People's Democracy

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


No. 44

November 04, 2007

AIAWU To Celebrate 25th Anniversary


Hannan Mollah


COMING into being on November 11, 1982, the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) is today the largest organisation of agricultural workers in India ---the most oppressed and downtrodden section of our rural population. The founding conference of the union took place at Medinipur in West Bengal, along with a conference of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). Since then, the AIAWU has indeed covered a long distance in organising the agricultural workers in different parts of the country.


It was quite appropriate therefore that, held at Nawanshahar in Punjab from June 3 to 5 this year, the sixth all-India conference of the AIAWU called for observance of the union’s 25th anniversary in a befitting manner. It asked all its units to organise flag hoisting ceremonies at union offices and at a central place in their respective localities in the morning on November 11, the Foundation Day, and mobilise agricultural workers for the occasion. Then, in the daytime or evening on the same date, the union will hold meetings, seminars, discussions and rallies at the tehsil or district centres. This will be the beginning of the year-long programmes as planned by the state and district committees of the union. Campaigns on the ideology will start and demands of the union will be widely propagated through wall writing, posters, leaflets, pamphlets and articles as well as through discussions. Besides, the union has planned two jathas. One of these will start from Patna in Bihar and, moving via Uttar Pradesh, the central Indian states and southern states, it will go up to Kerala. The other jatha will start from Amritsar in Punjab and cross various North, West and South Indian states to reach Kerala. The two jathas will converge in Kerala and get merged into a huge meeting of agricultural workers.


As we know, India is a by and large agrarian country and 70 percent of the population still depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Agricultural workers play an important role in various agricultural operations. Their toils have contributed to the growth of agricultural production in a big way but it has not yet brought any qualitative change in their life. Their number too is growing very fast. It is not so much by any normal growth of their population as due to the growing immiserisation of Indian peasantry and loss of land by the poor and marginal peasants who are now joining the ranks of the rural labour in a big way. Besides, the closure of small and cottage industries in rural areas is also forcing the newly unemployed people to join the ranks of agricultural workers. Their economic vulnerability is progressively increasing due to the decreasing number of workdays available to them in the wake of the growing mechanisation of agriculture. They remain unemployed for most parts of the year and there is a fall or stagnation in their real wages. Women agricultural workers are increasingly facing physical and sexual attacks.


Agricultural workers in India are not only economically weak but educationally and socially backward as well. A very large number of them belong to the SC, ST, minority and dalit groups. The ongoing unprecedented rise in the prices of essential commodities and the gradual destruction of public distribution system (PDS) are adding to their poverty, distress and vulnerability. Failure in the matter of land reforms and lack of protection of the rights of tribal people on forest land has greatly added to their sufferings since independence. So the agrarian movement always strove to take up the cause of agricultural workers. The organised peasant movement started before independence and the All India Kisan Sabha was formed to fight for the interests of the peasants and agricultural workers in the country. From its very inception, the AIKS raised the problems of rural workers as well as peasants.


But the agrarian crisis continued to intensify after independence and the anti-people, anti-peasant policies of the successive Congress governments pushed the rural communities into newer distresses. The AIKS discussed the problems of agricultural workers at its various conferences. Held at Moga in Firozpur district of Punjab in September 1954, the 12th AIKS conference adopted a special resolution on the condition of agriculture workers. It resolved, "It is time that agricultural labourers are brought in large numbers into the organisation of agrarian movement. The best can be done by organising them in their separate Agricultural Labour Union. In view of the division into a separate class of wage workers and the separate class demands of the peasantry, they require their own organisation to fight better for their own demands besides their common demand for land.” Even after this, however, not much progress was made in organising the agricultural workers throughout India. The AIKS later, at its 23rd conference held in Varanasi in 1979, stressed the need to organise these rural poor in a separate organisation. Consequently, on October 12 and 13 in 1981, a meeting at Vijayawada in Andra Pradesh formed the Agricultural Workers Union at the state level. Before that, such efforts were made in Kerala, Punjab, Tripura and Tamilnadu also.


In order to join efforts and put up a strong fight for the demands of agricultural workers at the all-India level, the agricultural workers unions of different states urged the All India Kisan Sabha to take initiative towards the formation an all-India union for rural workers. The Vijayawada meeting in 1981 had the representatives from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Punjab and Tripura where some organisational set-up already existed, had drafted a policy statement and formed a committee. TVR Chandram was elected president and P K Kunjachan the secretary. A sub-committee was set up with these two comrades and Kumaravelu to prepare a constitution for an all-India union. Set up in Delhi in November 1981, the central office circulated the draft constitution.


After this preparatory work, it was decided to hold the founding conference of All India Agricultural Workers Union along with the 24th conference of the AIKS. Accordingly, when the AIKS conference was held at Medinipur in West Bengal from November 8 to 11, 1982, an AIAWU conference was held along with it where a separate report for the AIAWU was placed, discussed and adopted, along with the policy statement, aims and objectives and the constitution. The first conference represented 7,90,420 members enrolled in 8 states, and elected a 47-member council and an 18-member executive committee with Dasharath Deb as president and P K Kanjacchan as general secretary. Since then, the AIAWU is engaged in building up the movement and organisation of rural working class during the 25 years of its existence.


