Almond Workers’ Strike: one of the largest unorganized workers’ strikes in Delhi

Abhinav Sinha,
Bigul Mazdoor Dasta

Delhi witnesses one of its largest unorganized workers’ strikes in last 20 years
Strike continues into sixth day despite threats and intimidations by the police and goons of factory owners
Supply to international markets badly hit, Delhi’s almond processing industry paralysed
2000 workers organize a huge warning rally

December 20, Delhi. The huge almond processing industry of Delhi, situated in the Karawal Nagar, continued to be paralysed on consecutive sixth day. As is well known, nearly 30 thousand almond workers’ families went to strike with their families six days ago under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union (BMU). In the meanwhile, 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 due to which 4 of them were injured. However, the Karawal Nagar Police, completely playing in the hands of the employers, unilaterally lodged a case against the Union leaders under section 107 and section 151, and sent them to Tihar Jail. These BMU leaders were released on bail on the night of December 19. The shameless Karawal Nagar Police kept the injured, bleeding BMU activists in the Police Station, without providing them any kind of medical assistance, and doing so intentionally. On the other hand, the real culprits, the hooligans of the contractors were let go by the Police! Not even a single case was registered against them. Even more shameful is the fact that the Police lied to other BMU officials that they were taking the arrested leaders for M.L.C. and a case has been registered against the contractors and their henchmen. The contractors used casteist abuses against dalit workers and dalit BMU activists. And yet, the Police refused to register any case against the contractors and their gundas. The contractors and owners had calculated that with the arrest of the top BMU leaders, the strike will disintegrate. But, contrary to their great 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 workers who had not joined the strike, joined it on the night of 19th December.

After the release of the leaders, workers warmly welcomed them and organized a historical rally on the morning of December 20 in the whole western Karawal Nagar. The rally had been organized as a symbolic warning to the contractors and the Police. Almost 2000 workers participated in the rally, predominantly female. The rally started in Prakash Vihar area of Karawal Nagar and covered the entire western Karawal nagar. During the rally, workers raised various slogans against the contractors, Police, capitalism, etc. The common citizens of Karawal Nagar saw this rally with awe and 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.

Due to the continuation of the strike into the sixth day, the almond processing industry of Delhi has come to a halt. Thousands of unprocessed almond bags are lying dump in the godowns of the contractors. On the other hand, the demand for almonds is increasing with every passing day as Christmas and New Year is coming near. It is noteworthy that the almond that is processed in Delhi comes from the 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 minimize their costs, 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 petty contractors of Karawal Nagar, who laughing away all labour regulations and laws, exploit the workers cruelly. These are the very workers who have been on strike for the sixth consecutive day and who have been demanding for the fulfillment of all their rights given by the labour laws, for example, the piece rate should be fixed in accordance with the law of minimum wages, that is the per bag processing rate should be fixed according to the minimum wages; the workers should be given double overtime payment; they should be provided with identity card and job card; 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. Due to the present strike the rates of almond are increasing swiftly in Delhi’s markets.

Convener of BMU, Ashish Kumar Singh said, “Till now, the Police administration has worked hands in gloves with the contractors to sabotage the strike. We have completely lost faith in the Karawal Nagar Police administration and to initiate action against the goons of the contractors, we will lodge a complaint directly in the office of DCP, North-East Delhi. And if the DCP office fails to take action, we will move to court. The goons of contractors will not be spared and they’ll have to pay for every drop of blood of workers and their leaders. Strike is our weapon. We’ll continue the strike till all our demands are met.”

Yogesh, member of BMU, 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, under the leadership of Badaam Mazdoor Union that the workers have organized themselves across the divides of caste, gotra and region, with their class interests in command.” Yogesh told that they have been reported by various sources that the baffled contractors are planning a fatal attack on the leadership of the BMU, with the Police on their sides. He said that faced with any such attack, we will reply proportionately. Despite the patronage of the Police, the contractors cannot defeat the worker power.

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