The struggle raging in Modern Foods is at the cutting edge of the struggle of India’s working class against privatisation
At the end of September 2000, three trade union leaders working in the Lawrence Road unit of MFIL were suspended. Suspension of workers for real or false charges is a common practice in capitalist India. But the suspension in September of Govind Yadav, VK Narang and Ganesh Thakur, militant leaders of the Modern Food Industries Employees Union is a case by itself. This marks the first time trade union leaders have been suspended in a privatised public sector undertaking. Hindustan Lever Limited has bared its fangs.
The three leaders were suspended after the management organised a deliberate provocation using the services of a blackleg. This blackleg was first made inebriated by the management and then egged on to organise a physical provocation against the trade union leaders. When the leaders refused to fall for the provocation, the blackleg inflicted minor injuries on himself and lodged a police complaint against the workers! In an earlier discussion with the management of HLL Lawrence Road Unit, the leaders of Modern Food Employees Union had warned the management against the use of lumpens and blacklegs to settle scores with the workers union. The management had made a show of agreeing that such shameful practices would be desisted from. However the real face of HLL could not be hidden for long!
The attack on the leaders of the union assumes great significance in the light of two facts.
Fact one is that right now a case challenging the very basis of the disinvestment commission under whose auspices MFIL was sold to HLL is up for hearing in the Delhi High Court. This case has been lodged by the MFIL Employees Union in collaboration with the Lok Raj Sangathan and numerous trade union organisations of the different Public Sector Undertakings are in the process of becomingparty to this case. If the High Court rules in favour of the petitioners, this will be a big setback to the entire privatisation program of the Indian bourgeoisie.
Fact two is that according to reports leaked to the media, the agreement between HLL and the government of India clearly states that within a period of 12 months, that is before February 2001, HLL cannot terminate the services of workers, unless they voluntarily take benefits whose value is not less than what they would have got as Public Sector employees. HLL management has already begun the process of shutting down units, transferring workers from one plant to another, in Delhi and all across the country, using the services of various labour traitors and former managers of the PSU. These labour traitors and former PSU officials, who have had a big hand in plundering the assets and living off the surplus value created by the workers, are now colluding with the HLL management in the "restructuring" of Modern Foods. This restructuring is an euphemism for the throwing out of a large section of the work force as soon as the hands of HLL are freed in February 2001. Already, in the Lawrence Road Unit, casual workers who have worked for 12-15 years on end are being refused work while contract labour is being hired! And the nearby Rasika fruit juice bottling plant has been shut down and its regular workers transferred to the payrolls of the Lawrence Road Bread unit. A similar story is being repeated in plants of MFIL all across the country.
HLL management has tried all methods of divide and rule, threats, bribery to crush the struggle being led by the MFIL Employees Union against privatisation. The suspension of three leaders is a desperate move of the management, as it is the principled struggle of the workers that has forced themanagement to reveal and play its cards in a hurry. Far from intimidating the workers, the move has boomeranged on the management as well as the government of India. The workers of MFIL are united like one ever more than before around their leadership. And the attempts of successive disinvestment ministers and the HLL management to make Modern Foods privatisation a showpiece for other privatisations is falling apart at its seams.
The coming weeks and months are crucial in the developing struggle against privatisation. The privatisation of MFIL was supposed to be the flagship for other privatisations. India’s working class has the opportunity to turn this into the flagship for the struggle against privatisation. This is the challenge before workers.