(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 10, 2011
P K GURUDASAN SEEKS RE-ELECTION FROM KOLLAM
Veteran of Workers Struggles
Confident of Workers Support
N S Arjun
KOLLAM district is home to a significant number of workers who are employed in cashew, coir, plantation and fisheries sectors. There are around 2.5 lakh cashew workers alone in the district. It has also witnessed many struggles involving the demands of these workers under the Red flag. Struggles that led to improvement in the lot of the workers. One man who is a veteran leader of most of these struggles, P K Gurudasan, is seeking re-election from Kollam assembly constituency in the present election. As the minister for labour, employment and training in the current LDF government, Gurudasan has shown the same zealous commitment for improving the lives of the workers by various government measures in the last five years. That is why he is confident about the workers in his constituency reposing their faith in LDF this time also.
Seventy six year old Gurudasan had joined the Communist Party while in teens discontinuing his studies after 12th standard. He led the transport workers strike in the district in 1954 and was arrested. After formation of CPI(M), he became the first secretary of Chattanoor area committee of the Party and involved himself fully in the struggles of the workers. The condition of cashew workers in the region was worse with very low wages and no benefits. The cashew workers struggles reached a peak in 1986 when a five month long bitter militant struggle was unleashed. The Karunakaran-led UDF government tried to crack down the struggle by brutal repression. One comrade, Parameshwaran was killed in lock up while another comrade died in the hunger strike. Comrade Susheela Gopalan and Gurudasan were arrested and put in jail for three days. Yet, the struggle continued and the employers had to finally agree for granting of Dearness Allowance (Rs 8.06 per day) to the workers. Earlier, during the Emergency, Gurudasan was jailed for 19 months in the Poojappura central prison.
Gurudasan became the state president of Kerala State Road Transport Employees Association. He also worked as the state general secretary of CITU and is currently the all India vice president of CITU. He worked as Kollam district secretary of the Party for 16 years from 1981 to 1998 and was taken into the state secretariat and Central Committee in 1998.
After winning the Kollam seat in 2006 with a majority of over 11,000 votes, Gurudasan was made the minister of labour, employment and training in the LDF government. As a minister, he concentrated on improving the lot of workers through out the state. The UDF government had stated in their industrial policy that the traditional industries like cashew and coir had no future. This was proved wrong in practice by the LDF government in the last five years. It modernised cashew industry and improved its quality under the aegis of CAPEX organisation, an apex cashew workers industrial cooperative society. Its turnover was tripled from Rs 16 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 48 crore in 2009-10. The employees strength was increased from 3800 in 2006 to 6300 in 2010, helping in utilising the entire production capacity. The minimum wages of the cashew workers were revised twice, once in 2007 and again in 2010. Not only cashew industry, the LDF government revived most of the PSUs that had been closed during the UDF regime, including 20 tea plantations.
Gurudasan was campaigning in Prakkulam area of the constituency while we caught up with him. This area is abutting the second largest and deepest lake in the state, Ashtamudi (eight coned lake) and is home to a large number of fisherfolk. As Gurudasan travelled deep into the areas to meet the fisherfolk, he was received with genuine warmth by the fisherfolk. It is not hard to know why. The LDF government rescued them from private loan sharks who were charging usury rates. It waived Rs 386 crore outstanding loans of fisherfolk from scheduled banks and cooperatives, and introduced a new scheme whereby they could avail loans upto Rs 25,000 without payment of any interest to buy their input material. These loans could be repaid in easy instalments. The government also provided them free transport facility from the coast to markets and also set up retail shops where they could sell their fish. They were provided pension, PDS and other benefits. There are around 40,000 fisherfolk in Kollam constituency which has a total of 1.58 lakh voters.
In the 2006 assembly elections, the LDF made a clean sweep of the district, winning 11 out of the total 12 seats. This time, due to delimitation, the number of seats has been reduced to 11. In the lone seat that the UDF had won last time, Pattanapuram, the LDF has fielded CPI(M) Kollam district secretary K Rajagopal in the present elections. KPCC general secretary K C Rajan is fighting against Gurudasan. The veteran CPI(M) leader expressed confidence that the good work of the LDF government and its achievements would translate into a positive vote for it in these elections.