Local Struggles Confront Decentralisation: Organising Brick Kiln Workers in Gujarat, India

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:24
Oral Presentation
Ernesto NORONHA, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Premilla DCRUZ, Indian Instittute of Management Ahmedabad, India
For about a decade, the Int Bhatta Majdoor Union in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, has been organising brick kiln workers both at the source and destination on issues related to minimum wages, free housing, electricity, drinking water facilities, bonded labour and access to basic health and education. Workers are mobilised through various actions like submitting memorandums, holding discussions and resorting to work stoppages. Besides this, the Bonded Labour Act, the Minimum Wages Act and the Indian Penal Code have been effectively used to initiate action. In spite of this, the nature of their work, the difference in labour market conditions and their ethnic backgrounds makes it difficult to initiate industrial action that combines workers across various categories. Consequently, the state-wide strike held in Gujarat in 2010 failed. The main reasons for the failure were: only workers contacted at source could be mobilised at the destination, the 10-14 days strike was too long to sustain and the ethnic divide among workers was difficult to overcome. Moreover, employers used violence against workers, got the police to disrupt union meetings during the strike, restricted access to the workplace, stopped the payment of subsistence allowance, issueddeath threats to organisers and filed cases against union activists. Since then, employers have signed separate settlements with different categories of workers and have replaced the more militant Rajasthani workers with those from Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (various Indian states). The union too has decided to support workers’ local struggles in different clusters, activating the Bonded Labour Act and Indian Penal Code against employers trying to restrain workers from leaving the kiln. As decentralised bargaining is confronted with local mobilisation, this presentation will look at how cluster-level strategies are working to overcome the failures of the 2010 strike.