People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 31, 2006
World Energy Workers To Intensify Struggle Against Privatisation
M K Pandhe
OVER 800 delegates attending the Fourth Congress of the National Federation of Mines and Energy Workers (FNME-CGT) expressed their firm opposition against the privatisation of energy sector by the Government of France. The Congress was held in Northern town Lille, on November 27-30, 2006 at Lille Palace Auditorium in a colourful atmosphere.
The French government closed down most of the coal mines while nearly 95 per cent of the power was generated with the help of nuclear energy. A large number of coal miners were rendered jobless by their measure but no adequate efforts were made to rehabilitate the miners. The trade unions in France are today fighting to reopen the coal mines and starting thermal power stations to produce power in France.
The Congress was held when all over France the mining and energy workers were involved in nationwide struggles against the policy of privatisation by the government on the plea of public-private partnership. Wherever privatisation was resorted to, the electricity charges have gone up making power scarce for the people.
General secretary of FNME-CGT, Fredric Imbrecht, in his report noted how the policies of globalisation have adversely affected the livelihood of the mining and energy workers in France. With acceleration of liberalisation offensive, life of the French working class has become harder. He reviewed how trade unions all over France had to take to street to oppose the government policies.
The mining and energy workers in France are unitedly campaigning for ensuring public control of all energy resources. The report of the general secretary observed how 82 per cent of the energy workers opposed privatisation in a referendum. He congratulated mining and energy workers for their determined opposition to the proposed law against privatisation and emphasised the need for bigger mobilisation of workers to stop the dangerous drift in the official policies.
It was not correct to depend on only one resource of energy. There was urgent need to emphasise all forms of energy resources for power generation so that full potential can be gainfully harnessed. The non-conventional as well as renewable sources of energy should be fully utilised so that energy development can be ensured in a balanced way. This cannot be achieved without a drastic change in the government’s energy policy.
General secretary pointed out how the policies of globalisation are leading to attack on trade unions rights of the workers as a result of which carrying out day-to-day activities have become difficult. The downsizing offensive has led to drastic reduction in manpower. He noted that the membership of union declined by 5 per cent since the last conference and now stood at only 79,000. He emphasised the need for strengthening the membership base of the union so that the trend can be reversed.
He reviewed the education programme launched by the union which received good response from the rank and file members of the union. In present era no trade union can advance without union cadres effectively countering the capitalist class propaganda on several issues facing the workers. He also dealt with the question of vocational training and proposed that trade unions should play more important role so that the educational programme can be effectively implemented.
The speakers on the general secretary’s report were given only 5 minutes time each. Hence most of the delegates had prepared their statements in writing so as to express their views in a consolidated manner.
The speakers pointed out how the merger of different energy units has resulted in concentration of capital and reduction in manpower in the new undertakings. However the French government is encouraging merger and hitting the interests of workers.
The cut in pensionary benefits was criticised by several speakers who demanded the enhancement of pensionary benefits in order to have a better-refused life for the workers. Some of the pensioners spoke about several difficulties they had been facing due to drastic reduction in real value of pension. They demanded more representation for pensioners so that their difficulties would be attended to in time.
Some speakers spoke about the debate in France about the question of workers’ purchasing shares of the company. There was a feeling among a section that it would lead to increase in the income of the workers. However speakers pointed out that companies had been fudging accounts and worker shareholders do not get much benefits from the profits of the company. Some other speakers pointed out that the shareholder workers of the company had been opposing strike action. Under these circumstances many workers noted that the experience showed that purchasing shares of the company does not help the workers in a capitalist system.
During the debate some speakers noted that the momentum that was developed due to prolonged strike of workers and students was not kept up later which has affected our struggle against the attacks of capitalist class. “We have to regain what we have lost,” one speaker said. However, this was not endorsed by other speakers who said we had achieved some gains in our struggles.
Speakers criticised some of the directives and decisions of the European community which went against the interests of the French energy workers. They called upon resistance to such draconian directives.
Reduction of membership of the union was also a matter of concern for some speakers. We must develop more links with the workers so that the weakness should be overcome, some speakers stated. Others felt that the membership declined due to non-implementation of some decisions taken by the organisation.
Speakers emphasised the urgency of training new workers since they do not have any knowledge about the TU movement. There is also reluctance among the younger workers to join the trade unions.
Even after the reply given to the debate by a panel specially constituted, delegates were allowed to raise points about the conclusions of the panel. Only one and half minutes time was given to raise the points. Some points were even accepted by the panel prior to finalisation of the report. Some delegates however expressed their disagreement or expressed neutrality on the general report.
On November 28, a meeting of the fraternal delegates attending the Congress from various countries met in a special session to consider the problems faced by the energy workers. As a co-president of the International Energy and Miners Unions, I was included in the presidium of the meeting.
In France, 30 per cent gas industry has already been privatised. Despite opposition of the workers to privatisation, the European Union is pressing for privatisation of the entire energy sector to suit the interests of the MNCs to control this strategic sector. Working class in energy sector in France is preparing for countrywide struggles to put an end to the drive towards privatisation.
