Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Free the PRICOL Eight ! Fight the Double Life Imprisonment for Eight Trade Union Activists !

ML Update

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol.  19 | No. 02 | 4 - 11 JAN 2016

Free the PRICOL Eight !

Fight the Double Life Imprisonment for Eight Trade Union Activists !


Pricol 8 Solidarity Campaign



Eight leading activists of Kovai Maavatta Pricol Thozhilalargal Otrumai Sangam (Comrades Gunabalan, Manivannan, Rajendran, Ramamurthy, Sampathkumar, Saravanakumar, Sivakumar, and Velmurugan) have recently been sentenced to double life imprisonment by a Coimbatore trial court in connection with the unfortunate death of an HR executive of Pricol in September 2009. The Pricol Management had in fact charged as many as 27 workers and leaders, including women workers and AICCTU President Com. S Kumarasami with murder and conspiracy, but the rest were acquitted by the court. This is by far the harshest instance of an anti-worker anti-union judgement in recent times where workers and leaders have been framed and convicted without any evidence. The Pricol conviction can be compared to the TADA sentence given in Bihar in 2003 to Comrade Shah Chand and thirteen other activists of the rural poor movement and to the host of recent attacks on trade union rights in Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Pune and other industrial centres. The Pricol workers' movement led by AICCTU has however successfully resisted every offensive of the management and the state and gone from strength to strength uniting the broad masses of factory workers and securing considerable pay increase in successive wage agreements. The present judgement is aimed at crushing the morale of the workers, but the workers are valiantly fighting back against this repressive onslaught.

This issue of ML Update is dedicated to the Pricol 8 Solidarity Campaign that will spread campaign for acquittal of the brave Pricol 8 comrades and take the message among workers in every trade union and all working class localities from 1 January –15 February 2016. We appeal to all to collect funds to support the Pricol struggle.

Solidarity messages can be sent to Pricol workers through email or by post to the KOVAI MAAVATTA PRICOL THOZHILALARGAL OTRUMAI SANGAM, 126, ESWARAN KOIL VEEDHI, OPP PRICOL CO-OP STORES, SRKV POST, PERIANAICKEN PALAYAM, COIMBATORE – 641020. Funds can be sent to the CPI(ML) Central Office or AICCTU Central Office.



Eight leading activists of the Kovai Maavatta Pricol Thozhilalargal Otrumai Sangam - Comrades Gunabalan, Manivannan, Rajendran, Ramamurthy, Sampath, Saravanakumar, Sivakumar and Velmurugan - have been sentenced to 'double life imprisonment' in a shocking verdict of the Coimbatore Sessions Court.

'The very severity of the verdict – in a case lacking in any evidence of wrong-doing, let alone murder – suggests that the verdict is not just an ordinary judgement against some accused workers. Rather, it serves as an assault on India's working class movement – in effect, it is like a warning to trade unions and workers all over the country to comply with the current political-economic attack on labour laws and unions – or else be criminalised.'

This is a conviction scripted to favour corporates in a class war – just as much as the acquittals of the Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe perpetrators were scripted to drive home the point that the blood of the poor and the Dalits does not count, and crimes of the feudal, or the wealthy and powerful, do not count as crimes.

A TADA Court, in a verdict of 2003 had sentenced 14 peasant activists of Jehanabad who had struggled to defend their water-chestnut pond from feudal forces, and had killed no one, to life terms for 'terrorism' under the lapsed TADA law. In 2015, the Coimbatore Sessions Court (situated in the 'Bomb Blast Court' attached to the Coimbatore jail) has indeed sought to teach India's workers that trade unions activism will be treated on par with organized crime or terrorism – and punished with draconian sentences.

In the very dawn of the working class movement in 1886, the Haymarket Eight of Chicago – agitating for an 8-hour working day – were convicted of 'conspiracy' and murder and received draconian sentences. 130 years later, working class activists are again framed and convicted for conspiracy and murder, their guilt decided even before the trial began.            

The tragic death of a PRICOL HR vice-president, Roy J George, on 21 September 2009, has been the pretext to accuse the Union leaders of conspiracy and brand the whole working class movement as terrorists and killers.

In March 2016, the Kovai Maavatta Pricol Thozhilalargal Otrumai Sangam (Coimbatore District Pricol Workers' Unity Union) affiliated to AICCTU will complete ten years of its struggle – a struggle to seek the right of workers to form unions, and to make a corporation abide by labour laws. The Union had succeeded in the face of all odds in forcing the management to recognize the Union and negotiate with it.

Even after the death of Mr George and the subsequent witch-hunt and crackdown, the Pricol struggle is remarkable in that, unlike at Maruti, the Union could not be wiped out. Instead, they have won successful agreements in subsequent years as well, and the Union has grown stronger. The struggle of Pricol workers inspired their counterparts to form unions in Sriperumbudur (called the 'Detroit of Tamilnadu' by TN's rulers). Hyundai workers first dared to tread in the path of Pricol workers – inspiring a sort of contagious formation of trade unions in many factories in Sriperumbudur!  Pricol workers broke the lull in the working class movement of Tamilnadu.

