa Mati Manush) fared as far as the demands and needs of the workers in this state are concerned?

Unorganised sector workers who are 93% of this State's working force and who are also the most exploited are presenting a report on the first 200 days of the present State Government. The report has been made by Ashanghatit Kshetra Sangrami Shramik Sangrami  Mancha, a platform of independent trade unions working in the unorganised sector formed in January 2010. It will touch on issues that concern the survival of such workers as: 
·  subsidised food 
·  availability of work under NREGA,
·  minimum wages
·  conditions of contract workers
·  rights on forest land etc.
·  democracy for workers' rights

The report entitled "Majoorer Chokhe Maa Maati Manush Sarkarer Doi Sho Din" will be released on December 8 at 3 p.m. at the Press Club, Kolkata. 

With regards, 

Swapan Ganguly and  Somnath Ghosh 
Joint Convenors 

Petition To Mamata Banerjee On Nandigram

[On November 10, 2011, in the time of Operation Nutan Surjauday (New Sunrise armed goons of the then ruling party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) “invaded” Nandigram and tried to re-establish their stranglehold over the villages there. A film showing the struggles of the people of Nandigram was released and a press conference at the Press Club, Kolkata. During the discussion after the film, it was decided to send a petition to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mrs Mamata Banerjee to draw her attention to the current state in Nandigram and take some decisive action.]

Smt. Mamata Banerjee,
Honourable Chief Minister,
Government of West Bengal,

Dear Madam,

It is now four years since Operation Nutan Surjauday, that terrible time in November 2007, when the armed goons of the then ruling party “invaded” Nandigram and tried once again to establish their stranglehold over the villages there. From January 2007 till the Panchayat elections in 2008, the brave people of Nandigram fought against oppression and terrorism to put a stop to the forcible acquisition of their land for an SEZ. They suffered tremendous human and material loss, undergoing much mental trauma. Women were especially the victims of sexual and all other kinds of torture. They looked forward to the 2011 elections and had expected many things from the new Government. However though it is now more than six months since your Government was installed, many of their expectations remain unfulfilled.

From past experience, we know that the cause of the Nandigram people is close to your heart.  As people and organisations that supported the Nandigram struggle whole-heartedly, we therefore believe it is our responsibility to draw your attention to their problems, and to seek your intervention to solve these problems. These are as follows:

1.       Some of the victims of the Nandigram 14th March firing and the other atrocities there are still in need of medical care. As this is not always freely available from Government hospitals, the victims have either to spend money from their own pockets or have to depend on others’ charity for their treatment. Abhijit Giri, Tapasi Jana and Haimavati Haldar of Gokulnagar are three examples of such victims. We would request you to arrange for free treatment for all such victims from the best Government facilities available (including free testing facilities, free medicines and support for travel and stay of the patient and a companion).

2.       Innumerable false criminal cases were filed against the people of Nandigram and Khejuri during their two years of struggle. Our estimates show that hundreds of such cases were filed between 2007 and 2008.Hundreds of innocent people from these areas are still having to run to courts to defend themselves at great expense. Sedition charges have been filed against three persons and they continue to languish in jail. We ask for immediate withdrawal of all these cases.

3.       The State of West Bengal has so far compensated only famileis of 14 persons killed, 159 injured persons and 3 rape victims of the 14th March 2007 incident at Nandigram. However, these numbers are very few compared to the actual number of people who were injured on March 14th and all the other heinous incidents that took place from January 2007 till the May 2008 Panchayat elections. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its report dated February 8th 2008 has stated that during the period 6th November to 12th November 2007, 7 persons were killed and 32 persons were injured. It further stated that “the next of kin of the dead in these incidents and also the injured persons should be compensated in the same manner as directed by the High Court of Calcutta for the victims of the incidents of 14th March, 2007”. On 14th March 2011, PBKMS and APDR had demanded compensation from the Chief Secretary for a list of 455 injured persons (including rape victims) of 14th March 2007 who had not received anything so far. No action has been taken on this list or on the NHRC report (which the former CPI(M)-led Government had refused to accept), despite the change in Government.  According to a PBKMS report, from January 3rd to January 7th 2007, 4 people died and at least 25 persons   were injured in Nandigram.  In addition, the People’s Tribunal on Nandigram has also collated reports of people who were injured and /or sexually assaulted in all the other incidents that took place in Nandigram. We would request your Government to enquire into all such reports and to provide compensation to all such injured and/or sexually assaulted persons in Nandigram.

