The present labour laws were formulated many decades ago. There has been big changes in technology since then. Today in the banking sector, there will be people with ties and suits, but in fact they are workers. Even though someone from outside would not think they are workers! The laws concerning labour need change, but they must be uniform and applicable to all those who sell their labour power for a living. All workers organizations need to get together to draft a new labour law which upholds the rights of all workers. All workers must have the right to organize themselves into unions.
A correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar interviewed Comrade Devender Mehta, Asst General Secretary, All India Allahabad Bank Employees Coordination Committee regarding the ongoing struggle of the working class. Below are excerpts of this interview.
MEL: The trade unions have launched a united all India struggle against the program of globalization through liberalization and privatization. What should be the direction of struggle and what is the problem?
Comrade Devender Mehta (DM): The central problem is the system of governance that exists in our country. Parliament should have representatives of the working class, those who deeply understand the problems of the workers and their unions, and put forth solutions to the problems faced by the workers of our country. The reality is different. The concerns of the toiling masses are rarely raised in parliament. Even when they are raised, this is done on a very low key, and mostly as a formality. Together, the representatives in parliament ignore the concerns of the working class. The Central government focuses only on the concerns of the big bourgeoisie; all its energies are devoted to fulfilling these concerns. This has been the case in this entire period. If there has to be a fundamental transformation, then working class must have a role in decision making. There is no other way.
In my understanding, the government that has come to power is thoroughly anti worker. It merely defends the interests of the big business houses. So far, it has initiated no measures in favour of the working class. It seems that in the coming period also, no such measures will be implemented. The government collects maximum taxes from us workers, as a proportion of our salaries. On the other hand, everyone knows how the big capitalists manipulate their accounts to avoid paying taxes. The government does nothing about this.
MEL: The government is amending labour laws, making it more difficult to form trade unions and expanding the scope of contract labour as well as outsourcing. What is your view on this?
DM: You are absolutely right. The government is pursuing a policy to destroy trade unions in the public sector enterprises, a policy of de-unionisation. It is deliberately resorting to contractualisation and outsourcing of jobs of a permanent nature to crush the unions. This is being done so that workers become defenseless in the face of attacks of the management. In the bank, they have contracted out the security work. Earlier, bank managers were responsible, with bank security guards, to load cash in the ATM’s. Now this has been outsourced to private companies and private security guards. There have been many cases of such privately hired people running away with the money. The union has been waging a long and bitter struggle to completely end this outsourcing and privatization, and ensure that all work of a permanent nature be carried out by workers on the regular rolls of the bank.
MEL: Can you explain what is behind the move to consolidate public sector banks?
DM: The struggle against the consolidation of Public Sector banks as part of banking reforms, is a long standing struggle. The plan of the government is to reduce the number of public sector banks to 6 or 7 big banks. It wants to increase the exploitation of the existing work force, by merging small public sector banks with large ones, so that it can get rid of workers. For quite some time, new recruitment to public sector banks has stopped. They want to reduce the number of branches in rural areas. The private banks do not establish branches in rural areas. It is the nationalized banks that have extended banking services to the entire country. We have demanded that the right of every citizen to have a bank account is a fundamental right.
MEL: The working class is fighting for a modern definition of rights of a worker, wherein every worker must be guaranteed living wages, safe housing, health care, provident Fund, etc as an enforceable right. There should be no distinction between “organized” workers and “unorganized” workers. All those who live on the basis of selling their labour power must be treated as workers. What is your view on this?
DM: AS far as banking unions are concerned, we have always been fighting to ensure all workers in the sector are guaranteed their rights as workers. There were many workers hired on temporary basis. We have fought and ensured that they were made regular employees. I feel that the present law which provides ESI, PF etc to workers working in factories employing more than 20 workers must be changed. All workers must be guaranteed these benefits, with no restrictions.
The present labour laws were formulated many decades ago. There has been big changes in technology since then. Today in the banking sector, there will be people with ties and suits, but in fact they are workers. Even though someone from outside would not think they are workers! The laws concerning labour need change, but they must be uniform and applicable to all those who sell their labour power for a living. All workers organizations need to get together to draft a new labour law which upholds the rights of all workers. All workers must have the right to organize themselves into unions. We must launch a program to draft and pass a law that will be in the benefit of the workers and peasants.
MEL: thank you, Comrade Devender Mehta for this interview.