February 02, 2020
Sixteenth All India Conference of CITU: Scale Up Struggles Change Policies


THE 16th conference of CITU concluded on January 27, 2020 with thunderous slogans announcing the determination of the around 2000 delegates to defeat the neoliberal policies of the BJP led government and the divisive disruptive agenda of the RSS mentored BJP. The conference was held with the slogan ‘Scale up Struggles. Change Policies’.

The 16th conference was held in the Golden Jubilee year of the foundation of CITU as well as the centenary of the foundation of the first national trade union centre in our country. This provided an occasion to assess the progress of CITU in carrying forward the slogan ‘Unity and Struggle’ given by the founding conference. One of the key aspects of the conference was the self critical examination of the advance made in preparing the working class to play its due role in achieving the objective enunciated in the CITU Constitution – to end all exploitation.

Before the formal beginning of the conference, martyrs’ torches, brought from seven places signifying the important struggles and sacrifices of the toiling people of Tamil Nadu were given a rousing reception. These torches aptly reflect the inspiring history of the struggles of the working class and toiling people in Tamil Nadu.

The venue of the conference was named ‘Comrade Mohammed Amin Nagar’, after the former general secretary of CITU. The dais was named after Sukomal Sen, a veteran leader of the state government employees’ movement and also a former vice president of CITU. The public meeting on January 27 was held in the ground which was named after Singaravelar, one of the first communist and trade union leaders of our country, who hoisted the red flag in Chennai for the first time in India, on May Day in 1923.

The conference started with the hoisting of the CITU flag by Hemalata, president of CITU. January 23 being the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the president of CITU garlanded the picture of Netaji and paid tributes to his memory. Later the office bearers and all the delegates led by the president of CITU, paid floral tributes to the martyrs and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

A Soundararajan, chairman, reception committee and president of Tamil Nadu state committee of CITU welcomed the delegates in the inaugural session presided over by Hemalata.

Michael Makwayiba, president of World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), and the leaders of all the central trade unions who comprise the joint trade union platform greeted the conference in the inaugural session. AITUC was represented by its general secretary Amarjeet Kaur, INTUC by its vice president RPK Murugesan, HMS by its president CA Raja Sreedhar, AICCTU by its vice president V Sankar, AIUTUC by its president K Radhakrishnan, TUCC by its vice president PV Kadhiravan, UTUC by its general secretary Ashok Ghosh, SEWA by Sonia George and LPF by its general secretary P Shanmugham, MP.

The conference was also greeted by Hannan Mollah, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha; B Venkat, general secretary of All India Agricultural Workers’ Union; Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association; Avoy Mukherjee, general secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India and VP Sanu, president of Students’ Federation of India. In addition, several leaders of fraternal national trade unions including Girija, from All India Insurance Employees’ Association, Nanda Kumar from Bank Employees’ Federation of India, M Krishnan from Confederation of Central Government Employees, Subhas Lamba from All India State Government Employees’ Federation, P Abhimanyu, general secretary of BSNL Employees’ Union and Shantanu Chatterjee from Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives of India also greeted the conference.

Hemalata delivered the presidential address in the delegates’ session which started at 4.00 pm in the evening. The main points covered by the presidential address were:

The 16th conference of CITU is held at a crucial juncture, when the working class and toiling people of our country are facing all round attacks. The livelihood, working and living conditions are being attacked by the neoliberal policies of the BJP government led by Modi. At the same time, the BJP and its mentor RSS, are proceeding to change the secular character of the country and convert it into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ by subverting the basic tenets and principles of the Indian constitution, which had evolved through an extensive exercise guided by the experience of our struggle for independence. Protecting the basic tenets of the constitution and unity of the people on the one hand and sustaining united struggles and taking them up to a higher level to defeat neoliberal policies on the other, are the responsibilities of the working class of our country. This is a challenging task. But given the growing discontent against the BJP led government’s policies, and the huge protests, particularly the massive participation of the young and women in the protests against CAA, NPR, and NRC, shows the opportunities. The founding conference of CITU gave the slogan ‘Unity and Struggle’. This conference, being held in the Golden Jubilee year of the foundation of CITU, should self critically examine how far we have been able to carry forward this slogan and how we can meet the present challenges and defeat the neoliberal policies as well as the game plan of BJP to establish a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, through united struggles of working class and all sections of toiling people.

