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Unorganised Workers of Delhi and the Seven Day

 Strike of 1988


Indrani Mazumdar




Delhi has never been considered significant in the history of labour or its movements. And yet below the surface of documented history, the city has been one of the most powerful magnets for migrant labour in independent India. Periodically, a hue and cry is raised by the vocally and politically dominant sections of the middle class in the city about the dirt and filth spread by the poorer sections of the city and their consumption of the amenities of the capital. But the lives of this vast mass of workers, who are today numerically dominant, are mostly unrecorded even in the statistics of the administration.


In 1988, Delhi was the site of a major 7-day strike of industrial workers, whose spread far outstripped the strength of the unions that had given the call. The magnitude and duration of the strike set it apart from other similar industrial actions of preceding and later years.  It’s scale and impact may be gauged from the fact that it forced the government to bring about a major revision of minimum wages in Delhi, and introduce the variable dearness allowance (VDA) within the minimum wages. As a result, Delhi has among the highest minimum wage rates in the country today.


Apart from its sweep and scale, its electrifying effect on the industrial workers, and its impact on the administration, the 7-day strike was unprecedented, due to the fact that perhaps for the first time in the country workers in the small scale sector banded together across industries in a protracted struggle to, by force, raise the fundamental issues of the unorganised among them, and fairly succeeded in wresting major concessions. It roused many in the otherwise somnolent middle-class of Delhi to come in support of the struggle, including white collared employees, teachers, students, artistes, etc.  It subsequently inspired several strike struggles all over the country and also brought into focus the conditions obtaining in the small scale and unorganised sector – both for trade unions as well as labour bureaucrats. One of its special features was the active participation of women, drawn not from the factory floor level, but from the working class bastis by new generation women’s organisation.


The reasons why documentation of a significant event like the 7-day strike is necessary need not be emphasised. Delhi was never a major industrial centre – its industrial workforce largely comprised, and was led by, the textile workers’ movement for decades. However, even as the textile industry slowly declined and its workers fought ever more desperate battles to survive, a steady growth in the small-scale sector was occurring which turned into a veritable explosion by the end of the seventies. Drawing upon, and often actively fuelled by, powerful political patronage which permeates even the interstices of this vast city, entrepreneurs flocked to the capital to avail of the multiple benefits of cheap infrastructure, concessional taxation and access to a huge market (in the city as well as with most of north India, through trade). Delhi, it must be remembered was also home to a gigantic bureaucracy and the biggest wholesale trade centre in north India for several goods. This lodestone attracted immiserised peasants from all quarters who sought, and often found, some kind of gainful employment, some relief from the harsh realities of the rural hinterland. These immigrants, willing to work for nothing, for they had nothing to lose, provided the cheap labour on which the industrial boom flourished. Industrial activity was always on the fringes of legality – it violated land use laws, stole power, bribed its way through tax authorities and, needless to say violated labour laws. The workers were scattered in small units, and lived in either jhuggies, resettlement colonies or in kacchi (unauthorised) colonies. Inevitably the need for space in a city where their existence remained unrecognised by planners, brought about links with political overlords and practices which led them into the grey world of illegality. Aliens in a strange land, they adapted to the new urban order through a quiescent acceptance of their domination by oppressive class and caste practices and subhuman living conditions. The story of the 7-day strike is the story of the first major outbreak against such domination, where the call of a small political force led to a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger.


Embedded in this larger picture, there lie thousands of almost identical tales of individual workers or for that matter individual factories which upon scrutiny, reveal in shocking vividness, the sweated conditions of industrial workers, and the shifting continuum between industrial work and the multifarious uses that the metropolis can put any cheap labour to - in the form of informal relations. It was only a fraction which ended up in secure jobs with minimal facilities in the medium sized factories.


All that was required to ignite this tinder-box was to convince the workers that something could be done about the key issue of wages and organise/direct the anger. In other words, sustained propaganda by an apparently powerful organisation, and militant picketing at crucial points – led to a spectacular response and a memorable upsurge. Related to and feeding into such events and experiences lies the context – the growth and characteristics of the giant metropolis of Delhi, the ascribed and actual part played by labour in this process, the domination of unorganised employment relations in modern organised production, the interweave of the economic, political and  administrative processes which shaped the lives of workers, and the impelling course of the trade union movement in determining the form and characteristics of the industrial action observed in the 7-day strike.


The strike itself was called for by only one of the central trade unions, the CITU, with all other major unions either opposing or distancing themselves from the call. And yet, it remains the most widespread and sweeping action of the industrial workers of the capital city. How was it that but a small force and a minority contingent of the organised trade union movement was able to ignite the unorganised industrial workers across Delhi in the teeth of opposition from within and without? What were the conditions that led to such an explosive outbreak of mass anger upon which the scale of the strike was necessarily predicated? What were the methods by which this anger of an essentially migrant and unorganised workforce was harnessed into industrial action? What were the compulsions that forced the administration to concede the workers’ demands, if only partially? This is not merely a matter of historical curiosity alone, but also of relevance to the future where globalised industrial policy is increasingly taking recourse to informal and semi-formal relations in order to break working class unity and disempower the organisation of labour.


In documenting the events that led to this historic strike, and outlining its course in industrial areas in north, south, east and west Delhi, this study attempts to arrive at some answers to the above questions. Through recording and recovering  the experiences of participants in this struggle, it also seeks to observe and describe the life processes and experiences of individuals and communities within the metropolitan working class of Delhi, stretching beyond the events to probe into recesses of social and economic conditions and subjective processes that often remain hidden from recorded history.


Unorganised small scale industrial workers


It should be clear at the outset that the section of unorganised workers that form the subject of this report are those who work in the small scale industries in Delhi. Although, the shifting nature of the forms of work that characterises the lives of urban unorganised workers  has emerged in many of the interviews, the focus has remained on industrial workers. For, the seven day strike took place in the industrial estates of Delhi, each of which houses hundreds of factories. Why and how this section of workers are termed unorganised, is based, not just on their exclusion from the regulating force of labour laws, but also the economic and social and even political relations that generate unorganised conditions and relations of employment.


Casual, contract or even regular but unprotected and impermanent conditions are the common characteristics of small scale industrial workers. In an era when we are witnessing the dismantling of many of the protective structures for labour, and the reintroduction of unregulated employer-employee relations in the regulated centres as well, it has become increasingly necessary to understand the dynamics of unorganised and informal relations of production, and from within the trade union movement evolve practices which will strengthen the organisation of labour. For such purposes, the method of clubbing all forms of unorganised work within a single omnibus category of the informal sector, has proved to be of little use to workers themselves, since it rarely, if ever, addresses the concrete nature or form of class exploitation which dominates their lives. Implicit in the failure to do so, is the absence of the necessary slogans and demands around which workers can be organised in movement towards eradication of the worst forms of exploitation and becoming greater masters of their own destiny.


As emerges in the story of the seven day strike, other atomised members of the family of workers in the city of Delhi, including those who work outside direct industrial production, are magnetically drawn to the power of mass industrial action. For in such industrial action can be seen an assertion of working class power that offers inspiration to others. Action through which, the abject subjugation that they all suffer at the hands of the rich and powerful, can be demonstrably and dramatically reversed, even if temporarily. This only highlights the potentialities of industrial workers and industrial action in advancing the struggles of other sections of urban unorganised labour, and therefore, the need to pay specific attention to industrial, yet unorganised labour.




Much of the methodology involved in collecting the material for the archival submission and preparing the report suggested itself from the objectives outlined above. There was an advantage in addressing an event of only a little more than a decade past. Many of those involved, who organised or participated were accessible in the city, and the rich resource of their memories and observations was therefore available. These have been recorded through a series of taped interviews which include those of workers who worked, participated or saw the strike in a number of industrial areas, namely Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road areas in north Delhi, Mayapuri in west Delhi, Okhla  in south Delhi, and Shahdara-Jhilmil-Friends Colony located east of the river.


The interviews themselves, were not confined to the events of the strike alone, but were also directed towards eliciting information and observations about the individual lives and experiences of the workers. This was done in order to achieve insight into the various objective and subjective processes that shaped the social and economic relations within which the unorganised workers of Delhi live and work. Generally the interviews begin with their backgrounds, and move through the process of entry into Delhi, towards the nature of their working and living conditions and the various changes experienced therein. Through this pathway, their experiences in the strike were approached. The interviews themselves, thus open up avenues of investigation and interpretation, of which only a few are touched upon in this report.


The seven day strike was not and could not be a purely spontaneous action of a leaderless mass, although the spontaneity of the upsurge of workers marked its every step. Both its protracted nature and sweep across industrial areas, required planning and organisation. Successful documentation of the strike and its various threads, therefore, required collection of material from the organisers and leaders of the strike and their perceptions as well. Here too, interviews formed a preliminary basis of acquiring information at various levels. Interviews of the leaders of the  CITU and other organisations involved in the strike, at the state and local level have been recorded as part of the oral record. However, this oral record forms only one aspect of the documentation process, and written documents, published and unpublished have been collated, which provide many forgotten details, correct faltering and even sometimes confused memories. Unexpectedly, for so recent an event, much has been lost. Many of the filed leaflets, posters, press releases, etc., were found to have been destroyed by damp and termites. However, detailed minutes of important committees that planned, implemented, and reviewed the strike, at the state and local level were available and constitute one of the most valuable elements of the record of the strike. At the same time, newspaper reports, provided the frame of events during the actual course of the strike.


One of the problems of even the written records is the fact that many of the important characters involved are unknown, their backgrounds and positions shrouded in obscurity. While personal  knowledge of many of them has obviously been an important aid to understanding, referencing and contextualising statements and records, life stories of a few were also recorded in archival interviews. It requires some mention here, that such personal knowledge and, perhaps a certain experience of association and comradeship with them, gave access to many of the workers interviewed and laid the ground of trust for a degree of informal frankness. Similar knowledge, as well as cross checking with both people and written records provided the basis for discounting (in the report) some of the mythification of events, the mixed up memories and observations that are but natural.


In the writing of the report, some of the  descriptions, particularly in relation to the form of the strike, are also perhaps influenced by personal observation and experience as a mass worker and participant in the strike action. But this has played a limited role, as research of the minutes of the committees and the various interviews revealed so much that was unknown to me. Generally, field participants in such actions have a view of only one slice of the events, and it is only when all the various pieces are put together that the larger picture and even the complete storyline becomes clear. For the record, it must be stated that the story of the preparations for the strike, its background, and the course of events as outlined in the report, emerged from the written and oral documentation, and it is only in the case of the description of the strike in Mayapuri, that one’s own personal memories were also drawn upon. However, general familiarity with the organisational structures, practices and even individuals involved, no doubt, made perusal and understanding of the various documents much simpler than would perhaps be the case for a complete outsider.


The study outline

The study report begins with on overview of the part played by workers in the making of the modern day metropolis that is Delhi (Ch 1). The scale of migration, the nature and development of industry, the information on the settlements of workers, and the changing contours of the city, have primarily been drawn from secondary sources. But many of the generalised descriptions of the working and living condiitions of workers, the analysis of paths traversed by them individually and as a class, and some of the related political processes, have been culled out from the interviews. Such an overview was considered essential in order to understand the background objective conditions in which the strike took place.


The overview is followed by a brief account of the trade union context (Ch 2), foregrounding the continuities of experience of militant action, the emergence of the key demands of the strike in the united trade union movement, the breakdown of this unity and the forerunner of the seven day strike—the CITU’s 72 hour strike of 1987. This chapter is the outcome of attempts to trace the roots of the experience and imagination that propelled the form of action observed in the seven day strike. From interviews with senior trade union leaders, links were discovered between organised and unorganised workers, between movements of textile and engineering workers, stretching back to the period before the emergency of 1975-77, and are outlined in the report. Similarly, the breakdown of trade union unity on the question of protracted strike in 1987, and the experience of the CITU in independently organising the 72 hour strike, have been looked at to gain insight into some of the subjective trade union processes. The focus here, is on those processes involved in the development of new organisational strategies and tactics of working class action, required by the emerging dominance of unorganised small scale industries in the city of Delhi. The archival interviews, minutes of joint trade union meetings and conventions, reports and minutes of CITU conferences and committees provided the principal sources for this chapter.


The report on the seven day strike itself has been divided into two chapters. The first (Ch 3), details the various preparations for the strike. It describes the manner of the decision to give the call for the strike, the campaign details, the involvement of sections other than the trade union, the forging of a broad front of workers’ and other mass organisations, and also looks at the various internal processes and discussions among the organisers. These aspects have been principally derived from the written archival documents collected of minutes of various committees of the CITU and the CPI(M). The minutes themselves provided rich details of the internal discussions among the organisers of the strike, and were a most important source for comprehension of the process by which a small organisational force was able to engage with the task of implementing such a widespread strike.


The following chapter (Ch 4), addresses the events as they unfolded during the seven days of the strike in five industrial areas. Here, the chronological frame has been primarily drawn from the newsaper reports of the time. But both the generalised and particular descriptions of the strike and  its form have emerged from the experiences of the participants. Within the common experience of overwhelming participation of the mass of workers, there were uneven levels of the strike in the different industrial areas. Clashes with the police which marked the strike in Wazirpur, GTK Road and Mayapuri, were not a feature in Shahdara-Jhilmil and Okhla. Similarly, the extent of actual strike varied from 90% in Wazirpur and GT Road to 25-30% in Mayapuri. These have emerged from newspaper reports, interviews as well as the internal organisational reviews of the strike, and the day to day course of events in select industrial areas have been described. This chapter also includes the public record of reactions to the strike, and some of the events in the aftermath.


In the concluding chapter (Ch 5) of the study, an attempt has been made to look back at the events from the context of the present situation and analyse some of the more longterm and wider trajectories and implications of the seven day strike.


Ultimately, this is the story of a strike. Of a strike of unorganised workers. Not just a formal strike as a tactic of the negotiating table. Not just a token strike. But a more widespread, protracted, bitter and more realised strike. The hows, whys and wherefores as much as the whos and the whens are, in the final analysis, the background of a universal story. It is not a new story. It is not a unique story. But it must be told again and again for any of us to comprehend its meaning for and in the life of a worker.   


Chapter 1 : Workers in the making of the Metropolis



In its spectacular leaps in population since 1941, Delhi is known to have outpaced all million plus cities in India. From somewhat more than 9 lakhs in 1941, the population almost doubled at over 17 lakhs by 1951 and thereafter continued to maintain a decennial growth of over 50%. In 1991, the population in Delhi stood at over 94 lakhs. Within these bare statistics is represented the lives and aspirations of lakhs of people who have been drawn to the capital by its promise of infinite advantages, for economic and social advance.


Table 1: Decennial rate of growth in Delhi’s population  




Decennial % variation



















ource: Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1999, Bureau of Economics &  Statistics, Govt. of the National Capital Territory of Delhi


Generally, accounts of the making of Delhi in independent India have, no doubt  legitimately, focussed on the huge influx of Punjabi refugees during partition, their fortitude, enterprise and role in the economic development of the city. And yet, alongside the official refugees, for whose rehabilitation five arms of the Government [Ministries of (i) Rehabilitation, (ii)Works, Housing and Supply, (iii) Railways, (iv) Defence and (v) Health], and the local municipal authorities  went to work, there was a parallel and expanding movement of non-refugee migrant workers who also contributed to the broadening and diversifying of a labour force base necessary for such development.


Along with their refugee brethren, these migrant workers too displayed fortitude, resilience and enterprise, if of a somewhat different order. They too were making a transition from their earlier, traditional occupations and living patterns in movement towards the construction of a metropolitan working class. Unlike the refugees who were predominantly of urban origin (95%)[1], the majority of the migrant workers came from rural backgrounds. For them, there were no arrangements for settlement, and no organs of Government working for the establishment of their place in the metropolis. And while the root causes for their influx may be located in the continued process of  agrarian immiserisation in independent India, the myriad tales of their adaptation to and survival in the capital also encapsulate ambitions and aspirations for social advance beyond the realm of the purely economic. By the 1980s, the sheer numerical dominance of these migrants began to determine the electoral fortunes of the dominant political parties of the capital city.


Among the migrant workers who entered the city in ever swelling waves, (4.45 lakhs in 1951-61, 5.25 in 1961-71, and 12.29 in 1971-81, and over 19 lakhs in 1981-91)[2], a significant feature has been the  drawing in of the most socially oppressed sections. This is evidenced from the rising proportion of dalits or those belonging to the scheduled castes in the population of Delhi, from an initial 12% in 1951 to 19% in 1991. Yet another feature has been the increasing number of women representing the settling down process through which male migrant workers have brought in their families to become an intrinsic part of the people of the capital city. Many of these women were to enter the labour force of the capital, in forms of work that would have been unacceptable to them in their native areas.



Table 2: Decennial growth and % of SC population, and sex ratio in Delhi  


Decennial growth of SC population (%)

% of SC to total population

Sex ratio (Females per 000 of Males)





















Source: Census Hand Book, 1991.


The process of migration into the capital began even prior to independence, from the decade 1931-41, during which the  population increase of about 5 lakhs was double that of the preceding three decades taken together. Came partition, and, within a few years, displaced Hindu refugees (more than 4.5 lakhs) flooded into the capital. Prior to 1951, Delhi drew its labour force mostly from the adjoining districts  of Gurgaon, Rohtak, Bulandshahr and Meerut,[3] but in the years that followed, migrants have entered the city from a widening radius, but ever dominated by the vast Hindi heartland of the country.[4] The state of Uttar Pradesh, consistently provided the largest contingent of migrants into Delhi constituting 41% of all migrants before 1961 and rising to 50% in the decade 1971-81[5]. However, the fact is that within U.P., the cultural divide between the east and the west is considerable, with the purabiyas (easterners) often being clubbed with Biharis in the perception of the westerners. Unfortunately, the distribution of migrants according to district of origin is not available. But there can be little doubt that from 1961 onwards, significantly increasing numbers of purabiyas and later Biharis have been coming in to Delhi.


Development of Industry and its workers


Unlike Bombay and Calcutta which grew largely on account of their industrial development, Delhi emerged first as an administrative city. Nevertheless, taking off from its location as a commercial and trade centre with access to an expanding internal and external market, industry grew rapidly. But whereas in Bombay and Calcutta, the industrial structure was dominated by large industries, industrial development in Delhi has been dominated by numerous small units. In fact, the setting up of large scale and heavy industries in Delhi was ruled out by the Master Plan for Delhi adopted in 1962.


 By the end of the ‘60s, Delhi had “emerged as the single biggest centre of concentration of small scale industries in the country” with  the small scale industries constituting 99.2% of the number, 76.3% of the employment, 53.50% of the investment and 55.62% of the production of all industries in the capital.[6]  In the same period, there were only 65 large scale industrial establishments which employed about 45,044 workers (in1969). Of these workers, the five textile mills of DCM, DCM Silk, Swatantra Bharat, Ajudhia and Birla Mills alone accounted for over 22,000[7]. It was the textile workers of these mills who laid the foundations of the trade union movement among the industrial workers in Delhi and who  served as a beacon of inspiration for the organisation of workers in the small scale industries as well.


Given the fact that small scale industries were so designated, solely on the basis of an upper ceiling on investment in plant and machinery[8], it is by no means true that all of them had small numbers of workers. For, at a time when designated large scale units such as Delhi Flour Mills employed about 250 workers[9] some of the units designated small scale industries employed up to 500 workers. Thus, the 1969 census of industrial units recorded 388 industrial units (of which only 65 were large scale) having more than 50 workers per unit, with 216 of them having more than 100 per unit.


Despite the existence of  a significant number of medium sized units in the small scale sector, it remains a fact that the vast majority of factories that came up even in organised industrial estates employed less than 30 workers. By 1988, an industrial survey revealed that about 30% of all industrial units in Delhi employed 4 workers or less[10]. This  is additionally confirmed by the three Economic Censuses of 1977, 1980 and 1990. It was this sea of units with small numbers of workers that eluded registration with the Factories’ Inspectorate, which accustomed  many workers towards the acceptance of the domination of unregulated, non-formal or informal employer-employee relations in Delhi’s  industrial scenario.


The number of industrial units in Delhi grew from 8,160 employing some 95,137 workers in 1951 to 26,000 employing  2.91 lakh workers in 1970-71. In the following decade, the number of industries jumped to 42,000 (by 1981), registering an increase of 16,000 industries, and then a further increase of 23,000 bringing their number to over 76,000 by 1988[11]. Various rounds of the NSSO survey also indicate that about 25% of the workers in Delhi were engaged in the manufacturing sector between 1977-78 and 1991-92. While not wishing to dwell on what are known to be unreliable statistics, nevertheless, they have been introduced here in order to show the explosive increase in the number of industries effected between 1971 and 1988 (39,000 in 18 years), the year of the strike. Through the seventies and eighties, these industrial units were spread all over the city, in 20 officially constituted industrial estates, as also in many other areas, predominating in 37 industrial areas, termed non conforming on the basis of the land use mapped by the Master Plan for Delhi. Most of the official industrial areas came up during and the period following the emergency.


Table 3: Growth of Industrial Sector in Delhi, 1951-91  


Number of Industrial Units

Investment  (Rs. crore)

Production  (Rs. crore)

Employment (number of workers)


























Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000


 Accompanying this rapid increase, was the development of a substantial segment of wage labourers employed in these various industries. They worked in various types of factories and under masters ranging from organised managements, small and large individual proprietors, to fabricators and labour contractors or thekedars. They produced a wide range of goods, for local markets, external markets within the country as well as export markets. A survey of industries in 1988[12] showed that Textile products, i.e., primarily garments, constituted the single largest number of units, numbering 15,166. This was followed by the manufacture of machine tools, machine parts and electrical machinery which had 7,236 units. However, if one clubs the latter with all other groups that may be broadly classified as Engineering and light Engineering industries[13], their number was 19,892.


Of a total number of 76,559 industrial units identified by the 1988 survey, less than  7% were registered under the Factories’ Act.[14] The overwhelming majority of workers in modern factory production in Delhi, therefore remained outside the protection of any of the labour laws. Of the units registered with the Small Industries Development Organisation, (SIDO), as identifiably modern small scale industries, less than 17% were registered under the Factories Act in 1988, although, about 59% of them qualified for registration[15]. Thus the widespread evasion of the application of labour laws reflected also the relentless drive of the majority of  Delhi’s capitalist class towards both extraction of absolute surplus value, as also its inevitable companions, the use of direct coercion and brute power to enforce domination.


Embedded in this broad statistical picture lies a world of the direct experience of the individual worker. Occasionally, stories of the conditions of labour in these small scale industries made their way into newspaper reports, albeit in the Hindi Press. Thus, in October,1986 appeared the story of Ras Bihari who had worked in seven factories within the space of eight months, and was at the time working in a rubber chappal factory in Mayapuri and living with seven other workers from his district in a single room. He was working from seven in the morning to seven in the evening on a compulsory 12 hour shift, and additionally being made to work overtime, actually being able to return to his room only by 11 or 12 o’clock at night. His room mates would leave a few rotis and onions and green chillies for him which constituted his dinner. He had spent just eight months in Delhi and had been reduced from being healthy to a state where his hands constantly trembled and suffered from perpetual cough and fever. Another worker, Khel Ram reported that in his factory, which housed five grinders in a space where there should not be more than three, five workers had died during the year, four from electrocution, and one due to being injured in the back by the handle of a grinder, while he was working on another machine.[16]


In the Shahdara handloom and powerloom units, and in the readymade garment industry, where the number of workers ranged from 10 to 50, they would be made to work for 15-16 hours, without their names being on any records. Many would be living on the factory premises and would be turned out of both residence and work at the signs of any dispute. Raj Prasad who had worked in one unit for five years as a casual worker reported that whenever an industrial dispute was raised, the management would change the name of the factory such as from “Saryu  Textiles” to “Gupta Textiles”. It was not only the small sized units where bad conditions prevailed. In a cycle tyre factory with about 1000 workers, workers were made to work without the stipulated masks and within fifteen days of work, their faces would start to swell. A prominent factory, it was well known for violation of labour laws.[17] 


Looking back at 1988, and remembering that first year of his trade union life, an activist[18] recounted the following stories: Shafiq who used to work in A-15, GT Karnal Road. They were 28 people. There were 14 jodis (pairs). They worked round the clock, one would sleep on the floor at the back of the hall while the other worked; then they switched. They were paid 400 rupees per jodi. They were not allowed outside. They had no weekly off. Shafiq’s first holiday in one and a half years was in the seven day strike when the juloos[19] nearly tore down the main gate and his malik hustled the workers out from the back gate. Then there was Shamsuddin, who after a full day’s work, additionally stitched clothes at his jhuggi in Gur Mandi. He used to say, “It is tiring, and my eyes are failing. But I can’t carry on in the wage given by the factory. I have three daughters you see....” Ram Kumar, a worker in Wazirpur, would go to his jhuggi in Kaushalpuri after factory duty got over at 5:30 in the evening, prepare and have dinner. From 8 till 12 midnight he would ply a rickshaw from Azadpur. Charges are higher at night, and he managed to earn 20 rupees on an average. Then back to the jhuggi to sleep. Morning duty in the factory began at 8:30.


