The struggle of Ludhiana powerloom workers

Workers of about three dozen power loom factories in Ludhiana’s Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri etc. areas are on strike from 16th September 2010 under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union (KMU). The workers have revolted against their pathetic living conditions, total absence of labour laws, callous attitude of the factory owners and administration and the opportunistic behaviour of the established trade unions affiliated to parliamentary left parties. They are energised by the recent successful strikes in 42 power loom factories in Shaktinagar area and the Jindal Textiles factory.

Ludhiana is among the big industrial cities in India and the industrial capital of Punjab. The main industries here are hosiery, bicycle, tyre, auto-parts, engineering etc. In recent years the workers in Ludhiana have been fighting for their basic rights e.g. the struggle of the thousands of workers of the big factories of Ludhiana such as Hero cycles, Rockman, Avon, Rolson, Highway, Garetave, Bajaj Sons etc; the militant struggle of the thousands of workers against the factory owners and police-bureaucracy after the Hindustan Tyres episode; the outburst of anger of the workers in December 2009 after the Dhandari episode, the workers hitting the road after a recent disappearance of a workers of Poddar Tyres. These outbursts are just a reflection of the terrible conditions of the life which the workers of Ludhiana are forced to live and the total failure of the governance system to protect even the basic rights of the workers. The anger of workers is expressed at times spontaneously and at other times in a planned and organised manner. It is because of this reason that most of the time section 144 of the Cr. P.C. is imposed in the industrial areas of Ludhiana which prohibits assembly of five or more persons and holding of public meetings besides other restrictions.

Most of the workers of Ludhiana are migrant workers coming from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They are treated as aliens in their own country. These workers are subject to abject poverty and extreme exploitation. Despite toiling for 12-14 hours a day, most of the time they do not even receive the minimum wages fixed for a helper for 8 hours work {Rs 3400 (less than 80 USD) monthly}. In case of the power loom workers, there has been no increment in the piece rates and wages for last 10-12 years while the prices of all basic necessities like food, housing, medical care, travel have been skyrocketing. On the other hand there has been manifold increase in the profit level of the factory owners.

The working condition of the power loom workers of Ludhiana is so difficult and so dangerous that it can at best be called inhuman. Serious injuries and deaths at workplace are quite common in the industrial areas. Even basic safety measures and regulations are not implemented by the factory owners. Even the administration does not take any initiative to fulfil its constitutional obligation of implementing the labour laws in these areas. On the contrary in most of the cases, the administration is found connived with the factory owners to serve their interests. No labour law whatsoever is implemented in these factories. Provident Fund, Employees State Insurance, Job Card, Attendance Register have no existence here. The regional labour department is fully hand in glove with the errant factory owners and is suitably compensated for its services. Not only the factory owners have bought up the officials and police, they do not even hesitate to use the services of goons to intimidate the workers if they raise their voices for justice. In the Dhandari episode in December 2010, they unabashedly used the local goons called Bikers’ Gang to brutally attack the agitating workers. Even the police favoured the factory owners and held the workers responsible for the violence. The owners portray any agitation of workers as being launched by “outsiders” and the local politicians and regional media also take the side of the owners only.

The workers of Ludhiana have been fighting for their rights for years through the established trade unions. But of late they have begun to realise that it is because of the betrayal of the leadership of opportunistic and corrupt trade unions such as CITU and due to the lack of well planned strategy that they have not been able to put up an effective resistance and the factory owners manage to crush their struggle. In a number of struggles of workers of large factories of Ludhiana such as Hero Cycle, Rockman, KW,Avon, Rolson, Highway, Bajaj Sons, Moonlight etc since 2004, the opportunistic, compromising, corrupt and pro-management character of CITU has been thoroughly exposed before the workers.

The recent surge of militant agitation among the power loom workers of Ludhiana began with the strike of the 42 power loom factories of Shaktinagar, Tibba Road areas on 24th August 2010 under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union. It was the apathetic attitude of the power loom factory owners which was mainly responsible for the inhuman conditions of living which forced the workers to halt the work and choose the path of strike. The main demands of the workers were: hike in the piece rates/wages, necessary provisions for the safety of the workers and implementing all the labour laws including identity cards, PF, ESI etc. The bold, organised and determined fight of the workers forced the power loom owners to relent and they were forced to agree to the demands of the workers. On 31st August the workers withdrew their strike after a written agreement with the owners. It was a glorious victory of the workers after a long time. A remarkable aspect of this victory was that the power loom owners were not only forced to hike the piece rates/wages but they also agreed to give half wages for the days of strike. It is very rare that the factory owners agree to pay for the days of strike. On the contrary, one can find many instances in the labour movement of Ludhiana like the shameful Avon Cycle agreement in which due to the compromising, pusillanimous character of the renegade leadership, the workers were forced to work for 9 days without pay as a punishment for going on strike.

After this a strike broke out in the Jindal Textile factory and there too it reached a successful culmination. It is noteworthy that this was after 18 years that a workers struggle had achieved such success in Ludhiana. During the last one and a half decade the workers of Ludhiana had fought many long struggles but they culminated in shameful defeat due to the betrayal of the established trade unions. The recent victory is important in this respect and it has raised the morale of the workers to a new high.

Meanwhile, workers of some other power loom factories agitating under another union were brutally attacked by armed goons of the factory owners last week. Around 50 workers were wounded in this lethal attack, some of them seriosly. Karkhana Mazdoor Union has demanded the authorities to carry out an investigation and punish the culprits.

Taking inspiration from the recent successes in the Shaktinagar and Jindal factory strikes, hundreds of the power loom workers of about three dozen factories of Ludhiana’s Gaushala, Kashmir Nagar, Madhopuri etc also decided to call a strike on 16th September 2010 under the leadership of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union. These workers are on a strike to force the factory owners to increase their piece rate/salary and to implement other basic rights. They are united and determined to make their strike successful. They have appealed to the fellow workers of other power loom factories who are yet to join the strike to come forward and join the strike to make the struggle more united and strong. Along with this the workers have also organised vigilant squads of their own against the possibility of fresh attacks by the factory owners. A great achievement of these strikes is that the workers are no longer terrified of the police and the goons of the owners. Moulder and Steel Workers Union of Ludhiana has supported the power loom workers in their strike. The workers have also distributed pamphlets among the civilian population explaining to them their wretched working and living conditions and the rationale behind their demands. They have also appealed to other factory workers of Ludhiana to support and join their strike. The workers have warned the officials of the labour department not to work as stooges of the factory owners and perform their constitutional duties otherwise their strike will become more vigorous.

On the third day of the strike i.e. on 18th September 2010, the henchmen of a factory owner attacked the KMU members who were distributing the leaflets in a market and also kidnapped two workers. Immediately hundreds of workers gathered outside the factory where the kidnapped workers were being held. The owner ran away and the workers were rescued. This was another psychological victory for the workers.

Contact for further information:
Rajwinder – 098886 55663, Lakhwinder – 096461 50249
Office: Karkhana Mazdoor Union, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Pustkalaya, Gali No.5, Lakshman Nagar, Gyaspura, Ludhiana, Punjab

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