People's Democracy

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


No. 13

April 05, 2009



M K Pandhe

THE second international conference of coal mineworkers held at Edinburgh (Scotland) was attended by 120 delegates from 17 countries. It decided to form an International Action Committee to oppose the capitalist policies of globalisation, privatisation, casualisation, contracterisation, outsourcing and closure of coal mines all over the world. The coal mine unions of all affiliations participated in the conference.

The first International Coal Mineworkers’ conference was held in Kolkata in December 2007 which brought out such historic unity in the world. The CITU and INTUC played a major role in organising the conference which brought together International Coal Mines Organizations IEMO and ICEM on a common platform. The conference formed a preparatory committee to implement the decisions of opposition to the policies of capitalist globalisation all over the world.

The preparatory committee met in Sydney (Australia) in November 2008 which decided to organise the second conference of coal miners at Edinburgh on March 18-19, 2009.

The inaugural session of the conference was presided over by Keith Stanley, vice-president of NVM. Lord Provost of Edinburgh welcomed the delegates to Edinburgh and promised all assistance for the success of the conference.

In his welcome address Ian Lavery, president NVM attacked global capitalism for drastically reducing the work force in coal industry. In UK alone, the coal miners were two lakh in number but Margaret Thatcher government arbitrarily closed down 150 pits with the result that now only 5000 coal miners are employed in UK. While welcoming the historic unity achieved by coal miners movement all over the world, he appealed to converting the words into action programme so that powerful struggle is launched against the capitalist onslaughts.

Andrew Vickers, general vice president, construction, forestry, mining and energy workers union of Australia advocated clean coal technology to avoid pollution at a global level. Mentioning the challenges posed by the climate change, he strongly advocated coal as one of the most crucial source of supply of energy to the world. He attacked the role of MNCs in coal industry who deny trade union rights to coal miners and resort to privatisation and contracterisation to earn more profits. While concluding he advocated global actions by the coal miners to resist the capitalist policies to ruin the coal industry.

While conveying greetings, the leaders of the participating countries from India, Australia, South Africa, USA, Columbia, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, France, Poland, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada spoke briefly about the situation in their countries and advocated worldwide struggles against the attacks on the livelihood of the coal miners. The representatives of IEMO, Alain Simon and ICEM Manfred Warda also welcomed the remarkable unity achieved by the international coalminer’s movement. M K Pandhe, president, All India Coal Workers Federation (CITU) explained the united struggle of the Indian Coal workers against privatisation and a successful agreement signed after preparing for three days nationwide strike action.

In the afternoon session, Andrew Vickers of CFMEU, Australia, presented a paper on global financial crisis and its effect on world coal mining industry. Vickers pointed out how the greed of USA capitalists and deregulation of economy was responsible for the commencement of the global capitalist crisis which resulted in job loss for millions of workers. He noted that a study of the Asian Development Bank said that the decline in value of assets all over the world had been equivalent to the annual world gross domestic product. Describing how prosperity in US was dependent on borrowed money, he noted that average household debt was 141 per cent of annual income. In UK, it was 177 per cent of income while in Australia it was 156 per cent of the total income. Observing that the bottom of the crisis was yet to be seen, he visualised the crisis would be a long drawn having serious impact of coal mining industry and its workers, job losses, curtailment of benefits to workers, closure of mines wage cuts etc. Vickers noted, “Basically we live in a high risk time, and all forecasts are speculative.”

He noted that demand for coal will be reduced in developed countries while its demand is likely to be increased in developing countries. China is planning 280,000 Mega Watts addition to its capacity (six times Australia’s total installed capacity) Vietnam has planned increase of 116,000 MW installed capacity followed by India by 77,000 MW. He stressed the need to worldwide collective efforts to protect the interests of coal miners.

There was useful discussion by participants from India, South Africa, France, USA and other countries who elaborated the situation in their respective countries.

In the evening there was a cultural programme depicting traditional Scottish dances by women artists.

On March 19, 2009 during the morning session, a paper was presented by Peter Colley (CFMEU Australia) on climate change and carbon capture and storage technology. He elaborated how clean coal technology could be evolved in the world by capturing carbon content in the atmosphere and storing it safety. However, the technology is expensive and require evolving a cheaper form of technology to be used broadly all over the world. He stressed the need to finance the technology by the government and coal mine owners so that emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be drastically reduced.

