People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 30, 2007
United International Conference
Of Coal Miners Held In India
Swadesh Dev Roye
INDIAN coal miners achieved the unique distinction of successfully hosting the first ever united international conference attended by delegates from trade unions in coal mining industry with different affiliations and also independent ones. The conference was held at Kolkata on December 14-16, 2007.
The International Preparatory Committee for the conference consisted of the two International Trade Union Organisations – (1) International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), Brussels and (2) International Energy and Miners’ Organisation (IEMO), Paris and the national unions from different countries in the committee included – (1) National Union of Mineworkers, U.K. (2) CFMEU Mining & Energy Division, Australia (3) National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa, (4) Mines and Energy National Union/CGT, France. India was represented by All India Coal Workers Federation(AICWF)/CITU and Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation ((INMWF)/INTUC.
More than a hundred delegates participated in the conference. The countries represented were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Mongolia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, United Kingdom and India. China could not send a delegation, and in a written message extended support to the conference. Thus the conference represented almost all the coal producing countries in the world. ILO, Geneva deputed one specialist on Health, Safety & Environment in coal mining to the conference. Dr Dasari Narayana Rao, union minister of state for coal, government of India inaugurated the conference and M K Pandhe, president, AICWF delivered the welcome address. Ms Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, Director and ILO Representative in India, New Delhi, Manfred Warda, general sSecretary, ICEM, Alain Simon, General Secretary, IEMO, Ian Lavery, national president, NUM, UK, Andrew Vickers, CFMEU, Australia, Crosby Moni, president, NUM, South Africa and Sukhbaatar Ganbold, president MEGMTU, Mongolia and S Q Zama, secretary general, INMWF addressed the inaugural session which was presided over by Rajendra Prasad Singh, president, INMWF.
Apart from the inaugural session and the concluding session, there were working sessions on the following topics: (1) Overview of Global Coal Industry with Special Emphasis on New Technology and Role of Coal Industry in Energy Sector; (2) Coal Mining Industry: Globalisation, Privatisation, Outsourcing, Contractualisa-tion and Trade Union Movement; (3) Privatisation of the British Coal Industry – A Trade Union Response; (4) ILO on Coal Mining Health & Safety Standards; (5) Occupational Safety, Health and Environment in Coal Mining. Each of the working sessions was jointly presided over by three delegates from three different countries.
The theme papers presented in the working sessions and the contributions from the delegates have unequivocally expressed their opposition to the neo-liberal policy of imperialist globalisation. Coal mining industry all over the world has been victim of the onslaught of privatisation, of course, in varying degrees. The delegates narrated the shocking experience of their respective countries emanating from the onslaught of multinational companies desperately playing the dangerous game of establishing global monopoly over the coal mining industry. According to a report during the last decade of the twentieth century 26 US companies, 11 Australian companies, 2 Colombian companies, 3 Canadian companies, 1 each in China, South Africa and Venezuela were acquired by international finance capital. However, it emerged in the conference that the fight to safeguard the rights of the workers in privatised coal mines even in the countries which have fallen prey to privatisation, is on in full swing. The united fight of the Indian coal miners against repeated attempts of the government to de-nationalise coal mining industry received high appreciation from the international delegates.
In his capacity as the co-president of International Energy and Miners’ Organisation (IEMO) M K Pandhe presented a paper titled: Coal Mining Industry: Globalisation, Privatisation, Outsourcing, Contractualisa-tion and Response of Trade Union Movement. The paper thoroughly exposed the anti-people character of the Fund-Bank authored neo-liberal policy of imperialist globalisation with concrete examples based on various international documents and writings. The impact of imperialist globalisation on the coal industry has been elaborately dealt with in the paper. The major issues discussed in the paper are (i) internationalisation of finance capital in coal industry, (ii) the worldwide onslaught of privatisation, closure of coalmines and downsizing of workforce (iii) response of coal workers against globalisation and (iv) need for international co-operation and solidarity of coalminers. It has also traced the concrete experience of all the major coal producing countries. Pandhe appealed to the delegates that the design to marginalise the coal workers and attack on their right to trade union and right to collective bargaining must be fought with determination.
Yet another issue that figured very prominently in the conference was regarding health, safety and environment. Coal miners are worst victim on all these issues. The presentation and participation in the discussion on these issues was of high order reflecting the importance. Non-ratification of ILO Convention No.176 by overwhelming nation states came under sharp criticism by the delegates.
