Another Milestone In PRICOL Workers’ Struggle: Tripartite Agreement Signed

A tripartite agreement at Pricol was signed on 8 June 2012. Struggles and agreements are not new in TU movement. In that case, how are the Pricol workers’ struggle and agreement exemplary? The government, labor department, TUs and many including our workers knew for sure that those with CPIML and AICCTU can take up any fight against any management vigorously, that they can face any assault and can emerge more powerfully again. But many had the question as to whether and how we would conclude the struggle.

Does the agreement signed in Chennai on 08.06.2012 before the additional labor commissioner, answer these questions? Why was the MOU signed on 07.02.2012, dragged till 08.06.2012, to become a 12(3) agreement? Has not AICCTU made compromises?

An outsider, close to the Pricol Workers’ Struggle, answers these questions.
A recap of the Pricol Workers’ Struggle is necessary here to put the present phase in perspective.

Production was squeezed out of the Pricol Workers for a few decades since the company came into being. They were reeling under working conditions marked by lower wages, lack of dignity, compulsion to give production with no fixed limits, punishments, victimizations, TUs that stood on the side of the management etc. On the other side there was opposition too, which was waiting to explode. These conditions convinced them to introduce a leader from Chennai. In 2007 March, leaders of the Pricol Workers’ TU were transferred to Uttarakhand. This triggered the struggle.

Management went on a victimization spree. There was repression and there was resistance. Workers of Plant 1, 3 and 12 units had to choose the path of struggle. Management raised many a bogey at that time: ‘outsider’, ‘maoists’, ‘danger for industry’, ‘danger for Coimbatore’, ‘danger for industrial peace,’ and so on. Media took sides with the management. Management employed every weapon in its arsenal. Workers had to face partial lock-out, withholding wage increase, denial of agreed salary, break in service, incentive deduction, a few hundred disciplinary actions, suspensions, dismissals, and denial of employment for 740 unit workers, and so on, and the management expected that starvation wages would make the workers fall in line.

The Union took the struggle from the factory to the people. It raised issues of other sections of working people. Pricol Workers’ struggle made its imprint on the issues of Trade Union Recognition Act, Job security for trainees, and minimum wages for trainees. Pricol Workers’ did not confine their struggle in Perianaickenpalayam and took it to Coimbatore, Erode, and Chennai. Their cases were fought in High Court and Supreme Court. Government had to pass 10 B orders twice. The TN Assembly discussed the Pricol Workers’ struggle thrice. Women workers’ gherao of the Labor Commissioner’s office in Chennai and indefinite hunger strike by the vanguards played an important role in ensuring the intervention of the government. The then Labour Minister, though he was against the TU, did not act against the workers. The Labour department acted as per the law. These were possible only in the background of militant struggle of a few thousand workers.

On July 23 2008, Pricol workers observed the centenary of first political struggle of Indian working class. A few workers loyal to the management raised objection to this politicization. General Secretaries of unions of both the plants deserted the unions and the ongoing struggle and turned blacklegs. In the convention attended by Party GS Comrade Dipankar on August 9 2009, Com. S Kumarasami announced that the August 20 General Strike would be implemented at any cost. It was only Pricol workers who implemented that strike in Coimbatore. Threats and lures alike failed to divide the union.

There was an unfortunate incident of the death of one of the management in the factory on September 21, 2009. P Chidambaram and Mallikarjun Kharge went on the offensive, and the Superintendent of Police, Dr. Kannan, decided to encircle the union and crush it. The Police department played into the hands of Coimbatore capitalists and foisted false cases on Com. S Kumarasami, 4 women workers and all union office bearers. The union did not disintegrate during the days of incarceration of the leading comrades for more than 100 days. More than thousand workers, their relatives and friends visited them in the Coimbatore prisons. AICCTU national leadership also rushed to the workers’ defense. After being released on bail in 2010 March, a long march from Coimbatore to Chennai was organized by the Pricol workers, defeating the attempts of the Coimbatore police to prevent it. It culminated in the May Day Rally in Chennai which was the biggest May Day Rally in TN in 2010, in which the Party GS participated. On 10 October 2010, they organized Workers’ Family Festival in which thousands of workers participated.

There was a situation in which neither of the parties could win decisively. Two mediators Mr. Hydhari and Mr. Ragupathi, made an attempt the break the impasse. In that process, unions of workers of Plant 1 and 3 were merged, and the Pricol Workers Amalgamated Union was formed. The Management recognized this union in early 2011 as the sole negotiating agency, and negotiations began with Com. S Kumarasami.

After informal talks began, only workers who were facing Sec.302 cases and one suspended worker were dismissed. (Victimization of workers was a daily affair in Pricol before that).

After the recognition of the Union, 44 dismissed workers of a section were reinstated.

The Union faced a situation that demanded compromises to demonstrate that the fighting union can also conclude the struggle effectively. The workers who said that we do not want a rupee from the management, all that we want is for the management to negotiate with Com. Kumarasami at least once, stood firmly with the union. But at the same time they also wanted their living conditions to be improved.

