(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 25, 2010
7TH ALL INDIA CONFERENCE OF AIAWU INAUGURATED
'Unleash Powerful, United Movement
against Anti-Agrarian Policies'
N S Arjun from
A POWERFUL, united movement of agricultural workers, peasantry, working class and other toiling sections of the people must be built in order to force the government to abandon its anti-people, neo-liberal anti-agrarian policies. If the government still does not heed, then the movement will have to throw out the government if necessary. This was the stirring call from the inaugural session of the 7th all India conference of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) that began on July 17 in Tiruchirapalli.
Inaugurating the conference, AIKS president S Ramchandran Pillai gave this call while at the same time warning about the efforts of the ruling classes to prevent the unity of the basic classes. “They are trying to divide the unity of these classes using religion, caste, region etc. They are raising divisive slogans like sons of the soil, smaller states etc using sectoral identities. They are also trying to revive all sorts of obscurantism and superstitions in order to confuse the people and prevent rational thinking. We have to be very vigilant about these efforts and make counter propaganda to maintain the unity”, stressed Pillai.
Agricultural workers, who are the most downtrodden sections of the society, have been the worst hit due to the intensification of neo-liberal policies by the central government. One of the major factors has been the impact of the unprecedented, all encompassing agrarian crisis which itself is a result of capitalist path of development. With agriculture becoming increasingly non-viable and loss making proposition, the poor peasants and agricultural labour are not able to carry on their bare living. They are selling their land and cattle to sustain themselves. This is the reason why there is growing landlessness in the country. While it was 22 per cent in 1995, presently it has gone up to 36 per cent. This is the highest growth in landlessness in our country's history. There is also a big increase in the indebtedness of the peasantry and agricultural labour.
The growing unemployment and underemployment among these sections is a worrying factor, said Pillai. If in the 1980s the agricultural worker got, on an average, 120 days of work in a year, today it has declined to just 57 days. There has also been a decline in the real wages of the workers. All this is behind the phenomenal increase in the suicides by farmers and agricultural labour in the country, which again reflects the acute crisis in the agrarian sector. The number of hungry in the country has also grown phenomenally, with India ranked 66 out of the 88 countries that were assessed by the United Nations in terms of hunger index. In our country, 43 per cent of children living below 5 years are undernourished. Women in millions are anaemic and even men are under nourished.
In such a situation the government instead of universalising the Public Distribution System is trying to scuttle it under the guise of bringing in a Food Security Act. Pillai termed this Act as an eye wash and asserted that it would do more harm to the poor than benefit them. He also attacked the UPA-II government for blatantly going ahead and signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with various countries and groupings. By its own admission in parliament, the government is in negotiations with 56 countries for signing FTAs. He said these agreements are intended to benefit big corporate sharks while the majority producers, the farmers and agricultural labour, will be utterly ruined by these agreements. “These FTAs will be disastrous for the country. But the entire efforts of the government appear to be to sustain and increase the profits of corporate sector at the expense of the poor and downtrodden”, he said. Pillai gave some figures to prove this. The assets of the top 10 corporations in the country increased in value from Rs 3.54 lakh crore in 2004 to Rs 10.34 lakh crore in 2008; i.e. the tripling of assets in a short span of four years. The dollar billionaires (those with worth of over Rs 4900 crore) in the country increased from 9 in 2002 to 49 presently. He said such aggrandisement was possible only because of the intensification of neo-liberal policies by the UPA regimes.
This situation can be changed and the interests of the poor and downtrodden sections protected only by fighting unitedly for the alternative policies. In this regard he recalled how both AIKS and AIAWU jointly held seminars and council meetings to review the situation and chalk out an alternative path. In the seminar held in Delhi in 1993, Left intellectuals also took part and helped evolve an alternative. Similarly in 2003 in Thiruvananthapuram and in 2009 in Wayanad, both organisations undertook this exercise and formulated a charter of demands. Among the main demands were enactment of a comprehensive legislation for the welfare of agricultural workers; more public investment in agriculture and irrigation facilities, and science and technology; ensure remunerative prices; expand institutional credit; do not sign WTO agreement etc. Pillai stressed the need to carry out more powerful and more broadbased struggles for fulfilment of these demands. He also exhorted the AIAWU to take up social issues, particularly those relating to oppression of dalits. He said that although AIAWU is the largest organisation of agricultural labour in the country, its strength is confined to certain states only. He stressed that efforts must be made to expand the organisation as this is also necessary to sustain our stronger movements.
