More than 18 organisations of workers, women and people at large have united to oppose the implementation of the fascistic law called Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA), 2011. They have come together in an Organising Committee, which convened a public meeting on 21st July in Mumbai, and pledged to fight for the withdrawal of MESMA.
Organisations that were represented at the discussion and decisions of the meeting on 21st July included workers’ unions of Western Railway Motormen, Air India, Mumbai Airport, Aircraft Engineers ,Voltas, Mumbai municipal corporation, Bombay Electric Supply & Transport, post and telecommunication, hospitals, petroleum lab technicians, etc. . Participants also included representatives of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, Communist Party of India, CPIML (Liberation), Republican Panthers, Kamgar Ekta Chalwal, Mumbai Labour Union, All India Federation of Trade Unions (AIFTU), Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Hind Naujawan Ekta Sabha, Forum Against Oppression of Women and Lok Raj Sangathan. The meeting was presided over by Justice Hosbet Suresh, Honorary Chairman of Lok Raj Sangathan.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar hails the initiative of forming an Organising Committee to oppose MESMA and defend the right of workers to form unions and to strike work. The decision to re-enact MESMA is part of the fascistic offensive of the big monopoly capitalists, being put into operation by the central and state governments. The aim of this offensive is to criminalise all forms of struggle of workers against the intensification of their exploitation.
Speaking at the meeting on 21st July, the regional spokesperson of Communist Ghadar Party drew attention to the important role that the organised workers in industry, transport, banking, education and health sectors have to play. Workers who have formed their unions and gained some experience of organised struggle against their exploitation know that the right to unionise and the right to strike are essential, without which workers cannot live with dignity. If all unionized workers unite and wage an uncompromising struggle, it is possible to prevent MESMA from being implemented, and to withdraw it from the agenda altogether. What is required is unity in action of all sections of workers, be they in public or private institutions, in industry, transport or some other services. In addition, all those who care about justice in society and about the rights that belong to workers must unite firmly against MESMA and all other fascistic laws that violate basic rights.
Mihir Desai, a lawyer who defends human rights and labour rights, highlighted the main features of MESMA. Under this draconian Act, any employee working in an enterprise which is declared by the Government of Maharashtra as an ‘Essential Service’ can be punished if he/she participates in a strike action. Under this Act, police can arrest any such person without any warrant and he/she can get punishment of upto six months of imprisonment. If the employer feels that workers' refusal to work over time is affecting the productivity of the enterprise, then even such actions will be declared as a strike and participants punished under this act.
The General Secretary of Western Railway Motormen’s Association (WRMA), Comrade P.N.Gupta, explained why the motormen had to go on a flash strike to get any of their demands even considered. He pointed out that MESMA is being introduced to prevent or crush such strike actions.
The working President of Mumbai Labour Union, Comrade Shankar Salvi, denounced various legislators who call themselves “labour leaders” but did not oppose the passage of MESMA. General Secretary of Voltas Employees Union, Comrade Nair declared full support to the agitation against MESMA.
Comrade Gaikwad of Mumbai Electric Employees Union explained how they were targeted by the Maharashtra government at the behest of Reliance Energy Ltd., owned by the Anil Ambani group. Their committee members were sacked using MESMA 2005. They were demanding equal pay for equal work as per the Contract Worker’s Act, Rule 25. What they were demanding is not more than the lowest wage level of any worker employed in Reliance Energy. When Reliance refused to accede to this just demand, they resorted to a strike. Reliance immediately asked the Government of Maharashtra to apply MESMA, and the government promptly complied. A dozen workers were arrested in 2007 and have still not been taken back. He conveyed the determination of electric supply workers to be an active part of the struggle against the new avatar of MESMA.
Comrade Dipti of Airport Employees described how, in 2003, the Air Traffic Controllers of Mumbai had formed a union and gone on strike. This had totally paralysed the air traffic operations in Mumbai. The authorities attacked the union representatives in the most vicious manner. From this we have to learn the lesson, she said, that it is essential to mobilise the support of all sections of working people, especially within one’s own sector, before launching a major agitation.
Comrade Praveen Nadkar of All India Federation of Trade Unions (AIFTU) highlighted the successful struggle of over 1000 badli workers in hospitals, who won permanent status in spite of opposition from the state government. He also cited the example of the 1800 loaders of Air India & CPWD who bravely fought and won their demands, in spite of having to face ESMA.
Others who expressed full support to the struggle against MESMA included Comrade Rath of All India Railway Employees Confederation and Com. Anil Tyagi of AIUTUC.
Mathew of the Maharashtra State Council of Lok Raj Sangathan spoke in defence of the rights of teachers, doctors, municipal workers, Indian Railways workers, Air India workers, bank and telecom workers. It is their birthright to strive for improvement in their working conditions and for a life of dignity. He accused the government of wanting to crush legitimate struggles, and of neglecting its duty. He pointed out that the government is trying to withdraw from its responsibility to provide essential services, handing them over to private capitalists instead. Lok Raj Sangathan has been opposing such privatization from the principled stand that the government has no right to sell public assets without public consent. One of the reasons for bringing a fascistic law like MESMA is to crush the opposition to privatization. Pointing to how this law had been passed, he said that it was totally unacceptable that is has been done behind the backs of the working people, without their consent.
In his concluding remarks, Justice Suresh reiterated that MESMA was a draconian attack on the fundamental right of working people. He explained that the Right to Strike includes three rights or freedoms — namely, freedom of association, freedom from forced labour and freedom of expression. Hence it is an essential part of the right to life and liberty. He called on all workers, and on all the justice-loving people of our country to oppose MESMA tooth and nail.
Four important resolutions were adopted at the end of the meeting. The first resolution denounced MESMA as an attack on the fundamental right to strike, and called upon all democratic and progressive organisations and individuals to demand immediate withdrawal of the Act. The second resolution called upon the government to ensure that all workers in essential services be immediately made permanent, and be provided with decent working and living conditions, so that they can give their best to society. The third resolution called upon the government to institute necessary mechanisms to ensure that employees’ grievances are settled urgently so that they do not have to resort to strike actions. The last resolution expressed full support to the Maruti Suzuki workers and denounced the capitalist owners of Maruti Suzuki, the Government of Haryana and the Government of India for super-exploiting workers and suppressing their rights.