In Mauritius, the government had made an attempt to find out a strategic partner to take over the Central Electricity Board. However, due to the struggle launched by the trade unions the attempt could not succeed. But the government has not yet given up efforts to find a strategic partner.
In Mexico, private sector companies are controlling about 30 per cent of energy sector. Stooge government of U.S. imperialism is allowing cheap labour to be utilised for the profits of the MNC’s in energy sector. Mexican experience shows that private sector companies do not develop additional infrastructure but are using the available infrastructure to earn higher profits. After privatisation in Mexico, social insurance and health care has been reduced. Regarding pension scheme, a new condition has been imposed that a worker must have 35 years service and he must work till the age of 65 years to become eligible for pension. Very few workers are in a position to fulfill this requirement. The wage level in Mexico today is 20 times less than the comparable German workers. The MNCs are actively interfering in internal affairs of Mexico. Mexican trade unions have taken initiative in forming American Confederation of Energy Workers to fight against depredations of MNCs in the continent.
In Algeria and Northern Africa there is acute shortage of energy and the drive towards privatisation has made the energy expensive for the common people. Attempt is being made in Algeria to integrate 7 energy public sector units. Attempts are being made to co-ordinate the activities of energy unions in Northern Africa.
A representative from Netherlands pointed out that in Europe, three lakh jobs have been lost due to restructuring and privatisation. Non-availability of jobs in other sectors is making the conditions of these workers more difficult. He criticised the policies of European Commission and proposed that joint struggle of the European Union trade unions to be launched to oppose these policies. He noted that the experiment of privatisation has not helped the people of Europe and hence he proposed that the U.S. should demand moratorium on privatisation.
In Gabon (Africa) the private sector launched sustained campaign against government owned energy units and ultimately succeeded in privatisation despite untied opposition by the trade unions. The law on privatisation adopted by Gabon does not even provide consultations with the public sector which is earmarked for privatisation. Gabon being a small country, the representative felt that the international support to their struggle would help them to intensify it.
The representative of Barkina Fasu felt that in his country the struggle against privatisation has become more and more complicated. Though electricity has become expensive after privatisation the MNCs are pressurising the government to go ahead with the drive towards privatisation.
The representative of the International Confederation of Energy and Mine Workers (ICFTU) emphasised the need for global struggle against the privatisation and urged for co-operation at international level irrespective of affiliation, which is extremely important to resist the MNC offensive. He observed that the Cold War is over but the legacy of it is still continuing at the global level which is posing several problems for the trade union movement.
The representative from Russia noted that after dismantling of socialism in USSR most of the thermal and hydel power stations have been privatised. Only the nuclear power is in the pubic sector. The private sector did not make any additional investment in the power sector and are earning higher profits by charging higher prices for electricity. In Russia nuclear power represents 16 per cent of the total power generated. Since the demand for power has increased, there is acute shortage of power in Russia.
The trade unions in Russia have been campaigning against privatisation. The experience of the former Soviet Union countries has shown that proper development of energy sector can only be done by the state. Without long term planning the energy needs of the people at affordable prices cannot be fulfilled.
The representative of African Organisation of Mining and Energy Unions observed that despite high natural resources the people in Africa live in poverty due to control of the natural resources by the MNCs. Their control over energy resources should be fought by all African countries through effective co-ordinated action. The struggles are no doubt emerging but they should be strengthened to fight for nationalisation of energy which alone will ensure cheaper supply of energy to the vast masses of poor people.
The representative of Public Service International noted that privatisation, deregulation and lack of investments have become national as well as international problems. Foreign funding of power projects are always linked to privatisation. Trade union rights of energy workers are under attack and global struggle against them is the need of the hour.
In Cuba, the entire energy sector is owned by the state. 17 power stations are producing 32,000 megawatt of power. 95 per cent of the country is electrified. It has been possible to form an energy forum for the Latin American country. Despite US blockade against Cuba, the country is on the verge of achieving energy self-sufficiency in the country. Cuban trade unions are fighting against the policy of globalisation in the energy sector.
While speaking about India, I explained about the struggle conducted by the energy workers against privatisation. The nationwide strike of the trade unions against the policies of globalisation was also mentioned. I advocated regional level and global level co-operation of energy workers so that worldwide struggle against globalisation and privatisation can be strengthened. I mentioned that the international meeting of the mine workers being held in Kolkata, irrespective of international affiliation, should develop common struggles of the mining workers.
The meeting concluded by an agreement to develop regional and international level co-operation of the energy workers for strengthening the struggle against the policy of privatisation. It was felt that without a common struggle of the working class against MNCs, who are trying to control world energy resources, the exploitation by the MNCs cannot be checked. The concept of the European Trade Unions to declare moratorium on privatisation was also supported by all the participants.
The conference of the FNME–CGT and the international meeting highlighted the growing worldwide struggles of the energy workers against privatisation which has hit severely the interests of the working class and common people all over the world. Both the meetings strongly emphasised the need to develop international co-operation to defeat the machinations of MNCs which alone will ensure cheaper energy for all the people in the world.