4.       In November 2007, a number of people had their houses destroyed in Operation Nutan Surjauday. According to a report submitted to the NHRC by the Chief Secretary of the previous Government, 560 houses were completely destroyed and 399 houses were partially damaged. Later compensation was distributed by the previous Government before the 2008 Panchayat elections in a totally partisan manner. Reports from the area suggest that very few people who lost their houses actually got this money. The NHRC in its report declared that “since the State Government does not appear to have discharged its primary obligation in preventing the attack by CPI (M) cadres on 6th November, 2007, it should bear the responsibility for the loss of life and property following the attack.... The compensation that the State Government proposes to make for damaged houses appears to be quite inadequate. The Commission considers recommending enhanced compensation for fully and partially damaged houses. The Enquiry Team of the Commission has reported that after the incidents of 6th November, 2007 several houses of BUPC supporters have been occupied by CPI (M) cadres and they are now claiming to be owners of those houses and demanding compensation. The Commission considers it necessary to appoint a Committee to suggest compensation regarding damage that occurred and to ensure that the monetary relief does not fall in wrong hands and it reaches the genuine persons.”  It is therefore suggested that the present Government should enquire into this matter and compensate   those who actually lost their houses, but were not compensated.
We expect your Government to enquire into all these cases of loss and suffering in order to compensate them and take corrective steps immediately. 

06 December 2011

Rescue Of Migrant Bonded Workers From Mangalore, Karnataka

15 workers, including one woman, were rescued early morning today from Purkodi in Mangalore SEZ Area, Karnataka as they faced abuse and were kept as bonded labourers on site. The workers went as construction workers from Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal, employed by Gannon Dunkerley & Co. Ltd (GDCL), who is constructing for ONGC Mangalore Petrochemicals Ltd (OMPL).

The workers were made to work for 14-16 hours with very little payment of wages, were also subjected to physical violence and abusive language when they raised their problems before the employers. They were not being allowed to go back home and were tortured with hot water and hot rods when they had protested to work for long hours.

They had been working for almost two months in the Mangalore SEZ area, a proposed 3985 acres for Petrochemicals and Petroleum sector; out of which 1800 acres have already been acquired for two projects. The area has hundreds of colonies, with a large number of migrant worker population from West Bengal. Being a SEZ area, no outsider is allowed to talk and access to their residence is very restricted.

The families of the workers informed the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, about their family members not being in contact after they had left around 23 September through Dibesh Das Layekdi village, Lakhanpur, Hura, District Purulia who had recruited these workers. They were handed over to a labour contractor, Bholanath Singh, resident of Dishergarh, Kulti in Burdwan district, who in turn sent them for work to Mangalore through his employee Sanjay Singh.

The workers are forced to work in places like Mangalore because of hunger and starvation situation in their own villages. Sriram Bauri, 60 years, died of neglect and long term hunger on 9 September, in Layekdi village of Purulia district. On 10 September 2011, our union sent a medical team to this village to examine the health status of in the village and identified around 15 persons who were highly malnourished and in immediate need of medical help and nutrition.

There has been no NREGS work in the villages despite dharnas by workers asking for work. Wages from earlier work are yet to be paid. With a total absence of a system of regulation of contractors by the Labour Department in both States, recruitment of labour from Bankura and Purulia districts are common, and in violation of the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act.

In addition, there seems to be no system of labour inspection in Mangalore, and labour laws are blatantly flouted with workers working in the SEZ area. It is apparent that West Bengal is not exporting workers, but instead exporting slaves to these areas.

We immediately ask for the following:
·     the State Government of Karnataka to recover full wages due to the workers from the contractors and principal employer;
·     the State Government of Karnataka declares the workers as bonded labour and that the State Governments of West Bengal and Karnataka make available to them aid under schemes for bonded labour
·     the State Governments arrest the principal employer and the labour contractors in West Bengal and Karnataka and take legal action against them
·     all the concerned State Governments improve their systems of inspection and properly implement the Inter State Migrant Workmen’s Act, Minimum Wages Act, Contract Labour Act, Child Labour Act etc.
·     That the Government of West Bengal ensures that workers get employment with timely payment of wages under the MGNREGA and are therefore not forced to migrate to such precarious work.

17 October 2011

With the intervention of the Karnataka police and Labour Department, the workers recovered Rs.2.89 lakhs as wages , but no punitive action was taken against the employer. Nor were the workers declared as "bonded". The workers are now back in the village.

14 September 2011

Anti-Nuclear Struggle At Koodankulam Faces State Harassment

[This is a report on a popular struggle against a proposed nuclear plant in the state of Tamil Nadu]

Many of us, the organizers, gathered at Idinthakarai village and started preparing for our hunger strike from September 11, 2011. Around 3:00 p.m. we received the news that the police were arresting some of our activists at Koodankulam village. Some 500 women had blocked the road and demanded their immediate release. The police relented and the women also dispersed. The authorities invited 10 people for talks but later foisted cases on 510 people. So many cases have been filed against many people. The media covered the event extensively.

DAY 1: September 11, 2011
Considering the Fukushima nightmare, the police harassment and the DAE Chief's announcement that the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) would go critical in September, we decided to embark on an indefinite hunger strike. We made it very clear that our strike would be completely non-violent and we would follow the Gandhian ethos and practices. Some five to seven thousand people from Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts gathered in front of the St. Lurdes's church at Idinthakarai. Anti-nuclear activists performed cultural programs, sang social awareness songs, and gave speeches. The local MLA Mr Michael Rayappan of DMDK, showed up and expressed his solidarity with the people. The whole group was observing a day-long fast and at the end of the day we started gathering the names of indefinite hunger strikers. 127 people including 20 women, four physically challenged people, four Catholic priests and three nuns decided to fast. Proper records were prepared about their background, health history and so forth. At 5 p.m., the people dispersed and the indefinite hunger strikers slept in the front porch of the church. Several hundred local people slept around the church to express their solidarity and to provide security to the indefinite hunger strikers.