Yet it was in these factories that were learnt, the skills of understanding and operating a range of machines and production processes. Industry provided the economic foundations for the absorption of the migrant worker into the metropolis. The state from which our worker entered factory life was described by the trade union activist as follows: “Arriving and adjusting to the city is a painful process. Cases were reported where a particularly docile young man became incapable of speech for the first week or so. This may be an extreme and rare occurrence, but the shock of so many people, the traffic, the noise, the struggle at each step, from daily ablutions to the philosophy of the city, all these wrench the man into a state of insecurity and trepidation. He fixes himself to his group, his residence and finally to his work. Usually he spends the first month or so just hanging around, increasingly pretending to look for work but lethargic and worried. He gets food and shelter from some friend or relative, but knows that he has to earn his khuraki (expenditure on food) very soon”[20]. And so, at the instance of someone known or connected to him in the city, he is introduced to work in some factory or other. Whether from rural or urban backgrounds, some with education and even technical training[21], but many illiterate, these workers then developed the various skill differentiations and production relations that characterise modern factory production and an industrial proletariat.


The layers of skills, classified as unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled in minimum wage notifications, were all defined in relation to machinery. Purely manual operations being categorised as unskilled, simple operation of machines without the task or responsibility of maintenance as semi-skilled, and the operation of machines plus the responsibility of care and repair as skilled.  Education was no guarantee of skilled employment[22]. Most workers learnt on the job, and developed a degree of professionalism. They would look for jobs in their “line” as they term it. It is this section of industrial workers that constituted the important core of the vast army of toilers in the capital. However, they remained strongly bound through economic and social connections with a whole range of other forms of labour, ranging from the individual household producers to hawkers, rickshaw pullers, those in menial service, and others providing the  multiple services required by the metropolis. Some toiled in both factories as well as in informal services. Others, when thrown out of factories, and sometimes out of choice, would often take to these other forms of labour. But the security of a monthly wage with no investment other than labour, despite its prevailing  impermanency, would more often than not, draw them back to the factories[23].


The sheer spread and magnitude of numbers which enfolded our capital’s industrial workers and the ever flowing in stream into the ranks of the job seekers, determined the conditions of not only their work, but also of their organisation and consciousness. On the one hand, it would have seemed to the worker coming from either the impoverished rural hinterland (60% by 1991) or even other urban centres (40%) that with so much of development and expansion, opportunities for work only had to be sought out. Entering an unknown city, their search for work and a place to stay was generally channelised through corridors of association, based on kinship, regional , and community affinities, through which they looked for and found their elements of opportunity[24]. On the other hand, the acute economic competition for employment, among workers themselves remained a perennial pressure towards depression of wages and degraded conditions of work and residence. This, in turn fuelled processes of  simple cultural or linguistic variation being transformed into social antagonisms even within the community of workers. Thus, as migrants from the eastern Hindi belt entered in ever increasing numbers, the simple nomenclature of “Bihari” on the tongues of many “locals” from Delhi and its surrounding rural areas, or even an earlier generation of migrant workers could be turned into an insult. Such antagonisms reflected the struggle and competition among workers themselves - competition for wages, conditions of work, and the basic amenities required for the pursuit of life.


In the eighties, official minimum wage rates in Delhi were lower than even the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Low wages led to life sapping dependence on overtime or supplemental work for survival. As evident from the stories above, very often workers were made to work on 12 hour shifts, plus overtime in unregistered factories. Easy replacement made victimisation or dismissal simple, forcing them to acquiesce to both humiliation and demands made on them by their masters. Unions, when formed, were often quickly suppressed leading to acceptance among workers of open flouting of laws and norms even when made familiar with them. 


Thus, the conditions dominant in the market for wage labour in Delhi cannot be sought in the industrial boom reflected in the expanding numbers of industrial units alone. For  while industry grew in numbers, it failed to provide either regular employment or a secure livelihood to the mass of workers. The 2nd All India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, 1988, revealed that 27.6% of the modern small scale industries were non-functional or had closed down, while another 13.06% were not traceable. While small scale industry seemed to be flourishing, within the expansion of its numbers, lay many a story of closure, shifting, changing of names of companies, dismissal and retrenchment of workers.


At another end, first through automation, and then the moves towards closure in the textile industry, the reduction of the workers in the major mills began from the seventies. Through intensification of crisis in the organised textile industry in the eighties, and the final closure of some of the mills, began the sunset of the most organised and  major force in the trade union movement in the city. By 1988, the workforce of the five textile mills had been considerably reduced. At the same time, hundreds of independent producers were caught in the toils of the  collapse of the traditional industries such as handloom. Where the sixties and early seventies had seen an increase in the number of  handloom workers,  going back to their traditional occupation and  becoming organised in cooperatives, the competition of advancing power loom by the seventies, and the rise in the prices of yarn in the eighties, was condemning handloom workers to penury, destitution and even imprisonment due to non return of bank loans[25].  Their looms empty and rotting, these workers and their families too were being thrown into the market for wage labour, a market where the sellers had to constantly engage in bitter competition amongst themselves. And so, the context in which the modern industrial proletariat of the capital was being fashioned out of a predominantly rural migrant workforce, was ridden with internal crisis and decay in the land of opportunity itself.

Price rise, wages and the appropriation of value
In the three years preceding the seven day strike, the prices of all essential commodities had risen substantially. This was the case, not only in the open market, but also in the government controlled rates in ration shops, imposing an unbearable strain on working class family budgets. The reflection of such price rise in the consumer price index for Delhi, was an increase of 334 points (Base 1960=100), between March, 1982 and March, 1988. The minimum wage rates for the same period, through four revisions had been increased by a mere 262 rupees for unskilled workers, from Rs 300 in 1982 to Rs 562 in March, 1988.[26] Below subsistence at inception, the nominal increases in wage rates fell behind the actual rate of increase in prices. 


While this was the situation of labour, the evidence of the increasing wealth of its appropriators in metropolitan Delhi could not escape observation. In the small scale industrial (SSI) sector, a comparison between the 1st and 2nd All India Census of SSI units, shows that the the Net Value Added (NVA), in this sector in Delhi, rose from 36.34 crore rupees in 1972  to 396.17 in crores in1987-88. In other words, the NVA per worker, rose from Rs 5,601 to Rs 32,480 in the intervening fifteen years. The wages paid in the year 1987-88 were 114.44 crores[27]. Thus at a rough estimate, the surplus over wages (NVA minus wages), in these small scale industries, amounted to 281.76 crores, and an average of Rs 23,000 per worker for the year 1987-88. The monthly minimum wages for that year were Rs 489 for unskilled workers and Rs 719 for skilled. Even this amount was not paid to a majority of the workers, while the surplus generated by each worker was more than three times the unskilled worker’s wage and twice that of the skilled.


Many economists may laugh at these statements as crude generalisations, but it is not so easy to laugh at the realities of the crude experience of workers. New cars, spacious and luxurious houses for those who commanded capital, ostentatious marriages and gifts for their children, sometimes extensions to their factories, perhaps the opening of another one, all pressed upon the senses of the worker. In the words of Ram Rato of Mayapuri, whose factory, in which he had worked for twenty years, had been closed and then reopened with a fresh lot of workers, “Malik to tarakki kar gaye. Hum wahin rah gaye.” No amount of use of the instruments of informal social control could completely erase these sources of elemental conflict that were part of the direct experiences of labour in the capital. Nor could their increasing absolute and relative numbers in the city’s population, fail to impress itself upon their minds. Such was the situation in 1988, when the seven day strike took place, on the central demand of a minimum wage of Rs 1050 and a dearness allowance of Rs 2 per point rise in the price index.


The settlements of workers

The jhuggi bastis


Through successive generations, the destination of a substantial section of migrant workers in Delhi, turned out to be the jhuggies or squatter settlements of the capital. An estimated 16% of the migrants in 1951-61 were squatters, but their numbers swelled to form 40% of the total entrants between 1971-81 and about 60% in 1981-91.[28]


Table 4: Growth of squatters in Delhi from 1951 to 1991  


No. of squatter families






















Source: Slum and JJ Department, Delhi Slum Improvement Board, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (Based on record of Food and Supplies Department)[29]


The above table cannot claim to be anywhere near a complete enumeration of jhuggies in Delhi, based as it is, on the records of the Food and Supplies Department. In other words, it is an enumeration of ration cards allotted to families living in jhuggis. Anyone who has had an association with jhuggi dwellers of Delhi will know that at any given moment, a substantial number of them do not have such ration cards. Nevertheless, the table can be taken as a broad outline of the growth of jhuggis in Delhi.


These jhuggis have constituted the rough schools where the migrant workers of Delhi learnt the arts of survival in the metropolis. Within the story of the jhuggi bastis can be found the contours of the social networks of the working class of the metropolis, the space it has carved for itself in the city, its multiple relationships with commerce and  industry on the one hand, and with the government and politics on the other;  relationships out of which many of the characteristics of the social and political consciousness of workers in Delhi had been shaped. Within the story of the jhuggies lie encapsulated, the experiences of degradation, debasement and illegality that marks the pathway of the development of the working class in Delhi. Similarly, may be found the carrot and stick tactics adopted by the administration and the dominant bourgeois political parties towards moulding and utilising the life force and consciousness of the workers in order to maintain their class and political hegemony over the capital city.


Although some industrial workers of a new generation today may seek to distance themselves from the dirt, filth and humiliation of jhuggi  life, the story of the more established working class colonies cannot ever be dissociated from the jhuggis that formed the imperative towards their establishment. Nor can the profits of business and industrial enterprise have accrued to the wealthy and established sections of the populace without the foundation of the jhuggis that provided the cheap labour and services for their growth. For, it was the elimination of house rent and transport that lowered the cost of bare (if subhuman) survival of workers and allowed the continuation of low wages, upon which the visible wealth in Delhi, was built.


It was the jhuggi bastis adjacent to industrial areas that played an important strategic role in industrial action by the workers during the 7-day strike of 1988. The attention paid to propaganda in these bastis, the incorporation of the demand for their permanent settlement rights, and the force of growing resentment among jhuggi dwellers at their degraded conditions of life contributed in no small measure to the success of the strike itself.


However, the direct relationship between the jhuggies and the strike is but one part of the story, an episodic insight into the interconnected world of experience of workers. It begins with the intersection between caste and class experience that marks the lives of the unorganised workers of Delhi. For the jhuggi bastis of the 1950s were almost universally referred to as Harijan bastis, Bhangi Colony, etc. Their upgradation or resettlement was at that time largely done through the Harijan Welfare Board.[30] When the first phase of clearance of jhuggis from the central zones of Delhi took place, there was an accompanying shift in the scheduled caste population, dropping in New Delhi from 40,000 in 1951 to 30,000 in 1961 while increasing by more than three and a half times in the then peripheral areas of Shahdara, Civil Lines-Subzimandi, South Delhi, West Delhi and the Cantonment where they were resettled at the time.[31]


The crowded yet exposed nature of life in the jhuggies made the practices of segregation, exclusion based on ‘pollution’, and the seclusion of women that marks the life of caste ordered social hierarchies, virtually impossible to maintain[32]. Thus, the jhuggis were initially, the natural homes of the outcasts, and thekedar tied low caste migrant construction labour. And yet, upon such foundations, increasing numbers of workers from all communities, driven by inability  to afford house rent, began to be absorbed in the jhuggies.


Giant jhuggi clusters emerged, particularly in places adjacent to the industrial areas. For years they had to remain outside official administrative recognition, denied the facilities of municipal water, drainage and latrines. Initially rural habit, and later because of the absence of facilities, jhuggi dwellers were forced to perform basic bodily functions on open land, leaving them vulnerable to searing humiliation at the hands of the more privileged.  Middle class revulsion at  the use of open parks for such purposes caused them to invoke the courts and police against the residents of the jhuggi bastis, the cruel nature of which was exemplified in the beating to death by the police, of a youth caught defecating in a park in Ashok Vihar in north Delhi.


Surrounded by industrial wastes, garbage, and excreta, breeding grounds of frequent epidemics of malaria, gastroenteritis and even cholera[33], the jhuggies were the base areas of both resentment and aspiration of the migrant worker. The need to fend off their elimination by the administration through police action, caused them to seek shelter in the political patronage provided by the Congress. From their patrons, they learnt the art of bribing and developing close connections with corrupt police officials[34], a process  through which a criminal nexus was established between a cadre of jhuggi pradhans, their political overlords in the ruling Congress, and the police. This nexus then turned to regulating and controlling the rights of existence of other jhuggi dwellers, using their muscle power to browbeat and cow down many an independent thinking worker[35]. Premised as they were on illegal existence, in many places the lines between protection of the right to residence of the migrant worker and protection of outright criminal activity within the jhuggies  became blurred. 


At the same time, the common residents of these bastis, taking heart from their numbers, sensed an increased bargaining power for their own place in their own name which fuelled attachment to their jhuggi and acceptance of the leadership of the pradhans. The first phase of this sense of bargaining power included the enrolment of jhuggi residents in the electoral rolls, and particularly in acquiring ration cards. In the seventies and eighties, prices of such essential commodities as grain and kerosene were still far less in ration shops than in the open market. But equally important was the fact that the ration card was a proof of residence, a small acknowledgement of the jhuggi resident as a citizen of the metropolis, that might entitle him to resettlement, rather than be rendered homeless in case of demolition. If it meant giving 100 rupees to the local Congress pradhan, people gave it. (And the pradhans of the eighties, were overwhelmingly Congress).


As periodic resettlement programmes were undertaken by the administration, the aspiration for ownership of land or house in the city often came within their reach. Thus, many a rural migrant clung to the makeshift shanty, sometimes in preference to rented accommodation in better colonies. But where the capital, at first offered open land space for these settlements to come up, with the expansion of commercial, industrial and residential property of the more affluent sections, their space became increasing constricted. And jhuggi bastis began to come up in more hostile lands, with added vulnerability to floods and fires that could devastate thousands in one stroke.


The expanding presence of the jhuggi bastis forced the administration to take notice of the housing needs of workers. The Master Plan of 1962, had allocated only 5% of land for housing the multitude of labour. Characteristic of the need to profit from labour, but maintain the sensibility of contempt for its wretched existence, official policy was directed at pushing residents of jhuggis out from the centre to the periphery of the city, at every stage of their development. Brutality and the arrogance of privilege marked this process, of which the most infamous incidents were during the Emergency (1975-77), when naked terror took the form of not just razing the small hutments built for themselves by workers, but even killing of those who resisted. Such clearing was a policy doomed to failure as the presence of jhuggies close to work centres were the basis on which labour costs could be kept low and profits increased. And so inexorable economic forces compelled the cycle of return to, and expansion of jhuggi settlements, sometimes at the same places where they had been previously bulldozed out of existence.

The Resettlement Colonies


The expansion of jhuggies generated various resettlement schemes. The record of policy in such resettlement programmes is testimony to the declining status of workers and the poor of Delhi in the eyes of the city’s planners. Where initially, 80 sq yards per unit were the norm for resettlement in the fifties, by the late sixties, and the seventies, it had been reduced to 25 sq yards. By the eighties, it was increasingly being reduced to flats of just 12 sq yards[36]. Such resettlement took place in phases, of which the emergency alone saw the removal of 1,53,310 households from jhuggies and relocated in the wild lands of the periphery.[37]


The emergency experience of the manner in which masses of people were uprooted from their jhuggies and thrown into wild lands without either connections or facilities, kept the terror of the bulldozer alive in the minds of all jhuggi residents. But slowly as the wilderness of the periphery was transformed into pucca settlements of workers[38], contiguous belts of these colonies created giant legal settlements of workers, within and around which, further illegal jhuggi settlements sprang up. Although DDA surveys show that the number of original allottees in the resettlement colonies, range from 50% to 37%, there can be little doubt that the initially low price of the land sold off (either by the allottees or otherwise by property sharks who captured unoccupied plots) allowed a section of the more permanent workers, otherwise living on rent, to acquire homes in the colonies so established. Of course, a whole breed of property dealers, many of whom came from the dominant castes of the local villages, profiteered from this process and acquired considerable political influence over the lives of the new residents. Industrial estates were also established near these settlements, some within the parameters of the Master Plan, while others came up in unauthorised manner, in non conforming industrial areas.  The scale of movement, the direction and political correlations so established can be discerned from the changing numbers of voters in the various parliamentary constituencies of the capital.


The growing concentration in the two constituencies that together form a ring border to Delhi, viz., Outer and East Delhi may be observed. In outer Delhi lay large resettlement colonies in the contiguous belts of Madangir, Tigri, Ambedkar Nagar in the south, and Mangolpuri, Sultanpuri and Nangloi in the west. Similarly, Jahangirpuri, in North Delhi was a part of the East Delhi constituency, as was Nand Nagri, Seemapuri, Seelampur falling north east of the river Jamuna, and Trilokpuri, Kalyanpuri and Khichripur in the south east. Although the process of expansion of the periphery has remained a fairly continuous process, the most dramatic transformation can be seen from 1980 to 1989, when the proportions of electors in the two constituencies of Outer and East  rose from 41% to 57% of the total electorate of Delhi.


The unauthorised colonies

The establishment of the resettlement colonies in the periphery, and the development of their political economy through the establishment of new industrial estates near them, opened the doors for the beginnings of new unauthorised colonies of workers around them, and in similar areas. And the receding rural outskirts became the areas where many of the workers with slightly more longstanding employment, established themselves in unauthorised colonies that can be found in all the directions of the city. Lured by the feeling that property provided security and stability and the cheap prices of illegal[40], barren and undeveloped land, the emotive content of this drive for acquisition of residential property by the worker, could perhaps be traced to the agricultural social background of so many. But equally, if not more importantly, it lay in a rejection of the conditions to which they were otherwise condemned in both jhuggies, and in some cases resettlement colonies too, a rejection for which they were prepared to pay the price of begging and borrowing and sometimes even mortgaging their lives to their employer through loans and advances[41]. Such a drive also laid the basis for continued association with the powerful local politician, who could protect them from demolition at the hands of the DDA. Bereft of municipal water, roads and sewerage, with low cost, and often kuccha housing, the working class unauthorised colonies presented a sharp contrast to the idyllic farmhouses of the rich of Delhi, that had come up in similar unauthorised manner.


Elements of political control 

Compelling economic and social processes behind large scale migration in combination with the strategies of urban development have to be considered as the real foundations of this dramatic expansion of the periphery, and therefore these two constituencies. But the form it took cannot be separated from the electoral tactics of the Congress Party in the post emergency era. Nor can it be separated from the political careers of two of its emergency dons - H.K.L. Bhagat[42] and Sajjan Kumar[43], whose goonda storm troopers vitiated the entire process with criminal politics. It is possible to speculate that these two netas represented a combination of, on the one hand the commercial and capitalist classes constructed out of the the post partition influx of Punjabi refugees and, on the other, the local Jat dominated landowners who were benefiting from speculation in land as the metropolis expanded.  Whatever the case may be, the goonda, neta, police nexus so established in the settlements of workers, spilled over into the industrial areas as a convenient tool for owners of capital to strangle and suppress any tentative rumblings of protest among their workers. At the same time, the relationship of dependence of the workers on these netas, for the securing the right of the migrant to residence in the capital, gave the Congress an expanded electoral base with which to first recoup from the electoral reverses of 1977, and then maintain political power. It was the domination of these political overlords and their criminal culture in the working class bastis in the eighties that found such sickening expression in November, 1984, when the horrific mass scale slaughter of Sikhs took place in some of these newly constructed giant settlements of workers[44].


Description of the powers that predominantly influenced, directed and controlled workers’ lives in Delhi in the seventies and eighties, would be incomplete without touching upon the concentrated power of the organs of the state through which the bureaucracy emerged as a third corner to the triangle of power in Delhi. This is most clearly represented in the gigantic organisation of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), established by the Delhi Development Act, 1957.


Being the capital, the Central Government has always had a palpable presence in the lives of the people of Delhi. From 1956, when the capital had became a Union Territory directly administered through a Lieutenant Governor, and the earlier (post independence) legislature and council of ministers ceased to exist, Delhi had come under direct central rule. From 1958 to 1966, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi remained the only elected state level body with any degree of accountability to the people of the city. The real power and direction of policy was in the hands of the central government,  and therefore remained with the party in power there, even when it lost 6 of the total 7 Lok Sabha seats in the capital      (1967).


In 1966, the passing of the  Delhi Administration Act did create an elected Metropolitan Council, but it  was a purely deliberative body without any legislative powers. Its Executive Council, presided over by the Lieutenant Governor (LG), appointed by the centre, had some authority in matters enumerated in the State List (in the constitution),but not on law and order, land and buildings and services, which remained within the sole jurisdiction of the LG as a representative of the centre. This system was to remain in place till the early nineties, and was under review during the year of the strike. It was a system in which  the main levers of  political power in the capital remained firmly in the hands of the Union Government.


The Act, that brought into existence the DDA as an agency of the centre, conferred on it, overwhelming powers to acquire, hold and dispose of land and property, for implementing a Master Plan to be formulated by it. Accordingly the Delhi Master Plan of 1962 was brought on the Statute book, and the DDA became the all powerful agency of its implementation. Thus began the largest nationalisation of urbanisable land by undertaken in any capitalist country in the world, and the DDA became the largest landowner in Delhi.


The rise of the DDA as a direct agency of repression in the lives of the workers of Delhi, while stemming from its lack of accountability to the people, was closely linked to the centralisation of economic and political power in the hands of the Union government. The control, so established through centralised licensing for industries, associated advantages of low taxation and other incentives provided in the capital by a central government that could draw on far greater resources than elsewhere, had seen a gravitation of medium level capital towards the capital. But it was the DDA through which, industrialists bribed their way into the the fast growing industrial areas in the city. It was such a nexus that established an authoritarian power over the lives of workers, which found its high point of expression during the emergency. But even in the period following, it was the DDA, that on the one hand, directly administered the availability or rather lack of basic civic amenities in the resettlement colonies of workers[45], and determined the insecure conditions of their lives in the jhuggies and unauthorised colonies.


 Out of such an economic, social and political context , grew the force of sullen and resentful anger of a class of workers, that was to burst out in a militant and dramatic upsurge in November,1988. In a sense the seven day strike represented an assertion of working class power, that highlighted the often hidden, but nevertheless elemental conflict between the unorganised worker and those who benefit from the exploitation of his labour. But it was also the signal of the workers’ rejection of the supremacy that the goonda mafia spawned by the emergency and authoritarianism, had established over their lives. Not surprisingly, in the 1989 elections, the sharpest swing away from the Congress was in precisely in East and Outer Delhi, the two constituencies where the workers predominated.[46]


Chapter 2: The Trade Union Context


It is not the intention here to provide an exhaustive account of the trade union movement in Delhi. But rather to touch upon some elements of the earlier phases of militant activity and struggles, that laid the foundations of experience upon which the 7-day strike of 1988 was planned and successfully executed. For the imagination, ideas, and objectives which drove the leadership of what was but a small contingent of the trade union organisation into such a movement, were fashioned in part out of the combined experience of earlier struggles and forms of organisation. A struggle not merely against the owners of capital, but also against trends that existed within the trade union movement, - trends towards containment of militancy on the one hand, and maintenance of a segmented division between workers in organised industry and their less fortunate brothers and sisters in the unorganised sector on the other.


Militant continuities in the trade union movement of Delhi


Sunrise and sunset  - the textile workers movement in Delhi

The largest contingent of the industrial workforce being initially the textile workers, trade union organisation had acquired strong roots in the textile industry by the fifties. With wages comparable to the lower echelons of government service and over 22,000 workers in five mills, textile workers represented the most concentrated section of the industrial workforce, and were a force to be reckoned with. For decades the movement in Delhi was led by these textile workers, who traversed various phases of militant struggle. 1954 saw a major strike struggle that led to the establishment of the supremacy of the Kapda Mazdoor Ekta Union, affiliated to the AITUC and led by the then united Communist Party of India, among textile workers. When in 1962 the government cracked down on the militant section of the party, some textile workers of Delhi were imprisoned for periods ranging from 2-4 years. 1964-65 saw a spontaneous action in DCM, over the issue of bonus. The numbers, militancy and strategic position of the workers in this action generated emotions that went far beyond the limited economic demand. “The police did not dare to do anything¼it looked like revolution¼ the workers had captured the factory ¼for 10-12 days they remained inside DCM, cooking their food in the mill canteen..”.[47] The fire of such militancy was enhanced when workers emerged victorious with a bonus of 16.4% in place of the earlier 8.33%.


This advancing militancy of the workers was sought to be restrained by the leadership of the AITUC, and by the seventies, the influence of the Ekta Union was on the wane. Influential militant workers in each mill gravitated towards leadership provided by the CPI(M), despite the fact that following the 1964 split in the party, all the major leaders of the united party in Delhi remained with the CPI. It was upon the militant trade union foundations of these workers that the first units of the CPM in Delhi came into existence. When in 1973 workers of all 5 mills went on strike demanding full neutralisation of price rise in their DA, this time it was called for by only  the CPI(M) led Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union affiliated to the CITU(which was founded in 1970), and one faction of the INTUC (led by Kishore Lal). The strike was opposed by the other unions including the AITUC.


The strike of 1973 lasted for 26 days during which there was a call for a Delhi Bandh on 30th April against unemployment and price rise. Although the effect of their call could not reach all areas of the city, for the first time textile workers mobilised workers of other industries in this bandh action. They fired the imagination of workers in the small scale industries, when thousands of textile workers took out processions that went around closing both factories and markets. It was the first  major demonstration of working class power, making its political presence felt “in a city where it had been difficult to even take the name of a bandh”.[48] Once again, where the demand was rooted in the economic interests of the textile workers alone, the movement threw up the possibilities of a wider mobilisation of the working class. The ambition to expand working class power in the capital grew among the ground level textile leaders themselves.


