Towards Heightened Struggles – Ninth Conference of AIFAWH
ALL India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), the biggest trade union federation of anganwadi employees is holding its ninth conference from November 17-20, 2019 at Rajamahendravaram (Rajahmundry), Andhra Pradesh. Around 700 delegates from 25 states and union territories representing around five lakh members will attend the conference.
While India has reached a shameful situation where every second child is malnourished, 80 per cent of women and children in the country are anemic and we went behind Pakistan for the first time in World Hunger Index, Modi I and II governments have continuously tried to dismantle the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, the only mechanism in our country to address malnutrition and hunger. It is through militant struggles with massive participation, we could stop the handing over of ICDS to corporates like Vedanta, packaged food by MNCs and the cash transfer in ICDS.
During the last three and half years since the last conference in January 2016, AIFAWH and its state unions have led many militant struggles for the rights of anganwadi employees and against the anti-people policies of the government.
We had innumerable mobilisations and struggles at local, district and state headquarters on national calls. February 15, 2016, joint anganwadi march to parliament, November 9-11, 2017, central trade unions’ mahapadav, September 5, 2018 Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally and February 25, 2019 AIFAWH march to parliament – we had mobilised four times in Delhi in independent and joint struggles with massive visible participation. July 10, AIFAWH Demands Day every year has seen a mobilisation of around 7-8 lakhs at district level on issues of budget cut and privatisation of ICDS and for strengthening it and for better working conditions. These massive struggles against the policies of Modi government to dismantle ICDS could not only stop the privatisation and cash transfer in ICDS, but forced Modi government to increase the remuneration of the nearly 27 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers and increase in allocation for nutrition in ICDS.
In addition, during this period, we had most militant struggles at state level; the four days sit-in dharna of around 30,000 workers in Karnataka and the long march and militant dharna in Punjab to mention a few. In every state, the state governments also had increased remuneration of the workers and helpers ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 5000 per month. In some states we could achieve other benefits like pension, ex gratia etc.
It was at the initiative of AIFAWH that we started organising the ASHA and mid day meal workers. The joint two days padav by CITU in 2012 could champion the cause of ‘scheme workers’ and it has led to the historic ILC decision on scheme workers’ regularization, minimum wages and pension.
Advancing that movement, AIFAWH took the initiative for joint struggles against the drastic budget cuts and privatisation of the schemes and for the implementation of 45th ILC recommendations. The 15th conference of CITU gave the call for one day strike of scheme workers on January 20, 2018. This was preceded by mass deputation to the MPs in around 200 constituencies. The unprecedented participation in the strike and the mobilisation on that day showed the developing unity of the scheme workers. This has led to a series of state level struggles of scheme workers and ultimately led to increase in wages of anganwadi, ASHA and mid day meal workers in many states.
This has led to the massive joint trade union mobilisation of scheme workers on the last day of the mahapadav and a call for one day strike of scheme workers on January 17, 2019. Around 30 lakh workers participated in the strike. We have decided to advance this movement further.
BUILDING A DISCIPLINED ORGANISATION
Since its inception in 1991, AIFAWH, during the last nearly three decades, could grow from 8-9 states to 25 states and UTs and 26 affiliated unions with a wide network. Although our membership is around five lakhs, we have an influence among atleast 8-9 lakh workers in around 400 districts. We have advanced to new areas. Through state, district, project and sector level committees (in Kerala upto panchayat level) we are trying to ensure democratic functioning and financial discipline. Through regular training and education, we are trying to develop cadres at various levels. In many states, anganwadi union activists are main office bearers of district CITU. In almost all states, anganwadi union leaders are CITU office bearers.
State unions also collect funds to strengthen the organisation and CITU further. Our Karnataka union has its own office in Bangalore. The first CITU office in the name of Vimal Ranadive (renowned leader of the working class, freedom fighter and founder president of AIFAWH) is built by our Punjab state anganwadi union out of the fund collected after an increase in remuneration.
In many states 30-60 per cent of the trade union mobilisation is from scheme workers.
The conference will discuss our weakness in enrolling membership according to our influence and reach. Weakness in ensuring full participation in joint programmes by increasing the politicalisation of rank and file will also be discussed by the conference.
By the very nature of our work, the anganwadi workers and helpers have access to the families in their area and thus are familiar with the issues of the people. We have well-knit organisational network with capable cadres in places where the democratic movement is very weak and where there is no other mass or class organisation. In many villages, the red flag of CITU is hoisted by the anganwadi workers and helpers. Their militant and very visible struggles have contributed much directly and indirectly in developing struggles in other sectors. Even the phenomenon of earlier demoralised peasantry who were committing suicide coming forward to fight was indirectly influenced by the militancy and achievements of the so-called ‘weaker’ section of women.
We have the experience in many states where different sections of the people approach the anganwadi union leader with their problems. Understanding the potential and possibilities of this section, the last conference of AIFAWH has taken up a political task which will help to further advance the movement of the working people. It noted “We are very much part and parcel of the working class movement. Working class being the most advanced class in the society has the historic responsibility to take the lead in advancing struggles, politicising and changing the society. In the Indian situation, the worker peasant alliance is the core of social change. This is not a mere coming together of two organisations but the integration of the two basic classes. It is the responsibility of the working class to take the lead in building such an alliance.
The leadership role lies in taking up the issues of every section of the society as part and parcel of our work and to bring each of our cadre to that consciousness. We must take up this responsibility.”
Through the contact with beneficiaries who belong to peasantry, working class, agricultural workers and women, anganwadi unions are trying to take up the issues of these sections in the villages. In many states, anganwadi workers have helped to organise ASHA workers, mid day meal workers, MNREGA and construction workers, and women’s organisation etc in coordination with the concerned organisations. This has to be further done in a planned way.
NEW CHALLENGES AND TASKS
The Modi-II government is hell-bent on selling off the country and its assets to the corporates. ICDS is under the threat of dismantling. Labour laws are being changed to do away with minimum wages and eight hour work norm.
In the background of the world systemic economic crisis and the slow-down in the country, the government will further unleash attacks on the working people.
At the same time, politics of hatred is propagated by the RSS-BJP combine to divide the people. Mob lynching has become the order of the day. As working class, as women and as those who impart early childhood care and education, anganwadi workers and helpers and a militant class oriented organisation like AIFAWH can help to effectively resist this hate campaign and contribute much to advance the people’s movement. AIFAWH working committee has already decided to take up a campaign “against hate and discrimination, for real development and for scientific progressive egalitarian values” among the beneficiaries and children in addition to the task of help organising other sectors. This conference will discuss the current challenges and these possibilities and make concrete plan to further heighten the struggles and advance the movement.