Rinku Kumar, a 35-year-old labourer, told me that when the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March, he was working at a steel-manufacturing company, one of the many industrial units at Kundli, a city in Haryana’s Sonipat district. Like several other migrants, he went back home to Bihar’s Khagaria district. Kumar said his employer owed him wages for 17 days at that time and refused to pay him when he returned to Kundli. “I had accepted that I will not get my dues,” Kumar said. But things changed on 27 November, when thousands of farmers began a sit-in at Kundli’s GT Road, which is flanked by industrial units. Kumar said farmers and the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan—a workers’ union in Kundli—negotiated with his employer and helped him get his wages. Several labourers who worked at these industrial units told me that the farmers had supported and empowered them to fight for their rights.
“Company owners do not give money, even if you work for them for 15 days. But now, due to the pressure of farmers and labourers, they are paying wages for even two days of work,” Kumar told me. He was standing with other labourers near a tent set up by the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan, surrounded by the many tractor trolleys that the farmers had brought with them to Kundli. The labourers explained why they supported the protesting farmers and also appreciated their hospitality. “We sit with farmers, and they feed us,” Kumar said. “Not just that, the blankets and quilts that had been brought for the protest, they share those with us too.”
About forty or fifty farmers who had parked their tractor trolleys near the tent were helping the labourers. Multiple people told me that these farmers had begun supporting the labourers organically. Among these farmers was Jasminder Singh from the Gohana area in Sonipat. “Company owners and contractors do not give these labourers their hard-earned money,” he said. “Even farmers do not get the full price for their crop. The pain of not getting due compensation is the same for labourers and farmers.” Satwant Singh, a 56-year-old farmer from Patiala, also reiterated this. “If farmers help labourers get their money, what is wrong with that?” he said. “Many farm labourers from Punjab and Haryana have also come with us to protest—they have come here because of this unity between farmers and workers. If the workers are standing with us in our movement, then we farmers must also join their struggle.”
Shiva Kumar, a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan at the tent, told me how the labourers at Kundli came to understand the farmers’ movement. Since the sit-in began, the protesters had been inviting labourers who worked nearby for langar. “On 29 November, we spoke to workers about the farmers’ presence and how they were feeding people,” Shiva said. “After speaking to the farmers, we understood why they were agitated. On 2 December, in a workers’ meeting, we decided to stop our work and join the protests in support of the farmers. That day, about 1,500 workers marched to the stage set up at the farmers’ protest and voiced their support. Some of the workers spoke from the stage too.”