A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 16, No. 19, 30 APRIL – 06 MAY 2013
Working Class Struggles: Defying Assassination and Repression
May Day commemorates the historic struggles for workers' rights and the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs of 1886. In May 2013, the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs continues to be most relevant and alive with meaning – as India's workers fight courageous battles defying repression and assassination in different parts of the country. To commemorate May Day 2013, we begin by revisiting the memory of the Haymarket Martyrs. We also pay tribute to Com. Gangaram Koal, AICCTU tea garden leader martyred in Assam on 25 March 2013, and bring you updates on workers' struggles in the Delhi-NCR region, especially the NOIDA workers who have been arrested during the All-India Strike and have since been in jail.
May Day and the Haymarket Martyrs
W.T. Whitney, Jr.
The following account was written for and distributed at a May Day event in Maine, USA. The translations from the Spanish are by W.T. Whitney, Jr. Courtesy http://www.laborstandard.org/Vol1No3/MayDay.htm
On May 1, 1886, Albert Parsons, head of the Chicago Knights of Labor in the USA, led 80,000 people through the city's streets in support of the eight-hour day. In the next few days they were joined nationwide by 350,000 workers who went on strike at 1,200 factories, including 70,000 in Chicago.
On May 3, August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers Newspaper), spoke at a meeting of 6,000 workers, and afterwards many of them moved down the street to harass scabs (strike-breakers) at the McCormick plant. The police arrived, opened fire, and killed four people, wounding many more.
On May 4, Spies, Parsons, and Samuel Fielden were speaking at a rally of 2,500 people held to protest the police massacre when 180 police officers arrived, led by the Chicago police chief. While he was calling for the meeting to disperse a bomb exploded, killing one policeman. The police retaliated, killing seven of their own in the crossfire, plus four others; almost two hundred were wounded. The identity of the bomb thrower remains unknown.
On June 21, 1886, eight labor leaders, including Spies, Fielden, and Parsons went on trial, charged with responsibility for the bombing. The trial was rife with lies and contradictions, and the state prosecutor appealed to the jury: "convict these men, make an example of them, hang them, and you save our institutions."
Even though only two were present at the time of the bombing (Parsons had gone to a nearby tavern), seven were sentenced to die, one to fifteen years imprisonment. The Chicago bar condemned the trial, and several years later Governor John P. Altgeld pardoned all eight, releasing the three survivors (two of them had had their sentences reduced from hanging to life imprisonment).
On November 11, 1886, four anarchist leaders were hanged; Louis Lingg had committed suicide hours before. Two hundred thousand people took part in the funeral procession, either lining the streets or marching behind the hearses.
Unfortunately, the events surrounding the execution of the Haymarket martyrs fueled the stereotype of radical activists as alien and violent, thereby contributing to ongoing repression.
Over the years the remains of many deceased or martyred radicals, among them Emma Goldman, Bill Hayward, and Joe Hill, were deposited at the Haymarket Monument in Chicago, where seven of the eight men on trial lie buried. Ever since that time, in almost every country except one (ironically, the USA) May 1 has been honored as International Workers Day.
The internationalization of the Haymarket legacy was apparent two days after the hangings when José Martí, leader of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain, who was then living in exile in New York, wrote a detailed, emotion-filled report of the events leading up to the executions. Full of analysis, his article entitled "A Terrible Drama" appeared on January 1, 1888, in the Argentine paper La Nación, published in Buenos Aires. Early on in his piece he notes:
"Frightened by the growing power of the plain people, by the sudden coming together of the working masses (previously held back by the rivalries of their leaders), by the demarcation of two classes within the population — the privileged and the discontented (the latter a thorn in the side of European high society) — the republic determined to defend itself with a tacit covenant, a complicity whereby criminal action is triggered by the authorities' misdeeds as much as by the fanaticism of the accused, in order to use their example to terrify — not by means of pain directly visited upon the rabble, but by the fearsome revival of the hangman's hood."
