Relief Campaign
Initiatives in Tamil Nadu During Lockdown

THE Modi government's unplanned and abrupt Lockdown - 1.0 on 25 March left thousands and thousands of migrant workers stranded on the streets of Tamilnadu, right from Chennai Central Railway station to remote villages of the state. According to the CC guidance, a HELP DESK to address Migrant workers issues was immediately formed on 26th. We received hundreds of distress calls and messages from migrant workers mainly belonging to Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam and UP stranded at Chennai Region covering four districts and Tirupur – Coimbatore region.

Due to lockdown all the industries and business houses were closed abruptly, millions of migrant workers immediately lost their food & shelters. Small companies, hotels, and contractors mercilessly threw them out. Police harassment was at its worst against migrant workers who were desperately rushing in search of some transport.

A Help desk in Tamil Nadu was formed with some CCMs, SCMs and TU activists, including Comrades Desikan and Varadhan, led by Comrade Chandra Mohan. Hindi was a major problem, still we managed with one Hindi speaking comrade Ponnudurai! We contacted migrant workers every day and listened to their grievances. In many places, Food/Ration, shelters become the immediate requirements of stranded Migrant Labour. For many workers, the company accommodation was lost. And in some places, landlords evicted the workers. Pending wage arrears were not paid, and contractors fled.

Relief Operations and Our Approach

In conditions of Lockdown, when movements were restricted, we effectively combined the services of various groups of left and democratic friends and some philanthropic volunteer groups in addition to our own trade union and party units and also effectively used social media to undertake relief activities that benefitted several thousands of workers for immediate relief. We also attempted to form Corona Disaster Relief Committees at the grassroots level involving intellectuals and democratic individuals in addition to our own party comrades. Party branches were also active in this effort through such relief committees.

Migrant labour relief operations were extensively undertaken in several districts, particularly Kanyakumari, Pudukottai, Coimbatore and also more than 20 centres in Chennai, including Ambattur, Thirumullaivoyal, Palavakkam, Sholinganallur, Irunkaattukottai (Sriperumpudur), Saidapet, Thiruvottiyur, Puzhal, Red Hills, Madhavaram, Kodambakkam, Purasawakkam, Otteri, Perambur, Kilpauk, etc.. and many other places. We have also arranged shelters for thousands of migrant labourers by pressurising administration. We reached out to thousands of migrant labourers in Tirupur, Coimbatore and also Erode districts, began with supplying rations, involved administration and worked for them till they get Lockdown wages and also helped for their return home. We helped people even in far away places like Valparai and some in and around tea estates. Our Loading-Unloading Workers Union of the Civil Supplies Corporation also played a significant role in various districts.

In addition to providing some immediate relief to workers in need of shelter and ration, we focussed our efforts primarily on bringing state administration into its role so that supplies to migrant workers are not disrupted for the entire period of Lockdown. Generally, several groups were only providing relief whenever they got some distressed calls which is also, no doubt, a commendable job. We also did the same but also involved in all problems of workers, including ration, shelter, wage and employment issues and also return of migrant workers.

We resolved the problems of around 100 groups, each group comprising of anything from 5 to 200 migrant workers. We reached out to more than 10,000 workers in and around Chennai covering four districts, as well as the Tirupur and Coimbatore region. After arranging food / Ration as immediate relief, lists were prepared and submitted to concerned local government authorities for continuous supply of ration and grocery. In some cases, our TU functionaries directly went and distributed food / groceries. We actively intervened in addressing such issues in the entire state by contacting police officials, house owners, small company owners, government officials are contacted. In several cases of migrant workers including granite workers of Dindigul and Krishnagiri districts, our direct intervention ensured compensation for the lockdown period.
Some Experiences


Migrant workers joined protest Calls

On April 17 and 18, AICCTU observed All India protest day. In 7 places at Chennai region, migrant workers of Tripura, West Bengal, Bihar & Jharkhand joined our call, sat in dharna and were threatened by police for the protest. Several hundreds of migrant workers joined the call in Tirupur – Coimbatore region as well. A police case was also filed against our activist Abraham in Tambarm. SC Members Iraniappan, Thirunavukarasu & Ponnudurai played a key role.

In corporate construction company where more than 100 workers were not provided food or ration, we spoke to the management and also the contractor. Workers received a food allowance of Rs 100 per day because of our intervention. We also told them to pay Lockdown wages.

NLC Contract workers

Around 560 workers belonging to Bihar, Obra constituency, were stranded around Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) of Tamilnadu. We contacted them, our Cuddalore party district secretary visited in person to speak to workers. Lockdown wages and safe return were their issues. We spoke to the Contractor who initially dodged the issue. We then approached the Labour department, local government officials and also the NLC management. In the meantime, workers also resorted to protest against the NLC management in front of the NLC administration gates. Finally, we negotiated with the contractor to settle wage arrears and told them to bear the costs of the train fare as well. Wage arrears for the days they worked were cleared while NLC management agreed to pay the Lockdown period wage subsequently. A Shramik special train was arranged for all 236 workers and they safely returned to Bihar. It's a team work of our CCMs as well as SC members. Even Puducherry comrades submitted a memorandum through Assistant Labour Commissioner (Central), Puducherry, to address the problems with the NLC management.

