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]