At the end of his long article José Martí quoted from the Arbeiter-Zeitung issued on the day of the executions:
"We have lost a battle, unhappy friends, but we will see in the end an ordered world that conforms to justice: we will be wise like the serpent and quiet like the dove."
In our own time the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano has commented on "A Terrible Drama" (in his Memories of Fire, vol. II):
"The scaffold awaited them. They were five, but Lingg got up early for death, exploding a dynamite cap between his teeth. Fischer was seen unhurriedly humming the 'Marseillaise.' Parsons, the agitator who used the word like a whip or a knife, grasps the hands of his comrades before the guards tie his own behind his back. Engel, famous for his sharp wit, asks for port wine and then makes them all laugh with a joke. Spies, who so often wrote about anarchism as the entrance into life, prepares himself in silence to enter into death.
"The spectators in the orchestra of the theater fix their view on the scaffold — a sign, a noise, the trap door gives way, now they die, in a horrible dance, twisting in the air. [Here he quotes Martí.]
"José Martí wrote the story of the execution of the anarchists in Chicago. The working class of the world will bring them back to life every first of May. That was still unknown, but Martí always writes as if he is listening for the cry of a newborn where it is least expected."
Repression on Workers Continues in NOIDA
"We might as well commit suicide – we cannot be assured of a daily meal since my husband was jailed" – Shakeel's wife says in a distressed phone call to CPI(ML) activists in Delhi. She and her children have been surviving with the help of funds collected from other workers' families by the AICCTU and CPI(ML).
Shakeel, a member of Delhi Street Vendors' Union affiliated to the AICCTU, lives in Mayur Vihar Phase-1 Delhi. He is a migrant worker from Bihar. On the morning of 21st of February, he had gone to the AICCTU's Sector 10 office to help the NOIDA comrades prepare for a small procession on the second day of the Strike. In his pocket, he had Rs 40,000 that he had taken from someone for his daughter's marriage. That morning, a large posse of police officers had descended on the office, accompanied by the media; had arrested all those in the office, and had announced to the media that they had nabbed the culprits responsible for arson and looting in NOIDA Sector 20 (Phase-II) the previous day.
Another worker arrested that morning was Gauri Shankar Pal, also a migrant worker from Bihar, who is a street vendor selling boiled eggs in Khora Colony, Ghaziabad, just 1 Km. away from the AICCTU's Delhi-NCR office branch in Sector 10, NOIDA. Gauri Shankar is the only earning member of his family, and his family is in great hardship ever since he has been in jail.
Ajoy Kumar Singh works in a factory far from NOIDA Phase-II. He has two small children (aged 1 and a half and 6 yrs.) Since he has been jailed, there no one to support his family. His wife, Poonam, is now taken up a job as a domestic worker to survive, leaving her two kids behind while at work.
CPI(ML)'s Delhi State Committee member Shyam Kishore Yadav was also arrested on that day. Shyam Kishore is just recovering from a serious accident in which his hip bones were fractured; even now, he has trouble walking. His brother Hareram, also a CPI(ML) activist, is also in jail. Hareram suffers from TB; with the TB treatment being interrupted in jail, his health has deteriorated.
Workers in NOIDA are being punished for the remarkable success of the all-India Strike, with their democratic rights under an all-out assault by the police and administration, under pressure from the industrialists' lobby. In NOIDA, workers were picked up by police from trade union offices, homes, streets. Trade Union members all over NOIDA were targeted, while innocent workers were also picked up at random. The arrested workers have remained in jail ever since. They were denied bail in the Sessions Court, in spite of the fact that the FIRs against them are blatantly, obviously false.
