Parishad supporters stop vehicles on NH31D near Jalpaiguri on Tuesday. Picture by Biplab Basak
Aug. 9: Two vehicles were ransacked and traffic was disrupted on four national highways as supporters of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad took to the streets to enforce an indefinite strike across the Dooars and the Terai to demand a hike in the wages of tea garden workers.
However, the Parishad-backed Progressive Tea Workers’ Union said it would not enforce the strike tomorrow as a meeting would be held between its leaders and the labour minister in Calcutta to discuss the wage demand.
Although one round of talks was held today in the state capital, no headway could not be achieved.
The strike received spontaneous support from the members of the CPM and the RSP at certain places today. Shops and business establishments were closed and vehicles were off roads because of the bandh.
The Parishad supporters had been on roads since morning, stopping vehicles and asking traders to down shutters in towns and villages.
Blockades were set up at Dagapur and Bagdogra to disrupt traffic on NH55 and NH31 respectively. As around 150 slogan-shouting people each assembled at both the places to block the roads, a large number of vehicles were left stranded. Some vehicles took a detour to reach the hills or plains or head for North Dinajpur.
A private bus was ransacked when labourers from Karala Valley Tea Estate near Jalpaiguri blocked NH31D. The workers started the road blockade at 11am, along with a number of local CPM supporters. No vehicles plied between Jalpaiguri and Dooars today.
The bus was going to Jalpaiguri when it was stopped by the Parishad supporters. The agitators threw stones at the bus and smashed the windscreens.
| Women labourers from Karala Valley Tea Estate block NH31D near Jalpaiguri on Tuesday. Picture by Biplab Basak
The blockade was withdrawn at 2pm when police intervened and requested the bandh supporters to withdraw from the scene.
The second incident of ransack occurred in Malbazar, where a truck plying NH31C was targeted by the bandh supporters. RSP members were also seen with the bandh enforcers in Malbazar.
The strike paralysed life in the Dooars with shops and business establishments being closed and private vehicles keeping off roads.
The bandh has been called to demand a hike in the daily wages of tea garden workers from Rs 67 to Rs 250. The Parishad union has been enforcing an embargo on the despatch of manufactured tea from the gardens in the region to press for the demand.
Most tea estates in the Dooars and the Terai were closed during the strike. Workers joined their duties only on a handful of tea estates in places like Malbazar, Nagrakata, Birpara and Kalchini. The three colleges in the Dooars were open, but attendance was thin.
The strike stood out for the spontaneous support it received from the supporters of the CPM and the RSP.
“Our party did not take any official decision to support or oppose the strike. We, however, joined the members of the Parishad-backed union in the interest of workers who are being underpaid over years by planters. Although tea prices have gone up in the past few years, the hike in the daily wages of the labourers remained meagre,” said Sukumar Kuzur, the secretary of the Citu-backed Cha Bagan Mazdoor Union’s Karala Valley unit.
The RSP, however, admitted that the party was backing the strike.
“We eagerly want the tea wages to be fixed at a rational rate and hence, supported the PTWU’s movement,” said Binoy Chakraborty, the state president of Utuc, the trade union of the RSP.
People in the Dooars and the Terai will face inconvenience in the days to come. Two apex bodies of 30 trade unions have called strike in 208 gardens in the plains on Wednesday and Thursday.
Chitta Dey, the convener of the Co-ordination Committee of Tea Plantation Workers, said the planters’ attitude had forced them to go on strike.
“They have pushed us to a corner and we have hardly any alternative options now. The tea strike will be observed in all gardens in the Terai and the Dooars on Wednesday and Thursday. A general strike is likely to be observed on Friday,” said Dey
The planters said they were helpless and counting losses. “There is always an option to reach a consensus through talks,” said Amitangshu Chakraborty, the convener of the Bengal committee of the CCPA. “Any agitation or strike would affect the tea industry, including the workers, as well as economy of the region.”
The Parishad union mellowed during the talks in Calcutta today. The union said the revised wages should be fixed above Rs 90 and it should cross Rs 100 in the next three years.
Their earlier demand was that the wage be pegged at Rs 250 a day.