DAY 2: September 12, 2011
People started pouring in from all parts of southern Tamil Nadu from 9 a.m. There were some 12 to 15 thousand people around 11 am. The Most Rev Bishop of Thoothukudi visited us at 9 a.m. and stayed with us the whole day. He was also fasting with the group. The General Secretary of MDMK Vaiko, and Balaprajathipathi Adigalar also came. The Bishop, Vaiko and Adigalar addressed the crowd and opposed the Koodankulam nuclear plant. Several activists also spoke. We concluded the day at 5 p.m. And the indefinite hunger strikers continued their fast and several hundred local villagers slept around the church. Several media groups were there to cover the event. A medical team checked all the indefinite hunger strikers for any health issues.

DAY 3: September 13, 2011
People started coming in from 9 a.m. and the crowd was more than 10,000 people at its peak. The Tamil Nadu Merchants' Association chief, Mr. Vellayan, came along with his office bearers. They announced their decision to organize protests against the KKNPP in all district headquarters all over Tamil Nadu on September 20, 2011 and a complete shut down in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari Districts on that day. The Manithaneya Makkal Katchi leaders also came and they announced that their party would demonstrate against the nuclear plant on September 23rd. No government official came to see the indefinite hunger strikers even after three days of fasting. Angry and agitated about this gross callousness of the authorities, some 500 women resorted to block the road and halted the vehicles on the road. With much difficulty, we managed to bring them back to the strike venue. National media reached the venue today and telecast live programs.

Several people fainted today. Two revenue department officers asked a small group of us to go and meet them in the outskirts of the village. They wanted 15 of us to go and meet the District Collector and the Police Chief at the Koodankulam police station. We refused to go with them and asked the crowd for their opinion. They all said that the authorities should come to see us at the strike venue and we should not go to see them. We concluded the day around 6:15 PM.

We received a word from our MLA that his application to speak in the Tamil Nadu Assembly about our struggle and demands was quashed and he was not allowed to speak. This makes us doubt the very functioning of our democracy. Neither the Chief Minister nor any of her ministers has ever spoken a word about us, our struggle or our demands. No need to say anything about our distant Delhi government; they never speak a word about the people or our issues.Indefinite hunger strikers are getting weak; people are getting upset. But the strike continues in a very orderly and non-violent manner. People keep invoking the ways and means of Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi.
Here is a report about the Russian nuclear technology. A report 
(http://www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2011/rosatom_reportprepared for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by state agencies concerned with the safety of Russia’s nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster reveals that Russia’s reactors are completely under-prepared for both natural and man-made disasters. The report has come from an amalgam of sources such as the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear oversight, or Rostekhnadzor, as well as Rosatom. According to chief engineer Ole Reistad of the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology (IFI): “The report reveals deficiencies which have never before been mentioned publicly, nor reported internationally.”

The report claims that Russia’s nuclear plants do not have relevant regulations in place for personnel to know how to deal with large-scale natural disasters or other serious contingencies. It also establishes that electrical and safety-significant systems do not receive the attention they need, resulting in a lack of required protection. The report questions the capability of Russian reactors to remain safe for extended periods of time if cooling systems fail. There is no guarantee that power backup systems will be effective should this happen. Russian reactors are vulnerable to the kinds of hydrogen explosions that tore through three reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi.
We demand that the KKNPP be shut down permanently! And our right to life and livelihood be honoured and respected! We want to make our country a world leader with New Energy, Appropriate Technology and Sustainable Development and not a slave of America, Russia and France. We want to leave a safe and healthy Earth, Seas and Sky for our children and their children not nuclear bombs and waste dumps.

Please support us in our struggle.

Idinthakarai Village, Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu
September 13, 2011

13 September 2011

Unorganised Sector Workers Make Presence Felt

In the party politicised atmosphere of West Bengal, they first check which party you belong to and then ask your father’s name. It was in such an environment that 22 unorganised sector unions came together to organise a protest programme at Kolkata. Just four months after the historic elections which threw out the 34-year-old Left Front, and with the popularity of the Mamata Banerjee Government at its peak , this huge gathering without any party patronage confirmed that independent workers’ organisations are a force to be reckoned with in West Bengal.

The programme, which took place from September 6 to 8, 2011, received an astoundingly good response from workers.  While workers in large numbers attended the dharna on 6th and 7th, the mass meeting on the 8th was attended by 15-18,000 workers. English newspapers the next day complained about traffic jams in the city. Women predominated, with workers from distant districts of North Bengal and Jungal Mahal, as well as South Bengal, Sunderbans and Kolkata, attending the event. 

