On the eve of Tamil Nadu Assembly meetings, unorganized workers held demonstrations all over Tamil Nadu. They held these demonstrations to attract the attention of the government to their long standing demands and their immediate implementation.
Although government has announced 32 welfare boards for the various sections of the unorganized workers, they do not function on a professional basis. Most of them do not have a proper office nor government officials and funds to manage them. Government has shifted these welfare boards to the revenue department instead of the labour department. Thus the entire intent and purpose of these boards have been lost. They have to be brought back under the labour department and made to function with full participation of trade unions. For many years now, there is no registration of the workers under these boards; there is heavy backlog of cash benefit claims of workers for many years. Besides, the workers have also been demanding ESI, housing facility, regularization of work and wages. There has been no action from the authorities to implement these demands.
It is a shame that the unorganized workers who form a large section of the working pollution of 40 crores in the country, do not have adequate and comprehensive protection nor fair wages for their hard work and labour. Unorganized workers cover vast sections of work such as Construction, agricultural, fishing, house work, tailoring, hand embroidery, street vending, head load, weaving, rice mills, forestry, auto rickshaw driving, Salt pans, artificial diamonds, washing clothes, hair cutting, cooking, climbing trees, jewelry, mud pots making, stone crushing, repair of electrical equipments, footwear, paintings, beedi making, hygiene, etc. They produce 65% of India’s GDP. But they do not even get 3% of the budget allocation for their welfare. Vast majority of these workers do not have security for their jobs, wages and social protection. Low wages, long working hours, sexual harassment of the women workers, slave labour and child labour are the conditions prevailing in the unorganized sectors in our country. Globalization has impacted sectors such as agriculture, fishing, salt pans, weaving and many such. In the cities, unorganized workers’ huts and shelters on the pavements and roadsides are demolished and they are thrown 30 to 50 KMs away from their work places without any transport or infrastructure for livelihood. Workers are demanding that these attacks on them must stop and all of their rights recognized and fulfilled. They are also demanding fair pension benefits and implementation of National medical insurance scheme across all workers, etc.
Large number of workers and workers organizations participated in the demonstrations and agitations held in Thoothukudi, Palayamkottai, Madurai, Thindukal, Periyakulam, Trichi, Karur, Pudhukottai, Salem, Namakkal, Erode, Tirupur, Vellore, Krishnagiri, Villupuram, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur on 10th of Nov, 2010 to highlight their demands.
In Chennai, demonstrations were held at Memorial Hall. Unorganized workers from Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur Districts took part. Leaders of the Unorganised Workers Federation and many other working class leaders spoke at the demonstration. Organizer and Leader of the UWF, Thirumathi Geetha spoke militantly listing the demands of the workers and demanding immediate implementation of all of them. She called on the workers and other sections of the society to fight for their rights till they are achieved. A representative of Makkalatchi Iyakkam (LRS) also spoke in the demonstration. He supported all the demands of the workers. He pointed out that two Indias exist – one of tiny minority who own all the riches and wealth of the country and other a vast majority consisting of workers, peasants and and the middle class who are exploited to the core and faced with uncertainty of future. Small minority of rich are supported by the political parties and implement their will to keep the majority of the working people down and tied to the system. He also asked them to form peoples’ committees to fight for the political power in their own hands, to make decisions and lead the country.
The demonstration ended with militant slogans of their demands. One can see the determination in the workers to further build unity, escalate their struggles to win all their demands.
Makkalatchi Iyakkam believes that all workers have universal and inalienable rights by the fact that they are workers. All workers, whether they are organized or unorganized, blue collar or white collar, salaried or piece rate, regular or contract, have right to job security, fair wages, regular working hours, health insurance, old age pension, provident fund, etc. The rights of workers cannot be curtailed according to the nature of the industry or the conditions of work. All workers should be covered by the same legislation and the monitoring of the implementation of workers’ legislation should be done by workers organizations themselves. Only by agitating for these demands unitedly can workers become truly empowered.