Vol. XLIII No. 24 June 16, 2019
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FIFTY YEARS OF CITU: Class Unity and Class Struggle

Hemalata

IT was with this vision that the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) was founded in 1970, the yearlong Golden Jubilee celebrations of which will start on its Foundation Day this year – May 30. This vision was clearly spelt out in the constitution of CITU thus: ‘The CITU believes that the exploitation of the working class can be ended only by socialising all means of production, distribution and exchange and establishing a Socialist State. Holding fast the ideals of socialism, the CITU stands for the complete emancipation of the society from all exploitation’.

 

Further, ‘It firmly adheres to the position that no transformation can be brought about without class struggle and shall constantly repel attempts to take the working class along the path of class collaboration’. 

 

This vision stood the test of times. Fifty years of experience has further strengthened CITU’s determination to carry forward this vision and achieve its constitutional objectives.

 

Today, when CITU celebrates the Golden Jubilee of its foundation, it can look back with satisfaction at its role in bringing almost all the central trade unions on to a joint platform, in formulating a common charter of demands and for being in the forefront in all joint campaigns and struggles. The joint struggles have helped in evolving a common understanding about the neoliberal policies and the danger of communalism in the trade union movement, of course with the exception of BMS, the trade union wing of the RSS.

 

CITU today carries the legacy of the struggles and sacrifices of the thousands of workers and cadres who believed, since the days of the struggle for independence, in class struggle as a means to end all exploitation and transform society, who believed in Socialism as an alternative to the exploitative capitalist system. It carries the legacy of those who envisioned such an exploitation free society when they formed the first national trade union centre, a century ago. Thus on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee it pledges to carry forward the 100 years of struggles and sacrifices of the working class as well as its 50 years’ fight for class unity.

 

Today, the working class and all sections of the toiling people are seething with anger and discontent against the neoliberal policies being pursued by the successive governments at the centre during the last around three decades. The onslaught on the working class has further intensified under the BJP led regime of Modi. The workplaces are fast changing with the number of permanent workers being drastically reduced; even the contract workers are being replaced with Fixed Term Employees, trainees, apprentices etc; work is being outsourced. Labour laws are being amended to deprive the workers of their hard won rights and benefits. Wages remain stagnant. Women workers face even more problems with increasing harassment at workplaces including sexual harassment. Unemployment has risen to the highest in 45 years. The BJP government has abysmally failed to address these issues. Rather it has worsened their conditions and increased their miseries. Despite all the rhetoric of ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’, the BJP led government is the most anti-national government our country has ever seen. It has sought to privatise all our national resources and wealth including the public sector enterprises in the strategic sectors like defence, railways, telecom, insurance, banking etc. It has embarked upon the path of destroying all the country’s autonomous and prestigious historic, scientific and cultural institutions. 

 

In addition, BJP and its mentor RSS have been continuously attacking working class unity to weaken united struggles. Thereby they serve their corporate masters, domestic and foreign.

 

In this situation, CITU is conscious of the need to channelise the existing discontent and anger among the working class into higher united struggles and develop its consciousness to discharge its historic responsibility to lead the struggle to change society. CITU has to take up this task with due seriousness and urgency on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee.

 

GENESIS OF CITU

CITU was born at a time when the working class of the country was simmering with discontent and anger at the growing attacks on their working and living conditions. Closures, job losses, increasing contractorisation, denial of collective bargaining rights, social security benefits etc resulted in outbursts of struggles and strikes in different sectors in different parts of the country. Jute workers, coal workers, steel workers, textile workers, transport workers and hundreds of thousands of workers in various other industries, were all on the struggle path. The working class in the states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra etc were particularly in the forefront.

 

The need of the hour was to unite all the workers in each sector, to unite all the workers in all sectors into a common united struggle against these attacks, against the policies of the then government, against the exploitative policy regime. The need of the hour was to unite the entire trade union movement to build a powerful class struggle against these attacks as well as the policies.