The situation in our country is not different from or unconnected with the global situation. Capitalism, all over the globe, is seeking to maximise profits by increasing exploitation of the workers, grabbing national wealth and natural resources all over the world, using its connections with those in power to formulate policies to serve its interests, cheating and not paying taxes etc. As a result, the share of wealth for workers and toiling people who produce it is drastically coming down. Inequalities are increasing. Wealth is increasingly getting concentrated in fewer hands. As discontent amongst the workers and toiling people grows, as more and more of them come into struggles, capital is encouraging right wing forces to divert people’s attention with misleading slogans; to divide workers and the people and disrupt their unity. This has led to the growth of the influence of the right wing forces in various parts of the world, in the USA, in Europe and also in our country.
At the same time, having no alternative economic policies to meet the basic needs of the people, to address their basic issues like employment, wages, social security etc, the extreme right is not able to sustain its influence as is seen in France, Austria, Netherlands, Greece, Germany etc. We face similar situation in India too.

Today, people, particularly the youth is in search of alternatives. Where Left champions workers’ demands and fights against neoliberalism in sustained manner it is gaining influence. In Argentina, the rightist Macri was defeated by Alberto Fernandez and the former president Cristina Fernandez. The Workers’ Party increased its strength in Belgium both in the European parliament and in the national elections. In UK however, where the elections centred on Brexit, the Labour Party lost because of its ambivalent stand on Brexit, despite gaining support for its pro-people policies.

To gain a better understanding about the reasons for the increasing exploitation, widening inequalities and deteriorating conditions for the workers and toiling people who create the wealth in the world, it is necessary to look at them in the context of the global situation. It is necessary to link the local with the national and the national with the international situation and the predatory character of the present capitalist system led by international finance. It is necessary to learn not only from the experience of our own struggles but from the experiences of global struggles also.

The presidential address reminded the call of the updated Kozhikode document on organisation to reorient the work of CITU cadres at all levels and activate the entire organisation at all levels in its light.

Tapan Sen introduced the general secretary’s report in two parts, one focussing on the economic, political and social conditions in the country and the experiences of joint and independent struggles including the two massive country wide general strikes, on January 8-9, 2019 and on January 8, 2020. The other part mainly dealt with the organisation.

The major formulations in the general secretary’s report were:

The increasing attacks on the livelihood and working conditions of the workers and the attempts to brutally suppress any opposition shows that capitalism is comfortable with democracy as long as it suits it. In the midst of deepening crisis when people utilise their democratic rights to raise their voice against its onslaught on their livelihood and living conditions, it resorts to authoritarianism to suppress their voice. In the case of national governments opposing imperialist hegemony, imperialism resorts to economic blackmailing and conspiracies. It does not hesitate to topple democratically elected governments and replace them with right wing governments.

Since its formation, CITU has been continuously striving to develop united struggles. Today, despite the many conspiracies of the ruling classes to isolate CITU, despite the BMS deserting the joint trade union platform after BJP’s coming to power, trade union unity could be maintained. Massive united actions including the two strikes in January 2019 and 2020, the mahapadav in 2017 etc could be conducted. But the struggles continue to be basically against the impact of the neoliberal capitalism not against the policy regime.

The report self critically noted that we have not been able to drive into the consciousness of the workers, the fact that the root cause of their increasing miseries was the neoliberal capitalist regime. The understanding arrived in the CITU conferences and the meetings of the general council and working committee during the last many years could not be taken to its members and common workers. The political importance of the 12 point charter of demands and the ‘Workers’ Charter’ adopted by the joint trade union movement was not understood properly by our cadres.  The calls to ‘reach the unreached’ and ‘link up the immediate issues of the workers with the policies being pursued by the ruling classes and to expose the politics that determine these policies’ were not taken with due seriousness beyond repeating them mechanically in the meetings. The superficiality in our work reflected in the parliament election results also, where the BJP was successful in evoking jingoistic and pseudo nationalist feelings and divert their attention from their burning day-to-day issues.

The economy is in steep decline. The trend started in 2014 and continues since then. But the government is in denial mode. It is desperately going ahead with its project of all round privatisation, putting the country for sale. In addition to Air India, which it has put for total sale, it is on a privatising spree, including in the strategic sectors like railways, defence, coal, steel, oil etc. The land and other assets of public sector units are up for sale. The public sector is national wealth and protecting it is the responsibility of the entire trade union movement and the people as well. It is not just the job of the public sector employees. The public sector unions must enlist the support of all sections of people in their struggle to protect the public sector.  

Labour law amendments and codification are taken up as priority. Code on Wages bill is passed and became a law. The other three codes are introduced in parliament and have been referred to the parliamentary standing committee. The major purpose is to impose conditions of slavery on the workers and deprive them of their hard won rights and benefits.

