24 November 2014

PBKMS: Ninth State Conference

The Ninth State Conference of Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity(PBKMS) will be held on November 23 and 24.

The Samity’s conference is taking place at a time when the situation of agricultural workers is becoming increasingly precarious.  Giving the pretext of economic reforms and development, all Governments in the state and at the centre have over the past three decades supported and pampered the corporate sector. This has led to the frightening situation of increasing pauperisation and landlessness in agriculture, with no alternative employment as jobless growth characterises the manufacturing sector. Agriculture is in a crisis with farmer suicides and distress migration.

To make matters worse, the few facilities that the Government has been willing to give in the past are now in the process of being withdrawn. The very limited 100 days work programme, fruit of a hard struggle for 18 years by PBKMS and other such workers’ organisations, is to be diluted even further. There is no sign of implementation of the National Food Security Act, which despite its imperfections would have provided some relief to agricultural workers.

In addition, various anti-labour measures are being adopted by both the State and Central Governments. Long standing and well accepted labour laws are being diluted; the right to strike is frowned upon; protests and organising by workers meets with attacks; it is becoming increasingly difficult to register trade unions etc.

A general climate of intolerance by the ruling party towards protest prevails in the state. To add to this worsening situation is the fear that political parties for narrow ends will rake up communal feelings.

During the conference, about 350-400 delegates of the PBKMS will spend two days looking at this alarming situation. They will also review their successes and failures in the past three years and will decide on their future strategies and programme.

The Ninth Conference will be held on November 23 and on the morning of November 24 at Maheswarpur Village PO Badu, Kolkata 700128.

The open session of the Ninth Conference will be held at Bharat Sabha Hall, Bow Bazar Street Kolkata from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. on November 24.

In keeping with the support and solidarity that you have always provided to the struggles of agricultural workers, you are requested to join us for the open session. Your presence will encourage us tremendously.

In solidarity
Swapan Ganguly, General Secretary

21 November 2014

Boost For Our Struggle: W.B. Assembly Moves Unanimous Motion

On November 20, just a day before it was to close, a unanimous resolution was passed by voice vote in the West Bengal Assembly, asking the Central Government to stop dilution of the 100 days work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity sees this as a small success of the campaign it has been undertaking. Along with other members of the Osonghotit Khetra Shramik Sangrami Manch (The Struggle Platform of Unorganised Sector Workers- OKSSM), PBKMS has been carrying out a campaign to inform its members and the public at large about the Central Government's measures to dilute MGNREGA. Street corner meetings, public meetings, posters and handbills have formed an important part of this campaign. At the same time deputations have been given to BDOs and DMs of various districts in West Bengal.

As a culmination of this campaign, the PBKMS and other members of OKSSM met the Labour Minister, Mr Moloy Ghatak and the Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, Mr Subroto Mukherjee on November 3.  They also met the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, Mr Mohammed Sohrab, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Suryakanta Mishra. We appealed to all of them to get an all-party resolution passed at the Assembly asking the Centre to refrain from diluting MGNREGA. The main points put forward to them were as follows:

· The Central Government's plan to withdraw/dilute MGNREGA in richer areas would mean huge deprivation for the people of West Bengal. If, as rumoured, MGNREGA was limited to the 200 districts (MGNREGA Phase 1 districts) 13 districts in West Bengal would be deprived of MGNREGA benefits.
· The budget allocation for the program has been decreasing in not just nominal but also in real terms over the past few years. From 2009-10 when the MGNREGA budget was 0.6% of our GDP (at factor cost) it halved to 0.3.% of  GDP at factor cost in 2013-14.
· Huge budget cuts have been imposed. Compared to last financial year, till September, there has been nearly 45 per cent reduction in funds released by the Centre to states for NREGA-the sharpest since the inception of the scheme. In West Bengal, the fund release came down to Rs 1782 crore, against Rs 2214 crore in the same period last year.
· The ratio between materials and labour has been reduced from 40:60 to 49:51 for all panchayat works to be maintained at the district level.  With budget allocations constant in money terms, raising wage rates and a larger proportion allocated to material, this will translate into even fewer person days available for workers.
· Instead of taking such negative measures , the Government should concentrate on promoting MGNREGA by correcting anti labour practices such as low wages (wage rates in MGNREGA continue to be less than the agricultural minimum wage declared in West Bengal, thus violating the Minimum Wage Act), delayed payment of wages, non provision of work and unemployment allowance and compensation for late payment of wages.

The resolution in the Assembly was moved by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr Partha Chatterjee, and supported by 11 MLAs including the Leader of the Opposition , Mr Surya Kanta Mishra, before being passed by a voice vote.

In these days when most news for workers is bad news, the small success against the withdrawal of MGNREGA has come as a boost for our union members, especially when all parties have come together above partisan interests for the worker's cause.

14 November 2014

Total Strike At N. Bengal Tea Gardens

Workers in all the tea gardens of Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a total strike on 11 and 12 November, bringing the industry to a halt. The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions demanding minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a paltry wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day.