It is the Union's very success that has marked it out for special punishment – the example of Pricol workers had inspired other workers in Tamil Nadu's and India's automobile sector to unionise and struggle, and the corporates hope that the verdict will now serve to demoralize workers and establish Pricol as a warning rather than an inspiration.   

This verdict will have far-reaching implications for the working class movement – and first and foremost for the Maruti workers, who are waiting for the verdict in a similar case, in which a large number of workers have been falsely implicated in the death of an HR Manager.   

The Pricol workers, in an act of remarkable courage and solidarity, remembered the woes of others in their own time of great trouble. They need to support the families of the convicted and jailed colleagues and comrades – but first, they spared a thought for others. On their first salary day after the verdict, they collected Rs 5 lakh for the flood-affected of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.  The Pricol workers have also earlier collected funds to help the families of jailed workers in the Maruti's Manesar factory.

Now, it is the Pricol workers who need our solidarity and support – the solidarity of the working class and democratic movements all over the world.     

The Verdict

In all, 25 workers, Union activists and leaders were accused of a conspiracy to murder Roy George inside the HR chamber, as revenge for the decision to dismiss several workers. Of these, four including AICCTU National President S Kumarasami were accused of having hatched the conspiracy and instigated the workers, while 9, including AICCTU leader M Guruswamy, were accused of having physically beaten George to death with iron rods. It turned out that Guruswamy was not even an employee of Pricol Plant -1 at the time of the incident, and so it was absurd to suggest that he could make it past the company's security into the HR vice-president's chamber to commit murder. It also turned out that his name was inserted in the FIR and complaint. He was therefore acquitted. But the verdict did not ask- if Comrade Guruswamy was so obviously wrongly and brazenly implicated, then should the whole case against the other workers also not be questioned?  

The verdict acquitted all except 8 – including those Union leaders who supposedly conspired to murder and instigated the murder. When the judgment found that the prosecution failed to prove criminal conspiracy, then is it not natural that all the charges based on conspiracy should also fail?

Running unions is not a conspiratorial activity – its success depends on political judgement and leadership, not on murderous plots!  

What was the actual evidence against the eight convicted workers? The verdict tells us that the murder was committed with eight iron rods – so, it is implied, at least eight men needed to be convicted for it! What evidence there is to link these particular eight men with those eight rods is a matter of minor detail – of no consequence as far as this judgement is concerned! So, we find that no bloodstains of Mr George were shown on the rods; no finger prints linked the rods (allegedly the murder weapons) with the convicted men. Further, the prosecution claims there were eight wounds on Mr George's body (corresponding to eight rods), while the doctor who admitted Mr George said there was one wound, while the post mortem report said there were three wounds. There is simply no evidence to establish either the number of rods, or the rods as the murder weapons or the eight workers as the 'killers.'

Moreover, the prosecution case was full of obvious, glaring falsehoods, disproved by their own witnesses or other indisputable facts. For instance, the prosecution, in a written counter to a discharge petition filed by some of the accused, had stated that a CCTV recording not only showed the time and place of the occurrence, but also revealed the identity of some of the accused persons who were not named in the FIR and the overt acts of some of the accused.

When the said CCTV footage was actually produced in court, it showed nothing of the kind. To explain away this simple contradiction in the prosecution's own claims about its own evidence, the judgement chose to rely on a claim by the IO who stated that the CCTV did not function on 21st September. Surely the judgement should have asked, if the IO knew that the CCTV did not function, how come the prosecution claimed the opposite so positively, in writing, earlier? The IO, questioned on the stand, also could not say who exactly told him the CCTV did not function on the said day. The obvious conclusion should have been that the CCTV footage was probably suppressed by the prosecution because it contained something that might have contradicted their case and embarrassed the Pricol management. But the judgement did not draw this inference.

The incident was said to have taken place in the HR vice-president's chamber at11.40 AM. The IO, however, said he was present outside the chamber between 11.41 am to 11.46 am on the same day, and that no one – neither from the Pricol HR department or the armed reserve police (which had been deployed in Pricol for more than a year) told him about any untoward incident or even about any ambulance being needed to take injured persons to the hospital. This was a key prosecution witness, categorically stating he was present just outside the place of the alleged murder – and yet he saw or heard nothing untoward! He saw no killers fleeing, no unusual activity! Yet, the prosecution did not declare him a hostile witness. Further, there is no evidence that anyone – of the more than 1,000 workers, hundreds of officers, directors or the injured or eye witnesses – made a phone call to the police or summoned the police station that is a mere ten minutes away.

