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Uttar Pradesh: Every day, 30–40,000 daily wage workers come to UP’s labor chowks, but only 35–45% get work

Report- Arun Verma

“At the time of elections, workers are seen as divided by caste, class, and religion. They do not voice their demands and so political parties also do not pay attention to their issues”

In Uttar Pradesh’s unorganized sector, 6.66 crore laborers are facing the challenge of finding work

Lucknow: Last Monday in the Lok Sabha, targeting the Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “Go, you belong to Uttar Pradesh, you belong to Bihar, go and spread Corona there …”. According to the Prime Minister, in the first lockdown during the corona pandemic, people from Congress and AAP instigated migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to go back to their homes. Both parties have strongly objected to this statement.

After the Prime Minister’s statement, The Mooknayak team once again visited several labor chowks in Lucknow and talked to labour union representatives to find out about the condition of the workers at the center of the debate, and to gauge the pulse of the assembly elections from the point of view of the laborers.

At the Sector C labor chowk in Indira Nagar, which is located in a posh area of Lucknow, Vijay Kumar appeared despondent as he said to The Mooknayak, “It’s been five years since I started coming to the labor chowk. At first one would get work on at least 20 days in a month. But now you’re lucky if you get work on even 10 days every month.”

Vijay Kumar, a daily wage worker. Photo: Arun Verma
Vijay Kumar, a daily wage worker. Photo: Arun Verma

When asked more about his work, Vijay said, “Before the lockdown, one could earn a good income. I used to live with my family in a rented room, but after the lockdown, there is very little work to be found. We do come to the labor chowk, but when there is no work available, we go back disappointed.

“Since there was no income, I vacated the room and left my wife and children in the village. I now stay in a nearby night shelter.”

As the conversation continued, Vijay appeared uncomfortable when we asked who he will vote for in the forthcoming assembly election. However, he said that he will vote for the party that will work for the interests of the laborers.

Cycles belonging to the labourers looking for work at Sector C labour chowk, Indira Nagar. Photo: Arun Verma
Cycles belonging to the laborers looking for work at Sector C labor chowk, Indira Nagar. Photo: Arun Verma

About 5-6km from the Indira Nagar labor chowk, Pramod Kumar, who stood waiting for work at Takrohi labor chowk, said that since the lockdown, construction work had come to a standstill. Very little work was available at the labor chowks, and in these conditions, people were willing to work for Rs200–250.

“Earlier, the laborer used to get at least Rs350, the helper Rs400 and the masons would get Rs650–700. When there is no work, then fellow workers are not able to negotiate much with the owner or the contractor. The government is also not doing anything for the laborers,” said Pramod, appearing sad about not getting any work. Which party will win the assembly elections? Pramod was hesitant to speak about this.

We askedRamjanam Bharti, the Lucknow district president of the Dihadi Majdoor Sanghtan [daily wage workers organization] that works with unorganized sector laborers, about this hesitancy among the laborers. He told us, “There are about 32 big and small labor chowks in the city. Each morning 30–40,000 laborers gather at these chowks in search of work. But only 35–45%of them get workin a day.”

Ramjanamalso told The Mooknayak, “The organization is vocal about the problems faced by the workers and also submits our demands in writing to all the parties. Several political parties include these demands in their manifestos.” However, no concrete actions have been taken on these demands.

Daily wage labourers looking for work at the labour chowk at Indira Nagar Sector C in aposh area of Lucknow. Photo: Arun Verma
Daily wage laborers looking for work at the labor chowk at Indira Nagar Sector C in a posh area of Lucknow. Photo: Arun Verma

Responding to the question of why the workers’ problems are not being taken up as an electoral issue in the upcoming assembly elections, Bharti said, “The main reason why labor issues do not become a political question that the worker does not go to the polls as a “laborer”. At the time of elections, workers are seen as divided by caste, class, and religion. They do not voice their demands and so political parties also do not pay attention to their issues. Because of this, even the Prime Minister does not hesitate to make such statements.

Arvind Murthy, national convenor of the movement for rights, who has worked with the unorganized sector workers for a long time, told us,“In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, those whom we consider as unorganized workers come from the sections of society or the caste groups that have a political identity and political parties. Among them, the ones whom we can identify the most are the construction workers who migrate to the cities and stand on the roadsides in search of work. When we look at them from social and caste angles, most of them come from Dalit and other backward sections of society. Their leaders do not consider as important political issues the livelihood and social security concerns of people from these groups. At the same time, civil society actors have not been able to organize the consciousness of these caste groups into a unified worker consciousness. That is why the laborer’s problems are missing in the assembly elections. When you consider the question from this context, then you will understand how easy it was for the Prime Minister to make that highly objectionable statement about the migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.”

Arvind also told us, “Workers in the unorganized sector endured many challenges in the first and second lockdowns during the corona pandemic, and even now the situation has not changed. Earlier, the union government did not have any data on workers in this sector. Following orders from the Supreme Court, the union government has set a target for the registration of 40 crore unorganized sector laborers across the country. In this, Uttar Pradesh has been given the target to register 6,66,7000 laborers on the e-shram portal. So far, about 2,52,000 laborers have been registered on this state portal, and registration of more laborers is ongoing.

Main demands of the Dihadi Majdoor Sangthan [daily wage laborers organization]sss

  • Identify all the labour chowks in the country and provide basic facilities such drinking water, shelter, and toilets at all the sites.
  • Thestipulated minimum wage for workers should be revised  to Rs600 per day and Rs18000 per month.
  • Arrangements for cashless transfers should be made via the registration card for all registered workers
  • Lower the pension age of workers registered under Building & Other Construction Workers Welfare Board from 60 years to 55 years.
  • Provide a monthly pension of a minimum of Rs3,000 to ensure social security for all unorganized workers.

Also read this in Hindi: उत्तर प्रदेश : 30 से 40 हजार मजदूर रोजाना सुबह लेबर अड़डों पर आते हैं, 35 से 45 प्रतिशत लोगों को ही मिल पाता है काम

The Mooknayak
The Mooknayakhttps://www.themooknayak.co.in
The Mooknayak is dedicated to Marginalised and unprivileged people of India. It works on the principle of Dr. Ambedkar and Constitution.

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