Politics is a term that has various definitions but definitely is not as narrow as getting confined to standing in elections alone. In broader sense, politics is love for people. In sense of self respect, it is about making fellow citizens stand and lead life on their own legs. In sense of revolution, it is about empowering an oppressed section raise against the oppressor and establish that they are meant to be treated as equals and not as slaves. Every comfort and self respect that we enjoy today was not ‘donated’ by somebody. Our forefathers organized people, made them aware of what is their right or in short politicized them, fought shoulder to shoulder with them and won. British imperialism of India, Female enslavement, Caste based discrimination or any other social injustices that one could think of was eradicated or in the process of eradication is only by strength of unity of people and their continuous willingness to fight against it. Today, if employees work more than 8 hours in a day it is only illegal for the company to make them do so, but there was a time whence it was legal for companies to make employees work for 15 hours in a day. Fixed hours of working in a day, fixation of minimum amount of wages given to an employee, mandatory holiday in a week and many other rights that we as employees utilize and live with comfort today was because of decades of struggles fought by employees who organized themselves under Trade Unions.
F.I.T.E was born this day last year for a noble cause of fighting for the livelihood of thousands of employees whose job continuation with the company TCS was at stake. Prior to inception of F.I.T.E, IT employees affiliated to Young Tamil Nadu Movement took up the issue of struggling employees at TCS and what started as an on-line campaign via Facebook and Twitter evolved in to full fledged revolution on ground. Every passing day hundreds of employees of TCS called and placed their stories of victimizations to the coordinators of the campaign. Calls were not from Chennai alone but from various cities across India where TCS had its branch offices. Layoff in IT sector was not new to IT employees. But layoff on a scale of thousands was unprecedented. Employees of IT and ITES companies would have either been subjected to one such victimization or they would have witnessed their closed ones getting victimized. So it was only natural for them to extend their helping hands when employees of TCS were subjected to forcefully signing the resignation letters and ejecting them with a label called “under-performers” – a label that directly impacts their career and consequently impacts their livelihood. It was under this abnormal condition that F.I.T.E was born. Initially a movement and at present an aspiring Trade Union aimed at and working towards organizing employees of IT and ITES sector. The ‘Exit Interview’ audio clip that F.I.T.E posted was the talk of the nation for a brief period as it tore apart TCS’s fake theory of “under-performers” and established the truth that employees who were all those years claimed as “Pillars of TCS” were chucked out inhumanly without even giving them a reason for their dismissal. Employees affiliated to F.I.T.E scrambled to various cities such as Hyderabad, Kochi, Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune to meet affected employees of TCS, to explain them the legal possibilities and launched cases at various High Courts across the country. Campaigns such as Bike Rally, Human Chain, Black Gag Protest, Pamphlets distribution were done to gather people’s attention and support. Open letters and articles were written on F.I.T.E’s website registering the struggle of employees of IT and ITES sector which apart from gathering people’s attention would also serve as artifacts for generations to come. A Fact Finding committee was organized and it constituted imminent lawyers, professors and social activists who interviewed more than a hundred employees of TCS via in-person, Skype and through written ways. The report they submitted via a press meet proved that the termination was unjust and had nothing to do with the merits of the employees. When Priya (name changed), a pregnant employee who was made to resign forcefully from TCS was stayed by Madras High Court, it was an unprecedented event in IT history and the first success to restless hard work of an organization of employees called F.I.T.E. With the pressure amounted on TCS increased day by day, we did intervene the layoff process of TCS. Those employees who were till then made to sit on bench previously released from projects and awaiting evacuation from company anytime were called upon by HR Managers to reinstate them on projects. Such employees’ testimony to F.I.T.E was with love and gratitude.
The fight started with TCS but did not end there. Throwing employees just like that for the sake of incrementing profits was not done by TCS alone. C-Cubed, IBM, Cisco, Syntel, HCL, Novartis, ComoTech, Altisource, Helios & Matheson, Tech-Mahindra, Housing.com were some of the companies we fought or continue to fight till today against their illegal layoffs. When labor laws are not mighty enough for the employees to stand against the mighty corporates, it becomes sad reality for a budding Trade Union like F.I.T.E to encounter a tough and a prolonged fight. Apart from forced resignations (which actually should not be termed layoffs) employees face different kinds of victimizations. Bonus disputes, Pending salaries, Income Tax disputes, Confiscation of original documents of employees, Fear of NSR blacklisting are some of the not so talked problems of IT industry which we heard from fellow employees and upon which activities are being pursued against. To empower the employees, conferences on labor laws presided by imminent lawyers, activists were organized at F.I.T.E chapters of Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai. Conference to address the problems of BPO industry and sessions on history of Trade Unions were organized at Kolkata and Chennai respectively. The sexual assault that happened to Bengaluru woman BPO employee only re-established the sorry state of women security – especially that of working women in our country. Our protest and campaign towards the security of women employee started with women’s day and intensified with the Bengaluru incident. We joined hands with Trade Unions all over India to oppose the planned changes by Central Government to dilute the labor laws which has kept those changes still at bay. Being a Trade Union with network of employees also helped us to quickly take part in relief work of Tamil Nadu floods and relief work of Nepal earthquake.
The journey has just started and still might have decades to travel, just like the previous journeys of other travelers did. With principles of democracy and autonomy embedded with in the organization, coordinators and office bearers of different chapters of F.I.T.E are addressing problems of employees with support and help including from other chapters. The activities that we pursued yielded much needed debate amongst the people of our society about the plight faced by employees of IT and ITES industry. On this enthusiastic occasion of 1st anniversary we vow to continue marching towards achieving unity amongst employees and fight against injustices meted out to employees in a united way. We leave behind some of the memories via these photographs.