Kolkata: It was a scene reminiscent of Darjeeling’s bygone days of the hills seeing fluttering red flags, with tea garden workers shouting slogans, such as “Duniya ke mazdoor ek ho” (Workers of the World Unite). After long, the success of a united struggle of hill tea workers, under the banner of Joint Action Forum, has borne fruit, that too within 24 hours of their historic march to the Mall centre point in Darjeeling from different hilly terrains, demanding 20% Durga Puja bonus.
The movement by the tea workers, which was originally led by Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), along with other trade unions in the hills, started with a strike by workers demanding 20% bonus. The struggle yielded success in Terai and Dooars, where tea planters had to agree to pay 18.5 % bonus.
“However tea planters in the hills, because of their clout with the high and mighty in the corridors of power in Kolkata , were a hard nut to crack, following which we embarked on the second phase of the strike ,” said CITU Darjeeling District general secretary, Saman Pathak, a former MP and working President of Chia Kaman Mazdoor Union, which was once steered legendary working class leaders, such as Ratanlal Brahmin and Ananda Pathak.
Incidentally, the pre-Independence 1946 Provincial Assembly Elections in West Bengal had yielded three seats to communists in Bengal, one of them Ratanlal Brahmin, who win from the Darjeeling Assembly segment of Undivided Bengal and other two being Jyoti Basu (from Syedpur reserved railway labour seat) and Rupnarayan Roy from Dinajpur (non-reserved).
However, striking a note of caution on the recent struggle, Pathak said: “ It is a victory, no doubt, and an unprecedented victory after many years, however, the state government is not dependable,” adding that all trade unions had given an ultimatum that the entire bonus amount should be paid to each worker by December 31, outrightly rejecting the state government-mediated planters’ formula of paying 12% now and the rest 8% later.
Meanwhile, state labour minister Moloy Ghatak said there would be another round of a tripartite meeting between planters, state government and tea workers.
“We are cautious. While this fight has proved that class struggle is the only beneficial tool for the working class, the role of the state government has made us stay guard.”
Narrating the storyline of the epic struggle, Pathak said after the earlier round, when the owners in Terai and Dooars had adhered to their demands, the state government announced a second date for the tripartite meeting on October 17,v knowing well that festivals start from first week of October this year. “This was a trigger, and soon over 80,000 tea workers, cutting across political lines, across 87 tea gardens joined hands.”
Even the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Chairman Binay Tamang ,who officially is from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha fraction being supported by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), sided with the tea workers and announced a fasting in their support.
However, Pathak warned that the hills might again see unrest if the entire amount of the festival bonus does not reach the hands of each of the 80,000 workers by December 31.
“We have seen enough of meetings and an insensitive government, which decided on a tripartite meet on October 17. It should be noted that only due to the wave of militant discontent and the spontaneous hill shutdown that the planters and government were forced to bow down before the might of the impoverished working class of the hills. The government was forced to preprone the meeting on October 11 and work out a settlement,” adding that “we have now made it clear -- no more meetings related with bonus payments.”