It was a rare moment in Parliament when Mamata Banerjee, the firebrand and vehemently anti-CPI(M) leader of West Bengal, spent almost 10 minutes with CPI(M) leaders today to end the ongoing strike in the state’s jute industry. After the meeting, the CPI(M) agreed that her demands were ‘genuine’, while Banerjee also said that she had no problem in working with the comrades to resolve the issue.
Most of the Bengal jute mills are shut due to indefinite strike from December 1.
Banerjee had sought an exclusive appointment with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to discuss the jute industry problems and the suspension of work at the Dunlop India plant at Sahagunj. Within minutes after Banerjee entered Mukherjee’s office in Parliament building, two senior CPI(M) members Tarit Topdar and Amitabha Nandy also entered the room and were gladly received by Banerjee. Both Topdar and Nandy have many jute factories in their constituencies that are currently in crisis.
After having lunch with Banerjee at Mukherjee’s office, the CPI(M) leaders came out and said the joint effort would be to see that the strike was withdrawn. “We have other issues to fight against Mamata, but on this issue we share her concerns,” Topdar said. He even suggested that Banerjee go to the press and convey the political message.
Banerjee, however, insisted that the CPI(M) and its trade union arm CITU were creating problems in the jute industry. She handed over letters to Mukherjee requesting Centre’s intervention in ending the jute strike. “When the Dunlop factory was restarted, the Union government had promised orders from the defence ministry. But those orders didn’t come. So, I have requested Mukherjee to look into the matter,” Banerjee told reporters.According to Dunlop India authorities:
“After failure of prolonged discussions with the labour unions, the management of the company was constrained to declare suspension of work at its Sahaganj plant with effect from November 30, 2008.” The management had earlier decided to temporarily suspend work at the unit on November 17, citing lack of working capital.
Even during the peak of Singur agitation against the Tata Motors factory, Banerjee had turned down several requests from the CPI(M) and government to sit for talks. Finally, she accepted the invitation of the governor of the state and attended a meeting that ultimately yielded little results.
The jute workers’ unions have called for a strike demanding a settlement of dearness allowances and wages. CITU has termed the strike as a protest against “illegal activities” of the mill owners and violation of the tripartite wage settlement agreement of 2002. The loss due to the strike has been anticipated to be around Rs 1,000 crore. Nearly 250,000 jute mill workers and four million jute growers have been hit by the strike.