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Garden hands work on strike day

Siliguri, Feb. 20: Most tea garden workers in north Bengal defied the strike call by trade unions today, giving Trinamul Congress as well as John Barla the opportunity to claim they had support among the workforce.

The strike was supported by the trade union of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad but 173 out of the 220-odd gardens in the plains opened today.

The shutdown didn’t have any impact in the hills where the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s writ runs.

Workers in the Terai tea estates turned up this morning to prune bushes even though this is the lean season.

“The strike has failed to impact the tea industry in north Bengal. This indicates that workers have responded to the call of the chief minister and our party to defy the strike and join work,” said Chandan Bhowmik, the Jalpaiguri district Trinamul president.

“The workers have realised that the state government is striving for their development and has taken up a host of projects, some of which have already been implemented and that by supporting strikes, they cannot get most of their demands fulfiled,” he said.

North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb, who was in Malda today, said the defiance of the workers indicated the depletion of support base of the Left parties and the Congress in the brew belt.

“This is because of the chief minister’s consistent monitoring of projects being taken up in the region and activities of our party to address the problems faced by the workers. The Trinamul trade union might be lacking a support base in the gardens, but the party and the government have the backing of the people there,” he said.

Trinamul claimed that the party was sure that the workers would defy the call for the strike as the turnout at the Jalpaiguri district conference of the INTTUC last week was beyond the expectations of the leadership.

“The number of people who turned up at the conference was far more than what we had expected. The way the workers spoke about and discussed INTTUC’s activities suggested that they wouldn’t participate in the strike. Our guess was proved right today. This is a good omen for the party when we are preparing for panchayat polls,” said Bhowmik.

John Barla, who heads the north Bengal unit of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and is opposed to the Adivasi Vikas Parishad, also jumped in to take credit for the failure of the shutdown.

“We had opposed the strike and had told workers that by supporting it, they would only lose a day’s wages, not gain anything. Workers have paid heed to our warning and joined work,” he said.