The two platforms, Asanghathit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch and Shramajivi Swikriti Manch that organised the programme include unions of agricultural workers, biri rollers, brick workers, construction workers, fish and forest workers, domestic workers, sex workers, hosiery workers, liquor shop employees, Government contract workers and many other trades. Delegations met Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Partha Chatterjee, Labour Minister, Mr Purnendu Basu, Backward Classes Welfare Minister, Mr Upendra Nath Biswas and Minister for Fisheries, Mr Abu Hena . They also met Mr Kathiresan, Principal Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies Department, Mr Barun Ray, Principal Secretary Panchayat and Rural Development, and a representative of Public Health Engineering Minister, Mr Subroto Mukherjee.

Minimum wages:
  • Fixing minimum wage for all unorganised sector workers as per 15th Indian Labour Conference norms which amounts to Rs.289.75 per day in rural areas and Rs.315.87 in urban areas at present;
  • In the meantime, immediate notification of the revised wages that were in the process of revision by the previous Government
  • Strict implementation of the Minimum Wages Act;
Affordable food :
  • Cheap food for all unorganised sector worker families, starting with 7 kgs of rice per adult at Rs. 2 per kg;
  • Pressurising the Central Government to immediately release their huge food stocks at affordable prices to the State Government
  • Increased procurement of paddy at minimum support price immediately after the harvest to prevent distress sale by farmers and profiteering by middlemen
  • Reforms in the rationing system including removal of bogus cards, corrupt ration dealers and wholesalers 
100 Days Work programme:
  • Providing work immediately after application and paying wages on time.
  • Setting up procedures and budget heads for payment of unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.

Inclusion of all unorganised sector workers, including workers of closed factories, as priority group or BPL in the 2011 Socio-economic Survey

Forest rights and demands of fish workers:
Stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act); giving all relevant facilities to fish workers, and ensuring they are not displaced by mega projects.

Contract workers:
Permanent status for all contract workers employed in perennial jobs in the organised sector; regularisation of PHE pump operators and all such Government employed contract workers

Caste recognition:
Recognition and extension of facilities available to all socially backward  castes and tribes, especially the Majhi community of Midnapore.

Recognition and issuing of identity cards to all unorganised sector workers, especially sex workers.

The gathering was addressed by representatives of major trade union centres/ trade unions such as AITUC, TUCC, AIUTUC, NTUI, HMS, AICCTU, IFTU, Paschim Banga Shramik Sanghati Kendra, West Bengal Government Employees Union Naba Parjaya, Hawkers Sangram Committee and AWBSRU. Human rights and social activists like Amitdyuti Kumar, Sandip Das, Gautam Sen, Kunal Chattopadyay and Sanamatha Ghosh also extended their support, along with cultural activists Prabir Guha, Sutapa Bandopadhyay and Ashim Giri and theatre groups, Jana Sanskriti and Komal Gandhar.

The demands of the workers were positively received by the Ministers and the officials and follow-up action has been promised. A notable promise was that all pending payments to NREGS workers would be done before the festive season in October and that revised minimum wages will be declared in one-and-a-half months. The Labour Minister has also promised major steps for unorganised sector workers by May 2012.

The gathering ended with a declaration that the next two months would be spent in monitoring Government action. After this, a delegation would meet the Chief Minister in November to inform her of progress made. In addition, a report card to show what her Government had done for unorganised sector workers in 200 days will be presented on 5th December 2011. If no positive result is achieved, the unions shall also be forced to start an intensive agitation from November onwards. 

05 September 2011

Join The September 6-8 Sit-In For Unorganised Sector Workers

About 22 independent unorganised sector unions in West Bengal are organising a dharna at Metro Channel, Kolkata from 6th to 8th September 2011 ending in a mass gathering on the 8th. The programme is in continuation of many demands that we have been raising collectively and as individual unions for the past many years. The aim is to focus public attention on the requirements of our sector and to draw the attention of the State Government to our demands. During the dharna, we will be meeting all senior officials and concerned ministers. Our collective demands are as follows:

  • Recognition and issuing of identity cards to all unorganised sector workers (including sex workers);
  • Fixation of minimum wage for all unorganised sector workers as per the norms of the 15th Indian Labour Conference, along with strict implementation of the Minimum Wages Act;
  • Provision of cheap food for all, starting with 7 kgs of rice per adult at Rs. 2 per kg;
  • Strict implementation of all provisions, especially 100 days of work, in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, with expansion to a guarantee of 270 days of work for all rural and urban workers;
  • Inclusion of all unorganised sector workers, including workers of closed factories, as priority group or BPL in the 2011 Socioeconomic Survey
  • Stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act);
  • Permanent status for all contract workers employed in perennial jobs in the organised sector;
  • Recognition and extension of facilities available to all socially backward castes and tribes.

We invite you to join us on all three days and to extend support in all the ways that you can to our movement.

