4 Sep 2017 Ferado


INDIA: The Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh (PCSS) office in Jamul in Bhilai lies in the shadow of a hulking ACC cement plant. From the plant, massive chimneys thrust out into the sky. These chimneys loom over the landscape in more ways than one. Ever since its formation in 1989 with the legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi, PCSS has been organizing and fighting for workers from the plant on issues of regularization, wages and better working conditions.

But with the expansion of the plant, the tenor of the struggle changed. The new plant has thrice the capacity of the first and is almost completely automated – requiring about 80 people to operate. This would require a massive retrenchment of contract workers unionised under PCSS. The ACC management, and later the Holcim management when they bought the company, had fought dirty and violently but, as we had written earlier, PCSS won a landmark victory in 2016. After running an international campaign with the help of IndustriALL, PCSS signed an agreement with the management that vindicated their strategy and vested genuine power with the union. Their actions protected the livelihood of hundreds of families and marked another milestone in the labour movement in Chattisgarh and all of India.

This is especially important because the members of PCSS are primarily contract workers. In many parts of the country (including Tamil Nadu), unions are refusing to engage with contract workers – either for ideological reasons or for pragmatic ones. Pragmatic reasons include the fear that if contract workers are allowed in unions, the management unions will enroll them all and use them to wrest control of the factory floor from the left unions. The workings of unions like PCSS are an antidote to this kind of thinking.

History of Organizing Contract Labour

PCSS is a part of the Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti (MKS), a faction of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). To understand PCSS’ views on contract labour, it’s essential to understand the history of the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha. It is a history that begins with the organization of contract labour at the coal mines of Dalli Rajhara. The mines employed more than ten thousand contract labourers and a handful of permanent employees. At that point, the primary union was INTUC which organized only the permanent workers but entered into agreements regarding contract workers. The contract miners organized under CMM and forced the management to negotiate with them. They weren’t made permanent. But their collective bargaining rights were recognized and this was seen as vital. The difference between contract and permanent shrinks if the workers are similarly empowered in terms of collective bargaining.

With these roots, it isn’t hard to see why PCSS takes it for granted that they would organize contract workers in their factories. After all, the number of ‘skilled’ workers in their highly automated factory are few. PCSS sees contract workers as their primary constituency. These workers are more likely to see value in their leadership than permanent workers who can be ‘bought’ by the management. Thus, PCSS includes among its members the sweepers, canteen workers, water and electricity staff, etc. These workers fight side by side with ‘skilled’ production workers and thus embody what a united working class would look like without the arbitrary barriers of permanent and contract.

Hierarchy of Experience

A common refrain from PCSS members is that the management-enforced wage structure (within which they negotiated wages) was unfair. In their own words, someone with 29 years of experience could earn less than someone who was 29 years old. Or to put it another way, the difference between the wages of ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ labour was too high. PCSS see skilled and unskilled as a false dichotomy. From their point of view, it’s a matter of chance that one person is a fitter and another is a sweeper. So then it becomes imperative that a sweeper receives, for example, retirement benefits. When they negotiated their settlement with Holcim, they fought for a fairer four tier wage structure which would apply to the workers that retained their jobs (http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/lafargeholcim_end-of-25-year-dispute-with-indian-labour-union/41944364).

Experience was their primary criteria for deciding which union members would keep their jobs at the new factory. The settlement was a victory but it still meant more than 300 people would have to lose their jobs. First, the union decided that anyone above 55 would have to leave. The compensation offered by the company would make up for their loss of wages. Second, anyone with less than five years of experience would leave as they had less invested in the company than the others. This was a large number of people – around 250.

Genuine Collective Bargaining

It is also essential to point out how the negotiations around the settlement took place. It was not the case of a few union leaders agreeing on terms and then informing the rest. Each offer made by the management was brought to the general body of the union. Sometimes there were 300 people sitting in the small courtyard of the union office, listening to the latest offer. The discussions that followed could be extremely charged affairs. Through a slow and deliberative consensus-building process, the union ensured that the settlement was a genuine example of collective bargaining. All decisions had to be seen as being in the best interest of the group as a whole – both men and women, both contract and permanent. While this method is undoubtedly more drawn out than top down decision making, it leads to more investment on the part of the workers and drives home the ethos of group solidarity.

So, in this way, PCSS show how contract workers are an asset, not a liability to the working class movement. They show that the truly pragmatic choice is to expand union memberships, to organize contract workers, to radicalize them and thus move towards a more united working class movement. A working class movement that is not on the defensive and can articulate and fight for even more radical economic and political demands. Two ideas that PCSS proposed for the future during our meeting were a switch from an 8 hour day to a 6 hour day (which would boost employment and lower the physical burden on workers) and two extra holidays for women (so they could rest when they were menstruating).

4 Sep 2017 Ferado

Construction Workers Demand Enhancement of Social Security; Petition Chennai Collector

IA: Construction workers organized a small demonstration near Chennai Collect orate l. They are affiliated to the AITUC led Construction Workers Union (Kathada Thozhillalar Sangam). It was part of a nation-wide demonstration organized by AITUC. Directed at the State and Central Government, their demands sought enhanced benefits for construction workers from the Welfare Board. Speaking at the demonstration, Com. Susheela from AIDWA, mentioned the need to bring maternity benefits for women construction workers on par with benefits for women in formal employment.
The following are the demands raised by the construction workers

Collect construction cess for infrastructural work carried out by State and Central Government.
Fix the retirement age for men at 60 and women at 50
Provide Rs 3000 a month as pension
Enhance compensation for accidental death to Rs 10 lakhs and natural death to Rs 5 lakhs.
Provide maternity benefit of Rs 1 lakh to women
Implement ESI, PF and other social benefits through welfare board
Provide full cost of education (for children of construction workers) like it has been implemented in Delhi.
Provide housing for all workers through state housing board

A petition addressed to the Chief Minister was delivered to the Chennai Collector. Presenting the demands of the workers, the petition highlighted that Tamilnadu construction welfare boards an accumulated cess of over Rs 1200 crores. It stated that the board only uses the interest accrued on this cess to disburse benefits, which limits beneficiaries. The petition urged the government not to restrict benefit commitments to merely the interest amount. It also urged the state government to increase the cess to 2% of the total construction estimate from the present 1%. These measures, the petition maintained would more be more than enough to ensure enhanced benefits.

