Punjab: Ludhiana Textile Workers’ Struggle

Workers marching under the banner of Textile Mazdoor Union

It has been over 40 days now since the struggle by the Ludhiana (Punjab) Powerloom workers began (22nd September), but the struggle by these workers belonging to over 155 factories (involving more than 2500) shows no sign of receding. If anything, these workers are determined as never before, even skipping the Diwali celebrations, to lay claim to their basic rights as workers in a industry, which the labour department is hardly bothered about (despite statutory laws protecting these workers), with the mill owners conniving with the labour department and the Punjab state government to cow down the workers.

The workers are not claiming something the mill owners or the labour department cannot give or implement. But by the way the mill owners are shouting hoarse against the strike, one would defintely conclude that the owners definitely lack a sense of imagination. Here’s what they have to say in ads posted in local daily newspapers:Dear Chief Minister, terrorism has struck Ludhiana (!). As if going on a strike amounts to terrorism. And what are the workers demanding? Implementation of labour laws in the factories. If this is how they react to a strike by workers, either they are yet come out from the Khalistan militancy days or merely trying to hype the issue as a propaganda against the workers.

Either ways they will not make much of headaway, for any ordinary Punjabi would definitely have more sense than the mill owners association to judge who is right and who is wrong. The case of the workers is open and shut case that would definitely put the mill owners in the dock. Let’s look at the facts at hand: apart from the extreme exploitation from long working hours, extreme work pressure, low salaries (anywhere from Rs. 30006000), to bad working conditions; none of the labour laws are implemented with no weekly holidays, health care coverage (ESI), right to unionize or strike, bonuses so on and so forth., facts and figures that might as well have been taken out from the pages of Das Capital.

Ludhiana employs more than 2 million workers in such textile mills but their plight hardly makes makes news headlines. This is not the first time the workers are striking, they have tasted victory before but are relatively new in the arena of struggle and still not yet shackled by the bureaucracies of the Central Trade Unions. But they will catch up with the big movements that are taking place across the globe because if the Maruti workers strike (in neighboring state of Haryana), that has been on and off for the past 5 months, has anything to teach them it is the power of workers as a class can challenge the mighty powers of Capitalism.

The workers have also protested outside the labour department demanding the implementation of the labour laws plus an 25% increase in wages. Workers have been organizing under the banner of Karkhana Mazdoor Union and Textile Mazdoor Union run under the democratic control and independent decision making powers of the workers themselves. It is also heartening to note the solidarity messages that have been sent by these workers to Maruti Suzuki workers strike and also Occupy Wall Street movement. That is the way forward to build struggle and movement of the workers across the barriers of industry, trade, national boundaries, race, ethinicity and so on.

While it is important to reach out to struggles that are taking place at present, but it is also important to also reach out to their workers’ brethen in other textile and garment industries and their unions across India to build a real, genuine movement of the workers against the brutal exploitation by these special exploitation zones. They also have important lessons to learn from the heroic 18 month long strike by Bombay (now Mumbai) Textile Workers in the early 80’s and the challenges that it posed on them .

Like every struggle this is not an isolated struggle and characteristic of the era that we live in presently, with the global economic crisis on the one hand and the bosses attempt to squeeze all that is left of the workers to maintain their profit margins. In anticipation of the coming crisis, it is time to build a democratic trade union movement that unionizes the workers and organized on a industry, city/ town, state and national level, based on grass root democracy that extends all the way to the central trade unions.

New Socialist Alternative (CWI – India) fully supports the strike and demands of the Ludhiana Powerloom Workers.