In India 93% of workforce is in an unorganized sector. They play a significant role in country’s economy. Of this, 48.92% workers i.e. as many as half are employed in building and construction sector. Nonetheless, their working conditions are miserable and there is an acute lack of any social security provisions. This huge unorganized sector has been excluded even from the basic necessities of life. Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse. It meant these workers had to face repetitive lockdowns and subsequent loss of livelihood.
Our engagement with workers started in November 2020 when nationwide general strike was declared against anti-labour laws. In our initial interactions we explained the overall anti-labour orientation of our system in general and this government in specific. We emphasized the need to organize and fight for better working conditions. We appealed them to join the protest on 26th Nov in solidarity with general strike called by trade unions across India. This received an encouraging response which further enthused us to seriously pursue the efforts to organize them. We started the process by regularly visiting Naka (place where these daily wage labourers assemble each day in search of work) and discussing with them individually or in groups the need to organize.
When Maharashtra government announced the lockdown yet again in April 2021, workers were pushed to an edge. The living conditions had already worsened due to previous lockdowns. Not longer able to afford further loss of livelihood, workers continued to visit naka in search of work. But lockdown meant they struggled to get the work; not to mention the occasional harrasement by police for defying lockdown. As a relief measure, the government had announced aid of 1500/- for construction workers registered with ‘Building and other construction workers’ welfare board (BOCW). However most of these daily wage laborers were not registered with BOCW. They were not issued a certificate (that certified they were construction workers) by PMC (Pune municipal corporation]. Our investigations revealed that PMC has not bothered to reach out to the workers and work out procedure, deploy resources to verify their credentials and issue them certificates. Even workers employed by PMC on contract for its own construction works too didn’t receive certificate. Such a callous and insouciant attitude of PMC meant thousands of construction workers were deprived of any social security provisions provided by BOCW.
Since then (April 2021) we actively engaged with the workers. Workers were infuriated when they were explained how administrative lapses has deprived them of basic social security provisions. In a bid to take our engagement further, we began to visit bastis (settlements) where they lived in the evening. We conducted meetings there and also had discussions with them individually at their houses impressing upon them the need to be organize. We reached out to around 200 workers. To take this participation further, in May we decided to found Naka Majur Ekta Manch as an informal body and enrolled workers as its members.
Meanwhile, we corresponded with PMC, held meetings with officers but to no avail. Subsequetly, we decided to call for the protest after consulting with workers. We reached out to other unions and organized the protest on 9th July against PMC. This received an encouraging response and as many as 70 workers turned out. Participating in the protest meant a loss of a day’s livelihood but still they were determined to fight for their rights. Those who turned up included 14 women and good number of young workers. Shouting slogans asserting their rights, singing revolutionary songs or the experience of the struggle had a remarkable impact on workers. It raised their consciousness and made them realise the importance of struggle.
We intend to take this engagement further. Considering their abysmal living conditions, politicising these workers has its own challenges. Nonetheless we are resolute to work for their right to registration on one hand and continue with our engagement to politicise them.
New Socialist Alternative,