Second MDM workers’ conference held
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THE second conference of Mid-Day Meal Workers’ Federation of India (MDMWFI), held from November 4-5, at Ranjana Nirula Nagar, Mallu Swarjyam Manch, in Hyderabad, Telangana, called for intensifying the struggle for basic rights of the mid-day meal workers of the country.
The conference, held after a gap of seven years due to the pandemic, resolved to hold protests throughout India on December 11, 2022, demanding minimum wages and pensions for the workers who are now paid only Rs1,000 per month, that too only for ten months. It is also resolved that the federation would oppose the efforts of the BJP government to dismantle the MDM Scheme, which is now named PM POSHAN, by budget cuts, involving corporates and NGOs, etc.
GOVERNMENT WITHDRAWING FROM ITS DUTY
The conference began with the federation president, S Varalakshmi hoisting the CITU flag. A R Sindhu, CITU secretary, in her inaugural speech, elaborated on how the government, as per its policy, is withdrawing from providing basic services to the people. She said the BJP government, being both corporate and communal, is trying to communalise and privatise the MDM Scheme while the country is faced with increasing malnutrition and hunger.
Sindhu called upon the delegates to strengthen the independent movement of the mid-day meal workers as well as the joint movements, especially that of scheme workers, which are being fought for the workers’ rights. She stressed worker-peasant unity as the weapon to fight the anti-people policies of the BJP government.
Jaibhagwan placed the general secretary report which narrated the plight of the 26 lakh MDM workers, their struggles since 2015 and the growth trajectory of the organisation.
As per the report, more than 26 lakh MDM workers provide mid-day meals to nearly 11.5 crore children in nearly 12 lakh schools. These workers are mostly women from poor and marginalised families and many of them are widows or separated. As most of the primary schools do not have any class IV employees, the MDM workers are made to work for more than eight hours and are asked to do extra jobs like cleaning the school premises etc.
The report noted that because of the lack of basic amenities like water, vessels or gas stove, the MDM workers have to walk more than three kilometres to fetch water, cook using firewood and mud stoves, and wash the utensils using ash powder. As most schools have only one cook, it is impossible for them to get any leaves and many of them are even deprived of maternity leave. They are often threatened with retrenchments.
In some states, a clause is imposed that the MDM worker is permitted to work in the school only if her child is studying in the same school. The MDM workers are asked to cook for all government functions in the districts, without any payment, said the report.
MDM WORKERS ACTIVE DURING THE COVID PANDEMIC
Throwing light on the plight of the MDM workers during the pandemic, the report said that the MDM workers were deputed to prepare food for the Covid-19 patients staying in quarantine centres. In many states, it was these workers who distributed dry rations from door to door during the pandemic. Despite utilising their services during the testing times, the MDM workers were not recognised as frontline workers during the pandemic period. The families of some of the MDM workers who provided services at the quarantine centres and died due to Covid-19 have not yet got any compensation. When the schools re-opened after two years of lockdown, the MDM workers were made to clean the schools and the premises without any remuneration.
It is reported that the MDM workers are not given any benefits upon reaching superannuation. In some states, however, there is accident insurance coverage for the workers. There are places where even today, MDM workers are treated like slaves by the schoolteachers, School Development and Monitoring Committee members and local politicians.
Meanwhile, the BJP government is paving way for big NGOs like Akshayapatra and ISKCON, Nandi Foundation etc which are in liaison with religious groups and corporate houses, in the MDM scheme. It is introducing centralised kitchens even in the villages. But, many of these NGOs are now refusing to supply eggs and one NGO—Akshayapatra— is refusing to even use garlic and onions in food, said the report.
The wages of the MDM workers have not been increased since 2009, even as the written assurance by the ministry of HRD, to increase the monthly remuneration from ₹1,000 to ₹3,000 in two years per the International Labour Conference 2013 recommendations, is yet to be implemented. The fact remains that the orders of the Allahabad High Court, directing the Uttar Pradesh State government to pay minimum wages to the workers, are yet to be implemented. The HC order, however, has far-reaching implications throughout the country, as per the report.
The report narrated the struggles organised by various state unions and the MDMWFI over the years and how those resulted in an increase in their wages between ₹2,000 and ₹7,000.
The report observed that since most of the workers are illiterate, it has been very difficult to organize them. Although there have been many militant struggles, we could not increase the membership proportionately, the report self-critically assessed. At present the membership is 1,17,703. The pandemic had negatively impacted the membership, it said. The report gave a critical assessment of the efforts for cadre development, committee functioning, financial situation etc.
DISCUSSION ON THE REPORT
Twenty-three delegates participated in the discussions. They narrated the plight of the workers being retrenched in the name of school closures and mergers. Criminal negligence of workplace accident (burn) victims by the department have also been narrated by the delegates. Stories of unions fighting caste oppression and discrimination were reflected in discussions. After discussion, the report was unanimously adopted.
The conference was greeted by Usharani, president of Anganwadi Federation, Madhumita Bandopadhyaya, general secretary and Surekha, secretary of ASHA workers federation.
Nearly 260 delegates from Assam, AP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, HP, Karnataka, Kerala, Manipur, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana and West Bengal participated in the conference.
The conference elected a 51-member working committee with 15 office bearers, Krishna Roy Chatterjee (WB) was elected the president, Malini Meshta (Karnataka), general secretary and Himi Devi (HP), Treasurer.
Vice presidents— Jaibhagwan, Varalakshmi, V P Kunjikrishnan and Manika Dutta Roy. Secretaries—Sanjay Bari, S Rema, D Ramadevi, Sunil Natti, Sarbati and Dr. Ashok Thorat.
It was resolved to build intensified struggles, strengthen and expand the Mid Day Meal Scheme, and fight for the rights of the Mid Day Meal Workers — minimum wages, pension and social security.
It is decided that the federation shall take an active part in joint struggles against the New Education Policy and advance the joint movement of scheme workers. It is also decided that the federation shall make efforts to build worker-peasant unity at the grassroots level and strengthen the movement against social oppression and discrimination against women.
The conference has set the target to strengthen the organisation by increasing the membership to three lakh by the next conference, developing self-reliant committees and activating them at all levels
The following are the immediate tasks undertaken by the federation:
· Militant demonstrations at the district/block level in all the states on our basic demands and for strengthening the MDM Scheme on December 11, 2022
· Joint meetings with other scheme workers at state/district levels and organize accountability meetings in all Parliamentary constituencies as part of ‘Javab mango Abhiyan’ in December 2022
· Rallies and demonstrations in front of the offices of MPs, jointly with Anganwadi, ASHA and other scheme workers on January 6, 2023
· Ensure maximum a massive campaign on basic issues of the people and maximum mobilization in ‘Mazdoor-Kisan Sangharsh Rally to be held in Delhi during the budget session of Parliament as called by CITU, AIKS and AIAWU.
CITU secretary, Sai Babu delivered the concluding address. S Rema, secretary MDM union, Telangana proposed the vote of thanks.
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