India: Power Loom Worker's Strike Back in Punjab State

On 3rd October, striking Power Loom workers from various areas of Ludhiana gathered to demonstrate in front of the Labour Department offices for a second time to increase the pressure on local officials to get their demands met. This was the 12th day of the workers’ struggle to get a pay increase to offset the recent rises in inflation and to have labour laws enforced that are part of the Indian constitution. These have yet to be accepted by the employers who are trying their best in order to ignore the plight of the workers.

The strike started on the 22nd September when workers from 85 factories demanded an increase in wages, the regularisation of jobs and an implementation of labour laws like identity cards, ESI cards, muster-roll, holidays, etc. The workers did not take the decision to go on strike lightly but this was precipitated by the refusal of factory owners and the Labour Department to even open up a discussion with the workers about these demands. After the workers were ignored they had no choice but to prove that they were serious by coming out with this action. The strike has since swelled in number, gaining momentum with workers from a further 67 factories coming out meaning that more than 2500 workers from 152 factories are now involved in this struggle.

This is not the first time that the Textile workers have had to strike to improve their living standards. Last September workers from 46 factories came out on strike for 15 days demanding a pay increase of 22%. Despite the increasing profits that the Mill Owners have made over the previous years the workers had not had an increase in their wages for 12 years. On top of the increasing prices of commodities and food this translated into an actual fall in real wages and is one example of many, of what the rapid growth in the Indian economy over the last 20 years really means for the living standards of ordinary workers across the country. The working class is being squeezed in order to increase the profits of the owners. The workers, through the spreading of their struggle and through not backing down, were able to force a 12% wage increase out of the employers and an agreement that the factory owners would implement rules for health and safety, overtime pay and holiday, rules which are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

We have to understand just what the profit of these Mill Owners represents. It is the unpaid labour of the workers. It represents the wealth that they have created but because they do not own the means of production they are obliged to fight for a few crumbs from the creaking table. Under capitalism the workers will never get a fair deal. They can only fight and fight and fight to gain a little bit extra, firm in the knowledge that the bosses will only give this up when they are forced to and that any reforms that are won through brutal struggle will only be rolled back at the first opportunity. The only way to end the exploitation of the workers is with the complete overthrow of the current system, with the socialist transformation of society, with the means of production being nationalised under workers’ control and for the working class to take power.

During last year’s strike, on the 28th September, the 103rd anniversary of the birthday of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajwinder, leader of the Karkharna Mazdoor Union (KMU) said, "that comrade Bhagat Singh’s dreams are still incomplete. It is now the responsibility of today’s workers to carry forward his visions for the new India." He also said that, "workers still live like slaves in today’s independent India." He was absolutely right. The fight of Bhagat Singh, the fight for the socialist transformation of society is still incomplete and workers today are still wage-slaves being exploited by the bosses and factory owners. But after many long years of struggle the great Indian working class is beginning to shake off its long sleep.

From the struggles of the West Bengali workers against state repression, the struggles of the Maruti Suzuki workers in Manesar and now the struggle of the Power Loom workers of Ludhiana and countless other battles that are igniting throughout the country, the Indian proletariat is rousing from a deep slumber and coming once again to the realisation that the tasks of the Indian revolution have not yet even begun. In 1947 India was "freed" from British rule, but this was an illusory freedom in which the masses of India were still enslaved, being exploited by foreign investors and their local imperialist stooges. This was a capitalist freedom, a freedom to be exploited on the same basis as before only by different means. It is as Karl Liebknecht described it, "the freedom of free wolves living alongside free lambs."

Last year’s struggle lead to a great victory for the workers, who got to see for the first time the strength that they have when they fight together, along with the solidarity that was shown by their fellow workers. The struggle also allowed them to build the Karkharna Mazdoor Union (KMU) and to temper it in battle with the bosses so that in the future they are able to defend the gains that they have made. But even these meagre gains have been rolled back and the workers once again are being forced into struggle. With the slowing down of the Indian economy and the continual increases in inflation making it more and more difficult to afford the basic necessities of life, the workers have already seen the gains that were made last year rolled back; not by decisions of the Mill Owners but by developments in the economy. The agreement of the Owners to implement the labour laws was ignored.

This strike is not an isolated struggle but is an example of the underlying pressure building up within Indian society slowly bursting to the surface.

Workers represented by the Textile Mazdoor Union, also involved in this strike, have already passed a motion in solidarity of the Maruti Suzuki workers in Manesar who have been fighting against management since 29th August and condemning the illegal lockout of the factory, demanding that the demands of the workers be met. They have also passed a motion condemning the cane-charge used on protesting female “Multi Purpose health workers” by the police in Punjab. More of this solidarity action will be needed and these struggles will have to be linked up. The working class of India is under attack across the board, with the bourgeois politicians unable to offer any solution to the crisis within Indian society. The working class will be forced time and time again to come out under their own independent leadership to try and solve its problems and in this will become more conscious of the tasks that are set before them.

For the Workers to win their victory it will take the strike to be spread as far and as wide as possible among the Textile workers and for solidarity to be shown from all workers around Ludhiana and throughout Punjab offering their support.

  • For all workers in struggle to offer support to one another.
  • Last year’s struggle was met with an outpouring of support from other workers around the surrounding area and the same will be needed again.
  • Full support to the Striking Power Loom Workers!
  • Full support to the victimised Maruti Suzuki Workers!
  • Full support for the struggles of the Indian working class!