The “Send us home!” movement of workers takes hold in Bombay-Thane
After this morning’s TV program in which the Prime Minister announced strict measures to continue lockdown, groups of workers gathered near the Bandra railway station in Bombay in the evening. Watching the video suggests that these workers gathered in the hope of returning home. At first, it appeared that they were standing in long lines (perhaps there was an idea to make physical distance). As the number of workers standing in lines increased, the administration sent in police reinforcement to the few policemen stationed at the spot. The scattered workers turned their attention to the broadcast of the police. The police urged everyone that they would get food, not have to pay rent, but they must return to their rooms. There is no representative for the police in the collective of workers, the police do not understand what to do with 2-3 thousand workers sticking their ground. Workers from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal, Nepal making videos of their collective strength. Some tidbits captured on the video – “Ask people to join our strike,” “Send us home agitation,” “Food is found once a day, worth eating only for dogs,” … growing problem for police … Seeing the danger, the police lathi-charged the workers.
2-3 hundred Workers also gathered in Mumbra area of Thane city near Bombay. “Send us home!” The police representative pleaded with them to return to the rooms, and asked the landlords to postpone the rent collection. The make-up of Bombay is interesting. Bandra, where 2-3 thousand workers gathered, is home to prominent people working in Bombay’s entertainment industry, many politicians, industrialists, as well as middle class people. On the other hand, in the middle of these affluent areas, there are also a large numbers of slums of workers, from where labour comes out to meet all the needs of the affluent sections. It is not possible to count the different kinds of jobs these people work in, but one can imagine.
On the other hand, Mumbra near Thane falls on the outskirts of Bombay where there are some industrial establishments. The region is called the Trans-Thane Extension, and has a variety of small-scale factories, apart from chemical-steel factories, godowns of Amazon, Flipkart, courier services, etc. Many small clothing concerns have been operating here for a long time.
It is noteworthy that the demand for the return home of so many workers is a sign of the end of most small businesses and temporary jobs. Those who gathered to go home might have been expecting some relief from the government, but there was no relief even before the second lockdown.
Right after the workers gathered in Bombay, textile workers of Surat’s Vrachha area sat at the road junction, with the demand that they be allowed to go home. About 5-6 hundred workers sat on the road, and they demanded that they be allowed to go home. The policemen spoke with them and urged them to return to their rooms.
It is estimated that about 12 lakh workers have come from outside to work in Surat. Working with NGOs and civil society, the administration has been successful only in providing food to about 6 lakh labourers. Policemen say that things are holding on talks till now, but the situation is likely to deteriorate even before the end of lockdown and will not remain in their control. A policeman also asked that if the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh allowed the workers to pass through their state and return home, why could the Gujarat Chief Minister not do so?
Workers from Delhi and Madurai (Tamil Nadu)
Three shelters run by the Delhi government located near Kashmere Gate near the heart of Delhi were burnt by the workers residing there. Built in the shape of factories, these huge shelters became centres for disciplining hundreds of migrant workers. Due to the misbehavior of the staff, a worker jumped into the Yamuna river and committed suicide, after which the workers clashed with the staff and pelted stones at the police. After this, the workers burned down the shelter home, and four of the staff had to save their lives by jumping into the Yamuna River.
Daily wage, contract, and factory workers gathered in Yagappa Nagar, Madurai. Yagappa Nagar is a workers’ colony, and at the same time the government has declared it a Containment Zone. On April 11, the workers here gathered by the barricades, saying that they will no longer be be able to continue living inside. The police remained stationed, appealing to the workers to return to their rooms.
11th April, 2020
Workers at Surat
Only the First Whistles in the Simmering Cooker of Working Class Revolt, the Lentils are Still Cooking
On the second day of nationwide lockdown – 24th March – there was a clash with the police of workers in Vadod area of Surat, in which more than one thousand – 1,000 – workers were seemingly involved. Last night, 10th April, in Surat’s Laksana area, groups of workers again took to the streets, attacked and burned vehicles, and threw stones at the police when they came to apprehend them. Panic in the media. TV news anchors otherwise used to twist narratives and lie through their teeth could not contain the truth – workers are revolting. The next morning the government deployed Rapid Action Force in the region, police arrested around 60-70 people.
The media is trying to spin this predicament in some way, but has failed – the demands of the workers are not being met, the workers are protesting, but see how they protest! Pelting stones, setting fire, social distancing broken! Lockdowns are breaking! The media are accusing the workers of not understanding the intensity of the epidemic, that they should stay in the room and stay calm after eating the food given by NGOs and civil society. There is no point in these allegations. In response, the workers practice social solidarity, unable to practice physical distancing.
Workers are saying – physical distance has gone to the dogs anyway. They live in closely adjoining rooms, use shared kitchens-bathrooms-taps, and stand in long lines to eat. Now who are these people who are teaching them physical distancing lessons? The intention of those who give food is fine, but the food is tasteless. The owners of the companies are refusing to pay the wages for the time on and off work. Police has stopped the movement of people. Millions of laborers from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha work in the textile, diamond, and construction businesses of Surat.
The steps of the workers show that the social distance and the lockdown scheme that the governments have foisted is useless for the working class. They say that for the people to not die of disease, the governments and the rich have left them in the grip of hunger and desperation. Governments have banned the movement of people. Actually there is another truth hidden behind it which the media and experts are afraid to say.
The diamond trade has been on the wane for a long time. This is not a new thing. In times of global recession, the demand for diamonds and gems has fallen since a while. The diamond industry and workers engaged in it have been experiencing this for a long time. No wage-hikes, no bonuses, or low bonuses – these have been the experiences of the last few years. The slope of the diamond industry has been getting steeper for some years. At the same time, the demand for ready-made garmets has also decreased due to the global recession. This has also reduced demand for textile and thread. Companies are finding it difficult to pay salaries to workers, and so have failed the government’s orders to them to pay the workers even for the duration of the lockdown. The same is the case with the construction business, which has been going through a massive recession for at least the last 6-7 years. Companies are unable to run. Cannot repay the loan installments. Banks are going bankrupt.
In this case, the coronavirus epidemic has become a great excuse for governments and companies to cover up their social decline.
• Stop the workers from meeting, gathering together.
• Create fear in the workers.
• Make workers sit at home and away from factories.
• Avoidance of companies and institutions if they do not fulfill their responsibilities.
In the time of recession, workers have already understood how the governments and the wealthier sections are using the pandemic as an excuse to hide their own weaknesses. On the one hand governments-companies-experts-rich people are denying sociality to the mass of society, whereas on the other hand, the workers are practicing basic human sociability in defying the curfew. You cannot merely sit out the pandemic at home; better conditions for care and treatment need to be created. The workers are taking big steps to push towards such favorable conditions.
1st April, 2020
Nearly 19,000 workers who operate around 4,700 ambulances in Uttar Pradesh have been gone on strike claiming that they haven’t been paid salaries for the past 2 months, nor have they been given protective gear while at work. They struck work for two days. The UP government officials spoke with the association head and assured them that they would be given their dues as well as protective gear soon. The ambulance services have since restarted. The official also observed that it is illegal to strike in emergency situations like this.