Having won a victory for themselves in 1973, with the Vaidyalingam award of 90% neutralisation of price rise, militancy lost some support among the workers, when another 42 day strike failed to deliver strike wages to them. But the fighting stance of workers had already spread to other sections of workers in the expanding industrial estates located in Najafgarh Road and Kirti Nagar where the red flag could now be seen at many a factory gate. The emergency regime during which the decline of the textile industry began, brought in automation, while repression took further toll on the militancy of textile workers. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Birla Mill witnessed two successful strikes even during the emergency. Some of the trade union leaders who were to play a crucial role in advancing militant movement into the ranks of the unorganised workers of small scale industry were textile workers whose class consciousness and militancy grew out of these movements of the early seventies. 


However, despite the ability of textile union leaders to push forward a militant line and execute major strike actions, a substantial section (60%) of workers remained outside the membership fold of all trade unions put together. It was this that created the conditions for the growing helplessness of the workers in the face of increasing attempts to automate and downsize the workforce. It also laid fertile grounds for the rise of individual populist leadership towards the end of the seventies.


After the loss of direct political power following the election of 1977, many a Congress leader was bidding for mass support to feed their taste for personal aggrandisement and brute power acquired during the emergency. The entry of Lalit Maken into the textile workers’ movement in Delhi was a part of this phenomena which took a variety of forms in Delhi, some of which have been touched upon in the previous chapter. He was brought in as a textile leader from the top, by being incorporated in the worker management negotiations, during the ebb tide of a joint strike movement launched in 1979 for the full implementation of the Vaidyalingan award. It seemed to many workers outside the fold of the existing organisations that he was able to use his connections with the then ruling party [49] in order to arrive at a settlement. On such patronage based foundations, he was able to later capture the militant edge of workers’ discontentment against large scale automation and retrenchment in the textile industry, lead a strike action in Birla Mill and DCM in 1980, and feed his personal support through a barrage of expensive poster propaganda. It was through such a process that he became the most prominent leader of textile workers at the time which facilitated his re-entry into the ruling Congress. Such a phenomena[50] was necessarily short lived, but served to direct the textile workers further away from the  broader class vision that had been in the making in the earlier era. Increasingly opportunist and insular politics began to dominate the textile workers’ movement. Lalit Maken’s influence spread to other sections of organised workers such as DTC, whose workers’ illusions that the leadership of a ruling party figure would protect them from repression were ultimately smashed in the face of police brutality and repression in the summer of 1988.[51]


In the eighties, in the face of a concerted attack on textile workers’ jobs through closure of departments (particularly weaving) in all the major mills, or as in the case of DCM, closure of the mill itself, workers fought many a bitter struggle culminating in their 114 day strike in 1986. This time, although the strike call was given by all the unions, the final agreement signed by all unions save the CITU led Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, accepted increased workload. The declining numbers of textile workers became further unable to resist reduction in their numbers and the onset of closures. An era of struggle of textile workers came to an end and their role in the working class movement of Delhi became marginalized. The centre of the movement shifted from this declining and retreative section to the expanding workforce in the small scale industries located in industrial estates that had by now become established. And minimum wages became the focal issue around which trade union struggles were to be centred.



Trade Unions in small scale industry  


In the manufacturing sector, second to textiles,  was the engineering industry, which in 1968 accounted for 38.2% of the employment in industry. Although large scale industry had some presence in engineering, only 10% of the workers were employed there, leaving 90% in the small scale sector.  This was in contrast to the textile industry where the large scale sector employed close to 64% of the workforce.[52] As such the course of development of the engineering unions followed a different trajectory from the textile unions.


 A wage board set up for the engineering industry never came into operation, and from the outset engineering workers’ bargaining for wages centred around statutory minimum wages. On one side were a few company based INTUC led unions in the few large scale units, which maintained a distance from the broader issues affecting other workers. On the other, stood the communist led engineering union, whose most prominent leader in the sixties was Sadhu Singh.[53] It was this union that constituted the initial bridge between the organised and unorganised workers. By the 1970s as industry diversified its products, broad based unions of workers regardless of trade, came up, foremost of which was the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, affiliated to the CITU. It was no accident that while its first and second President were textile leaders Pyarelal from SBM and then Nathu Prasad from DCM,  its Secretary Puran Chand came from the Engineering Union[54].


The centre of militant activity among these workers, was the Karampura Motinagar area, where the SBM colony was located and which was adjacent to the Najafgarh Road industrial complex. This complex included some of the important large scale factories such as Shri Ram Chemicals and Sylvania Laxman side by side with a whole range of small scale units of mainly engineering in the Rama Road area. Here, the densely populated bastis of workers provided an additional strong support base for industrial action. It was in Motinagar that in 1968, thousands of workers gheraoed the police station’ in anger against police intervention against workers involved in industrial disputes, which resulted in tear gassing and lathi charge and the arrest of 50 workers. 5 of them were convicted to 3 year imprisonment.[55]


However, despite these burgeoning struggles of workers, in 1973, the Delhi Gazetteer concluded “The problem of trade union organisation is not serious in the small scale sector”. There was some truth in this observation as the unions had a limited strength when compared to the growing size and spread of small scale industry. It was upon this fledgling movement that waves of repression were unleashed in the seventies. Union leaders such as Puran Chand and Pyarelal were singled out by the police and publicly thrashed on the streets of Motinagar. Then came the emergency, during which union activity was completely curtailed, while the base areas of jhuggi support in Karampura were bulldozed out of their strategic location. According to Sadhu Singh, the strength of the movement was forever weakened by the shifting of the jhuggies of Karampura during the emergency. Where earlier, a union call  would spread like wildfire through the basti by word of mouth alone, where thousands could thus be mobilised with ease to provide strength to the trade union movement, this became impossible after 1976.


The emergency marked a turning point in trade union organisation among the small scale industrial workers. On the one hand, it had succeeded in stifling the developing unions of the early seventies. On the other, with the establishment of industrial estates in as many as 20 official industrial areas, the manning of the multiple centres of industrial activity, required a wider cadre base for effective intervention. Karampura could no longer remain the focal point of trade union organisation as in the earlier period. At the same time, a new force began to emerge in the trade union organisations in these scattered industrial areas, a breed of individual and opportunistic operators, known as the 10% wallahs, whose greatest interventions for workers revolved around getting them to settle their accounts and leave their factories, rather than sustain disputes with the maliks in order to secure rights for the workers. In the process of settling of accounts or  hisab  the operator would pocket 10% of what the worker received, and often simultaneously take a percentage from the malik whose sole interest lay in getting rid of workers, who started disputes. Many were the maliks, who in order to get rid of the demand for minimum wages for all their workers, would be prepared to give some money in lieu of a settlement and get rid of the worker who was in the lead of such a demand. They would therefore be amenable to the intercession of an individual, who would in the name of a union lubricate the process and make the worker willing to back off from a protracted dispute. Already the conciliation machinery, and the labour administration was available for such settlements. But the eroding confidence of workers in the integrity of the labour department , as workers saw the inspectors generally consorting with the maliks, made them turn to these unions, who claimed to represent them, and then proceeded to sap them of all collective fighting energy and abandon positions of principle. The rise of 10% trade unionism was not confined to the petty unions alone. The traditions of legalism in many of the central trade unions, which increasingly involved workers in only conciliation and case based proceedings, also leaned in this direction.


United action and Minimum Wages

The decade following the emergency saw a major spurt in united action of trade unions initiated at the central level. The many joint conventions and struggles at the all India level created conditions for the state level organisations to come together on many issues[56].  It was in such a context that the first Delhi level joint convention on minimum wages was held in July ’79,  which gave the call for a one day strike of all sections of workers for a need based  minimum wage, variable dearness allowance and solidarity with the textile workers who were on strike at the time. It may be recalled that this was the time of tremendous spurt in the prices of essential commodities and the consequent alienation of the people from the first non-Congress government at the centre, one of the key factors leading to the return of the Congress the next year. It was a time when the battle for increase in the minimum wage constituted the key element of trade union action against the burden of price rise that was eating up the small earnings of workers.


In 1979, the minimum wage was Rs.185 and the demand was put forward for an increase to Rs.350 The convention was attended by the CITU, AITUC, HMS, BMS and UTUC. A platform of unity of the non-Congress trade unions was thus being formed reflecting the principal clash of political interests in the capital. For even after the defeat in the elections of 1977, the Congress continued to exercise its goonda domination over the city. A domination that was rooted in their corruption ridden nexus with the local bureaucracy and the police, muscle power acquired during the emergency, and their manifold direct associations with the profiteering classes in the capital.


From this convention onwards, joint meetings of trade unions on the question of minimum wages became a regular practice in Delhi. It helped the trade unions to put forward common demands on behalf of the workers of Delhi, in the Minimum Wages Advisory Board. But the combined strength of the trade unions in Delhi was like a drop in a sea of unorganised workers. The strategic industries in the organised sector, such as power and transport remained dominated by different factions of the Congress who successfully engaged in keeping their organisation  separate from the rest of the industrial workers. The unity forged on the issue of minimum wages from this convention led to a number of joint calls for one day strikes through the early eighties. By the late eighties, such calls had however, become increasingly ritualised. Although these strikes did succeed in maintaining a pressure on the administration, leading to revision of minimum wages five times in the course of  9 years, such revisions were far behind the rise in prices and real wages continued to fall. The administration remained adamant in not linking minimum wages to the consumer price index for industrial workers, while the boundaries of joint action became increasingly confined to token action before any revision, rather than a sustained movement towards achievement of the substantive goal of linking minimum wages to the realities of price rise.


Experience of these successive strike actions showed that often the call given by the state level leaders in joint meetings did not necessarily get carried through at the level of the industrial areas. This was a reflection of the narrow base of the trade unions, as well as the growing distance between many of the leaders and the mass of workers. Periodic attempts were made to deepen such state level unity by convening preparatory meetings at the zonal or area level. The success of such attempts, was however, uneven as was also the scope and strength behind strike calls. And so, despite joint and united calls, the call for struggle on the issue of a need based minimum wage could not reach all workers on whose behalf it was called, let alone mobilise them in action.


The demand for Rs. 1050 minimum wage which was to capture the imagination of the workers in 1987 and 1988 (based on the formula recommended by the Indian Labour Conference of 1956, for calculation of minimum wages), was a product of this joint action. It was first voiced at a joint convention on minimum wage, held in December 1986, when the official wage for Delhi was Rs. 414 for unskilled workers. The convention called for a one day strike on 16th January ’87. Unlike the previous years, this time, at the insistence of the CITU, joint review meetings and follow up action after the strike took place in February ’87. However, after the announcement of revision of the wage to Rs 489 in May ’87, other unions felt that workers would not respond to a call for further action. At this point, the state leadership of the  CITU decided to push ahead on their own towards a 72 hour strike in November ’87.


There can be little doubt that the eight years of joint action from 1979 onwards had succeeded in bringing the issue of need based minimum wage into sharp focus among workers, and exercising pressure on the administration. But it was equally true that tokenist forms of struggle were leading to torpor in the middle level ranks of even the most militant trade union leadership. More importantly, such actions no longer reflected the seething discontent of the mass of workers that was crying for a higher stage of struggle.


The Independent Initiative


CITU and the 72 hour strike

Reports that came first in an activists meeting on 16th February, ’86 (178 workers attended) and the review of the 16th January strike within the Delhi Committee of the CITU (dated 27.2.87), revealed that in north Delhi (industrial areas of Wazirpur and G.T.Karnal Road), other unions had not participated at all and the CITU had conducted the strike on its own. The HMS was reported as having participated in Motinagar and Kirti Nagar in west Delhi, but in Nangloi again the CITU was on its own. The AITUC was reported to have participated half heartedly in Okhla (south Delhi), and the UTUC with a little more strength in both Shahdara (east Delhi) and Okhla. In textiles, apart from the CITU union, all others broke the strike. The IFTU, which was not a part of the front and which had independently called for a one day strike earlier (on 31st December), came out in opposition on the 16th. In many areas, the strike mobilisations of 16th Jan, were largely of only the core strengths of organised workers alone, as winter rain discouraged wider participation.


At this same meeting, came the report that police had arrested 3 workers at Nangloi, where the CITU had been the lone organiser of the strike, but the strength of the workers’ mobilisation forced them to release them. This was the first recorded indication of spontaneous response of the unorganised workers since the union had no strength in that area.The secretary, in his review pointed out that even the CITU had been unable to pitch its full strength into the actions, although its mobilisation was good in the follow up demonstration. It was apparent that there was growing dissatisfaction among all the area level leaders of the CITU at the limited and in some places even restrictive role of the other unions.


The minutes of the Delhi Committee of the CITU from the last months of 1986 through 1987, provide a sketchy but eloquent  record of the initial process by which the spreading torpor in the trade union movement was broken by the CITU leadership which was pushing for a line of building a movement, and not just an organisation. It would seem that such central political vision is a requisite for building of a movement among unorganised workers in particular. The ordinary unit level struggles and protests of workers in the unorganised sector, carried the inherent weakness of being too scattered and easily overwhelmed to either make a big impact or to force their way through, even on minimalist demands. The local leaders that grew out of such struggles, having to reckon with overwhelming odds, either succumbed to the pressures of conciliation or came to realise that fighting power and sustained support is dependent on much wider militant  mobilisation of the class. For this alone could bring social and political pressure to bear on the individual masters, many of whom had the most direct associations with the ruling party and its goonda base in metropolitan Delhi.


The available written record in conference documents and minutes at various levels of the CITU and the CPI(M) makes it clear that there are many levels of experience that fed the development of the understanding of its leadership. Where leaps in imagination may be seen, they are grounded in a living engagement of the organisation with the complex matrix of political events and circumstances in Delhi. At the same time, the slogans and forms of action contemplated were a logical culmination of the experience of the concrete course of the development of trade unionism in the capital. And just as there are many stories in the lives of the ordinary worker that created the conditions of their consciousness and spheres of action, so also there are many stories in the evolution of the consciousness of the leadership that conceived, organised and led the strike of '88. It was the fusion between the two levels of consciousness that led to the success of the 7-day strike and the potentialities of a break in the stagnation that characterised the trade union movement  in Delhi at the time. The key to such a break had to lie in evolving an effective approach to the issues, methods of organisation and forms of struggle that could draw in the vastly expanding unorganised workers of Delhi.


In the first half of the 1980s, the movement led by the CITU and its habits of organisation was dominated by the struggles of the organised sector workers. Repeatedly in the internal documents of the organisation, stress was laid on the bigger industries as priority areas for expansion. The scale of domination of the small scale industries over the industrial skyline of Delhi was not as yet so visible. In Delhi, the CITU’s most important contingent remained the textile union. The Delhi State CITU organisation included Faridabad and Ghaziabad, where too the larger units were predominant. As the movement in these sections weakened in the face of closures and lockouts, sharp internal criticisms of the organisation’s inability to fight this with wider action were made. But the expansion of small scale industry and the numbers of workers drawn into it, was too rapid for the organisation to follow. Its full impact was perhaps difficult for the organisation to initially even comprehend.


Up to 1986, the focus had remained on the bigger industries and  a CITU state conference report of that year was thus  dominated by the experience of individual sectional struggles at either industry or unit level. As such the collection of 15,000 signatures on minimum wages, by the small scale industry based General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union was appreciated, but its potential was not highlighted. Nor was the changing profile of the workers of Delhi reflected in the report. The report stressed the fact that independent initiatives had been maintained on minimum wages, through signature campaigns, demonstrations, dharnas etc., but the united front of trade unions remained the principal tactic conceived for determining the course of the movement on the issue.


It was in the latter half of 1986, that the leadership of the CITU can be seen making it clear that minimum wages was the key issue around which the  movement of workers could grow in Delhi. Side by side with the issue, came the stress on the organisational strategy of maintaining committees of the trade union at the level of the jhuggi basti or resettlement colonies where the bulk of the workers lived. In meeting after meeting of the Delhi committee, secretary Bharadwaj is recorded exhorting the area level leaders to realise the significance of the struggle for minimum wage for the unorganised workers, and pushing for the formation of residential area based committees of CITU members.


Despite this, CITU’s mobilisation for the December, ’86 joint convention on minimum wage was inadequate. It may be remembered that in the month of December’86, a citywide mass campaign had culminated in one of the largest marches against communalism,[57] in which the biggest contingent was of workers, all mobilised by the CITU. For one and a half months the energies of the organisation had been concentrated on this campaign against communalism, reflecting the complex range of issues that the trade union movement in Delhi had to face. For, from the early eighties, divisive politics, had taken deep roots in the city, making quick inroads into the residential concentrations of the workers. In 1984, Delhi had already been witness to the frustrated aspirations of the metropolitan underbelly, organised and turned towards the carnage and slaughter of Sikhs, on a scale unmatched by any other part of the country. And then in 1986, following the opening of the locks at the supposed Ram janmabhoomi site at  Ayodhya, aggressive Hindu fundamentalist propaganda could be seen sweeping across the city. Its implications for workers’ unity upon which trade unions are founded, needs little elaboration. But even apart from that, the conditions of social and political instability, and the  periodic eruptions of communal violence in various parts of the city every few months, provided little space for the advance of wage struggles of workers in Delhi.


It was within such multiple demands on the trade union movement, that the tactics and organisation of a major movement had to be worked out and carried through. This process was initiated during the preparations for the 72-hour strike in 1987, when not only the CITU, but organisations of women, youth and middle class employees were also pitched into the struggle for minimum wages.


The 72-hour Strike of 1987

By August, ’87, CITU secretary Bharadwaj[58] was asserting that with the growing discontentment among workers, the situation stood in favour of a major movement, and that on the slogan of Rs. 1050/- minimum wage, workers could be brought out in struggle. He reported to the Delhi secretariat that the other trade unions were not prepared to accept CITU’s proposal for a 72 hour strike on the issue of minimum wages and sought support for a decision to take an independent initiative. He placed the proposal for a two month campaign followed by an independent call for a 72 hour strike in November. It received strong support from the area leaders, with some members asserting that with a proper campaign, they would be able to organise a much bigger strike than they were able to when tied to other unions. [59]


In September ‘87, with the finalisation of the dates of the strike (25, 26, 27 November), and the adoption of a comprehensive demand charter, a week by week plan was prepared, viz., central convention on the 28th of September, taking the demands to each unit of the organisation during the first week of October, wall writing through the second week, followed by loudspeaker announcements through the third week, distribution of 60,000 leaflets in the last week of October, and, a demonstration on the 11th of November. Throughout this period factory gate meetings were to be organised propagating the strike call, while in the last week before the strike, processions were to be taken out in all industrial areas. Along with minimum wages, the demands included, regularisation of jhuggies, abolition of contract labour and regularisation of contract workers, crèches for women workers, reopening of closed factories and, an end to police intervention in union matters and the corruption in the labour department.[60]


In October through 150 general body and gate meetings, the message of the strike had reached all CITU members. Through these meetings 22 hartal committees were constituted ranging from 30 to 100 members. In the course of the campaign, 600 street corner meetings and over 40 processions were taken out , 2 lakh,40 thousand leaflets were distributed and 45,000 posters put up. At the same time, over 60 meetings were organised in the jhuggi bastis adjacent to the industrial areas. [61]


The 72 hour strike was a success far beyond the expectations of its leaders. This was illustrated by a frantic call from Nangloi to the CITU office on the second day of the strike, saying that the juloos was too big to control and CITU activists could not be held responsible if anything untoward happened. When the central leadership went there on the third day, they found the police defensively hugging the walls alongside the huge procession which was packed from side to side.[62]  In Rajasthan Udyog Nagar, where again the CITU had no union, in the unprecedented mobilisation, one factory was set afire.[63] In the Najafgarh Road area, workers of even big factories such as Campa Cola were drawn into the strike. Initial pickets of 60-70 workers in many areas soon swelled to form processions of 3 to 4000.


One of the features that distinguished the strike from previous ones was the pitching in of organisations, other than the trade union. The involvement of committees of the CPI(M) at every level contributed in no small measure to rallying the workers in the strike. Militant women activists of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti whose membership was primarily drawn from the working class areas of the city joined the pickets, as did students and youth from the SFI and DYFI, contributing to the inspiration of the workers in many areas.


The success of the 72 hour strike was primarily determined by the fact that the campaign had been able to reach every industrial area. Wall writing, leafleting, street corner meetings, processions, etc. all served to take the call directly to the ordinary unorganised worker. It was their response that led the course of the strike. Remembering the 72 hour strike, one of the CITU activists of west Delhi, said that during the campaign, other union leaders were mocking them saying that where a one day strike was so difficult to organise, a 3-day strike could never succeed and was just a stupid idea in Bharadwaj’s head[64]. CITU leaders themselves were inconfident in many areas. But the bold call had touched the minds and hearts of the workers as no previous action had done. It was the 72 hour strike that gave the confidence to call for a 7-day strike the following year and was the training ground for its leadership.

Chapter 3 : Run up to the seven day strike


The Call

Jeena Hai to Ladna Hoga” –To Live you have to fight. This was the caption of the CITU leaflet which called for a demonstration on 4th February, 1988 at the Delhi Administration, Old Secretariat. Such was the momentum built by the success of the 72 hour strike, that the leaders of the CITU felt compelled (on the basis of impromptu consultation at the demonstration itself) to make the announcement that if the administration continued to ignore the demands of the workers, the next stage of the struggle would be in the form of a 7-day strike. Thus the very idea of the 7-day strike was born out of the surge of working class militancy that was demanding inspired leadership. There was some small criticism at the time of the impromptu nature of the decision without a discussion and formal decision in either the secretariat or any other committee, but it was swept aside by the wave of powerful support from the workers themselves.


When in March ’88,  the government announced a revision, raising  the minimum wage from Rs 489 to Rs 562, far from taking the edge off the militancy of the workers, the slogan that became most popular among them was “Joote maro 562” (kick this 562)[65]. That same month, workers of the Delhi Transport Corporation went on an indefinite strike on their own specific demands, during which police brutality against workers reached its peak in the famous lathi charge on DTC employees at AIIMS. This was despite the fact that their strike was led by the INTUC, with political links with the ruling party. Resentment and anger at the repressive stance of the administration acquired an even greater edge.


CITU begins its preparations

By 25th of June, it was decided that the strike would be in November, and the main task was identified as forming campaign committees at the industrial and mohalla level[66]. In August fresh efforts were made to make the strike a joint movement. B.D.Joshi of the AITUC and Raj Kumar Gupta of the BMS were individually consulted by Bharadwaj, and a joint meeting was fixed with their consent for 24th August. But on the 21st of August, the other trade unions held a separate meeting and decided to boycott the meeting called by the CITU.[67] Clearly the other unions were bent upon isolating the CITU and not prepared to intensify the struggle.


It was only after this that the dates of the strike were finalised and the details of the public campaign preparations were worked out in the 8th September meeting of the Delhi Committee secretariat. They were to begin with a central convention of activists on 16th September. But the 8th September secretariat minutes  reveal that there were doubts among one or two leaders about the ability of the CITU to take on such an ambitious strike alone. There was some talk about the difference between Ghaziabad where the trade union base was much stronger, and Delhi, where it was very weak and additionally burdened with debts. The actual position of CITU membership at the time would have to be considered infinitesimal for the mammoth task ahead. The Engineering Workers’ Lal Jhanda Union and the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union together had a total of just 5652 members in Delhi at the time[68]. However, the plans for the strike continued to be put into operation. Following the convention, a number of demonstrations were organised at the area level and 7000 posters calling for the strike were released by the CITU state centre. By mid October, the report came in that the workers were responding well to the call, and that campaign committees had been constituted in all 4 areas of Delhi, namely north, south, east and west.  A demonstration was planned for the 2nd of November, at the headquarters of the Delhi Administration, Old Secretariat. [69]


From this point onwards, it becomes apparent that the centre of planning and decision making for the strike had shifted from the CITU committees to the state and local committees of the CPM. While in the 72 hour strike, the party had played a crucial but limited role, in the 7-day strike it became the moving force. This was perhaps inevitable due to three fundamental differences between the strike of 1987 and the strike of 1988. The first related to the fact that the success of the ’87 strike had not been anticipated by the administration or the major political groups including the other trade unions. As such their opposition had been muted. By 1988, opposition had acquired a more hardened stance and included the attempt to puncture the one week’s call by holding a pre-emptive one day strike on the 16th of November. The position of isolation of the CITU was, therefore, much more acute than before. The second related to the higher level of repression by police in this period which had been illustrated by the police action against DTC workers. But the most important difference lay in the fact that it was a call for a much more protracted strike of 7 days which would require far greater resources than could be provided by the limited organisational strength of the CITU alone. It was thus clear that without the full involvement of other mass organisations from the start, the strike could not be successful. The leadership of such a broad front of workers’ and other organisations could only be provided by the party. As such, even the record of the organisation of the campaign and the preparations for the strike have to be sought in the minutes of the local committees of the CPM and the trade union subcommittee of the party at the state level.


The rallying of the party and its leading role


It was at the state conference of the CPM held on 8 – 10 October, that the push was given to the mobilisation of all ranks of the party in an all out drive to make the 7-day strike a success. Applauding the work of the CITU among unorganised workers, the secretary’s report contained a sharp criticism of the party committees and branches for failing to realise the importance of this work. Referring to the success of the 72 hour strike of ‘87, the report further exhorted the party ranks to recognise the changing objective conditions and adapt their organisational practice accordingly. But the written report provides only a fraction of the force exerted by the state leadership of the party towards rallying its cadre in preparation for the 7-day strike.


