At 5 pm on July 22nd, hundreds of workers of Voltas Ltd, a blue chip company belonging to the Tata Group, gathered out side the corporate headquarters of the company, at Chinchpokli, in Central Mumbai.
The meeting was opened by Comrade Salian, retired Voltas worker and ex leader of the Union. He said that today the total strength of Voltas was 11,500 employees. Out of this 7,700 or 2/3rd were contract workers. Out of the balance 3,760 employees only 600 were in the unionized category and over 3,000 were in the management category. So we are fighting for the regularization of all contract workers and against the anti labour policies of the management. We are also fighting for reinstatement of the dismissed leaders and activists of the Union.
Comrade D.B.Nalge, ex President of Voltas Union said that their demand is that it is the workers who are making the products from which Voltas is making their profits and we want our rightful share of this. He denounced the Voltas management as anti worker.
Comrade Vasudevan, leader of Blue Star Employees Union said that the Voltas workers are fighting for an end to the contract system. Similar struggles are being waged by the workers of Mumbai Suburban Electric Supply Services Ltd, a Reliance Group Company (Anil Ambani). Here there were 6,000 contract workers and they are fighting for their rights. He said that capitalists everywhere are implementing such policies. He said that the future belongs to all of us and we should unite.
Comrade Franklin, leader of Hindustan Lever Employees Union said that since 1973 the Voltas workers have been fighting under the leadership of their Union, which is independent of any political party. He recalled a struggle in Tata Tea Gardens in W.Bengal. It lasted for 3 months. The union leaders were dismissed from service. When they attacked the Tata Tetley Brand name the management was forced to come and talk to the fighting workers.
He said we are not fighting for alms, but for our rights. He asked what will be the future of our children. A situation is developing where workers are being paid Rs 5,000 per month, management staff is getting Rs 1 to Rs 2 lakhs per month and the Directors are getting Rs 10-Rs 20 Lakhs per month. This is atrocious and we cannot accept this for which we all need to unite.
Comrade Bharadwaj, National Vice President of AILRSA said he is spoke to the gathering for the first time and said it was the activists of Lok Raj Sangathan who had informed him about today’s meeting. He recalled how the loco drivers of Mumbai suburban trains had stopped work during 3rd-4th May, 2010. The drivers eating food starting from 3rd of May because of which, one by one they collapsed on duty. He said we are all workers, some skilled and some unskilled. He explained that unlike the private sector, for the Government Sector there are some rules, which the Govt itself is not following. He gave the example of the recent increase in number of train accidents. These accidents are immediately blamed by the authorities on human failure and primarily drivers are held responsible. He thundered that it is not human failure that is the cause of such accidents but system failure. After the driver has died, it is very easy to put the blame on him. He gave the example of the recent train accidents in UP and Assam in which hundreds of people were killed. He said that Jaiprakash Jaiswal, Central Govt Minister said that because the driver had applied the emergency brakes the accident had happened. Comrade Bharadwaj said train drivers regularly apply emergency brakes and therefore, according to the minister’s logic, there should be an accident everyday.
He said while the Government spends crores of rupees on wasteful expenditure, the legitimate demands of the workers are not attended to for years. He said that many may think that due to the 6th pay commission the Govt employees have got 40% rise in pay. But this is not correct. The rise is not uniform across all sectors. The real workers are crushed. Those who do the hard wortk like we engine drivers are crushed.
In our sector the recognized union is given all the facilities. They are given air conditioned offices in New Delhi by the Railway Management. In 1974, during the All India Railway Strike, we were in the leadership of the strike. Even Indira Gandhi had to acknowledge this. He said we should all recognize that our struggle is against the Capitalist system.
The representative of Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), said that in response to the demands of the Voltas workers, the management had written that times are changing and workers should accept that technology has reduced the amount of physical labour required in production. The LRS representative accused the management of resorting to 19th century practices of hiring contract workers, stripped of all legal rights. He said the 21st century has produced the modern educated and skilled worker who is able to handle the most sophisticated machines developed by science. The 20th Century had showed through numerous revolutions in different parts of the world that a society run by the working people themselves is entirely possible. This was the challenge facing the working class as well as its leaders in the 21st century. He saluted all the different organizations present and called on everybody to prepare for the rule of the working class, which is our historic mission.
Comrade Milind Ranade of Sarva Shramik Sang gave the example of the militant workers of Maruti in Haryana who fought for 13 days and won their demands. He said it was when the workers of all surrounding industries came forward and threatened to go on strike in support of the Maruti workers that the management of Maruti gave in to the workers demands.
He said that he had read in the papers that Ratan Tata had opposed the opulent lifestyle of Mukesh Ambani and the construction of the world’s most expensive house by the latter in Mumbai. But what is he doing about the plight of his own workers?
He gave the example of the workers of Mumbai Municipal Corporation who are engaged in clearing the garbage of the city. They are all on contract. When the Union put up their demands, the authorities replied that these are not workers but volunteers! Milind Ranade wondered what kind of volunteers are these who are fined Rs 150 per day if they miss their duty! He said we all must fight to reverse the situation.
The leaders of Voltas Employees Union then showed the latest issue of MEL to the assembled workers and asked them to buy the same and thanked MEL for publishing an article in support of their demands. As a result a large number of papers were sold at the meeting. The meeting ended on a militant note at 7.00pm.
LRS Mumbai Correspondent