In the FIR that named Shyamkishor Yadav, the SHO of Sector 20 police station stated that she and her team were on a raid when they received information that a group of people were gathering to protest. On reaching the spot, they found 34 people, whom they instantly recognised as the ones responsible for the arson and looting carried out the previous day. She further stated that they arrested all of them, and that their families would be duly informed of their arrest. She took care to add that the guidelines laid down by the honourable Supreme Court were followed to ensure that there were no human rights violations, and those arrested had no complaints against the police! The Sessions Judge asked the police how they could claim to recognize so many people: she quizzed them on whether the men's faces were towards them all the time during the violence on February 20th? The police claimed they had a video clipping of the violence that took place on February 20th. The counsel for the AICCTU members asked to see the video footage with the Judge, and also provided photographs of the AICCTU members to match with the faces of people in the video. We did this, knowing full well that there was no way any of these men were anywhere near the spot where the violence took place on the 20th February. However, the video was not shown to us – it was seen by the Judge in her Chambers, accompanied by the police. Subsequently, the Additional Sessions Judge passed an order denying bail. That order states that the accused causes crores of rupees of property to be destroyed in 200 factories; that they set fire to vehicles and factories; and that the police arrested the workers having recognised them in the video clipping! The bail rejection order states that "the accused have indulged in anti-people activity and have caused damage to public property." In a blatantly biased and illegal way, the bail rejection order deems the accused to be guilty even before the trial has been held – on the basis of a video clipping which would in fact go to prove the innocence of these workers!
As we go to press (22 April), just a couple of the arrested workers have got bail. There is a virtual emergency in place in NOIDA in the working class localities, and there is palpable fear in working class settlements. On 20 April, some students from Delhi and the CPI(ML)'s Delhi State Secretary went to NOIDA to campaign for a Convention to be held in Delhi on the 23rd April and for a March to the NOIDA DM's office on the 25th April. When they reached the AICCTU office in Sector 10, they were told that the SHO of the Sector 20 Police Station herself had come with her team and sat near the office for a long time, warning workers that there would be more arrests if they distributed any leaflets or campaigned in any way! I made a call to the NOIDA SSP to ask him about this intimidation by the police. 'Why are people being prevented from distributing leaflets,' I asked. He replied, "What is the content of the leaflet? Is there anything against police or factory owners?" It has, then, become the job of the police to enforce a gag order on any criticism of factory owners or police by workers and trade unions!
In Uttar Pradesh with Akhilesh Yadav as CM, it is interesting to reflect on the role of the police. The police does not so much as lift a baton against the Samajwadi Party-backed mobs of the dominant community who have repeatedly assaulted the Dalits of Ramgarh village in Dadri (Greater NOIDA). Likewise, they watch benignly as communal mobs repeatedly attack minorities. But when a 10-year old Dalit girl complains of gang-rape by Rajput criminals, the police in Bulandshahr was quick to confine her over night in the police lock-up, separated from her mother! In Aligarh, the police refused to register an FIR when a little girl went missing. When her raped and murdered body was found the next day, her parents protested – and the police was caught on camera brutally hitting the grieving family and knocking one old lady to the ground. And in NOIDA, the police has arrested workers wholesale, without bothering to investigate the events of February 20. So, the police that won't raise a finger against perpetrators of dalit atrocities, communal violence or rape, is quick to beat up protestors and arrest innocent workers.
The NOIDA police's motto is 'Always Alert and Serving People'. Given the way it is arresting innocent workers and terrorizing unions, it should be 'Always Anti-People, Serving Corporations'.
April 25: March to Noida
Hundreds of workers, youths, students, women, trade union activists and CPI(ML) members marched in Noida and held a protest demonstration at the Noida DM's office shouting slogans decrying the terror witch-hunt against the workers and trade union leaders after the successful two-day national general strike of 20-21 February, 2013, demanding immediate and unconditional release of all the jailed workers, and strict action against all the officials who have led this blatant and unlawful mass arrest of workers and trade union leaders aimed at threatening the working class of NCR region against any form of protest against capitalist exploitation, at the behest of industrialist lobby.
Ever since the national general strike in February, the Noida administration has been persistently going after workers to subdue and suppress any grievance the working class has against its intense exploitation and utterly terrible working and living conditions. There has been a really palpable sense of fear among the workers in Noida and the April 25 call to protest right at the DM's office was meant to clear the atmosphere of terror and arouse confidence amongst the workers, which the programme certainly did. After the protest demonstration a memorandum was also handed over.