On 18th October, a time bound plan of wall-writing, postering, distribution of the CITU leaflet and one round of street corner meetings was worked out to be completed by 31st October. In the same period unit general body meetings of all the mass organisations in which the party had influence were to be organised in order to prepare and mobilise the mass organisation members. On the 30th of October, the party secretariat met and planned out a two phase intensive mass campaign before and after Diwali (13th Nov). It further decided that along with minimum wages, price rise, police repression and the animal like living conditions prevailing in both factories and jhuggies, must be stressed. This campaign emphasis on addressing the broader social experience of the unorganised workers in the city, played an important role in reaching deep into the cauldron of resentment of the workers and widening the base of support for the strike. On the 2nd of November, a large central demonstration was held at the Old Secretariat where observers recall that the atmosphere was more charged than before[70]. By the 10th of November, posters had been put up in every single area, wall writing done and that the different mass organisations had started moving for the strike.


The Campaign


The scale of the campaign may be estimated from the fact that after an initial 1,60, 000 leaflets and 7000 posters, the CITU brought out another 1 lakh leaflets, and 10,000 posters. The party brought out 1,50,000 leaflets and 8000 posters. The Ghaziabad, south Delhi and Municipal Corporation Union committees brought out 10,000 leaflets each, the DYFI[71], 24,000 and the JMS[72] another 15,000 in support of the strike. Bank employees and LIC employees brought out 3000 posters each. A group of independent intellectuals too brought out 1000 leaflets extending their support to the strike. All told 6,80,000 leaflets, 40,000 posters and 24,000 poster strips were used in the campaign.[73]


At the same time, street corner meetings served to both reach and rouse workers in every area. In north Delhi 300 such meetings reached about 30,000 workers, in west Delhi there were less with 37 meetings reaching 15,000, in south Delhi 133 reaching 10,000, in east  57 touching over 5000, in the old city 64 approaching 1000, while in Ghaziabad it was 251 reaching 23,000 workers. These were supplemented by 270 such meetings by the JMS as also an unspecified number by the DYFI.[74] Thus over a thousand street corner meetings spearheaded the campaign into the heart of industrial and working class residential areas. Apart from these area level organised meetings, a central hartal rath or a mobile platform on a tempo carrying central leaders, went to every area from the 11th of November till the 21st. The mammoth meetings addressed through this sweeping tempo campaign had a powerful charging effect on the workers and raised the pitch of the preparations to new heights.


One of the unique features of the 7-day strike campaign was the use of a play created specifically for the strike. The play “Chakka Jaam”, was written and performed in 28 shows in various industrial areas and working class bastis by the Jana Natya Manch. The political and class message of the play, which was unambiguous, and drew rapt audiences everywhere, reached over 18,000 workers in the course of the campaign. The popularity of this play even inspired many a hesitant local activist into moving into the mass with greater confidence. It was at a performance of a variant of this very play, just over a month after the strike, that Safdar Hashmi was murdered by Congress goondas in Sahibabad. Revolutionary songs sung directly or on tape by the song group called Parcham were also used. The most popular of their songs contained the lines, “Sar par kafan baandh kar nikli mazdooron ki toli, bam barse chaahe barse goli”.


It was this massive propaganda blitz and the supreme efforts of both leaders and cadre of the CPI(M)), the CITU, the JMS ,and the DYFI that reached into the very depths of the working class bases in the capital; that captured the imagination of the unorganised workers and drew support from them for the strike. But even middle class employees from banks, LIC and government offices  could be seen during  the run up to the strike, distributing leaflets in the industrial areas in the evenings and exhorting workers to participate in the strike. In a memorable demonstration of solidarity, on the 21st of November, intellectuals, artists and students took out a procession in support of the strike. The involvement of these sections who were otherwise cut off from the lives and conditions of industrial workers gave confidence  to the workers who began to feel that they were not isolated and completely alone in their struggle.


Glimpses of the Internal Process


Behind this overall picture of the public campaign, there lie hundreds of small details of preparatory work, of tedious, and sometimes confusing, organisational processes that were finally welded together in a unified and common endeavour. There lies the engagement, of uneven strengths, capabilities and perceptions of different individuals and contingents of the organisation, with the task of galvanising and moving such a widespread and vast unorganised force into action. And, of course, there lies the story of the imprint of the response and support of the workers on the activists in the campaign, that inspired many a tired cadre into enthusiasm. There is some limited record of this process in the archival collection of minutes of some of the party committees[75]. It is to an examination of this record that we turn now.


Although it was the October state conference that kick-started the direct campaign of the party, it was preceded by an internal process whose beginnings may be located in the Trade Union sub committee report of April,’ 88. (This is a sub committee of the party state committee for party work in the trade union front). In the report, the review of the follow up of the 72 hour strike clearly stated that the public conventions of workers which had been planned to actually elicit the opinions of the workers had not been successful. It was in this meeting that the formal decision to prepare for a week long strike was taken. And further, that an attempt to bring the other unions into the strike should be made, but failing which, the CITU should go alone. [76]


This report of the TU sub committee was given to the local committees (LCs) of the party, and the LCs were entrusted with checking up on the implementation of particularly the formation of campaign committees at the area level[77]. Such campaign committees of locally based workers were constituted in all the major industrial areas and played a role in organising the campaign there. They also provided the initial stock of cadre in some of the industrial areas. However, their strength and mobility was highly uneven and from perusal of the local committee minutes, it would seem that through the months of June, July and August, the process of involvement of the key party committees in order to push forward these organisational preparations, still remained at a formal level. Although the minutes show a preoccupation with other matters, the fact was, that the position of the other unions in relation to the strike, was as yet unclear.


It was only after the breakdown of talks with the other unions and the finalisation of the dates, that the strike itself appears directly on the agenda of the LC meetings[78]. The minutes themselves provide a record of the manner in which the party committees were being motivated for the formidable task ahead. In the west, it appears that the report on the impending strike remained at the level of a perfunctory announcement and not much more. [79] Here, it was the intervention of the state leadership that made things start moving. It began with a meeting of the office bearers of all the mass organisations on 21.10.88 attended by the party state secretary[80], and again when he attended the LC meeting on 31.10.88. From the minutes of these meetings, the driving role of the state leadership can be clearly seen. The secretary’s words, “The working class of Delhi is unorganised. It has no power of intervention. As a class, it must be awoken. And learn to fight long struggles… this one week call has been made after the success of of the 3-day strike..”[81] Emphasising the broader issues in the campaign, he insisted on propaganda in jhuggies and resettlement colonies, and gave a clear direction that no other programmes that would interfere with the strike preparations were to be undertaken. It was in this meeting that the concrete working out of the details of the responsibilities of LC cadre for the held before the strike. Further details for the area can only be found in the state TU sub committee minutes.


In the east, whose LC had just come into existence, the record is far more explicatory through four LC meetings, (3.9.88., 12.9.88.,18.10.88., and19.11.88). Here the minutes provide a record of the establishment of a 33 member hartal committee in September itself[82]. What emerges as a significant feature is the small membership of the CITU in the area (209 in 9 units, out of which 6 had worker strengths of 10 and below, and only three units of more than 50 workers)[83]. Additionally, a persistent tension in balancing Municipal Corporation (MCD) Union responsibilities and industrial area work may be observed, expressed in a tussle over where the LC should concentrate its cadre. Once again, here, pressure was exerted by the state leader, Bharadwaj on giving priority to the industrial area work. In the south LC, on 3.9.88, the political context of the strike was discussed, but only broad guidelines were worked out. The next meeting was more than two months later, on 15.11.88, by when the campaign was in full swing.



Consolidation of forces, the central drive


It is in the minutes of the TU sub committee which met on the 10th and again on the 18th of November, that a clearer picture of the overall situation in different areas is available. In the 10th November meeting of the state level Trade Union subcommittee of the CPI(M), 12 days before the strike, the picture was of an uneven campaign in the areas with the east and west Delhi local committees far behind the other areas in the level of preparations.


From North Delhi, came the report that JMS and DYFI activists had already started moving in the jhuggies and resettlement colonies in the area on a regular daily basis. The TU had planned four torchlight processions in the industrial areas, a daily mike campaign on 1 scooter and 2 cycle rickshaws from the 17th and a district tempo campaign. Activists had been told not to take on any overtime work in their factories in the coming days. Summing up the position in the north, Nathu Prasad asserted that there was enthusiasm among the workers but until the CITU members became fully active, the atmosphere (mahaul) would not be created. The South Delhi report was on a lower key, but even there, youth, students and even a few teachers had started coming in the campaign. Pushpendra[84] placed the assessment that in the south, TU members were enthused, but the role of local party members including those in the trade union was weak. At the same time the campaign had been so extensive that they had run out of leaflets and needed more. In Ghaziabad which included Noida, the campaign was obviously more based on the trade union itself, with Tewary[85] reporting that more than 291 TU activists had been mobilised. In all the three above areas, the street corner meeting campaign had begun.


The report from the west and east was of a different order with elements of disarray apparent. In the west, where five of the eleven LC members were textile workers,  paucity of funds was dogging the campaign, and Inderpal[86] reported that neither the local party members, nor the activists of the trade union had been as yet able to move either extensively or intensively in any area. In east, according to the report of Chacha Shadiram[87], the absence of any takeoff in the campaign seemed to revolve around the fact that the Municipal Corporation union had not been able to depute its cadre for the campaign, although long overdue funds had been collected from them for the strike. It would be easy to attribute such weakness in both east and west to the substantial presence of organised sector workers in these two committees. But on the other hand, the west had seen some of the most successful moments of the 72 hour strike, and the east committee had actually been formed only a few weeks before (from a bifurcation of the earlier common local committee of the walled  city and east), and was still grappling with establishing itself. Both these committees had other organisational problems, among which were the  lack of funds and whole timers for trade union work in the industrial areas. Nevertheless, the fact remains that in these two committees, the organised sector workers had so far not displayed the necessary drive and initiative required to make a success of the campaign. The push in these two areas was thus given by the TU subcommittee, by giving an immediate loan of Rs 1000/- to west Delhi to step up the campaign, while in east, the MCD whole timer was instructed to concentrate on the work in the Shahdara-Jhilmil industrial area. At the same time, the details of the central tempo campaign were finalised which was to have an electrifying effect on the overall mass campaign in all areas. 


It was in the 10th November TU sub committee, that the tactics for dealing with the 16th November strike called by the other unions were worked out. It was decided to one, raise of the pitch of the propaganda for the seven day strike, and two, to openly take the line that the 16th call was designed to sabotage the 7-day strike and instruct CITU workers to go to work on that day. At the same time north, west and Ghaziabad reported talks with local area branches of the other trade unions as well as small independent unions. In both north and west, the local unions were reported as saying that they would not support but would not come out in opposition. The efforts to neutralise the opposition of the other trade unions were thus maintained at the local level. 


Regarding textile workers who had been called upon to go on a one day solidarity strike on the 23rd , there was an initial division of opinion. Although the notice for the strike had been given, textile leader Inderpal, was of the view that if the strike was not successful in the surrounding industrial area, it would not be possible to have a successful strike in the textile mills. Clearly he was speaking on the basis of his experience in west Delhi of SBM and DCM Silk (He himself was a worker in DCM Silk). Nathu Prasad, from north Delhi held the view that in the mills where the strike could be implemented, it would help the industrial area workers since the police would be preoccupied at the mill gates. This was in reference to Birla Mill and ATM, both located in north Delhi, where the comrades were confident of being able to pull off the strike. Finally, it was decided that textile workers would be asked to take leave and deployed in the industrial areas during the strike. But as we shall see in the course of the strike, in the north, the industrial area mobilisation actually picketed at ATM and closed down one shift, while Birla Mill saw a complete hartal, on the second last day of the strike.



The final push


By the next meeting of the TU sub committee on 18.11.88, there was a qualitative change in the internal atmosphere. From south the report came that the crucial TU branches of Ranbaxy (Okhla) and NTPC (Badarpur), that had earlier been lagging were now in the thick of the campaign. Teams from the women, students, and even  teachers were coming on a daily basis. Some other small TU organisations in the area were in touch and wanting to take out posters and leaflets in support. Workers were keen to participate.


From the west, a more confident Inderpal reported that a turnaround in the situation had been achieved in the last three days. He asserted that in Naraina, Najafgarh Road, Rama Road and Kirti Nagar, a full strike had become possible’ although Mayapuri remained difficult. Here the owners’ association was very powerful, and workers were demanding that the juloos should start from the chairman’s office. In No. 4 (industrial area adjacent to Mangol Puri located in Nangloi), although propaganda was as yet inadequate, new militant factories would be able to implement the strike. Other unions were not willing to attend a meeting, but prepared to talk. Street corner meetings were being held daily by the JMS teams. He also reported some attempts by the police and owners’ associations to harass workers. In Motinagar, the police were going around threatening to send activists to jail. Some owners were asking workers to do daily overtime, anticipating closure during the strike.


From the east, Ranjana[88] reported regular mike campaigns, a central tempo campaign by the women, well received shows of the play in two areas, and an increased participation of corporation workers, some of whom were coming daily. She reported that the response of the workers was at two levels, at the first level, spontaneous support for the demands and anger, but at a second level they were not confident that 7 days would be successful.


In the north, the campaign was obviously the most organised and intense. Corner meetings had been held in all industrial areas and jhuggies. From the 17th had begun a series of daily julooses in the industrial areas, followed by campaign committee meetings. Some students and lawyers were coming regularly in the campaign. This was not so true for teachers. Some workers were arrested while wall writing, but later released. Meetings in GT Karnal Road and Wazirpur were getting bigger, with participations up to 500. In Rajasthan Udyog Nagar and Nirankari Colony too LC members had been sent  and julooses were being organised. However, the campaign was driven by the LC and all party members were as yet not so involved. According to Nathu Prasad, the tempo for the strike had been made, and owners were terrorised. About 20 Congress unions had offices in the jhuggis. They had been contacted and had said that they would not oppose. But the LC anticipated that the local SHO (police) and some unions would try to make mischief. 2 other unions had come out in support. He summed up with the assessment that the strike would be there, and if attempts were made to break it, there would be clashes.


And from Ghaziabad, Tewary too reported that preparations were almost complete. The Noida owners’ association had issued a circular against the strike. The assessment of the Ghaziabad committee was that apart from Meerut Road and phase II Noida, the strike would be good. They anticipated a police crackdown on Sector 4, Sahibabad where the owners were terrorised.


This last meeting of the TU sub committee, in a sense anticipated the actual events of the strike itself, and was a measure of how close to the ground the campaign and its leaders had reached. It was summed up with the conclusion that although they had been successful in creating the atmosphere for the strike, there yet remained the task of consolidating this into 1) actual organisation of the strike, and 2) the ability to sustain this for seven days. For police intervention to be countered , “big julooses were necessary in order to dominate them”, and for sustaining over the days, responsibilities of experienced leaders would have to be concretely fixed. As secretary Jogendra Sharma put it, “3 lives must be there, if not 7 (for each activist)…militants must be there in each group for confrontation”



A persistent question that had come up in the earlier meeting (10th Nov) came up again. Where were the julooses to be formed - from the jhuggies or elsewhere? The question was posed by Brinda Karat[89], who felt that the jhuggies should be the starting points. But obviously the situation was not uniform. In the south, the consensus that had emerged was to form the pickets at various strategic entry points to the different phases of Okhla. In the west, Inderpal had suggested that the julooses should be formed inside the industrial areas and not from the entry points. In the east, mobilising at the jhuggis was not a viable proposition. Although, it was clear from the experience of the north, and particularly Wazirpur, that the base area provided by the jhuggis opened out routes for workers’ mobilisation, protection and movement, which could not be manned by the police, the same tactics could not be operated everywhere. The discussion was therefore summed up by Bharadwaj on the note that flexibility of approach would have to be maintained according to the concrete situation prevailing in different industrial areas, with the perspective of eluding and avoiding unnecessary confrontation with the police. Unfortunately the record of the finishing touches to these preparations at each area level are not available, and we are left with the conclusions of the TU sub committee itself as the last words before the curtain opened on the strike itself. “If police repression is there, then running fight and stoning, etc.” 



Chapter 4: The seven days of the strike


“ 7-Day CITU strike begins” ran on the front page of the Indian Express on 22nd November, the opening day of the strike. “One million workers to go on strike today” was the banner headline of a four column write up in the Times of India on the same day. Quoting a press release, the Times reported, “the workers are demanding the right to a minimal human existence, a minimum relief from the present situation where work is savage exploitation and leisure a living hell,” while the Indian Express focussed on the statements of retired judges of the Supreme Court and some High Courts supporting the strike and requesting the Police Commissioner, Delhi and District Magistrate, Ghaziabad “to ensure that no police intervention is undertaken in any way hindering the workers from the legitimate exercise” of the right to strike. At the same time they also reported, “At least 10 police companies have been told to gather around the industrial pockets” where the strike was to start. Almost all the papers reported the rally of “poets, professors, artistes, students, lawyers, jurists, intellectuals” in support of the workers demands which had been held the previous day.


From then onwards till the last day of the strike, it continued to be reported upon at a daily level, providing a valuable record of the day to day frame of events which would otherwise perhaps have been impossible to recover with any degree of accuracy. The oral testimony of the participants in the strike, having been taken 12 years after the event, provide great insight into the experience of the strike, but for establishing the chronology of events, the daily newspaper reports have been a more reliable source.


For the first time an action of the capital’s marginalized working class, had demanded the notice and attention of the  media. What was it about this strike that was able to bring a movement of workers onto the front pages of the major newspapers of the city? No doubt the propaganda blitz unleashed by the organisers had been able to highlight the pitiful wages and conditions of life that the unorganised workers of Delhi were condemned to. No doubt the mobilisation of artists, legal luminaries, and intellectuals had  made the media sit up and take notice. No doubt the throbbing anger and force of huge processions of workers during the strike touched chords in the minds and hearts of many a hardened and sceptical journalist. Despite the persistent efforts by some of the other unions to downplay the impact of the strike, despite the series of contradictory statements emanating from the owners’ associations, despite the massive deployment of the police and repeated lathicharges, tear gassing and arrests, every day from the 22nd to the 28th of November, 1988, the industrial areas of the city witnessed huge mobilisations of workers, and churning unrest that penetrated all corners. For the seven days of its course, its impact could be underestimated, events and facts could be distorted and lied about, but its scale and sweep were such, that the seven day strike could not be ignored by the media.


For beyond its immediate issues, the strike of 1988, carried within it, a much more widespread popular anger against the growing repression of all popular protest and open corruption in the government  of the day. It was an anger tinged with a sense of betrayal since in 1984, following the assassination of his mother, the people had given Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress such a huge mandate. This overall political context, from which the middle classes of the capital were not excluded, was to be reflected in the defeat of the Congress in the election that followed the next year.  It was also a major factor in determining the space given to a clearly anti-government working class movement by the media mandarins in Delhi. The result – for a few moments, the mass of workers in Delhi were able to acquire visibility in a city which otherwise continues to mete out the most callous indifference to their concerns. Extracts of the newspaper reports covering the day wise series of events and the responses of other unions, owners’ associations, as also the stances and actions of the police have been attached in annexure. In this section is detailed, the events as they unfolded in three industrial areas – Wazirpur, GT Karnal Road, and Mayapuri, But before such a description, some words on the form and nature of this strike, that most suits the conditions of unorganised workers.


The strike of the unorganised


Unlike strikes in the organised sector, the key to success of the seven day strike lay in effective picketing at major entry points to the industrial areas, not at an individual factory gate. The pickets would turn into demonstrations which would then go around the area, knocking at every factory gate and calling out workers to join the strike. It was a form that was given birth to during the textile workers’ strike and bandh call in April ’73. A juloos of workers that moved from factory gate to factory gate, powerful enough to terrorise the managements or maliks with its size and potential for damage of property. A juloos which drew into its fold ever expanding numbers of workers who poured out of the factory gates, now emboldened by numbers, to implement a strike.


For it is not just the demands that impel workers to action. Who among them would disagree with the demand for increase in wages? The crucial question that had to be answered before his participation therefore, was: would the strike be successful enough? Would the organisers be able to close down all the factories? For the common worker, unprotected by the union, at the mercy of his employer, and afraid of losing his job, would not want to risk being absent or be identified by his malik going around in the procession of workers. He knew that should he be dismissed, there were thousands ready to take his place. So, he had to be convinced that there were forces more powerful than he, in his alienated and atomised individual existence could mobilise, that would ensure success. The organisers, aware of this had pushed forward a veritable blitzkrieg of a campaign. And the confidence level of ordinary workers went up by leaps and bounds through the progress and heightening pitch of the campaign.


Firstly, the primary campaign of street corner meetings (over one thousand of them), mike announcements, processions in the areas and bastis, public meetings, had informed the workers about the issues and the plans. Through them workers had learnt what the demands were and why. Leaflets and posters had been avidly read by them. They had stopped and listened to speeches in both street corner meetings and the tempo campaigns. They had clapped and laughed at the mockery of their oppressors in the play, Chakka Jaam. They had noted that there was a whole range of people giving the speeches and campaigning for the strike. They had been enthused by daily reports of how the preparations were going on in their own area as well as in other areas. They appreciated the fact that the speakers challenged and openly criticised not only the maliks but also the police, whom they feared, but also resented. And of course they had responded to the fact that the campaign content was speaking about their own lives and its details. As leaflets, speeches, plays and songs touched and presented the class basis of their multiple experiences, as the demand for increased wages and DA appeared as a concrete programme of action to deal with the rise in prices over which they had no control, as the tragic experiences of disease and even deaths due to cholera that year, were condemned and its cause identified, the thirst for explanations was also being quenched.


Secondly, they were impressed by the fact that what each was observing and being part of, was being duly reported by others also. In factories, in buses, in jhuggi bastis, friends and neighbours confirmed and added to this experience. The reassurance that what was taking place was a widespread powerful event and not just an aberrant risky adventure began to grow through this. The very sweep of the campaign touching all industrial areas and also the residential settlements of workers, constituted an important element of the depth of contact established with the individual worker.


Thirdly, the papers were also reporting upon the preparations. This was very unusual for the worker. He was used to reading reports only of distant events, rarely if ever about the struggles of his class. And finally, the flurry of activity by his malik and his ilk, and the local police confirmed the fact that they too were perturbed by the preparations. They abused CITU, repeatedly threatened their employees that any absenteeism would be severely dealt with, had meetings with the thanas. The worker while getting nervous about all this also realised that the strike call had to be of some weight, otherwise, as in the past, the maliks would not be so active.


Here it must be emphasised that the organisers of the strike have an instinctive understanding of this process that goes on in the minds of the workers. They plan the campaign accordingly. They consciously arranged a series of meetings, processions, street corner meetings and street plays, all harping upon the same theme. They brought in bank employees, insurance employees, college teachers, students and union leaders from bigger units to address meetings. Reports (sometimes exaggerated) of momentous preparations, huge meetings and processions, brave resolutions were routinely declaimed in meetings so that the workers of one area learn about and draw inspiration from other areas. Speeches by the more experienced leaders always strike a chord as they never fail to warn the employers and police that any interference against the strike will not be tolerated. The role of women’s teams in their campaign, especially in the residential areas was also important. The worker was impressed by the fire and commitment of these activists. Moreover, his family also started talking about the strike, supporting it. Thus the hesitant, suspicious worker was not only convinced but also became  confident.

However the strike does not become successful only by correct slogans and intensive propaganda, as many organisers realised to their dismay. One leader of north Delhi[90] summed it up by saying that a successful strike is 50% propaganda and 50% picketing. This was a lesson learnt directly from the textile mill gates where a militant fighting picket at the gate was essential. In the seven day strike, the success or otherwise of the strike varied, among other things, with the planning and positioning of the picket. Places were selected from where the maximum number of workers enter the industrial area. Depending upon the strength of the union in the area, members were deputed to report at the pickets at about 7:30 in the morning, because workers start arriving by 8 o’clock. Leaders were also deployed according to the importance and difficulty of each spot. By 8 a.m., the picket is in position. If it was a gate then it was blocked by flag waving, slogan shouting workers. If it was simply a path then it too was blocked. A wide road, though not a good spot for picketing, required more people on both sides. Preferable pickets were near jhuggi bastis where the picketers could take shelter in case the police intervened, as happened at Wazirpur.


By 8:30, a sizeable number of workers would be held up at the picket if it was successful, if the workers were confident. The individuals manning the picket were crucial for this. An active, angry militant picket which was willing to take on anybody would  immediately draw the support of workers and boost their morale. For, just as the workers, the police and the employers’ associations also knew the importance of the picket. Police was present in force at each picket, as soon as they get to know its location, or when it was pre-determined by circumstance. Often, the employers associations were present too. In GTK Road, for instance, the association was present in full strength behind the main gates of the industrial area, exhorting workers to come in, and directing the police to break the picket.


