People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 06

February 07, 2010

Significance of All India Trade Unions Unity


M K Pandhe

 

HELD in New Delhi on September 14, 2009, the national convention of trade unions was a remarkable event in the history of Indian trade union movement. It brought the entire trade union movement in the country on a common platform for organising a nationwide movement on the five-point charter of demands. There was also sporadic rise in protest actions at local levels, in several industrial centres.

The continuously deteriorating situation of the working class in the country brought the workers of all affiliations together. The situation has gone from bad to worse due to the steep rise in prices of essential commodities all over India. While the prices of essential commodities were rising sky-high, the consumer price index prepared by the Labour Bureau was not showing the actual rise in prices, with the result that workers were losing thousands of crores of rupees every month by way of loss of their hard won dearness allowance. We may recall that all the central trade unions opposed the introduction of the new series of price index with 2001 as the base year on the ground that the index was fraudulent.

 

GROWING MISERY

& UNEMPLOYMENT

Growing unemployment in the country has added to the gravity of the situation. In this era of globalisation, downsizing has become the catchword for the entire capitalist class. Ban on recruitment in government jobs, refusal to fill the vacant posts, closure of several industrial units due to policies of import liberalisation and cut in import duties, reckless use of voluntary retirement schemes to cut manpower down in most of the industrial undertakings have created a huge army of unemployed in the country. Steps for ‘modernisation’ have also rendered a large number of workers jobless. Failure of the central government to strengthen the employment oriented projects has also contributed to the process. The UPA and the NDA governments allowed the big business houses to enter the areas reserved for the small-scale sector, leading to destruction of several small-scale and traditional industries.

As a result of the global recession, export orders considerably declined, causing the loss of jobs for about 30 lakh workers in diamond cutting, jewellery, textile garment, leather and metal trade units in different parts of the country. The UPA government gave liberal concessions, of over one lakh crore of rupees, to the corporate houses which experienced a reduction in profits. The workers who became victims of the crisis for no fault of theirs, however, did not get any relief from the government. Several unemployed workers, like their peasant brethren in rural areas, have committed suicides as they could not maintain their families. 

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has indeed given some relief to the rural poor, but the scheme was not extended to the urban areas, with the result that the growing economic crisis pushed up unemployment among the unorganised sector workers. The commitment given by first UPA government that the NREGS would be implemented in urban areas as well, and also for the poor middle class families, remains unimplemented. Moreover, corruption gripping this scheme has enabled the bureaucrats to reap benefits for themselves without creating many jobs while denying due income to the rural unemployed. The united demand raised by the trade unions in the last Indian labour conference that the government of India should introduce employment insurance scheme, remains unimplemented despite the passage of ten months since then.

 

LABOUR LAW

VIOLATIONS

Collapse of labour legislation in India has reached critical proportions in the era of globalisation. Several employers are extracting 12 hours work per day without paying overtime, in blatant violation of labour laws, but no action is forthcoming from the government. Union textile minister once shamelessly advocated a 12 hours workday in view of big export orders to garment manufacturers. The Economic Survey 2009, too, openly advocated increasing the working hours from 48 to 60 per week. Trade unions’ struggles to oppose this illegal practice were brutally suppressed with the help of the police force.

The statutorily fixed minimum wages remained by and large unimplemented due to official connivance. This is a gross criminal offence. In several states the statutory provision of wage revision remains unimplemented due to pressure from the employers. Trade unions’ complaints in this regard fall on the deaf ears.

Thousands of industrial units have been illegally closed down without obtaining permission from the government as provided by the Industrial Disputes Act 1947. In a similar manner, employers often resort to declaration of layoff without payment of statutory wages to the workers, without any action from the government side to force the former to comply with the provisions of the law. Arbitrary retrenchment of workers without any payment of statutory retrenchment compensation, non-payment of maternity benefit to the women workers, non-provision of crèche despite legal requirement, illegal use of child labour and bonded labour without any action from the government --- all these have become the order of the day.

Non-implementation of the labour laws in export processing zones and special economic zones has given a green signal to the corporate houses to invest more in the SEZs and get away with the violations of the labour laws. Development commissioners have got arbitrary powers to decide all the industrial relations cases. The Indian government is bluntly ignoring the ILO recommendation that development commissioners must not be given powers to decide the industrial relations issues.

The provision of the Contract Labour Regulation And Abolition Act that no contract labour must be engaged in jobs of permanent and perennial nature is being systematically violated in industrial undertakings. Even the government of India is engaging contract labour in public sector undertakings and government services. Non-implementation of labour laws for contract workers has become a regular phenomenon, as the contract system is a source of cheap labour cutting down the labour cost. In most of the industrial units, both in public and private sectors, a large number of regular employees have been thrown out and contract labour engaged in to replace them. The central government is extremely liberal in granting exemptions to units from the purview of the Contract Labour Act, opening the floodgates for engagement of contract labour all over India.

