As a newspaper and organisation that is partisan to the workers and toilers, we have been asking the leaders of the working people as to how the toilers of India view the reforms that were started 20 years ago. Whether the working class and people have benefitted from these reforms or have suffered? In the 16-31 October issue, we had begun this series with an interview of the General Secretary of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, Comrade Lal Singh.In previous issues we have carried interviews with union leaders of banks, ports, loco pilots and postal workers, of Insurance Employees' Associations, Air India Engineers Association, leaders of Western Railway Motormen's Association, Voltas Employees' Federation and leaders of various organisations of workers. In this issue, we bring you an interview with yet another leader of the working class.
Interview with Comrade S. K. Shettye, General Secretary, Mumbai Port Trust Dock and General Employees’ Union
MEL: Could you please tell us the nature of work that is done by the dock workers?
SKS: We load and unload export-import goods from the ships that dock here.
MEL: How much land does the BPT (Bombay Port Trust) have?
SKS: It has 180 acres, but it does not use all of it. It gives out land on lease to businesses. For example, the Taj Mahal Hotel is on BPT land. Often the leaseholders do not use the land for the allotted purpose. They construct tall towers and earn much more. The BPT has lodged a number of cases against misuse, but they are pending in the High Court or Supreme Court. The leaseholders do not want to give up their land. The new DC (Development Control) rules have been framed to help the capitalists. The Government is working for the capitalists and that is why public property is being misused.
MEL: What has been the effect of the globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation policy implemented by the Narasmimha Rao government from 1991?
SKS: At that time, the government claimed that the industry would grow, jobs would be generated and India would grow. Big towers have come, malls have come, highways, bridges, etc. have been built. But the people at large have not benefitted. A few capitalists have benefitted and using the help of the Government they have become bigger.
MEL: How has this policy affected your sector?
SKS: It has had a big effect on our sector and on our workers. From 1984, new recruitment has been stopped. As a result, from 3 lakh workers in 11 ports we have been reduced to just 57000. Wherever posts fell vacant due to retirement, etc., they were abolished after a year. Previously the BPT chairman could appoint workers for technical posts, but now only the Minister has that power. Appointments on Compassionate Grounds have been stopped.
3 VRS schemes were forced on the workers in Mumbai in 1992, 2001 and 2003. As a result, the strength of the work force has been reduced from 40,000 to 17,000. Now they want to bring in another VRS scheme and remove another 3,000 workers.
The Victoria Docks, which comes under the Mumbai Port Trust used to repair ships; it has been shut down. After that, the Princess Dock which had godowns and was used for storage, was closed down.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust has four terminals and out of these, three have been given to private companies. These companies pay 50% of their profit to the BPT. The BPT has only one terminal now – the Indira Bunder. There were only two important operations under it – goods carrier and dredging. Now these too have been handed over to private contractors.
Important work is being assigned to private companies who hire contract workers. The government policy is to promote privatisation and the contract system. Workers will not get justice under this.
We are fighting against the VRS and against the contract system. If VRS is to be given for a genuine reason, we demand that a new worker be put in that place on a permanent basis. We are fighting, but have not been able to make the government bow down before us. That is because we workers do not have a steel-like unity.
MEL: “An Attack on One is an Attack on All!” Focusing on this slogan, do you think we need to do to unite all the workers from the organized as well as unorganized sector, all the landless farmers, farm workers and other working people around a common set of demands, around a common program?
SKS: If we really manage to achieve such a unity, the exploiting and oppressing class will have no place to run away. Through an uncompromising struggle we will be able to win our demands. But all this is not possible given the situation that exists today. Political parties are to be blamed for this. Each of them has their own union of workers and working people. That is why in today’s political situation, the workers and peasants are divided. Workers and peasants should work to build their unity by keeping these parties away. But the leaders of these parties do not allow this to happen. That is why the worker-peasant movement has not been successful so far.
MEL: Thank you. Com Shettye, we are very grateful to you.