People's Democracy

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


No. 17

April 25, 2010

Coal Strike to Begin May 5 Morning

April 9 Joint Meeting Fails


                                                                                                Jibon Roy


IT has been learnt that the meeting held on April 9 with the minister of state for coal in New Delhi and attended by leaders of five national federations of coal workers could not reach a common ground even after a hectic discussion for three hours for a resolution of the issues   involved in the proposed 72 hours strike in the industry. The meeting was chaired by  secretary of coal C Balakrishnan, while Rajendra Prasad Singh (INTUC), Rajendra Singha (HMS), and Ramendra Kumar (AITUC), among others, represented the trade union side. Jibon Roy represented the All India Coal Workers Federation.

It is to be noted that the five federations that have jointly called for the strike are affiliated to the INTUC, BMS, HMS, AITUC and CITU.  

These federations have jointly called for the strike on the basis of a 10 points charter of demands adopted at a meeting held at Ranchi, and announced through a press conference that coal workers would go on strike from the morning shift on May 5. The April 9 meeting was called in response to this joint declaration that had been duly faxed to both the secretary of coal and chairman of the Coal India Ltd.

The Coal India management and the representatives of the trade unions have already presented their respective views on the charter of demands. In view of the fact that the meeting could not break a common ground for resolution of the disputes, the national federations have reaffirmed their decision to stage a strike action. The trade unions have pointed out that the decision of disinvestment is not the making of the management, the onus for the strike lies with the government of India. It is now the latter that has to decide whether it would face the strike or avoid it by withdrawing the disinvestment proposal. Trade unions view the disinvestment proposal as a prelude to total privatisation of the coal industry which, they pointed out, the government of India has been seeking through legislative route since the last one and a half decades. The government has also given enough indication that if the coal workers refuse to accept the disinvestment decision, it would do the same through the backdoor, as is being done in several cases.

Coal India chairman Partha Bhattacharya wanted the trade unions to accept the government decision for disinvestment of 10 per cent of its equity in the industry, and maintained that such disinvestment is required in the interest of the coal industry and coal workers. He even tried to glorify the disinvestment proposal by telling how the allocation of one per cent share to coal workers would benefit them. But the trade union leaders communicated to the government in unequivocal terms that they would never allow the government to use the ruse of coal workers´┐Ż interests for opening the gate of privatisation in the industry.  

Similarly, trade union representatives argued that no reasoning would justify opening coal mines in foreign lands while neglecting the techno-economic needs for reopening the closed but economically viable mines and starting new mining in virgin areas. When Bhattacharya took the position that the industry could never get viable without outsourcing and engagement of contract workers, the trade union argued that outsourcing and compartmentalisation of labour structure would ultimately be the worst enemy of mine development. This would push the mining areas into the laps of the mafia gangs. They argued further that if the international prices of coal are taken into consideration, one obviously finds sufficient room for giving the minimum wage to the contract workers.

Another important demand of the unions is that the management must reduce the gap in wages and other benefits accruing to the regular workers and contract workers by providing the latter the minimum wage due to a permanent worker. Similarly, the management must bring parity in the fringes and retiring benefits between the workers and the officers. They accused the management of fraud in keeping most of the contract workers out of the scope of provident fund and pension. They explained how perquisites may attract coal workers to areas that are far from the urban opulence.

The unions have also demanded that the ministry must prepare a viable rehabilitation package for the land-losers, include both compensation and employment component to their satisfaction. Trade unions say unless the government gives the land-losers such a compensation package, opening of mining in new areas would continue to remain a distant dream.

The management has in the meantime embarked upon a massive propaganda campaign in support of privatisation. No less than the chairman of Coal India Ltd himself is mobilising the members of line managements. They are advised to hold workers´┐Ż meeting to feed them all kind of disinformation in support of disinvestment and to allure them in the name of share allocation.  The chairman himself has addressed a number of such meetings. His special target are the workers supporting the All India Coal Workers Federation and the committee members of its local affiliates.

The AICWF has asked all its affiliates to take measures to frustrate such a campaign against the strike. It is expected that the government may call yet another meeting, but it is certain that it would continue to stick to its agenda of coal mine privatisation. The AICWF affiliates have been asked to involve the mass of the workers in a counter campaign and take special care that all their ground level committees are involved in the counter campaign and the strike.

As decided by all the federations, all the company level unions served strike notices on April 19 through joint demonstrations. As was expected, workers joined these demonstrations in a massive way. All the trade unions affiliated to the All India Coal Workers Federation had been urged to play a leading role in this whole process.