4 Sep 2017 Ferado

Worker Attempts Suicide on Shop Floor at Renault Nissan

IA: On 17th August, a worker in the assembly shop of Renault Nissan, a major auto manufacturer based out of Sriperumbudur, Chennai, attempted suicide on the shop floor by consuming soap oil. He was quickly rushed to Global Hospital, a few kilometers from the factory, and after treatment and a day in observation, he was discharged on 19th. According to sources, the worker had an altercation with the supervisor over the rejection of his leave application. As the argument heated up and the supervisor taunted the worker to ‘do what he can’, the worker took the drastic step. The workers stopped production for twenty minutes, the next day (18th) demanding action against the supervisor and an end to the practice of denying leave. But no action has been initiated to enquire into the incident or to rectify the issues. The internal union has also not raised this issue with the higher management. This incident is only an extreme case in an increasing trend of hostility and workplace harassment at Renault Nissan ltd.

As per existing procedure, a worker losses a day’s wage every time the HR department does not approve a leave of absence. The HR department seeks the approval of the shop floor supervisors before granting leave to workers. According to sources, there is resistance from floor level supervisors to grant casual leave to workers. This has a led to a situation where, every month, hundreds of workers are forced to suffer ‘loss of pay’, even when they have adequate casual leave. The worker who attempted suicide, had already suffered two days of ‘LoP’, costing him over Rs 2000/- from his salary. When he faced a similar situation this month, he challenged the supervisor. When the supervisor refused to relent, the worker feeling hopeless and frustrated attempted suicide.

Workers feel that there is a pattern of escalating harassment against those who had been part of the ULF branch. All the members on the ULF Branch of Renault Nissan had joinedRenault Nissan India Thozhillalar Sangam (RNITS), company recognized internal union, in February this year and withdrawn the labour disputes pending with the labour department.(Read here about the merger). Five workers belonging to the ULF union had also taken office bearers posts in the internal union and had cosigned the dispute settlement on behalf of the internal union. At that time, it had been given to understand that fresh elections for the union executive positions will be called for. But that is being deliberately delayed citing procedural reasons. This is causing widespread disaffection among the majority of the workers.

Workers are feeling that the leadership of the internal union has not been taking cognizance of the shop floor issues leaving them to suffer victimization. There is also a feeling that the management is trying to divide the workers by penalizing some while condoning others. The rift between the workers and the leadership of the internal union is clearly exposed in the spate of spontaneous actions in the recent months, be it the issue of a pregnant worker being harassed on the paint shop, or alleged mismanagement of funds by the union. The practice of wage cuts through ‘LoP’ is only adding to this tension. It is imperative that a team of office bearers and committee members be elected at the earliest, so that the workers can have confidence in the leadership of the union and the union can better represent the issues of the workers.

3 Sep 2017 Ferado

Autoeuropa car plant workers strike for first time

Workers at the Autoeuropa car assembly plant in Palmela, just south of Lisbon, staged a 24-hour strike this week for the first time in the company’s 25-year history. The plant is one of the biggest drivers of the Portuguese economy, producing roughly one percent of the country’s wealth.

The action, which started on Tuesday night and lasted through Wednesday, was staged against having to work an extra day for the next two years.
Around three thousand plant workers met on Monday evening to discuss the action, which came after the plant’s management said it would become compulsory for them to work Saturdays to assemble the new Volkswagen T-Roc model in the coming years, a move which according to reports could have been given to other countries.
Autoeuropa had offered workers a salary increase of 16 percent along with a bonus of 175 euros a month and an additional day of leave per month, but this was refused by three-quarters of workers who backed a decision to strike instead.
The day-long industrial action is estimated to have cost Autoeuropa five million euros in lost revenue.
The new timetable will only come into effect next February, with workers set to have further discussions with the company, but only after 3 October, when a new labour commission is elected.
Sceptical observers have said these upcoming elections are an integral part of this strike action, with union leaders looking to harness support in the run-up to the ballot.
But some workers have said the compensation being paid to work on Saturdays is irrelevant, as they will now have very limited time to spend with their families.
But former union leader António Chora has challenged the complaints being logged by workers, saying that the assembly of the new model was accepted back in 2015 on the condition that shifts be increased.
“At the time, nobody opposed this condition”, set out by Volkswagen to secure the annual production of 240,000 cars of the new model.

3 Sep 2017 Ferado

‘Hot autumn’ looms as militants fight Macron’s union reforms

FRANC: There was a mood of defiant bravado against Emmanuel Macron’s new labour laws at the trade union headquarters on a street running up from the docks to the refineries and factories that make Le Havre a bastion of French organised labour.

“Look at Britain, where Margaret Thatcher made such reforms and you’ve ended up with insecurity and zero-hours contracts — that’s where the government wants to drag us,” said Reynald Kubecki, a militant union leader.

A wave of demonstrations, strikes and days of action has been promised by Kubecki’s hard-left union, the General Confederation of