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Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
Friday, 02 June 2017 09:42

Tungabhadra Workers Show the Path Ahead! - R Manasayya

THE striking success of the 55 days militant struggle by the Tungabhadra workers in Karnataka compelling the State government to substantially raise the workers’ wages by 62 percent is quite unprecedented in today’s neoliberal-corporate raj vehemently enforced by the Centre and State governments. It is an inspiring example to be closely watched and pursued by the working class facing wage-cuts and denial of hard-earned basic democratic rights everywhere.

Karnataka government was forced to sign the agreement to hike the wages of Tungabhadra workers on May 10, 2017 following the beginning of the 24-hour indefinite hunger strike by the struggling workers at Raichur. For almost two months, the workers were in an indefinite strike. Led by the Trade Union Centre of India (TUCI), the Tungabhadra Irrigation Project workers composed of various categories such as gang-men, heavy mazdoor, work-inspectors, drivers, computer operators and gauge readers were on an indefinite strike since March 17, 2017. On that day, at the Munirabad headquarters of the Project that covers 606068 acres of agricultural land, 1031 daily-wage workers from the districts of Raichur, Bellary and Koppal under the banner of TUCI started the strike. For the last two decades, the State government was consistently denying even the legally-bound minimum daily wages to the 1374 workers. Before 2015, the situation was horrific. In 2015, there was a 17-day strike for minimum wages and against the contract system by the workers following which the wage was increased up to Rs. 8400 for 30 days work that was much below the ‘minimum wage’. As a result, living conditions of the workers and their families continued to deteriorate.

In this historic strike led by the TUCI, around 1000 workers consistently participated beginning with the day-and-night dharna followed by the Highway bandh at Hospet on March 23, Bhagat Singh day. On March 29, more than 1000 workers took part in the struggle at the Head Office against the management’s lock-out and were arrested, though released by the Koppal district police later. Though several rounds of discussions took place, in the fourth round of discussion, the government officials took the firm stand that only State Cabinet is the authority empowered to resolve the workers genuine demands. As such there was no other option before the workers except to intensify their strike and bring it to the doorstep of State administration in Bangalore.

On April 5, in an unprecedented way, the striking workers led by Com R. Manasayya and other leaders of Tungabhadra struggle started 350 km long Pada Yatra (March on Foot) from Munirabad, the Project headquarter to Bangalore, the State capital along National Highways 53 and 48. It was a strenuous effort as teams for food procurement and drinking water were to be deployed for the sustenance of 1000 workers including 29 women workers together with old people leading the march traversing adverse climate conditions with the temperature often going up to 44 degree. On an average, a distance of 35-40 km was covered per day and it took 8 days to reach Tumkur which is just 70 km away from Bangalore. During the 8 days that covered a distance of almost 290 km, a number of public meetings were held explaining the whole issue to the people. It is quite natural that traffic blocks would be there throughout NH 53 and 48 due to the workers’ march.

But in a dramatic move at Tumkur, the State government using huge police force suddenly arrested Comrades R. Mansayya, G. Adavi Rao, Siddappa Gowda, Basavana Gowda and R. Huccha Reddy in the guise of negotiation and took custody of all the 1000 marching workers and put all of them in 16 KSRTC buses and other vehicles and brought all of them to Raichur and urged them to go to their places of residence along with putting 4 comrades in the central prisons of Gulbarga and Bellary. However, instead of yielding and resolutely resisting police diktats, the workers reassembled in front of the office of the Raichur District Collector and re-started the dharna in which the participation of workers doubled compared with the beginning of the pada yatra. Except AITUC and CITU, all left and progressive organizations and unions openly came for supporting this heroic struggle of the Tungabhadra workers. Altogether more than 27 organizations issued solidarity statement supporting the struggle. As the struggle strengthened further, the government was forced to release of four comrades from jail which enthused the workers further. The April 28 successful Raichur district bandh was a testimony to the growing worker-peasant solidarity. As the fifth round of discussion on May 4 with officials failed, from May 5 onward, the workers started 24 hours relay hunger-strike. It is in the context of the intensification of the struggle that the present agreement with government has come in to effect.

Following the agreement, the government official concerned announced the 62 percent wage hike right in front of the workers sitting in strike at Raichur. Based on this, 30-day wage will increase from the present Rs. 8400 to Rs. 14000-17700. The government has also assured the abolition of contract labour system in the project at the earliest. Following the announcement, the workers have called off the strike and started attending work. On May 10 evening, a victory rally addressed by prominent leaders including R. Manasayya was held in Raichur city. The official settlement with Tungabhadra project workers has become immediately applicable to more than 11700 workers in projects such as Kaveri Neeravari, Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam, Viswesvarayya Neeravari Nigam where the workers there will also get wages at the new rate.

At a time when, the working class movement led by institutionalized parties who have no alternative to neoliberalism is spreading despair and advising the working class to adjust with system, the unparalleled victory of the Tungabhadra workers assumes much political significance today. While the basic rights of workers are denied and contract system is strengthened everywhere as part of neoliberal-corporate policies, the heroic workers of Tungabhadra show the way forward for the workers. It opens up new possibilities for building up revolutionary working class unity at the local, state and national levels against the neoliberal offensive on working class and the broad masses of people.

It underlines that sustained, determined and painstaking struggle by workers led by an uncompromising political leadership with experience and ideological-political clarity is the alternative before us. At a time when several so called strikes by institutionalized unions are exposed as mere rituals to hoodwink the workers, the whole course of the valiant struggle by Tungabhadra workers and their resounding victory are definitely a source of inspiration and lessons for working class unity and forthcoming struggles in the country.

Long live Tungabhadra workers struggle!

Long live Trade Union Centre of India!

Long live Worker-Peasant Unity!

Long Live Revolution! 

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