Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam (Workers Unity Movement) held a web meeting in the first week of June 2021 on the issues faced by workers in automobile industry in the current pandemic conditions. It was attended by union leaders of Yamaha Motor, Royal Enfield, Ford, Hyundai, and Renault-Nissan companies, besides many workers from different sectors and activists from organisations.
Baskar welcomed all the union leaders and participants on behalf of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam. He gave a presentation on the situation in the automobile industries in the Chennai region, reeling under the dreaded second wave of Covid-19. It detailed the Coronavirus crisis, how the authorities were exposing the workers to great risk during the pandemic and unfulfilled demands of the workers, etc. He then invited all the activists to describe the conditions and demands of workers and the response from the managements, and importantly on their views on how we can take the movement forward.
Among those who spoke were Th Udayakumar, General Secretary of Yamaha Workers Union, Th Selvakumar, Treasurer of Royal Enfield Workers Union, Th S. Suresh, President of Ford Workers Union, Th Moorthi, General Secretary of Renault-Nissan Workers Union, Th Raghavan, President of Makkalatchi Iyakkam (Lok Raj Sangathan), Th Mandaneyan, leader of Workers Union of Global Hospitals, Com Eraniappan, one of the leaders of AICCTU, Th Rajendran, State General Secretary of 108 Ambulance workers Union and Vice president of Government Hospitals’ support workers Union, Th Sedhu Madhavan, Th Manidasan, General Secretary of VHS Hospital and organiser of Thozhilalar Ottrumai Iyakkam, Th Arun Sanjivi, Secretary of Chennai Ford Workers Union, Tmt Chandrika of Thozhilalar Koodam, Th Pal Pondi from the pharma sector, and Th Satish of SRF Employees Union. Over a hundred and fifty people had logged in to the program, listening to the speakers and participating in a disciplined manner.
The speakers described the demands and struggles in their respective companies, some of which were successful and others ongoing. Royal Enfield workers got their management to agree for regular testing and vaccination, and in making about 500 trainees permanent. They also demanded salaries to be paid to families of workers who die due to the pandemic for the next five years. Ford Workers Union president pointed out that the government authorities had consulted only the managements and capitalists about how to run factories during the pandemic but not the workers who were putting their lives at risk by congregating in the workplaces every day! Already, 4 Ford workers had died due to the pandemic. They got the management to agree to provide 2 Lakhs Rupees insurance cover and arrange for 10 beds with oxygen supply for workers and an additional 20 oxygen units for their use. Negotiations for adequate compensation for deceased workers are ongoing. He pointed out that contract workers neither get any compensation nor insurance, hence it is necessary for all to unite as workers and present demands to the government.
General Secretary of Renault-Nissan Workers’ Union described the successful struggle to make their management implement preventive steps; finally, it was agreed to leave a gap after every 3 cars in the conveyor production lines to maintain distance between workers. Union asked management to pay 50 Lakhs Rupees for workers dying in the pandemic in addition to regular insurance pay-outs. He said we should also make workers conscious about taking all necessary steps for safeguarding themselves. Th Raghavan of LRS, while praising this initiative to bring together unions in the automobile industry, said that monopoly houses and their government are using the pandemic to intensify exploitation. Pointing out that workers are a majority in the state but are powerless, he said that LRS has been taking up the question of political power in the hands of people. We need to question the government on labour laws; discuss more about our political rights and how to win them. We should not accept that our political rights stop with casting votes once in a few years.
Th Mandaineyan said that governments have not spent even a fraction of the amount which they spend on armaments for providing healthcare for the people; we must take up our demands on a general basis as political demands to the government, instead of on company levels. Th Eraniappan, of AICCTU mentioned that the though Government has announced full lockdown, they have forced thousands of workers to continue work in the automobile sector by claiming it to be a continuous process one. Vehicle manufacturing is not an essential service! Managements of these industries have got together and dictated to the workers that they cannot have unions of their choice; but it is admirable that the workers of these factories are fighting and doing their best during the deadly pandemic.
Th Rajendran, Vice president of Government Hospitals’ support workers Union pointed out that ambulance services and support workers of government Hospitals are facing serious risks and toiling day and night in the pandemic. Yet, over 20,000 support workers of Government Hospitals and over 6000 of 108 Ambulance workers are kept as contract workers; unable to get justice as the courts and authorities are hand in glove with these managements. To end this situation, we all must unite and fight for our rights and justice. Th Sedhu Madhavan spoke on the legal issues concerning contract workers. Th Manidasan stressed on the need for unity and clear understanding of the legal provisions.
Th Arun Sanjivi, Secretary of Chennai Ford workers Union also pointed out that we who constitute vast majority in society have no role in deciding the policy decisions of the government; hence workers must organise a massive movement cutting across all unions and parties. Tmt Chandrika of Thozhilalar Koodam welcomed the views expressed and stressed the need to build such platforms where workers can interact and exchange their ideas and experiences to bring a qualitative change in society. Th Pal Pondi, after describing the conditions of workers in the pharma industries, said we must not only unite all workers; we should also make all their issues and concerns the foremost priority of society. Th Satish of SRF Employees Union said we need to bring about a militant unity and move towards political struggles. We must continue our efforts in this direction.
In conclusion, Baskar said that all the experiences clearly show the terrible and risky situation that prevails for workers in these factories. Even the little support that has come from management is due to the efforts of our unions. We should bring out a list of common demands of the automobile workers in this Corona period and present them to the Government. We should build and strengthen our unity of all workers in the automobile and other sectors to raise voice for our rights. He thanked everyone for their active participation. “Let us all take this movement forward and build and strengthen working class unity!”