Odisha Migrant workers at Coimbatore

Spinning Mills at Coimbatore (Kovai) and knitting companies at Tirupur employ lakhs of Migrant workers with cheap labour. Mill owners are not willing to send migrant workers back home.

The Kovai party committee intervened in many migrant workers cases including one case of kidney failure of a Odisha worker who was hospitalised in Kovai GH. We intervened, represented to district administration and a safe train journey was arranged for the patient.



KPR Spinning mill, Odisha Tribal women workers issue

KPR group of companies is a major private player employing thousands of migrant women workers. Our district leaders contacted the mill management at Thekkalur where 75 women Odisha women workers are forced to work and were denied their return home. The management tried to conceal this entire matter. We got the message through social media about the exploitation and oppression against young women workers in the company. We represented to district collector to make an enquiry which confirmed our claim. We demanded their Salary arrears, safe train journey and also intensive exploitation of 12 hour work. At last, salary arrears is said to be cleared and their journey is being ensured. This is an interesting experience of coordination between our comrades in Tamil Nadu and friends and comrades from Odisha to pressurise authorities from both sides. Otherwise, the management was using local authorities to discourage workers from leaving for home so as to protect their own profit at the cost of workers lives.

Oil Seed Farm Workers of Pudukottai

In the course of intervention in migrant labour issues, agricultural workers of government seed oil farm were paid long pending wage arrears to the tune of Rs 25 lakhs because of our intervention that pressurised local administration. In another farm, workers were paid Rs. 17 lakhs of pending wage arrears.

Tamil Migrant workers issues in Other States

The issue of Tamil Migrant workers stranded at Maharashtra, Karnataka & Kerala was taken up and our concerned Help desks were informed. In Maharashtra, Solapur district, Pandarpur, around 600 Tamil workers were stranded. Our Maharashtra comrades immediately intervened, Deputy collector visited and workers were provided food & shelter. Later, they were sent back to Tamilnadu through special train.

Sugarcane cutting workers of Dharmapuri district stranded at Karnataka were rescued by our Karnataka unit and necessary arrangements for travel were made through administration.

200 Tamil Tribal workers employed in Kerala Brick kilns got food and shelter which was facilitated by the party’s Kerala unit. Later, their return journey also was confirmed through combined initiatives of comrades of both states.


Joining Central Calls

All calls of the party central committee were implemented in Tamil Nadu without any exception. Even continuous repression by the state against our leaders and activists for protest, despite observing Lockdown guidelines, did not deter our participation.

On 12 April, the plate banging protest against hunger was the first protest programme during Lockdown. It was a first experience to operate in such a way. Police went to every house, illegally photographed protestors and filed cases, particularly in Pudukottai. Cases were filed against more than 35 leading activists including 15 women. Hundreds of people participated all over the state.

On 14 April, Ambedkar Memorial Day was observed everywhere by unfurling, garlanding photos and thus paying tribute to Dr Ambedkar jointly by the Left parties. Pledge taking audio was recorded and circulated. On the same evening, Com Balasundaram, CCM delivered a talk on Ambedkar and also pledge taking was administered through Facebook live.  

On 18-19 April, Dharna and Hunger Strike in solidarity with migrant workers was observed, with impressive participation everywhere. On 22 April - Foundation Day Pledge taking videos were recorded and comrades took pledge from wherever they were locked down. On 23 April, the AIPWA dharna and fast against hate and hunger was observed everywhere. On 25 April, AISA-RYA Demonstrate against state repression.

27 April was a joint demonstration by AIARLA-AIKM demanding NREGA wages, work and also ration for all those without ration cards and also in solidarity with migrant labourers. From 28 April-3 May, Demand Weeks and days were observed by workers of various sectors including construction workers, scheme workers, sanitation workers, railway workers, etc..  

On May Day, Flag Hoisting and Pledge Taking under conditions of Lockdown. Factories had by then started operations. So, workers hoisted red flags in factory gates, work places, residential localities and hamlets and also in their house rooftops and doors. There was a spirited participation of thousands of workers all over the state.
State and Sector specific Struggles

Significantly, in order to highlight workers cause, some special initiatives at district level like ‘Demand Day was also observed by various sections of people on various dates, rural workers demonstration called on 15 May by AIARLA and AIKM saw mass participation in districts like Villupuram – Kallakurichi and Pudukottai and the same was carried on in Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Mayiladuthurai, Cuddalore districts. Various unorganised workers  including Beedi workers, washermen, powerloom workers also demonstrated to highlight their demands. Construction workers of Salem demonstrated in front of labour office on 21st May.