Looking forward to your support,

Asanghathit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Manch, 4/1 Bhabanath Sen Street, Kolkata-700004. Ph. : 033-25435381, 9433264109,9433541628
Shramajivi Swikriti Manch,12/5 Nilmoni Mitra Street, Kolkata, West Bengal, India Pin: 700006 Ph.: 033- 25306619, 93319031529433993786

Names of members of the two platforms:

Bandi Mukti Committee, Binodini Shramik Union/Durbar Mahila Samannaya Committee, Durbar Disha Mahila Griha Shramik Samannaya Committee, Eastern Railway Constraction and Contract Majdoor Union, Hosiery Workers Unity Center, Jori Shilpi Kalyan Samity, Liquor Shop Employees Union,Mursidabad Biri Shramik Union, Paschim Banga Cha Bagicha Shramik Union, Paschim Banga Gramin Shramik Union, Paschim Banga Ganatantrik Majhi Samaj Jagaran Samity, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, PHE Water Supply Employees Union, Parichiti, Sangrami Shramik Mancha, Sara Bangla Truck Parichalak Sangram Samannaya Samity, Shramajivee Samannaya Committee, Shramajivee Mahila Samity, Sundarban Banadhikar Sangram Committee, Tehatta Biri Shramik Union, Uttar Dinajpur Sericulture Farm Workers Union, West Bengal Rural Workers Union and others

01 September 2011

When Protest Works: Women Force Police To Act

Shramajivi Mahila Samity (Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity’s sister organisation) organised a gherao of Kakdwip police station (South 24 Parganas) on September 2 from 12 noon in protest against an attack on a Samity activist for her anti-trafficking work.The background is as follows.  
Five-and-a-half years ago, Zarina Khatun resident of Village Char Number Aadimahal of Surjanagar gram panchayat in the Kakdwip police station area was trafficked to Kashmir. After a great deal of effort, the Shramajivi Mahila Samity rescued her about a year ago. A case was also filed against the traffickers and they fled the area fearing arrest. Their relatives and others in the trafficking ring (including local political leaders) then began pressuring Zarina to withdraw the case and to come to a settlement with the traffickers. When she refused, she and her family were subject to an economic boycott. They were prevented from plucking and packing their betel leaves in their village. Zarina and her family were in great distress. Joynur Biwi, our activist then offered the Samity’s office at Bhutomollah Pul in the Kakdwip police station area, which serves as a residence for her and other Samity workers, to package their betel leaves.
Soon after this, the owner of the Samity’s house, Daulat Sheikh began pressuring Joynur to leave, saying that he did not want his premises to be used to help “women of bad character”. Joynur asked for six months to search for a new place. On the morning of August 29, Joynur was assaulted by the house owner and four others while leaving the Samity office. The house owner, Daulat Sheikh and four others, namely Nur Hossain Mollah, Qutub Sardar, Nurhossain Mollah and Motahoraul Mollah, who were later joined by about 10-12 others, beat her up. When they tried to attack her with chains, other people who had crowded around by then rescued her. She went first to the local police camp, only to be told that she deserved the beating because she had misbehaved by not vacating the premises. She reached the police station soon after. An FIR was filed after much pressure on the officer in charge (OC) in the evening (Case number 354 dated 29.8.11 under sections 341,323,354,379, and 506). Later, at about 7 p.m., a party of three policemen went in with other Samity organisers to open the house, as Joynur’s clothes and all other possessions were inside. The policemen were surrounded by the house owner and several others. Much to their surprise, the Samity workers found the police negotiating with the owner and the assailants. The next day, on August 30, the Samity organised a protest at the police station. The OC of the police station finally agreed to arrest the assailants within 48 hours and to have the office opened. So far the police have not taken any action. We have been told that instead of arresting the attackers, the police have told them to get anticipatory bail. 

On September 2, about a hundred angry women from the Samity surrounded the police station. This time, the protest bore fruit. At 5 p.m., the police gave in to the Samity’s demands. They provided a police escort and transport to about 50 protesting women to go to the Samity office, which is about 15 km away from the police station, to break open the house owner’s lock and to re-open the  office. Four policemen were posted at the Samity office for the security of the  activists. The police are looking for the five attackers, who have now fled their homes. A written complaint is also being submitted by the Officer in Charge to the Police Superintendent, so that action is taken against the three policemen who tried to negotiate with the attackers.

Zarina and her family have also been promised police protection in case of any harassment 
[The accompanying poster is one that is being put out by the PBKMS in support of a sit-in being organised in Kolkata from September 6-8 by a broad coalition in support of the demands of workers of the unorganised sectors]

20 August 2011

NO to Contract Work! Reinstate and regularise the 60 illegally terminated workers at the Haldia Dock Complex

The New Trade Union Initiative stands in solidarity with the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors' Shramik Union in its fight against the contract labour system and the illegal termination on 1 July 2011 of 60 workers of the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) employed at the Berth No. 10 Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes under the control of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).

We congratulate the 2,000 workers at the HDC led by the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union for the success of the 4 hour tool-down industrial action held on 3 August 2011 which brought the port operations to a stand-still as the loading and unloading of containers from eight ships were suspended. The 60 workers who were illegally terminated have been continuously employed in the container yard for loading and unloading of containers for the last 5 years, despite two changes of contractors. This clearly indicates the sham and bogus nature of the contract arrangement. The NTUI demands that the KoPT immediately reinstate the illegally terminated workers and regularise their employment.