The judgement, for the purpose of explaining the false claims about CCTV footage, held the IO's statement to be reliable rather than the written evidence of the prosecution's own previous claims. The judgement, who relied on the IO's statement when it suited the prosecution case, chose not to do so when the IO's statement was inconvenient and contradictory to the prosecution case. The judgement merely observed that it was "unfortunate" that the investigating officer's evidence was contrary to the prosecution case! 

If the IO was present right on the spot, why the delay of several hours in lodging of an FIR (it was lodged at 6.30 pm)? Why the delay in submitting the FIR to the magistrate (it was submitted the next day – an inexplicable and suspicious delay since such delay is commonly associated with false cases).

To explain the delay, the prosecution claims that the injured were admitted to hospital in a staggered way (the deceased who was battling for life was admitted at 1.22 pm and others were admitted at 2.30, 3.00 and around 3.30 pm). But the nurse who accompanied the injured to the hospital has stated that she got them admitted in the hospital and remained there for 15 minutes and returned to the factory in the same ambulance. The ambulance register states that the ambulance left the factory to the hospital at 11.50 am with the injured and returned at 1 pm. This totally contradicts the prosecution's attempts to explain the delay.

When a Salman Khan who crushed pavement dwellers to death or perpetrators of Dalit massacres are acquitted, then even the most unshakeable eyewitness evidence is deemed 'not enough' to convict, and there is zero pressure to hold 'someone' guilty. But in a case where workers and union activists are implicated, what does it matter that the death is not proved to be a murder; neither murder weapons nor killers are proved; and most of the prosecution's claims are contradicted by their own key evidence and witnesses?   


A Short History of the Long Struggle of PRICOL Workers

Pricol Limited is an automobile component manufacturer with units in Coimbatore, Pune, Gurgaon and Uttarakhand. It has overseas units in Indonesia and Brazil.  Pricol group engages in real estate, construction, travel and hospitality sector.

In the Coimbatore units, the overwhelming majority of the workers formed two unions associated with AICCTU in early 2007. The management refused to recognize the unions and negotiate with them. Rather it branded the unions as Maoist and threatened to leave Coimbatore if the workers do not leave the new unions. 

Workers went ahead with their struggles. In addition to foisting false cases by the police, the company punished the workers with punitive transfers to Uttarakhand, denial of wage increase, stoppage of increments and incentive, demotion, partial lock out, break in service and dismissals. The company rubbed salt in the wounds by stating that everything will be given back and solved if the workers leave the struggling unions. The workers fought the state-management-police nexus in the streets and courts. Continuous and consistent struggles and a combination of various forms of struggles were carried out. The state government was forced to intervene many times under Section 10(1), 10 (3) and 10 B of Industrial Disputes Act. The workers succeeded to a large extent before the High Court and Supreme Court.  Almost all the criminal cases other than the murder conspiracy case have been dismissed. 

During the course of the struggle, the unions were democratised and the workers were politicised. Pricol worker vanguards organised a district committee of Communist Party of India (Marxist - Leninist) in Coimbatore. These workers have extended one hand to the rural and unorganised workers and another hand to democratic struggles. Even during the period of conditional bail, the workers chose to live among rural poor in villages of Kandarvakottai in Pudukkottai district. In this long period of nearly a decade they have participated in more than hundred protests and solidarity campaigns.

Whether it is relief and rehabilitation for Bihar floods, Nepal earthquake or solidarity with the Maruti workers, Pricol workers played an exceptional role. Even in the face of December 3 2015 double life imprisonment for 8 of their coworkers, they mobilised Rs. 5 lakh to help rain and flood affected people of Tamilnadu on December 8 2015.

They worked and contributed for the 8th and 9th Congress of CPI(ML) and they organized the 9th State Conference of Tamilnadu CPI(ML) in Coimbatore. According to the police and the management, the women workers of Pricol led a 17-hours road blockade and they were in the forefront in breaking the siege by the police or in blockading the factory on a particular occasion. On 10.10.10, they organized a family festival with working class content with the participation of thousands of workers and their family members. This festival was a celebration of struggle, sacrifice and social transformation.

Pricol workers reached out to the people of the surrounding areas and they intervened electorally in the local body, assembly and parliament elections. Pricol workers led two Tamilnadu level 'long marches' and were instrumental in bringing to the fore of the working class movement the issues of Rs.20,000 wages per month as minimum wages, housing rights, legislation for recognition of majority unions and to protect the interests of apprentices (LA Bill 47/2008) and for its early notification by the central government. They were in the forefront in organizing All India TU strikes.