Only after two years of formal and informal negotiations, the MOU and 12(3) agreement were signed. But during this stressful period, many efforts were taken to fulfill the revolutionary tasks of democratizing the union and politicizing the workers. Both these tasks strengthened each other and were accomplished simultaneously and only this makes the Pricol Workers’ Struggle exemplary.

Com.S Kumarasami met the workers more than 100 times. He met almost all the workers in the union office or in their living areas a few times. During these five years he stayed in the Coimbatore office and houses of workers for more than 200 days. The sacrificing spirit, hard work and dedication of Comrades Krishnamurthy, Balasubramaniam, Gurusami, Janakiraman and other dismissed workers and the role of women workers are definitely exemplary.
The MOU signed on 07.02.2012 was not converted into a 12 (3) agreement, as the issue of unit workers was raised in the GB meeting, and the GB deferred taking any decision about converting the MOU into 12 (3) agreement. Despite the testing times and the fatigue of a long wait, the workers of Pricol, both men and women organized the spectacular 9th State Party Conference in Coimbatore with the slogan, ‘Comrades of Appu, March to Coimbatore’.

The Union told the workers that the 12 (3) agreement that would emerge out of the MOU would only help in shedding the old burden and the real agreement can be drawn only by 01.07.2014.

Following are some of the important features of the 12 (3) agreement.

  • 118 workers who are under suspension, dismissal, second show cause notice for dismissal, disciplinary action for absenteeism, will be reinstated.
  • Issues of more than 100 workers under suspension and dismissal for other cases will be sorted out through negotiations. On this issue, the decision of a committee which will include the union, will be binding on both parties.
  • Workers and TUs loyal to the management have been claiming that it is not possible to get even a rupee increase as there is an existing settlement from 01.07.2010. But, in addition to the increase of Rs.1040 for the period 01.07.2010 to 30.06.2014 in the earlier long term settlement agreed by the TUs loyal to the management, the workers will now get another increase of Rs.1000 from 01.01.2012 itself and this agreement will be over by 30.06.2014.
  • The management has been saying that the unit workers are not Pricol workers. But now the management has agreed to reinstate 150 unit workers in three phases from 01.09.2012. 590 unit workers will get 45 days’ gross salary for every completed year of service and Rs.10,000 in addition to legal dues as compensation.

Signing 12 (3) agreement was delayed as the Union tried to get something more for the unit workers. The management said that the Labour department, police department and government will not allow the Union to move away from the MOU. But as days passed by, the management started imposing newer conditions. On May 1, it said that it cannot give wages for the period 01.01.2012 to 31.05.2012 and wages for only 51 days will be given as the workers did not give production for that period.

The union understood that some mysterious and powerful forces are operating behind this move and gave a letter before the conciliation officer that workers will give the agreed production from 01.06.2012. This letter put the management in a spot and the management was tied down to the MOU. It was agreed that the issue of wages for the period 01.01.2012 to 31.05.2012 will be sorted out in October through negotiations. It was also agreed that additional productivity of 8% will be given by the workers from 15.07.2012. The workers have understood clearly that they have actually drawn a limit for productivity through this, as it was the practice in Pricol that productivity norms would keep on increasing as desired by the management every now and then.

It is more difficult to run the union in times of talks than in times of struggle. But even during the period of talks, class consciousness of the workers must be nurtured so as to keep them in preparedness for any eventuality. An approach of readiness for peace during struggles and struggles during peace is necessary. Pricol workers’ union had to compromise on certain aspects only to strengthen the union and find solutions for certain issues. TU recognition, wage increase, unit workers’ reinstatement and settlement, negotiated settlement on disciplinary actions are four major issues sorted out through the present negotiations. Real wage increase will be taken up through the new settlement from 01.07.2014, with a stronger union.

In Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder, Lenin discusses compromises: “Every proletarian—as a result of the conditions of the mass struggle and the acute intensification of class antagonisms he lives among—sees the difference between a compromise enforced by objective conditions (such as lack of strike funds, no outside support, starvation and exhaustion)—a compromise which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle on the part of the workers who have agreed to such a compromise—and, on the other hand, a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest (strike-breakers also enter into “compromises”!), their cowardice, desire to toady to the capitalists, and readiness to yield to intimidation, sometimes to persuasion, sometimes to sops, and sometimes to flattery from the capitalists.” There is compromise in Pricol too. It can be understood easily that it is the first kind of compromise.



The office bearers of the union who signed the 12 (3) agreement said that for the first time in Pricol after 35 years they have signed an agreement, after reading it, understanding it, and accepting it. This is the first time in Pricol that workers get an increase in four digits. (The earlier increase of Rs.1040 is for 4 years i.e., Rs.245 for the first year, Rs.255 for the second year, Rs.265 for the third year, Rs.275 for the fourth year). Creation of 150 employment is unimaginable in these days of casualisation and contractualisation. This is the first time the workers had a role in fixing limits for productivity which had no bounds so far. They said through their struggle they understood, in capitalist society, how difficult it is to secure even the legal rights that are written by capitalists themselves. They said that they will take the message of the 12 (3) agreement to the people also.

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