Uncompromisingly oppose privatisation in all forms and under any name
Thirteen years ago, in February 2000, led by the Mazdoor Ekta Committee, the workers of Modern Foods India Limited (MFIL) carried out a bold protest action in New Delhi on the opening day of Parliament. They were objecting to the sale of central government owned MFIL to the private multinational company Hindustan Lever Limited. The workers of MFIL were joined by hundreds of textile workers from Kanpur, who were facing closure and fighting for reopening of their mills. That joint action 13 years ago marked an important milestone in the struggle of the Indian working class against the privatisation and liberalisation program of the bourgeoisie.
The NDA government announced the decision to sell MFIL and BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company) on the eve of the World Economic Summit at Davos in January 2000. It was a declaration of the Indian ruling class to the world that India will pursue economic growth in the interest of monopolies – Indian and international. Earlier, the Disinvestment Commission set up by the United Front Government of Deve Gowda divided the public sector units into "strategic" and "core" and those that are not "strategic" nor "core". The axe of privatisation was to first fall on the companies that were declared to be neither "strategic" nor "core".
At that time, the trade unions affiliated to the parliamentary parties had accepted the propaganda of the bourgeoisie that "there was no alternative to privatisation". They accepted the privatisation of MFIL under the guise that it was not a "strategic" industry, and it was "loss making". The Mazdoor Ekta Committee waged a tit for tat struggle against all the lying propaganda of the bourgeoisie. For seven years on end, till the last worker was thrown out of his job, the workers of the main plant of MFIL in India, the MFIL unit in Lawrence Road in Delhi, rallied the 3000 regular and contract workers of MFIL all over the country to take up the struggle against privatisation.
The MEC and the MFIL union pointed out that privatisation was anti-national and anti-worker. In response to the comment of the Disinvestment Minister in the NDA government that it was not the business of the government to make bread, they asked the Minister – what then is the government’s business? They exposed how a profit making industry had been deliberately converted into a loss making one, step by step, in order to justify privatization. They exposed how the movable and immovable assets of MFIL, which were valued at over 2000 crores in 2000, were handed over to the multinational Hindustan Lever limited for Rs 124 crores. They exposed the lies of the propagandists of privatization that HLL would run the company "efficiently". They showed how HLL was stripping the assets of MFIL, selling of one property after another, and using the brand name of Modern Bread to produce bread in unhygienic conditions through sub contracting.
The struggle waged by the MEC and the MFIL union inspired other workers to join the movement against the privatisation program. The growing unity and fighting spirit of the working class was in evidence at the mass rally held in February 2003. During the course of their uninterrupted struggle against privatisation the workers of MFIL Delhi unit, the biggest and most militant unit of Modern Food Industries, waged numerous forms of struggle – demonstrations to parliament, protests with the Delhi Government, appeals to Members of Parliament, and so on. They organised a dharna at the gate which lasted nearly two years. The struggle forced the Vajpayee government to set up a Prime Minister’s special committee to investigate the consequences of privatisation of MFIL and BALCO. The MEC and MFIL Union placed before this committee documentary evidence of how the HLL management was liquidating the plant and machinery, resorting to subcontracting, using contract labour in place of the regular labour, violating all labour laws. They showed that the HLL management was only interested in the brand name of Modern Bread, and in the immense value of the real estate accrued as a result of the privatisation deal.
When the Committee on privatisation consequences submitted its report to the government, the MFIL workers demanded that the report be placed before parliament and discussed. However, the Manmohan Singh government, which had by then come into power with the support of Left parties, stonewalled this demand. Having organised a wall of silence on the demand for reversal of privatisation of MFIL and BALCO, the UPA government took a different road of privatisation to achieve the same aims.
It is important to reiterate the lessons that workers must draw from this historic struggle.
This struggle forced the government to abandon outright sale of public assets. However, the bourgeoisie has continued privatisation in other forms, like hiving off various parts of a PSU and outsourcing these parts of the business to private parties, as in the case of railways. Privatisation of education, health and other basic social services has been pursued by state governments in the form of “public-private partnership”, with technical assistance arranged by the central government with the help of the World Bank and international consulting firms. Whether a state-owned company and its assets are sold in one shot or bit by bit to private owners, the end result is the transfer of ownership by the State, as the official representative of society, into the hands of private companies.
The lessons from the experience of the struggles of workers of MFIL and other enterprises over the past decade are very clear. The working class must not conciliate on the issue of privatization. To admit “selective privatisation of non-strategic and loss-making units” as an alternative to “indiscriminate privatisation” or to submit to any other means of privatization by whatever name is to weaken our stand and play into the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The working class has to unite in an uncompromising struggle to oppose all attempts to hive off, contract out or other forms of selling out or disinvestment by government, or undermining, in any way, of the state providing public services to the working people.
We cannot afford to tolerate any compromise on the question of opposing the privatisation and liberalisation program. We have to oppose the very essence and aim of this program, not just the way it is implemented. The struggle is between those who want to expand the scope of capitalist private property and those who want to begin converting it into social property.
Let us do justice to the struggle initiated by the workers of Modern Foods! Let us reject and defeat the path of conciliation and compromise with the privatisation and liberalisation program! Let us wage uncompromising struggle against this capitalist imperialist program! Let us unite around the alternative program of the working class to build socialism!
The Communist Ghadar Party of India calls on the working class to build stronger unity to oppose the privatisation drive of the Indian State and also to discuss and unite around one common program of the working class as an alternative to the program of the ruling class.