The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Balancing act at IT union birth

Calcutta, Nov. 14: With a click on an IBM notepad, a website was launched today, accompanying the debut of India’s first association for information technology professionals — metres away from the IBM office.

As infotech employees, cellphone stuck to an ear, walked by, stealing a glance or two at the gathering that didn’t seem to have too many of them, fireworks lit up the early evening sky and colourful balloons floated up into the air.

Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, went high-tech with style.

Subhas Chakraborty, the local MLA, state transport minister and an open critic of the chief minister, did the honours, unveiling the association’s website before a thousand-strong crowd. Formally unveiled today, the employees’ body has been christened the West Bengal IT Services Association.

The act itself was provocative enough, smack in the middle of Salt Lake’s IT home, but the language from the dais was restrained. Union, yes. Strike, unlikely.

“This is a significant day in the history of the trade union movement… The IT industry is new, so is the union,” boasted Shyamal Chakraborty, state Citu president and the chief adviser to the fledgling outfit.

The crowd, carrying banners of hospital and contractors’ labour unions, applauded.

Although the employers, shaken by the possibility of Bengal’s militant trade union past making a comeback, were unlikely to have been within earshot, the Citu leaders did little to stoke their fears.

“We are aware of the realities of this sensitive sector. Not only are we urging the employees to join us, we are also seeking support of the entrepreneurs for the growth of the sector and the welfare of the people involved in the industry,” said Somnath Bhattacharya, association secretary.

At least one employer was listening, from the balcony of his office nearby.

“Formation of unions does not necessarily imply strikes,” Chakraborty iterated.

That brings us to the unions’ call for a nationwide strike on December 14 which has pitted Citu against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who wants IT to work normally on that day.

Chakraborty skirted the question if Citu would exempt IT. The Citu leaders also made it clear that strikes could be called even in “essential services” — after a mandatory notice — in light of discussion in the CPM to treat IT as one such. The industry enjoys public utility status in Bengal.

While the tone of the meeting was hardly hostile — the speakers said they were inviting everyone, from CEOs to peons, to join — there was a clear attempt to separate the “good” from the “bad”.

The Citu leaders cited instances of violation of labour laws by some companies to justify the formation of unions. They rolled out a list of complaints against the “black sheep” of the industry, naming five companies for firing employees without notice.

Employees from four state-run companies and four small private operations have signed up with the association.

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