People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 16, 2006
Workers Are The Winners
A A Nainar
ANOTHER round is over in the fight against NLC (Neyveli Lignite Corporation) disinvestment plan. It might be well true in the fight against any Public Sector disinvestment plan for the simple reason that everything when vehemently protested is put on hold only temporarily. It is a tactical retreat in the instant case, by the ruling establishment given the nature of the ruling alliance and its inherent compulsions. Experience shows that the pro-reformers who occupy vital positions in the government would again strike at an appropriate opportunity later. The eternal vigilance and unwavering unity of the workers would be put to test again and again till basic changes take place in the economic policies pursued by the successive governments at the centre.
During March 2002, the NDA government wanted to dilute the government’s holding by 50 per cent through disinvestment. They were then taught a lesson by the united strength of the workers, of course supported by the Left and the democratic movements. The strike went on for full eight days till the decision to disinvest was reversed. The irony of the situation is that while in the elections-2004 the NDA was sent packing precisely for the reason of pursuing these types of policies, the present UPA government headed by the Congress pursues the same set of policies in letter and spirit. The Left parties in their meeting with the Congress in the coordination committee expressed their opposition to the Nalco and NLC disinvestment plan. But the government announced its decision to disinvest 10 per cent of its shares (from the presently held shares of 93.62 per cent) on June 22, 2006. When a reporter asked the representative of the government, it had the audacity to lie that the decision was taken in consultation with the Left parties. Such is their level of honesty.
Immediately on hearing the announcement, the CITU held demonstrations inside the NLC plants, without even waiting for a call to come. A Joint Action Committee of Trade Unions was formed in which 17 unions/ associations took part. The unions led by the DMK and the AIADMK were all in the forefront unitedly against the decision to disinvest. Officers’ organisations and all other category unions became members of the JAC. An unanimous decision was taken to go on indefinite strike from July 4, 2006 to press the government to withdraw the disinvestment plan. Demonstrations, picketing, street corner meetings and all forms of campaign were unleashed. Around 8000 telegrams were sent to PMO and the FM’s office. In Cuddalore district the CPI(M) and CPI together had given a bandh call on July 5 besides all other campaign programmes in support of the Neyveli workers.
All trade unions had started rallying behind the Joint Action Committee in some form or the other with a view to defeating the government’s decision. The CITU independently conducted demonstrations throughout the state condemning the government’s move. When the leaders of the JAC met the leaders of all political parties, the workers were assured of unstinted support and solidarity from almost all of them.
The mood of the workers was quite upbeat having united everybody under one umbrella with a single-minded devotion to defeat the ill advised plan of the government. On third July there was a fasting programme. From July 4 morning 10.00 a m, the workers struck work. The whole Neyveli town wore a deserted look. Except for a few essential services, which were exempted from the strike, all the work came to a grinding halt. The shopkeepers had downed their shutters in support of the workers’ strike. There was tremendous pressure on the state and central governments to act, and act fast.
The chief minister and DPA leader Karunanidhi wrote to the prime minister seeking review of the decision on June 25. No proper response forthcoming from them, then he wrote on July 2, saying that the government explore the possibility of extending sale of shares to the workers themselves. Readily agreeing to the suggestion on July 3 , the PMO announced it will allocate necessary shares to the workers. The JAC had rejected the very idea of sale even if it meant to the workers, citing how this backdoor privatisation scheme worked in various sectors over the last two decades.
Not only trade unions but all political parties save the Congress and the BJP, expressed full support for the indefinite strike. The whole process snowballing into a crisis of the first order for a new government that had assumed charge hardly 50 days ago, it had to intervene and the chief minister did intervene effectively on the second day of the strike saying that the DMK would have to consider the option of withdrawing from the government in support of the workers. The DMK ministers conveyed this to the prime minister on July 6, upon which the government had to backtrack.
There was enough pressure mounted by the left parties at the central level well before the decision was announced. The left had not only disassociated itself from the government’s position but also decided to oppose at all levels the NALCO-NLC disinvestment plan. The CITU had organised a successful strike in Orissa and had started moving the workers throughout the state of Tamilnadu. The left parties and their unions took the lead in organising joint platforms and mass actions. All political parties jumped the bandwagon. This made a perfect setting and the chief minister did hit the last nail. However, the threat of disinvestment is there very much alive.
The BJP had expressed its displeasure for the way the government had withdrawn its move. It went to the extent of saying that the Congress is not loyal to the reforms programme to which the latter said it was committed to. The Congress was also not happy with the way the programme had to be abandoned abruptly midway. The corporate media, big business houses and their associations had obviously been faulting the government for yielding to blackmail (!). The workers are the clear winners in this round. But the spirit of unity of the working class and the fight against the pro bourgeois-landlord class policies of the government had to be taken on the political-ideological plane throughout the nation without any let up.