The leader of the picket decided the time when, seeing that a sufficient number of workers had collected, the mass should be organised into a procession which would enter the industrial area and go around the streets mopping up all those who had either entered the factory or were hanging around. This was always a tedious, tense process. The police usually did not want any such thing to happen. On the other hand the workers would by then, be in a state of frenetic jubilation - they would want each and every factory checked so that not a single worker was left inside. As the procession slowly wound its way through the streets of the industrial area, the numbers would swell to several hundreds, sometimes thousands. Initially the procession would simply do a couple of rounds along the main roads, even as the CITU activists tried to maintain order, lead the slogans, negotiate with policemen and generally direct the proceedings. However, after some time, the impatience and frenzy of the workers would become over-riding. Rumours about such and such factory running full swing, of so and so malik locking up his workers and forcing them to work etc .would grip sections of the procession. It would stop at a factory gate while leaders peered through grills and chinks to ascertain the status. Slogans would reach a crescendo making the accompanying police posse nervous. First they would try to convince the leadership that the factory was empty. However, a peering face from the second floor or a glimpse of cycles in the porch might point to the contrary. Workers would beat the iron gates with sticks. From behind, someone might hurl stones at the glass panes which if shattered would send a thrill down the crowd. Ultimately, the police might convince the factory owner to let a couple of activists in to check. Often they came out escorting a group of sheepish workers, eyes downcast. They were greeted with jeers and insults. If it has taken too long, then some of them might even be manhandled. After celebratory slogan-shouting the procession would move on dragging excited workers with it. Of course, more often than not, the police would not allow this dominance of the proceedings by the workers. They might not have let the workers enter the area itself, or prevented them from searching factory premises. In either cases the equilibrium was determined by the strength of the workers. If the gathering was large, no amount of police presence would deter the workers from proceeding with the meticulous implementation. On the other hand, if their strength was low, they instinctively realised that most of the workers had gone in, and the police would then escort the procession around. In some places, especially in the north it was reported that groups of workers were deputed to patrol the streets in the night and stone factories where work was going on. This helped in not so much stopping the work actually, as creating an atmosphere of terror amongst the employers.


What the collective strike of all industrial units in an area does is to treat the whole area as a unit, thereby obviating the individual disability of workers of each unit  to fight against their respective employers. Although the strike is actually directed against the government, in terms of the demands that are being raised, the worker is actually fighting against his or her employer. And thence arises the anger and fire that marks the striking workers. They are no longer afraid of being identified by their maliks, or losing their jobs. They are part of a larger collective which provides safety and security. Under the protection of this collective, each worker sheds the fearful and submissive integument he has acquired to tide him through his tough life. This breaking down unleashes an overflow of pent up anger, resentment and suffering from his soul. He exults in his freedom. He openly disobeys the policeman, disregards the threats of employers and babus, fights hirelings of the management and generally is willing to take to violence against any sign of interference from the rich. Even a car trying to enter the industrial area is objected to! Leaders who try to exercise some control are criticised for being too soft, although the veterans realise that restraint is always more paying than just arbitrary running around. The strike is thus a celebration for each worker, an assertion of his individuality and freedom even as he is part of a larger collective. He realises this intrinsic link between the class to which he belongs and his own life, in a strike. The whole uncertainty and insecurity of his atomised and solitary existence pitted against the uncontrollable forces of capital and urban life, is transformed into an exhilarating sense of belonging and purpose rooted in the collective of his brethren and backed by the confidence in an organisation. This feeling is not permanent - but it incrementally contributes to his growing consciousness. Thus he may not join the union immediately afterwards, but he develops an attachment which lasts.



North Delhi: Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road


From newspapers as well as organisational reports, it is clear that Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road, were the most advanced centres of the strike. The internal review of the CPI(M) assessed that the strike was 90% in both areas. Located at right angles to each other, the two industrial areas almost meet through the contiguous belt of jhuggis that lie along the railway line adjacent to, and within Azadpur and Lal Bagh. The presence of the old industries of Ajudhia Textile Mill at the entry to Azadpur, and Birla Mill on the GT road itself, just a little further inwards towards the centre of the city, had given this area, a longstanding working class character. Organised mill workers and unorganised small scale industrial labour were socially mixed here as nowhere else in the city, and many a worker effected entry into the smaller factories of the area through association with mill workers. Associations that  stretched from deep in the rural hinterland.


The industrial area of GT Karnal Road, established in the sixties, was divided into A block, on the northern side towards Azadpur, and B block on the other side of the Satyawati College Road flyover. Almost completely dominated by the manufacture of auto parts, GT Road housed some 300 factories. In 1988, the strongest unions of CITU was in Sigma, Chaman Rubber and Smart (universally referred to by workers as Samrat). It was these workers, who provided the core organised force in the area during the strike. Another prominent factory was D.D. Gears with an independent union[91],  which later affiliated itself to the CITU some time after the seven day strike. The Wazirpur industrial area which came into existence in the mid seventies, was much larger (84 hectares as compared to 50 for GT Road), housing some 1,000 factories. It was dominated by steel rolling units, although many other types of industries – auto parts, electricals, and hosiery factories were also located here. Bordered on two sides by the goods railway line which curves away from the main Northern Railway Amritsar line[92] to connect with the line towards Ferozepur[93], the Wazirpur industrial area lies alongside Ring Road as it moves away from Azadpur alongside Shalimar Bagh. Flanked by thousands of jhuggies all along the railway line, in both character and appearance, Wazirpur reflected unorganised labour to a far greater extent. The predominantly contract labour in the steel rolling units set the standard for the area.


The chronology of events in these two areas as recorded in the newspaper reports, show that on the first day of the strike, the police lathi charged and tear gassed a workers’ demonstration in Wazirpur, while an aggressive police blockade at GT Karnal Road prevented workers, gathered at the entrance to the industrial area on the main GTK Road, from entering the industrial area.


 At GTK Road, the owners of factories openly stood at the entrance to the area, with rope barricades and large numbers of police. The method of preventing the workers from entering the area, was through arbitrary arrest of those in the leadership, which included women. Asha Lata[94] and Kamla[95], both of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti recall that during the campaign in the industrial area, the owners, were already perturbed by the atmosphere, as they felt that if the strike succeeded, there would be some raise in the wages. This they wanted to prevent at all cost. From the first day of the strike, the maliks in concert with the police tried to get the strike broken.


On the morning of the first day, Kamla, north Delhi district president JMS, along with some women from Sawan Park,[96] reached the entry to B block of GTK Road at 8 a.m., where some 50-60 workers were gathered, while others were standing scattered around on the road in the expectation of formation of a procession. The police was everywhere in force. The workers told her that the police had already beaten up and taken away the leading CITU whole timer of the area, Subodh.  At that point she decided that they should form the procession on the main road itself and march towards A block, tie up with the workers there, and with greater force effect entry into the industrial area. In the meantime Asha Lata, who was at A block from 7 a.m., along with another contingent of women and workers, was facing similar problems. The police, who were standing there with the maliks, were harassing the workers and not even allowing them to stand together. A “policeman in civilian dress”, told her that some of her comrades were standing at another point and the police was picking them up. She went to see what was happening, and from behind, the police picked up the group of Sigma workers who had been standing with her. When she saw what had happened, she and the group of Azadpur women who were with her, went into the jhuggies of Azadpur and mobilised more workers. They had gathered again when the other group from B block arrived. Together, they tried to break through the manned rope barricade put up by the police. As the two segments of the workers met, the numbers became very large( reported to be 1500 by the newspapers). It was already clear that the bulk of the workers in the area were on strike, and most of the factories were closed. But in the scuffle at the barricade, a few stones were thrown, and then the police lathi charged and scattered the workers. During the lathi charge, they dragged away and arrested both workers and some of the women who were in the lead. Asha Lata recalls that just as they were attempting to breach the barricade, she was given a letter from Nathu Prasad, the convenor of the hartal committee instructing her not to allow herself to be arrested. So when she was dragged to the other side of the road, amidst the confusion, the diminutive Asha quickly covered her head with a shawl and slipped away from the place of confrontation.

But about 12 of the women, and a number of workers were arrested at the spot, while the remaining workers were scattered. They remained unable to enter the industrial area that day. Later, in a JMS  meeting on 16th December, ’88, one of the women, Chamela, is recorded as having described the incident in the following words,[97] “When Asha and Kamla beaten, I took a policeman’s lathi. Police said, “Catch this fatty”…Four were dragging Asha. I said leave her and gave him 2 slaps. They pushed Kamla into the van. We took Asha out of the van and courted (allowed?) arrest”. At the police station, Kamla said that they were being pressurised to sign a statement saying that they were trying to setting fire to the factories. They refused. While the others were let off in the evening, Kamla, Chamela and Maya[98], who were among the key militants, were sent to Tihar Jail. They were to gain release only on the 25th night.

Meanwhile, in Wazirpur too, from the first day, police repression was let loose on the workers. Pickets were organised at four strategic points: A-block jhuggies,   petrol pump, aara machine (wood-sawing factory in B-block) and Steel Ball Bearing[99] (near Azadpur railway station). Participants at the latter recall that they collected in the morning in large numbers and the factories were closed up. As the juloos moved from B block to A block, the police lathi charged the procession. Explaining the events, Shrawan Kumar[100] said that the maliks association used to run from A block and it was therefore here that the police used to intervene. Along with many other workers who were injured in the lathi charge, Jagdish Manocha, a senior leader of the CITU was badly beaten and then arrested. Devi Prasad, a worker of the area recalled the police beating Jagdish Manocha, who “just kept on going” .[101]  The case that was registered, against five of the leaders of the CITU  (although all could not be arrested), came to a close only in May, 1999, eleven years after the event. Shiv Sharan, of Premier Electricals in Wazirpur, who was injured in the attack recalls that after the lathi charge, many of them came to the CITU office at Kamla Nagar, where their injuries were attended to. He added that the more “hungama”  there was, the greater was the support for and success of the strike.[102]

Newspaper reports (23 Nov 1988) on the events of the first day in Wazirpur were as follows: “In the Wazirpur industrial area, a procession of about 4,000 workers was tear-gassed, as they were moving around the locality urging the few workers to come out.” (TOI). “The police action followed stoning on various factory premises and on the police about 11 a.m. by a mob of about 1500 workers who had abstained from work¼”(HT) “Violence at several places marked the first day of the seven-day industrial strike… The police fired about a dozen rounds of tear-gas at workers taking out a procession in Wazirpur around noon. As the police lathi-charged and tear-gassed the strikers, many from the crowd hurled stones at a police vehicle and at a factory.” (Indian Express)  “At 12.30 in the afternoon, a procession of about 4,000 workers was going around Wazirpur industrial area.” (Navbharat Times).

According to Jaimangal, one of the key CITU leaders in Wazirpur, there was stoning on the procession from some factories, and the plan of the police was to create an incident, lathi charge and arrest the leaders, so that the strike could not be sustained.[103] Obviously, despite the police attack, the strike was a big success in the area.

The second day of the strike was a Wednesday, the weekly off day in the north. Again on the third day, there was a lathi charge and injuries to women activists at GT Karnal Road, where Asha Lata and Suman of the JMS were arrested, but the police blockade at the GT Road industrial area was broken that day. Shiv Sharan recalls that he and some others went from Wazirpur into GT Road, entering from the back by going along the railway line along which Azadpur and Lal Bagh jhuggies are located. But the main juloos from Wazirpur went along the main road to cross the police barricade. Jagdish Manocha (not taped) recalled that there were some negotiations with the police, and finally when it was clear that the juloos would not budge, the police let them in. There could be little point in stopping them, since in any case most of the factories were closed.  Asha Lata recalls that earlier that morning, she and another young girl Suman, were surrounded by police at the bus stop on the main road, but newspaper reports quote eyewitnesses saying that they were arrested while leading a 3,500 strong juloos in the area. Obviously, the juloos in the area and the arrests were mixed up in the perception of both reporters and participants. But the fact remained that the blockade was broken and the police were no longer in a position to stop the workers. The workers were exhilarated and newspapers reported that there was a 7,000 strong procession which culminated in a meeting at Wazirpur, addressed by Jogendra Sharma.


It was on the fourth day that conflict became more intense, when an attack was launched on the workers by Congress supporters from inside a factory in Wazirpur. Soda bottles were thrown at the procession of workers, followed by a lathi charge and tear gassing by the police. Such was the uncontrolled ferocity of the police attack, that they entered the jhuggies and indiscriminately beat up women and children. That day, in the afternoon, the Wazirpur and GT Karnal Road processions, instead of winding up for the day within the industrial area, converged in a big demonstration at the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Northwest district), at Ashok Vihar.


The incident was reported in the newspapers as: “In Wazirpur, eyewitnesses said, a peaceful procession of about 3,000 workers was attacked with stones and soda bottles when it was near factory no. A-115 by a group of about 50 anti social elements led by a Congress member, Nandan Singh. According to eyewitnesses, the retreating workers were lathi-charged by the  police and a 15 year old boy was severely injured. Irate workers then set up roadblocks and were soon joined by a procession of more than 1,000 from the adjoining GT Karnal Road industrial area. They later gheraoed the Ashok Vihar police station for about two hours and demanded immediate action against the factory owner and the Congress member.  Ashok Vihar station house officer refused to comment on the incident.” (TOI, 26.11.88)


“The police reported that it had to fire four rounds of teargas shells to disperse a crowd and rounded up at least 11 persons, all “hired by the local managements” who were obstructing a CITU workers’ procession. According to the police spokesman, nearly 20 men belonging to local management groups and armed with lathis, attacked the procession which was accompanied by a small police posse. The workers retaliated by throwing stones. Soon a larger police force arrived and fired teargas shells to disperse the clashing groups. The police said that the incident took place outside factory no. A-115.The CITU claimed that the police aided the attackers and the local SHO in collusion with the management ordered simultaneous lathi-charge on the workers. Several workers were injured in the process and a 15-year old boy who has not been identified received head injuries.”(Indian Express, 26.11.88)

The brutality of the police attack had shaken the workers, and Krishna Prasad, of Premier Electricals recalls that they went that evening and campaigned among the jhuggi residents, but he himself was worried as to whether people would turn up the next morning after such an attack. He says, “we campaigned in the jhuggies till 12 at night… but we thought tomorrow the public will not join us..” But on the next (sixth) day -“when we went in the morning to establish our morcha,- when the eight thirty bus comes,- that is the time we take out our procession - but when it started, the public was already out, carrying big ballis and lathis, and the police seeing this began to run ahead…the road was so jammed that if anyone thought of crossing from one side to the other, it was not possible. That was a scene we had the fortune to see comrade, with the police almost fleeing ahead and the public racing behind…there was an urge in the people to break up and smash things, but Comrade Nathu said, ‘look, we have to work in there. If we smash it up, then we will only harm ourselves. Wait now, we will see on the last day (Aakhree din hum dekhenge)’”   Both Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad saw this as the basis of the power of the demonstration on the last day of the strike.[104]

Thereafter, the police was no longer able to intervene in the industrial areas of Wazirpur or GT Road and took recourse to trying to pick up leaders at night. Although some activists were arrested, the main leaders were able to evade the police[105]. The extent of the enthusiasm and sense of power among the unorganised small scale industrial workers acquired in the course of the preceding days, became a force with which the organised textile workers in the area were also drawn into the strike. On the sixth day, early in the morning a strike picket was established at the gates of Birla Mill, while leaders of the other unions stood around ready to encourage workers to enter the mill. A restive and heavy police picket was stationed there, but when the clash between the striking workers and the police took place, the other union leaders standing around could not be distinguished from the strikers.[106] The result, Birla Mill closed down for the day. At  ATM, the morning picket was not so successful and a number of workers had reported for duty. But the juloos from GTK Road reached the ATM gates in time to close the afternoon shift. A most interesting incident was the story of Lakshmi, wife of an ATM worker who had broken the strike and gone into work that morning. Lakshmi remained standing for hours at the factory gate, and when he emerged in the afternoon, just as the juloos from GT Road arrived, she spat on his face and abused him. She is recalled to have said, “Are you not ashamed of yourself for going to work when all the workers are struggling?”[107]

A mighty momentum was revealed on the last day of the strike, when ten thousand workers, according to participants and 5,000 according to newspapers, marched out from the industrial areas of Wazirpur and GT Road, Nirankari Colony and Rajasthani Udyog Nagar, swept through the main arterial roads of North Delhi to the Labour Office at Rajpur Road, and thence to the Old Secretariat in a culminating demonstration, which even the newspapers referred to as “a massive rally”. Krishna Prasad recalled that they carried bamboo sticks in the front to keep the crowd together and that the police were running ahead telling shopkeepers that a bandar sena is coming. Others recall that the workers had broken off branches from trees and were carrying them like flags, and as the procession approached the market area at Kamla Nagar, the sound of a series of shutters rolling down could be heard.

Of this demonstration, Sudhanwa Dehpande, a college student at the time, and an actor in the Jana Natya Manch play, Chakka Jaam, said, “one of the things I remember, was the fact that we did not walk, we ran. It was actually difficult to keep pace with the workers. They were going forward with tremendous speed...not the kind of walk one does in various demos. Here it was very very fast and I remember when I came to Rajpur Road I was exhausted, I was huffing and puffing… I was vividly struck by the strength, the sheer physical strength of that entire procession. It was really like a bullet, very powerful, that power was very palpable, I remember that very very vividly.” [108]



West Delhi: Mayapuri


In the Mayapuri industrial area, on the other hand, the actual strike (the number of  factories that were closed during the strike), was much less than elsewhere. In its internal review, the CPM assessed the strike to be 25 – 30% peaking on the third day at  50%.  Yet, its impact on the workers was quite dramatic, and in the period following the strike, large numbers of workers enrolled in the union, while some of the organised unions changed over and began to affiliate to the CITU.[109]


Dominated by the imposing presence of two large scale industrial units of Metal Forging and Ashoka Machine Tools, Mayapuri is located along the main line of the Northern Railway, just beyond its intersection with the Ring Road in west Delhi. The bulk of the factories here came up in the mid seventies along a grid of wide lanes that stretched between the Mayapuri Road and the railway line which further east ran alongside the Naraina and Kirti Nagar industrial areas. Along the railway line was an almost continuous line of jhuggies, although they had different names at each major point.


The western entrance to the industrial area on the Mayapuri Road was itself, a strategic point in the campaign since through it travelled thousands of workers from the huge stretch of unauthorised colonies in Sagarpur, Uttam Nagar, and the Pappankala areas (Dwarka), who worked not only Mayapuri, but Kirti Nagar, Naraina and Motinagar as well. Early in the morning, a sea of cycles would stretch across the Mayapuri Rroad, where leafleting was most effective.


Unlike in other areas of west Delhi, the three day strike of 1987, had not been very successful in Mayapuri. It had been essentially confined to phase II, while phase I, with bigger units and containing the heart of the owners’ association, had remained untouched. It may be recalled that the Mayapuri industrial area had been identified as one of the weakest points in the last meeting of the TU sub committee before the strike, with an aggressive owners’ association. At the time of the strike, the CITU had only one union in phase II of the area and a membership of about 50. The campaign and the strike, had to therefore be organised by outsiders, and women played a key role in this area.


As in GT Road, the women activists played an initiating role here in the course of the strike. Their participation began during the campaign itself. It was unusual for women to be standing on the roads and distributing leaflets and, the curiosity of the workers was aroused. Rushing to work in the morning, they would stop their cycles to take the leaflets, or stretch out their hands from buses, asking for them.  As the word spread, the second time round workers were prepared. At lunchtime, generally workers were out on the streets since it was winter, and they preferred to come out in the sun. Lunchtime meetings attracted huge crowds, and workers, both organised (mostly in other unions) and unorganised, started coming to the CITU office to express their support.


Lacking experience of effective strike in this area, two nights before the strike it had been decided to establish two pickets inside the industrial area. The first was to be at the gates of the BEC factory in phase II which had the lone CITU Union in the area. It was to be manned by DYFI activists along with the BEC workers. The second was to be established at the gates of Lumax in phase I, whose workers, although members of Sadhu Singh’s union, had displayed keen support for the strike, and assured support. This picket was to be manned by JMS activists from Sultanpuri. In the early hours of the morning, workers had begun to gather round the pickets, but they were not as yet prepared for police action. And the police quickly dragged away and arrested the  main picketers at both points, so no juloos was formed within the industrial area.[110] Although later in the day, workers did demonstrate at the police station against the arrests, the effect of the strike remained limited to a degree of absenteeism, but few closures. Workers, although sympathetic had not yet crossed out of the boundaries of inhibition and remained inactive spectators to the police actions.


The Times of India reported, “Most of the factories in the Mayapuri industrial area remained open, and the police arrested seven women volunteers..for leading a procession. These women volunteers were dragged away by policemen into the police station and detained there for a long time¼.The volunteers also alleged that they were beaten up with lathis in the stomach and on the wrists inside the station premises.On the other hand, the situation was most peaceful in the sprawling industrial area and there was not a single incident of violence as the majority of workers abstained from work¼” (23.11.88)


Confident that the picketers, being outsiders, would not be able to do much, those arrested in the morning were let off at 5 o’clock. A change in tactics was in order and the next morning, a single picket was established on the Mayapuri Road at the point where leafleting had been so successful. The experienced trade unionist, Puran Chand ( the then president of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union), led the picket. The change had immediate effect. Workers on foot and on cycles were effectively gathered together and a  juloos of about three hundred workers was formed on the second day. The procession was able to enter and go around both phases of the industrial area, but it remained surrounded by a large police posse. It was decided not to make any attempt to close factories as many were already closed due to GuruPurab, and the day passed off peacefully.


It was on the third day, that the strike action struck root in the area, as a juloos of over two thousand workers was formed on the main road itself. The morning picket had been strengthened by about 10 JMS and 10 DYFI activists who had been brought in from Shakurpur on this day. For the first time the police were outflanked, being initially confined to the front part of the juloos, before whose strength, many factories started shutting up. More and more workers came out and joined the procession. The tail end which had itself swelled to about 5,000, packing the road from side to side, closed up the remaining factories. The factories so closed included two belonging to Chawla, the most feared malik of the area. It was at this point that one Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ajay Kashyap decided to personally intervene. Accompanied by a force of some fifteen policemen, he ordered them to arrest one of the women activists who was in the lead of the rear end of the juloos. But by this time, the workers had become a fierce force, and they physically prevented his men from arresting her.


While the front was led by a more orderly group, the rear could no longer be called a procession, rather a huge mass stopping at and shaking factory gates, and calling workers out. The mass seemed frightening to the few women workers, who came out of the factories that were getting shut. With great difficulty passageways were made through the press of innumerable male workers for the women workers to come out without being shoved around. In the meantime, police reinforcements had been brought in including the CRPF women’s battalion. It was then that the police lathi charged the workers from the rear.


The opportunity for the lathi charge came when the rear end of the juloos was stuck outside one factory in phase I for an inordinate length of time, as over 500 workers emerged from within. For almost 15 minutes, the workers had been stationary, their attention fixed on the emerging workers who had to pass through a tortuously slow process of body search by security guards at the gate. Twice messages were sent from the front leaders of the juloos which had already reached the next phase, that the rear should be made to move on, but the mass pressure to ensure that every worker had come out from the factory was too intense and nobody would budge. The factory was located close to the end of a lane which was blocked by a wall virtually enclosed on three sides. The density of workers packed from side to side, and lack of lateral space gave the workers almost no space to escape. Hampered by their cycles, they were almost helpless in the face of the lathi charge and ensuing stampede.


After the lathi charge on the rearend juloos, activists from both front and rear julooses gathered within minutes at the CITU office in Mayapuri. Many of the scattered workers too converged there. State leaders who had been informed immediately arrived there within the hour. The leaders, accompanied by the activists and some 200 workers who were still hanging around went immediately to the police station where it was felt that some of the workers including a young woman worker who had been among the most militant might have been detained. Since the numbers were still sizable, and state leaders as well as journalists were present, activists were allowed to search the thana premises to assure themselves that no worker had been detained there. One BEC worker and some few others who had been were thus quietly let off.  ACP Kashyap could be seen to be fuming and fretting but was unable to prevent the search since the reinforcements had left and only the local thana police were there.


Newspapers reported, “The day began with large demonstrations in almost every industrial centre in the city. One of the largest of such rallies was held at Mayapuri.The procession began peacefully, doing rounds of all working units. It would stop outside these units, exhort workers to join the strike and move on.The procession made one such stopover outside a unit in ‘A’ block. CITU activists say they were only shouting slogans when the police attacked them, but an eyewitness said a stone hurled at the factory had stirred the police into action.” (TOI, 25.11.88). The Navbharat Times reporter who reached the area shortly after the lathi charge wrote, “Today, the workers of Mayapuri industrial area were the worst victims of lathicharge by the police. The workers allege that when they were demonstrating in full strength, then ACP Kashyap got them lathicharged¼about 150 workers were injured. Among the injured was a 13 year old boy named Kanchan Das. Hundreds of broken cycles of workers were lying around at the place where the lathicharge took place in Mayapuri, phase-I....Workers told us that one of the factory maliks supplied the lathis to the police. There was talk about a white Maruti with some people in civilian clothes who were threw stones at the workers and police and then escaped. Workers said that when they were holding a meeting at night in the jhuggis, the police came, surrounded and terrorised them, but they did not get terrorised.  After the lathicharge, a women’s jatha was singing with gusto: “Chahe lag jaye hathkadiyan hartal karayenge” (Even if put in handcuffs,we will keep the strike going on)¼”(Navbharat Times, Nov 25).[111]


From the next morning, Mayapuri took on the appearance of a police camp. Police were lined up at every entrance and many of the key activists were picked up from the CITU office in the early hours of the morning. Puran Chand who had been first to arrive, quickly saw the lay of the land and bundled the first woman activist straight from the bus stop towards hiding at a nearby petrol pump. She was practically the lone leading figure to escape arrest that day. Others were not so fortunate. Shakuntala recalled that five or six of the women had come with from Sultanpuri in her husband’s three wheeler. As soon as the vehicle halted in front of the office, they were surrounded by the police. She tried to pretend that she was an ignorant, but the police were not taken in and arrested them. [112] At the same time, two of the women coming in from Shakurpur were also arrested. Puran Chand himself, Tripurari (textile worker, who was secretary of the west engineering union branch)[113], Brij Bhushan Tewary, secretary of the Textile union, and  Vimal Paliwal from the DYFI were all arrested. By evening, Party lawyers managed to get three of Shakuntala’s associates from Sultanpuri released that evening, but four of the women and all the men were sent to Tihar. Later, some Mayapuri workers reported that the maliks had had a meeting with the police on the 24th evening resulting in the police crackdown. “Earlier, about hundred factory owners under the banner of the Mayapuri small industries welfare association staged a protest march in the locality against yesterday’s attempts by some CITU activists to force workers out of some establishments. Mr. S.K. Khurana, president of the Mayapuri small industries welfare association, praised the role of the police in handling the ‘ugly situation’ which might have escalated into an uncontrollable situation. (TOI, 26.11.88)


For that day, the police lied and refused to admit that such arrests had been made. “However, the Naraina ACP, Mr. Ajay Kashyap, denied that any arrests were made. A delegation of Communist Party of India (Marxist) which included two MPs, Mr. Basudev Acharya, and Mr. M.A. Baby, who went to inquire the whereabouts of their activists were told the same.” (TOI, 26.11.88) One of the arrested women, Ram Piari of Shakurpur said in a meeting, “..on 25th – Kashyap caught hold of me. Slapped me and beat me with a lathi. When I saw Nikki was caught I decided to stay on and not escape arrest. Taken to Cantt. thana. Then to Vasant Vihar, Patiala House. In the evening went to Tihar Jail.”[114]


As soon as news of the arrests reached them, the state and local committee leaders came to the area and instructed the remaining activists not to try to take out any procession that day, and to remain out of sight of the police. But the police repression left a palpable tension in the air, and the success of the strike on the 24th had fired a resistance in the workers of BEC, who had earlier displayed little enthusiasm for the strike. The next day evening (it was Saturday, the weekly off in Mayapuri and the day had been spent in individually contacting workers in the jhuggies and nearby unauthorised colonies), at the initiative of the BEC workers, a meeting was called in the Lajwanti Garden park which lay west of the industrial area, and was attended by some 200 workers from within Mayapuri.The picket point was shifted further east on the Mayapuri Road and picketers were told to stay in the shadows until a signal was given.