The United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) congratulates all workers across Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai for the complete success of this strike and feels that the resolute unity shown by almost all trade unions in the midst of adversities is also exemplary.

The strike shows that the struggle for decent living wages of the tea plantation workers has entered a new phase. It has received wide support from the people of North Bengal, as is evident from their participation in the general strike. The abysmally low wages of tea workers have also been condemned by many other sections of the public in Bengal.  On the other hand the State Government is in a state of inertia. It had called one meeting of all trade unions on November 5, 2014, and is calling another on November 17,2014. Unless it has something fresh to propose as action by or against the owners and unless it takes steps to declare minimum wages, such meetings seem futile.

Even though tea plantation workers continue to be one of the lowest paid workers in the country, with owners reaping profits at their expense, the plantation owners are stubborn towards any proposal to ensure decent living conditions for the workers in the industry. The current wage negotiations for the period April 2014 - March 2017 has virtually collapsed since the owners refuse to agree to any respectable settlement for the workers. UTWF condemns the obstinacy of the tea plantation owners led by their apex body, Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) which has almost closed all doors for any meaningful dialogue for the solution of the miserable conditions in which workers find themselves. The miserable wages in the sector binds workers to a vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill-health, with children of tea workers ending up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents before them.

UTWF notes that the role of the government has been inadequate and therefore, unsatisfactory. Instead of pro-actively forcing the plantation owners to ensure living wages for the workersb it has almost been silent on this issue. It has even failed to come out with a mere notification for the workers of the tea industry and has only proposed meager increases of Rs 40 in three years. Rather than confronting errant owners for their failure to guarantee the basic needs of nutrition, health, education and housing of the workers and their families, as required under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 it has nearly let them off the hook by acting passive.

We would urge the State Government to take pro-active steps to end the impasse in the tea sector before things spin out of control. We demand that itimmediately start the process of declaration of minimum wages in the tea sector, while at the same time taking action against errant and inhuman employers. One thing is for sure, the workers in this sector and the public in general will not silently tolerate the injustice meted out for ages.

Anuradha Talwar,Principal Convenor

11 November 2014

'We Are 93' March For Workers' Rights

“Aamra Tiranabboi”  (We are 93) organized a rally Rally at Rani Rashmoni Road on November 11, 2014. Two processions started at 12 p.m. from Sealdah and Howrah

We are 93% of the work force in India, producing 67% of the country’s GDP.  We are unorganized sector workers.  Our daily problems are insecurity in work and deprivation from any kind of social security; low wages in the midst of huge inflation; inhuman working conditions. We have understood in our work and our communities that the political situation and the socio-economic conditions at the State level and Central level are responsible for our dire situation.  The rally took  place under the banner of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch (Unorganised Sector Workers' Platform for Struggle), the conveners of which are Swapan Ganguly and Somnath Ghosh.

Among the issues highlighted at the rally were: 

·The attacks by the Government on the fundamental right to association. These form a part of the general police and gunda raj that prevails in the state. The experience of the civic police volunteers and brickfield workers who are members of the Manch is especially notable in this respect.
·The reluctance of the State Government to implement the Minimum Wages Act, especially in the context of tea plantation workers. 
·The failure of the State and Central Government to provide minimum food security to workers through the implementation of the National Food Security Act
·The dilution of the 100 days work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the attempt to withdraw it by the Central Government.

We are apprehensive about the attempts to create divisions amongst the working class by communal forces in our state and our country. The role of the party ruling at the Centre is especially worrying, as is the pandering to communal elements by the parties at both the Centre and State. The unity of the workers is our strength and divisions can only weaken us. Our rally is also taking place in this context.

Among those at the rally were agricultural workers, marginal farmers, construction workers, biri rollers, brick field workers, Health Department link workers, midday meal scheme cooks, civic police volunteers, members of self-help groups, sericulture workers, fish workers, tea plantation workers, hawkers, contract workers and many others. Workers camme from the hilly tea gardens in the north and the fisheries on the coast in Sunderbans, from Purulia in the west and Murshidabad in the east.

Our specific demands are:

·Stop taking away workers’ rights, including the right to strike;
·Declare Rs.15,000 per month as the minimum wage for all workers in all trades, including tea plantation workers;
·Establish democracy in all spheres of society. Stop political violence and attacks on opposing forces and give every person the freedom to express their views;
·All workers must be covered by ESI (health security), provident fund, pension and other social security measures. Pension must be 50% of last wage drawn;
·Stop the appointment of contract, “volunteers” and temporary workers to work that is permanent in nature;
·Women’s safety in the workplace, in public places and in the homes must be ensured;
·Creches must be set up in all work places;
·Social and economic security of all Dalits, Adivasis, religious minorities and other deprived communities must be ensured;
·Stop dilution of the 100 days MGNREGA programme;
·Implement the limited provisions of National Food Security Act immediately and amend the Act to make it a law guaranteeing real food security;
·Remunerative prices for produce and subsidies for inputs must be guaranteed for small and marginal farmers;
·Affordable housing must be guaranteed for all workers near their places of work; pattas for homestead land must be given to all tea plantation workers;
·All closed tea gardens must be re-opened; 
·Implement the 2014 Hawkers Act immediately.

