Onward to Parliament March
- A.K. Padmanabhan, President, CITU.
The historic 48 hours strike on 20th and 21st of February with the participation of more than 12 crores of workers from each and every sector was a milestone in the history of Indian Trade Union movement. This strike had even forced the Prime Minister to go on record that many of the demands of the workers are demands not only of workers, but of the people as well. But, that the statement of the Prime Minister was only an effort to create some expectations among the gullible has been proved during the last few months.
Feeling the pressure of the total unity amongst the central trade unions and also the justness of the demands which could not be refuted, the Prime Minister had to announce that the group of Ministers formed a day before the strike would continue the discussion with the unions. This meeting, as has been reported earlier and known to everybody, was held on 21st May, where in the Defence Minister A.K. Antony had promised to continue the discussions after a month in the name of consultations within the government.
When it comes to the issues of workers, it seems, the government of India’s calendar has innumerable days in a month. There has not been any communication from the government to the unions after 21st May.
It was in this situation an all India joint convention of trade unions was held on 6th August, and a detailed programme for another phase of united struggle was adopted.
September 25 Rallies
As part of this phase of action, rallies, demonstrations and dharnas were held on 25th September, following a countrywide campaign. Though the decision was for holding rallies in the state capitals, in many states, massive rallies were held in different centers.
The rallies on 25th September were massive in various centres with the participation of workers including women, from different industrial and service sectors. These rallies and demonstrations were addressed by central and state leaders of all the central trade unions.
In Punjab, where section 144 is clamped in the capital city of Chandigarh and demonstrations, processions or meetings are not allowed, the government could do nothing to stop the massive demonstrations that converged from different points to the meeting place in the city. More than 15,000 workers participated in this rally. In Kerala, the state capital witnessed a rally of more than 25,000 workers. More than 10000 workers participated in the rally in Mumbai. In West Bengal, rallies were held in several district headquarters in addition to the state capital Kolkata where workers from the neighbouring districts too participated in a massive meeting. In Tripura, the mass rally was addressed by leaders of the different trade unions, while in Jharkhand four processions merged into a march to the Raj Bhawan. In Tamilnadu, 6 regional rallies were held.
In Odisha also, workers marched to the Raj Bhawan, breaking the ban orders under Section 144 and held a meeting at the police barricade.
Reports from all over the country, including from Himachal Pradesh, UP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana show the anger and resentment of the working people against the government of India’s altitude towards their demands.
Huge struggles and campaigns are also taking place in several states, many of them under joint platform of the trade unions.
Notable among them was the strike preparation by the coal workers in the country. All the five federations of the workers of Coal India decided to go on a 3 days’ strike on 23rd to 25th September against the 10% disinvestment announced by the government. However, the strike was deferred to 17-19 December in view the discussions with the management.
Bank employees were also preparing for a day’s joint strike on 25th September, which was also postponed after discussions with the authorities.
Unions affiliated and also friendly to CITU in the central PSUs held demonstration all over the country on 23rd September against the policy of disinvestment and other anti-worker policies of the government. In Indian Oil Corporation, a Maharatna PSU, unions in refineries and marketing sections have given strike notices demanding dropping of the moves for disinvestment.
Lakhs of anganwadi employees and mid day meal workers are on struggle against the attempts of the government to handover these important schemes to private organisations and corporates. The All India Kisan Sabha, All India Agricultural Workers Union and All India Democratic Women’s Association are joining CITU in the country wide campaign to `Save ICDS’. Countrywide joint campaigns and movements have been planned to build up unity at grass root level.
On Trade Union Rights
Struggles to safeguard the basic trade union rights are continuing. The struggles against victimisation in MNCs like Maruti, Hyundai, Volvo, Nokia, Siemens and also in the factories of Indian corporates like Jindal, Mahindra and Mahindra, Bajaj etc were conducted during this period; some struggles are continuing.
It is of importance that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is helping and guiding Indian Trade Unions in conducting campaigns for ratification of core conventions of ILO by government of India. This includes the convention No.87 on right to organisation and convention No.98 on right to collective bargaining.
The situation in the country is getting worse with not only the workers, but also other sections like officers in the State Bank of India being forced to go on struggles against victimisations and for ensuring trade union rights. These officers under their only All India federation went on massive dharna in New Delhi on 8th September protesting vindictive actions of management. The High Court of Madras had to remind the SBI management that peaceful demonstrations are democratic rights and court nullified the charge sheets issued to the leaders in Chennai circle. The defiant attitude of the management regarding another judgement in favour of these officers has forced the court to summon the Chairman of SBI to the Court.
This vindictiveness on the part of employers in different sectors is in violation of all democratic norms and fundamental rights and is being resisted by the workers.
But, the attitude of the government is that of closing its eyes to the issues related to the workers. Almost all issues, even on those where a consensus was reached in the highest tripartite body, the Indian Labour Conference, are being thoroughly neglected. These include equal wage for equal work, Minimum Wages, worker’s status for scheme workers etc.
At the same time the government is going ahead with anti-worker legislations like PFRDA Bill. The government, which has snatched away the right of employees to pension, has now announced the formation of the Seventh Pay Commission, to be implemented from the year 2016! None can be cheated by the statements of government’s spokespersons that it cares for the rights of workers! This announcement on Pay Commission is as an effort to put on hold all issues concerned with government employees for the next two and half years!
Various reports about employment in the country point out to the reduction in employment and to the increasing contractorisation and casualisation even in the government departments and public sector enterprises, not to speak about the private sector. All the while, the government reassures the employers that it is ready with many amendments to the labour laws, which the employers are pressing for.
Amendment to ESI Rules
The recent announcement by the government, that the ESI scheme being extended to those earning up to Rs 25,000 per month, is an example of its duplicity. The monthly wage ceiling is being raised from Rs.15000 to 25000. At the same time, the long pending demand of unions to increase the wage ceilings in EPF, on the wage for eligibility under the Bonus Act is not being accepted. The increase in ESI wage ceiling is an attempt at fund mobilisation, not for expansion of medical benefits to the insured persons but to start medical colleges!
Our Prime Minister had announced that certain demands of workers are under serious consideration and ministers have been talking about increasing pension under the Employees Pension Scheme. But no decision is being taken on this. The Labour Minister has no time even to call a meeting of the central Board of Trustees of EPF. No meeting of the reconstituted CBT has been held though notification of reconstitution was issued in May 2013.
On to Parliament March
It is under these circumstances that the workers all over the country are getting ready for the massive march to Parliament on 12th December. Reports from various sectors from all over the country indicate that the mobilisation this will be much more than that on 23rd February 2011, which was the largest ever mobilisation of workers in the national capital.
With the UPA government not prepared to listen to the voice of workers and other toiling people, being only worried about the corporates and investors, the working people have no other alternative but to intensify their struggles. These struggles have to be linked to the struggles for an alternate set of policies, which will safeguard the interests of the common people in the country. Along with that, all efforts by various forces to create divisions in the ranks of the toiling masses have to be resisted and exposed so that the struggles can be conducted unitedly.