People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 16, 2006
August Campaign And The Working Class
M K Pandhe
WORKING class in India will be enthusiastically participating in the August campaign called for by the central committee meeting of the CPI(M) in its meeting held at Hyderabad on June 8-10, 2006. In the entire month of August, trade unions will have to make strenuous efforts to mobilise the working class against the UPA government’s economic and labour policies.
The victorious struggle launched by the united trade union movement against disinvestments of Nalco and Neyveli Lignite Corporation, which compelled the Manmohan Singh government to put on hold the disinvestments programme, has created confidence among the workers in public sector undertakings that through determined struggle the derogatory policies of the UPA government can be reversed. These struggles have received powerful popular support among the toiling masses and the trade unions struggle got converted into a peoples struggle. The UPA government had to roll back the proposal unceremoniously when the DMK government threatened to withdraw from the UPA government and support it from outside.
The backdrop of these two struggles will give a big boost to the August political campaign and trade unions will have to take up the pressing issues before the working class and launch a massive campaign to highlight them during the month. With the defeat of the NDA regime and the formation of the UPA government, a general enthusiasm has been created among the working class. The adoption of the National Common Minimum Programme by the Manmohan Singh government generated fond hopes in the minds of the workers about improvement in their working and living conditions. The following major promises were included in the NCMP:
1. A separate Bill for the agriculture workers
2. A comprehensive Bill for the unorganised workers
3. Government assistance to potentially viable sick industrial undertakings
4. No privatisation of profit making public sector undertakings
5. Strengthening of the public distribution system
6. No hire and fire policy
7. Workers’ unions will be consulted before making any changes in the labour laws
8. Controlling the price rise
9. Workers’ participation in management to be introduced
10. Universalisation of Anganwadi scheme
11. Employment Guarantee Scheme for all
12. Protection of health, safety and environment.
However, the practical experience of the workers during the last two years has shown that these assurances have either been violated or implemented not in their true spirit. When the UPA government came to power it had arbitrarily reduced the rate of interest on the Provident Fund to 8 per cent from 9.5 per cent. Earlier, the NDA government had brought it down from 12 to 9.5 per cent. The social security of the workers after retirement has been drastically cut and strong resentment is prevailing among the nearly 4 crore workers all over the country. The promise about showing concern for Aam Admi was totally ignored in this regard.
Despite recommendation of the National Commission on Rural Labour nearly two decades ago, a comprehensive bill concerning the conditions of the vast multitude of the agricultural workers has not been brought in parliament by the government so far. Now the government stated that they would be covered in the Bill on the unorganised workers. However, all the central trade unions have demanded separate bill for the agricultural workers. The UPA government has not accepted this demand so far, which amounts to non-implementation of the commitment given in the NCMP.
Regarding the Unorganised Sector Workers Bill, the government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Dr Arjun Sengupta. No trade union representative was appointed on the committee which clearly reflected the anti-working class bias of the government. The report contains several impractical proposals which have been pointed out by the trade unions. The implementation machinery provided is also faulty and requires drastic improvement. No Bill has been drafted so far, which is acceptable to the trade unions. On this question also the government has not done much to implement the commitment given in the NCMP. The total number of employees to be covered will be about 34 crore but the funds provided by the committee do not give hope of any tangible benefits to the workers.
GROWING SICKNESS OF INDUSTRIES
With the withdrawal of the reservation for the small-scale sector, big industrial houses have entered this sphere. This has added to the sickness in small-scale units and several of them have been closed down. The withdrawal of the restrictions on import of over 1000 commodities and granting open general licence to import has made many industries sick.
The sick public sector undertakings have not received any assistance for further investment and modernisation despite concrete revival packages proposed by the trade unions. In fact, sickness of the potentially viable units has increased due to this retrograde policy. The finance minister has rejected many proposals even if they have been cleared by the concerned ministries.
Without effective protection to small-scale industry the sickness in this sector cannot be reduced. Every proposal placed before the finance minister is being opposed by the minister. Consequently, during the last two years large-scale manufacturers have increased their market at the cost of small-scale industry.
PRIVATISATION AND DISINVESTMENT
Though the NCMP categorically stated that profit making undertakings would not be privatised, the government by its privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports has shown that it is not keen to implement the NCMP. Airport Authority of India’s (AAI) proposals for modernisation of these airports were not cleared for the last four five years. But through underhand dealings, these two most profitable airports have been handed over to the private sector companies which have had no experience of modernising airports. The united struggle launched by the airport employees was ignored by the government while the assurances given by the civil aviation minister in writing have remained on paper. The government is now moving to privatise other metro airports despite opposition from the Left parties. The promise to consult the unions on modernisation has also not been implemented.
The UPA government prepared a proposal to disinvest in over 30 public sector undertakings. However, due to the militant struggle of Neyveli and Nalco workers, the process has been put on hold, albeit reluctantly. The danger of government resorting to disinvestment still hangs around. The public sector employees’ movement has to strengthen the agitation so that the process is stopped once and for all.
