People's Democracy

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


No. 49

December 14, 2008


South Asian Trade Union Leaders Meet In Beijing

Ardhendu Dakshi

AT the invitation of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) a meeting of senior trade union leaders of five South Asian countries, namely India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Srilanka, was organised in Beijing on November 18 -19, 2008. A seminar on “Sustainable Development And The Role of Trade Unions”, was followed by discussions on various aspects of the present day scenario in economic, social and environmental matters with particular reference to this region. CITU, INTUC, AITUC, BMS, HMS and AIUTUC were invited from India. The CITU was represented by Ardhendu Dakshi, national secretary and A Soundararajan, general secretary, Tamilnadu state committee of CITU. A total of 27 delegates from abroad and all the heads and senior leaders of different departments of ACFTU attended the seminar.

This meet assumed added significance because of the major crisis looming large in the world economy and the growing attack on jobs, wages and rights of workers almost everywhere. The situation certainly demands greater understanding between the trade unions beyond national boundaries and concerted action by the working class to ward off the major dangers we are faced with.

Yu Hong Qiu, secretary ACFTU, inaugurated the seminar. She stressed that “The solution of new problems and new challenges brought by the economic globalisation to the international trade union movement requires joint efforts of trade unions in various countries and consultation and co-operation of the international trade union movement, that the trade union organisations in different countries shall enhance mutual co-operation, boost the economic and social development of various countries, realise the legal rights and interests of various countries”.

She underlined the need for the working class to take up matters of environmental protection enthusiastically, for sustainable growth of the economy and welfare of the people. She emphasised that ACFTU would “promote and develop international trade union relationship based on mutual respect, equal exchange, friendly co-operation, democracy and unity.” The participant trade union leaders from the five countries spoke on the subject and naturally had divergent views in the interpretation of the situation and explanation of the role of the trade unions. Some of the unions focussed on environmental issues, protection of nature, and containing global warming. Some unions narrated the history of their own organisation and made general observations about the present day economy. Some union representatives lauded giant multi-national corporations for making headway and spending billions of dollars for ecological balance and suggested a “carrot and stick” policy for corporates, to reward for good work in conservation of nature and resources and punishment for not doing this.

Most of the participants gave an account of the condition of workers prevailing in their own countries and expected international action to change the general condition of the workers, fight job losses, low income and insecurity in life.

Eventually, the major issue that dominated the discussion was obviously the present scenario of downturn of the world economy, which is already causing job losses of a severe nature, loss of earning, rising unemployment and uncertainties in the market conditions. When growth is on the downslide and in some countries recession has already begun, sustainable development and environmental protection and related issues are bound to be relegated to the background. Obviously economics took the centre stage of discussion and the present model of development in the era of economic globalisation became the dominant issue to be discussed.

The ACFTU leader said that “By and large, the global economy faces grave challenges on its way to sustainable development. Global economic imbalance continues to worsen. Cut-throat international competition accelerates the concentration of world wealth with the yawning gap between North and the South. The environment is severely polluted and degraded. Global warning and climate problems are costing human beings even more. Some developed countries and also part of the developing world have witnessed increasing social unrest and instability. Economic globalisation is no longer a pure economic issue but a social one”.

In response to such a situation, ACFTU leader emphasised that “in terms of domestic development, we persist in putting people first to build a harmonious society. To realise, safeguard and develop the fundamental interests of the vast majority of the people is always the motive and goal of our work”.

Most of the leaders from abroad narrated their story of the rich becoming richer, poor becoming poorer, labour laws being violated and the trade union movement being under attack everywhere. They highlighted how the present economic crises in the world are causing serious problems in manufacturing, trade, commerce and exports, resulting in job losses of tens of thousands. The biggest problem before us, they felt, was not sustainable growth but how to face the contraction because the workers are being hit the hardest in such a situation.

Ardhendu Dakshi emphasised that CITU and its allies in India have all along opposed and resisted the present model of globalisation from the beginning. The national governments must take steps most urgently so that the common people’s purchasing power is increased by all means and for that matter trade unions and the working class must intervene to change the macro-economic policies. The ruthless exploitation of workers must stop and we must fight seriously and immediately for distribution of wealth. He urged for better co-ordination between the trade unions in Asia because in the global slump, the workers in Asia will be the most attacked and worst sufferers.

After the seminar, there were bilateral discussions of each country’s delegation with the top ACFTU leadership. Several questions were asked about the Chinese labour situation and there was a free and frank exchange of views. Particularly on three issues questions were asked again and again by delegates from abroad. These were – what are the conditions of service of the workers in China, what is the wage pattern and what are the working hours? The question of social security provisions also came up for discussion.

It was revealed that each employer has to sign a contract with an employee, giving full details of the conditions of service, tenure, wages and other benefits. The period may be from one to five years which can be made permanent if the worker so wishes, after working for 10 years. Duty is for 8 hours, average minimum wage is 1500 Yuan (nearly Rs 10,000) per month and retirement age is 60 for men and 50 for women, which is the tradition for the last 50 years. About social security the picture is different and cannot be compared because in a socialist country, the State takes care of a good part of education, medical and retirement benefits.

Generally there has been a noticeable improvement in the living conditions of average people, though a section of the better-off middle class has emerged over the years. The ACFTU document admitted that though China has attained a very high level of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the per capita GDP is far below the level of the developed world. Their documents admit that there is a big gap in the standard of living of the urban people and their rural counterparts. It was also revealed that the present worldwide economic crisis is having a serious impact on the Chinese economy and emergency steps are being taken to provide stimulus in infrastructure and the rural sector, to prevent downturn in the economy. One has to wait to see the results.

The delegations visited Nanjing and Xiamen Special Economic Zone (which is actually a huge modern city) and a Dairy farm in Nanjing and a modern Bus factory (King Long) in Xiamen. They also visited important places of interest like the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, Olympic Complex in Beijing, Yang-Tse river, Sun Yat Sen’s memorial, the monument of Confucius, Chiang-kai-sek’s “Presidents Palace” Museum in Nanjing and an island beautifully developed as a tourist spot in Xiamen. It was unknown to us that a large number of industries from Taiwan (Formosa) have shifted to mainland China in Xiamen and people of this state (Fujian) can freely travel to Taiwan, which is only a few kilometers away, without any passport or permission. In a way, Taiwan has already become a part of mainland China.

Two things appear remarkable to foreigners visiting China today. The infrastructural development is simply spectacular. It has to be seen to be believed. Secondly, in my second visit to China, a profound change was noticed in public behaviour. People are more friendly, helpful, their behaviour is marked by humility and warmth. Maybe every Chinese citizen has tried to give a better impression of himself or herself during and after the Olympics. The change was visible. The seminar and the tour impressed the delegates greatly.