July 12, 2015

Gear-up for the September 2 General Strike


THE working committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions called upon the working class of India to strive to convert the September 2 country wide general strike into an unprecedented massive action of all sections of working people to give a stern warning to the BJP led Modi government that its anti-worker and anti-people policies will no longer be tolerated. The working committee made an elaborate plan for a massive campaign among all sections of the workers, men and women, organised and unorganised sectors, by putting into practice the call of the 14th conference of CITU to ‘reach the unreached’. The meeting of CITU working committee was held in ‘Parsa Satyanarayana Nagar’ in Chennai from July 2-4. The dais was named after PK Ganguly. R Singaravelu, vice chairman of the reception committee welcomed the participants. AK Padmanabhan, president of CITU presided over the meeting. In his presidential address, Padmanabhan extended warm greetings of CITU to workers across the world who are heroically fighting against the onslaughts of the ruling classes on their working and living conditions. Welcoming the decision of the central government employees including the railway and defence employees to go on an indefinite strike from November 23 this year, Padmanabhan extended the solidarity of CITU to their struggle. Referring to the call of the joint trade union movement for a country wide general strike, 16th since the advent of the neo-liberal policies in the country in 1991, he reiterated that the issues of price rise, universal public distribution system, employment generation, pension and social security for all, raised by the joint trade union movement are not demands of the workers alone but encompassed the demands of all sections of toiling people. The present BJP led NDA government, like the erstwhile Congress led UPA government totally ignored these demands and was fast tracking its neo-liberal agenda to appease the big corporate and business houses. He observed that the 40th anniversary of Vietnam’s historic victory over US imperialism, the 70th anniversary of victory over fascism, the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki fall in this year. This was an apt time to highlight the imperialist offensive on the people in the quest to establish its hegemony, and rededicate ourselves to the struggle against imperialism, wars and nuclear arms. Similarly, the 70th anniversary of World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the only class oriented international trade union, has to be observed in a befitting manner, he said. Referring to the conditions of the workers around the world, he said that ruling classes continued to use ‘austerity measures’ as a tool to intensify exploitation. The attacks on the economic rights of the working people are accompanied by attacks on their social and political rights as well. The economic crisis that started in 2008 continues to grip the world despite claims of ‘green shoots’ and ‘recovery’. India was no exception. Unemployment continues to be a serious problem across the globe. ILO has estimated that there were 3 crores more unemployed in the world in 2014 than before the start of the global crisis in 2008; regular employment was coming down. There was an increase in short term contracts, irregular hours etc; wage and salaried employment was only half of global employment and only 45 percent of salaried and wage workers were full time permanent workers; in most developing countries informal employment and unpaid family work were very high with women’s share in such employment being disproportionately high. The ILO report significantly notes that ‘reducing protection for workers does not lower unemployment’. This only shows that the labour law amendments being undertaken in India were only to facilitate maximisation of profits for the corporates. Inequalities were growing worldwide including in India. USA where the top 10 percent controls 76 percent of all wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.5 percent was the worst. Large scale protests and struggles including strikes were held by the workers, youth and common people against austerity measures and to protect their benefits in different parts of Europe, including Britain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. The discontent of the people against the policies of their respective governments was reflected in the elections in several countries. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in the Mayoral elections in Barcelona and Madrid in Spain won on anti austerity platform. But where no credible Left alternative was available, right wing forces gained as is seen in the return to power with comfortable majority of the Conservative party in Britain. Padmanabhan asserted that in the prevailing situation, the coming days are going to be days of struggle. The working class has to be in the forefront in these struggles. In the context of our country, these struggles have to be directed against the neo-liberal policies as well as the divisive communal policies of the Sangh Parivar and impose a decisive defeat on both of these. Communalism of both the majority and minority hues has to be combated and defeated. CITU has a critical role to play on this crucial issue taking it up from its independent platform and educating workers on the importance of class unity. He warned the working class and the people not to get carried away by the deceptive slogans of the BJP government like ‘Shrameve Jayate’, and ‘Annadata Sukhibhava’ even while attacking the rights of the workers and driving peasants to suicides through its policies. CITU has to expand its activities to the residential areas as well, intervening in all the issues connected with lives of all sections of working people and explain the basic features of the government’s anti-people policies and its impacts and the nefarious activities of the various communal and divisive forces. He appealed to the working class to turn the September 2 general strike into a milestone in the history of the working class movement of India. Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU placed the report that noted in detail the policy measures of the government and their impact on the people, particularly on the working class. The report also self critically analysed the activities since the last general council meeting in Bellary around one year back in the background of the challenges presented by the current situation. It laid out concrete tasks for the political, ideological and organisational advance of CITU among the working class. Tapan Sen observed that in the wake of the continuing global crisis, imperialism and global finance capital have increased their attempts to subjugate the economies of the developing countries and influence their policies to serve the interests of world corporates and finance capital. These impact the situation in our country as well. While the BJP led NDA government is aggressively implementing neo-liberal policies as per the dictates of global finance capital, the RSS and its Hindutva brigade are seeking to disrupt the unity and united resistance to these policies by the people through their communal divisive agenda. At the same time, the government is trying to mislead the people through its deceptive propaganda about its social welfare schemes ably aided by the corporate controlled media. Its slogan of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ is not just a project of privatising PSUs, public asset/infrastructure, natural resources and public utility services, but a project of privatisation of the entire governance. This ‘dhan wapsi’ to corporate donors through the economic policies and the ‘ghar wapsi’ of the RSS and its parivar are integral part of the heinous strategy of the Modi government to consolidate the neo-liberal regime. Democratic institutions, norms and practices were being ignored by the government. The Ordinance route was resorted to get through several retrograde legislations that met with hurdles in the Rajya Sabha. Governors were being used to subvert elected state governments as in the case of Delhi. The pro-corporate and anti-people bias of the government was exposed by the drastic cut in all social sector allocations including health, education and rural development, like Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), National Health Mission (NHM), Mid Day Meal programme etc and the huge increase in indirect taxes while providing liberal bonanza to the big corporate, business lobby through tax cuts and exemptions. The Bibek Debroy committee on railways appointed by the government gave a notorious report that includes total privatisation of railways, handing all its different components to corporates and robbing government of one of its major financial resources. If implemented, this will impose huge burdens on the passengers and the people in general. The government is seeking to justify these measures on the pretext of attracting investment and generating employment. Tapan Sen asserted that these were totally unfounded claims which have been repudiated by experience world over. Despite all the noise about ‘Make in India’, the number of major projects stalled and abandoned have increased from 341 and 69 in 2013 -14 to 363 and 101 in 2014 -15, the main reasons being cited as unfavourable market, lack of funds, hurdles in various clearances etc. There is widespread closure/shutdown of industrial units. However, majority of them are not reported. But even the officially reported figures are alarming. 13.70 lakh registered companies in the country have closed down by the end of 2014, most of them without following the necessary legal procedures and requirements. These include MNCs like Nokia and Foxconn in Tamilnadu, big industries like Jessop, Hind Motors, Dunlop and several jute mills and tea gardens in West Bengal etc. Yet no action is taken against any of these owners. The substantial underutilisation of capacity in electricity generation reflects the gloom in the economy. Even when more than 35 percent population in our country do not have access to electricity, the electricity generation plants, both in public as well as private sector are not producing to their fullest capacity. The Plant Load Factor in many central public sector generation units has been considerably lowered in the last year; many power generation plants in the private sector are not producing any power or producing hardly one third their capacity. Common people are burdened with high tariffs while major corporates enjoy cheap electricity. The state electricity boards are burdened with huge losses. The BJP government is pushing through the Electricity Amendment bill 2014 designed to throw entire electricity sector to market forces, for the private sector to mint windfall profits. The working class of the country has been raising its voice against the neo-liberal policies that not only attack its working and living conditions but also loot and plunder the nation and the people. That is the reason for the aggressive and determined attempts of the ruling classes to particularly target the working class, to suppress the working class movement. The total overhauling of labour laws are meant to achieve this and eliminate whatever little legal protection the workers in the organised sector have achieved through their hard struggles. Even while going ahead with its attempts to amend all the major labour laws, the BJP government has directed all the state governments to push through these laws at the state level. In addition to the Rajasthan government, several state governments including the BJP ruled governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and the TDP ruled Andhra Pradesh have amended their labour laws. Other state governments including Congress ruled Himachal Pradesh and SP ruled Uttar Pradesh have announced their intention to follow suit. On the pretext of rationalisation of labour laws, the Government of India has decided to merge 44 labour laws into 5 Labour Codes, virtually eliminating all the rights of the workers that these laws provide at present and putting in place draconian measures to convert workers into bonded labour. It has reintroduced the Fixed Term Employment that the UPA government was forced to rescind. Social security rights of the workers under the EPF and ESI Acts are also being handed over to the market forces. The entire exercise of labour law changes is directed towards completely demolishing the right to freedom of association and right to collective bargaining and unleash a regime of employers’ raj at the workplaces. At the same time, the government is trying to project itself as pro labour by announcing some welfare and pension schemes for unorganised sector workers with great fanfare. The schemes are only modifications of some existing schemes without any financial support from the government. There is no implementation machinery. The entire corporate controlled media is being utilised to create illusions about the prospect of a bright future with a time lag to legitimise its project of curbing and looting peoples’ rights on all fronts. Tapan Sen said that this situation makes it imperative for the working class movement to expose the real face of the Modi regime and its disastrous impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people. Sufferings of the people have increased many times, their resentment and anger are being expressed in various ways throughout the country, but the real task is to link their anger and resentment with the root cause of their miseries- the imperialist driven neo-liberal policy regime and the politics that drive it. This requires special initiative to expand trade union activities beyond the work place to establish linkage with society and the common people. CITU took steps towards this through its initiative in ‘Save ICDS’ and on the issue of electricity. However, much progress could not be achieved as the political and ideological