The promise to strengthen the public distribution system (PDS) has remained on paper. During the last two years the funds provided by the government have been drastically reduced. According to a reply given in parliament by the government, the foodgrains supplied to the states has declined by almost half. The prices of essential commodities supplied through PDS has gone up by about 20 per cent and the quality and quantity of supply have been reduced. Supply of kerosene has been reduced and Chhattisgarh government has announced that sugar would be supplied in shops only twice a month. On the plea of supplying essential commodities only to families below the poverty line, genuine poor people have been left out of public distribution system, making a mockery of the very concept of public distribution system.
The labour ministry has openly proposed amendment to the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947 deleting restrictions to implement hire and fire policy. The government has prepared a Bill to permit employers to terminate services of workers without clearance from the government. This would enable the employer to throw out any employee by only giving him more retrenchment compensation! The Planning Commission is also endorsing this view and things are moving ahead despite opposition from all trade unions.
To make the matters worse, the government has proposed allowance to contract labour even if the job is of permanent nature. Such an amendment is forthcoming in the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act which will enable the employers to engage more contract labour. In the name of labour market flexibility, outsourcing of jobs has become a common phenomenon. The UPA government has announced its intention to provide for short-term employment to help the industrialists to keep more and more temporary workers. The concept of permanent job is getting gradually abolished.
The government has accepted the World Bank concept that labour laws should not be punitive and they should keep an objective of “self-compliance” by the employees. By this method the employer has only to give self-certification that he is implementing the labour laws, which will be accepted by the government at face value.
Already in the export processing zones and special economic zones, labour laws are not implemented according to legal provisions.
Brutal suppression of workers fighting for trade union demands has become a matter of daily occurrence. Instances like Honda repression, Natpha Jhakri Project where police introduced a reign of terror, Chamera Project in Himachal where three trade union leaders were brutally killed by armed gangsters of Hindustan Construction Company, suppression of workers struggle in Liberty shoes in Haryana, Bangle workers of Ferozabad where large number of workers were implicated in false criminal cases, Banihal tunnel workers in J&K where Hindustan Construction Company resorted to inhuman brutalities for merely trying to form a union, are only some examples of brutal attacks on trade union rights. Such examples can be multiplied all over India.
STEEP RISE IN PRICES
The last two years of UPA rule witnessed steep rise in prices of all essential commodities. Forward trading, hoarding of commodities, increase in excise duty on essential commodities etc have been some of the reasons for this rise in prices. To make matters worse, the government effected a steep hike in petroleum products, resulting in a sharp rise in essential commodities.
Speculators are being given a free hand to indulge in share market operations. The avoidable rise in petrol and diesel prices have hit the common man below the belt. When the national press is daily reporting rise in prices, the government figures on the rate of inflation gives a totally wrong picture of the situation.
During this period the government has introduced a new series of Consumer Price Index Numbers with 2001 as the base year despite opposition of all trade unions. The fraudulent price index fails to reflect the real rise in prices due to manipulation and tampering with prices which is leading to a loss of thousands of crores of DA every month for the workers. The united demand of the TUs to appoint Index Review Committee was curtly rejected by the government. It is creating an explosive situation in the country and discontent of the workers may burst out any time.
NO EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEE
The working of the National Employment Guarantee Act has not ensured 100 days work to the unemployed people. Even minimum wages are not being paid and the tasks being given are too tough. Bureaucratic corruption is rampant in various states. Sufficient funds have not been provided by the finance ministry to give work to all the needy persons. All registered persons are not being provided work. The working conditions at the sites are pretty bad and there is an urgent need to improve the implementation of the scheme. Due to pressure of the Left, the scheme was implemented but the government is still not serious about its implementation. The CPI(M) has therefore decided to have a countrywide campaign for effective implementation of the scheme.
The NCMP has stated that the scheme would be implemented in both urban and rural areas. But so far this is being implemented in rural areas only, that too in just 200 districts of the country. It is not clear whether during the period of five years the urban areas would also be covered.
Leave alone the commitment in NCMP that Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) would be universalized, even the sanctioned centres are not being implemented by the government. Over 14 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers are given below poverty line remuneration. World Bank reports wants to scuttle the scheme as such and workers are resisting these proposals.
The health, safety and environment sectors have also not improved much. The promised steps against putting an end to sexual harassment of women workers at the workplace is yet to see the light of the day.
All these issues will form the major content of the August campaign on the trade union front. The government’s pro-US imperialist policies and the issues of J&K will also be taken up for campaigning by the trade unions. The failure of the UPA government to bring Women’s Reservation Bill and steps to reduce unemployment will also be highlighted in the campaign. The problem of dalits and tribals will also be appropriately focused.
The trade union movement must rise to the occasion and build a powerful campaign against the anti-working class policies of the UPA government. This campaign will educate the working people and prepare the basis for a concerted movement of resistance against the central government’s policies. All trade unions must utilise the opportunity for a nationwide campaign so that the retrograde policies of the government are squarely defeated.