Pricol Workers' Struggle Goes On

Pricol workers – and workers all over the country in solidarity with them - are struggling to free the eight Pricol comrades who have been convicted and sentenced to double life imprisonment in a vicious verdict calculated to discipline and intimidate unions. Meanwhile, in an audacious move, the Pricol management is attempting to ‘advice’ workers to dissociate from the AICCTU-led union and return to the fold of the management!

A letter from the Pricol management was displayed on the factory notice board. This letter elaborately analyzed the monetary losses supposedly suffered by workers after they formed their AICCTU-affiliated union and compared it with their peaceful past before they formed this union. It urged the workers to leave the union and come back to the comfort zone that was provided and will be provided by the management. The management generally gives a copy of any communication put up on the notice board for the union. But this time the management refused to give a copy for the union.

The management had given such a letter earlier when the union was not recognized by the management and when there was intense workers’ struggle for recognition of their union. This was in 2008 when the management put up a communication on the notice board saying it was prepared to pay the settlement benefit from July 2008 if the workers leave the union. But a management pressuring the workers to leave a union which is a recognized sole bargaining agent and which has already entered into three long term settlements is the worst example of unfair labour practice.

This also shows the desperate attempts of the management to do away with AICCTU as this shot comes at a time when the workers are fighting for justice for their imprisoned leaders. During this period the management even stooped to the level of dismissing a contract worker who contributed to the flood funds raised by the Pricol workers and issued show cause notice to another permanent worker on some other pretext.

Pricol workers were paid 35.34% bonus every year from 2009–2010 to 2013–2014. During the period of their intense struggle, that is from 2007 to 2009 they did not get any bonus. Before 2007 for many years they got 35.34% bonus. For the first time for the year 2014–2015 they got only 8.33%. This means an average loss of Rs.25,000 per worker. The management cited operating loss as reason for the reduced bonus. (But Pricol workers searched the internet and found that there was only operating profit for Rs 23.27 crores for the said period as per the documents submitted by the management). This came up unilaterally from the management without honoring the clauses in the long term settlement reached between the management and the sole bargaining agent, KMPTOS (Pricol workers union) which has proved its majority again and again through due election process. When there was objection from the union the management deposited the amount in the workers bank accounts as it does usually when it is preparing for any confrontation with the workers.

All this took place as the workers were attending court hearings and awaiting the verdict in the murder trial in which the Union leadership was accused, anxiously. The management took advantage of this fact, assuming that the union would not be able to agitate.

The union took up demonstrations in the factory gate demanding bonus as agreed in the tripartite settlement and gave a letter to the management explaining why the management has to pay 35.34% bonus apart from raising an industrial dispute. The management did not act upon this letter and workers took up few more protest actions demanding bonus as agreed by the management. Then came the fateful December 3, 2015 judgment which sentenced eight of the Pricol workers vanguards to double imprisonment, followed later by the ‘letter’ by the management advising them to leave the union.

The workers responded to these vain attempts of the management to put them down in their own usual style, i.e, by demonstrating once again their unity and strength, the impact of their struggle in and around Coimbatore among their family members, friends and relatives and their resolve to take up their struggle forward. They organized a program on March 13 to commemorate the commencement of the 10th year of their struggle for rights and dignity.

Over 1,200 workers gathered there with their kith and kin. They expressed their resolve to take all out efforts to get their comrades in jail released. They expressed their confidence in achieving this as their vanguards have gone to the jails - not on corruption charges like Jayalalitha or Kanimozhi or Raja but like freedom fighter V O Chidambaram who was sentenced to double imprisonment by the British for fighting for the workers’ cause. Incidentally, Pricol workers are also lodged in the same prison where V O Chidambaram was imprisoned.

The responses of the workers’ who have attended the program are again sending some adverse signals for the management. A worker who is a sympathizer of AIADMK said that his wife who attended the program for the first time told him to vote only for the candidate put up by CPIML as that candidate alone is fighting for and ensuring better living conditions for workers. The worker replied if attending just one meeting and listening to the speeches could get his wife to persuade him to change his political inclination, what would happen if she attends all the meetings regularly. Many workers felt that the speech delivered by Comrade Dipankar, General Secretary of the Party, was simple and educative.

Some workers expressed the opinion that though they are meeting very often in the fields of struggle a relaxed meeting like this happened for the first time since 10.10.10 when they held the workers’ family festival, which had helped break the siege by the police and the state after the first round of state repression faced by them. Some workers said though they dine together inside the factory, those meals are mechanical and under pressure, while this kind of dining together, exchanging views, pleasantries and pledging again to fight further is encouraging. Some workers wanted such meetings to be organized very often.

The Pricol workers’ struggle is a celebration for them. They may be attacked by the management. They may be attacked by the state, and even by the verdict. But, they will fight. They will win. And emerge stronger and more united every time.

Now they are getting prepared for a bigger political battle. They are going to contest two constituencies in Coimbatore with the slogan ‘Workers’ Votes for A Worker’. Do the management and the state need any better response from Pricol workers?

Liberation Archive