People's Democracy

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


No. 48

November 29, 2009



Workers on Struggle Path against Backdoor Privatisation


G Ramakrishnan


THE joint council of trade unions in Neyveli is currently making preparations for a major showdown in the form of an indefinite strike in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd (NLC) on the issue of backdoor privatisation in the name of payment of ex-gratia and incentives. The NLC is a multi-utility industry that mines coal, produces electricity and performs several allied activities in the mines and the factory in and around Neyveli, in the Cuddalore district of Tamilnadu.

It all started with the announcement by the management about the payment of the incentives and ex-gratia in lieu of bonus during the last month, for workers in the production side and officials alike. While doing so, practising rank discrimination, the management extended largesse to the executives in the form of performance related pay --- five to twelve times what had been paid to the workers. For example, the highest paid executive, the chairman cum managing director (CMD) received performance related pay of Rs 6,54,000 while the highest for any worker was about Rs 51,000 only. The scheme for payment of incentives for the worker is based on production whereas the performance related pay for the executives is based on profits.

The unions led by the DMK and PMK signed this agreement without taking into account the feeling of the workers, who obviously felt let down. To protest against this injustice, workers took a strike ballot in which 7936 workers voted for a strike --- out of the 8613 workers who attended duty on that day. The one-day strike took place on November 5, and 65 per cent of the employees took part in it. However, without taking cognisance of the protest strike, the management went ahead to implement the agreement, forcing the workers to start preparing for an indefinite strike.

The management also issued a circular in an intimidating tone that the workers who spread rumours would be dealt with severely. The management, said the circular, had also hired a private detective agency to find out who are the people spreading rumours. This is in the context of a write-up that was published by a weekly, insinuating that the chairman of the NLC was indulging in corrupt practices. In this connection, the management suspended six workers with the charge that they had pasted the weekly�s newspaper cutting in the factory premises. Instead of trying to solve the problem, the management went on an offensive to quell the voice of the workers. Infuriated by this, the workers are now vigorously preparing for an indefinite strike. Towards the preparation for the strike, Joint Council of Trade Unions, led by the CITU, are going to organise a human chain on December 2, 2009.

Incidentally, the scheme of the management to dole out lots of money in the name of incentives and ex-gratia, with very big sums going to the executives, is aimed at backdoor privatisation of the NLC. It has been learnt that under the agreement the ex-gratia and incentives may be paid in the form of the company�s stocks. Here lie the subtleties of this agreement and the green signal by the government who is the owner of the corporation. The government is trying to effect disinvestment in the NLC in a different form, in view of the opposition being mounted by all political parties to the public issue of shares. It may be recalled that when the first edition of the UPA came up with the disinvestment plan in its initial years, the Tamilnadu chief minister M Karunanidhi had threatened to pull out of the government if the move was not withdrawn. Now that the UPA has been strengthened by the 2009 verdict, the Congress wants to do a repeat of the disinvestment exercise without antagonising their ally, the DMK. The people are keeping their fingers crossed as to what happens when the call of indefinite strike materialises.