THE 10TH national conference of the All India Road Transport Workers’ Federation (AIRTWF) was held in Visakhapatnam from June 4 to June 6. It began with a rally of 5,000-strong workers, which culminated with an open meeting at the Gandhi statue near the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation office. The delegate session was held at the Kalabharathi Auditorium in Maddilapalem, which was named as Sujit Das Nagar in memory of the founder-general secretary of the federation. Delegates from all over the country participated in the conference.
The organisation flag was hoisted by the president of the AIRTWF, Mohammad Amin, followed by the laying of wreaths at the martyrs’ column. Inaugurating the conference, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said that in a step towards garnering profits for the corporate sector, the government is trying to privatise state transport corporations bringing amendments into the Motor Vehicles Act. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill will affect even petty private transport owners, who will be wiped off because of heavy penalties and change in rules. The corporate sector is mainly concentrating on a two-pronged approach -- monopolisation of the transport sector and privatisation of state road transport corporations. He said nowhere in the world the public transport is running in profits. Everywhere, the government is subsidising the loss incurred in the public transport as it belongs to common public and comes under essential services sector. So, it is the government’s responsibility to cross subsidise the losses.
Leaders of all the fraternal trade unions participated in the conference and expressed their solidarity with road transport workers in their struggle. AIRTWF general secretary K K Divakaran presented the report. The conference discussed the national and international scenario and observed that the neo-liberal policies being pursued by the governments world over have pushed the workers into oppressive living conditions. It has increased the inequalities wherein the richest one per cent of the population control half of the world’s total wealth. The global economic crises have deepened and several countries have taken away the hard-won rights of the workers in the name of austerity measures. In India too, the aggressive policies being followed by the BJP-led government have put the public sector in the country in serious operational disadvantage. The budget allocations for welfare schemes, health and education and subsidies on fertilisers and petroleum products have been reduced drastically by the Modi government.
The demonetisation move has affected millions of lives of workers, particularly in the unorganised sector. There was a 40 per cent revenue loss in the transport sector. The prices of essential commodities are raising continuously, including the hike in diesel and petrol prices. The BJP’s promise of providing two crore jobs every year has been proved wrong, while we are now witnessing job losses in all sectors. The government is dividing the people of the country on communal issues. The government is resorting to authoritarian and fascistic measures to tackle dissent. It is also resorting to physical attacks in states such as Kerala and West Bengal.
The road transport sector accounts for about 6.4 per cent of the GDP. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Modi government in the Lok Sabha, with an intention to privatise the entire system by handing it over to corporates. This would result in loss of employment for several lakh of workers. The transport workers across the country have opposed the legislation and gone on strike with all fraternal trade unions on April 30, 2015. Transport workers in both private and public sectors participated in the strike. This bill is also detrimental to autos and taxis, which cannot compete with the corporate entities. The bill proposes to encourage private permits indiscriminately. Lakh of workers in private buses, lorry, driving schools, automobile workshops and spare parts shops will lose their livelihood. The state transport corporations will be affected. The bill is yet to be passed in the Rajya Sabha.
The AIRTWF website was launched by CITU president K Hemalatha. She said that the transport sector was a key sector in the Indian economy, and the campaign against the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill must be taken to the common public also. The RSS is diverting the attention of the people from the issues concerning the people. She stressed the need to organise more workers and to take up the day-to-day issues concerning them.
Tapan Sen, speaking on the role of the AIRTWF, applauded the continuous efforts made by it in taking the movement to the lower levels. He stressed that the moto of the CITU – ‘Reach the unreached’ – should be adopted by the federation. He cited the opening of new horizons in the ambit of trade union movement in the private transport sector by quoting the examples of UBER and OLA drivers participating in the April 30 strike in different states. He stressed the time has come for the federation to spread it wings to more and more people involving common public and all transport workers by conducting more and more awareness programmes, workshops, seminars to increase its membership and prepare the cadre for future agitation and action programmes. He appreciated the Visakhapatnam unit of the federation, which within one-and-a-half years of its formation successfully organised the national conference.
Delegates from 17 states participated in the conference and discussed on the issues concerning the workers. The Haryana road transport workers went on a three-day strike against the route privatisation proposal of the state government, forcing its withdrawal. The Tripura committee has put in special efforts to “reach the unreached” and organise more and more workers. A satyagraha movement was organised throughout Assam against the MV (Amendment) Bill. The Bihar unit led an agitation demanding consolidated salaries for ‘Parivahan Mitras’ who are deputed as agents in RTA offices. The Punjab unit undertook a major struggle to get PF from Swaraj Mazda factory to the tune of Rs 3.38 crore for private transport workers. The Andhra Pradesh committee has consolidated its membership from 12,000 to 27,721, and from 3,000 to 9,662 in other transport workers. The Tamil Nadu unit has a membership of 33,000.
The transport workers across the country have resolved to fight against the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill. The conference demanded a separate unorganized sector workers welfare act for private transport workers to be enacted in Parliament, social welfare measures such as PF, ESI and insurance for all transport workers and resting facilities for drivers. The conference resolved to fight against the oppression on Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and women workers, and for equal wages for equal work and strengthening state transport undertakings. The conference unanimously elected Shyamal Chakraborty as president, K K Divakaran as general secretary, R Lakshmaiah as deputy general secretary and Chandrasekhar Pillai as treasurer.