People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 03

January 17, 2010

9th Convention of AICCWW calls upon all CITU affiliated unions

‘Focus on Working Women’s Demands in the Centenary Year of IWD’

 

Hemalata

 

THE Ninth Convention of All India Coordination Committee of Working Women (CITU) was held in the auditorium of BTR Memorial, the office of the Kerala State Electricity Board Employees’ Association in Thiruvananthapuram on 8-9 January 2010. The venue of the convention was named Ahilya Rangnekar Nagar in memory of the founder member of the AICCWW (CITU) and legendary leader of the working class and women’s movement of the country.

281 delegates from 17 states, representing the working women in the organised, unorganised and traditional sectors participated in the convention, which started with the hoisting of the red flag of CITU by MK Pandhe, president of CITU. Shivan Kutty, MLA and chairman of the reception committee welcomed the delegates. Ranjana Nirula from CITU centre, KP Mary from Kerala, Nisha Roy from West Bengal, Indubala Das from Tripura, Prema from Tamilnadu, Dhanalakhmi from Andhra Pradesh and Santosh Rawal from Haryana acted as the presidium.

VS Achuthanandan, chief minister of Kerala who was to inaugurate the convention, sent a letter regretting his inability as he had to go to Kolkata to visit veteran CPI (M) leader and former chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu who was critically ill. He greeted the delegates and wished the convention success.

Inaugurating the convention, Pandhe explained the objective of the CITU in constituting the coordination committees of working women. He told that working women face discrimination at the time of employment, in wages, in promotions even today. The CITU’s struggle for equal wages for women workers led to the enactment of the Equal Remuneration Act; but even around 35 years after its enactment, it is not being implemented. Women are concentrated in the low paying jobs without any job security, minimum wages, maternity benefit or other social security benefits. He told that it was the CITU that first took the initiative to organise a massive convention of working women along with its fourth conference in Chennai in 1979 because it realised that unless women were organised by the trade unions and brought into the mainstream trade union movement, it was not possible to launch strong struggles against the anti worker and anti people policies of the government. He said that though because of the sustained efforts since then, the number of women participating in trade union activities has increased along with some increase in their presence in the leadership positions in the unions, this was not sufficient. He exhorted the delegates to organise the vast sections of women workers who were still outside the purview of the trade unions. He also emphasised the need for training the activists among women workers, increase their level of consciousness and ensure that they are promoted to decision making bodies of the unions.

Hemalata, convenor of AICCWW placed the report. Briefly outlining the international and national situations, the report noted that the convention was being held at a time when the attacks on the working class were being intensified all over the world.  Around 50 lakh workers in our country, including a large number of women workers, have lost their jobs due to the global economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression. The governments in the capitalist countries including ours provided huge amounts of public money to bail out the big corporates but nothing to the workers who lost their only source of livelihood, for no fault of theirs. It pointed out that such crises were inherent in the capitalist system which cannot solve the basic problems of the humanity like unemployment, poverty, hunger etc. Big struggles including strikes were held by the working class in many countries including the advanced capitalist countries against the attacks on their livelihood and condemning the system that puts profits before the people.

The UPA II government was wrongly interpreting its victory in the 15th Lok Sabha elections as a mandate for its policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. It was going ahead with financial sector liberalisation, disinvestment and amendments to labour laws facilitating ‘hire and fire’ by the employers. The Left forces which were able to stall these measures to some extent due to the dependence of the former UPA government on their support, suffered a set back in the last parliament elections. The report expressed deep concern at the growing attacks on the Left, particularly the CPI (M) in West Bengal by the Trinamool Maoist goons and  pointed out that the Left parties are being attacked because they are in the fore front in opposing the US imperialist domination over our country and are the staunchest supporters of the working class struggles. As part of the working class, working women must unite and defeat these machinations of the anti Left forces.

Highlighting the conditions of working women, the report pointed out that women’s workforce participation has not increased in the last two decades. In fact, in 2004-05 it was slightly lower than in 1983. Even in the export oriented industries, it was lower in India compared to the other developing countries. In rural areas, there was a decline in work participation of younger women while in urban areas young women were joining work at lower wages than before. Open unemployment rates are much higher for young women, particularly in rural India.  Whatever increase was there in women’s employment, was in low productivity, low paying jobs which they had to take up just to survive. After garments, the biggest single increase has been as domestic workers, which has become the single largest category of employment for urban women workers. Domestic workers in the country now number more than thirty lakhs, and account for more than 12% of all women workers in urban India.

Because of the inability to find wage employment, more and more people, including women, are being forced to take up some income generating activity on their own. Two thirds of all rural women and 48 per cent of urban women were ‘self employed’. A study by NSSO indicates that this was not out of choice but out of compulsion to survive. Lakhs of women are working as home based workers. A survey conducted by CITU among home based workers in 10 states, found that the average monthly income of home based workers was only Rs 538. Despite back breaking work for around ten hours a day with the help of their family members, they find it impossible to have two square meals a day.