The concluding session was presided over by M K Pandhe and the draft declaration prepared by the Preparatory Committee was formally presented to the delegates and the same was adopted unanimously. The major issues deliberated upon in the conference got due expression in the declaration. The conference has imparted the clear message that there may be perceptional uncommonness amongst the trade unions but grass-root level workers are common prey to the same policies of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation and therefore there is strong urge for unity amongst workers and the instant conference is the reflection of the ground reality which cannot be ignored by trade unions for all times.
The meeting was followed by a cultural function, which was highly praised by the international delegates.
A group of international delegates including the representative from ILO, Geneva visited a few coal mines at the Ranigunj area on December 17, 2007 and had interaction with the coalminers and also had bilateral discussion with the leaders of AICWF.
In order to carry forward the common understandings arrived at in the conference and further strengthen the international unity of coal miners it has been decided to continue with the functioning of the Preparatory Committee comprising of the trade unions of coal miners from the major coal producing countries.
“We, the representatives of coalmine workers from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Columbia, France, Germany, Mongolia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, United Kingdom and India, having met in Kolkata India, 14th – 16th December 2007 make the following declaration:
1. We note from the proud history of militant and long drawn struggle by coalminers’ unions throughout the world, that when coalminers stand strong and determined significant gains have been made in the areas of safety and health, in conditions of employment and, in many cases, within the political structures of Countries. We, the attendees of this Conference, pledge to do all in our power, to strengthen and continue that proud tradition.
2. While we recognize that our members work in one of the most hazardous industries on earth, we refuse to accept that the appalling toll of death, injury and disease that prevails in the coal mining industry can be permitted to continue.
3. As a first step, we demand that all countries not only take the necessary steps to ratify ILO Convention C176, but that they also take urgent action to ensure that the commitments continued in the Convention are put into practice.
4. Acknowledging that ratification of the Convention alone will not make mines safer we call on the ILO and the United Nations, to further strengthen the regime in place to ensure that ratifying Countries are in fact complying with the commitments contained in the Convention, and to seriously consider a programme of audits and inspections.
5. This Conference rejects the siren song of the privatization of State assets where it is nothing more than an excuse to replace the secure employment of workers engaged in those State enterprises, with the insecurity of employment by companies whose only interest is that of maximizing profit and investor returns. To allow the exploitation of a State’s non-renewable resources for the sole purpose of profit by coal companies and major corporations, and to leave the employment of workers and the welfare of their families to the vagaries of the so-called “free market” is inexcusable, unwarranted and unacceptable. Conference particularly offers common cause to the Indian coal mining unions in their struggle to stop the privatization of the Indian coal industry.
6. This Conference notes the disproportionate blame being laid at the feet of the Coal Industry and the burning of coal as a contributor to the current climate change crisis confronting the planet. It is convenient for many to single out coal for strident criticism, while neglecting other significant sources of global greenhouse gas emissions. Any skepticism concerning the validity of the genesis of climate change must be tempered by the reality of the threat that exists to the continuation of large sections of the international coal mining industry, as the industry is targeted by its critics.
7. The coal industry must respond to this challenge, and conference calls on both Governments and Companies – in particular those that operate in the rich developed nations (Companies whose principal purpose for exploiting coal reserves is the generation of profit) – to properly fund research into and establish practical applications of clean coal technology.
8. This funding must be significant, not merely token, and can easily be afforded by Companies which are making record profits as a consequence of the current unprecedented resources boom being fuelled by the rapid expansion of the economies of developing nations.
9. This Conference notes the growing trend in almost every Country represented here, of coal industry employers, both State owned and private to engage contract and casual labour in preference to permanent employees, and we express our strident condemnation of this practice. “Outsourcing” “Contracting” and “Casualisation” not only pose a direct threat to the secure employment of permanent employees, but exposes the outsourced and causal workers to reduced wages and conditions lower safety standards, diminished employment security and serious difficulties in accessing basic trade union rights to organize and collectively bargain.
10. We the delegates, declare this, the first International Coalminers’ Conference, to have been an outstanding success. We express our sincere appreciation to our Indian Trade Union colleagues for their hospitality and professionalism in hosting and staging this event.
11. We have been afforded a remarkable opportunity to share the experiences, the knowledge, the comradeship and the solidarity of coalminers from around the World. We call on our National Unions and our International Organisations to support an ongoing role for this Conference. Irrespective of our politics, our race, creed, colour, or our international affiliations, we are all coalminers and we wish to be afforded the chance to meet and discuss coalminer’s issues and to seek solutions to coalminer’s problems and concerns. Conference respectfully requests that national and international unions represented here, give serious and favourable consideration to the continued operation of the original preparatory committee to oversee progress on the matters raised in this Declaration, and to be responsible for convening a second International Coalminers’ Conference at an appropriate time in the future.”