Leather industry workers of Tamilnadu have been waging a prolonged struggle for their rights. Over the past few years, the slowdown in export demand, followed by the repeated lockdowns imposed in the name of Covid, resulted in the closure of many leather industry units. In the last year, the slowdown of the economy of European Union (EU) has had a serious impact on the leather industry in Tamilnadu. 50% of the leather exports from Tamilnadu are to the EU countries. Thousands of workers of this industry have lost their jobs in the past few years.
On March 18, leather workers held a militant protest in Vaniyambadi, a large industrial town near Vellore in Tamilnadu. Workers of tanneries, leather goods, footwear companies, including Abu Nasser Tannery and SG Garments participated in the demonstration under the banner of the Tamilnadu Trade Union Center. The Ambur- Vaniyambadi- Tirupattur region in the state of Tamil Nadu is home to more than 700 tanneries, leather and shoe factories that employ 1.5 lakh people directly.
Comrade U Ruben, General Secretary of the Union, led the protest. Comrade Dakshinamurthy, Joint General Secretary of the Union, welcomed the workers. Representatives of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam (Mazdoor Ekta Committee), Makkal Thamizgham Katchi, Marxiya Periyariya Pothuvudamai Katchi, Tamil Desa Irayanmai, Wek India (WITS) Workers’ Union-Hosur and Two Wheeler Bike Repairers Sangam also participated in the agitation and spoke.
In his speech, Comrade Ruben pointed out that due to the worldwide economic crisis of capitalism and greed of the capitalists, workers are bady affected. Capitalists with the support of the central government are cunningly using the Companies Act 2013, the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code 2016 and the SARFAESI Act 2002 to deny the workers even their terminal benefits after their long years of service for the capitalists. These laws give priority to companies, financial institutions and banks over workers’ dues, in settling their liabilities. Workers are thus cheated in broad daylight and thrown empty handed on the streets.
TAW Footwear Company was finally closed by end of 2019, throwing out 2300 workers and TAW’s tannery also closed down, throwing out an additional 400 workers. KAR Group’s Florine Shoes closed in 2018, laying off around 3,000 workers. SSC Shoes was closed down in 2012, throwing out 400 workers and closure of SSC Bonaventure Shoes resulted in 1200 workers losing their jobs. 40 workers have lost their jobs since 2019 from Abu Nasser Tannery in Vaniyambadi. A total of 100 workers, including 40 workers from Tamil Nadu and 60 workers from North-Eastern states, have lost their jobs in SG Garments from 2021.
Thus, KAR Group, SSC Group, TAW Group in Ambur and Abu Nasser, SG Garments in Vaniyambadi and countless other industrial companies have thrown out thousands of workers without providing them with terminal benefits and compensation as per law. They are cheating the workers with the full connivance of the government.
Men and women working in these companies took part in the protest and raised slogans demanding immediate payment of the dues of the workers who have been retrenched. Speakers from various organisations addressed the protestors. They pointed out how the capitalist class, with the support of the state, cheats the workers of their dues. The capitalists declare that the company is going bankrupt, justify its closure by showing that it is “loss-making” and then divert the capital to other profit making sectors. Speakers emphasized the need for workers to unite further and build and strengthen their fighting organization to win their just demands.
Speakers pointed to the need to wage the struggle for rights with the perspective of establishing the rule of the workers and peasants in place of the rule of the bourgeoisie. They pointed out that the protest was being organised on a day of great historic significance for the working class, the establishment of the Paris Commune. They recalled that on this very day 152 years ago, the workers of Paris, the capital of France, rose up in revolution and established their own rule, overthrowing the capitalist class. They established a new state, in place of the state of the bourgeoisie. Although the Paris Commune lasted only two months, it has taught invaluable lessons to the working class. One of the most important lessons is that the working class cannot establish its own rule by simply taking over the existing state apparatus of the bourgeoisie. It has to establish a new state, and the Paris Commune showed what the features of the new state would be like.
The protest ended in a militant atmosphere. Workers expressed their determination to fight relentlessly against exploitation and oppression, with the goal of establishing the rule of workers and peasants.