Unprecedented Strike; Unprecedented Response
J S Majumdar
THE Telangana chief minister, who often creates ‘sensational news’, himself inadvertently confirmed the wide magnitude of the united strike of TSRCTC workers. Out of total 49,190 workers, 48,000 plus workers are on strike at the call of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of Telangana SRTC Employees and Workers’ Unions since October 5 early morning. From the agitated reaction of the chief minister, the serious impact of the strike becomes obvious. Two striking workers committed suicide and four more workers attempted when they heard chief minister’s announcement about their dismissals from job.
The striking unions are demanding merger of TSRTC with the state government as was done in the neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh, where they are being treated as government employees with enhanced retirement age of 60 years and other benefits and budgetary provision for the RTC. They are also demanding revision of their salaries pending since April 2017, new recruitment to reduce workload etc. The government is yet to clear dues of Rs 2,400 to TSRTC and failed to keep the promise of reducing tax on diesel to reduce the financial burden of the corporation.
The chief minister knows that such oral summery dismissals of TSRTC workers for joining the strike are illegal. In the same vein another illegal announcement was made by the chief minister that the government would start new recruitment to replace the ‘dismissed’ workers who would be asked to give an undertaking that “they would not join any employees’ union.” He also said that private bus operators would be brought into the TSRTC to work as a public-private partnership. “Hereafter, half of the RTC fleet would be private buses.”
In a statement on October 7, CITU strongly condemned such authoritarian attitude of the chief minister and repressive measures adopted by the government and demanded to revoke the decision of mass dismissals of the workers and hold discussion with the striking unions for settling their legitimate demands.
The government blamed the workers for TSRTC losses and has gone all out to suppress the workers legitimate demands, democratic and trade union rights and adopted repressive and authoritarian measures to break the strike including arrests of the joint convener of JAC, general secretary of Telangana Staff & Workers Federation (CITU) and CITU state office bearer V S Rao and other two joint conveners of JAC.
RTC’s losses were mainly because of government’s failure to reimburse the corporation’s revenue losses due to imposition of various governmental subsidies on the RTC; increasing diesel prices through central and state government’s increasing taxes; imposition of GST, shared by the central and state government, etc. The JAC since many months has been raising the issues with the state government. As the government failed to respond, the JAC gave the strike notice on September 6 and was compelled to go on a strike because of the negligent attitude of the TRS state government.
CITU called upon its state committees, transport sector unions and workers of the country to stand in solidarity with the striking TSRTC workers and resort to solidarity actions.
Same day, on October 7, CITU’s All India Road Transport Workers Federation (AIRTWF) issued statement and its general secretary and CITU national secretary K K Divakaran along with its another office bearer Anabalagan rushed to Hyderabad to stand by the side of the striking workers. They visited the families of the RTC workers who committed suicide. AIRTWF statement condemned the Telangana government for adopting repressive measures, arrests of the unions’ leaders, demolishing the RTC for privatisation.
CITU national vice president A K Padmanabhan visited Hyderabad on October 18, met the striking unions’ leaders, conveyed CITU’s support and addressed press conference with JAC leaders
CPI(M) Central Committee has extended full support to TSRTC strike, condemned TRS government’s repressive actions and extended support to statewide bandh in support of the strike, CPI(M)’s Polit Bureau member B V Raghavulu informed in the press conference.
All out repressive actions by Telangana government requires strong resistance and all out support and solidarity with striking TSRTC workers by all democratic sections. On October 12, an all-party meeting with JAC, attended by CPI(M), CPI, Congress, BJP, Telangana Jana Samithi and TDP leaders; condemned TRS government’s actions against RTC workers and decided several agitational programmes including mass lunch on roads by cooking food there on October 13; sit-in protest and public meetings in front of the bus depots on October 14; Rasta roko and forming human chains on October 15; and Telangana Bandh on October 19.
Besides political parties, state government employees, trade unions, sections of advocates and student unions have extended their support to strike and the Bandh.
Several CITU state committees including in Kerala, Tamilnadu, Punjab, Haryana, Assam and others organised programmes for solidarity with TSRTC by holding rallies, dharna, demonstrations, public meeting etc.
The dawn-to-dusk state bandh called by unions of TSRTC employees on October 19 has paralysed life in the state capital. According to reports from Telangana districts such as Warangal, Karimnagar and Medak, normal life was severely affected due to the shutdown. There were no major reports of violence from anywhere in the region in the morning.
The Bandh received wide support from various sections of the people including students, employees and others.
The 12-hour Bandh began at 5 am amid heightened security at most bus depots. At the Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station, the biggest bus station in Hyderabad, no buses were running to any destination in Telangana and neighbouring states.
About 50,000 Ola and Uber cab drivers joined the strike with their own set of demands that include a better share in fares and establishment of a Cab Drivers' Welfare Board.
In view of the TSRTC strike and state bandh, the government declared closure of schools and colleges till October 21.
The police also took about 40 union leaders and supporters into preventive custody in the early morning. Several of the political leaders and activists were arrested while staging dharna and picketing across the state. Tension prevailed after police detained Telangana Jana Samithi president M Kodandaram and TDP leaders and others arrested at Jubilee Bus Stand (JBS) while participating in the protest.
HIGH COURT’S INTERVENTION
On October 16, the Telangana High Court has asked the state government and union leaders to hold talks and submit a report based on it on October 28.
The government's lawyer pleaded that negotiation is not possible, to which the court responded that since 50 per cent of the 45 demands do not have a financial implication, the government cannot refuse to listen to them and negotiate.
The state government was also directed to pay salaries for September to all the 49,190 employees by October 21.