Workers rise above political affiliation, unite in agitation at Bengal’s biggest tea garden
Rising above their affiliation to rival trade unions and political parties, workers in West Bengal’s largest tea garden, located in the hills of Darjeeling, have unitedly started a hunger strike after the management declared suspension of work on Friday.
Longview Tea Estate in Kurseong sub-division employs 1,252 permanent workers and is spread across 506 hectares. The average annual production of organic and inorganic Darjeeling tea at the estate is 5,00,000 kilograms.
The suspension of work was declared days after the workers started an agitation, demanding payment of arrear wages, provident fund and festive bonus. The management could not make the payments and said it was facing a financial crisis.
“Though the management earlier agreed to pay the remaining part of the 2019 Durga puja bonus and some pending wages, it failed to do so and cited financial duress,” said Nima Lama, a senior leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, the second-largest political party in the hills which is opposed to the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Nabin Bomzan, the Darjeeling district president of the tea garden workers’ union, which is directly affiliated to the TMC, said, “The workers have set aside their political differences and staging a hunger strike.”
Santosh Golay, the local unit president of Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Binay Tamang faction), said, “This is the first time in many years that all trade unions of the opposition and ruling parties have joined hands.”
The GJM (Binay Tamang faction) is the ruling party in the hills and an ally of the TMC.
For the state government, the suspension of work at Longview Tea Estate has become a cause for concern. Uden Lepcha, assistant labour commissioner in Kurseong said, “We are trying our best to reopen the garden.”
AP Singh Dahiyal, senior manager of the tea estate, could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.
Rahengra Lama, head clerk at the tea estate, said, “Though the management was regularly paying current wages, the arrears towards old wages, festive bonus, provident fund and gratuity are huge and run into a few crores of rupees.”
The agitation at Longview Tea Estate has inspired workers at some tea gardens in the Dooars region such as Kohinoor, Rahimabad and Naya Sailee.
Workers in these tea gardens have been staging protests for the last couple of days, demanding payment of arrear bonus and other benefits. Workers owing allegiance to the TMC, Congress, CPI (M) and BJP have united in these tea gardens.