New Delhi: Even in the darkest hours, their spirit for reclaiming their rights remains unflinching, as workers across the national capital region celebrated International Labour Day or May Day outside the gates of their factories and working institutions with rousing slogans and waving red flags.
The marches, short and brief, were conducted across industrial areas given the severity of the pandemic. The unions had already decided not to hold any big rally or congregation.
Harpal Tyagi from Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) said workers took out a march in Rajasthani Udyog Nagar near Jahangir Puri where they unfurled the flag at three locations and came down heavily on the four new labour codes which ceased to come in effect after the workers’ unions resisted the move. Similar marches were conducted in 24 locations in Shahdara, Ghaziabad and Noida in the Delhi NCR region.
Talking about the plight of workers during pandemic, Anurag Saxena, General Secretary, CITU, told NewsClick that the assault has come from employers and the government simultaneously. “We are witnessing an unprecedented attack on the collective bargaining that workers achieved after decades of struggle. There are several workers who tell us they are not getting work of even 15 days in a month. Several workers say employers have increased working hours with no extra remuneration. If they complain, they are met with threats of retrenchment. On the other side, the government, through labour codes, wants to eliminate our social security and provisions like eight hours of work, the right to complain against oppressive working conditions,” he said.
On May Day, workers, enraged owing to retrenchment and cut in salaries, demanded a monthly stipend of Rs 7,500 to workers affected by the pandemic and free ration through the public distribution system.
Lambasting the Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on mind-boggling number of infections and deaths during the pandemic, labour leader Gangeshwar Dutt from Baraula, Noida, said the government missed the golden period when it could have built COVID hospitals with extra oxygen and ICU beds.
‘The government could have used the period to vaccinate vulnerable workers in industrial areas. Instead, the ruling party and its leaders devoted their time in campaigning for elections in West Bengal. They pushed the people in apocalypse to just to win the elections,” he added.
Farm Laws and Labour Codes
The historic May Day was also celebrated at the protest sites on the borders of the national capital where farmers have been waging their struggle for past five months against the three farm laws. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha- a collective of farmers’ unions- said the farm laws and labour codes were new pandemics introduced by the Centre.
The morcha had called for celebrating the day as Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Diwas. In a statement, it said,”Under the guise of corona, the Central government attacked the farmers and labourers directly. At a time when the country is going through this pandemic, instead of fighting that cause, the government has created many pandemics like the three farm laws and four labour codes... BJP and allied parties, scared of farmer-labour unity, also tried to incite workers against the farmers and wanted to create conflict among two main productive forces. In many ways, efforts have been made to keep the workers away from this movement, but the workers are equally suffering, so they too are equally contributing to this movement with the farmers.”
The farmer leaders said that Essential Commodities Amendment Act was a direct and sharp attack on the livelihood of workers. The future of labourers will directly go into the hands of the private sector. At the same time, the APMC bypass Act and contract farming law will also increase the exploitation of workers and will reduce employment opportunities, they said.
Jagtar Singh Bajwa, a farmer leader from the Terai region in Uttarakhand, said farmers and workers should boldly come forward to shake the government out of its complacency and raise the demand for proper provision of medical relief from COVID-19 pandemic, viz, ensuring that all government hospitals and Community Health Centres or CHCs start functioning immediately, provision of basic requirements of oxygen is ensured in all CHCs, the police stops imposing fines on the people and instead provides them with face masks and sanitisers, all black marketing of beds by big hospitals and oxygen and medicines by companies/ hoarders is stopped with prosecution by violators.