THE seventh conference of the All India Beedi Workers Federation (AIBWF), associated with the CITU, was held in Vellore in Tamil Nadu from September 14 to 16. The Tamil Nadu State Beedi Workers Union organised the conference and the entire Vellore city was beautifully decorated by CITU flags and festoons.
The opening session was organised at Vellore Mandy Street in the evening of September 14. Besides delegates and beedi workers of the state, hundreds of people attended the session. Prior to the opening session, a big rally began at the collector’s office and crisscrossed the city before reaching the venue. Kerala Labour Minister T P Ramakrishnan attended the opening session, presided over by state unit president of the federation M P Ramachandran. CITU leaders A K Padmanabhan, Malathy Chittibabu and G Sukumaran were also present.
Addressing the session, Ramakrishnan explained the nature of attacks and injustices perpetrated on beedi workers all over the country. The beedi workers have no fixed minimum wage, they are deprived of social security benefits such as provident fund and pension, and their housing grant and scholarship for their children are very irregular, he said. Healthcare benefits for the workers are also poor. He said various measures of the BJP dispensation at the Centre were taking away jobs of the poor beedi workers and the government failed to take any positive step to provide alternative jobs for them. Woman beedi workers face gender discrimination and sexual harassment. He demanded the BJP government take measures to eradicate these evils.
The delegate session commenced with the hoisting of the CITU flag by the senior most vice president of AIBWF, K P Sahadevan. The session was presided over by all the vice presidents of the federation, as its president B Madhaba could not attend the conference because of illness. The session was inaugurated by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member A K Padmanabhan. He spoke on the tasks before the delegates and the beedi workers.
AIBWF general secretary Debasish Roy placed his report and the report on accounts was placed by treasurer Paras Basu. Thirty-four delegates took part in the discussion on the general secretary’s report. Total 236 delegates from 11 states took part in the conference. These states reported a total membership of 3,55,318 in 2016.
The general secretary mentioned a 13-point charter of demands, among which the main point was a minimum national wage of Rs 350 for beedi workers. A call has also been given for a signature campaign. Signatures of 10 lakh beedi workers and their family members will be collected in support of the charter of demands which will be sent to the prime minister’s office by December. Roy said the social welfare fund has been abolished as cess collection has been stopped after the introduction of the GST. He demanded that the social welfare fund be continued with government contribution. A resolution was also passed on the three-day dharna of workers in New Delhi in November. After discussion, the reports were adopted unanimously. The concluding address was delivered by Padmanabhan.
The conference elected a new committee of 68 members with K P Sahadevan as president, Debasish Roy as general secretary, and Biman Sanyal as treasurer.