The march was led by Party's Delhi State Secretary Comrade Sanjay Sharma and AICCTU leaders apart from youth and student leaders. Several leaders made speeches at the protest venue calling upon working class solidarity to defend workers' rights and livelihood and resist and repel every form of repression being carried out by capital and a complicit government and administration.
Nationwide Protest Programmes by AIPWA against Rapes and Assaults on Women
The All-India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) held protest programmes at several places across the Country on 22nd April to condemn spiralling incidents of rapes and assaults on women and to demand concrete action for urgently saving children and women from becoming brutal victims of these crimes being committed with greater impunity.
At the time of going to press, reports of programmes have come only from few places; rest will be published in the next issue. In Vijaywada a human chain was formed that blockaded traffic for an hour and an effigy was burnt. Similar programmes with effigy burning were held at several districts in Andhra Pradesh including Vissanapeta of Krishna district, Ananthpur town, and Kakinada, Prathipadu, Yeleswaram in East Godavari district. AIPWA leaders led and addressed the protest demonstrartions.
As Unions Around the World Prepared to Commemorate The International May Day, Hundreds of Bangladeshi Garment workers Died in Factory Collapse
As Many as 1,000 Workers May Have Been Killed
There are fears as many as 1,000 people may have died in a building collapse that is now Bangladesh's worst ever industrial accident. At least 377 people, mainly female workers, are confirmed to have died, and more than 1,000 were injured, when the Rana Plaza factory building in Savar, that housed several garment units with over 3000 workers, collapsed on Wednesday, 24 April. Hundreds of people are still missing. Rescuers are still crawling through the rubble, hoping to find anyone who has managed to survive so long, but nearly all the people being carried out now are dead.
The disaster sparked a mass rally by garment workers, who clashed with police. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the angry crowds as the workers, some armed with bamboo sticks, blockaded roads and attacked factories in the textile hub of Gazipur. Rescuers said at least half of those still inside the collapsed building were women and children, and the building also housed a crèche on its 7th floor.
Survivors said the building developed visible cracks on Tuesday evening, but factory bosses had demanded staff return to the production lines despite a police evacuation order. "We were working inside the building when it collapsed," one survivor said. "I was still working, I could not understand what happened, my co-worker told me why are you sitting here? Run run. Before I could reach the exit the building collapsed." The collapse of the multi-storey building is the worst industrial accident in the country's history and the latest in a spate of tragedies in the "Made in Bangladesh" clothing sector.
During the long search, the owner Rana was missing. Local media reported he left his basement office in Rana Plaza just before the collapse, drove away and dropped from sight. He was arrested Sunday as he tried to cross the border into India. For years, though, Rana had sat at the nexus of party politics and the powerful $20 billion garment industry that drives the economy of this deeply impoverished nation.
While Rana is currently a leader of the youth group of the ruling Awami League, he has also worked for that party's archrival, the Bangladesh National Party. This intersection of politics and business, combined with a minimum wage of $9.50 a week that has made Bangladesh the go-to nation for many of the world's largest clothing brands, has made dangerous factory conditions almost normal.
Labour activists had called for improved safety standards after a November 2012 garment factory fire in the same suburb, when locked emergency exits trapped hundreds of workers inside and 112 people died. But almost nothing has changed.
The largest factory in the stricken complex, New Wave Style, lists international retailers such as Benetton among its clients. British low-cost fashion line Primark and Spanish giant Mango have so far acknowledged having products made in the collapsed factory bloc, while a host of brands including Wal-Mart and France's Carrefour are investigating.
Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi workers walked out of their factories in solidarity with their dead colleagues on Thursday as flags flew at half mast and a national day of mourning was held.
The National Garment Workers' Federation called on major international buyers to be held to account. "This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments and factory owners took workers' protection seriously," NGWF president Amirul Haque Amin said in a statement.
Around 4,500 Bangladeshi factories produce clothes for many of the world's major brands, employing 4 million workers and generating 80 per cent of Bangladesh's $US24 billion annual exports, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter behind China with wages as low as $37 a month for some workers toiling for 10 to 15 hours a day, in unsanitary and unsafe working conditions.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: email@example.com, website: www.cpiml.org