Calling the East Delhi Labourline

ACORN International India Labor Organizing

\Delhi      The main office of Janaphal, ACORN India’s affiliate in Delhi, is right off the Noida Highway.  The office is on the third floor and as you drive towards the west, a banner signals its location even though you travel through a maze-like set of flyways to get there.  Looking down from the balcony, I realized that I had been in this area before.  Near the base of the building was one of the sixteen-night shelters we run that I had visited on my last time in Delhi.  I had walked around the area then and remembered standing on this highway and how difficult it was to catch an autorickshaw from that location.

I met three or four of our the organizers, and they briefed me on a new project we were managing for the last four months and would be for another fourteen at least, the India Labourline.  In Mumbai and Delhi, we are part of the Working Peoples’ Coalition.  WPC began this hotline for workers to call when they are facing issues on the job.  Most of the traffic involves wage theft, but there are also issues involving other abuses, from health and safety to discrimination.  Many involve subcontractors for companies in construction and area factories who hire laborers, see them through the job, and disappear rather than pay.

The team went through a PowerPoint with me, as we all huddled around the computer.  If you were looking at a map of the giant Delhi area east of the river, our focus is on Northeast Delhi, East Delhi, Ghaziabad, and Noida.  Much of the area is industrial.  Noida, for example, is short for New Okhla Industrial Development Authority, and is a city located in the Gautam Buddha Nagar district of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Noida is a satellite city of Delhi and is a part of the National Capital Region (NCR) of India.  It would be a mistake to think of the organizers as sitting by the phone waiting for the calls.  If so, they would be like the Maytag repairmen in the TV advertisements, waiting for nothing.  Most of their work is outreach.  Many of our hawker members put the stickers with the call-in numbers on their stalls.  They go to labor chowks which are open market areas at road junctions where laborers gather to find work in shapeups similar to the scene at Home Depots and Lowe’s in the USA.  They leaflet Friday prayers at the mosques and various housing colonies and unregistered slums where lower income informal workers might have issues.

The numbers are impressive for the overall project with more than 115,000 calls to date and almost 5000 cases handled generating millions of rupees in settlements averaging close to $500 USD per worker.  All of this work aligns closely with ACORN and Janaphal’s main organizing with the Joint Hawkers Action Committee.  The young team was excited about the work.  Talking to Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN’s director in Delhi, it seemed there might be many applications and outcomes possible.  For example, one company with an outstanding case was a garment manufacture named MarleyLilly, based in Los Angeles, whose subcontractor had left workers holding the bag.  It was hard not to think about how ACORN affiliates in Canada, the US, the United Kingdom, and European Union might be able to join hands and take action with their Indian brothers and sisters up and down the supply chain.