People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 10, 2005



Challenges And Achievements On The Trade Union Front


  Chittabrata Majumdar


EVERY attempt by the governments at the centre and in many states to pursue the neo-liberal reforms undermining the national interest and which are against the interest of the people has been resisted by the working class consistently. The attacks on the working class and the attempts of encroachment on the hard-earned privileges and rights enjoyed by the Indian working class have been intensified further, particularly during the BJP-led NDA government’s period and are continuing even today. The working class movement during this period, in turn proved its determination to fight against these onslaughts.


Even after the defeat of the NDA government and despite attempts to reverse the policies of government by the Left parties, who have extended outside support to the UPA government, the attitude of the present government to pursue neo-liberal reform process persists.



The attack by Tamil Nadu government against its 13 lakh employees and teachers, who embarked on an indefinite strike in 2003, detaining over 2300 leaders of the staff and teachers’ unions and dismissing summarily 1.7 lakh employees using the TESMA 2002, followed by the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the issue of the strike was a rude shock. The remark of the Supreme Court that ‘there is no fundamental, legal, equitable or moral right to strike’ for government employees and a sweeping remark denying the right to strike to all workers in the country was nothing but to deprive the workers of the country of their basic democratic rights, undoing the prevailing right of collective bargaining. Also the order of Ranchi High Court banning the strike by steel workers at Bokaro only adds to the attack on the legitimate rights of the working class.


The Supreme Court verdict signifies a new attack against the working class and its organisations. It synchronises with the ‘hire and fire’ regime, which has been the clamour of the employers. The denial of right to strike by the apex court is also an attack on civil liberties, opposed by the then Attorney General, several former judges and leading lawyers of the country.


The central trade union organisations as well as the state and central government employees’ organisations held national conventions in September 2003 denouncing the attack on the right to strike and demanded that the government of India should take measures to nullify the pernicious impact of the Supreme Court judgement. The countrywide campaign and the general strike of February 24, 2004 in defence of right to strike and economic policies saw millions of workers and employees participating in the protest action.




The BJP-led NDA government in the name of second-generation reforms mounted a serious attack on trade union and labour rights, to dismantle the existing labour laws and impose conditions of slavery on the working class. The declaration by the then prime minister that the government would vigorously pursue the labour reform agenda and implement the recommendation of the report of the Second National Commission on Labour (SNCL), without having any discussion with the trade unions made the attitude of the NDA amply clear. In fact the report was a perfect blue print for a wholesale attack on workers’ right to organise, bargain and agitate, including right to strike. Inclusion of the report of SNCL in the agenda of the Indian Labour Conference was an attempt to secure some sort of a green signal from the tripartite forum for a go-ahead on implementation, which CITU and others opposed.


CITU had brought out a comprehensive critique of the Commission Report in a publication on the subject and launched a countrywide campaign to oppose the anti-labour recommendations of the report. All the trade unions opposed the unilateral move of the NDA government to embark on the implementation of the Commission report in haste and the government was forced to commit to further consultation with the trade unions.




The moves to undermine the existing social security set-up by the BJP-led government is of serious concern, particularly in a scenario where the dire need is to extend social safety net to the overwhelmingly large section of working force, which are not covered under any formal scheme in operation now.


The contemplated pension sector reforms are mainly intended to flag off private sector insurance schemes in the era of opening up of the insurance sector. The government has made up its mind to switch over to the “Defined Contributions” concept from “Defined Benefit” concept. The budget of 2005 has further proposed for opening up of the pension sector for foreign investment. This is a totally malicious and dangerous move, as the private sector players whether indigenous or of foreign origin seek to participate in social security only eyeing the huge corpus of pension funds, which could be diverted to the share market at the cost of interest of working class.


The interest rate on the Employees Provident Fund was 12 pert cent since 1989-90. But since 2000-01, the NDA government reduced the same every successive year. Despite of the demand for restoration of the interest rate to 12 per cent, the present government has just conceded to hike the interest rate to 9.5 per cent.


The previous government attempted to even privatise the ESI dispensaries and curtail the existing benefits by unbundling the services under the scheme. The administration of the schemes under EPFO and ESI has suffered seriously because of laxity of enforcement, under the spurious plea of promoting voluntary compliance.




