DIFFERENT organisations of scheme workers affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions came together on July 11 in Pune and formed a state co-ordination committee of scheme workers. The organisations represented in the meeting were, Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatana, State ASHA and Group Facilitator Federation (Maharashtra Rajya ASHA va Gatpravartak Federation), Mid-Day Meal Workers Union (Maharashtra Shaleya Poshan Ahar Kamgar Sanghatana) and Child Labour Project Workers Union (Bal Kamgar Shikshak va Sevak Union). They elected Salim Patel as adhoc convenor. The meeting decided to hold a state level scheme workers’ rally in Mumbai on August 3. Intensive preparations were taken up in all nooks and corners of Maharashtra. General body meetings, workshops, project and PHC level meetings and district level rallies were held in Chandrapur, Nagpur, Wardha, Amaravati, Buldana, Jalgaon, Nasik, Aurangabad, Jalna, Nanded, Beed, Pune, Solapur, Satara and Mumbai.
On August 3, scheme workers, most of them women workers, started pouring in from early morning. ASHA workers were maximum in number. Anganwadi workers, though they had two district agitations and one state agitation in Mumbai in July itself, came in good number. Mid-day Meal workers and Child Labour project workers also participated. The Azad Maidan was overcrowded and the workers had to encroach upon the pandals of other rallies and also footpaths. The total number exceeded 5,000 in the morning itself. Women workers gave slogans, sang revolutionary songs and also spoke about their plight.
CITU national secretary and AIFAWH president Usha Rani spoke about the anti-worker, anti-people policies of the Modi government and the necessity to give a united fight against them to safeguard the basic rights of the beneficiaries and also for our rights as workers. CITU state president Dr D L Karad assured the scheme workers that the entire strength of the CITU is behind them and they should march forward. CITU state general secretary M H Shaikh called for a more organised fight against the policies of the state government. CITU state treasurer K R Raghu, other office bearers Uddhav Bhavalkar, Vijay Gabhane, Dr S K Rege, Rameshchandra Dahiwade, Adv Armaity Irani, Kalpana Shinde and many other leaders spoke.
Shubha Shamim presided over the public meeting. Mariam Dhawale, national general secretary of AIDWA spoke supporting the struggle and also called for the unity of workers and women, as the women workers were also exploited on the basis of gender. Many ASHA workers including president of the state federation Netradeepa Patil and Jyoti spoke in the public meeting. Anganwadi leaders Safia Khan, Hirabai Ghonge, Sajeda Begum spoke about their ongoing struggle. Mid-day Meal workers’ leader Prabhakar Nagargoje and Child Labour Project Workers’ leaders Siddharam Umarani and Sunanda Khade also spoke. Many other CITU leaders in charge of the scheme workers in their respective districts also spoke. Salim Patel, convenor of the co-ordination committee, anchored the public meeting.
Workers patiently waited for the call for the delegation to meet the respective ministers and gave slogans continuously for more than four hours. They started losing their patience when all the speakers spoke and the public meeting was about to end, when Shubha Shamim started her presidential speech. She gave a call for militant action and putting more strength in future struggles. As she gave a call for resistance to the apathy of the government towards welfare schemes, and workers who were the backbone of these schemes, women workers marched towards the barricades and throwing them away, came out on the roads. They blocked the main road in front of the BMC building. The police tried frantically to stop them but the women insisted on a meeting of the delegation with the WCD, health, education and labour ministers. After the police started calling their counterparts in Vidhan Bhavan, they told the leaders that the WCD minister Pankaja Munde has called the delegation and other ministers are being contacted and they are trying to call them back as they have already left the Vidhan Bhavan. The house was adjourned early that day due to the ruckus on the corruption issue of the minister for housing.
The four delegations were taken to the Vidhan Bhavan after the women left the road and re-entered Azad Maidan after leaders appealed to them. The delegations had to wait for the ministers as they had already left the venue. The first minister to arrive was WCD Minister Pankaja Munde. The delegation discussed with her in detail. The first issue which was discussed was raising honorarium on the basis of service and education. She told that the proposal given by the honorarium committee was finalised by the WCD department and sent to the finance department for approval. After approval, it will be placed in the cabinet meeting and announced. Meanwhile a meeting with the CM will be arranged with the Anganwadi Action Committee in the coming week. The other issues discussed were the uncalled for change in the criteria for the promotion of workers to supervisor’s post, from 10th pass to 12th. The issue of handing over the supply of supplementary nutrition food for the children of the 3-6 age group to corporate companies, snatching it away from the hundreds of women belonging to local self-help groups, leaving them unemployed, was also taken up. The packaged pre-mixed food replacing the freshly cooked local food may also affect the life-long food habits of the children, hampering their growth in the long run. The minister assured to stay the ongoing tendering process if the CM agrees.
After the meeting with the WCD minister, the delegation insisted on meeting the other concerned ministers and sat there. The women workers in Azad Maidan also started going on the roads disturbing the traffic. The police again tried hard and at last, the health minister Deepak Sawant arrived to meet the delegation. He discussed the demand of ASHAs and group facilitators to give fixed honorarium like Kerala, Telangana and other states, plus raising the work based incentives. He agreed to discuss the matter with the union minister and propose and approve fixed honorarium in the state budget and also try for central honorarium. When our representatives reported about the sexual harassment faced by an ASHA working in a PHC in Parali, district Beed, the minister immediately called the DHO, then and there, and asked him to conduct an enquiry and transfer the concerned MO with immediate effect. When the delegation insisted on meeting other ministers, the police again contacted them and the education minister gave an appointment for the next day. Our delegation met him on August 4 and he also agreed to look into the demands, especially raising the honorarium of the MDM workers.
The scheme workers waited patiently for the delegation to return. Meanwhile Dr D L Karad and M H Shaikh had met the CM along with J P Gavit, CPI(M) MLA and presented him the memorandum. The CM also gave positive response to the demands and agreed to have a meeting on the issue with concerned ministers. The delegation then returned to the venue of the rally and the discussions with the ministers and the CM were reported to the workers. The rally was concluded by Dr Karad with an appeal to strengthen the respective organisations of Anganwadi, ASHA, Mid-day Meal and Child Labour Project Workers under the CITU banner and also consolidate their co-ordination. He also called for intensifying their struggles with steps like total strike, in case the government goes back on its word to fulfill the demand of raising their honorarium. The rally concluded with the determination of participating in the Delhi rally of ASHA workers and the forthcoming Anganwadi strike in full strength.