 

But the then leadership of the dominant Left trade union, AITUC chose, not the path of class struggle but the path of class collaboration in the name of the ‘two pillar policy’. The very idea of class struggle was sought to be ridiculed. The section of leadership within the AITUC that favoured class unity and class struggle was harassed, victimised and undemocratically and unceremoniously removed from leadership positions, from the unions. The unions that supported class struggle were denied affiliation; their affiliations were cancelled.

 

In addition, the leaders and cadres of the militant trade unions which rejected the class collaborationist policies and were leading the militant trade union struggles were also targeted by the state governments. In West Bengal, hundreds of such leaders and cadres were being targeted, arrested and jailed. Even before the semi fascist terror attacking the Left and democratic forces in the state started in the early 1970s, the trade union leaders who later were in the forefront in forming CITU, were attacked and harassed, because of their unflinching commitment to working class unity and struggles.

 

After all the efforts through a period of around ten years to steer the organisation away from the path of class collaboration and compromise with the ruling classes failed, the need to form a new trade union centre to bring the trade union movement of the country into the track of united struggles against the government policies, was strongly felt. A National Convention of Workers was held in Goa on April 9-10, 1970. The Convention unanimously decided to form a new trade union centre to play the role of bringing the entire trade union movement in the country into the path of struggle against the anti-worker policies of the ruling classes.

 

Accordingly, the first all India conference was held on May 27-31, 1970 in Calcutta. The Bengal Provincial Trade Union Congress, the state unit of AITUC took the responsibility of hosting the conference. On May 30, a resolution declaring the formation of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) was passed amidst thunderous applause and enthusiasm. Thus was born CITU with its historic task of uniting the working class and leading it in class struggles to end all exploitation. B T Ranadive was elected the first president and P Ramamurti, the first general secretary of CITU.

 

ISOLATIONIST STRATEGY OF

THE RULING CLASSES

 

Soon after its formation, CITU, through its actions gave a befitting reply to all those who sought to isolate it and ridiculed its slogan of ‘unity’.

 

The ruling classes instantly realised the danger posed to their class rule by an organisation committed to unite the entire working class and mobilise it into struggles against exploitation. They wanted to isolate CITU and crush it before it got established. Soon after CITU’s formation, the then union minister for labour, R K Khadilkar, took the initiative to form the National Council of Trade Unions (NCTU) with INTUC, AITUC and HMS, to support government policies. CITU effectively countered it by bringing the other trade union centres and industrial federations together to form the United Council of Trade Unions (UCTU) to fight against the government policies like wage freeze, compulsory deposit scheme etc

 

The isolationist strategy of the ruling classes could not be sustained for long in the face of vigorous efforts by CITU to unite the other forces both in industries and services to carry on united struggles. The working class of India supported the struggle path of UCTU, not the collaborationist path of the NCTU. Within three years, NCTU collapsed. New correlation started developing within the country’s trade union movement through CITU’s consistent fight against class collaborationist policies.

 

CITU played an important role in the glorious all India strike by the railway workers in 1974 that galvanised the entire working class in the country. The 20-day strike braving inhuman repression and victimisation is a source of inspiration to the working class even today. CITU took the initiative to bring the railway workers into the path of united country wide struggles. The National Coordination Committee for Railwaymen’s Struggles (NCCRS) that led the historic strike involved all major central trade unions except INTUC. CITU was an active constituent of the NCCRS. It organised solidarity actions, legal aid and all other forms of relief and support for the victimised workers.

Despite the huge repression and attacks on democratic rights and freedoms during the Emergency, CITU actively supported people’s struggles and exposed the government’s attacks on trade union rights utilising all available avenues including the international forums, like lodging complaints with the ILO

 

Second notable event was the united struggle against infamous Industrial Relations Bill, 1978 brought by the Janata Party government at the centre, which ultimately had to be shelved. In that process, National Campaign Committee of Trade Unions was formed comprising all central trade unions and independent federations except INTUC in 1981 during the Congress (I) regime.

 

CITU was the pioneer in paying special attention to the task of organising working women, with a clear understanding that it is a class task – a part of uniting the class and strengthening class struggle. In 1979, it organised the first ever national convention of working women by a central trade union, and constituted the All India Coordination Committee of Working Women to advance its work among working women. This untiring work of over four decades has resulted in the increase of women’s membership in CITU to more than 33 per cent, active participation of women in all activities of CITU including in its decision making bodies at all levels.