 

MULTINATONALS

ON RAMPAGE

Multinational companies, with huge investments in industrial undertakings, are refusing to honour the labour laws. Ambassadors of several leading capitalist countries have openly made statements on our soil that Indian labour laws have been preventing foreign capital flows into India. The Indian government ignored this gross interference in India’s affairs because of its servility to foreign capital. It considers no industrial disputes in the foreign owned MNCs. Nobody was surprised to note the Economic Survey 2009 observing that employers must get the right to hire and fire. This was one of the main demands made by the MNCs over the government of India. It is an admitted fact that MNCs get away with the labour law violations by heavily bribing the government officials.

The “abolition of inspector raj” has made the employers confident that there would be nobody to check the labour law violations. The step to exempt smaller employers from submitting the returns under the labour laws has further added to the plethora of violations in the country.

The government of India has accepted the World Bank concept that labour laws must not be punitive but lay more emphasis on self-constraint by the employers. This has led to more tolerance towards the labour law violations. More and more amendments to the labour laws are been brought in the parliament, with a view to diluting them and making them more favourable to employers. This is being done on the plea of boosting the economic development of and enhancing the rate of economic growth in the country. This has led to further deteriorations in the economic conditions of the working class.

 

UNORGANISED

WORKERS’ PLIGHT

With an eye on the working class votes, the government of India enacted a law on unorganised workers who according to official estimates constitutes 93 per cent of India’s workforce. However, the government did not provide for any social security benefits for the vast strata of our workforce. As a result, the law has become meaningless for the working class of India. All the trade unions expressed their opposition to the law but the UPA government ignored it. The unanimous recommendations of the standing committee on labour and the proposals given by Dr Arjun Sengupta committee were also not taken into account by the government. Without creation of a special fund to extend social security benefits to unorganised workers, the law is likely to remain on paper only.

While the UPA government’s policy has been to utterly neglect the problems of the unorganised labour, it gave fabulous concessions to the business houses. It has created in India 52 dollar-billionaires who are controlling one fourth of our national income. The alarming growth of inequality in the country is adding to the social tensions in India. The UPA government can easily tax the affluent strata and provide sufficient funds for granting the essential social security benefits to the unorganised workers. However, it has made it clear that it has no intention to take such a step to provide relief to the most vulnerable section of our society.

 

DISINVESTMENT

DRIVE

The UPA government has decided to disinvest the shares of profit making public sector units to meet its budgetary deficit. It has decided to raise Rs 75000 crore in one year alone, by selling the public sector shares in the stock market. Of late the performance of most of the public sector undertakings have improved considerably and the government is receiving handsome dividends. In these circumstances, the decision is only a step to hand the public assets over to the private tycoons at throwaway prices.

Thus the public sector undertakings, which played a vital role in making our economy self-reliant, are being privatised at the dictate of the World Bank and IMF. The government has made in clear that it would sell 49 per cent of the shares of all profit making public sector units to the private sector. Then, it will have to further disinvest only one per cent to convert them into private units. In India, the public sector units have surplus funds of over Rs 4.5 lakh crore, which can be used to further strengthen the output of the public sector units and make the unviable public sector units viable. However, the UPA government prefers to please their financial masters than to develop the economy independently.

 

UNITY FROM

BELOW

These and many other issues are agitating the workers of all affiliations. The ground reality is creating a powerful urge for working class unity for common action, starting a process of coming together of the trade union movements despite ideological differences. There was thus held a successful convention in New Delhi on September 14, 2009, which adopted a five-point charter of demands:

1) Halt to the rise in prices of all essential commodities.

2) Halt to the growing unemployment and launch of a nationwide programme of job creation.

3) Ensuring full implementation of all the labour laws.

4) Creation of a special fund by taxing the corporate sector and the rural landed gentry, for providing social security benefits to the unorganised workers.

5) Stop to disinvestment of profit making public sector undertakings.

A delegation of the trade unions met the prime minister on the same day to place this demands charter. As per the convention’s decision, workers observed a nationwide Protest Day on October 18, to press these demands. The day’s observance highlighted the growing working class desire to strengthen their unity.

On December 16, there was a big dharna before the parliament to press the government of India to meet these demands.

The struggle is gradually going to a higher pitch. On March 5 coming, trade unions will stage a court arrest programme and express their opposition to the UPA government’s policies.

After this action programme, a trade unions committee will review the situation and chalk out further programmes of action.

One may note here that since the advent of globalisation, several trade unions sought to develop movements and there took place 12 nationwide strikes. But several organisations did not join these actions, characterising them as politically motivated. Now we have, however, all-in unity of the working class, bringing together all the trade unions in action programmes. This has enhanced the enthusiasm among the workers of all affiliations and given them confidence about resisting the government’s anti-working class policies. Significantly, this unity at the top of the movement has emerged because of the pressure from below. There is thus the potential for developing a united movement and achieving more successes in protecting the workers’ interests.

While the trade unions are always prepared for a dialogue with the government on the pressing working class issues, they do realise the need for action programmes. They are therefore determined to strengthen in the forthcoming period their all-in unity, which would pave the way for an organisational consolidation of the trade union movement in the country.