Towards the National Convention of the AICCWW
A R Sindhu
THE 12th Convention of the All India Coordination Committee of Working Women, AICCWW(CITU) which was scheduled to be held in April 2020 but had to be postponed due the pandemic, is now being held on May 21-22, 2022 at Ranjana Nirula Nagar, Nisha Roy-Shibani Sengupta Manch, Tagar Dey Hall, Binani Bhawan, Kolkata, West Bengal. Nearly 300 working women from various sectors and the CITU state presidents/general secretaries will attend the convention.
CITU in its founding conference in 1970 itself, has took upon the task of organising women workers and take up their problems. But soon the necessity of additional efforts to make any breakthrough were felt, as described in the report to the first convention of working women called in 1979 in Madras (Chennai): “The CITU had to take the decision to call a special conference because it was found that the grievances of working women were unattended; the government was indifferent; the employers were hostile; and even the trade unions were not very enthusiastic about their demands. In many strikes that the working class fought, there were few instances when special demands of the working women were given prominence. It was also found that women, even in industries and occupations where they formed a sizeable section were hardly represented in the leading bodies of the unions.”
Thus the AICCWW (CITU) was formed with the aim of taking up the issues of women workers from the trade union platform to develop a movement, organise the vast number of women workers in CITU, train them and bring them to the leadership positions.
In the last more than forty years, the AICCWW (CITU) could take up the issues and build movement on issues of equal remuneration, equal opportunities in promotion, maternity and abortion leave, paternity leave, maternity benefits and crèche, breast feeding breaks, separate toilets for women workers, on issues of compulsory night work, sexual harassment at workplace, health hazards for women at work etc which were instrumental in forcing the enactment and implementation of working women specific laws and rules.
CITU is the first trade union in India to have formed a women’s sub- committee/women’s wing. With conscious efforts to unionise women targeting such sectors where women work in large numbers, we could increase our women membership. Women’s membership in CITU has increased from 6.2 per cent of CITU membership in 1979 to 12 per cent in 1991, and 17.75 per cent in 1998 and 33.4 per cent in 2020. Women’s representation in various committees of CITU has seen a visible improvement. CITU is the only trade union in our country to have formed an internal committee against sexual harassment.
The ruling classes use every feudal remnant in our country, such as caste and gender based discrimination, to advance not only their political interests, but also their economic interests. Under a government which bases itself on neoliberal policies that advocates commodifying everything and also on the retrograde ideology of ‘hindutva’, discrimination against women is bound to increase. The convention will discuss the barbaric exploitation of women workers in the neoliberal era which controls even the women’s bodies as was exposed in the shocking cases of removal of uterus of women sugarcane cutters in Maharashtra and forcefully making the women garment workers take pills to postpone menstrual cycles in Tamil Nadu by the employers.
Women’s social status and the unpaid labour at home is being extended to many occupations, especially the care work and services performed by ‘scheme workers’ and is used for maximising profits. It is estimated by a high level panel of UN that over 51 per cent of work done by women in India is unpaid and not counted in national statistics. It is estimated that unpaid domestic work contributes more to the economy than the manufacturing, commerce and transportation sectors.
AICCWW (CITU) was instrumental in organising the scheme workers and developing their movement. Women organised under the class platform and their struggles with class identity had broken many stereotypes – in struggles and in organization – and brought new confidence to the working women’s movement. This has not only helped to bring more leaders and cadres to the trade union movement, but also has brought the question of women’s unpaid labour, particularly the care work into the discourse. CITU has raised the concrete demand that these unpaid jobs be accounted in the GDP calculations and that there should be recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid work.
This convention being held after a gap of six years will discuss the various issues and problems of women at work in our country. The drastic decline in women’s workforce participation, unprecedented unemployment, skyrocketing price rise, withdrawal of all trade union rights and protective legislations on women at workplace, increasing violence and sexual harassment against women etc will be discussed in the convention.
The convention is being held in the background of magnificent struggles by various sections of women workers and increasing participation of women in the struggles of the working class. The convention will review the struggles including the working women’s jail bharo on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2020 in which more than 1.5 lakh women workers of CITU courted arrest. The convention will chalk out independent as well as joint movement of working women on specific demands.
The convention will also discuss the organisational weaknesses including issues like unsuitable timings of meetings for women, non-payment of travel expenses to women comrades for attending meetings, not including them in negotiating teams etc which are still prevalent within the organisation.