On Sunday morning, (27th November), in their enthusiasm, BEC workers brought red chilly powder in their pockets to throw at the policemen’s eyes if necessary. Reinforcements came in the shape of the night shift of DCM Silk workers, of whom about 15 came to Mayapuri straight from their factory in the morning. The police were caught unawares since all their officers and main force was concentrated in the original picket area. Once again a thousand strong juloos was formed on the main road that was then able to go round the industrial area, albeit flanked on either side by a substantial police force. Similarly, on the final day, workers from other areas in the west also converged at Mayapuri which had become a symbol of police repression during the strike.The strike action in the west culminated in a march from Mayapuri to Tihar Jail where about 10 leaders and activists of the area were still imprisoned. So fired were the workers and activists, particularly the women, that they wanted to break through the jail gates as they had broken through so many factory gates. It took all the skill of the remaining leaders to restrain them and remind them that they had still to march back to the police station in Mayapuri to protest against the actions of the district police. The demonstration ended at the Mayapuri police station, with angry slogans directed against ACP Kashyap who was held as being primarily responsible for the scale of police repression in Mayapuri.


South Delhi: Okhla


The Okhla Industrial area, sprawls over 294 hectares, with about 2000 industrial plots, many of them larger than is the norm in other areas. It is the single largest industrial area in Delhi. Divided into three phases, it moves southwards from Phase III to Phase I, i.e., from the outer Ring Road and alongside the main Central Railway line between Maa Anand Mayee Marg and Mathura Road (NH 2).  Phase III, which stands somewhat apart from the other two phases, is flanked by the old style large scale factory of Modi Flour Mills at its northern end and G.B.Pant Poytechnic at its southern side. It is separated from Phase II by green “orchard” land and Harkesh Nagar. Phase I  lies contiguous to Phase II on its southern side and is bounded at its eastern end by Tekhand. Both Harkesh Nagar and Tekhand are built up urban villages, increasingly dotted with very small industrial units and commercial establishments. Many Okhla workers also live in rented quarters here. The number and concentration of jhuggies both in Okhla (such as Sanjay Colony, Indira Vihar, Rajeev Camp, etc.) or close to Okhla (such as the contiguous belt of Navjeevan Camp, Nehru Camp and Bhumiheen Camp along the Govindppuri Road), is among the largest series of squatter settlements in Delhi. Bhumiheen Camp alone is officially recorded as having the maximum number of jhuggies in any such cluster in the city.


In Okhla, the seven day strike was not marked by any clashes with the police or with employers’ associations, although all newspapers reported large julooses on the first two days of the strike. Both the Times of India and Navbaharat Times reported Okhla as being among the areas where the strike had maximum effect on the first day, and in fact photographs of closed factories and julooses of workers in Okhla appeared in almost all papers. Indian Express, however, said that factory gates were “kept closed, but  work continued in most factories.” For the second day, the Times reported, “As for Okhla, CITU claimed near total success in phase I and I, but not in Okhla-III. A sample survey showed that they were probably right” (TOI, Nov 24). Even the Indian Express reported “The workers staged a massive rally in Okhla, marching to each factory where work was going on and try to get it to close. Many factory-owners relented after rally had been held outside their gates. Workers who came out invariably said that they had been forced to work.” (Indian Express, Nov 24).  


Mohammed Azeem Khan, a worker in Punj Sons during the strike, recalled that whereas during the 72 hour strike, there had been little response in his factory, in 1988, there was greater anger among the workers, and almost all them joined the strike. Leaders of the CITU, such as Mohanlal[115] had come to the factory gate during the campaign, and the workers had decided among themselves to support the strike. In Khan’s words, “we even came to the CITU office and told them that if they came to the factory gate at 8.30…and with flags and sticks (jhanda danda)  and tried to hold us back, we would stay out, because we had to show our management that union wallahs had stopped us, and by adopting such tactics, we would participate in the strike….On the first day of the strike, the leaders came to the gate…and appealed to us to join in….we stopped outside the gate and then at about 9.30, we joined all the others in the juloos and went around Phase III… when the juloos was formed and we saw the others--workers from other factories, then our morale was greatly boosted.. and we felt that in this condition if we formed a union, then, we could dominate over our own management a little and live a life of some little respect.”[116]


Punj Sons is located just outside Phase III, and had about 850 workers. Almost all the workers were employed as contract labour at that time of the strike. Most of them joined the juloos. From an initial strength of 500, as the juloos went around Phase III, “as all the factories started closing and the workers came out”, the crowd swelled and at 2.30 when it was concluded at Modi Mills, the number was at least 2000”. The same process was followed on the second day, but this time, the juloos spent only about two hours in Phase III and then moved on to Phase II. The third day was the weekly off and most workers stayed at home. On the fourth day, the Punj Sons workers went back to work as the management had put up a notice that anyone who failed to report on duty, would be dismissed.[117] For the workers of Punj Sons, the seven day strike created the groundswell for the formation of their own union, whose later struggles and tortuous destiny was to have a longlasting impact on the CITU led trade union movement and organisation in Okhla, but that is another story.[118]


Minutes of the South Delhi LC of the CPI(M), written in greater detail than elsewhere, contain a fairly comprehensive account of the course of the strike in Okhla, including mid-course discussions among the organisers. The last meeting of the LC before the strike (19.11.88) had drawn up an ambitious plan of establishing pickets at nine central entry points to the three phases. Additionally a women’s group led by Kalindi Deshpande[119] was to gather at the jhuggi basti known as Navjeevan Camp, and enter the industrial area of Phase II from its western side. Despite the small strength of the CITU in the area, it was possible to man the many picket points due to the infusion of student cadre from JNU, DYFI members from the neighbouring areas of Govindpuri, C.R. Park and Ambedkar Nagar, and JMS women primarily from the jhuggies of Bhumiheen Camp and Alaknanda.


Such a dispersal of picket points served as an effective strategy for the first two days off the strike, when the response of the mass of workers was at its peak. But after the third day, it became apparent that there was a decline in the level of mass participation, and the thin spread of the organisation across so many pickets was leading to small julooses which naturally could not effectively implement the strike. This is evident from the discussions in the LC meeting of 25.11.88. Reports from all three phases came in common refrain in the meeting—the response of workers on the first two days was good, factories closed down and big julooses were formed. But workers were now beginning to go back to work. Even those who joined the processions were going back into their factories after an hour or two. One member reported that the fear of wage cut was sending workers back into the factories. It was therefore decided that for the last two days, the number of pickets should be pared down and Phases I and II should be concentrated upon.


The acute frustration felt by the strike activists in south Delhi at the decreasing participation of workers[120], was reflected in the demand for what one of them called “planned militancy”. A senior leader of the NTPC union, who was in charge of the strike action in Phase I, argued for concluding the juloos by noon and targeting of a few factories by individual groups of militants later in the afternoon. According to him, the general feeling among workers was that the “leaders were sadhus” and as a result factories were not being closed. On “seeing the police, workers gradually disperse leaving only the ‘outsiders’”. Ranbaxy TU activist, Bhola, reported that workers were saying that “stoning the factories is necessary”, while JMS leader, Kalindi argued that as the factory owners were no longer afraid, the stage for peaceful work was over, and a greater show of militancy was required.[121] Obviously, the reports of dramatic clashes with the police in Wazirpur, GT Karnal Road and then Mayapuri had caused some activists to think that the Okhla action was too tame. The strike was entering a phase of internal struggle as its leaders strained against an ebbing tide in mass participation.


However, other senior LC leaders and state committee representatives[122] carried the day with the argument that provocation for a police crackdown in the given situation was meaningless and would only lead to the end of any strike mobilisation. They placed the view that the strength of the organisation in Okhla was less than other areas, and so the situation was not comparable. Concentration of forces and taking the juloos to new and expanded areas became the strategy for the last two days of the strike. Thus, the decisive state review of the strike placed the peak of the strike in Okhla on the first day with 70% closure in Okhla, phase-I and II, and 60% in phase III, declining to 60% and 40% respectively on the second day, and concluded that thereafter no proper assessment of actual strike could be made.


One of the special features of the strike in Okhla was a larger participation of women workers. In the JMS meeting, Kalindi reported that there were 200 – 250 women in their processions. This feature was observed by newspaper reporters as well. A Jansatta report (28.11.88) for the second last day of the strike says “In the three phases of Okhla, workers took out large processions. In which women workers participated in large numbers. The strike could be seen to have a wide impact in Okhla, phase one and two. But some more factories had opened in phase three.”. Such a presence of women was not merely of JMS or students. It also reflected the greater numbers of women workers in the Okhla industries.


 East Delhi: Shahdara, Friends Colony and Jhilmil


The course of the strike in East Delhi was somewhat similar to that of Okhla, with big julooses and widespread closure in the beginning and tapering participation of workers towards the end. The focus of the strike in east Delhi was in the industrial areas lying northeast of the Shahdara railway Station. It stretched from the industrial belt located in Rohtash Nagar East and Ram Nagar[123] to the north of GT Road (NH24), moving further eastwrds along the southern side of GT Road, i.e., through the industrial areas of Friends Colony and Jhilmil virtually upto the Seemapuri border. The first day of the strike was the weekly off in east Delhi and thus, the strike actually began on the 23rd of November in the industrial areas of Shahdara, Friends Colony and Jhilmil.


Unlike the Friends Colony and Jhilmil Industrial areas which are completely industry dominated, the area to the north of GT Road displays more mixed characteristics of industry and commerce interspersed and located within a sizable residential area. It is in this area that the older industries (some of 1940 vintage) are located. Among the prominent old and large scale engineering units located here are GD Rathi, KL Rathi, and Delhi Steel Mill.  And it was here that on the 23rd of November, the juloos characteristic of the seven day strike, was first formed. Given the low membership of the CITU in east Delhi (69 in General Mazdoor and 150 in Engineering), and the relatively much smaller stock of cadre available from the just constituted local committee of the CPIM), it had been decided in the LC meeting of 19.11.88, not to disperse the cadre over more than one picket. Accordingly, on the morning of the 23rd  they gathered at a park on Loni Road and began their march through the industrial areas. Within a short while the procession had swelled into hundreds as ordinary workers joined in, and as factories in Ramnagar started being closed down. Thus, a juloos of over one thousand marched through and crossed GT Road to enter Friends Colony. According to participants, the effect of the juloos and strike was most in Friends’ Colony, where the already impressive number of workers in the juloos were able to completely dominate the narrow roads and close up the factories that were open. The coverage of Jhilmil was partial on this first day and the juloos concluded at Friends Colony. [124]


Of day one of the strike in east Delhi, the Times of India (24.11.88) reported, “As for the Shahdra area, a representative of the area’s manufacturers’ association estimated that 10 percent of the units were working. The reason, he said, was fear of violence and today’s religious festival. Even so, it was an impressive performance for CITU; there are an estimated 30,000 workers here and barely 1,000 claim allegiance to this union”. The Jansatta reporter, who probably saw the workers as they marched along GT Road wrote “In the industrial areas of trans Yamuna - Shahdara, Jhilmil and Friends Colony, workers took out a long procession¼ In these areas, due to the strike, work came to a standstill. Except for a handfull of factories in Shahdara, the strike was a great success in the transYamuna areas.”(Jansatta, 24.11.88).


In the east, since the strike in three industrial areas was essentially dependent on the formation of a single juloos, it had been decided to change the morning picket point on a daily basis. Memories of participants are somewhat hazy as to the chronological order of the picket points, which on some days was located at an open space near the railway line at Friends Colony, probably once more within the Ramnagar area, and once from the Jhilmil end of the industrial area. This was done both in order to touch all parts of the area and also to avoid any police intervention before a sizable juloos had been formed.


In the minutes of the LC meeting reviewing the strike (2.12.88), details of important factories and the overall extent of the strike record the closure of Delhi Steel Mill (250 workers) for five days of the strike, despite the fact that the dominant union there was the UTUC which was opposed to the strike. Similarly, K.L. Rathi (500 workers), which had no union was closed. On the other hand two major units in Jhilmil--Sahni and Dhawan, could not be closed. But workers from numerous smaller units were reported to have enthusiastically participated. The maximum effect of strike was on the first two days, with assessments ranging from 75% to 90%, and declined thereafter from 50-60% to less than 40% on the last two days. That the strike in the east had quite some impact may be gauged from the confused and contradictory statements issued by the Shahdara Manufacturers’ Association. Its president, Mr. J.R. Jindal, was reported to have claimed on the one hand “that 75 percent of the factories are functioning normally” but on the other, “urged the administration to declare the strike illegal and appealed to the workers to return to duty immediately” (TOI, 27.11.88).


Reactions to the strike: The war of words


In the various newspaper reports on the seven day strike, a singular feature was the absence of any official statement from the Government of the day, either on the demands of the strike or on its scope and reach. This was despite the fact that the principal demands of the strike were addressed to the government. The war of words through the strike was primarily conducted by the various manufacturers’ associations. Other unions mostly remained quiet during the actual strike, although statements from the IFTU, INTUC and UTUC did appear, generally clubbed by the newspapers along  with those of the manufacturers’ associations.


Among the union statements during the strike, on the 24th , the Times of India reported “The city branch of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, affiliated to the ruling Congress party, issued a joint statement blaming the CITU, the employers and the government for the current situation. The employers need a kick in the pants, the CITU was playing with workers’ jobs and the government “has not taken due care of these unhelpful conditions.” It ended with an appeal for the Prime Minister’s intervention.”[125] On the 26th , according to the Indian Express, “the Delhi state committee of the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), denied the CITU contention that six major trade unions are opposing the strike call. Claiming that the response to the CITU strike call was feeble, the UTUC stated that this was primarily because CITU chose to ignore the other six major central unions and preferred to go it alone.


But the most prolific series of statements came from the IFTU. On the 24th, the Jansatta reported, “The Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), the General Mazdoor Front, Mazdoor Kalyan Manch, Jhuggi Sangharsh Manch have condemned the police attacks on the striking workers and warned that if the police, factory maliks and goondas intervene during the strike, then they will retaliate with force. On the 25th, the Hindustan Times said, “However, the CITU today received a jolt from the Indian Federation of Trade Unions which in a statement said the response to the strike had been muted underlining the “fact that the working class of Delhi wants a systematic and united struggle on the demands” of the workers.While strongly condemning the “lathicharge, teargassing, arrests and other forms of repression on the groups of striking workers..during the course of the present agitation for raise in minimum wage..”. .  and on the 27th, in the Times of India, “Meanwhile, the IFTU has condemned the reported repressive measures adopted by the government during the week long strike sponsored by the CITU.The IFTU president, in a statement, said the lathi-charge and arrest of a small group of activists of CITU and the Janwadi Mahila Samiti at Mayapuri yesterday were uncalled for¼urged the government to stop its repressive policies..and concede the demand for raising minimum wages to Rs 1,050..He said the government is mistaken if it thinks that the workers’ struggle could be suppressed by repression just because the CITU strike has met with only “lukewarm” response.”


While none of the union statements were in opposition to the demands of the strike, the INTUC statement targeted the CITU for having gone into strike action itself on the grounds of the risk of workers losing their jobs. The UTUC and the IFTU statements, on the other hand, were geared towards undermining the influence and strength of the strike by trying to show that workers were not supporting it. It was the latter set of statements that echoed some of the statements by manufacturers’ associations whose intentions were clearly more oriented at ensuring that the demands were not conceded.


Accordingly, the first of the Delhi level employers’ statements that appeared on the 25th was directed against the demand for increase in minimum wages. “According to Delhi Factory Owners’ Federation, the employers in Delhi, particularly the small factory owners and shop keepers, feel greatly disturbed because of the Delhi Administrations’s proposal to further increase the minimum wages, though the last two wage revisions have already taken place in My 1987 and again in March 1988. Mr. Krishan Kumar, president of the federation, has voiced concern at such frequent wage revision, which in turn leads to higher costs of production and consequently increasing general price levels and again requiring revision of wages. The employers strongly feel that the rates of wages should be linked with productivity and production, as in the absence of such linkage, the revision of wage has become a self defeating exercise (Hindustan Times, 25.11.88)


Statements from industrialists were often alternately conciliatory and aggressive, bemoaning their losses while portraying the strike as a failure and demanding government and police action against it. In the flurry of these confused and contradictory  statements and actions by the various area and state level manufacturers may be discerned not just the strength of the strike, but also the attempts to shift the anger of their workers away from themselves towards the government. Thus, on the day after the lathi charge in Mayapuri, “The Mayapuri Small Industries Welfare Association has declared that it is willing to accede to the workers’ demand of Rs 1,050 per month as minimum wages provided the Government directs the employers to do so. A statement issued by the general secretary of the Association, Mr. S.K. Choudhary, while declaring that 90 per cent of the units were functioning in Mayapuri area, praised the police for its role. The statement said, “the deployed police force in the area is exhibiting its vigil and sense of duty very well to maintain peace and law and order.” (Indian Express, 26.11.88) In similar vein, “Mr. R.S. Gujral, president of the Rewariline small industries welfare association, told this reporter that the owners were not against any increase in the minimum wages.“If the Delhi administration raises it, we will readily comply with them, as we have very cordial relations with our workers,” he observed. The association’s general secretary claimed that more than 99 per cent of the factories in the area were functioning normally and alleged that a handful of activists are trying to disturb them” (TOI, 26.11.88)


Again for the next day, the Times reported, “A number of organisations representing the factory owners have claimed that the strike was not successful and appealed to the striking workers to return to duty. The Wazirpur Small Industries Association president, Mr. R.P. Singh, said they have no objection regarding the increase of minimum wages from the present Rs 562 to any extent. “The minimum wages are to be fixed by the Delhi Administration and not by the managements of factories”, he said. Mr. J.R. Jindal, president of the Shahdara Manufacturers’ Association¼Claiming that 75 percent of the factories are functioning normally, he urged the administration to declare the strike illegal and appealed to the workers to return to duty immediately  (TOI, 27.11.88)


As the strike drew to a close, manufacturers veered away from trying to bring their workers back to work to once again oppose the central wage demands of the strike. Thus, “The Wazirpur Small Industries Association general secretary, Mr. R.P. Singh, who on November 26 claimed that the employers have no objection to the Delhi administration raising the minimum wages from the present Rs 562 per month to any extent, today said they will agree only for a reasonable amount but not Rs 1,050 per month”, while at the Delhi level, “In a statement, Mr. Gupta said instead of raising the wages, the government should bring down the price index and take steps to prevent strikes and maintain production. The Federation of Delhi Small Industries Associations estimated that the 70,000 factories in the capital suffered a production loss worth Rs 14 crore a day during the week long strike. This is about 20 per cent of the total daily production worth Rs 70 crores a day.The Federation president, Mr. M.R. Gupta, said the labour absenteeism did not exceed five per cent on all days of the strike, and most industrial estates reported normal production. He urged the trade unions to motivate workers to shun violence, produce more in the national interest, maintain industrial harmony and thus improve their living conditions (TOI, 29.11.88).


Away from the public war of words, in its internal review, the CPI(M) had the following assessment of the actual percentage of closure of factories during the strike. In north Delhi, GT Karnal Road and Wazirpur, which faced the maximum number of police interventions, the strike was 90%, in Nirankari Colony, 70-80%, while in Rajasthan Udyog Nagar it was 50% till the 23rd and thereafter, 40-50%.  In the west, 90% of Rama Road was closed, initially 70% and later an overwhelming 95% in Nangloi, 50-80% in Naraina followed by 40-60% in Kirti Nagar. In Mayapuri, where police repression was amongst the most severe, the strike was 25-30%, extending on the third day to 50%, while in Lawrence Road, it had a negligible effect. In the south, the first day saw the peak of the strike with 70% closure in Okhla, phase-I and II, and 60% in phase III, declining to 60% and 40% respectively on the second day, and thereafter no proper assessment of actual strike could be made. In the east again, the maximum effect was on the first two days, ranging from 75% to 90%, and declined thereafter from 50-60% to less than 40% on the last two days. In the Ghaziabad area, the strike was 95% in Sector 4, Sahibabad, while in Noida its success was 60%.[126]


Solidarity and outside support


The strike brought the issues of the unorganised workers of Delhi into focus on a larger stage than ever before. Never before had a movement of workers in Delhi aroused such widespread support. Earlier the solidarity demonstration of artists and intellectuals has been mentioned. Two days into the strike, following arrests and clashes with the police, a joint letter was issued by four retired Supreme Court and High Court judges asking “the police commissioner to keep his force from “subjecting the striking workers to force and coercion”. Mr. V.R.Krishna Iyer, Mr. Rajinder Sachar, Mr. Devi Singh Tewatia and Mr. Subramanian Potti in the letter, accused the commissioner of having had his men do just that” (TOI, Nov 24). Condemnation of police attacks also came from central leaders of AITUC, Chaturanan Misra and Indrajit Gupta, who “expressed distress that the police is acting as an agent of the mill maliks”[127], although the Delhi unit remained silent.


But solidarity with the strike was not confined to the middle class sections in Delhi alone. CITU itself had given a call for a one day strike in six states of northern India in support of the Delhi workers on 28th November, the last day of the strike. Calcutta workers held a solidarity rally on the same day. The bold and brave stance taken in the strike in Delhi had an inspirational effect on movements of workers across the country.


Within Delhi, hotel workers organised by the CITU had joined the strike. Similarly, the CITU led Delhi Shop Employees’ Union observed a one day strike in support. But it was not only the CITU workers who were being moved by the issues and events of the strike. On the 24th November, newspapers reported, “ Hotel and restaurant workers took out a rally in Connaught Place in support of the striking industrial workers. In the forefront was the AITUC affiliated hotel workers’ union president, Bhagat Ram”(Jansatta, Nov 24)., Similarly, on the 28th “a torchlight procession organised jointly by the Hotel Workers’ Union, the Shop Employees Union, the DYFI and the Janwadi Mahila Samiti through the walled city late last night attracted thousands of industrial workers who marched along with the procession¼ (The Hindustan Times, Nov. 28). Most of the programmes and actions of solidarity were planned and initiated by the organisers of the strike, some before the strike began. But like the strike actions themselves, solidarity support too was marked by a much wider participation than that circumscibed by organisational boundaries.

The aftermath of the strike


The most protracted strike of unorganised workers in Delhi ended on 28th November, 1988. Through the following months the aspiration and hopes of the unorganised workers were fixed on what it would achieve. As the emotional pitch and intensity subsided, workers and organisers faced the return to normalcy with all its usual travails and uncertainties. For some days tension prevailed, particularly in the areas where clashes with the police had taken place. There was a spate of victimisation of workers with Unions being flooded with complaints of illegal terminations and wage-cuts. In the months that followed,  all concerned sifted, evaluated and reviewed the highs and lows of the strike, and the organisers were confronted with the long and even more arduous task of consolidation. In January, 1989, theatre activist Safdar Hashmi and a local CITU member Ram Bahadur were murdered by Congress goondas at a performance of the play that had become the continued cultural expression of the strike movement. They were murdered in Jhandapur, located in the heart of the industrial area of Sahibabad[128], where a “pardesi” industrial worker was contesting in the municipal elections as a CPI(M) candidate. His murder came as a reminder that movements for working class assertion was not without tragic price.


The responsibility of carrying the struggle forward drove the organisers into further campaigns and on 15th March, 12,000 workers were mobilised again for a rally threatening to escalate the struggle further if the demands of the seven day strike were not conceded. The next month, the new wage rates were announced raising the minimum wages from Rs 562/- to Rs 750, an unprecedented hike of more than 33% from the previous year. More importantly, a bi-annual variable dearness allowance of 85 paise per point rise in the consumer price index for industrial workers was incorporated in the minimum wage. Although still short of the demand for 1050/-, the workers had won a substantial wage hike, and the principle of price indexed dearness allowance. Behind the victory also lay the impending elections, and the awareness in the Congress rulers, that such a concession was necessary for their electoral considerations. But it was the mass participation by workers in the industrial strike that brought about the realisation of this necessity; the popularisation and assertion of demands which brought focus to the issue of minimum wages and dearness allowance as the key issue requiring addressal.


