'Workers can either make or break this country'

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 03, 2015 22:23 IST
Trade union members take out a rally during nationwide strike on Wednesday. (Bidesh Manna/HT photo)

In west Delhi’s Mayapuri area, Rajesh Kumar, a 30-year-old trade union leader, sits in his small brick-walled office and speaks to the gathered workers on what Wednesday’s all-India workers’ protest is about.

They discuss the day’s events across Delhi, their own rally and meeting, and even plan to protest outside factories in Mayapuri which have not allowed their workers to participate in the rally.

The union’s more than 25-year-old office is dotted with portraits of revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Rajguru, international Left-wing leaders like Vladimir Lenin of Russia and Mao Zedong of China, and the founding fathers of Communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

“Today’s protest is to raise our voice against the system’s apathy towards the working class. Modi sarkaar should listen to our demands and understand that we workers can either make or break this country,” Kumar, who is the secretary of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), says on the sidelines of the meeting. The IFTU joined numerous other trade unions in the nationwide protest by workers against the NDA government's proposed changes to labour laws.

“Our primary demands are that contractual labour system is stopped, the minimum wages rules and labour laws are adhered to and in case of accidents in factories, which many a times prove fatal for workers, the owner and management should be held responsible,” he adds.

Mayapuri is an industrial area marked with more than 500 factories and workshops in the automobile, packaging, clothes, metals and ironwork, and electronics sector. Residents say, in total, more than 2 lakh people work in these factories.

Soon, nearly 400 workers gather at a field adjoining the office.

They listen to a speech delivered by Kumar on how the working class forms the most important strata of a society but is the most uncared for. He adds that the exploitation of workers by the factory owners can’t continue.

Kumar also speaks about how the administration and law-enforcing agencies often side with the owners and threaten workers with false charges.

Thereafter, the workers raise slogans against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s proposed changes in labour laws and promise more agitations if their demands are not met by the government.

Most of the workers who came to attend the protest meeting have heart-breaking stories to tell, revealing that even while fighting the Central government's policies, they need to take care of certain immediate issues related to their working conditions.

“There are owners who tell us why we need eat two rotis a day. We should have one. Then, there are those who make people work for 8-9 hours every day on a meagre salary of Rs 5,000,” says Ram Niwas, a worker with a motor manufacturing plant in Mayapuri, who participated in the protest rally.

Another worker adds that in case of any accident, the factory owners never ever pave way for the requisite medical care.

“If someone’s hand gets cut, or someone is injured badly while working in the factories, the owners never take us to a good hospital. We are left to fend for ourselves and face cold behaviour from all quarters,” says Vasudev - another worker present at the rally.

Meanwhile, irate workers stone a packaging factory and break windows alleging that the factory did not allow its worker to join the protest.

At around 3pm, the rally in Mayapuri is over. Kumar has a cup of tea in his office and prepares to visit the Employees’ Provident Fund Office in Wazirpur industrial area to enquire as to why many workers in Mayapuri have got no provident fund accounts although money is deducted from their salaries for the same.

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