In 2011 they won recognition for their union, smashed the siege laid on them and signed two wage agreements with the management in 2012 and 2014. The first agreement in 2012 was for a period of two and a half years and the second one was for a period of four years. Most of the benefits in the 2014 agreement were to take effect from the first year itself. A worker with 25 years of service in Grade 5 was drawing a gross salary of Rs.8,593 in 2007 (pre-recognition). In 2015 (post-recognition) any such worker in Grade 5 with 25 years of service is drawing Rs.24,427. In 2007 (pre-recognition) a worker with 25 years of service was getting terminal benefits amounting to Rs.1.25 lakhs and now the same amounts to Rs.3.55 lakhs in 2015 (post-recognition). In the past decades production and productivity increases were arbitrarily and unilaterally imposed by the management on the workers. But now in the last two agreements production and productivity increase are decided by collective bargaining.

The higher the wages, the lower will be the profits; the lower the wages, the higher will be the profits. This is the crux of global class struggle between wage labour and capital. This found its intensified reflection in Pricol struggle.

In these days of reduction of work force, they were successful in getting more than 230 workers confirmed and in prevailing upon the management to settle the cases of more than 500 workers whom the management claimed were complete strangers.

It will be pertinent to remember the events before the tragic death of Mr. Roy George on September 22, 2009 (which was the basis for the Pricol murder conspiracy case). The Pricol management has been notorious for its record of rampant violation of labour laws, court verdicts and government orders. Far from recognizing the union supported by the overwhelming majority of workers, it had constantly victimized workers for siding with a 'Marxist-Leninist union', hoping to break the union through coercion and intimidation. In the name of facing the recession, it had resorted to harsh wage-cuts, robbing every worker of tens of thousands of rupees.

An indefinite fast by Pricol workers which lasted up to its 15th day found its echo in the Tamilnadu assembly on 29.6.2009. The labor minister while replying to the calling attention motion of various opposition parties, listed the various unfair labor practices of Pricol management and assured the house that the government will not let down the workers. Then on the same date the government issued two GOs under sections 10(1) and 10B of the ID act 1947. Instead of complying with the government order, the management exercised its legal right to challenge the same in the high court. Comrade S Kumarasami was to appear for the workers in that case scheduled to reach around 29.09.2009. It was in this background that the murder conspiracy case was foisted against comrade S Kumarasami and 26 others.

Now from March 5 2016, Pricol workers have decided to hold a year-long commemoration of the beginning of the 10th year of their struggle.

The management is also getting busy with its second round of onslaught against the workers by beginning with the deprivation of bonus for Deepawali 2015. This year they have unilaterally declared only 8.33% as bonus when 35.34% was paid as bonus for the years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Incidentally this denial of bonus costing the workers a few crores of rupees has come at a time when the trial in the murder conspiracy case was nearing its conclusion.

Pricol workers are now busy in organizing contract workers and sanitation workers in Coimbatore. Now eight of their vanguards are in Coimbatore jail, which housed the Chinniyampalayam worker martyrs who were hanged and which housed VO Chidambaram, the anti-colonial hero. Pricol workers are taking all steps for the release of their eight comrades – hailed as heroes of the struggle and victims of a witch-hunt – at the earliest.

Denial of Industrial Democracy

A year before the death of Mr George at Pricol in Coimbatore, a similar incident had happened in Greater Noida in which the local head of Italian firm Graziano Transmissioni was allegedly beaten to death by a group of sacked employees. It was reported that the Graziano incident was sparked off when goons hired by the management beat up workers who had been summoned on the pretext of talks. A similar incident had also been reported from Gorakhpur. At the Maruti plant in Manesar, too, a similar incident had taken place. At Gurgaon, the killing of a worker by management 'bouncers' during an agitation against sacking of employees who were leading the struggle to unionise, had sparked off a massive strike. A few incidents involving mill managers have also been witnessed occasionally in the jute mills in West Bengal notorious for huge PF defaults and most anarchic and arbitrary labour practices by the mill owners. 

Yet instead of recognising the common thread that runs through such cases – absence of industrial democracy, rampant violations of labour laws and complete denial of the right to unionise, miserable working and living conditions of workers, and recurrent violence and victimization by management against vocal workers –  a section of media tends to join the corporate chorus of defaming the organized trade union movement and calling for labour reforms to give still greater freedom to capital to dictate terms to labour.

Show Solidarity With Pricol Workers

 A meeting of all central trade unions in Tamilnadu was held on December 10. The joint press statement by HMS, LPF, AITUC, CITU, AIUTUC, WPTDC, INTUC, BMS and AICCTU termed the sentence as reflecting the antagonism of the capitalist forces toward the working class and it called for the working class of Tamilnadu and India to rise up in solidarity with the jailed Pricol workers.

AICCTU has also sent an appeal to international trade unions and sought their support for the fight of the Pricol workers in getting their coworkers released. There will be a two-month long countrywide solidarity campaign from January 1 to February 15, with mass campaigns amongst workers and Unions to seek support and spread awareness.


Free The Pricol Eight !

Free The Vanguards of India's Working Class Movement !

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