Earlier, president of the AIAWU, Paturi Ramaiah delivering the presidential address threw light on the worsening conditions of living of agricultural workers in the country. He said the welfare schemes launched by the government are not being implemented properly, providing no relief to the rural workforce. He lambasted the government for focussing on achieving GDP growth of 9 per cent and pointed out that the paltry 1.6 per cent growth in agriculture in 2008-09 has further reduced to 0.2 per cent in 2009-10, while the government's target itself was 4 per cent. He lampooned the government's talk of social justice as mere lip service and told how the dalits and adivasis – who constitute the bulk of agricultural labour – are facing untouchability, discrimination, attacks and humiliation at the hands of landlords and other powerful sections. He called for the Union to study particularly on these issues and take them up in a big way.
Left-led governments in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura for implementing
policies safeguarding the rights of the downtrodden within the
bourgeois system. Noting the reactionary forces gang up and attack on
Veteran CPI(M) leader and former Polit Bureau member R Umanath, veteran AIDWA leader Pappa Umanath, veteran kisan and agrarian leader G Veeraiyan were present on the dais along with the office bearers of the AIAWU who were elected as the steering committee members.
Tiruchirapally and its surrounding areas have a rich history of valiant struggles of the agricultural labour, overcoming brutal repression of the landlords. When the dalit agricultural workers undertook a struggle demanding increase in their wages by an additional half measure of paddy in Keezha Venmani village, the upper caste landlords brutally attacked them. On the night of December 25, 1969, 44 dalit agricultural workers were charred to death when the landlords set fire to the huts they were sleeping in. In the continuous struggles since then, 67 more leaders of the democratic movement lost their lives while fighting for the interests of the downtrodden sections in this region.
Among the notable struggles in the region have been the 1983 struggle in Nekupai village in which thousands of agricultural labour went on militant struggle under the banner of AIAWU demanding increase in their wages. They struck work for one week during the harvest season. Their wage was a lowly Rs 5 per day then. The landlords unable to digest this militancy unleashed a brutal attack. They poured phosphorous on the huts of the workers in the dead of the night. Although many escaped the burning infernos, one woman was burnt alive in this attack. This sparked off furore in the entire state and the then government had to intervene and the wage was increased by one rupee.
Another struggle in the village Anbil shows the kind of attacks faced by the leaders of AIAWU in fighting for the cause of agricultural workers. Workers in this village, home to the then state minister Anbil Dharmalingam, demanded from the landlords to raise their wage as per the minimum wage fixed by the state government. When this was refused, they struck work under the banner of AIAWU. Enraged at this demand, the landlords with the full support of the minister physically assaulted the leadership of AIAWU, whose present state vice presidents Tiruvanakkarasu and Chandram were seriously injured in that attack. They had to be hospitalised for four days. But instead of being cowed down by such attacks, the agricultural workers, who were now joined by those in the surrounding 15 villages, intensified the struggle. The government intervened and got the wages for male workers increased by Rs 10 and for female workers by Rs 5.
As recently as in January 2010, the AIAWU conducted a struggle in the village of the present union minister of state for social justice and empowerment D Napolean, Peruvala Nalloor. The workers struck work for a week during planting season. Despite the efforts of the minister and government machinery to break the strike, the struggle succeeded and the workers got a hike of Rs 20 for males and Rs 10 for females. It is in this backdrop of militant and successful struggles that Tiruchirapalli movement is playing host to the 7th all India conference of AIAWU.