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Brick Kiln Workers Gathering - 7 February 2013
Volunteers for Social Justice organised a meeting of brick kiln workers from the districts of Amritsar, Taran Tarn and Ferozpur in an attempt to raise their awareness on issues such as bonded labour and their legal entitlements. The purpose of the gathering was also to foster among the labourers, the idea of organising as a collective at kiln and district levels.
Using a space provided by Ram Tirath Temple near Amritsar, we were expecting between 500 and 1000 workers to turn up in groups led by VSJ staff who had mobilised them. However, expectations were clearly too low as no less than 1500 brick kiln labourers attended the gathering.
Speeches were made by various VSJ staff and volunteers acknowledging the difficulties being faced by workers on the brick kilns and addressing the way in which these issues can be overcome. The resounding message of the day, as was the purpose of the event, was that only through collective action can real long term change come about. Hira Singh, one of VSJ’s staff, sang some songs about the life of a bonded labourer on the brick kilns and the meetings participants were seemingly buoyed by what they had seen.
Information on all of those who attended was taken and from the groups who came, it was asked that a “leader” was nominated to represent them. As such, fifty labourers from brick kilns across these three districts have now been asked to lead and represent the labourers at a local level.
Though this is very much the first step in a long process of creating a mass union or organisation of brick kiln workers, it was encouraging to see so many people enthusiastic about the idea.
However, immediately after the event, and on their return to the kilns where they have been working, some the labourers have been facing abuse from their employers at the brick kilns. These employers are clearly worried about the implications of their workers being aware of their rights and are using coercive means to prevent anything from changing. VSJ are monitoring the situation closely and providing what support we can where necessary.
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