Eighth All India Conference of the All India Agricultural Workers Union
THE eighth all India conference of the All India Agricultural Workers Union was held at Warangal between July 30 and August 2. In many ways it was a historic event, being the first all India conference of any organisation to be held in the newly found state of Telangana. The process of organising it was also important as it was jointly hosted by the Andhra and Telangana committees of AIAWU with eminent personalities like the retired chief secretary of Andhra, K Madhavrao, retired IAS officer K R Venugopal, former Planning Commission member Ch. Hanumantha Rao among others being in the reception committee. On the other hand, the massive public rally whose chief speaker was chief minister of Tripura and CPI (M) Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar reflected the confidence the people reposed in CPI (M) leaders including Telangana state secretary T Veerabhadram, Telangana armed struggle veteran M Swarajyam and S Rajiah, MLA as well as AIAWU state secretaries of Andhra and Telangana Murli Krishna and B Venkat. The public meeting set the tone for the deliberations to come, in which 35 of the nearly 900 delegates from different parts of the country took active part.
The next day, the delegate session was organised at Hanamkonda, which was named after one of the most inspiring Communist leaders of the Telangana armed struggle, P Sundarayya. The AIAWU flag was unfurled by its president P Ramayya who, in his presidential address, called on the agricultural workers to join in the struggles to protect their rights by uniting peasants and agricultural labourers to break the stranglehold of landlords in the rural areas.
After this, the delegates paid homage to the many martyrs of the agricultural workers’ movement and leaders who served them all their lives as well as leaders of the world’s democratic movements and those of India.
The conference then chose a presidium consisting of P Ramayya, M V Govindan Master, Sarangdhar Paswan, Bhanu Lal Saha, S Thirunavukarasu and Komala Kumari. The steering committee consisted of A Vijayaraghavan, Suneet Chopra, Hannan Mollah and B Venkat. The resolutions committee consisted of Kumar Shiralkar, G Nagayya, B Raghavan, Nityanand Swami, Subhashini Ali and P K Sajida. The credential committee consisted of Murali Krishna, Gurmesh Singh, Brijlal Bharti, Pavan Duggal, G Mani, K Veeraiah and Sherly Kumari. The minutes committee consisted of Sisir Hui, Prakash Choudhury, Rajinder Chokhar and G K Nagaraj. The committee members represented delegations from Kerala, Telangana, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha, Bihar and the centre. Apart from these, there was a delegation from Madhya Pradesh and five fraternal delegates from West Bengal, reflecting the possibilities of expansion of the organisation in future.
There is every reason to expect this if we look at the figures of growth of the organisation since our last conference. This year, all states except Rajasthan, Haryana and Odisha have increased their membership. Overall, this increase in membership is from 50,54,502 in 2010-11 to 55,89,449 in 2013-14, a rise of 10.57 percent. Also it reflects the success of the organisation even in these difficult times by meeting its projected target for this conference. One of its significant successes was the growth of membership of united Andhra Pradesh from 15,14,760 to 16,05,912 in this period, despite the break-up of the state into two. Another significant feature is the growth of the organisation in the states of Punjab and UP. Punjab recorded a membership close to two lakhs, while UP for the first time has crossed the figure of one lakh. States like Kerala and Tripura have reached the limits of their expansion but are recruiting more and more rural labour into their fold, while other states have considerable potential for expansion into new areas in future, with the success of this conference.
IN SERIOUS CRISIS
In his inaugural address, Prabhat Patnaik pointed out how the agricultural economy was in a serious crisis with the ruling classes pursuing a policy in which finance capital was being given a boost while the rural economy and petty production were being burdened with the cost of paying for unequal growth. Agricultural labour lay at its base and was paying the highest price for it.
This price was in terms of a decline in the per capita availability of foodgrains, work available in agriculture and the failure to conduct thoroughgoing land reforms to boost petty production and ensure the survival of the vast mass of our people who live in the rural areas and are engaged in it. This was not the result of mere economic developments but a result of policies like reducing government investment in agriculture, cutting down on the farmers’ share of value added in agriculture, and no control on big players in the commodity market.
The neo-liberal policies being pursued under the presence of finance capital have only worsened the condition of the people, marked by suicides of farmers, hunger deaths and displacement as a result of their marginalisation in the face of the accumulation of wealth and resources in the hand of a few at the cost of the pauperisation of the vast majority of our people. Patnaik asserted that it was not a question of having no alternative, but rather a matter of changing existing policies in a pro-people direction. This could be done by ensuring the unity of peasants and agricultural labour as a vast reservoir of creativity in our economy. In the years after Independence the crucial role of the peasantry active in the anti-colonial struggle had forced the ruling classes to provide economic support to it, even as the bourgeois landlord state was bent on not conducting land reforms and even now the government at the centre and in many states persist in pursuing neo-liberal policies whose failure does not deter them from going ahead with them.
New solutions could be worked out along different lines for which organisations of peasants and agricultural labour can become an important lever for pro-people changes in the countryside that can bring relief to them. The conference, therefore, was an important step ahead in this direction.