 

The first ever countrywide general strike by all the trade union centres except INTUC, held on January 19, 1982 was the third historic joint struggle in which CITU had played a prominent role. Through this strike the working class has also raised the demands for farmers and agricultural workers drawing their active participation in various parts of the country. 10 people including workers, agricultural workers and peasants died in police firing in various parts of the country on that day. 

 

CITU played a frontline role in unifying the public sector unions in united platform of struggle and in the formation of the Committee of Public Sector Trade Unions (CPSTU)

 

Since the advent of the neoliberal reforms in the country, CITU took initiative to unite the entire trade union movement, the central trade unions and the all India independent industrial federations, in joint struggles. The Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions and then the National Platform of Mass Organisations, which was a broader platform, led several country wide general strikes. CITU was in the forefront in the formation of these platforms and ensuring the success of all these struggles including the general strikes. In 2009, for the first time, all the central trade unions including INTUC and BMS joined the common platform that led three country wide general strikes including the two days’ strike in February 2013. However, after the BJP led government came to power at the centre, BMS deserted the joint trade union movement. Altogether 18 country wide general strikes were held under the leadership of the joint trade union movement, the latest one being the historic two days’ general strike on January 8-9, 2019 in which around 20 crore workers participated. This strike also received wider support from the common people.

 

In addition, various federations of CITU have taken initiatives to build strong joint struggles including strikes in their respective sectors as in coal, steel, plantation, anganwadi, ASHA, midday meal workers etc

Bringing the lakhs of ‘scheme workers’, most of them women, into the organised trade union movement and mobilising them in militant struggles, is one of the major contributions of the CITU. It has helped in taking the organisation and developing CITU cadres up to the village level in over half of the districts in the country.

The independent campaigns and struggles led by CITU were also instrumental in encouraging and motivating joint campaigns and struggles. At the same time, CITU never hesitated to go alone to defend the interests of the working class even when it stood isolated and the other trade unions took a pro-government line, as in the case of the Family Pension Scheme of 1971 and the issue of Employees Pension Scheme 1995.

In addition to its efforts to develop working class unity, CITU has been striving to bring all the other basic classes involved in the production process – agricultural workers, peasants etc into joint struggles to fight the anti-people policies. It is aware that such united struggles are crucial to achieve its ultimate objective of ending all exploitation. It has been organising joint campaigns and mobilisations on the common demands of the workers, agricultural workers and the peasants in commemoration of the martyrdom of the workers and peasants who died in police firing on January 19, 1982. The ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ held on September 5, 2018, the first ever such mobilisation in the national capital, in which lakhs of workers, peasants and agricultural workers participated has inspired the toiling people and progressive sections in the entire country.

With the expansion of the unorganised sector under the neoliberal policies, CITU directed its attention to organising the unorganised sector workers, as part of its efforts to unite the class, organising them trade wise and mobilising them on their specific demands. Today, 70 per cent of the membership of CITU is from the unorganised sector.

DEMOCRATIC FUNCTIONING

CITU’s Constitution has stressed democratic functioning as a necessary component of its day-to-day functioning, realising that the vision of ending all exploitation and transforming society is impossible with a ‘cadre follow leader’ type of organisation. CITU was born through the fight against the anti-democratic practices within the then AITUC and has since then been underscoring the importance of trade union democracy within the organisation.

Two important milestones in the 50 years’ history of CITU are the adoption of its two major documents on organisation. The first one adopted by its Working Committee in 1993 called the ‘Bhubaneswar Document on Organisation’ remains its basic guideline to strengthen the organisation. This was updated by the CITU General Council in 2018 in Kozhikode to meet the requirements of the changed situation, while preserving and emphasising the basic thrust on democratic functioning and political ideological development of cadres up to the grassroots level. The Bhubaneswar Document and the Kozhikode Document indicate, through frank and open criticism and self criticism, CITU’s determination to concretely identify its weaknesses and strengthen the organisation by overcoming them. It is the clear understanding of CITU that its political task cannot be delinked from its organisational tasks.