Contrary to the general perception that the IT and ITES sectors and the financial sector were providing large employment opportunities for women, women workers in all IT related activities accounted for only 0.3 per cent of the urban women workers. Similarly , women workers in all financial activities –including banking, insurance and other auxiliary financial fields – added up to only 1.4 per cent of urban women workers.

The report noted with grave concern that discrimination in wages and promotion opportunities continues even today and was not confined to uneducated women in the unorganised sector. Even in regular work in urban areas, professional and technical work in which there is no evidence of any productivity differentials at all, women employees are paid lower wages. The government itself was exploiting lakhs of women workers such as anganwadi workers and helpers, accredited social health activists (ASHAs) and the mid day meal workers, etc by refusing to recognise them as workers, calling them ‘social workers’, ‘activists’ etc, and paying them meagre wages or no wages at all.

The report observed that because of the continued efforts by the CITU and the coordination committees of working women, women membership of CITU at the national level and in most of the states has continued to increase. 12,69,509 out of the total 49,90,289 CITU members in 2008, were women, comprising 25.43 per cent of its total membership, up from 22.7 per cent in 2005. The increased activities of CITU among the unorganised workers, particularly anganwadi employees, ASHAs, mid day meal workers, etc has largely contributed to this increase. 

While in 2005, Karnataka was the only state where women constituted more than 50 per cent of CITU membership, in 2008 in 3 states – Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra – more than 50 per cent of CITU members were women with Himachal Pradesh having 62 per cent women members. In 13 states, more than 25 per cent members of CITU are women. Only in four states – Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – women constitute less than 10 per cent of CITU members.

The participation of women workers in the activities of CITU has considerably increased in most of the states. In many states including in the Hindi speaking states, women comprise around 50 per cent or more of the mobilisation of CITU, be it in its struggle programmes or public meetings on the occasion of its conferences. The proportion of women in the leadership of CITU has also increased. In almost all the states, at least one woman has been elected as office bearer of the CITU state committees; in several states there were 3-5 women office bearers at the state level. At the district level women are being elected as presidents/ general secretaries of the district committees of CITU. At the same time, compared to the women’s membership and participation, it was noted that it was necessary to further increase women’s participation in the decision making bodies of the CITU.

The report observed that while in a few states the coordination committees of working women were functioning effectively, regularly focussing the problems of working women and making efforts to organise them, many state committees of CITU are yet to form the coordination committees. It reiterated the CITU’s decision to constitute state level coordination committees of working women by all the state committees of CITU to ensure that more working women in larger numbers were brought into the organisational fold of CITU.

33 delegates participated in the discussions and supported the report. They explained their experiences while working among working women and made several important suggestions for advancing the work of CITU among working women. After the convenor summed up the discussions, the report along with the charter of demands of working women, tasks and recommendations to the CITU was unanimously adopted.

The convention called upon the CITU to ensure that all the unions affiliated to CITU observe the year 2010, commemorating the centenary of the International Women’s Day by focussing on the three demands of equal wages,  eight hours working day and 33 per cent reservation for women in legislatures. It has also decided to take up campaign on the common demands of the working women in different sectors and organise demonstration all over the country on 10 April, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Vimal Ranadive, the founder convenor of AICCWW (CITU). The convention also decided to organise the ASHAs and mid day meal workers in all the states.

The convention made some specific recommendations to the CITU for advancing the work among working women that included organising separate trade union classes for working women activists and promoting them to leadership positions, recruiting women full timers, ensuring necessary funds for the work etc. These will be taken up by the 13th conference of CITU scheduled to be held in Chandigarh on 17 – 21 March 2010, for ratification.

S Dev Roye, secretary of CITU who was present throughout the convention made the concluding remarks and urged the delegates to assert themselves and play a pro active role in the implementation of the decisions of CITU among working women.

KO Habeeb, secretary of Kerala state committee of CITU spoke on behalf of the reception committee and informed that working women from different sectors in the state, including the service sector employees took the initiative to make all the preparations for the success of the convention, including collection of funds and making all the necessary arrangements.

An impressive rally in which thousands of women workers from the traditional sectors and CITU affiliated unions marched along with the women employees in the service sector including women gazetted officers, was organised on 7 January 2010. The public meeting, which was presided over by Hemalata, was addressed by MK Pandhe, Mercy Kutti Amma, vice president of CITU and KP Mary, president and VV Presanna Kumari, general secretary of the Kerala state coordination committee of working women.

A 33 member new AICCWW (CITU) with Hemalata as the convenor was constituted with the provision to include more members to represent the states that would form the state level co-ordination committees of working women.