People's Democracy

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


No. 01

January 06, 2013




Central PSU Workers to Join  Feb General Strike


Swadesh Dev Roye


WORKERS of the central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) have decided to participate in the countrywide general strike on February 20 and 21, 2013. The call for the strike came from the national convention of workers held at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium, New Delhi, on September 4, 2012.


The participation decision was taken by a very widely attended national convention of central public sector workers held at Chennai on December 15, 2012. Around 400 delegates attended the convention. The most significant features of the convention were, first, the participation of trade unions from almost all the public sector industries and, secondly, representation of all the central trade unions organisations there. The latter included the  CITU, AITUC, HMS, INTUC, BMS, LPF and several independent federations. Swadesh Dev Roye represented the CITU in the presidium which was composed of one representative from each of the eight apex trade union organisations.




The proceedings of the convention took off with the addresses made by the central trade unions leaders. CITU general secretary Tapan Sen delivered the inaugural speech. Reiterating the historical achievement of total unity of the trade union movement in the country, he launched a scathing attack on the disastrous policy of the UPA-2 government of dismantling the public sector. Sen told the delegates that the policy of privatisation, the onslaught on trade union rights, the dangerous distortion in employment profile due to continuous decrease in regular employment and the huge increase in contractisation in public sector undertakings are interrelated. He said the policy of sell-out of even the cash rich, huge profit making  public sector companies in strategic sectors can neither be looked upon in isolation from the neo-liberal economic policies pursued with a vengeance by the UPA-2 government nor can it be defeated by the movement of public sector trade unions alone.


While the united initiative of all the trade unions has raised the workers’ voice strongly against the devastating public sector destroying policy of the government, Tapan Sen said the trade unions in CPSUs, irrespective of affiliations, need to come forward to fight shoulder to shoulder with the rank and file of the rest of the trade union movement in the country; in the short term they have to participate in the countrywide general strike on February 20 and 21, 2013. He Tapan told the delegates that without making the February 2013 strike successful the anti-public sector policy of the government could not be defeated.


A total of 46 speakers contributed to the deliberations of the convention. The speakers from the floor represented public sector enterprises from very wide-ranging sectors and industries, for example,  coal, steel, power, oil and natural gas, petrochemicals, transport, mines, telecommunications, defence production, shipyards, heavy engineering, and of course the Bangalore and Hyderabad based CPSUs, in very large numbers.


The convention adopted a joint declaration which was signed by representatives from all the six central trade union organisations and by the Joint Action Front of Bangaluru and the Coordination Committee of CPSU Trade Unions of Hyderabad. A summary of the Declaration is being published below.




Through its Declaration the convention noted that the CPSUs have been contributing to the central exchequer on a big scale with an ever increasing rate. The financial strength of the CPSUs can be judged from the fact that 40-plus CPSUs has a total cash reserve of Rs 2.15 lakh crore. This includes the shares of Coal India (Rs 58,203 crore), ONGC (Rs 27,890 crore), NTPC (Rs 18,092 crore), NMDC (Rs 20,26 crore),  HAL (Rs 20,999 crore) and Oil India (Rs 2,766 crore).


It is therefore shocking that apart from launching an onslaught of privatisation, the government is desperately squeezing the excellently run huge profit making PSUs through multiple techniques. Huge amounts of money are being extracted through taxes and dividends. Again, in the background of extreme volatility and fluctuations in the share market, PSUs are compelled to enlist in the share market in order to rescue the shaky stock exchanges from the serious crisis of creditability.


The Declaration further said that, in the face of private investors’ refusal to invest due to continuously aggravating stagnant market, the government has imposed a decision on 17 PSUs that they must effect domestic investments of over Rs 1.4 lakh crore while overseas acquisitions are expected to be of the order of Rs 35,000 crore. Shockingly, the Union Finance Ministry is reported to have said that “if the PSUs do not fall in line, the ministry may ask the PSUs to surrender their cash reserves to the government through big dividends” [Financial Express, September 17, 2012]. 


The convention also noted with utter shock and anger that while in the fiscal 2012-2013 the budgeted target of disinvestment is Rs 30,000 crore, the government has declared its intention to offload the shares of around 75 CPSUs and already identified 15 such entities for disinvestment of shares worth Rs 33,500 crore. The list includes BHEL, SAIL, RINL, HAL, NALCO, MMTC, NHPC, NTPC, NLC, NMDC, Oil India and EIL. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has already accorded approval for disinvestment of 10 per cent share in NMDC and 9.5 per cent in NTPC, 9.59 per cent in Hindustan Copper, 10 per cent in Oil India, 9.33 per cent in MMTC and 12.15 per cent in NALCO. In the process, the government’s shareholding shall drastically come down to 68.43 per cent in Oil India, 75 per cent each in NTPC and NALCO, and 62.72 per cent in BHEL.


In order to push through its disinvestment programme in a hurry in order to address the increasing fiscal deficit, the government has resorted to various derogatory policy measures. Such steps include the policy of ‘buyback of shares,’ ‘selling through auction route’ and ‘offer for sale.’ These options are, of course, in addition to the IPO and FPO routes. 