Ian Lavery of NUM spoke about the attempts by the capitalists to destroy the coal industry by closing down mines in the name of pollution control and stressed the need by the trade union movement to fight this attempt by the capitalist class.

The session also listened to the papers read by Joe Drexler and Sterling Smith of ICEM who emphasised the need to ratify the ILO convention176 concerning safety in mines. So far only 23 countries have ratified this important convention which highlighted the urgency to intensify the campaign all over the world so that coal mine working would be safe and healthy. Speakers participating in the discussion elaborated about the efforts in their respective countries to get the convention ratified by their governments. India has not yet ratified the convention which is responsible for large scale accidents in mining industry.

In the post lunch lesion B K Das’s paper was read since he could not attend due to ill health. His topic was on changing labour contracts and privatisation, contractorisation and casualisation of labour in coal mines in India. The paper described shocking conditions prevailing in coal mines in India and struggles conducted by coal mine workers in India. Chris Kichen from NUM, U K explained the prevailing situation in coal mines and pointed out how privatisation resulted in deteriorating conditions in coal mines in UK.

M K Pandhe, president AICWF (CITU) submitted a paper on globalisation and attack on trade union rights of coal miners. The paper reviewed suppression of trade union rights in coal mines in various countries in the world and stressed the need for strengthening international solidarity of coal miners to protect the trade union rights of coal miners. The paper emphasised the task of developing unity of coal miners movement irrespective of ideological differences so that coal miners legitimate rights are fully protected. J Carlier of CGT France narrated the experience of the French trade unions to preserve the trade union rights of French workers.

The secretariat of Mine and Energy Workers Union, NSZZ Solidarity and Polish Trade Union Alliance KADRA also submitted papers depicting the working and living conditions of Polish miners. NSZZ reported that they are preparing for a strike in fuel and energy sector in Poland. Srivastava from AICWF spoke on the working conditions of coal mines in India.

Ian Lavery moved a declaration to be adopted by the conference. It stated, “We declare that the ongoing toil of death, injury and disease arising from work in the coal industry to be unacceptable and know that it can be significantly reduced if not eliminated by increased investment in safety, by introduction of health and safety legislation and by establishment of serious enforcement regimes by authorities.

On the question of climate change, the declaration called for low emission coal technologies since coal would continue to be a major source for energy for quite some time.

While condemning the worldwide attack on trade union rights of coal miners the declaration called for sending a delegation of trade unions and members of parliament within three months to Mexico to oppose the move of that government and coal mine owners to destroy the Los Mineros, a union of coal miners.

On the question of employment security, the convention called for a struggle against privatisation, casualisation, exploitation of migrant workers and outsourcing of labour in coal mines all over the world. It further observes, “In an era where we see the leaders of financial and commercial institutions paid enormous sums of money after they have destroyed the companies that employed them and required massive government injection of capital to keep them afloat, it is unacceptable that workers and their families who have not been responsible for the crisis capitalism now finds itself in, are made victims of the greed of others..” The declaration in the end called for worldwide actions by coal miners to achieve the objectives of the declaration..

The conference decided to rename international preparatory committee as international coal mine workers action committee.

The declaration was passed unanimously amid great enthusiasm of the delegates.

While concluding the conference Ian Lavery called for a sustained struggle all over the world to achieve the objective of the conference.

On March 21, 2009 the 25th anniversary of the British coal miners historic strike against closure and privatisation of coal mines by the Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher was observed in Blackpool. The speakers criticised the policies of the British TUC for not expressing solidarity with the coal miners in U K in their need of hour. Several British trade union leaders and MPs spoke in favour of the struggle. Anne Scargill spoke about the glorious role played by the family members of British coal miners in support of the strike.

The AICWF decided to send a seven member delegation to the conference. However due to refusal to grant visa by British High Commission in time only three could go to U K to participate in the conference. Hence only M K Pandhe, Srivastava (West Bengal) and Ashok Singh (Jharkhand) could attend the conference.