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So far, Kejriwal's party has targeted Reliance and some banks, but never by taking up the cause of their workers. Incidentally, we learn that in the not so recent past, Kejriwal was seeking support from Bajaj Auto for AAP's activities
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) founder Arvind Kejriwal, the social activist-turned politician, seems set to look at trade unions as the next bastion to increase his clout and support base. In a press release issued on Sunday night, AAP said that it has extended its support to agitating contract workers of Bajaj Auto.
This is the first indicator that the AAP is getting into unionism, which is a popular route to gathering support for all leading political parties in India. The Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, all have strong unions, which play an important role in expanding their support base.
In this case, Kejriwal has chosen to take up the case of contract workers at a time when production is down and there are probably fears of retrenchment. Since most political parties only focus on permanent employees, taking up the cause of contract workers is probably an open space for a fledgling party like the AAP to make its entry. But it is safe to be that the move will be watched closely by the political establishment.
So far, Kejriwal's party has targeted Reliance and some banks for alleged scams and corporate malpractices, but it has never yet taking up the cause of their workers.
On 25th June, around 1,500 employees, including 600-odd contract, temporary and 'earn and learn' workers, stopped work at Bajaj Auto's plant at Chakan near Pune. The workers are demanding wage revision, better work conditions and stock options.
This was followed by a threat of mass stoppage of work in the Chakan and Pimpri-Chinchwad industrial area by Pune-based Shramik Ekta Mahasangh. The Mahasangh that claims representation of the 88 trade unions in the region and affiliation to Industrial All (Global) Union of Geneva, has asked the Upper Labour Commissioner of Pune to intervene in the matter and resolve the crisis.
Even as the matter was pending before the industrial court of Pune, the AAP jumped in to picture. 'Extending' support to agitating workers at Bajaj's Chakan plant, the AAP asked the government to intervene to 'defend the legal rights of workers'.
In a press release, the Kejriwal-led party said, "It is disappointing that the reasonable demands of the workers are not being responded to in this unit, especially since the company has done very well, but the employees share in value addition has gone down drastically to 12% from 31%."
According the AAP release, a unit of Bajaj Pulsar (manufactured at Chakan) sells in the market for about Rs70,000 and shareholders and management staff gets around Rs16,700 from this sale. The government and dealers get about Rs10,000 each while about 1,450 workers (at the Chakan facility) get around Rs300.
AAP also urged Bajaj Auto to respond to demands of equal wages for same work, review of wage agreement between the company and Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatana (the authorised union in Bajaj) as per the clauses in previous agreement as well as remove suspension orders and police cased filed against workers.
Interestingly, Moneylife learns that Arvind Kejriwal had met Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj a couple of months ago. We learn that the meeting was to seek support for an independent television channel that AAP wants to set up. Earlier in February, both Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan confirmed that the party was starting a channel with focus on social issues. This move was apparently a fallout of an alleged notice sent by Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) to TV channels about broadcasting LIVE press conferences of Kejriwal and Bhushan.
Coming back to Kejriwal extending support to workers, this has happened earlier as well. Last year in October, the AAP extended its support to about 30,000 contract workers of five power companies in Delhi under DESU Mazdoor Sangh. At that time, Kejriwal had called upon all contract workers across the country to unite for fighting against the system, which allows contractors and companies to collude and deny rights to workers.
It must be noted that Kejriwal took support of DESU Mazdoor Sangh for his 'union' dream, which is an affiliate of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh that is linked with the BJP. But at that time it did not seem to have bothered Kejriwal. The Sangh was asking to re-instate 187 contract workers fired by BSES Rajdhani Pvt Ltd and BSES Jamuna Power Ltd. Both the companies are linked with Ambani family, as both are units of Anil Ambani-led Reliance Power Ltd.