Working Class
Yet Another Struggle By Pricol Workers

Recently Pricol workers fought yet another trade union battle and succeeded. But it was a struggle with a difference in as much as it was a movement.

A Short Background

After prolonged struggle the Pricol workers won the battle for trade union recognition in 2011 and concluded a tripartite settlement on 08.06.2012on wages, reemployment of some vendor unit workers and settlement for a majority of them and for a mechanism to deal with the issue of suspended and dismissed workers. The settlement on wages comes to and on 30.06.2014. Workers agreed to the wage package only because of the agreement on the other two issues. Because of the settlement dated 08.06.2012, suspension orders and disciplinary proceedings on some 30 workers are not proceeded with and they are still drawing subsistence allowance. A committee of 4 members is formed to look into the issue of suspension and dismissal of 133 workers. It has been agreed that both parties will be bound by the recommendations of this committee.

It was the case of the management that the 740 vendor unit workers were complete strangers and that it had nothing to do with them. But by virtue of this settlement the management agreed to give a monetary compensation of 45 days’ wages per every completed year of service, statutory dues and Rs.10,000 for 590 workers, and to provide employment to 150 workers in Pricol Limited in 3 batches of 50 each on 01.09.2012, 01.06.2013 and 01.03.2014. The list of 150 workers was to be finalized by mutual consent. After a hard bargain the list of 150 was finalized. But still the management refused to take the first batch of 50 on 01.09.2012 on the flimsy and untenable ground that all 590 have not settled and withdrawn their cases. In a case of this nature, it is very natural that some 20 or 30 may not settle. Even though the management was aware of the above fact, it deliberately refused to take back 50 workers.

Moving Towards The Struggle

The management did not take the first batch of workers on 01.09.2012.It was coming out with newer pretexts. It was widely believed that the present labor commissioner and the erstwhile labor minister, Mr.Chellapandian were quite friendly with the management. Emboldened by this proximity and relying on the fact of the workers being struggle – wary, the management challenged the workers and the union with a vindictive attitude. The union filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court which forced the government to initiate conciliation talks. In these talks the Chief People’s Office and Vice-President, HR of the company promised to take the first batch of 50 around 15.03.2013 and the second batch on 01.06.2013. But the management wriggled out of this commitment by citing the workers’ non-cooperative attitude in the matter of working on a compensatory holiday. Thus, 01.06.2013 came and went, but not a single unit worker entered Pricol Limited.

Preparations And Plans For The Struggle

ON 05.07.2013 all the leading comrades of Coimbatore came to Chennai and chalked out an elaborate plan for struggle. Com.Kumarasami and Com.Natarajan, AICCTU State President attended this meeting. They decided to launch a movement instead of confining to a trade union struggle within the factory.

It was decided that 1200 workers will write post cards to the Chief Minister on the non-employment of 100 workers. The very same day 1200 post cards were purchased in Chennai as well as Coimbatore. From July 6 to July 11 2013 more than 50 vanguards were involved in the work of getting 1200 workers to write the post cards and to send them to the Chief Minister.

It was decided to go for an all trade union convention on 14.07.2013 expressing solidarity to Maruti workers who are in jail for more than a year and to hold a general body meeting at the very same venue after the convention to call for a strike from 14.08.2013. On 11.07.2013 our leading comrades met the central trade union leaders and invited them for the convention. On July 12th and 13th Com.Kumarasami and other leaders interacted in person with more than 300 worker activists including women on the issues of convention and general body meeting.

On 14.07.2013 AITUC, CITU, HMS, INTUC, BMS and leaders associated with Kuchelar of WPC participated in the convention. There after the general body finalizing a call for an indefinite strike from 14.08.2013 also planned to reach out to the local people in a big way. From 15.07.2013 to 29.07.2013 more than 500 workers met the people of Perianaickenpalayam, Veerapandi, Gudalaur, Bilichi and Karamadai and obtained 25000 signatures. The Presidents, Vice-Presidents and ward members belonging to the townships of Perianaickenpalayam, Veerapandi, Gudalaur signed the memorandum which sought the intervention of the Chief Minister on the issue of 100 workers. Our workers met with some 50000 people during this campaign.

It was decided to give the strike notice on 30.07.2013 and give a copy of the same to the media immediately after service of the notice. On 28th and 29thmeetings were arranged in residential areas. Meanwhile the management made preparations to break the strike by asking the contract workers and apprentices to come and remain in the factory from 12.08.2013 with bag and baggage. When the management organized life style classes our workers stated that they would very much like to change their life style from 14.08.2013 by remaining inside the factory indefinitely. The meetings in the residential areas created the required atmosphere of and for struggle in and around the factory. It was in such a situation that 30.07.2013 came into being. On that morning, Pricol leaders along with Com.Bharathi met the new labor minister and submitted the 25000 signatures which sought the Chief Minister’s intervention. In the beginning the Minister was wondering as to whether the 100 people could be taken up for employment when all non-employment cases have not been settled. When comrades showed him the relevant clauses in the settlement, the Minister stated that employment can not be denied to 100 workers when they are ready to join duty. He asked the union to wait for 2 days and said that he would speak to the concerned officers. The Additional Commissioner Conciliation (in-charge) spoke to the union and asked them not to serve the strike notice and wait for the outcome of the conciliation talks fixed on the forenoon of 01.08.2013. The union agreed to this advice and on 01.08.2013 the management agreed to take 50 workers for employment from 02.08.2013. They did that on 02.08.2013.After some petty wrangling the second batch of 50 were taken for employment on 16.09.2013.

It is significant to note that in the midst of this intensive preparation for a strike, on 18th July all Pricol workers went to work wearing badges in solidarity to the Maruti workers. In the very same period they had a solidarity demonstration in support of the striking NLC workers and another demonstration on the issues of women workers. While these were at the factory gate and inside the factory premises, they were also vigorously pursuing an anti-tasmac liquor shop struggle in the local areas. 3 party classes were held on constitution and program, international situation and national situation on 12.07.2013, 24.07.2013 and 02.08.2013. A Party district committee meeting was held with near full attendance on 27.07.2013.

The AICCTU union was very much in organic link with the workers and the workers in turn were in close touch with the people. Strong ideological and political preparations in real concrete terms were made during this period and we fought out the tendency of defensive outlook in view of the dismal industrial situation. We convinced the workers that we can take on the management and that it cannot afford a strike at this juncture. We also categorically advised the workers that if we do not go on a struggle on this issue at this juncture, we will be negating our history and also doing a disservice to the working class.

The trade union struggle was not pitted either against political campaigns or against Party’s regular organizational work. One thing contributed to and complemented with the other in a very natural way. During the course of the struggle the vanguard workers have decided to contest the Coimbatore parliamentary seat on a platform of working class struggle to consolidate and expand the politics and organization of CPIML.

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