State Repression in Tamil Nadu

AIADMK state government of Tamil Nadu led by Edapadi Palani Sami (EPS) is virtually running a police state. Several hundreds of cases have been slapped against our party and trade union activists all over the state for expressing dissent against the actions of state and for solidarity with migrant labourers, despite observing Lockdown norms. Several such cases are filed against us even without our knowledge by downloading photos and details from party’s Facebook account and other individual comrades accounts. We are only hearing reports that cases are being indiscriminately filed against us for every programme in every district. False cases are foisted against all leading comrades, including comrade Shankar, PBM and all India president of AICCTU, Asaithambi, CCM and Pudukottai district secretary, Desikan, SCM and state General Secretary of AICCTU, etc., for protesting inside the party offices and houses, observing Lockdown norms. More than 40 cases are filed against our activists in Pudukottai out of which 20 are women. Perhaps, highest number of cases are filed against women activists this time. several cases are filed against people for expressing solidarity with the cause of migrant labour even sitting at home. Police has even forcibly entered activists’ houses, photographed the protest with mask and physical distancing inside the house and filed cases.

Comrade Vel Murugan, Coimbatore City Secretary, SCM of the party, former elected Councillor of Coimbatore Municipal Corporation and also a leader of slum dwellers movement in the city was foisted a false case for expressing solidarity with migrant labourers. He was arrested on 20th April, was remanded to judicial custody and put behind the bars while several accused were released from jails because Corona. He had to spend eight days in jail and was released from jail on 28th of April. Comrade Vel Murugan had been consistent fighter against the government’s anti-poor smart city project, privatisation of water supply, eviction of slums and various other issues of urban poor. Edappadi government arrested him for helping the migrant workers of ration and shelter and for working for poor and downtrodden who are affected by the abrupt Lockdown.

AISA – RYA activists Kaleeswaran, a law student and Tamilarasan, involved in film making, who are also from a slum in Madurai were taken into custody in the evening of 11th April for the fault of propagating ‘Plate Banging’ programme in solidarity with migrant workers through WhatsApp. They were illegally detained in the police station and were released only at midnight of 12 April after intervention from the party and advocates. The mobile phone seized from Tamilarasan has not been returned till date.

Comrade Govindaraj, party’s Dharmapuri district secretary and one of the secretaries of state AICCTU and also an eosinophilic asthma patient was detained by police in the evening of 12 April for expressing solidarity with the cause of migrant workers. In the course of heated discussion with police who made derogatory remarks against communist movement, the police vindictively and forcibly admitted Comrade Govindaraj in Covid-19 dedicated hospital. Later, the doctor found him not to have any symptoms of Corona and after testing he was discharged from hospital on 13th April.

Comrade Sagayam is a leader of All India Port Workers Federation (AICCTU) branch of Tuticorin Port, party DLT member and also a consistent fighter against Sterlite. He also hails from one of the villages affected by Sterlite. He and other village leaders were framed in a false case because they objected to distribution of benefits only to pro-Sterlite people without observing Lockdown norms of mask and physical distancing. But, the police refused to file counter case against the pro-Sterlite culprits. As police higher-ups too did not act on our representation, Comrade Sagayam led a protest of the entire village and finally the administration was forced to relent.


FIR against CPIML Activist at the Behest of Sterlite in Tamilnadu

Adani's Sterlite copper plant closed due to people's protest for polluting the environment  is trying to reopen in connivance with ruling AIADMK government.

When the company is distributing coronavirus relief materials among people of adjoining villages to the Sterlite factory without any government permission with an ulterior motive, democratic sections of the people including cadres of CPIML belong to pandarampatti village opposed the move. In the melee, police intervened and filed false cases  on the protesting people including comrade Sahayam of CPIML, who is also the state executive committee member of AICCTU. He is the leader of the container lorry drivers Union of Tuticorin port.

Again on 22 May 2020, people in and around Tuticorin observed 2nd anniversary of police firing on protestors demanding closure of the plant in which 15 people lost their lives and became Martyrs of the anti-sterlite movement. At the initiative of Comrade.Sahayam, A meeting was called in pandarampatti, a dalit Hamlet of more than 1000 people and known for its role for the closure of Sterlite plant, by following lockdown norms to observe Martyrs day.

Even though, Martyrs day was observed in many places, state police cunningly targeted comrade Sahayam and another activist Santosh.They were booked with FIR under sections 269, 270, 271 and 188 of IPC read with Sec 4 of public place prevention of disfigurement act.

CPIML and AICCTU condemned the arbitrary police action and  demanded withdrawal of false cases and appealed to the people to be vigilant against Sterlite copper plant's activities.

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