International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
BHOPAL TRADE UNION SURVIVORS REPORT FRUITFUL MEETING WITH AMERICAN TRADE UNIONISTS
|May 9, 2003, CLARE,
MICHIGAN - Leaders of the trade union - Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery
Workers Association - today addressed the statewide meeting of the Paper,
Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) Workers Union's Michigan Council
in Clare, Michigan to update them on their struggle against Dow Chemical
and Government of India for gas-affected workers' rights to livelihood,
and justice for all survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in
Introducing the Bhopal trade union delegation, Al Cholger, International representative of PACE Region 9, said: 'As the paper and chemical workersí union, weíre the right forum for the Bhopal women trade union leaders to approach. They were affected by a leak from the Union Carbide's chemical plant, and are now paper workers fighting for their rights.'
Two trade union leaders,
Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi, and a long-time activist were in Michigan
to protest at the Dow Chemical's annual shareholders meeting on 8 May.
They restated their long-standing demands that Dow Chemical as the new
owner of Union Carbide should:
Mrs. Rasheeda Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Stationery Karmachari Sangh, who was on her ninth day of hunger strike recounted the 1984 disaster in which at least 500,000 people were poisoned and more than 8000 killed within days. The long-term effects of the disaster has left more than 50,000 workers too sick to work for a living, pushing their families to the brink of starvation, Bee said. Because the factory was located in a densely populated working class neighborhood, at least 80 percent of the casualties were manual workers and employees of nearby factories, including a strawboard unit and a textile mill which have since closed down.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the Government set up 38 centers to train survivors in livelihood skills such as tailoring and stationery manufacturing. However, the centers were shut down after three months, and survivors were asked to go home. Rasheeda Bee and her colleague Champa Devi organized the 100 women who attended the training in paper stationery making to demand the Government to employ them. Their struggle led them to unionize themselves. After an uphill battle for fair wages and full benefits, the union members have managed to secure salaried jobs. However, their wages are still a fourth of that given to Government staff engaged in similar activities. 'We will not relent until weíre given full and just wages and benefits. As a trade union, we also want the Government to increase the coverage of employment benefits to include other gas-affected people,' said Champa Devi, secretary of the union.
Despite repeated demands by survivors for appropriate economic rehabilitation, neither the Government nor Union Carbide have come forward to fulfil their responsibilities to the workers. 'When Governments and Corporations do not live up to their obligations, it is only solidarity among workers and trade unions that can carry us,' said Bee.
The visiting women leaders from Bhopal called upon PACE Council members to declare December 3 (the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster) as an Global Day of Action Against Corporate Crime, and requested that Dow facilities worldwide be made a target of non-violent actions during that time.
The Bhopal union members also addressed a Forum at the HERE Local 24 union in Southfield, near Detroit, on 7 May 2003. The Forum was sponsored by PACE Union Region 9, the Ecology Center, the US Peace Council and other organizations.
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