But the working class has erupted in spontaneous struggles in many sectors including railways, defence, steel, coal, different government schemes etc against these attacks. The highly successful country wide strike, which turned into a virtual bandh in many states, and the popular support it received, clearly indicates the anger against the BJP led government’s policies among the people. Large sections of people who have earlier voted for BJP have participated in the strike. This is a source of hope and inspiration for strengthening united struggles in the coming days.

What is required in the present situation is complete reorientation of our organisational practices towards intensification of our micro level reach to the mass of workers and a clear purposeful vision of our political ideological tasks in tune with the constitutional objective of CITU. We must come out of the ‘as usual’ syndrome that dominates our functioning today.

The second part of the report on organisation analysed the membership of CITU and the implementation of the guidelines of the Kozhikode document on organisation.

95 delegates in total participated in the discussions on the general secretary’s report – 49 on the first part and 46 on the second. In addition, several delegates gave their suggestions in writing, indicating the active interest taken by the delegates in formulating the approach to be adopted by CITU in the coming days, while facing the current challenges.

On the basis of the discussions, the CITU secretariat formulated the draft tasks which were presented by Tapan Sen. The immediate task was to participate in the JEJAA call of observing January 30 against CAA and NPR. In addition, it was decided to conduct an intensive door-to-door and workplace campaign to create awareness about the NPR which will be conducted along with the census and prepare workers to refuse answering the questions – ‘Hum Jawab Nahin Denge’. The Golden Jubilee celebration of CITU will conclude on May 30, 2020 in Kolkata where the first conference was held.

The conference honoured Rachana Sarkar, a young beedi worker and delegate from Nadia district in West Bengal who fought all odds to win two gold medals and one silver medal in athletics at the national level. She is also a councillor from CPI(M) who vehemently turned down the lucrative offers from the TMC to shift party loyalties. This was when it has become routine to see many bourgeois people’s representatives, including MLAs and MPs, changing flags even 2-3 times in a day, depending on the offers made.

On January 26, on the occasion of Republic Day, the national flag was hoisted by CITU president, Hemalata, who also administered a pledge to all the delegates. This was followed by a human chain outside the conference venue, protesting CAA and NPR and also opposing the visit of the self proclaimed admirer of Nazis, Bolsanaro as the chief guest in the Republic Day celebrations, invited by the Modi government. In addition to the delegates to the conference, Hannan Mollah, and B Venkat also participated in the human chain.

After participating in the human chain, the entire conference broke into four commissions to discuss four important topics – ‘The fight for alternative policies’; ‘Rallying points for uniting the class and mass; explosive rise in unemployment; changing employment profile vis-a-vis employability’; ‘Labour law codification’ and ‘Social oppression, a critical review of our interventions’. Anadi Sahu, Meenakshi Sundaram, Elamaram Kareem and MA Gaffoor chaired the sessions respectively and Hemalata, S Dev Roye, R Karumalaiyan and AR Sindhu presented the papers in the concerned commissions. A total of 219 delegates spoke in all the four commissions and gave their observations and suggestions. In addition over 50 delegates gave their comments in writing.

The conference also passed a unanimous resolution calling all CITU committees to take initiative to organise country wide courting of arrest by women on March 8, against violence on women and demanding employment and equal status for women. In addition, resolutions in solidarity with the people and working class of Tripura who are fighting the attacks by the BJP government; condemning the government of India’s discrimination against the LDF ruled Kerala and the governor’s role; supporting the bank employees’ strike were adopted by the conference.

The conference unanimously adopted the general secretary’s report and the accounts placed by the treasurer ML Malkotia. It has also unanimously adopted the tasks, related to campaigns and struggles and organisation, presented by the general secretary.

The conference elected the CITU secretariat comprising 39 members and a 425-member general council, which in turn elected a 125-member working committee. Hemalata, Tapan Sen and ML Malkotia were re-elected as president, general secretary and treasurer of CITU.

A massive rally was held in the evening of January 27 which was presided over by A Soundararajan and addressed by the WFTU president Michael Makwayiba, Tapan Sen, AK Padmanabhan, Hemalata and Sukumaran, general secretary of Tamil Nadu state committee of CITU and its national secretary. Malati Chittibabu, treasurer of Tamil Nadu state committee of CITU, and national vice president placed the vote of thanks.

The conference thanked the Tamil Nadu state committee of CITU, the Chennai district committees of CITU for hosting the conference and making excellent arrangements and the working class of the state for their support.