The huge almond processing industry of Delhi witnessed a major strike of workers which began on December 15, 2009. Karawal Nagar, where the thousands of subcontract workers live and work, was witness to mass protests and rallies of workers, including women workers, braving the terror of the contractors as well as the terror of the police.
30,000 almond workers’ families went on strike at the call of the Badaam Mazdoor Union (BMU). Workers told Mazdoor Ekta Lehar that on the morning of December 17, the contractors and their armed goons attacked a peaceful procession of women workers, injuring three BMU activists and several workers. In self-defense, workers started pelting stones on the goons. Police kept the injured, bleeding BMU activists in the Police Station, without providing them any kind of medical assistance. Police in league with the subcontractors arrested the Union leaders and sent them to Tihar Jail. These leaders were released on bail on the night of December 19. Not even a single case was registered against the goons of the subcontractors. The contractors and owners had calculated that with the arrest of the top BMU leaders, the strike will disintegrate. But, contrary to their expectations, the arrest of BMU leaders, rather than shaking the courage and confidence of workers instilled in them an indomitable resolve to fight till the end. The 20 percent of workers, who had not joined the strike, joined it on the night of December 19.
After the release of the leaders, workers warmly welcomed them and organized a massive rally on the morning of December 20 in the whole western Karawal Nagar. Almost 2000 workers participated in the rally, the majority being women workers. During the rally, workers raised various slogans against the contractors, Police, capitalism, etc. The people of Karawal Nagar supported the demands of the workers. It was the biggest workers’ rally in the history of Karawal Nagar. The workers demonstrated their militant unity with this rally and re-emphasized their resolve to continue the struggle till their demands are met.
The strike caused the almond processing industry of Delhi to come to a halt. Thousands of unprocessed almond bags remained in the godowns of the contractors. The strike was organized on the eve of Christmas and New Year, when there is a special demand for almonds internationally It is noteworthy that the almond that is processed in Delhi comes from companies of the US, Australia and Canada and a number of European countries. These companies, in order to exploit the cheap labour of India and maximize their profits, send their almonds for processing to the big businessmen of Khari Bawli of Delhi, which is the largest dry fruit market of Asia. These big businessmen give this work of processing on sub-contracting to the contractors of Karawal Nagar, who violate all labour laws and exploit the workers cruelly. The workers on strike are demanding that the contractors pay them according to the labour laws, as well as ensure other rights. For example, the piece rate, that is the per bag processing rate, should be fixed according to the law on minimum wages; the workers should be given double overtime payment; they should be provided with identity cards and job cards; and the due payment should be made in the first week of the month; abuse of workers should be stopped immediately by the contractors. The almond workers formed their Badaam Mazdoor Union last year and since then they have successfully fought on a number of issues.
The Convener of the Union said amongst other things, “. Strike is our weapon. We’ll continue the strike till all our demands are met.”
An activist of the Union said “It is for the first time that the workers have organized themselves in such huge numbers. We have witnessed strikes in the past too, however, then the workers of U.P., Bihar and Uttaranchal failed to come together and the strikes failed. It is for the first time ….that the workers have organized themselves across the divides of caste, gotra and region, with their class interests in command.” He declared confidently that no terror, no state violence can defeat the workers resolve.