May Day in Coimbatore: Pricol Workers Struggle Continues 

- Bhuvana

May Day in Coimbatore this year was celebrated with a Rally of workers from all over Tamilnadu, in the wake of the spirited struggle of Pricol factory workers that is ongoing (see Liberation May 2007). Permission for AICCTU’s Rally was initially denied. Only after pressure was put on the Labor Minister was it cleared. AICCTU May Day Rally
Around 8500 workers, from various parts of TN participated in the rally. Pricol workers and their relatives formed the majority of the participants. TN AIALA also participated in the rally. The rally went through the busy roads of Coimbatore for 3 hours and ended with an impressive public meeting addressed by AICCTU leader Comrade Kumaraswami and CPI(ML) CCM Comrade Balasundaram. the entire Rally served as a notice of intensification of the Procol workers’ struggle, defying the repressive tactics of the management and State Government. 
The Factory
Pricol Ltd of Coimbatore manufactures speedometers, fuel gauge meters, disk breaks, speedo cables and other accessories. It supplies to original equipment manufacturers like TVS, Bajaj, Hero Honda, Kirlosker, Mahindra &Mahindra, Maruthi, Hyundai, Ford, and factories in Italy, Germany, and Japan. It also contributes to Defence Tank making. It has 3 unit in Coimbatore, one in Gurgaon, one in Pune and one in Uttaranchal. It has 1 fully owned subsidiary in Indonesia. It is planning to set up a unit in Iran. The 33-year-old factory owned by the Vijay Mohan Family that owns a few hundred acres of land and it is making a serious bid to join the billion-dollar club.
Pricol Plant 1 and Plant 3 and Plant 4 are in Coimbatore. Pricol has more than 15 ancillary units, which function in the name of Satellite Vendor Units (SVU). They produce for Pricol, are controlled by Pricol.
Work force
More than 5000 workers including 850 women workers are employed in the main plants in Coimbatore and in the SVUs. There are ‘Other Contract Laborers’ (OCL) working in all its Plants. Workers in SVUs are contract workers and many of them are working without being regularized for more than 20 years. Workers on the roll of SVUs are also deployed in the main plants, but are not entitled for pay and other benefits of the permanent workers. Permanent workers of the main plants are deployed in the SVUs as a measure of punishment. Workers of SVUs and OCLs outnumber permanent workers.
The Struggle Today
On 13th March the union moved the High Court to issue a Writ of Mandamus to the government to invoke section 10B of the ID Act, which would allow the Government to intervene in the interests of the workers. This was admitted and notice ordered. Though the Union secured an interim stay on the government order prohibiting the continuation of the strike, the management too got an interim stay on the ban on lockouts.
Subsequently the struggle forced the government to prepare a draft order invoking 10 B of ID Act, 1947, but the Labor Minister kept it in abeyance as there was pressure from ‘above’.
Capitalism attempts to raise artificial walls between the workers and divide them as permanent workers, casual workers, contract workers, ancillary unit workers, etc and thus tries to keep the wage rates low and profit rates high. But Pricol workers have forged unity and formed one single union.  This resulting numerical strength has made the struggle of the Pricol workers a social issue, forcing the government to intervene within 35 days of the strike, which has not happened before in Coimbatore when there were strikes earlier by the textile industry workers.

Solidarity for the struggle

·       Atleast 200 outsiders attend the GB meetings of the Pricol workers. In the roadblock more than 100 workers of other factories participated and courted arrest.
·       On 11 March, Chennai saw an impressive rally of the workers. From Coimbatore 2400 Pricol workers came to Chennai in five different trains, even after knowing that a GO not favoring the strike has been passed.  Many hundreds from Chennai joined the rally. A convention was held in the evening in a very big hall and it could not accommodate all workers of Chennai and Coimbatore who had come to the convention. The convention demanded the government to intervene under section 10 B of ID Act 1947. 2400 employees coming from outside Chennai from a single factory, for a program in Chennai, is unprecedented. The workers of Hyundai, Ashok Leyland, MRF, Eveready, Carborandum, TIDC, contributed enthusiastically for the success of the program.
·       On 01.04.07, workers from Solidarity Forum, Tiruvottiyur met the striking workers in a GB along with Com.A.S.Kumar, State Deputy General Secretary, AICCTU. Workers from Hyundai contributed a sum of Rs.30, 000 for the struggle.
·       On 07.04.07, CPI ML of Pudukottai district organized a protest demonstration condemning the police attack on the striking workers and the public. On 19.04.07, AICCTU organized solidarity demonstration all over the state.
·       Coimbatore PUCL sent a fact-finding team to the areas of where police unleashed lathi charge and demanded CBI probe into the incident.
·       Law college students organized a hunger strike on 04.04.07 in Perianayackenpalayam.
·       Workers Federation organized a hunger strike in solidarity.
·       6000 telegrams were sent to the CM of TN demanding implementation of 10 B from Coimbatore and Chennai.
·           Public and workers of Coimbatore have so far contributed to the tune of Rs. 5 lakhs for the struggle.

Hue and Cry for ‘Industrial Peace’

·       Manufacturers’ associations of Coimbatore issued a joint statement, which states that, new methods (permanent and contract and casual workers waging united struggle) are adopted in this struggle, which are against industry in Coimbatore and that, this will affect the industry and employment opportunities coming to Coimbatore.
·       CITU, AITUC, INTUC, LPF unions functioning in Pricol issued a press statement along with the management and stated that the struggle will only weaken the workers. AITUC also issued pamphlet saying that AICCTU is fond of closures and a struggle under its leadership will only lead to closure.

·        Dinamani, a Tamil Daily, asked the Left Central TUs that they protest when there is lathi charge in far away Gurgaon and why they are silent about the lathi charge on Pricol workers and the public right straight before their eyes. Jansakthi, Tamil Daily of CPI and Theekathir, Tamil daily of CPI M have not published a single line on this historic struggle as yet.

The Issues

Pricol workers have a salary slip which does not have dearness allowance. In the last wage agreement drawn for 5 years, there was an increase of Rs.100 to 150 per year. Workers feel that their salary is very low as compared with their high productivity rate. Activities of the management such as building temple, bridge, burial ground, cleaning polluted river, etc. are done in the name of the factory from out of the funds of the workers deducted without their consent
The workers have to work for eight hours, their regular duty hours, and 4 hours compulsory overtime everyday. All these 12 hours both women and men workers have to stand and work as standing and working ensure more production. Women workers, during their pregnancy and menstrual period are not spared of this ordeal. 30% of women workers had to remove their uterus. Many workers have lost their fingers and according to Pricol management, accidents occur only out of carelessness of the workers. Time study is conducted for fixing norms, which does not take into account the time for motion, as a result of which; the workers have to compete with the speed of the machine to fulfill the norms.
The management, particularly the managing director, has a feudal approach. Workers are subjected to humiliation in the name of discipline. A medical insurance scheme was forced on the workers, which are not beneficial to the workers, and they have paid around Rs 8, 000 as premium to the scheme. The workers were forced to buy shares of a company started by the management for Rs.10, 000 and the sum was deducted from the salary and bonus of the workers without their consent.

Any complaint made to the HR officials is dealt with a one liner: the factory gates are opened and you can always go out. All that accumulated anger was released when there was a transfer order which is nothing but victimization for forming a new union.