Presenting the general secretary’s report, A Vijayaraghavan called on the delegates to build a nationwide movement to protect agricultural workers from the serious threat of hunger, pressure of the price rise, growing unemployment, dispossession of their assets and distress migration. In this process, the total percentage of landless people went up from 35 percent in 1987-89 to 49 percent in 2011-12. He also called on the union to expand its operations to other parts of the country and to other sections of the rural workers who are eking out their livelihood from non-agricultural operations. Referring to the second part of his report analysing the calls the union has responded to on the all India, state and local levels, he expressed the confidence that on the basis of this activity the union had become a weapon to fight for our demands.
He called on the organisation to build up movements on wage and employment notably the implementation and expansion of MNREGA, issues of house sites and the land question in their respective states and also to organise a national level campaign against the attempts to dilute the land reforms acts by various state governments. He also called on the state units of the union to study the concrete changes that are taking place in agriculture in their areas and frame concrete demands around which agricultural workers can be mobilised and inspired to struggle. He also stressed the need to organise dalits and adivasis to protect their legal rights and resist the atrocities taking place against them.
In his intervention in the conference, S Ramachandran Pillai, former president of the All India Kisan Sabha and CPI (M) Polit Bureau member, made some important observations on the present situation and our task. He noted the rightward shift in the political spectrum of the country as a result of international finance capital and corporates that gave wholehearted support to the BJP in this election, so one can expect an aggressive neo-liberal policy to be pursued and the curtailment of social welfare measures like MNREGA on the one hand, and the infiltration of RSS and other Sangh Parivar forces into the political institutions, the educational system, and the social and cultural life of our people on the other.
This will naturally see attacks on trade union and democratic rights through anti-people economic policies and the perspective of Hindutva which will come into conflict with the people’s aspirations and needs. This will lead to resistance to the control of finance capital and corporates in the context of their attempts to ensure deeper penetration of capitalism in the rural areas. In this context, it is important to take up issues affecting the people and organise movements based on them. But we are strong in only some states and weak in others.
We must ask ourselves why we are weak in these states. Could there be a disconnect between our slogans and their hopes and aspirations? This is an important area for our serious introspection. This should include a broad spectrum including the language, behaviour and activities of our members. How far it inspires confidence among the masses and what is our quality of activity at different levels of the organisation. This requires the development of cadres tested in struggles at every level and especially women and youth who were attending the conference in larger numbers than before. The targeting of such cadres and increasing our capacity to engage in united struggles in other sections and classes is the need of the time. It must be a part of our deliberations and introspection with a perspective of changing our existing style of work and improving it.
The conference was also addressed by AIKS, CITU, SFI, DYFI and AIDWA all India leaders and the BKMU general secretary, Nagendra Nath Ojha.
Resolutions on the demand of comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour, worker-peasant alliance, communalism, MNREGA, condemning atrocities on SC, STs and women, food security, opposing the changes in labour laws, condemning inhuman attacks by the Israeli army on Palestinians, and condemning brutal attacks on Left and democratic forces in West Bengal were passed as was a resolution to change the constitution to allow limits on the number of office-bearers to be removed and the constitution of a secretariat.
The conference elected a new general council with 131 members, of which seven places were left vacant, and a working committee of 51 members was elected in the first general council meeting. The new office-bearers were as follows: S Thirunavukarasu (president); five vice-presidents – P Ramayya, Bhanu Lal Saha, M V Govindan Master, Subhashini Ali and Gurmesh Singh; general secretary A Vijayraghavan; five joint secretaries – Suneet Chopra, B Venkat, Kumar Shiralkar, Brij Lal Bharti and Sarangdhar Paswan. Three secretariat members were also elected: B Raghavan, P Murli Krishna and Komala Kumari, forming a secretariat of 15 members.
According to the credentials committee report, 830 delegates gave information. 181 delegates were below 40 years, 232 were between 40 and 50 years, and 232 between 50 and 60 years while 27 delegates were above 70 years of age. The youngest delegate was from Telangana and the oldest from Kerala. 19 percent of the delegates were women. 54.82 percent were from agricultural labour families, 19 percent from poor and marginal farmers. 57.6 percent were whole-timers and 14.5 percent were agricultural workers. 42.3 per cent were landless and 33 percent had less than one acre of land. 57.5 percent earned less than Rs 10,000 a month, 40 per cent less than Rs 5,000 per month. 23.5 percent of the delegates were graduates or post-graduates and only 15 were illiterate. 783 had been jailed with the longest period being 14 years in the case of Ch Tejeswara Rao of Andhra Pradesh.
On August 1, P Sainath, noted journalist and activist, Prof. Sheila Bhalla, economist and B V Raghavulu, CPI (M) Polit Bureau member spoke on issues affecting agricultural labour.
For three days, the Safdar Hashmi Open Theatre presented more than a dozen cultural performances which were a major attraction for the delegates. Addressing the conference on behalf of the reception committee, B Venkat thanked the working committee of AIAWU for giving Telangana the chance to hold a memorable conference which highlighted the fact that public support to mass organisations like AIAWU is huge and this support is likely to be expanded in the coming programmes of struggle.