Maharashtra is all set to witness one of the largest strikes on January 8 with the participation of 23 workers’ unions from across sectors. The workers who have extended their support to the all India strike, called by ten central trade unions, include bank employees, airport and hotels unions, ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) and Anganwadi workers. Additionally, hundreds of workers from the lorry transport sector, including drivers and helpers, are also set to join the strike.
Baljinder Mustakim is a driver of a ten-tired tanker. His vehicle carries chemical in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. He said that for the last one month, he has been hearing his colleagues talking about the strike. "We are facing a number of issues, from social security as drivers to salary issues. If this strike could help us in solving those then we will surely participate," said Baljinder. He added that he has read about the demands put before the central government by his organisation Shiv Sena Avjad Vahtuk Sena (Heavy Vehicles Workers’ Union). "Look at inflation. How will a common man like me survive? Modi Sarkar is not doing anything to control the factors which are hurting people like us," he said.
Indrajit Bal, president of the union said, that there are around 7 lakh lorries in Maharashtra. Out of those, 60% are in Mumbai and surrounding areas. The workers allege that the government has so far been apathetic to their demands. "Our workers are some of the most neglected ones. Have you heard helpers and drivers of dumpers and tankers coming together for strike? This is happening for the first time in Maharashtra. The basic demand is the recognition and respect as labour for these men," he added.
Also read: Jan 8 Strike: 23 Workers’ Unions Set to Participate in Maharashtra
The union has also demanded that lorry workers should be entitled to the minimum wage. "The demand of minimum wage of Rs 21,000 must be applicable to these drivers. There are many workers, mainly migrated from Eastern UP and Bihar, who are working on comparatively very less salaries. We keep protesting and demanding and negotiating on their behalf. But I think that by joining hands with other larger labour unions, this basic demand will be looked after," said Indrajit.
Ashok Kamble is originally from Latur in Maharashtra but has been working with a dumper at Navi Mumbai for the last 15 years. His vehicle runs for the stone crusher. He said, “It is one of the most dangerous driving zone where drivers have to be skilled in order to get the loaded vehicle out of mines safely. However, despite the hardwork they do, their salaries are very meagre. This strike should force the central and state governments to make minimum wage compulsory. Only that will bring some relief for us. We are here because we don't have jobs back at our native places. But these jobs are very risky. So, our security is an important factor for our families. Hope we get it through this strike," he said.
The Workers' Joint Action Committee is hoping that these voices of labourers from one of the most neglected sections will be heard by society through such protest. "Uniting workers as well as letting society know about the hardships of these workers is our aim in this protest. Only that will create public pressure on the government," said Vishwas Utagi, coordinator of joint action committee.
Around 7 lakh workers are expected to participate in the strike on January 8, resulting in the stopping of nearly 5 lakh lorries in Maharashtra, the union further said.
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