People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 20

May 16, 2010

Coal Miners Strike against Privatisation

 

M K Pandhe

 

A MAJORITY of coal miners across the country downed their tools against the decision to disinvest 10 per cent of the shares of Coal India in share market. The UPA government has made this disinvestment as a pre-condition to accord the navaratna status to Coal India.

All the five recognised federations of coal miners, namely the Indian National Mine Workers Federation (INTUC), All India Coal Workers Federation (CITU), Indian Mines Workers Federation (AITUC), Hind Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (HMS) and Akhil Bharatiya Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) had, in a meeting held at Ranchi on March 27, decided to organised a three-day strike on May 5-7, in protest against the decision of the UPA government to disinvest 10 per cent shares of Coal India. They also opposed contractisation, outsourcing and allotment of coal blocks to private operators. It was decided to serve strike notices on April 19, jointly while holding demonstrations.

A big campaign was unitedly launched all over the country, creating enthusiasm among the coal miners. The union coal minister called a meeting on April 9 to discuss the issues but it could not come to any conclusion. Hence, the united strike preparation continued all over India.

The government of India had introduced a bill in parliament nearly a decade ago to denationalise the coal mines in India. However, due to the threat of an indefinite strike given by all the trade unions, the government could not bring the bill for consideration of parliament. Yet, through the backdoor, over 200 coal blocks with coal reserve of over 70 billion tonnes were given to the private sector. The mine owners were paying paltry wages to the workers and violating all the labour laws.

Several accidents occurred in such mines but they were rarely reported. Trade unions therefore demanded cancellation of all the blocks allotted to the private parties.

 

MAJOR DEMAND

NOT CONCEDED

The union minister called another meeting on April 10, to consider the workersí demands. However, he was not prepared to withdraw the disinvestment move regarding coal blocks. He  announced the decision of the government to auction the blocks to get more money but on disinvestment he did not give any commitment. He only gave a vague assurance to consider some minor demands raised by the trade unions. It is surprising that in the meeting the leadership of the INTUC, BMS and AITUC agreed to withdrawn the strike without any commitment on the main demand of opposition to the policy of disinvestment.

The CITU and HMS served strike notices on April 19, as jointly decided by all the unions. They continued their campaign and received wide support from the coal mines all over the country.

The unilateral withdrawal of the strike without achieving the main demand created strong resentment among the coal miners all over the country. The CITU appealed to all the workers to carry forward the struggle against privatisation and not to withdraw the struggle.

Jibon Roy, general secretary of the All India Coal Workers Federation, visited the coal mines and appealed for unity of all the miners to oppose privatisation.

 

On April 30, union finance minister called a meeting of the central trade unions to consider the outstanding issues. In the meeting all the trade unions opposed disinvestment and allotment of coal blocks to private parties. However, Pranab Mukherjee nonchalantly defended the policy of the government to download the shares of Coal India in the share market. Coal India chairman Partho Bhattacharya offered one per cent of the share holding to the workers at concessional rates to make them ready to accept privatisation. The CITU rejected the proposal and called it a measure to bribe the coal miners in return for acceptance of privatisation of coal mines.

The CITU expressed its readiness to defer the strike, provided another date was announced by all the trade unions. However, the CITUís appeal fell on deal years.

Taking into consideration the mood of workers in all the coal mines, the CITU decided to go in for a one day strike on May 5, in support of the 10 point charter of demanded submitted by all the five federations on March 27. Several local unions supported the call of the CITU.

The Coal India management carried on false propaganda on May 4 that the CITU had withdrawn the strike. But it failed to cut much ice among the workers. The workers were aware of such dubious methods of the Coal India management.

 

REMARKABLE

RESPONSE

According to the reports received in the CITU central office in Eastern Coalfields, the strike was near total. Even the headquarters of ECL were completely closed down. In the entire Raniganj coal belt, production and despatch was stopped. Non-CITU unions did not openly oppose the strike in the ECL.

In the BCCL, more than 70 per cent workers went on strike and the local newspapers admitted the success of the strike. The headquarters of the BCCL were seriously affected by the strike. Some trade union leaders tried to oppose the strike but were hooted out by the workers. The coal mines under IISCO observed total strike.

The strike was 60 per cent in the Central Coalfields Ltd; in some areas it was complete. The despatch of coal too was seriously affected. Workers of the CMPDIL also joined the strike in good strength.

In the Mahavadi coal field, two third of the workforce is working under contractors. They have been fighting against exploitation by the contractors. Majority of the contract workers went on strike on May 5.

In the South Eastern Coalfields, several areas witnessed successful strike. On the whole, the strike was 50 per cent successful in all the coalmines. In the Western Coalfields, the CITU strenuously campaigned for the success of the strike and more than 50 per cent workers in the entire colliery joined the strike on May 5. Some leaders, who were campaigning against the strike, were asked by the workers why they had withdrawn the action programme without achieving the demand.

In CIL headquarters in Kolkata, Trinamul Congress leaders tried to oppose the strike but the workers snubbed them. Strike in all the coal offices in Kolkata was successful. The workers had earlier demanded that in Kolkata they should go in for a three-day strike.

In the North Eastern Coalfields the strike was successful; a very small number of workers attended duty on that day. In the Northern Coalfield Ltd the strike was partial but yet the number of workers joining the strike was sizeable.

The overall support to the strike in all parts of the country clearly indicated that an overwhelming majority of workers had expressed their opposition to the privatisation policies pursued by the UPA government.

The CIL management in several mines threatened the workers to cut eight daysí wages for participating in the one-day strike. But coal workers did not pay any heed to such threats.

The All India Coal Workers Federation has congratulated the coal miners for their remarkable action. In its meeting on May 25-26, the federation will make a detailed review of the strike and chalk out further programmes of action to oppose the policies of disinvestment and privatisation.