People's Democracy

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


No. 38

September 28 , 2008



Agricultural Labour Convention Remembers Comrade Surjeet

THE Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (AIAWU) organised a state-level convention in memory of Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet at Ludhiana, on September 8, 2008 which was attended by 500 delegates from 12 districts. The convention was presided over by state secretary of the organisation, Vasudev Jamsher and was inaugurated by Suneet Chopra, all India joint secretary, AIAWU.

Suneet Chopra highlighted the role played by Comrade Surjeet in organising the agricultural labour union in Punjab (as far back as 1953) and on an all India level in 1981. He pointed out how the union had chosen to observe his death with a programme of action centred round the need to pass a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour. Comrade Surjeet had worked on this demand consistently over decades, even preparing a draft of it in 1980-81. The AIAWU also took up the issue of the implementation of the employment guarantee legislation like NREGA, so essential to keep agricultural labour alive in today’s adverse conditions of declining days of work, rising prices and indebtedness as a result of which over 20,000 people had died of starvation and 1,66,304 had committed suicide in the last eight years. This was a result of the gross neglect of the lives and livelihood of the working people and small producers whose spending power and consumption was being cut down to a bare minimum. They were being forced to become servile to the needs of global agri-business by the ill-advised policies of pro-WTO governments at the centre and in many states. The lack of concern for the people was evident when thousands of people were swept away by floods or facing starvation and death by disease in Bihar and Assam with virtually no help from the central government which was busy gloating over the “success” of India-US nuclear deal. Without organising the basic masses to defend their lives and livelihood, the country would face worse conditions than those of Sub-Saharan Africa, warned the AIAWU leader.

The best way to remember Comrade Surjeet, he said, was to organise the downtrodden sections to carry forward the struggles he had begun to victory. He congratulated the Punjab state unit of the union for their hard work in organising a fitting tribute to the founder of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and AIAWU, a tribute that would remind us that Comrade Surjeet would always be among us whenever we took up the cause of the poorest and the most oppressed who fed us but went without food, who were citizens without basic liberties being allowed them, and human beings trapped in a system that is inhuman.

The convention was then addressed by state president of the union, Bhup Chand Channo, state secretary Vasudev Jamsher and state vice presidents, Ram Singh Noorpuri and Geeta Ram and joint secretaries Shiv Rattan and Harcharan Arora. They noted how the present policies of the governments at the centre and in Punjab, had resulted in joblessness and growing poverty, but the Punjab government refused to provide jobs even with the money the centre had allocated. As a result, heavy debts had accumulated among agricultural labourers who could not pay them back as they were already living in extreme poverty. So they demanded that the government cancel their debts like those of the farmers, as they too were producers. Apart from this, compensation for the flood affected poor whose houses were washed away and the proper provision of old age pensions was called for. It was decided the union would function as a watchdog for the implementation of NREGA.

Twelve speakers, one from each of the districts of Nawashahr, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Sangrur, Amritsar, Ferozpur, Bhatinda, Faridkot, Hoshiarpur and Ropar took part in the discussion. At the end of the convention an action programme was proposed. It was decided that 500 villages in the state would be contacted on the above pressing issues of agricultural labour. A gherao of the blocks in the state would take place if the government failed to address their demands. And the union would intensify its struggle all over the state on the issue of the proper implementation of NREGA, debt cancellation, old age pensions, the struggle to prevent the violation of the human rights of dalits and agricultural labour as well as for passing the draft bill for a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour prepared by Comrade Surjeet nearly three decades ago. The convention closed with a firm pledge to finish the work begun by Comrade Surjeet.