People's Democracy

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


No. 28

July 11, 2010

Onto the Seventh All India Conference of AIAWU


Suneet Chopra


THE seventh all India conference of the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union will be taking place in Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) in Tamilnadu on July 17-19 in a period when a serious crisis affects not only agricultural growth, but the lives and livelihood of the mass of landless agricultural workers, farmers, craftsmen and petty producers in our rural areas. It is evident that the 7 per cent – 9 per cent figures of growth have provided benefits only to the rich with the numbers of dollar billionaires going up, but neither employment nor the standard of living of the poor has increased. In fact, if we look at the figures of the share of agriculture in the GDP of the country, it has come down to a third of what it was while the number of people depending on agriculture has remained virtually the same. This means that every one working in agriculture is getting only a third of what he or she used to get for their labour some 20 years ago. More work and less pay is a general situation in a crisis whose burden the government is heaping on the people by conscious and fraudulent measures.  




In fact, employment in agriculture has come down. In the 1980s, work was available for 123 days a year. It had come down to 100 days in 1990. In 2001 it was 78 days. In 2003 it came down to 72 and in 2007 only 57 days. At the same time, the numbers of unemployed have increased. According to census figures, the number of rural landless increased from 7 crores 46 lakhs in 1991 to 10 crores 74 lakhs in 2001. The figures not only show how those working in agriculture are losing out to land being shifted from food crops to less labour intensive cash crops labour-eliminating machinery and pesticides, but also to farmers losing their lands and entering the labour market. This has had a devastating effect on the lives and livelihood of agricultural labour.


This is evident from the figures of various NSSO rounds. Between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 alone, the percentage of rural landless increased from 32.1 per cent to 36 per cent. Today, with evictions on account of SEZs, residential schemes, roads and industry reaching a new high the figure of the landless can be as high as 45 per cent. In these conditions, one would have expected the implementation of a two-pronged approach: provision of adequate employment under NREGA and the stress on self-employment by ensuring the implementation of radical land reforms and of the Tribal and Traditional Forest Dwellers Act. Even failing this, a committee appointed by P V Narasimha Rao had come to the conclusion that at a very low level of growth of the GDP, 3 per cent, one crore jobs could be created each year, removing joblessness in nine years. Taking the cue from this committee’s report, Atal Behari Vajpayi also promised one crore jobs a year. But the policies pursued by Dr Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram as finance ministers and the former as prime minister ensured that lakhs of government jobs including those in the army, railways, education  and health services  would be eliminated and the result was higher figures of growth but no jobs.  This policy is only one of ensuring more profits from an increased workload and lower wages because of competition from the reserve army of the unemployed.   


This policy, from the perspective of a country in which 84 crore people live on Rs 20 per day, can only be described as anti-national and in the interests of global bankers, multinationals and corporates who have given us so many examples of unforgivable greed, total lack of concern for the safety of their workers and the people where they operate, with complete disregard for both the people and the environment. Under these circumstances we have only our organisations and the political organisations of the Left and democratic forces that we can rely on. The All India Agricultural Workers Union is one of the largest of these in our country and serves the interests of the most exploited and oppressed in our society. We have a special responsibility to reach out to the most backward sections of this population and win over their confidence and support.


To an extent we have succeeded in doing so in states like Kerala and Tripura, where almost all agricultural workers are enrolled under our banner.  In Andhra Pradesh too, we have succeeded in advancing our movement qualitatively among the rural workers. In states like Tamilnadu, Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka we can say that with proper effort and vision we can be poised on threshold of advance.  In states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan and Orissa, we have been running an organisation but it needs more support and attention from the democratic movement as a whole. But we have a membership in 12 states only. It is to be regretted that in a major state like Madhya Pradesh our union has ceased to exist and it is the same in Gujarat, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. The immediate task before the central leadership of the union and the democratic movement is to ensure that this lacuna is removed as soon as possible after the conference. Otherwise the building up of an all India agricultural movement cannot be achieved.  Today, while we are approaching the half million mark, the unevenness of growth prevents us intervening effectively in ensuring the conditions of work, lives and livelihood of agricultural labour. This cannot continue without damaging even those movements where we have succeeded in building regional strength.




Even on the basis of our regional movements, we have been able to carry forward the struggle for a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour, to ensure the passage of the MNREGA with most of our amendments to the Act being accepted by the first UPA regime. The same is the case with the Forest Rights Act. But now under the second UPA, every effort is there to scuttle these laws and get people to lose confidence in fighting to implement them.  We as the most powerful organisation of agricultural labour in the country have a duty not only to ensure that people do not lose confidence in fighting for the implementation of legislation useful to them, but we are also bound to ensure that other legislations that should be passed also enter the arena of our future struggles.


One such legislation is the Food Security Act, which as usual is a fraud. The present Act will virtually do away with the APL category of the public distribution system, reduce the BPL category drastically, and cut down the Antodaya amount of grain from 35 kg per card to 25 kg. If this fraud is allowed to succeed, the public distribution system as we know it will be destroyed. The poorest people will be left to the mercy of the market. Here too, a government bent on exploiting and dispossessing our rural masses and handing over their assets and labour to brutal exploiters, has done nothing to stop the ongoing price-rise of nearly 20 per cent over the last year.  Worse it has contributed considerably to this price-rise by raising the prices of fuels, kerosene, LPG and grain under PDS repeatedly. Given this, we have no alternative but to organise and throw ourselves into struggle immediately after the conference.


A number of issues are looming before us. There is the question of wages, of unemployment, of hunger and lack of availability of food, of land and house-sites, of the implementation of government schemes without corruption, of protection from a corrupt and predatory police force, of atrocities committed by the rural rich and criminal elements, and against the growing violence against dalits and women by the self appointed guardians of caste principles and caste oppression. These issues can and must be taken up vigorously. This can only be done if the time spent on discussion during the conference is used to address these issues on the basis of past and present experience, and analysed   to provide a guideline for future action. The seventh conference of the AIAWU must address these issues and provide guidelines and solutions to the problems of agricultural labour and rural poor.  This is the only way to win their confidence and face the future with hope. We are preparing to do this and we hope to succeed on the basis of what we had done in the field already. We intend to draw in larger sections of agricultural labour into our fold than ever before and launch struggles on an all India basis that is the need of the hour.