It will not be out of place to recollect the continuing growth of the organisation and its movement despite many limitations. We are aware that the growth is there but it is not commensurate with the growth of agricultural workers’ population in the country. After the founding conference, the union’s vigorous activities in different parts of the country made it enrol 16,87,051 members in 12 states by its second conference held in Palghat (Kerala) on December 9-12 December, 1986. But the growth of membership was not so fast till the third conference held at Samastipur (Bihar) on April 17-19, 1992; it stood at 17,59,565 only. The fourth conference took place at Khammam in Andhra Pradesh on November 2-4, 1996, with a membership of 21,92,799 in 13 states. Afterwards, the activities were intensified in newer areas and the union could enrol 27,07,863 members by its fifth conference (Thrissur, Kerala, April 4-6, 2003). After it, the union activities increased further and enabled it to enrol 42,47,754 members by sixth conference at Nawanshahar in Punjab, June 3-5, 2007. This has created enthusiasm among the activists and the conference resolved to reach up to newer sections of agricultural workers in at least 300 districts of the country to enrol 5 million memberships by the next conference.


The All India Agriculture Workers Union strove to organise agricultural workers as the rural working class, as fulfilling the tasks of an agrarian revolution is not possible without organising this vast section of the working people. A strong movement of agricultural workers is of utmost importance even to bring about a far more modest social change in rural India. In our caste-divided society, class unity of the rural poor is a must to create the necessary ground for a revolutionary change in the country. In our agrarian struggle, what is important is to build up a kisan movement based on the unity of poor peasants with agricultural workers, though in the changed situation under globalisation the movement will have to take up the problems of rich peasants too in a big way. But we have to ensure that the basic understanding behind the formation of separate union of agricultural workers is not undermined. Even after two and a half decades, agricultural workers are not organised in a separate class organisation in several states. This while, under the growing influence of market forces and of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, agricultural workers are developing as a distinct class force.


Agricultural workers are facing growing pauperisation due to the ongoing, intense agrarian crisis in the country while the changes in agricultural operations too have intensified their exploitation. Migration due to non-availability of sufficient work in their native places has become a big problem for them. Under the new economic policy, agriculture is continuously on the decline and its share has come down from 40 to a mere 18.5 percent of GDP in the last 15 years. This has tremendously impacted the number of workdays available for these workers --- in two decades this has come down from 122 to as few as 57 days in some areas. Thus, sufficient work and proper wage are the main issues before agricultural workers. The union has continuously organised struggles on these demands and decided to intensify the movement in the coming days.
Along with it, the struggle for land and homesite is also very important. In Andhra Pradesh, this struggle has intensified of late and seven agricultural workers were killed by the Congress government’s police. In alliance with others, our union is playing an important role in this struggle. But this struggle has to be taken up in other states too. In this twenty-fifth year of our union, it has to be started where it is lacking and intensified manifold where it is going on.


The union also took up the issue of food security for the rural poor and fought for strengthening of the public distribution system (PDS). There is a concerted attempt by the central government to dismantle the system. Dictated by the Fund-Bank philosophy, the policy was implemented by the earlier BJP led government and is now continued by the UPA government also. On the one hand, the FCI is being weakened, procurement reduced and food imports are being increased, plunging our farmers into a serious crisis. On the other hand, the division of poor people into APL and BPL categories is a conspiracy to throw our poor to the cruel market forces. In the coming days, the union has a big responsibility to resist this conspiracy at all cost.


Since its inception, the union has been raising the demand of a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural workers. Different governments at the centre promised to take up the matter, but only to hoodwink the people. The BJP government went to the extent of declaring that such legislation is not required at all. Due to our continuous struggle and wide support from all democratic forces, the UPA government’s National Common Minimum Programme promised to pass such a law. Though the committee it set up has submitted its report, the government is dillydallying in the matter. The draft bill the government has prepared is but an apologia and nowhere near a comprehensive act. This amounts to betrayal of agricultural workers by the UPA government. Bigger struggles are needed to force the government to act before its term expires.


Another challenge the union took up from the beginning was to fight all sort of divisive forces. We the Indians have our own variety of apartheid, that is, casteism. A large number of agricultural workers belong to the SC and ST communities. Atrocities against them are a permanent feature of Indian society. It is more acute in rural India and among its main victims are agricultural workers. Besides, another curse that has raised its ugly head is that of communalism. The fascist forces of the Sangh Parivar are continuously fanning communal hatred and it adversely impacts the rural poor. To fight against casteism and communalism remains an important task before the union and we will continue to take up this fight in the days to come in order to protect and strengthen the working people's unity. The union also took up the issues of the tribal people’s rights and their eviction from the forest land. An act has been passed for them due to massive pressure from the democratic forces, but that is not yet notified by the central government.


The UPA government has enacted the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, promising 100 days work for agricultural workers and other rural unemployed. But this is not being properly implemented. As this was one of our main demands, it is our responsibility to fight for its proper implementation. The sixth AIAWU conference discussed the issue seriously and decided to organise workers in a big way so that they can benefit from it.


The union has also taken up many other issues, like social security for agricultural workers, problems of women agricultural workers, formulation of and campaign for an alternative agricultural policy, united struggles with like-minded organisations etc.


Mobilisation of the largest possible mass of agricultural workers on the above issues will be the real observation of 25th anniversary of the union. Through its year-long celebrations the union will have to reach a far larger number of agricultural workers as well as the vast numbers of unorganised workers, peasants and other sections of the democratic people in order to prepare them for greater struggles in the future.