Chapter 5 : Retrospective on the Seven Day Strike


With all the euphoria of a decisive advance achieved for workers in the increased minimum wages and the inclusion of the bi-annual VDA, the course of development of the life of labour in the capital was not significantly altered by the seven day strike. The strike did play a catalytic role in the unionisation of workers.[129]  For a brief spell during the prime ministership of Janta Dal’s V.P. Singh (1989-90) when tokens were issued to jhuggi dwellers, illusions had begun to grow among the poor and dispossessed that they would also acquire full and more permanent legal foothold in the capital. But following the fall of the government in 1990, the capital’s electoral politics veered towards two-party polarisation between the BJP and the Congress.[130] Such a polarisation between parties with longstanding links with the city’s commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, became further embedded in the new structures of power established when Delhi became a state with its own elected government (1993). Domination of electoral polarisation on the political life of the city was reinforced by frequent elections—seven within the decade.[131] The earlier trajectories of independent assertion by the working class were thus diffused in the melting pot of given electoral correlations in which workers had no voice.


The marginalisation of the political presence of labour in the nineties, in a sense, reversed the gains made by the movements of ’87 and ’88.  While official minimum wages in Delhi continued to rise, and VDA was increased from 85 paise per point rise in the consumer price index to Re.1, its violation rather than enforcement became more and more the rule. By the end of the decade, even official announcements of VDA began coming only once a year instead of twice. From an all time high of 18,55,915 in 1988, trade union membership dropped to less than half at 9,02,567 by 1995.[132] Dogged by declining influence and even absolute numbers, the trade union movement among the small scale industrial workers in Delhi, once again reverted to token forms of resistance.


Although, following the 1991 New Industrial Policy, a series of industrial strikes did take place, they remained essentially determined by all India calls, and functioned more as campaigns among unorganised workers, rather than all out struggles by workers themselves. As the metropolis moved into the era of ‘globalisation’, government and court inspired moves towards redrawing of the industrial map of Delhi led to the closure of thousands of industries and ensuing mass displacement of labour. Workers were mobilised in a few sporadic surges of militancy against such closures and ostensible relocation of industries, but this time they were mostly led by the  owners of affected industries, rather than their own class representatives. Such mobilisation which left outside its ambit, the burning issues of conflict between labour and capital such as wages or compensation for displaced workers, could have little sustaining force.


The apparent ebb in the tide of trade union and working class militancy in Delhi during the nineties raises several questions as to how and why such a widespread movement as the seven day strike was unable to sustain or advance working class assertion any futher. To some extent, the heightening of communal divisions and tensions in the period following the strike led to conditions of diversion from such class based struggles. From the rath yatra in 1989 demanding construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, aggressive and communal Hindu mobilisation swept through the capital to consolidate behind the BJP. It echoed in a Muslim backlash that was put down by heavyhanded police action. Democratic sections of the trade union movement, were thus preoccupied with fighting the tide of communalism, and once again, left with little space or resources for concerted focus on consolidating the movement of unorganised workers.


Was then the seven day strike just a flash in the pan propelled by extraneous political forces? Does the declining membership and inefficacy of trade unions mean that such movements are no longer possible? Is such a decline of trade unionism predicated by structural changes in production processes, and the moving away from the old style factory organisation towards smaller informal own account systems of production? When small scale industries are being critically affected by global market forces or recession, are higher minimum wages realisable? Will not militant wage struggles and strikes in them be detrimental to the interests of labour and employment? Some of these questions have been voiced by trade union activists, some by students and scholars of labour history. It is beyond the scope and capacity of this study to do even minimal justice to any of these questions. However, at this point we would contend that there are several remarkable similarities between the situation in 1988 and today. It might therefore be useful to conclude by looking at some of the wider social trajectories and implications of the seven day strike that have emerged from this study from the context of the present.

A movement perspective


Documentation and study of labour from an earlier generation of recorders focussed primarily on large scale industry, not merely because of ideological predilections, but because large scale industries were centres of class conflict and class organisation as well as anti-colonial nationalist political action. The social, ideological and legal constructs that were hammered out of such struggle between labour and capital in the areas of large scale industry, laid the foundations of the initial phase of labour policy and labour legislation in independent India. The formal sector so constructed, was marked by state regulation allowing for a degree of collective bargaining, relatively better wages and security of employment, all associated with some dignity in work life. Such formal sector industry continued to be in political focus and constituted the principal centres for the organisation of labour for many years, particularly as the organised public sector expanded to lay the financial and material infrastructure for the industrial advance . Such a focus was perhaps natural since large scale industry doubled its numbers and share of industrial employment at an all India level, from 3 million and 15% in 1961 to 7.78 million and 31% in 1981. In comparison, the trajectory of growth of numbers and proportions of wage labour in the small scale unorganised industries, began its rapid rise in the 1970s topping large scale industry by 1.76 million in 1981 and by 5.46 million within the next decade to become 48% of all industrial employment and over 62% of wage employment in industry by 1991.[133]


Literature on labour from the last quarter of the century, on the other hand, has progressively concentrated on what is termed the informal sector. Definitions of the informal sector incorporate all sectors of economic activity that fall outside the formal sector. Considerable work has been done on identifying characteristics of employment--the sweated conditions of work, instabilitity and fragmentation of labour at the lower end of the informal sector. However, differences in production relations, methods and scales of appropriation of surplus-value, or even between pre-capitalist and modern organisation of production within the informal economy, remain shrouded in an opacity inherent to the concept. While there can be little doubt that the vast majority of workers, industrial or otherwise, are located in the unregulated sectors, mere statement of such a fact provides little insight into the nature and character of class differentiation that operates there. Further, the essential links between labour and capital operating within and between the informal and formal sectors tend to become camouflaged by a rigid categorisation of the two sectors. It is perhaps no coincidence that such prioritisation of the informal sector coincides with the increasing and vociferous influence of demands to dismantle the regulatory regime in the formal sector and the protections offered to labour therein. Whether celebratory of the so-called dynamism of the informal sector with its unregulated conditions of labour in terms of economic or employment growth, or critically placed with more insidiously inserted concepts such as the dualism of the labour market, a tacit line uniting both is a fairly wholesale rejection of trade union led movements of organised labour. It is such an approach that persistently seeks to project micro-enterprise as the principal, sometimes only, method of organising poor informal sector workers as opposed to traditional wage labour based trade union organisation. This is despite accumulating evidence that wage labour, rather than self employment is on the rise in the informal economy.


Such a wholesale rejection of trade union movements of the past is unwarranted and diverts from the shared social experience of organised and unorganised workers in terms of class exploitation, methods and forms of struggle, in relation to their day to day existence as citizens, as well as the elements of historical continuity in their movements. No doubt many of the practices prevalent in trade union organisations of formal sector workers are deservedly criticised for narrow economism, opportunism, inwardness, and exclusion of workers in the unorganised sector. The destiny of such practices, as we have seen in the case of textile workers, has been a weakening on matters of trade union principle, followed by demoralisation and surrender of basic rights and protections acquired by formal sector workers. But on the other hand, our study of the seven day strike shows how movements of formal sector workers also laid the foundations of both conception and advance of movements and struggles of unorganised workers. Deliberate or involuntary blindness to such processes can only lead to further disorganisation and political atomisation in working class ranks, and a dissipation of the accumulated collective historical experience of working class movements. The transmission of such experience naturally falls on the shoulders of trade union and other political leaders of working class based organisations. When creatively and actively pursued as in the seven day strike, what was considered impossible became possible. A hitherto fragmented mass of unorganised workers rose in collective protest that could not be ignored.


It is clear from the strikes of ‘87 and ’88 and the conditions obtaining in the nineties, that the issue of low wages remains an enduring issue for unorganised industrial workers. What is also clear from the report on the strike preparations, is the importance of addressing the issues of their degraded civic conditions and status. From the recorded interviews it is apparent that such civic experiences are shared in common by many organised sector workers as well as other poor own account workers, many of whom came out in support of the strike. The emphasis on the living conditions of workers is not new in the history of the organised trade union movement. But with the concentrated spread of the slums and settlements of workers, such an emphasis acquires a greater potential to unite industrial labour with the reserve labour force in other sections of the urban poor. For the settlements of workers are important venues of the shifting continuum between organised sector workers and unorganised workers, and between industrial wage work and other forms of labour. There are sufficient indicators of rising discontent among the urban poor particularly in the jhuggi settlements, however uneven, scattered and sporadic its expression. When viewed from the perspective of potential for broadbased movement towards changing the balance of class forces, the picture appears quite different from the doomsday approach that characterises those demoralised by the declining influence and weakening of the movement of workers in large scale industry and the formal sector. At the same time, a movement perspective as seen during the seven day strike, led to continuous emphasis on below subsistence wages as the core issue for unorganised workers. The validity of this emphasis was tested, not only in the large scale participation of unorganised workers, but remains reflected in the trend of low paid wage work in the informal small scale industrial  sector. A class based movement perspective thus led to a quite different form of organisation and mobilisation of workers than the purely micro-enterprise based strategy forwarded and often funded by agencies of the political project of liberalisation and globalisation.


Tactics of struggle


The situation preceding the seven day strike had not been favourable to individual factory or section based struggles. Among the large scale industries, DCM was in the process of closing down. The DTC workers’ struggle had been pulverised by repression. Every industrial area was teeming with stories of how such and such a factory had closed down, some following or preceding union action. Hundreds of victimised, retrenched or dismissed workers could be found in and around industrial areas, often engaged in forms of petty enterprise. They were full of stories how unionised and regular workers were being replaced by contract and casual workers, either within original units or by dispersion of production through subcontracting. Many of the retreative positions of other unions were also a product of a lack of ability to force the demands of workers through by individual factory level struggles, and were reflected in the fears of the common workers. From the interviews, awareness of such a situation of frequent defeat in localised sectional or unit level struggles was part of the consciousness that drove the initiators and leaders of the strike[134]. The answer and tactics that they evolved at the time was to widen the base of action beyond the individual units with unionised workers, bring the unorganised mass into industrial action, and raise the struggle to a higher phase. It served as an effective strategy against the attrition and stagnation that was eroding the value of organisation in the eyes of workers. It also broke the barriers of conciliatory legalism which was the gift of the economism and opportunism so influential in large scale industry based unionism in its phase of decline and surrender.


However, it was really the demonstrable force and power of collective industrial action that shook the administration and left such an imprint on all who saw or participated in the strikes of ’87 and ’88. As we have seen, this force was enhanced by a tide of popular resentment and discontentment that was not confined to industrial workers, a fact which draws attention to the importance of timing in calls for struggle. Nevertheless without the priority given to work among unorganised workers in the industrial areas, the rousing call to action, and the focus on campaign at the jhuggi and basti level by the organisers and leaders, such a forceful strike would not have been possible. Obviously the underlying process behind the organisation of a movement of such an order lay in the uncompromising priority given to industrial area work and the understanding that unorganised industrial workers formed the most significant core of the working class of Delhi. It’s success also lay in the conception of sweeping scale of campaign and action, required for netting and unifying the migrant and floating character of this industrial workforce. And finally, it was the militant picketing and julooses that suceeded in unleashing the force of these workers’ own anger at the economic and social degradation meted out by the rich and powerful, and directed it towards purposeful advance.


Despite the signs of decline of the share of the secondary sector, and the absolute drop in manufacturing in the Gross State  Domestic Product (GSDP) in the nineties, it is unlikely that the policies and practices of today can alter this core role of industrial workers in Delhi. [135] It is hardly conceivable that the demand for industrial goods will completely evaporate. Industrial work, perhaps propelled towards more casualisation and subcontracting, unstable and dominated by flighty movements of capital, and a degree of reconfiguration and spatial distribution in and around Delhi, is likely to remain a significant presence in the lives of workers. Even as large sections of workers are being displaced, formal industrial estates, both in and immediately around the metropolis, have grown in number and new factories continue to be established. In fact, it is the smaller own account industrial enterprises that face greater danger of elimination in the ongoing restructuring of the city spaces, throwing more and more workers into the market for wage labour, and thus enlarging the numbers of unorgainised wage workers.[136] In such a context, the experience of the seven day strike, as a movement of unorganised industrial workers has acquired a renewed relevance.


The role of women


Among the organisations and sections of people outside the trade union, SFI students of Delhi University and JNU, teachers from the DTF, DYFI members, bank, insurance and other middle class employees, who all played a direct and important role in the seven day strike, women from the JMS had a unique status. From the information gathered on the events of the strike, it is apparent that in almost all industrial areas, these women were a presence in the picket lines, and often played a catalytic role. Many were the factories which the women entered and inspected, drawing out reluctant or fearful workers to participate in the strike. The fighting and militant stance of the women alternately shamed and inspired the predominantly male workers, often propelling them away from passive observation into direct participation.


In earlier strikes of textile workers, wives of striking workers had sometimes been mobilised in solidarity actions and also against strike breakers. An old textile worker often tells the tale of how in one of the textile strikes, these women stood at the Birla Mill gate and tarred the faces of exiting strike breakers.[137] But the participation of women in the seven day strike was of a qualitatively different order. The women from the Janwadi Mahila Samiti who were in the forefront of the strike mobilisations, were the cadre of new generation women’s organisation, products of the renewed and reorganised women’s movement that grew out of the post emergency surge in female ferment. Statedly a multiclass organisation, the JMS’s perspective on the women’s movement adhered to an ideology of liberation of women as members of the oppressed classes, as citizens, and as women. Such an ideology which wedded women’s struggle against inequality and discrimination to the struggle against class exploitation ensured that the numerical strength and base of the JMS was entrenched in working class settlements in Delhi. The fire, dedication, and inspiring role of these women, observed by workers and acknowledged by the leaders of the strike,[138] was thus, the product of a much deeper and multidimensional emotional association with the movement of workers than could be achieved by mere organisational dictat. It also gave to the women an expanded social identity and role beyond that of only gender, the implications of which requires far greater exploration than has been possible in this study. With the rising numbers of women working in the factories of Delhi and its neighbourhood, such exploration, particularly by trade union and women’s organisations has perhaps acquired a greater force of necessity than before.


Working class movements and communalism


The divisive influence of communalism formed an inherent part of the political context during the strikes of ’87 and ’88, although perhaps in less politically consolidated form than in the nineties. The force of its negative influence on struggles of workers has been touched upon earlier. What is of special interest at this point is the manner in which a broad based and multi-class alliance and campaign against communalism was interwoven with a movement of workers. It also helped forge some of the unique aspects of effective solidarity intervention during the seven day strike.


In 1986, a mass campaign against communalism had been conducted under the aegis of a broad based Committee for Communal Harmony. Consisting of many prominent intellectuals, artists, writers, and legal luminaries, the Committee included CITU and CPI(M) leaders at whose initiative it had been formed. Its mass campaign targeted workers as well as other sections among the middle classes of Delhi. The initiating role of leaders who were among the architects of the seven day strike, in conceiving the Committee’s campaign, and the CITU’s large scale mobilisation of workers in the anti-communal rally of December ’86, had already made for closer links between progressive sections of middle class intellectuals and this left led fighting contingent of workers in Delhi. Sections of the middle class who were linked together in this campaign then came out in unambiguous and open solidarity with the seven day strike. The most significant incidents of solidarity that grew out of the broad based anti-communal campaign organisation were the demonstration in support of the strike on the day before it began (referred to in the previous chapter), and the public warnings against and condemnation of police action by some well known retired judges.[139] In the forging of this solidarity, a special role was played by cultural activists, whose more direct association with the movement was expressed through the play Chakka Jaam.[140] This mobilisation of sectional resources unified by the anti-communal campaigns towards solidarity interventions during the seven day strike, was not a spontaneous process, but consciously embarked upon by the leaders of the movement. It contributed significantly to the overall visibility and pressure that the strike movement was able to exert on behalf of the unorganised workers of Delhi.


However, the association of the anti-communal campaign in forging solidarity with the workers is but one aspect of the issues and processes linking anti-communalism and working class action. In an era when communal and other forms of non-class identity politics have emerged as a pre-eminent method of social mobilisation and control, issues of class exploitation have frequently been pushed into the bystanders’ gallery of the political stage. The consequence has been a growing ineffectiveness of political intervention on the economic and social demands of workers. It has left too many of them helpless in the face of the aggravated and multi-dimensional forms of exploitation that mark the ongoing globalisation process. As we have seen the elements of such a relationship between communalism and weakening of economic struggles by workers existed in the eighties as well. The experience of the strikes of ’87 and ’88 in Delhi point to the possibility of combining the different levels of action towards gathering momentum and greater force of intervention.


From the context of Globalisation


Already, from the mid-eighties the policies towards integration of the Indian economy with the international capitalist order had begun, although its comprehensive and formal introduction came in 1991. Since then, liberalisation has moved apace, with opening up to foreign goods and capital, increasing bonds with international markets, privatisation of the public sector and further concessions to industry as some of the features of this regime, supervised by international financial institutions, multinational corporations and WTO. An inherent part of the process has been relentless pressure to ‘de-regulate’ industrial relations by diluting and finally scrapping many of the existing protections for workers in labour laws. In this context, industrial workers, especially those in the small-scale industries are bearing the brunt of this offensive. Already marked by instability, informal relations and gross violation of labour laws, this sector has become further exposed to the vagaries of international markets, to competition from cheaper imported goods, to pressure from larger units entering previously reserved sectors, and changes in the composition of markets and goods. Its workers are facing retrenchment and closures, wage-cuts, withdrawal of social security and insecurity of employment.


The decline in the share of the secondary sector and particularly manufacturing in the GSDP of Delhi, referred to earlier, has to be seen in this context. In the earlier section, the implications of many of the commonalities between the situation faced on the ground by unorganised industrial workers in the strike years and today, have been touched upon.  At the same time, what may be observed in the nineties as characteristic of the impact of globalisation, is the rising share of the tertiary sector in the GSDP of Delhi, and within the tertiary sector in the case of three categories of 1) financing, insurance, real estate & business services 2) trade,hotels and restaurants, and 3) community, social and personal services. Typically, the first category’s increase has most dramatically outstripped all others, its contribution to the GSDP rising from Rs 4,945.3 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 16,016.2 in1999-2000, and its share increasing from a little less than 26% to just short of 36%. In the same period, trade, hotels and restaurants also grew steadily increasing their share in GSDP marginally from 21% to 22%, similar to community, social & personal services which rose from 15.5% to a little over 17% of GSDP. Manufacturing, on the other hand, displayed the maximum fluctuation both within the secondary sector and in comaprison with categories in all sectors, rising from Rs 3,721.3 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 5,263.7 crores in 1994-95.[141] It then declining steeply to reach a low of Rs 2907.2 crores in 1997-98, and thereafter again showed some increase to reach Rs 3482.6 crores in 1999-2000. Overall, from an initial 18.5% in 1993-94, the share of manufacturing had dropped to 7.8% of GSDP by 1999-2000.[142]


Visible corporate and multinational entities have also entered the tertiary sectors in the city’s economy. But the employment relations that characterise this expanding sector – low wages, long hours of work, insecurity of employment, are extroardinarily similar to those of the unorganised workers in the industrial sector.  Common to all is the prevalence of a hire and fire policy that has become increasingly acceptable labour practice under the reigning influence of of the ideology of globalisation and deregulation. While the central role of the industrial worker in giving force to any attempts to alter the balance of forces in favour of the working class  has been stressed earlier, the strong trends of increasing appropriation of surplus value by finance, trade interests, and through the service sector have added new dimensions to the situation today. It has also brought into the working class vast numbers of informal wage workers of the tertiary sectors who share many issues in common with the unorganised industrial workers. In the seven day strike, widespread industrial action had inspired hotel workers and others organised by the shops and other establishment unions into participatory or supportive action. The experience so acquired could provide the grounds for  unified and concerted forms of struggle to meet the new aspects and correlations obtaining today.


Finally, where the numbers of people living below the official poverty line declined from 18.39 lakhs in 1983 to 10.25 lakhs in 1987-88, from then to 1993-94, they increased to 15.51 lakhs. Their proportions rose from 12.41% in 1987-88 to 14.69% of the total population of the city by 1993-94.[143] The decennial rate of growth of the population may have fallen to 46.31% between 1991 and 2001, i.e., a drop of 5.14% from the previous decade,[144] but the squeeze on the lives of the poor in Delhi has become greater. The pressure for further depression of the incomes of various contingents of the working class thus seems to have heightened and the need for greater intervention has acquired new urgency. Looking back at the experiences of the seven day strike may perhaps have more value today than mere stirring of the slumbering embers of memory.






Table: Distribution of in-migrants  in Delhi by region /state of origin*






*  Percentages are indicated in brackets.

** States included in diifferent regions are: North: Apart from the states given in the table, it includes Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Chandigarh;  West : Madhya Ppradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Daman&Diu; East & North East : West Bengal, Orissa, Trippura, Ngaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh;  South : Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Pondicherry, A & N. Island, Lakshadweep and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

***Till 1961 the state of Haryana was part of Punjab.

Source: Census of India, Migration Tables (Table D-1) of 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991, Series I, India. 




  • Ashok Mitra, Delhi Capital City, 1970.

  • Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides,1991

  • Conceptual Plan, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986, till 1981.

  • DDA Annual Report of 1985-86.

  • Delhi Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT,

  • Delhi Gazetteer, 1973.

  • Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989.

  • Delhi, and WWF, 1995.

  • Economic Survey of Delhi, !999-2000.

  • Industrial Profile Delhi 2000,  from the Office of the Commissioner  of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi.

  • Labour Statistics 1998, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi

  • Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.

  • Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, 1997, Akalank Publications

  • Provisional Population Totals, Census of India 2001, Series-1, India

  • Report of the Census of Industrial Units in the Union Territory of Delhi,1969, Directorate of Industries, Delhi Administration.

  • Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)

  • R. L. Frykenberg ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986.

  • Sabir Ali, S.N. Singh, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.

  • The DDA Annual Report of 1985-86

  • Tirthankar Roy, Outline of a History of Labour in Traditional Small-scale Industry in India,NLI Research Studies Series,2001


Reports in Newspapers of November, 1988 from:

  • Hindustan Times 

  • Indian Express 

  • Jansatta

  • Navbharat Times 

  • Times of India 

Organisational Documents:


  • Minutes CITU Delhi committee, 1987-88 

  • Minutes of Trade Union Sub Committee (TUSC) of CPI(M) meetings dtd 10.11.88 and 18.11.88 

  • Minutes register of JMS state committee  

  • Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi local committees, 1988-89 

  • Report of the 7th conference of CITU, Delhi State Committee 

  • Report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975 

  • Review of 72 hour strike document. 

  • Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document. 

  • Review of TUSC document, April, 1988.

Taped Interviews



Interviewed in


Asha Lata, from Janwadi Mahila Samiti (JMS).


December 2000

Rafi Marg, New Delhi

Baleshtar, Birla Mills worker.


February 2001.

Nand Nagri, East Delhi.

Bholanath, former worker of Ranbaxy, Okhla.


October, 2000.

Giri Nagar, South Delhi

Brij Bhushan Tiwari, former DCM Silk Mill worker.


November 2000

Karampura, West Delhi.

Chhotey Lal, former SBM worker.


November 2000.

Karampura, West Delhi.

Debi Prasad, industrial worker and rickshaw puller.


March 2001.

Wazirpur, North Delhi

Jaimangal, former worker in Steel Ball Bearing, Wazirpur.


December 2000.

North Delhi

Jogendra Sharma, CPI(M) leader.


November 2000

Rafi Marg, New Delhi

Kamla, JMS


September 2000.

Sawan Park, North Delhi

Mohammad Azeem Khan, former worker of Punj Sons, Okhla.


December 2000

Giri Nagar, South Delhi

Krishna Prasad, former worker of Premier Electricals, Wazirpur


November 2000.

Kamla Nagar, North Delhi

Moloyshree Hashmi, Jana Natya Manch (JANAM)


September 2000

Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi

Nagendra, worker in Anupam, Moti Nagar.


March 2001.

Sikandra Road, New Delhi

Nathu Prasad, CITU leader


October 2000.

Sawan Park, North Delhi

Raghuveer, engineering worker, Okhla.


November 2000

Giri Nagar, South Delhi

Raja Ram Rato,  former industrial worker

October 2000.


Mayapuri, West Delhi

Ram Lakhan,  former industrial worker

October 2000.


Mayapuri, West Delhi

Ram Yadav, industrial worker

October 2000.


Mayapuri, West Delhi

Sadhu Singh, HMS Union leader in west Delhi.


November 2000.

Karampura, West Delhi

Shakuntala, JMS.


November 2000.

Sultanpuri, West Delhi

Shanti Devi, JMS


February 2001.

Nathu Colony, East Delhi

Shiv Bachan, former worker of Punj Sons,Okhla.


October, 2000

Giri Nagar, South Delhi

Shiv Bachan and Bhola joint discussion, November 2000.


November 2000.

Giri Nagar, South Delhi

Shiv Sharan, worker in GT Road


November 2000

Kamla Nagar, North Delhi

Shrawan Kumar, Handloom worker and jhuggi pradhan


November 2000.

Sawan Park, North Delhi

Shyamkali, formerly of JMS


March 2001.

Safdar Hashmi Marg, New Delhi

Sudhanwa Deshpande, JANAM.