importance of such joint actions and the responsibility of the CITU in initiating them have not yet been fully understood by most of the state committees. Even where some initiative has been taken, there was no follow up and monitoring to ensure their effective implementation. There is a serious weakness in activating our cadres at all levels. It is necessary to realise that without involving all cadres and activists up to the union level committees, who are actually in contact with the grass root level workers, it is not possible to unleash the initiative at all levels of our organisation and reach the common workers, the unreached, with the political, ideological understanding of the CITU. The general secretary’s report also observed that workers in the industrial sector have been consistently in the midst of struggles braving atrocities and victimisation from both their employers and also the government at the centre and in the states. The central government employees including the railway and defence employees are preparing for an indefinite strike from November 23 this year. In the unorganised sector as well, there have been numerous events of struggles and militant mobilisations throughout the country, particularly by the scheme workers. CITU affiliated unions took the initiative in all these actions and mobilisations, both at the centre and in almost all the states. This reflects the potential of the workers to assert against the capitalist exploitation, if such fighting spirit can be properly combined with appropriate consciousness about the brazenly anti-worker character of the present politico-economic regime. CITU has taken up a month long independent campaign in May on the demands that are raised by the joint trade union movement and also highlighted the issues of Land Acquisition Ordinance, curtailment of MGNREGA, of the social welfare schemes and the rising communal danger. The whole purpose was to prepare ground for a countrywide general strike against the policies of the BJP led Government of India as well as of the state governments following the same policies. It was decided to plan the campaign in such a manner so that not only are the anti-worker and anti-people policies of the governments are exposed but the politics behind these policies are also effectively explained to the widest sections of workers, beyond the membership of CITU. Though the May campaign was observed in almost all the states with varying degrees of seriousness, it could have been much more widespread and effective if CITU could have involved the grass root level activists and cadres on a much more larger scale and with proper planning. The report affirmed that elevating the consciousness of the mass of the workers is indispensable and essential in meeting the challenges thrown by the present right wing government at the centre. The general secretary’s report warned that the government might try to create confusion among the workers including some trade unions by spreading vicious misinformation campaign to thwart the strike preparations and create difficulties. It called upon all the CITU affiliated unions and the state committees to make detailed and minute planning to face any challenge and take the demands, policies and politics to the last worker and convert the strike into a historic one. It emphasised that independent campaign has a very important role in reaching the unreached including those under the influence of other trade unions and the non unionised workers. It is crucial to identify sectors like the road transport that create visible impact of strike. The specific concerns of different sections of the workers must be focussed while campaigning for the strike, relating the demands to their issues and government policies. The sectoral federations led by the CITU have to take initiative to rally all the organisations in their sectors for the success of the strike. Such initiatives have already been taken in some important sectors and have to be taken up in all the others. The workers who are in a position to take the message of the strike to the remotest corners of the country have to be properly equipped to undertake this task effectively. The general secretary’s report also emphasised the need to highlight issues like agrarian crisis and land acquisition ordinance which find place in the joint declaration adopted in the Joint National Convention of workers on May 26, in the independent campaign by CITU. Wherever possible the fraternal organisations of peasants and agricultural workers should be involved in the campaign. Efforts should be made to protect and strengthen the unity of all toiling people and bring them into struggles to effectively rebuff the anti-people policies. The CITU working committee decided to observe an all India Day against the land acquisition ordinance, in solidarity with the peasantry on July 30. Tapan Sen emphasised the importance of involving the young cadres in the campaign, in planning as well as implementation of the entire campaign to unleash their initiatives. He exhorted the working committee members to make all-out efforts and exert all their energies to ensure the overwhelming success of the strike to truly reflect the spreading resentment among all sections of the working people against the BJP led government. In a box: A SPECIAL session of the working committee of CITU, on July 3-4 was devoted to specifically discuss the issue of sexual harassment and violence against working women. The issue was discussed in an extended meeting of the All India Coordination Committee of Working Women (CITU) on July 1 in which general secretaries of 14 state committees of CITU and a state secretary in charge of working women who is also an all India office bearer participated. Both the president and general secretary of the CITU were also present. A note prepared on the basis of the inputs from this meeting was placed by Hemalata, secretary, CITU in the working committee. 17 working committee members participated in the discussion on the note and endorsed its contents. Specific guidelines were formulated by the working committee to address these issues by the CITU committees and affiliated unions. The working committee directed all the state committees and affiliated unions of CITU to take up the specific issues of working women including equal wages, maternity benefit and crèche, sexual harassment and violence against women. It decided to organise a national level workshop on the issue of sexual harassment at workplace to create awareness on the issue and the related Act. The need to develop skills to deal with such issues was also emphasised. The working committee of CITU called upon all its cadres to overcome the patriarchal attitudes and ensure women cadres and activists are promoted and given responsibilities which should not be confined to the women specific unions alone. Concrete tasks were also taken for a wide campaign among working women for the success of the September 2 general strike and advance CITU’s work among working women.