Thousands of workers of the multinational company Foxconn in Sri Perambadur, Tamilnadu waged a powerful protest strike on December 17-18. The protest brought traffic on the Chennai Bengaluru Highway to a standstill for more than 18 hours. It forced the Tamilnadu government to promise to take immediate steps to address the long standing grievances of the workers. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar has received a report from the Thozhilar Ottrumai Iyakkam (Workers Unity Movement) on this protest action.
Over 15,000 workers of Foxconn went on a flash strike on the evening of December 17. The majority of the workers were women. They stopped traffic on the busy Chennai-Bengaluru National Highway. Despite the threats of the government to forcibly evict them, the workers stood their ground for more than 18 hours. Only after the Tamilnadu government agreed to address their concerns, did the workers end the blockade of the National Highway, allowing traffic to resume.
Foxconn, based in Sri Perumbadur, Tamilnadu, is a large multinational company. Its headquarters are in Taiwan and it operates in several countries. It manufactures iPhones and mobile phone handsets and accessories for various mobile phone manufacturing companies. It employs over 15 thousand workers – most of them women – on a contract basis and makes huge profits by brutally exploiting them.
The workers are paid extremely low wages. They are forced to stay in small congested rooms in terrible conditions. Sometimes 20 workers are forced to share a room in buildings called “hostels”. The workers are given extremely substandard food in these “hostels”.
Hundreds of workers suffered food poisoning on the evening of December 17 and threw up and had diarrhoea. More than 250 badly affected workers had to be hospitalized. Concerned about the condition of their colleagues lying in the hospitals, thousands of workers struck work and began their protest on the Chennai-Bangalore highway.
The police and adminstration tried to use force to disperse the workers. Workers refused to cow down before the threats of the authorities. They blocked the highway for more than 18 hours, raising slogans such as “Down with Foxconn! Close down Foxconn for exploiting workers!”, etc.
The police arrested many Foxconn workers and other activists, in a bid to disperse the struggle. However, faced with the united resistance of thousands workers, the police was forced to release all those arrested.
This bold protest action of thousands of women workers of Foxconn received overwhelming support and sympathy of workers and activists all over Tamilnadu. Hundreds of trade union, student and youth activists have come out in support of the Foxconn workers. Faced with this growing support from people all across the country, the Tamilnadu government ordered Foxconn to ensure that their hostels were properly organised and provided good quality food to the workers. It has also ordered district collectors to check the existing workers’ hostels to see whether Foxconn and other companies are complying with the quality standards set by the government. The Tamilnadu government also announced that it will build big hostels for workers with good facilities.
The workers of Foxconn have won a partial victory in their struggle. They have to fight to ensure that no worker is victimised for participating in the struggle. They have to safeguard their unity and fight for regularisation of jobs of all contract workers.