The company contracted by the HDC to take over on 1 July 2011 the Operation & Maintenance of four Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes, at the Container Parking Yard of Haldia Dock Complex, Mumbai based Land-Marine Equipment Services Private Limited, has ignored both the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice to reinstate workers within 7 days, and the tripartite agreement reached on 18 July 2011 wherein they agreed to take back all the workers. The NTUI condemns the Land-Marine Equipment Services management’s blatant violation of the law of the land and visible lack of willingness to engage in negotiations in good faith for a resolution of the issue. The management of KoPT, as the principal employer has also failed in ensuring the implementation of the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice.

This is not the first time that the contract workers of the HDC have had to fight for fair working conditions and security of tenure of employment. Over the years, HDC has gradually changed its workforce composition and created a small core of permanent employees and a growing body of workforce under temporary contract who are employed under precarious working conditions. This weakens the bargaining power of the workers.

The total workforce strength at HDC is 6700, of which 3200 are permanent workers and 3500 are contract workers. There are 600 contract workers in regular and stable jobs in different divisions who receive wages between Rs 165 to 270 per day, with limited benefits of ESI and PF, far below the earnings of permanent workers engaged in the same work. It is deplorable that these workers are kept outside the category of regular employment and exploited. The NTUI denounces the complicity of the principal employer KoPT in allowing for the contractualisation of the workforce and discrimination of contract workers in the facilities under its control. We condemn KoPT management’s use of this discriminatory practice as a tool to divide workers and marginalise contract workers and the unequal treatment given to contract workers. The NTUI upholds the right of equal pay for equal work and right to security of tenure as regular workers.

The struggle of the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union is a part of our common struggle and NTUI is committed to ensure the success of this struggle.

The NTUI demands that the Kolkata Port Trust and the Land-Marine Equipment Services management:
· Reinstate all the dismissed workers immediately
· Absorb contract workers employed in jobs that are perennial in nature into the KoPT workforce
· Stop engaging in unfair labour practice and stop violating labour laws
The NTUI calls upon the Regional Labour Commissioner and the Chief Minister of West Bengal to defend the rights of the most vulnerable workers, the contract workers, and ensure that both KoPT and the Land Marine Equipment Services management follow the due process of law.

For more information, contact:
Anuradha Talwar, Convener-NTUI West Bengal State Committee and Secretary, NTUI
Pradip Roy, Co-convener-NTUI West Bengal State Committee 
[PBKMS is affiliated to the NTUI]

Tea Workers' Struggle A Just Cause

The New Trade Union Initiative supports the continuing united industrial action by 32 unions represented by the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers supported by the Defense Committee for Plantation Workers Rights and other unions for an increase in wages from the present Rs. 67.50 to Rs. 165 and a re-introduction of Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA).

The tripartite negotiation, that began with the lapse of the previous industry wage agreement on 31 March 2011, entered a deadlock after 6 rounds of negotiation when the Consultative Committee of Plantation Association (CCPA), refused to accept the demand of theCoordination Committee for an increase in daily wages from Rs.67 to Rs.165. Thegovernment then made an informal proposal to the unions to accept an increase in wage to Rs130 at par with the MGNREGA wage. The CCPA offer for wage increase stands at Rs 24spread over three years at Rs. 8 each year to Rs. 91 in three years time. This means that the employers are offering a wage increase, even with the additional component of wage in kind,that would keep wages below the national floor wage and also below the state agricultural minimum wage.

The West Bengal state government along with the employers has come down heavily against this united action of the trade unions in the region. The employers, on one hand, have resorted to wage cuts in several gardens and have even declared illegal lockouts. On 4 August, the management of Bharnobari Tea Estate (a garden, employing 2,034 workers, that remained closed for a period of over two years between 29 December 2005 till 27 April 2008 and experienced 28 starvation deaths during this period) began to deduct wages of workers for participating in the hour long gate meetings that were being organised by all trade unions in every garden calling for a resolution of the present deadlock. When workers protested the illegal wage cut, the garden manager threatened to declare a lockout in the garden. Hundreds of workers led by women activists of the Paschim Banga Cha Bagan Shramik Karmachari Union gheraoed the manager and the 6 assistant managers and walked them 2 km to the Hashimara Police Station and filed a complaint of harassment. The management has sinceabandoned the garden. Similarly, in the Debpara Tea Estate, employing 1108 workers, the management announced a ‘suspension of work’ following protests by workers.

On the other hand, the newly formed state government has adopted a dual strategy to break the unity of the workers. In response to the strike call by the tea unions, the Chief Minister of West Bengal said “... The politics of strike cannot be allowed to go on... Numerous tea gardens have remained shut. There can be problems, but strikes cannot be used as a tool to deprive people of their rights.” She also added that if necessary her government would legislate to ban strikes. This is in blatant violation of the right to strike of workers. The political right to strike is organically linked to the fundamental right to association and collective bargaining of workers as enshrined in our constitution and is an inalienable part of trade union response in times of dire crisis. This is also in violation of the ILO Conventions 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and 98 on Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. Even the United Nation's Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enshrines the right to strike.

