There is no royal road to science and only those who do not dread of its fatiguing climb have a chance of gaining its luminuos summits.
-Karl Marx

Jan 2, 2010

15-Day long strike of Almond Workers comes to conclusion

December 31, New Delhi. The historical strike of almond workers continuing since last 15 days came to an end with a compromise between the employers and the Union. As is well known, this strike began on December 16 and around 20 thousand workers' families had been participating in it. It has already being hailed as the biggest and longest strike by the unorganized workers of Delhi. Before this compromise, the employer side and the Union had sat across the table for talks earlier also, however, those talks could not establish a common understanding. Following that bipartite, the strike continued and finally on the evening of December 31, a common agreement was reached between both the parties.
Before this 15-day long strike the almond workers had put forward a 5-point charter of demand under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union (BMU), in front of the contractors. These primarily included the rights to which the workers are entitled under the labour laws. Earlier, the almond workers used to get a meagre Rs. 50 for processing of one bag of almonds. Besides, they used to be denied payment of wages for several months. Misbehaviour and abusing workers in godowns by the staff of contractors was a common thing. Moreover, the shells peeled off the almonds were sold to the workers on arbitrary prices fixed by the contractors. These shells are used as fuel for cooking by the workers. Under the leadership of the BMU, the workers had long been demanding that they should be given Rs. 70-80 per bag of processed almonds and the peeled off shells should be given to them at Rs. 10 per bag. They were also demanding that they should be given their due wages in the first week of every month.
The employers were rigid for last 15 days on not increasing the wages and they had been insisting that the workers should first of all call off the strike and return to work then, they will think about wage revision, and that too after January 16. However, the workers found this proposal unacceptable and continued with their strike. The employers' frustration grew with every passing day as their armoury had been emptied. One of the employers was beaten up by women picketers after he attacked the women workers, the Police administration failed to break the strike by threatening and intimidating workers' leaders, brokers also failed to break the strike by spreading rumours. After December 29, it was clear that it was just a matter of time when the employers succumb and approaches the workers for compromise. On the morning of December 31, some employers accepted the demands of the workers without talks with the Union and started work. As a result the employers unity disintegrated and they bifurcated into two groups. At last, around 6 PM in the evening of the same day, both the sides held talks and it was decided that the employers will give Rs. 60 per bag of processed almonds to the workers, the peeled off shells will be sold at Rs. 20 per bag, and the workers will be paid their wages in the first week of every month.
With this compromise the workers called off their historical strike and they are returning to work from the first day of the New Year. With this the biggest strike of the unorganized workers of Delhi came to conclusion. Under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union, thousands of unorganized workers proved that they can fight and they can win. Apparently, the workers could not win all of their demands. However, the issue in this strike now was not merely the revision of wages, etc. In an industry where the workers are made to toil like slaves in the most primitive conditions, constantly manhandled, facing abuses and misbehaviour and were considered an instumentum vocale, the workers waged a heroic and historical struggle to win respect for them and win their minimum labour rights. The employers were, for the first time, made to realize the massive force of workers and were made to do away with their misunderstanding, that these workers will keep enduring their excesses silently and would not speak up. Towards the end of the struggle, the employers bowed down to the workers' power in every respect. Besides, not only the employers were made to realize the force of the united workers, but the population of the entire Karawal Nagar area understood the fact that these workers are not going to keep their lips zipped.
Another accomplishment of this strike was that the trade unions of parties like C.P.I. (M.L.) were sidelined by the workers consciously and they brought their struggle to an end under the leadership of the BMU, without any kind of support or help from any electoral party. The workers made it a point that they would not let any electoral party infiltrate into the movement. The workers rejected all varieties of brokers of electoral Trade Unions. They cleary understood the real character of the electoral parties, the R.S.S., Police administration and similar forces fo the area and realized that they have to fight on their strength only, which is massive.
Ashish Kumar, convener of the BMU, told the media that this struggle is not an end, but a beginning. In future, the almond workers of Delhi will continue to fight under the banner of the BMU for those rights which are still out of their reach. Ashish said that till this whole industry continues to function informally, the workers will remain weak in their legal battle. The next aim of the Union is to make the government's labour department give formal status to this huge industry.
Abhinav, correspondant of labour monthly Bigul and a researcher of the unorganized workers of Delhi, said that this struggle will stay in the memories of the workers of Delhi for decades to come. This struggle was first of its kind and it dismantled this myth that the unorganized and informal sector workers cannot wage organized struggles. By organizing workers in their areas of residence and working class neighbourhoods, the struggle of the unorganized and scattered workers can be given an organized and huge form. Undoubtedly, it is a challenging task, however, this strike has emphatically proved that this challenge can be overcome.