People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXV

No. 45

November 06, 2011

PUNJAB

 

Agricultural Workers Organise Protest Processions

 

Gurmesh Singh

 

ON October 13, there were protest processions at 14 places throughout Punjab. In all these places, units of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) sent their demands charter to the state government through the district commissioners. The biggest rally was organised in Ludhiana, with 1500 workers participating in it. It was addressed by Suneet Chopra, joint secretary of the AIAWU, AIKS leader Sekhon, AIAWU leaders Shivrattan and Mattu, among others. In other districts, leading office bearers including the state AIAWU president, secretary, vice presidents and joint secretaries of the union addressed the rallies.

 

Large numbers of women agricultural workers participated in all these rallies, and their impact was felt all over the state. Now the union plans to take up the agitation from the village level upward.

 

The action was in accordance with the decision of a convention which the Punjab state unit of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) organised on September 30. It was a convention of agricultural workers and those working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, organised at Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hall in Jalandhar. AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra inaugurated the convention. He explained how it is necessary to organise a strong agricultural workersí union in the rural areas for building a powerful democratic movement in the country. He said Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet used to point out that we ought not to ignore the demands of agriculture workers if we want to build up a strong peasant movement.  Only thus the unity of the peasants and agriculture workers can be built up.

 

The policies of the central government have of late increasingly worsened the situation. In 1991, the landless people numbered 7.46 crore while it increased in 2001 to become 10.7 crore, and now it has reached up to 15 crore. Every year, on an average, 33 lakh peasants are forced to sell their land and join the ranks of agricultural and migrant labour. In 2010, 17,363 peasants committed suicide because their economically poor condition had not left them in a position to return the loans they had contracted. He also pointed out that the working days for rural workers are decreasing; this is perfectly in accordance with the laws of capitalism that creates an army of the unemployed while killing jobs through mechanisation and lack of support to small farmers. Though there has been some increase in wages, it is not due to the policies of ruling classes. It is due to powerful struggles waged by the working people. But the value of this amount has decreased because of the incessant price rise.

 

The Narasima Rao government, on the basis of a commissionís report, said that we could give one crore people employment per year if we achieved a three per cent increase in the GDP, and also that we would scrap unemployment within nine years in that case. But unemployment has now increased from 9 crore to 15 crore instead. Here too, we have made efforts to change the situation resulting from neo-liberal policies. But the opposite has happened. The MGNREGA was passed due to our long struggle.  But the central government is not allotting proper funds for it in the budget. This work has been engulfed by corruption. Now the government is about to bringing in a Food Security Act that will decrease the monthly rations from 35 kg to 25 kg per family while increasing the price from Rs 2 to Rs 3 per kg. So in effect it will increase food insecurity. Chopra concluded said the mass of the rural people would not get any benefit without building a strong organisation capable of leading powerful struggles.

 

Secretary of the AIAWU state unit, Gurmesh Singh put forward the demands charter with eight demands. The union has demanded Rs 250 per day for as minimum wage for agricultural workers and MGNREGA workers. The state must provide an assured 200 working days per year. Women should be paid equal wages for equal work. In the Shagun scheme for girls from poor families, the amount should be increased from Rs 15,000 to 31,000, and it should be paid 15 days before marriage. The pension amount for widows, the aged and handicapped persons, which is at present Rs 250, should be increased to Rs 1,000 per month. All landless people and agricultural workers should be enrolled under the BPL scheme. Electricity and drinking water should be given free to all the poor people. Loans should be given to them without interest, without any precondition, and it must be recovered in easy instalments. There should be a universal public distribution system. 

 

The convention took the decision that protest processions would be taken out in all districts of Punjab and the demands charter would be submitted to the state government through the deputy commissioners on October 13, 2011.

 

The convention was also addressed by other union leaders like Ram Singh Noorpuri, Vasdev Jamsher, Parkash Kaler, Kali Charan Kaushik, Dr Avtar Singh, Dr Satpal Bannor, Gita Ram and Pal Singh Jama Rai. The state unitís president, Bhoop Chand Channo, concluded by asking the over 250 delegates to pass the demands charter and the call for protest actions of October 13, 2011. 

 

The conventionís participants adopted the demands charter and the resolution of protest actions with high spirit and loud slogans.