World Social Forum: Workers Speak Out

AS WE reported in last week’s issue of the socialist, over 120,000 people, mainly from the Indian sub-continent and other Asian countries, attended the fourth World Social Forum in the Indian city of Mumbai.

Members of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI – the international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated), have sent these reports and interviews with workers who attended.

Indian Garment Workers Fight the Bosses

DESPITE ITS domination by largely middle-class non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and left wing ‘celebrities’, the WSF offered a lot of information on workers’ struggles globally. Groups of Indian workers involved in ‘dharammas’ (strikes, sit ins, protests) approached the CWI stall.

PER-AKE WESTERLUND spoke to NM MUTHAPPA, general secretary of the Garment Workers Union (GWU) in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state. The union was formed in 1996 and has 25,000 members today. 97% of the members are women, as are all members in the leadership, apart from Muthappa. He told us:

“WE ARE 500,000 garment workers in Bangalore, facing a very bad environment at work. 70% have no proper toilets or safe drinking water. The official working day is eight hours, but in reality it’s 10-12 hours, with only one hour extra pay. That’s why we have formed our own union.

“Women workers from the rural areas are recruited to the garment industry in fast growing cities like Bangalore. Here they are extremely exploited by the employers.

“Most live in 15×20 foot rooms with up to five other workers. The wage is 700-2,500 rupees per month. The minimum wage in Karnataka is 2,100 rupees.” (1 euro = 58 rupees. £1 = 73 rupees).

“On top of the bad conditions and the low wages, they are subject to sexual harassment at work, from supervisors and management. Women workers are regarded as of less value than male workers. They have almost no education and their own families don’t want them back after moving from home.

“After five years of work, they should be permitted to a gratuity, 15 days extra wage. But the employers even go around this, by removing them just before the five years have gone. This makes our union work even more difficult.

“In October 2003, the company, NJIP Leather India, announced that it would close its factory in Bangalore, keeping one in Delhi and one in Chennai (Madras). The workers were sacked instantly and would get no benefits.

“On 10 October we organised a dharamma, a four-hour sit-in strike outside the factory. We had invited media and everyone who supported us. The workers in Chennai gave their support.

“Despite the factory eventually being closed, it was a success. All workers got benefits. 128 out of 138 workers did get new jobs. A provident fund was initiated, to help workers when factories are closed.

“Dudiyorahoraata (CWI India) offered us support during the strike, the only political organisation organising solidarity action for us.”

“Why did you start your own union?”

NMM: “I started the work in 1996, after working three months in a garment factory. The Communist parties, CPI and CPM, both have unions, but we did not want to join them. Because of the problems of organising activity in the factories, we have 23 area committees. We are discussing the need for a new political alternative.

“In the local elections in three years time we are planning to stand 70 GWU candidates, all women. Our programme is for a minimum living wage, gender equality, and to campaign against violence against women. We now have 25,000 members based in 60 factories.

“We are planning our own Mayday rally with 5,000 workers during the day and 10,000 after work has finished at night time.

General Electric: Building Solidarity Against Lock-Out

SINCE LAST November 136 workers at the General Electric factory in Hosur have been locked out by their former bosses. C. PARTHIBAN, (general secretary), SHANKARA NAYANAN (vice-president) and P.Raman (joint secretary) of the General Electric workers union leadership told their story to Per-Ake Westerlund, and the CWI team in Mumbai.

“WE HAVE all been working since it started in 1981. The factory produces electrical goods, switch gears, fuses etc. In the 1990s, when we had 268 workers, the French owner Alstom sold the company to General Electric (GE).

“GE immediately increased the share of temporary jobs and subcontractors. Their strategy was to increase the pressure so that workers would leave the factory.

“In 2002 we presented a charter of demands in connection to wage revision. One year’s discussions failed on 25 March 2003. Instead the company presented a ‘code of demands’.

“That meant increased productivity with targets of 100%, 500% and 40% respectively in different parts of the factory, with no change in the number of workers. Our response was to agree to half an hour increase in the working day.

“The company just dismissed our offer and proposed a wage increase of 975 Rupees per month, not even a third of what other companies offered. Our wage is 9,300 Rupees per month after 23 years in the factory. On 27 March the company dismissed the union treasurer and in July another leading union member was also sacked.

“The final straw came on 28 August when the Union General Secretary Parthiban was sacked along with six other workers. The six belonged to a group of 12 workers which the company ordered to be transferred to the factory in Delhi. We went to court against this ‘transfer’.

“Our answer was a lightning strike the same day. We developed a dharamma (sit-in strike) for 14 days. Then the company with the help of the high court and police force, forced us out of the factory. Before that the company had cut off electricity, water and toilets.

“It is very difficult for us to survive since the lockout declared on 3 September. We can’t cover the costs of food, education fees for our children and loans for housing. On 11 September we organised a one day hunger strike. We are all 40+ in age and have difficulties in getting a new job.

“Our case is still in court. The company use scabs and subcontractors to keep up production. We are organising support and solidarity from unions and community organisations.”

“Globalisation Means Global Exploitation”

BANNERS, POSTERS and slogans against Bush and his war on Iraq were prominent in Mumbai on 21 January when the World Social Forum finished with a demonstration through the city centre.

Sonja Grusch (CWI- Austria)

Over 100,000 took part in the WSF but this demo was smaller because some delegations had already left for their homes. The CWI delegation was the only one giving out material in Indian languages – we distributed 12,000 leaflets in Hindi and Tamil, as well as in English. The lack of material in the different languages spoken by people in India was a problem at the whole WSF.

Although English is widely known, many people can’t read or speak it, and most prefer written material in their own language. So in particular the CWI’s Hindi leaflet was warmly welcomed by the people of Mumbai.

Girisch from Mumbai told us that he and other fishermen came to the demonstration because, he explained: “Globalisation means in fact global exploitation”. Delegations of workers took part in the march, like railway workers and domestic workers.

A group of six women from a domestic workers union wanted to stress their demands for basic social security, as they do not even get sickness pay from their employer.

For railway workers, as Mohammed Ali from Mumbai explained, the main topic of protest was against the government’s policy of privatisation, which also affects the railways.

The hunger for our leaflets proved our point, that the WSF had a lack of political answers and gave little opportunity to participate fully. The large number of people that signed to get active with the CWI for a socialist world made that very clear.

India: ‘Boom’ Passed By Workers

AROUND THE world, the capitalist press call India the next “miracle economy.” They take it for granted that India, in conjunction with China, will deliver the next boom in the world economy. This, together with the recent ‘peace talks’ with Pakistan, is the reason why India’s ruling BJP has announced an early general election in India this spring.

JAGADISH G CHANDRA, from the New Socialist Alternative (CWI India) analysed the political situation in a speech at a meeting at the World Social Forum in Mumbai on 20 January.

“MANY MULTINATIONAL corporations feel their mouths wat