People's Democracy

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


No. 07

February 13, 2011

BSNL Employees Union Again Wins Verification Contest


V A N Namboodiri


THE BSNL Employees Union (BSNLEU) has, once again, won a good majority in the membership verification conducted for electing the representative union for the non-executive employees in the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), a telecom major. This is the fourth time in a row that the BSNLEU has won the top position in the membership verification process.


This year the membership verification through secret ballot was conducted on February 1, the counting took place on February 3 and the result was declared on February 4. The total number of voters in the process were 2,29,690, and 2,17,321 votes were polled; this comes to 94.61 per cent of the total. Of this figure, the BSNLEU got 1,06,971 votes, that is, 46.57 per cent of the votes polled. The second in rank was the NFTE BSNL that got 80,300 votes or 34.96 per cent. The INTUC led union, i.e. the FNTO, got only 16,951 votes or 7.38 per cent. Thus the BSNLEU was declared elected with a big margin of 26,671 votes.


Though as many as 15 unions participated in the verification process, the real fight was between the BSNLEU led United Forum and the NFTE BSNL led Workers Alliance. The United Forum included four other unions, while Workers Alliance was a 10-union alliance. The FNTO (INTUC) and the BMS led union contested separately. The BMS union got a paltry 4,687 votes or 2.04 per cent.




The contest was not confined to the issues facing the BSNL workers, but concerned what the ideological stand has to be taken in the present era of neo-liberalisation. Since its inception, the BSNL Employees Union has always been focussing on the necessity to save and strengthen the BSNL, as also of making it financially viable and service oriented. Improving efficiency was its watchword. The BSNL has been making good profit and maintaining its market share despite stiff competition from the private telecom companies. But the anti-public sector policy and unjustified intervention by the government has adversely affected the corporation and hindered the procurement of mobile equipments. Thus, as the company was unable to provide sufficient lines to the people, it naturally went down and began losing its market share. It was only due to the sustained struggles mounted by the workers that the BSNL was able to make procurements to an extent at least. The BSNLEU took the initiative in bringing all the unions together under the Joint Forum/ Joint Action Committee and organised successful struggles.


Apart from it, the BSNLEU participated in all the struggles and strikes organised by the central trade unions, by the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions as also by the Central Public Sector Trade Unions (CPSTU). Moreover, it brought some other unions too into these struggles. It has endorsed the central trade unionsí call for participation in the Parliament March on February 23 coming.


Although claiming to be a leftist union, the Workers Alliance, which is headed by the NFTE BSNL, has most of the time been towing the management line and also supporting the anti-worker policies of the government. They left the Joint Forum on flimsy grounds to avoid participating in agitations and strikes.


The FNTO contested the verification process in its own name in order to establish its identity as an INTUC affiliated union. Its leaders used the name and photo of the prime minister and the communications minister, in addition to that of the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, to seek the votes as a government sponsored union. But that did not help it in any way.


One recalls that the BSNL was formed in October 2000 and the first membership verification took place in 2002. There was difference of opinion among the unions about whether the verification needed to be conducted through the check-off system or through the secret ballot system. While the NFTE insisted on the check-off system, the BSNLEU insisted on secret ballot. Finally, the latter system was adopted.


In the first verification, the NFTE won with 35 per cent of the votes polled while the BSNLEU got 30 per cent. Only the NFTE was then recognised on the principle that only one union could be recognised under the Code of Discipline. However, in the second, third and fourth verifications, the BSNLEU won with more than 50 per cent of the votes polled. In It has won the latest verification, it has won with 49.22 per cent of the votes polled.


After the first verification exercise, the number of voters has been progressively declining, as about 10,000 workers are retiring every year without any new recruitment. Thus, while in the first verification, there were about 3,00,000 voters, there are only about 2,30,000 in the fifth verification exercise.




The whole verification exercise was disciplined and peaceful. For almost a month, leaders of various unions had been touring the country and holding meetings in their campaign to reach to the workers. The president and general secretary of the BSNLEU toured almost all the circles separately and addressed meetings. All central office bearers of the union were given charge of various circles to prepare for the verification. Wall-posters etc were printed in large numbers and displayed/circulated. Meetings with massive participation were organised in each and every SSA and district. Website, e-mail, SMS --- all these devices were effectively used. Pamphlets were published, focussing on the achievements of the BSNLEU for the last two years. The union chalked out a charter of demands to be fought for in the next two years and circulated it among the employees. The All India BSNL-DOT Pensioners Association (AIBDPA) and BSNL Casual & Contract Workers Federation (BSNLC&CWF) actively participated in the election campaign in support of the BSNLEU.


The good wage negotiation as also a new promotion policy to the non-executives, settled during the last two years through struggles and hard bargaining, gave an edge to the BSNLEU in the verification process. These two settlements have benefited all the workers substantially.


The verification was conducted in consultation with the Election Commission and ballot boxes were procured on loan. Hundreds of labour officers supervised it. There were more than 2,000 polling booths throughout the country, manned by more than 10,000 personnel. The entire process of a general election was followed in the polling, counting etc, with the participation of the contesting unions.


The victory has brought more responsibilities for the BSNLEU. After a sustained struggle by the workers, the central government gave its assurance to the unions about not disinvesting the BSNL for the time being. Though it has honoured its word so far, it may any time try to resort to the corporationís disinvestment. It is the same with voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and compulsory retirement scheme (CRS). On the plea of austerity measures, contract workers, who have been engaged for years together, are being retrenched now. The neo-liberal, pro-private sector, anti-public sector policy and decisions of the government are creating roadblocks for the growth of the BSNL which is facing total discrimination from the government that favours the private companies. Being in a loss of about Rs 1,850 crore in the last financial year (2009-10), the BSNL management is refraining from taking any decision on financial benefits to the workers. Also, one is not certain about what the UPA II government is going to bring through the new telecom policy anchored by the new communications minister. All these issues will have to be squarely met by the recognised union.


The fourth consecutive victory by the BSNLEU has to be utilised to advance the united struggles of the working class to protect their rights and advance their just demands.