Correspondents of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar spoke with numerous delegates from different sectors of the economy and different regions, who had come to participate in the All India Convention of the working class on 4th September.
We asked them the following questions:
- What were your expectations from this Convention?
- Why is the bourgeoisie able to impose its agenda on society even though the working class is a majority in our society today?
- What needs to be done to change this situation, so that the working class can direct the course of society in the interests of the broad masses of people?
Below are some extracts from the responses:
Comrade Hanuman Prasad Sharma, adviser of the All-Rajasthan State Government Employees Coordination Committee, representing over 7 lakh state government employees:
In the face of the crisis caused by the program of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation, the masses of workers are coming out onto the streets. I believe that the trade unions linked with political parties have organised this convention to defend their own existence, and to cool down the growing anger of the workers.
Workers have come from different state government employees' federations, banks, insurance, coal mines, railways as well as other sectors. Many unions and federations not affiliated to any party have actively participated in this Convention. I have come as part of a 20 member delegation of the All Rajasthan State Government Employees Coordination Committee.
The General Secretary of BMS declared publicly today that in order to fight the capitalist offensive, we must not wave different trade union banners. We have to unite as a class and fight under one common banner. This has still to happen, and we must make it happen. We must give up names like AITUC, CITU, BMS, HMS etc. Here in this hall, only the slogan “Workers Unity Zindabad!” should resound. This was a positive note in today's Convention.
It is necessary to include independent unions and federations in the Organising Committee of the Convention. Why are the organisers of today’s convention excluding such unions and federations, and not allowing them to even speak. This creates a doubt in the minds of delegates like me about the intentions of the organisers of this Convention, the leaders of the Central Trade Unions.
The third issue that comes to mind is that the trade union leaders of the Parliamentary Left look extremely defensive. Some of them are even abandoning saying “Lal Salaam!” and replacing it with “Bharat Mata Ki Jai!” They are trying to make themselves acceptable to the bourgeoisie.
The only alternative for the working class is to take the path of class struggle. Without this, nothing will change. All workers’ unions and their federations must devote their energies to develop the working class program as the alternative to the capitalist program. They must mobilise and unite all workers around such an alternate program. They must fight to popularise the program of the working class amongst the broad masses of people.
Shri KN Thiagarajan, State Secretary, Tamilnadu Government Employees Association (TGEA):
A 29 member delegation of the TGEA is participating in this Convention. The Government employees of Tamilnadu had waged a major struggle in 2003 and the then AIADMK government had used EMSA to dismiss thousands of workers. However, their persistent struggle which won countrywide support succeeded in getting all dismissed workers reinstated. ESMA was revoked by the DMK government that came to power in the next elections. The enactment of ESMA by the Maharashtra government is a very dangerous move. It is directed not only against workers in Maharashtra but against the entire working class. It is essential to fight to get it repealed, to prevent other states from also passing similar laws.
Outsourcing has become the norm and the Tamil Nadu Government is resorting to contract work for all kinds of functions, with daily wages and even hourly wages. We are fighting to end this practice and to get all workers regularised.
Labour laws are flagrantly violated in the new industrial townships like Sri Perambudur. Workers are not even permitted to hoist their union banners at the factory gates.
We have to fight in unison and rise above petty party rivalry. A large section of our class works in small enterprises, without any rights. It is the duty of us unionised workers to organise those without unions and defend their rights. Only then can we hope to be an effective force.
Comrade M. Deepak, President, Bangalore District Council of All-India Trade Union Congress:
There are more than 150 delegates from Karnataka participating today. These include delegates of independent unions such as BEML (Bharat Earth Movers Limited). The AITUC delegation includes delegates from the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, L&T, Tata Advanced Materials, Jigari Industrial Area, Bomusundara Industrial Area near Electronics City, K. R. Pura Industrial Area near Old Madras Road. Apart from Bangaluru, there are delegates from from Davangere, Mysore and Tumkur. The main problem in Karnataka is the rampant use of contract labour for regular work, both in the private and public sectors. Despite the government notifying minimum wages, these are not being paid to workers. We are helping workers to form unions and fight for minimum wages and other benefits.
We are organising a large number of contract workers who have had no union representing them. For example, the Bangalore Municipal Corporation (BBMP) employs over 14000 workers, mostly women on contract. They are being unionised. Over 1500 workers employed on contract at the Bangalore and Mysore Race Courses have been unionised; and so have 8000 contract workers of HAL and 600 contract workers of BHEL.
A major issue is that labour laws made in our grandparents’ time need to be amended in line with the present conditions and needs of workers.
It is true that the working class is unable to set the agenda of political discourse. It is an old problem about which must has been said, but little done. We fight for better conditions for workers, but we do not politicise them and make them conscious of their mission. Workers want politics. We must make them political. We must imbue them with working class politics. There are some unions participating in this Convention who are opposed to politicising workers.
We are full-time organisers and members of the Communist Party, but we have not succeeded in making other workers active. To change this situation, we are going to have political classes for workers. Workers must be educated about what is going on in the country and in the world. We must be able to at least train them to run their own unions, and not depend on some specialists. Only then can they become leaders of the class.
Comrade Ram Pankaj Ganguly, leader of a delegation from the Hindustan Steel Employees Union, Durgapur Steel Plant, West Bengal:
Durgapur Steel Plant is government-owned and is part of SAIL. Our union is part of the Steel Federation of India, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. About 120 delegates from the Steel Federation of India are attending this Convention.