The joint convention expressed concern over the alarming increase in the number of contract workers and decrease in permanent workers in the CPSUs. The stoppage of recruitment of permanent workers and resort to massive contractisation and casualisation of workforce are issues posing serious challenges to the trade union movement. Compared to around 23 lakhs in the 1980s, the number of regular employees in the CPSUs has gone down to 14.44 lakh in 2010-11. Meanwhile, contract workforce has already attained extraordinary numerical and strategic strength in the PSUs as a whole. Despite their huge contribution in the production, productivity and profitability of the PSUs concerned, these contract workers are the victims of despicable exploitation in regard to the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and benefits, social security and safety. Their wages are atrociously low compared to regular workers doing the jobs of the same and similar nature.




The convention took due note of the fighting spirit of workers against such a state of affairs, as is reflected in their recent struggles. On July 24, 2012, about 17,000 workers of the Visakhapatnam steel plant staged a daylong strike protesting the move of the government to disinvest the share of the RINL. The strike was 100 per cent successful. It must be noted that more than 8,000 permanent workers and around 8,600 contractor workers participated in the strike. Notably, the strike was jointly called for by the 16 operating trade unions working of the said plant; these included the INTUC, AITUC, CITU, BMS, HMS, LPF and the regional and the local trade unions.


Similarly, on October 20, 2012, approximately 15,000 employees of the NALCO in Odisha, comprising regular and contract workers as well as executives observed a 100 per cent successful strike to oppose the proposed disinvestment in the company. On the strike day, all the central trade unions also staged a joint demonstration before the central office of NALCO in Bhubaneswar.


In NMDC, a countrywide one day strike was observed on November 22, 2012, and the unions have resolved to go in for a weeklong strike to oppose the disinvestment of shares of this PSU. 


Many more strike struggles are under preparation against disinvestment of shares in the PSUs.


The convention appealed to the public sector workers all over the country to take positive lesson from the totally united, bold and forthright struggles of the workers of Visakha steel plant, NALCO (Odisha) and NMDC against the proposed disinvestment. The convention resolved to stoutly oppose any move of privatisation or disinvestment of PSU shares in any public sector company in the country by launching struggles like the ones mentioned above.


The convention also took note of how lakhs of central government employees in the country staged a massive countrywide strike on December 12, 2012 to demand scrapping of the PFRDA Bill, stop to contractisation, setting up of the seventh Pay Commission and 50 per cent DA merger, among other things.    




It was in such a context that the national convention of workers ---held at New Delhi on September 4, 2012 and organized jointly by all the central trade unions and independent federations of employees and workers --- gave a call to observe a countrywide two days’ general strike on February 20 and 21, 2013. The strike is meant to press for a 10-point charter of demands concerning all sections of workers and other toiling people.


The December 15 Chennai convention of public sector workers extended full support to this call of a countrywide strike and issued an appeal to all permanent and contract workers in all the CPSUs, irrespective of their trade union affiliations, to join the strike and make it a total success, as a reflection of their total unity as was demonstrated in the convention itself. The convention also urged upon the unions in the PSUs to submit joint strike notices and conduct joint massive campaigns as well as programmes of agitation and propaganda to mobilise the workers for taking part in the strike on February 20 and 21, 2013.


It may be recalled that in the preparatory phase of the last countrywide historic general strike on February 28, 2012, one such convention was held at Bangaluru which was followed by many public sector industry-wise joint national conventions and jointly signed strike notices were submitted to the managements of the respective CPSUs. Obviously, this time also the Chennai convention would be followed by many industry-wise joint conventions at the national level and submission of joint strike notices.


It is outrageous that the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, threw a big challenge to the CPSU workers on the day the Chennai convention took place. While the convention resolved to fight the suicidal policy of privatisation of CPSUs, on the same day Dt Manmohan Singh, declared that his government had decided to “speed up stake sale in PSUs.” This he said in the course of his address to the annual general meeting of FICCI at New Delhi.


Further, insofar as utilisation of the fund generated from disinvestment is concerned, the successive governments have been resorting to deceitful campaigns with colourful and false promises like “raising resources for the PSUs,” “improving productivity and profitability,” “NRF for assistance to workers (specially women) in unorganised sector,” “special employment schemes in backward areas,” etc.


However, in the current phase of intensified attack on public sector, the UPA-2 government has become so desperate to put the public sector in the service of the private sector that, without mincing words in his speech before the bigwigs of business houses, the prime minister openly declared that his government would mobilise funds by selling out the public sector’s equity in order to address the fiscal deficit and also to boost the share market. “Selling equity in large public sector industries is a central plank of the government’s plank to bring down a wide fiscal deficit,” Manmohan Singh said, adding that “We will speed up the disinvestment process which will revive our equity markets.”  The government has thus resorted to selling the family silver to pay the butler. What is happening is precisely what the trade unions had apprehended in very initial period of disinvestment onslaught.  


It is such a challenge from the Manmohan Singh government that underlines the importance of the February 2013 strike, and public sector workers have to meet this challenge by crowning the proposed strike with unprecedented success. Failure to rise to such an occasion is bound to endanger the public sector entities and their employees all over the country.


The magnificent success of the Chennai convention of workers of central public sector undertakings is a clear indication of the what a historic strike struggle the country is poised to witness on February 20 and 21, 2013.