September 2000.

Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi

Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, CITU


September 2000

Rafi Marg, New Delhi

Tripurari Jha, former worker in DCM silk


November 2000.

Karampura, West Delhi

Uday Chandra Jha, CITU leader


November 2000.

Sector 8, Noida








  • Ali Sabir and Singh, S.N, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998. 

  • Annual Report of the Delhi Development Authority,1985-86. 

  • Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides, LM Books,1991 

  • Census of India 2001, Provisional Population Totals, Series-1, India 

  • Conceptual Plan for Delhi, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986. 

  • Delhi Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 1995. 

  • Delhi Gazetteer, 1973. 

  • Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989, Bureau of Economics & Statistics, Delhi Administration. 

  • Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000, Planning Deptt, Govt. of NCT of Delhi. 

  • Frykenberg, R. L. ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986. 

  • Industrial Profile Delhi 2000, Office of the Commissioner of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi. 

  • Labour Statistics 1998, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi 

  • Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi 

  • Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, Akalank Publications,1997. 

  • Mitra Ashok, Delhi Capital City, Thomson Press (India)1970 

  • Reports of Economic Census,1977, 1980, 1990, Bureau of Economics & Statistics, Delhi Administration.


Reports in Newspapers of November, 1988 from:


  • Hindustan Times

  • Indian Express

  • Jansatta

  • Navbharat times

  • Times of India


Organisational Documents:


  • Minutes CITU Delhi committee, 1987-88 

  • Minutes of Trade Union Sub Committee (TUSC) of CPI(M) meetings dtd 10.11.88 and 18.11.88 

  • Minutes register of Janwadi Mahila Samiti, Delhi state committee, 1988. 

  • Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi local committees of CPI(M), 1988-89. 

  • Report of the 7th conference of CITU, Delhi State Committee, 1990.

  • Report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975

  • Review of 72 hour strike, CITU document, 1987. 

  • Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document, 1988. 

  • Review of TUSC, CPI (M) Document, April, 1988.





Taped Interviews (referred to in text)




[1] V.B.Datta, Panjabi Refugees and Greater Delhi, in Frykenberg ed. Delhi Through the Ages, OUP, 1986.

[2] Source: Conceptual Plan, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, 1986, till 1981. 1981-91 calculated from census data on population, and births and deaths in Delhi, from Delhi Statistical Handbook.

[3] Ashok Mitra, Delhi Capital City, 1970

[4] See annexure.

[5] From Delhi Environmental Status Report, 1995, sponsored by Govt. of NCT,1995. The difference between the figure given here and the Annexure table is explained by the exclusion of refugees form Pakistan.

[6] Report of the Census of Industrial Units in the Union Territory of Delhi,1969, Directorate of Industries, Delhi Administration.

[7] Ibid

[8] Of Rs. 7.5 lakhs in 1966, raised to10 lakhs in 1975, 20 lakhs in 1980 and 35 lakhs in 1985.

[9] Delhi Gazetteer, 1973

[10]  Economic Survey of Delhi, !999-2000

[11] 1988 figure given in Delhi Statistical Handbook, 1989, Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Delhi Administration is 73,000. However, based on the same source – the 1988 survey of Industries by the then Directorate of Industries, the Industrial Profile Delhi 2000,  from the Office of the Commissioner  of Industries, Govt. of NCT, Delhi, gives a figure of 76,559.

[12] Unfortunately, this survey remains in unprocessed data form with the Directorate of Industries. For some unknown reason, they did not publish a report. Thus, although the number and type of industries counted by this survey is recorded in Industrial Profile, Delhi 2000, the distribution of factories according to size of employment is not.

[13] Includes industrial units falling under the Major Group ‘34’ ‘Basic Metal industries, ‘35’ Manufacture of Metal Products except Machinery, ‘37’ Manufacture of Electrical Machinery, Apparatus, Appliances and Supplies, and ‘38’ Manufacture of Transport Equipment.

[14] 5247 according to Labour Statistics, 1994, Labour Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi. On the other hand, in the Delhi Statistical Handbook of 1989, Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Delhi Administration, there is a different figure given for 1988 of 5,371 registered factories.

[15] Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)

[16] Mukul Sharma, Delhi’s Small Scale Industries, Navbharat Times, 8th Oct., 1986

[17] Ibid

[18]Subodh Varma, a Delhi University student, and erstwhile state secretary of the SFI, had just become a CITU wholetimer in north Delhi in 1988, a few months before the 7-day strike.

[19] Juloos here means workers procession implementing the strike

[20] Subodh Varma in interview (untaped).

[21] See taped interview, Uday Chandra Jha, Noida, , Raghuveer, Okhla. Among the illiterate, Shiv Sharan, north, Ram Rato, Mayapuri.

[22]See interview, Shiv Bachan, Okhla

[23] See interviews with Shiv Sharan, Krishna Prasad, Debi Prasad.

[24] See taped interviews of Shiv Sharan, Krishna Prasad, and Jaimangal from north Delhi, Shiv Bachan, Bholanath, and Khan from south, Baleshtar from east, and the three interviews from Mayapuri, west.

[25] See interview of handloom worker, Shrawan Kumar. Hailing from district Mathura, entering the city of Delhi in the fifties, Shrawan Kumar’s story captures, the destiny of the handloom workers in Delhi.

[26]Ready reckoner of minimum wage rate for Delhi from1.1.1980 to 1.2.1996, in Minimum Wage Rates for Delhi, 1997, Akalank Publications.

[27] Report on the Second All-India Census of Small Scale Industrial Units, Delhi (U.T.)

[28] Environmental Status Report (EST), sponsored by Deptt. of Environment, Govt. of NCT, Delhi, and WWF, 1995.

[29] Sabir Ali, S.N. Singh, Major Problems of Delhi Slums, Uppal Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998.


[30] See interview of Shanti Bua.

[31] Ashok Mitra, op.cit. For a personalised account of the path traversed by jhuggi dwellers in North Delhi, see Interview with Shrawan.

[32] See joint discussion and interviews with Shiv Bachan and Bhola, the former a resident of Sanjay colony jhuggies within Okhla, the latter of the Navjeevan Camp close to the same industrial area.

[33] 1988 was the year in which a staggering 1500 people died in a gastroenteritis/cholera epidemic which had spread to 625 jhuggi clusters and 44 resettlement colonies in Delhi. ( EST)

[34] See discussion with Bhola and Shiv Bachan.

[35] See interview with Shyamkali.

[36] See interview with Shiv Sharan.

[37] The DDA Annual Report of 1985-86 proudly speaks of the forcible relocation during emergency in the following words, “Within a brief span of 12 months, the programme emerged as the largest peace time resettlement operation ever undertaken by any country. So swift was the speed and so brisk was the implementation of the resettlement programme that in a matter of months, 7 lac persons were taken from the slushy slums to 27 new resettlement colonies.”

[38] See interview of Shakuntala from Sultanpuri for a graphic description of the initial and later consolidated position of the resettlement colonies.

[39] Source: Election Commission data in Butler, Lahiri, Roy, India Decides,1991.


[40] Since it was mostly land already acquired by the DDA, that continued to remain undeveloped and was illegally sold.

[41] See interview with Nagendra

[42] HKL Bhagat came in as a partition refugee, and was Deputy Mayor of Delhi in the fifties and sixties. In 1971, he became MP from the East Delhi, but lost the election in 1977, to again return in 1980 and become a Union minister. Shahdara had housed one of the three refugee camps set up in Delhi following partition. However, all the new colonies established for official resettlement of refugees for both commercial and residential purposes, were in west, south and north Delhi. The exploitation of the land on the east of the river, was thus undertaken by Bhagat who established a virtual empire of unauthorised colonies for commercial and business sections in the trans Jamuna area. Among the political classes of Delhi, he and Madan Lal Khurana of the BJP, are viewed as the two leaders of the commercial and business classes constructed out of the refugee population in Delhi. For an entertaining account of his tactics of political mobilisation, see interview with Shrawan Kumar. Bhagat was one of the key leaders implicated in the 1984 pogrom.

[43] Sajjan Kumar, from a local Jat family received his political training as as a Youth Congressman and associate of the Sanjay Gandhi group in Delhi under the emergency. By the eighties , he had established virtually absolute domination in the Outer Delhi parliamentary constituency after being elected MP in 1980, through a combination of open goondaism, and involvement with the development of resettlement colonies and unauthorised colonies established by the resale of DDA land acquired from the one time landowners of the villages located there (such land that remained undeveloped or was marked for open space was illegally resold by local colonisers). Denial of a ticket in 1984 and 1989, enabled the shift of Sajjan Kumar’s pringboard support base of the locally dominant classes of the area to the BJP. Like Bhagat, he was one of the key figures involved in the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. See Shakuntala’s interview.

[44] The worst and most known incidents of mass scale slaughter took place in the resettlement colony of Trilokpuri in east Delhi. Less known were the incidents in Sultanpuri, where a JMS survey of women widowed at the time listed more than three hundred Sikhs killed within the space of two days. (See Shakuntala’s interview for a descrition of what happened in one block in Sultanpuri) Similar surveys in other resettlement colonies of Nand Nagri, Jahangirpuri, and Ambedkar Nagar too listed hundreds who were killed.

[45] The slum department which was responsible for the civic amenities in the jhuggies and resettlement colonies, was transferred to the Municipal Corporation in 1977, but was brought back under the DDA in the eighties.

[46] The Congress vote dropped from 72.7% of the total vote in 1984 to 42.9% in 1989 in Outer Delhi, and from 76.9% to 49.8% in East Delhi. This represents a swing of 30% and 27.1% away from the Congress in the respective constituencies, which together held 57% of the total electorate o Delhi. While all constituencies in Delhi had witnessed such a swing, in the other areas, it ranged from 18.9% in Delhi Sadar (a commercial heartland) to 26% in New Delhi (largely a constituency of government servants).

[47] Interview with Nathu Prasad

[48] Secretary Ghanshyam Sinha in his report to the 1st conference of the CITU, Delhi Region, April, 1975. Ghanshyam Sinha was a trade union leader from Kanpur who was brought into Delhi to organise the CITU in the early seventies.

[49] At the time Lalit Maken was in the Congress (U) which was sharing power with Charan Singh.

[50] Similar to the influence of Datta Samant among the Bombay textile workers.

[51] See reports of the police attack on DTC workers at AIIMS chowk.

[52] Calculated from Report on Census of Industries, 1969.

[53] Sadhu Singh came to Delhi from Ballia, where he had been an Inter college student, shortly after the first general elections when he had canvassed for Sarjoo Pandey. He was with the CPI from the fifties, went with the CPI(M) in ’64, was imprisoned as a result for four years, but broke with the party later. When, in 1970 the CITU was formed, he remained with AITUC, although, in fact, his union had become an independent and purely individual leader oriented union. He joined the HMS in 1988.

[54] Pyarelal, of Punjabi origin was one of the early leaders of the Lal Jhanda Kapda Mazdoor Union, was victimised and uncompromisingly fought his case to successful conclusion. Jailed repeatedly for long stretches including during the emergency, he was the founding president of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, playing a prominent role in organising small scale industrial workers in west Delhi. During the emergency, while he was in jail, his son became involved in a murder case and in order to protect him, he established links with the Congress party. This led to the severance of his association with the CITU. He later ran an individual based union from Karampura, affiliated to the INTUC. His sons have been running the union since the late eighties, which is still referred to as Pyarelal’s union after his death.


Puran Chand started his union work assisting Sadhu Singh in the Engineering industry union of the AITUC. He became a wholetimer following victimisation during a period when Sadhu Singh was in jail. He joined the CITU when it was formed and was the founding secretary of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union. Completely illiterate, of scheduled caste background, Puran had run away from his home in Sultanpur (UP) and come to Delhi as a 12 year old, some time in the fifties. He emerged as one of the most important union leaders of small scale industrial workers in the Karampura area by the early seventies. He was the Delhi district CITU president and a state committee member of the CPI(M) during the seven day strike. In the mid nineties during the course of factional disputes in west Delhi, he left the party and the CITU and joined the CPI and the AITUC. Since his political inclinations continued to lean towards the CPI(M), shortly before his death, in informal discussions with party leaders in the CITU, he had often expressed his desire to return.


Nathu Prasad was the son of a DCM worker (from Rajasthan), born near the mill, in Manakpura, Delhi. He was himself a worker in DCM Silk from 1961 to 1970, when he was victimised. A militant in the textile workers’ movement, Nathu Prasad was drawn to the CPI(M) group among the AITUC led textile workers’ union in the sixties, and joined the CITU when it was formed in 1970. He was the most prominent trade union leader in North Delhi during the seven day strike. He remains a prominent leader of the state CITU and a state committee member of the CPI(M). His biographical interview is part of the archival collection.

[55] Interview with Sadhu Singh

[56] One of the most significant issues uniting trade unions was their opposition to the introduction of the Industrial Relations Bill by the Janata Party Government.

[57] On the 18th  of December. It was called for by a broad based Committee for Communal Harmony constituted at the initiative of the state leadership of the CPM.

[58] Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, from distt. Muzaffarnagar, U.P., was politicised during the national movement. As an employee in JK Cotton in Kanpur where he faced victimisation, he emerged as a textile union leader in the AITUC, became a member of the united CPI in 1961 and upon its formation of the CPI(M) in 1964. Following differences with other union leaders in Kanpur, he went back to Muxaffarnagar, from where he was brought to Ghaziabad to build the CITU by Major Jaipal Singh (of Telengana armed struggle fame) who was reorganising the party in the Delhi region. Having established the trade union in Ghaziabad, he was elected General Secretary of the Delhi State Committee of the CITU. He is at present the state President of CITU, and

[59] Delhi Committee Secretariat meeting,18.8.87.

[60] CITU Delhi committee minutes, Sept.,1987.

[61] Review of 72 hour strike document.

[62] Interview with Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj.

[63] Interview with Jaimangal.

[64] Interview with Brij Bhushan Tiwari, textile worker from west Delhi.

[65] Interview with Chhotey Lal, west Delhi.

[66] Delhi CITU, secretariat minutes, 25.6.88.

[67] Ibid and interview with S.B.Bharadwaj.

[68] TU sub committee of CPI(M) document, April, 1988.

[69] CITU Sectt minutes,16.10.88.

[70] Interview with Mala and Sudhanwa

[71] Democratic Youth Federation of India

[72] Janwadi Mahila Samiti (All Inda Democratioc Women’s Association).

[73] Review of the 7-day strike, CITU document.

[74] Ibid

[75] Minutes registers of West, South and East Delhi locaal committees, minutes of two TUSC meetings and some cyyclostyled reports of 1988. Minutes of the North Delhi local committee were unavailable.

[76] TUSC Report, 4.4.88

[77] see south Delhi LC minutes dtd 2.6.88 and east Delhi dtd 9.5.88

[78] South LC meet dtd 3.9.88, West dtd 11.9.88, and east dtd 3.9.88

[79] see west LC mts dtd 11.9.88.

[80] The Delhi CPI(M) secretary was Jogendra Sharma, also at the time Vice-President of the Delhi CITU. A lecturer in Hindi, he combined his job with party secretaryship for some years, but later became a wholetimer. He is presently a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M), and in thhe Delhi state secretariat of the party.

[81] west LC mts dtd 31.10.88

[82] see East LC mts dtd 30.9.88

[83] see east LC mts dtd 12.9.88

[84] PMS Grewal, a History teacher in Delhi University, President of the South Delhi unit of the General Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union and also a major functionary of the south Delhi local committee of the CPI(M) in 1988. At present he is the Delhi state secretary of the CPI(M).

[85] K.M. Tewary, who started his trade union life as a worker in Sahibabad Industrial Area in the seventies, later became a wholetimer, and was secretary of the Ghaziabad district CITU in 1988. He hails from Gonda, eastern U.P., and as a young boy, spent some years as a dancer with a nautanki troupe in Kanpur district. A brief part of his early working life was spent in Jamshedpur, where his father in law was a member of the INTUC.  Considered one of the ablest trade union leaders of Ghaziabad, he has been prominent  in leading the workers of many large scale units such as Hero Cycles in Sahibabad and Phoenix in Noida.

[86] Inderpal was a textile worker (weaving) of DCM Silk in Karampura. Migrating to Delhi from Pratapgarh, U.P. in the sixties, he was drawn to the militant trade unionism of the Kapda Mazdoor Lal Jhanda Union, and was its state secretary in the eighties. Of backward caste, as a young worker, he was ideologically and intellectually inclined towards Marxism, and had started an informal library of Marxist writings among textile workers. He was the west Delhi district secretary of the CITU in 1988. In his early fifties, he died after a severe attack of malaria while this study was in progress.

[87] Chacha Shadiram, the seniormost CITU leader in 1988, hailed from Haryana and was one of the founder members of the Municipal Workers’ Lal Jhanda Union in Delhi. As an old stalwart from the pre-independence era, he was widely respected and known for his simplicity of character and unquestionable probity. For more than four decades he had led the workers of the water department of the MCD, and was still the President of the union when he died shortly after the seven day strike.

[88] Ranjana Nirula, secretary of the east Delhi local committee and joint secretary of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti at the time. From a well to do Delhi middle class family, she was initially a teacher of disabled children. Ranjana became a CITU wholetimer in Faridabad in the in the seventies and then a key functionary of JMS which was founded in 1980. She was brought in as secretary of the newly formed party local committee of east Delhi in 1988, and was a leading organiser of the strike there. She now works with the All India Co-ordination Committee of Working Women (CITU), at its central office.

[89] More known as a major figure in the all India fwomen’s movement today, Brinda entered the Delhi trade union movement as an underground activist among textile workers during the emergency, under the name of Rita, and became a popular leader at the textile gates in north and west Delhi. Many are the old textile workers who still refer to her by this name even today. Later, till 1985, as party secretary of the North Delhi local committee, she oversaw the development of the General Mazdoor Union in north Delhi, and played a prominent role in industrial actions in the area. During the strike, she was at the state centre, where apart from being a state secretariat member of the CPM, she was the Delhi secretary of the JMS. 

[90] Kamal Narain, affectionately called Doctor saab (see interview with Nathu Prasad), started his trade union life in the early sixties in Delhi while working as an electrician in DCM from where he was later thrown out due to his union activities. He had spent a fairly wandering life after leaving his native Lahore, having travelled through many industrial centres. One of the founder members of the KMLJU, Doctor saab was a prominent textile leader, who remained underground through the emergency, when he ran a small stall of Marxist literature in Kamla Nagar. As party secretary in north Delhi in 1988, he was one of the main coordiators of the strike in the area, and also responsible for the success of the one day solidarity strike in Birla Mill.

[91] then run by Nagaraj, better known as the most prominent leader of press workers.

[92] This line connects Delhi to Amritsar and runs parallel to GTK Road upto Badli

[93] This line runs alongside Rohtak Road

[94] Interview with Asha Lata, secretary of the north Delhi JMS in 1988. Daughter of a P&T Union leader, Asha Lata was the first wholetimer JMS in Delhi from the early eighties.Presently she is the Delhi state secretary of the AIDWA

[95] Interview with Kamla, resident of Sawan Park and north  Delhi JMS President.

[96] Sawan Park is located on the other side of the railway line behind GTK Road industrial area. The women from Sawan Park who came for the strike live in the jhuggis there and had been organized by the JMS

[97] The minutes are written in English, but Chamela was an illiterate working class woman and obviously spoke in Hindi.

[98] Both Chamela and Maya were working class activists of the JMS from Sawan Park and Azadpur respectively.

[99] See Jaimangal’s interview for account of the history of Steel Ball Bearing.

[100] Interview with Shrawan.

[101] Interview with Debi Prasad, at that time working in a factory in Wazirpur.

[102] Joint interview with Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad.

[103] Interview with Jaimangal

[104] See interview with Shiv Sharan and Krishna Prasad

[105] See interview with Shrawan for details.

[106] Jaimangal and Kamal Narain in untaped interview

[107] Interview with Asha Lata. Lakshm’s intervention had a salutary effect on her husband who remained loyal to the union thereafter. She herself died the year before this project was undertaken. 

[108] Interview with Sudhanwa Deshpande

[109] see west LC minutes in meetings after the strike.

[110] In the JMS meeting of 16.12.88, minutes record Shakuntala saying “1st day in front of factories – 500 workers. SHO asked to get away grom gate. Arrest all of them , the SHO said. They caught Indrani, then we felt that we now have to fight them. 25 police against us (7).

[111] Minutes record of report of Nirmal Rana, a JMS activist from Shakurpur in JMS (16.12.88) says, “ Mayapuri—big section of workers ready to fight…Lathi charge in a spot where we were surrounded on all four sides. That we should avoid arrest. Pulled Indrani away with me. Strong procession. Those arrested released.

[112] Interview with Shakuntala

[113] Interview with Tripurari Jha

[114] Minutes of JMS dtd 16.12.88

[115]Mohanlal, hailing from Mirzapur, UP, began his trade union life in the Modinagar textile mill, where he was a worker in the weaving department. Activised following the firing on striking workers in Modinagar (1966), he was dismissed and had to leave Modinagar in search of work. After working for a short while in Kanpur, he came to Faridabad in 1969, joined as a worker in Bengal Suiting, and over the years became the most prominent CITU leader in Faridabad. From 1984, he has been a wholetimer, and is at present the Delhi state secretary of the CITU.

[116] Interview with Khan

[117] Ibid

[118] See interviews with Khan, Shiv Bacchan and Bhola for details of history of Punj Sons

[119] Kalindi Deshpande was the key functionary of the JMS in south Delhi, and its state President at the time. Wife of a JNU professor, she became a JMS activist during the anti- dowry campaign in the early eighties, and despite her entry into the movement at a senior age she became one of the most energetic and respected mass activists and organisers of women in the working class areas, first in south Delhi, and later at the Delhi state level. She is currently a central office bearer of AIDWA.

[120] From available accounts of the Okhla activists, there had been no such decline during the 72 hour strike of the preceding year. Other than Punj Sons, the 3 day strike of 1987 (which in Okhla amounted to two days since the second day was the weekly off), had been a great success throughout the the industrial area.

[121] South LC minutes, 25.11.88

[122] LC secretary Baldev, Pushpinder, Madhu Banerjee in meeting on 25.11.88

[123] Rohtash Nagar and Ramnagar are separated from each other only by a narrow strip of Loni Road.

[124] From Aditya Nigam, (who was a CITU wholetimer working with the MCD Union in 1988, and deputed to the industrial area during the strike) and Ranjana Nirula in untaped interviews. 

[125] TOI. 24.11.88

[126] See the Review of the Seven day Strike

[127] Jansatta, 24.11.88


[128] Sahibabad, Site 4 had been one of the most successful areas of the seven day strike.

[129]The Delhi state CITU membership, for example, rose by more than 17,000 from 1986  to reach 50,000 in 1989 breaking the stagnation of the earlier period. Where Ghaziabad more than doubled its membership from a little over 7,000 to 23,000 , Delhi alone saw a rise from 20,000 to 27,000.

[130] Aggressive upper caste agitations against reservation for backward castes in government (recommended by the Mandal Commission and implemented by V.P.Singh), had inevitably led to disengagement of the Janta Dal from the dominant propertied classes in the city, and ensured its political marginalisation.

[131] Lok Sabha elections: 1989, 1991,1996, 1999. State Assembly elections: 1993, 1998. MCD elections: 1997.

[132] Inclusive of all industries and sectors. Source:Labour Statistics 1998, Office of the Labour Commissioner, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.

[133] Figures taken from Table on Employment in Industry in Tirthankar Roy, Outline of a History of Labour in Traditional Small-scale Industry in India, NLI Research Studies Series,2001. The extent of employment in large scale industry is based on Factories’ Act registration. It may be borne in mind that a few small-scale industries  would also be in the registered sector.

[134] Interview with Jogendra Sharma outlines the concerns of the leadership just before the strike and the factors that shaped their thinking at the time, including the impact of communalism on the sectional struggles of workers.

[135] The share of the secondary sector in the GSDP of Delhi dropped from 27.44% in 1993-94 to 16.06% in 1999-2000. Yet the numbers of industrial workers has continued to rise. Even the grossly underestimated official figures show industrrial employment as having increased from 7.31 lakhs in 1991 to 11.36 lakhs in 1996.Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000.

[136] For example, the loss of employment suffered by handloom workers as the dyeing processes have been closed down under the Supreme Court order on closure of polluting industries.

[137] As told by Harish Chandra Pant, a former worker of Birla Mills (untaped).

[138] See minutes of CITU meeting dtd.

[139] See interview with Jogendra Sharma for details.

[140] Sudhanwa Deshpande in his interview describes how at Safdar’s direction, the Jana Natya Manch members campaigned and mobilised for the solidarity demonstration of 21st November.The details of the more direct association with the trade union struggle stretched from the preparatory stages of script writing of Chakka Jaam, when members of the Jana Natya Manch had sessions with CITU workers in order to grasp the issues and conditions of the strike to the campaign and actual participation of some members in the picketing can be found in the interview with Moloyshree Hashmi.

[141] The rate of increase in manufacturing was more than 41% as compared to 19% for finance, etc., 30% for trade, etc. and 15% for community and personal services between 1993-94 and 1994-95. In the year 1994-95, manufacturing contributed Rs 5263.7 crores to Delhi’s GSDP, not much behind the 5,871 crores of finance, etc. or 5,542.9 crores of trade, and considerably more than the 3585.5 crores of community & personal services.

[142] Source: Economic Survey of Delhi, 1999-2000.

[143] Ibid

[144] Source: Provisional Population Totals, Census of India 2001, Series-1, India