The government has also begun parallel wage negotiations with the Progressive Tea Workers’ Union (PTWU) which is not even a member of the Coordination Committee that represents 32 unions in the industry and, along with the Defense Committee, is the bargaining agent for workers in the tripartite negotiation. The PTWU had initially demanded a daily wage of Rs 250 against the demand of Rs. 165 plus VDA made by the Coordination Committee. When the CCPA turned down this proposal, the PTWU also decided to support the strike called by the Coordination Committee on 7 August 2011 and supported by the Defense Committee as well as many other unions, including the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and the union affiliated to the Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC.

But, following a bilateral meeting on 10 August 2011 with the State Industries Minister,Partha Chatterjee, Development Minister, Gautam Deb, and the Labour Minister, Purnendu Bose, the PTWU announced that they would go on strike on 17-18 August if the wage for plantation workers is not increased to a minimum of Rs 90. This is not just diluting the wage demand of the Coordination Committee but also breaking the existing united movement of tea workers. The union on 14 August has also withdrawn its proposed two-day tea strike from 17 August after a meeting with north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb. This parallel negotiation process is also undermining the ongoing tripartite negotiation and driving a wedge in the unity of workers in the industry.

NTUI welcomes the coordinated effort of the unions in the Coordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers and stand in solidarity with the continuing struggle for a wage agreement in the tea industry in Bengal. Further, NTUI strongly condemns the state government’s threat to ban strikes and its efforts to circumvent the tripartite negotiation. We call upon the Government of West Bengal to respect the:

1. Right of the bargaining agent for workers - the Coordination and the Defence Committees - in the tripartite negotiation on tea
2. Framework of tripartite negotiation in industry wage agreement
3. Right to Association and Collective Bargaining of workers
4. Principles of a just minimum wage for all workers

Ashim Roy, General Secretary, NTUI
[PBKMS is affiliated to the NTUI]

17 August 2011

Last Rites For Haripur N-Plant

The West Bengal Power Minister hammered the final nail in the coffin of the nuclear power plant at Haripur, telling the State Assembly that  “the state government has decided to scrap the proposal for a nuclear power plant at Haripur". He also said "the present government has no plans to set up nuclear power plants in any other parts of the state." 

We welcome this statement by the Power Minister and see it as a victory of the Haripur Parmanu Chulli Birodhi Jeevan Jeevika O Bheete Bachao Committee's (Committee Against Nuclear Plant and to Save Homes, Life and Livelihood) movement and that of other people's organisations in Haripur and other parts of the state. Especially welcome is the statement against life-threatening and dangerous nuclear power in general, which says that no plants will be set up anywhere in the state.

Related Posts: http://khetmajoorsamity.blogspot.com/search/label/Haripur
                    Economic Times report  
                    Ten thousand people on fast in Tamil Nadu

Anna Hazare's Arrest Restricts Dissent And Democratic Space

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity condemns the arbitrary and undemocratic arrest of 1,300 activists in Delhi. This arrest is one more step in shrinking the space for democratic, peaceful dissent in our country. The everyday experience of our members (who are mainly rural workers), with the administration is that whenever they fight for their entitlements they meet with, at best, apathy and, at worst, repression.

Questioning corruption and demanding entitlements is dangerous at the grassroots level, where our members often face violent attacks when they raise such issues. The local police and administration actively collude or are passive bystanders when these attacks take place. In the arrest of Anna Hazare and that of 1,300 others, we see only an echo of our own micro, grassroots experiences.

In addition, we have seen both in Kolkata and in Delhi, a shrinking of the public spaces where protests are “allowed”. While the Jantar Mantar in Delhi is no longer freely available, with staying at night prohibited, in Kolkata, popular places of protests like Sealdah Station are no longer available. The latest attack has been on the Metro Channel, where the space for gatherings has been highly restricted. There have even been statements by important political figures in Bengal threatening to ban strikes and bandhs.
We condemn all such attacks on the right to peaceful protest by Governments in power and call upon all citizens to join us in our protest.

11 August 2011

'Green Terror' In West Bengal's Khangardihi Village

Place of incident: Village Khangardihi, 7 No Bonpura GP, PS Midnapore Sadar, Paschim Midnapore

Names of victims: Neelkamal Singha, Parbati Singha (Neelkamal’s mother), Rampada Singha,(Neelkamal’s brother), Arati Singha (Rampada Singha’s wife), Shefali Singha (Neelkamal’s sister-in-law), Nikhil Pandit aged 16 and studying in Class Xl (Neelkamal’s nephew),  and  three daughters of Rampada Singha aged 10 years ,5 years and 2 years, Mukti Dului, Chandana and two sons and a daughter aged 10 years,7 years and 5 years.

 Names of accused: Befal Bhuinya, Khudiram, Ranjan Singha, Gopal Bordoloi,Jyoti Bar, Tarapada Karak, Alok Ghosh and Ganesh Singh.


