The Jalandhar Auto Rickshaw Strike

Raj Mehta
Amanpreet Singh

It was for the first time in the history of Jalandhar City, that on such a large scale the diesel auto-rickshaw workers participated in a strike on 8th January 2018 which was called by the Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh Krantikaari Association (SABKA) and the United Auto Rickshaw Worker’s Trade Union. With this strike Jalandhar City came to a halt on this day. Every section of people faced a lot of difficulties. Some newspapers tried to explain the problems of the auto-rickshaw workers and others described this strike as a mafia raj. But the actual story is totally different.

Auto-Rickshaw workers and union leaders Harchand Hari, Ravi Sabharwal, Rajiv Kapila, Manpreet Singh told that it was a conspiracy of the automobile company Bajaj Autos to sell its CNG auto-rickshaws. They said that in the year 2009, this company for its huge profit, made an alliance with the Deputy Commissioner to sell its CNG auto-rickshaws and the day after that the administration started pressurizing the diesel auto-rickshaw workers to purchase CNG auto-rickshaws. As most of the auto-rickshaw workers are from poor families they are not able to purchase new autos. And also they are unable to complete their documents due to the heavy fees involved in such procedures. Due to this reason they can be easily trapped by police to fine them heavily. As it is this capitalist system has totally failed to provide employment to a large section of people. So most of these poor people have to make their own arrangement to earn their bread. Many of them are graduates and post graduates. So these people purchase an auto on heavy loans and earn their livelihood from this mode of self employment. But the administration is so cruel that for its profit it can snatch the last piece of bread from the masses. To sell its CNG autos the company made an alliance with administration for the profits and started publicizing that diesel autos are threat to the environment so diesel autos should be suddenly replaced by CNG autos. But due to the strong agitation from the Auto-Rickshaw workers (2009), the higher authorities transferred the District Deputy Commissioner at that time. Thus the matter somehow was deferred. But even after that there were no rules made to stop the sale of diesel autos and the companies sold diesel autos on a large scale after this incident. But the administration stopped giving permits to the autos inside the city. The administration in connivance with the Bajaj Company gave permit to the auto rickshaw workers only for the outer areas like Nakodar, Bhogpur, Adampur, Kartarpur etc. The administration got thumb impressions or signatures from illiterate or nearly illiterate auto-rickshaw workers that they will not come in the city. Even the administration did not let them know that they are giving permits to auto-rickshaw workers for rural areas where the demand for auto-rickshaw transportation is very low. The places where there is a demand of about 15-20 autos only, the permit for about 450-500 autos has been given. So auto-rickshaw workers from such areas are forced to come inside the city to earn their livelihood and keep their families alive. Five months ago, the Bajaj Auto Company invited the District Police Commissioner and all auto-rickshaw workers to a lunch party on the launching of a new CNG auto. Bajaj Auto company and the Commissioner pressurized the auto-rickshaw workers to purchase the CNG auto. This time they gave the plea that they are going to make Jalandhar a ‘smart city’. And on the very next day the police again started harassing auto-rickshaw workers by way of challan or other methods to stop their livelihood, so that they can be compelled to buy a CNG auto. But this time the auto-rickshaw workers had no choice except for complete strike and protest. So on 8th January almost all of the auto-rickshaw workers of Jalandhar City showed their unity for the cause to save their own lives and the lives of their dependents. Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh Krantikaari Association (SABKA) led this movement and the strike was completely successful. Prof. Rakesh Verma (General Secretary) and Raj Kumar Mehta of SABKA told the workers that this strike is not just to lift the ban on diesel autos but we will fight for our ‘right to employment’ and ‘right to life’. If there is no ban on major pollutants like diesel cars, vehicles (which are used by the upper strata of city) and the industries which are breaking every rule then how can administration restrict these autos? The auto rickshaw workers gave a nod on these ideas and their enthusiasm was at the highest peak. On this day the auto-rickshaw workers marched about 7 kilometres towards the Deputy Commissioner’s office with reverberating slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. After reaching the DC office the auto rickshaw workers encircled it and raised their demands in the form of slogans and speeches. The DC called upon the leaders to talk and accepted their memorandum. He assured that the matter will handled with the consent of auto-rickshaw workers. Although the Police has stopped harassing the auto-rickshaw workers but this silence is an indicator of some hurricane. The company in connivance with the administration is selling CNG Autos very cleverly. Even the administration is giving permits to these new CNG auto holders so that the diesel autos-rickshaw workers can be wiped out silently. So the Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagatsingh Krantikaari Association (SABKA) is preparing the union leaders and all the members to challenge the upcoming storm. The association leaders are preparing the leaders and members of the union to convert this economic fight to a political fight for their survival. As this fight is directly against the Bajaj Autos, so it is somewhat easy for the SABKA leaders to educate auto-rickshaw workers that the root cause of all poverty, unemployment is the capitalist system, and without the destruction of this, there can be no true liberty of masses. The Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagatsingh Krantikaari Association (SABKA) has also distributed a pamphlet among the auto rickshaw-workers to tell them the need of a disciplined union working on the Marxist principles. And another pamphlet has been distributed to the other sections of working class in the city. This pamphlet is an appeal to the working class to support the auto-rickshaw workers and also this pamphlet describes how the other sections of working class are ruined by the same capitalist system which is going to destroy the life of auto rickshaw workers. This pamphlet has been distributed by auto rickshaw workers to the poor people who travel daily in the autos. The auto rickshaw workers not only distribute pamphlets but also try to convince the daily passengers regarding their demands and the need of struggle of the working class. The leaders have also started to contact the other auto-rickshaw unions of the Punjab state to spread this movement in the whole state. It is also possible that this movement may spread in other areas of Punjab as auto-rickshaw workers of other districts are also facing the same problem. Thus it is a good opportunity and our duty to revolutionize the huge masses. As a large section of unemployed, poor masses are coming towards this field of self employment, so this fight can be easily converted to the fight for the employment to all with exposing the true character of this capitalist system.

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