On 9th of February, around a hundred delegates from all over India representing the three Petroleum and Gas Workers Federations assembled at Kochi for a delegates’ conference. This Conference was the fourth conference in a row to oppose privatisation of BPCL after the earlier conferences in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. This conference followed the All India Strike of petroleum workers on November 28th 2019 and January 8th 2020.
The delegates’ conference was addressed by leaders of National Trade Unions, Comrade Tapan Sen, All India General Secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Shri R. Chandrashekaran, General Secretary, Indian National Trade Union Congress(Kerala), Com Elamaram Kareem, MP, Rajya Sabha and CITU leader and Comrade A. Mathew, Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) . The Conference was also addressed by national and local leaders of Petroleum workers.
The various national trade union leaders highlighted the fact that the Central Government has plans to sell off one PSU after another to private monopolies for a song. They listed BPCL, ONGC oil fields, Hindustan Newsprint Ltd., Instrumentation Ltd., Bharat Earth Movers Ltd and Vishakapatnam Steel. Many of these are mammoth enterprises built with the blood and sweat of the workers and with public investment, and continue to be profit making. This is nothing but loot of the country’s wealth to benefit the biggest monopolies Indian and foreign.
The speakers further pointed out that the workers of BPCL must make the conditions so difficult that no private player would come forward to purchase BPCL. We need to sustain the agitations, dharnas, strikes and other actions, they said. Though the Government wanted to complete the process of privatisation by 31st March 2020, it has not been able to do so.. During 2019-2020, it could only achieve Rs.1800 crores against a target of Rs.1.05 lakh crores as revenue by sale of PSUs. Now to meet last year’s target as well as the new target of Rs. 2.11 lakh crores, for the financial year 2020-2021, the Government will resort to all sorts of unscrupulous practices to sell out the country’s wealth, which the working class must oppose tooth and nail. The speakers congratulated the unity of all petroleum workers that has been built cutting across trade union barriers.
Speaker after speaker congratulated the workers of Kochi Refinery of BPCL for their daily action programs in front of the refinery for the last 100 days, which should be a model for BPCL workers all over India. Just like the struggle of the Kochi Refinery workers made the Kerala Government announce that it would oppose the privatisation of BPCL, the speakers called on petroleum workers from other states also to step up their struggle and force their State Governments to oppose the privatisation of BPCL.
Comrade Mathew from KEC saluted the petroleum workers for the unity they have built cutting across trade union barriers. While denouncing the privatisation of the PSU’s by the Central Government, he said it is possible to defeat the same by the united actions of the workers. He pointed out how the move to privatize defence production units was stalled by a resolute and united strike of the defence workers across the country in August 2019 which forced the government to agree to a review of its plan. Likewise, the government’s move to corporatize the production units of the Indian Railways was stopped by the united protest actions of the Railway workers who along with their families came on the roads.
Comrade Mathew also pointed out to the mass protest actions against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NPR and NRC that is occurring throughout the length and breadth of our country. He congratulated the political parties and people of Kerala for the unanimous resolution passed in the State Legislative Assembly against CAA, NPR and NRC. He said the working class cannot stand quietly while our daughters, sisters, sons and mothers are on the streets. He said it is the same Government which is selling off the country’s assets and also dividing the people on the basis of religion. We have to oppose both.
The Conference resolved on an Action Plan. Joint conventions of oil and petroleum workers would be organised in all Oil and Petroleum Centres all over India inclusion Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai, Kochi, Bangalore and Delhi in March 2020, culminating in a two day All India Strike on 20th and 21st April 2020.
The leaders also denounced the management of BPCL for penalising the workers participating in the strikes on 28th November 2019 and 8th January 2020 by deducting 4 days wages. They said that they have already filed a case in the Bombay High Court challenging the Central Government’s annulment of the 1976 Act of Parliament which nationalised the former Burmah Shell Company. They announced that they would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. They also called on the workers to put a unified charter of demands for contract workers to bring them also in the common struggle against privatisation.
Various delegates came and pledged to take the struggle forward. Representatives from Mumbai Refinery said that following the example of Kochi Refinery they would also organise continuous protests outside their refinery and would approach the legislators of the political parties to mobilise support for the struggle.
The delegates’ conference was followed by a mass convention of thousands of BPCL workers. This conference and mass convention of BPCL workers is an important event in the struggle to oppose the Central Government’s anti-national move to privatise BPCL.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar fully supports the just struggle of the workers of BPCL and calls on them to step up their united struggle to defeat the Governments plans.