PBKMS first came in touch with the people of Khangardihi village in February-March 2010 while doing a study on implementation of Supreme Court orders on Right To Food. Later, Neelkamal Singha and others got in touch with us because their people (about 100 families from the low caste Bagdi community), who had formed themselves into the Tapshili Jati Bagdi Jana Kalyan Samity, were being tortured by the rest of the village. Caste was a major issue with the village upper caste people, supported by the Muslims, banning the Bagdis from entering their temple, taking drinking water etc. This matter was brought to the notice of the local police and district authorities and, with their intervention, the matter was settled.

Many of the members of the Bagdi Jana Kalyan Samity became PBKMS members. PBKMS thus had about 200 members in the village. These members of our union began taking up issues of NREGS implementation, MDMS implementation etc.  This led to conflict once again in December when village leaders owing allegiance to both Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPM – combined to attack the Bagdis. They broke down a board commemorating Dr. Ambedkar, as well as burned down a shed that the Bagdis used as a meeting place. Neelkamal and some others were also beaten up. The police came in and at the insistence of the village people of the Bagdi para stayed the night to protect them. Their departure however led to a resumption of threats of being shot at. This made the people very reluctant to file police complaints. A PBKMS team went to the village the next day and talked to all leaders and helped to restore peace. After a long process, later on March 14, on Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and in the presence of those who had earlier opposed the Bagdis, an Ambedkar board was again put up.

After the declaration of Assembly election results, those affiliated to the TMC insisted that all others must “surrender” and must now say that they would listen to the TMC local leaders. Those who were most insistent about this were recent converts to the TMC from the CPM. We began to get reports of force being used and of beatings, threats, fines and coercion. We therefore called up Dalim a village-level TMC leader, but found that though he was well intentioned no one would listen to him. We then contacted Mrigen Maity, MLA, and complained to him, but the intimidation did not stop. We then asked Neelkamal to stay out of the village for some time till things cooled down.

However, when he returned after a few weeks, things again flared up where he was asked to “surrender” and to pull down the Ambedkar board. Neelkamal felt this was undemocratic and protested. He reported the matter to the police on 9 June 2011, who came and threatened him instead of protecting him. The police said “The entire village is with the TMC so why can’t you also listen to them? Who do you think you are?” After they left, Neelkamal was brutally beaten up in the village and an attempt was made to murder him, when he refused to pull down the Ambedkar board.

Another person, Satish Dului, was also beaten up and both were admitted to hospital on June 10, 2011.  Satish Dului did not file a police complaint fearing that he would not be allowed back to the village if he did so. However, Neelkamal did file one. Since then, Neelkamal has not been able to enter his village. His entire family (brother, mother, sisters-in-law etc) have also fled the village. The person who took him to the hospital, Mukti Dului, and then filed the complaint, has been forced to also flee with his family. Thus, today, 15 people are out of their homes.      

Action Taken:

PBKMS has helped the victims file a police complaint. However the police has not given an FIR number. We have also informed the ASP HQ, Mr Sukesh Jain, about the matter.  No effective action has been taken. The police, in fact, seem to be supporting the accused. Till now, no action have been taken against the accused, failing which families of Neelkamal and others have not been able to return back to their village.

PBKMS also heard at one point about the possible kidnapping of one of their members, Khokan, and panicked and informed Shri Mukul Roy, AITMC General Secretary.  While Khokan’s whereabouts were known within 15 minutes of this call, he has since stopped maintaining any contact with us.

At Mr Mukul Roy’s suggestion, we have also been in touch with Mr Prodyut Ghosh and Mr Dinen Rai, district leaders of the TMC. However, this has also not reduced tensions in the village. While it has been suggested to us by the police and by the district leadership of the TMC that they can send the 14 people back with a police escort, there is no assurance that there will be no further intimidation in the village. The present atmosphere in the village is also not very reassuring. For example, Neelkamal’s mother went back to the village after her niece died to attend the funeral, but found that no one talked to her. Similarly, Mukti’s brother has tried to prepare rice seedlings for Mukti, but has been threatened and has been asked to stop this immediately.

On July 1 we informed the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Partha Chatterjee, in writing. We then heard that a police team had been to the village. However, we have been told it has had an adverse impact: all the accused are supposed to have taken bail in court and the witness to the case, Gautam Dului has been forced to withdraw his name as witness. It is now rumoured that Mukti, the complainant, who is hiding in his relative’s house in a nearby village will be visited by the Khangardihi leaders and asked to withdraw the police report.

It is reported that others have also faced physical violence and intimidation. These include Gautam Dului, Sushmita Dului, Bhanu, Kalpana Dului,Satish, Khokhan Singha,, Bimal Singha and Gopal Bagh.

There are other frightening reports from the village. It is said that a team checks mobile phones regularly to ensure that no phone calls are made outside. People have been threatened against informing anyone outside about what happens in the village. The land of the fleeing families is likely to be taken over.

We suggest that the accused be arrested immediately and that a meeting be organized in the village with the TMC district leadership and the PBKMS along with the villagers to ensure that the victims can live there peacefully.

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