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Delhi: Trade Union’s Cycle Campaign Sparks Conversations over ‘Burning Issues’ Among Workers

Among their major demands is Rs. 26,000 as minimum wage in the national capital region along with withdrawal of the four labour codes.

CITU initiated a cycle campaign on Saturday in Delhi. Image by Ronak Chhabra.

New Delhi: The roadside joint - Lal Babu Tea Stall - here at Patparganj Industrial Area in East Delhi was teeming with workers. It was half-past noon on a rather balmy Saturday. This is usually the time when the working population employed in the nearby establishments, mostly engaged in engineering and packaging products, throng the food stalls to have what is often their first meal of the day. Some have food; others settle for only tea and some snacks. 

On Saturday, however, during their one-hour long lunch break from an otherwise intensive laboring day, something else caught the attention of the industrial workers. At the above-mentioned tea joint, a group of ten-odd individuals, with their bicycles parked beside them, was waiting for the workers. 

Soon, an announcement was heard out from the portable speaker that this group was carrying: “Kendra sarkar aur Delhi sarkar ki majdoor virodhi nitiyon ka muh tod jawab dene ke liye 25 November ki hartal mein shaamil ho.” This was the voice of Pushpendra Singh of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) - East Delhi. Translated, his words mean: “Join the strike on November 25 to retort to the anti-worker policies of the Central and Delhi governments.”

This was being done as part of the cycle campaign initiated by the Delhi-NCR unit of CITU in the run-up to the one-day strike on November 25, called jointly by the Central Trade Unions to protest against the “brazen neglect of workers,” in the national capital. “The issues of the working population in the national capital are neither being addressed by the Delhi government nor the Central Government,” Anurag Saxena, general secretary, CITU-Delhi NCR, told NewsClick, adding that this has prompted the trade unions to “intensify” the struggle.

Under the campaign, the trade unionists will ride bicycles and cover the different industrial towns in the city over the next 15 days, with an aim to “spread awareness” among the working people. The central trade union is planning to cover workers’ quarters including Jhilmil, Wazirpur, Badli, Bawana, Narela, Okhla, Mangolpuri, among others, along with several JJ (jhuggi-jhopdi) colonies in the national capital.

Starting on Saturday, from the Ghazipur Dairy Farm in East Delhi, the individuals clad in their red uniforms, with a parcha in hand, covered the nearby Tirlokpuri, Kalyanpuri, Vinod Nagar and Partparganj on their bicycles.

As the economy shows signs of lifting up after being adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-term effects of the latter on the lives of the workers are emerging. Their wages haven’t recovered from the pandemic onslaught even as working conditions have become more exploitative, as many of the workers now complain. The recent spike in the prices of essential commodities has only compounded the woes.

Among their major demands is Rs. 26,000 as minimum wage in the national capital region along with withdrawal of the four labour codes. They also demand monthly cash support of Rs. 7,500 to the workers including those in unorganised sectors.

Saxena told NewsClick that the union is aiming to raise these “very burning issues” among those sections “that have remained unreached so far” through the cycle campaign and organise them around the same. This was evident on Saturday, as the campaign by the trade union succeeded in sparking a conversation among the industrial workers in Patparganj industrial area.

“The unions are correct when they demand Rs. 26,000 as minimum wage in Delhi because given the rising prices, it is increasingly becoming impossible to live in the city,” said Sudhir Kumar Singh (35). The monthly minimum wage for an unskilled labourer in the national capital currently stands at Rs. 15,908.

Holding a degree in polytechnic along with B.Tech, Singh, rued that no one pays that much. “Even I earn Rs. 14,000 in a month,” Singh, employed at an electrical repairing workshop, told NewsClick. “After the lockdown I lost my job, what to do if not accept this one which at least fetches me some money.”

Standing beside him, a dejected Arpit told its own story. “I had to leave school because after the lockdown, it was becoming difficult to make ends meet back at home,” the 18-year-old, hailing from Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district, told NewsClick. He currently works at a glass manufacturing unit for Rs. 8,000 per month.

“That too, I get only after I work for ten hours in a day. But even then, I am not able to send much back to my family because of the rising food prices,” he lamented. To illustrate his point, he gave an example of the cost of tea. “The cost of one cup of tea has increased from Rs. 5 to Rs. 10,” he said.

Ranjit Kumar Rao, 27, from Saharsa district in Bihar, agreed. With no work and diminishing incomes, surviving in the city is increasingly getting difficult, the daily wage laborer said. “I would get work for Rs. 500-600 earlier; but now the rate is not more than Rs. 400-450,” Rao claimed. Even then it is often that on many days that I don’t get any work, he added.

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