On 11-12 November, tea garden workers in West Bengal registered a militant protest demanding minimum wages and other workers’ rights. They held a 48-hours strike in the entire tea sector of North Bengal, and a 12-hour general strike in three tea intensive districts and 2 sub-divisions.
It is a well-known fact that tea garden workers in Bengal, who produce tea which is enjoyed across the world, work under abominable conditions and are paid extremely paltry amounts for their hard labour. The fact of the matter is that the wage paid to tea workers is less than the wage given to agricultural labours under MNREGA, which is Rs 167 per day in West Bengal. As a result of the persistent denial of rights, there have been several deaths due to malnutrition and illness in the tea gardens of north Bengal.
On 11-12 November, lakhs of workers in nearly 300 tea gardens in Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a strike demanding the declaration of minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a meagre wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day. There was absolutely no work in 103 tea gardens in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration as the workers supported the strike.
The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions operating in the tea gardens, including AICCTU. CPI(ML) CC member Comrade Abhijit Majumdar is joint convenor of this joint forum of trade unions. All these trade unions had called this united protest against the Trinamool Congress led government in West Bengal, which has been continuously denying even basic rights to tea garden workers. While the trade unions have been insisting on the declaration of minimum wages, the Bengal government has only agreed to increase the wages by Rs 40 that too in a phased manner in three years — Rs 18, Rs 11 and Rs 11, respectively. Several rounds of negotiations had taken place between the tea garden workers and the West Bengal government; the government however refused to release a notification declaring minimum wages for workers in the tea industry.
The strike was a huge success as workers in three districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and parts of two districts Coochbehar and Uttar Dinajpur chose not to work. The Joint Forum of trade unions also called for a 12-hour general strike in the entire area, demanding rights for tea garden workers.