The BJP-led NDA government set out to completely destroy the public sector from the industrial map of the country. The rabid anti-public sector policy of the NDA government had been exposed in the creation of a separate Department of Disinvestment.


The working class put up determined resistance to the BJP-led government’s offensive to dismantle the public sector and indiscriminate privatisation of profitable enterprises. The Nalco struggle in Orissa became a mass popular movement with major political parties supporting Orissa Bandh in preventing the privatisation of the profit-making enterprise. During the period of the last three years, strikes have been organised by the coalmine workers against privatisation; the employees of HPCL and BPCL went on a strike against the privatisation move. Millions of workers and employees joined in two general strikes, the first by public sector workers on April 16, 2002, in defence of the public sector while the other on May 21, 2003 against the economic policies of the government.


The National Common Minimum Programme of the UPA has declared, “The UPA government is committed to a strong and effective public sector whose social objectives are met by its commercial functioning.” It further says that; “generally profit-making companies will not be privatised”. This was possible because of the pressure by the Left parties.


But despite such commitments, different voices from among the ruling parties speak of disinvestment of the shares in the profit making enterprises. The attempts for disinvestment in Mumbai and Delhi airports, NTPC etc, need to be looked at seriously and such moves to privatise through an indirect route shall be resisted by the working class.


The strikes in the banks, general insurance, life insurance and the agitation in the postal departments, BSNL in the recent times have been organised to defend the right of the employees as well as in the broader national economic interest. The one-day countrywide strike in the banks on March 22, 2005 was against the government’s attempt to merge the PSU banks undermining the interest of the banking sector of the country. 



The era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation has fuelled the problem of unemployment that reached an unprecedented height. With the progress of reform process, the jobless growth has been turned to a jobloss growth. In such a scenario, the working class along with the other sections of the society must organise an effective movement for the right to work. The CITU organised the national convention on Right to Work on March 12-13, 2005 at Yuba Bharati Stadium, Salt Lake, Kolkata. The convention called for a nation-wide campaign movement on the issue. The convention also resolved to mobilise all the trade unions and other mass organisations for the campaign and movements demanding drastic changes in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill tabled in parliament, which is in total variance with the commitment made in the CMP. CITU has submitted its views before the Standing Committee for consideration.




There is a growing campaign against the trade unions, obviously with the ill-motive to detract the working class, to convince that the trade unions are no longer able to look after the interest of the common toiling masses. The mushrooming non-governmental voluntary organisations, innately opposed to class struggle and nourished by the foreign money flowing from the capitalist block, are being projected as saviours. This rampant propaganda against trade unions must be viewed as an attack on the working class on the ideological front and have to be fought ruthlessly.




The 17th Party congress correctly pointed out that considerable section of members of trade unions do not participate in day-to-day activities. To overcome this, maintenance of close relations of the leaders with the members through democratic functioning has been stressed. This is also because of the low level of consciousness of the mass of working class. Participation of the working class in struggles against the neo-liberal reform policies indicates some positive achievement in this regard.


Comrade B T Ranadive’s birth centenary was utilised to organise countrywide campaign among the cadres. Apart from holding central programme, regional TU classes, state, district and local-level classes, seminars etc. all over the country were organised. Formation of P Ramamurthi Memorial School of Trade Unions is an important step to carry forward education programme on a regular basis.


During this period, along with the movements and struggles organised at the national level, the number of agitations and struggle movements, even in several weaker states, to defend the working class interest took place at plant level as well as state- level besides industry-wise movements. Stress has also been given to organise the workers working in the unorganised sector and to work among the working women.


The process of organising united movement bringing together all the trade unions and mass organisations has been continued. The National Platform of Mass Organisation (NPMO) is the space that needs to be strengthened for mobilising the entire mass in defending the national interest and to protect interest of the toiling masses of the country.


Drawing more and more working people in the field of struggles against the anti-national, anti-people and anti-working class policies definitely indicates the achievement of the Party on the trade union front. We have to take more initiative to build Party among the working class and educate them, so that, they can be developed to play a leading role.