Empty chairs, full dining halls

Durgapur, April 7: The INTTUC state conference in Durgapur today saw less than half the 30,000 invited workers attend the event and most of those present were seen filling up their plates at the dining halls as ministers Partha Chatterjee and Purnendu Bose spoke.

Sources in the Trinamul trade union said only 10,000 to 12,000 delegates turned up from across the state. At least 30,000 were invited.

"We expected a gathering of over 30,000 and made all necessary arrangements. But most of them did not turn up. A huge quantity of leftover food had to distributed among the poor," said an INTTUC leader who was one of the organisers.

Veteran trade union leaders Subrata Mukherjee and Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay today stayed away from the meet at Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Maidan.

While Chattopadhyay hinted at the huge amount of money spent on making the event a success, Mukherjee cited "engagements".

"I deliberately stayed away from the event to protest the way the leaders have spent on the event," Chattopadhyay said in Calcutta.

Mukherjee said: "I had other engagements in Calcutta during the day. So, I could not attend today's INTTUC event in Durgapur."

Sources said many in the audience whispered about the absence of the two veterans even as senior Trinamul leaders on the stage spoke of one factory, one union.

Many workers were also seen leaving the ground after lunch when senior Trinamul leaders such Chatterjee, Bose, Malay Ghatak, Subrata Bakshi and INTTUC state chief Dola Sen were sitting on the dais.

An INTTUC leader at a carbon-manufacturing unit in Durgapur who stayed away from the meeting said: "The INTTUC started mushrooming in the steel and coal units in Durgapur and Asansol under the leadership of Sobhondeb Chattopadhyay. He was the chief of the union in the state then. It is shocking to learn how he has been sidelined in the party. I knew Sobhandebda will not come and so did not attend the conference."

A few months ago, Chattopadhyay was heckled by a faction of party workers at Calcutta University.

A Subrata Mukherjee loyalist in Durgapur said today's conference was attended only by the loyalists of Sen and Bose.

"It was a particular faction's conference. It had no relation with the state INTTUC. We cannot think of any conference without Subratada. He has had a deep-rooted relation with trade union politics for years. Who knew Dola Sen and Purnendu Bose before Trinamul came to power," said an Inttuc leader.

At the conference, Trinamul leaders spoke against factional feud and stressed on the "one factory, one union" policy.

"We will not tolerate any feud among union members. They can have their choice of leaders. Factional feud will only weaken the organisation and other parties will take advantage of that. We must work together," said industries minister Chatterjee.

Labour minister Bose said some workers were trying to use the union for their personal gain. "We have recently expelled Ashim Pramanik who was trying to create trouble in factories in Durgapur. We will not tolerate such hooliganism and extortion from industries," he said.

Pramanik belonged to the Subrata Mukherjee lobby, sources said, and was an INTTUC worker when Mukherjee used to head the union.