03 November 2014

WBCPA: Press Conference Invitation

The West Bengal Civic Police Association, a member organisation of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha, cordially welcomes you to a press conference at the Kolkata Press Club on November 4, 2014 at 3 p.m.

The West Bengal Civic Police Association (WBCPA) is an association of men and women who are employed by the State Government of West Bengal in India to supplement mainstream policing and to provide short duration routine guarding duties. WBCPA was formed in December 2013 for the betterment of its members’ working conditions.  

On October 10, 2013, 130,000 men and women between the age of 18 and 28 years were recruited by the West Bengal government as “civic police volunteers”, with a wage rate of only Rs.141.82 per day and extremely precarious working conditions. With the help of the Ossonghotito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch the civic police began self-organising in November 2013, with meetings and conventions in many police stations and districts. During the Lok Sabha elections, they were on duty. However by June 30, all of them were thrown out of employment. The young men and women therefore organised a large protest meeting in Kolkata on July 10, 2014, which was attended by about 35-40,000 youth. 

The members of WBCPA have had to face huge repression after their July meeting. Despite High Court orders in their favour, many facing dismissal have not been reinstated.  

It is in this context of repression, false police cases, physical torture and other illegal acts that the WBCPA is calling this press conference to declare its future programme as well as to give details of the problems being faced by our members.


Sanjay Poria, President

01 November 2014

Police, ruling party goons attack Civic Police demonstrators

We strongly protest the illegal arrest, harassment and brutal behaviour of West Bengal Police administration along with ruling party supported goons against members of the West Bengal Civic Police Association in particular and unorganised sector workers as a whole. The West Bengal Civic Police Association is a member of Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Manch. 

On October 31, more than 150 Civic Police assembled in a meeting near the Malda Town Hall with prior intimation to the administration to give deputation to the Superintendent of Police (SP) and District Magistrate (DM) of Malda district. After they assembled, without any reason the police arrested more than 140 Civic Police and confined them in English Bazar Police Station. Two of them, Mahesh Saha and Musaraf Hossen, were severely beaten up by the police and became seriously ill. They were taken to the Hospital by the police in haste. 

The deputation was to protest against the illegal dismissal of the entire civic police volunteer force in the district. The work of about 4,500 of them was stopped in June 2014 and they were not reinstated after that, despite of the fact that the Government’s order (GO no. 1940-PL/PB/3P-31/12) dated 14.07.2014, clearly mentioned that all of them should be reinstated and no new appointments should be made. The dismissed Civic Police of Malda wrote letters to the respective Police Stations and Superintendent of Police (SP) of Malda protesting the dismissal. They moved three writ petitions in Calcutta High Court. The Court ordered the SP of Malda on 5th, 19th & 25th of September 2014 either to reinstate them or explain why they are not eligible for the job of Civic Police within 4 weeks time. No action has been taken so far by the SP. 

According to the ASP Malda, the young men were arrested because Section 144 (banning assembly of more than 5 persons) had been imposed in the area. He claims that the civic volunteers were informed in writing about this, but had still persisted in having their meeting. The civic police on the other hand claim that they were informed that they were violating Section 144 just minutes before their arrest, without giving them even time to disperse.   Press reports on the 1st December claim that the DM and the Subdivisional Officer (SDO) who are empowered to declare Section 144 also had not idea about the impostion of Section 144. 

The Malda incident is a continuation of a series of actions being taken to suppress the movement of the civic police volunteers. Just a few days ago, on 29 October 2014 the Civic Police Association of Hooghly district organised a meeting at Arambagh Bus Terminal after giving prior information to SP, DM and IC Arambagh Police Station. When 300 of them assembled there, goons of the ruling party armed with lathis surrounded them and threatened them for dire consequences. The President of Hooghly district unit Subroto Hazra was confined till 7 pm and severely beaten up. Earlier Ramchandra Poria, father of Sanjay Poria, the President of the Association was threatened by armed goons of local ruling party to burn their house and belongings if Sanjay got involved in movement of Civic Police. Ramchnadra Poira was also told to stop his participation in the Paschim Banga khet Majoor Samity, another member organisation of the Ossongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha. 

The Mancha has decided to organise a public meeting in Kolkata on 11-11-2014 to highlight various demands of unorganised sectors workers and the undemocratic situation prevailing in the state.
 We demand:
  1. Immediate reinstatement of dismissed Civic Police following Hon'be Calcutta High Court Order.
  2. Stop harassment and vicitimisation of Civic Police.
  3. Ensure gurrantee of constitutional right of  'Right to Association'.

Swapan Ganguly, Somenath Ghosh 
for Ossongothito Khetra Shramik Sangrami Mancha