- Fishermen: Lives tossed in a sea of sorrow
- Construction workers’ lives buried in rubble
- Culinary workers!
- Ready-made garment workers: faded life turns into rags!
Construction activity dates back to the period when nomadic tribes started settling on river banks. It is construction workers who laid the foundations of advanced civilizations by building houses, streets, fortifications, palaces and towers for their communities and dams and irrigation canals for their farming. From Kallanai dam across river Cauvery to Egyptian pyramids, all historical monuments are wonders created by these construction workers.
From ancient times to this day, all through human history, lives of construction workers are interwoven with the design and development of the basic structures of social life. Modern scientific inventions and technologies have increased our needs to colossal proportions. Towering apartments, sprawling shopping malls, huge factories, bridges that span rivers and bays, express highways, mega dams, sea-ports, under ground tunnels, long flyovers, continental railways, urban drainage systems and other structures which form the basic infrastructure of today’s life are products of these workers’ toil and are built with their sweat and blood.
But, the life of construction workers so critical to human civilization is stuck in hell-hole. Their independent life of previous age as masons and carpenters was destroyed and they have been reduced to bonded-labourers for private contractors and corporate builders. Feudal exploitation and repression took on new shapes and reached new peaks of cruelty under the control of today’s capitalist overlords.
Indian cities are witnessing monstrous growth since 1990s when Indian economy was thrown open for the pillage of international finance capital. At the same time, due to the deliberate sabotage of agriculture and cottage industry by the state, a large section of rural workers lost their livelihoods and were forced into starvation. They started migrating to urban centres willing to work for meagre wages. Such working masses fleeing starvation in ruined rural economies take refuge in construction sector.
In India, a large number of (around 4 crore) unorganized workers finds work in construction, next only to agriculture in importance. Majority of these workers are from suppressed and most backward castes, with very little formal education. The capitalistic wolves like builders, real-estate mafia, and neo-rich contract cum political goons hound these poor wage workers to enrich themselves.
Construction workers fall victim to all kinds of cruelties unleashed on working class by capitalism such as uncertain employment, lack of job security, increasing working hours, meagre wage, denial of PF, ESI & pensions, non provision of safety measures, deployment in dangerous work conditions, lack of medical facilities, non provision of life or accident insurance coverage, sexual harassment of women workers and many more.
These days, lakhs and lakhs of north Indian workers are employed in the construction projects in Tamilnadu. Even if they work for 12 hours they are paid less than workers belonging to Tamil Nadu. They are not even provided a proper dwelling place, after made to work for the whole day in pouring rain or under scorching sun. They are herded like sheeps into small unhygienic tin sheds without proper toilet facilities. As economic refugees in far-off places, not able to converse in local language, thus helpless to demand their rights, they suffer silently under bondage like conditions.
Workers getting killed in large number due to caving in of buildings built with sub-standard materials and accidents for want of safety gears is a regular occurrence. In Tamil Nadu alone, on an average, ten to fifteen workers are killed every month. Those tragedies fail to make become news, suppressed by greedy capitalists and ruling class media subservient to them. In order to avoid the expense of transporting their bodies to their families, the capitalist murders and government bury their bodies as orphans, not to speak about providing compensation for such deaths. The indifference shown by the government and capitalists about the death of more than hundred workers in Chennai’s Moulivakkam was a striking proof of such attitude.
Construction workers working all day in direct sun light, under chemical stench, exposed to high noise, inhaling cement dust, and suffering humid environment end up contracting chronic diseases like Asthma, TB and Ulcer. Furthermore, they also fall prey to a deadly disease called MSD (Musculo-skeletal disorder). This disease is caused by carrying heavy loads like cement bags, iron rods, beams, tools, bricks, tiles continuously. Their spinal chord gets affected due to the heavy load. Within a year consequences of this disease will become severe. Finally, this disease will cripple the person. These workers, who spend their life in poverty and ignorance, are not aware of such dangerous diseases. Thinking that the body pain is due to heavy work, they find some relief in alcohol and succumb to its addiction.
When big projects are given building permit, the law provides for collecting 1% of the project cost. Instead Tamilnadu government collects only 0.3% to serve the interests of the builders. It refuses to disburse even the Rs 1,000 crore thus collected to the workers as required. Having instituted the construction workers welfare board for namesake, it denies membership to most of the workers on flimsy grounds and thus denies benefits to them. Even the registered workers are not given proper accident compensation or relief. Even the sniffing dogs employed by police are given a pension of Rs 1,623, but the construction welfare board members get only Rs 1,000. Even that is not given to many workers regularly.
Brahminical, fascist Modi government is diluting the labour laws. For this government, the workers are not human beings with feelings but just bodies to be exploited in the interest of profit. In addition, it has liberalized the construction industry for the free entry of multinationals, claiming it would break the stagnation in this sector. In Tamil Nadu, while the government is spreading silk skirt to the multinational capital, it feeds the half starved workers with ‘tasmac’ liquor, thereby killing them with motherly love.
This state structure is meant only for serving the multinational companies and domestic corporate interests. The time has come for the construction workers to take up the task of demolishing this defunct ruling structure oppressing the workers and building a new state on behalf of the entire working class.
original in Tamil – அடித்தளத்தில் புதையுண்டு கிடக்கும் கட்டுமானத் தொழிலாளர் வாழ்க்கை published in – புதிய தொழிலாளி, செப்டம்பர் 2016
translated by : Nesan