Privatisation of SAIL, being carried out in the name of disinvestment, is going to have tragic consequences. The steel industry is in crisis all over the world, including in our country. In the advanced capitalist countries, steel production has been cut down as a result of slowing down of demand. However, in India, even though there is a crisis of overproduction, steel output has not been cut down. One of the reasons is that the internal market here is still growing, from a relatively low base. The per-capita consumption of steel in India is only 75 kg., while it is 500kg in China. SAIL has not cut back production.
The performance of private steel companies in India are worse than that of SAIL. SAIL showed profits in this first quarter, while the balance sheet of Tata Steel, the biggest private steel producer, shows losses.
The government is hell bent on disinvesting its shareholding in SAIL, as a prelude to its privatisation. It does not want to draw lessons from the 2007 global crisis, when we were saved because our financial sector as well as materials production were predominantly in the hands of the State.
So far, 14.18% of SAIL shares have been sold, of which only 0.34% is in the hands of SAIL employees and other individuals. The rest are in the hands of big capitalist corporations, Indian and foreign. We have asked the Central Government to stop pursuing this anti-national course, but there has been no response. It is continuing on that course.
We expect that this Convention will issue a joint declaration of struggle against privatisation in any form, whether of SAIL or any other Public Sector Company.
The leadership of workers in large scale industry and services is most important to direct the course of our country. Workers in small scale industry and services cannot be expected to provide leadership. If organised sector workers — oil, power, steel, coal, transport, etc., go on a general strike, we can bring the economy to a halt. The main challenge is that the organised workers in large-scale production must lead in the right direction.
GH Shah, General Secretary and leader of 5- member delegation of Indian Petro-Chemicals Limited Employees Union, Baroda, Gujarat:
Our union is affiliated to the AITUC. In the past two years, all the trade unions have come together on a single platform to force the government to recognise workers’ concerns. However, the government has refused to respond to our demands. The main problem facing workers is the widespread practice of contractualisation of labour, even in the public sector, and even for work of a perennial nature. Contract workers are not paid even the existing sub-standard minimum wages. We are demanding an end to contract labour, the implementation of same work same pay, as well as the raising of minimum wages to at least Rs 10,000, and linked to the Consumer Price Index. Today, to live reasonably, a worker needs at least Rs 10,000 a month.
In IPCL, we have now 2400 permanent workers and about 1500-2000 casual workers. Earlier, there were about 5000 permanent workers. After the VRS scheme was introduced, about 2500 workers left. Their work is being done by contract workers. This has happened not only in IPCL, it is happening everywhere. In IPCL, this began after Reliance Petrochemicals took over this Public Sector Company in 2002.
The situation workers face in Gujarat is similar to what we face in the rest of the country. The Labour Department is rapidly being dismantled and made non functional. There are no people in the Labour Department to do any work. Baroda is a huge and growing industrial town. We need at least 5 officers to man the Labour Department to deal with the burgeoning industrial disputes. Instead, there is only one officer.
There are very few representatives of workers in Parliament and state assemblies. We need a hundred MP's who will act as the voice of the workers. If we want to have a say, then issue is which party. We workers must have our own party. Only when we have our own party and it grows and establishes its majority will we begin to have a say.
Sandeep Ghatak, General Council Member of the All-India Medical Representatives’ Association, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh:
For the past 60 years, the rich have been growing richer and the poor poorer. This Convention was organised to decide the course of action of the working class in the present situation. The struggle has been going on since 1857. Our struggle is to change this system.
The working class does not have political power. The present political system is extremely anti-people. It divides people according to religion and caste. Money power plays a big role.
Comrade Satbir, leader of the delegation of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) from Rohtak, Haryana:
In Rohtak we are organising Brick Kiln workers, construction workers, midday meal workers, AASHA workers, anganwadi workers, gramin sabha workers, forest department workers, safai karamcharis as well as those employed under NREGA. We work with other unions whenever there are joint programs.
In Haryana, Hooda raj is like Company raj. No labour laws apply here. Workers in Gurgaon live in conditions not fit for animals. Contract labour is the norm. Contract labour is resorted to even in work of permanent nature. This is a big problem. All unions have to work together to address this issue. The attacks on workers have been steadily intensifying in the past twenty years of globalisation through privatisation and liberalisation. We have to unite to resist and reverse these anti-working class policies, including contractualisation of labour. One day strike does not affect the government much. We must think of indefinite General Strike in order to put the government on the back foot.
It is very unfortunate that the working class is not able to exercise decisive say in setting the political agenda. We have not organised as a compact and effective force; we are divided in many ways. We have to put forward the politics of the working class and unite around it. We will certainly one day set the political agenda of the country, by stepping up the struggle.
Com Sushanta Kumar Paul, leader of workers in a private school, Haryana Vidya Mandir, Kolkata:
Our union has been fighting for the rights of the staff, against owners who have been fleecing the school funds and depriving the employees of their legal dues. We have raised a charter of demands, including maternity leave and medical leave. There are 44 non teaching staff and 108 teachers in this school which caters to over 4000 students.
I am part of a 70-member delegation of AITUC from Bengal. We have come from different sectors, including industry and education. I am optimistic about the future. We have to unite all the workers’ organisations and all the suffering people. I have full faith that this can and will be done.