People's Democracy

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


No. 03

January 20, 2013




Khet Mazdoor Union Holds 27th Conference


ON December 29 and 30, 2012, the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, an affiliate of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), held its twenty-seventh state conference at Ugi village in Nakodar area of Jalandhar district. The area has been known for historic struggles of agricultural labour including those for abolition of cesses and taxes levied on agricultural labour households.


The conference venue was named after Comrade Des Raj Sahota, a leader of the union who laid down his life while fighting the Khalistani militants. The conference hall was named after cultural activist  and union leader Gurmail Singh Panchi who died recently, while the public rally was held at a venue named after Dhanpat Rai Nahar, a former fighter of the Azad Hind Fauj of Subhash Chandra Bose and vice president of the All India Agricultural Workers Union, reflecting the commitment of the union to the independence and  unity of India as well as the defence and extension of the rights of the most exploited and oppressed sections of the Indian people.


The successful mobilisation at the public rally on December 29 and the presence of  180 delegates representing a membership of 1,73,200 at the conference despite the biting cold the next day reflected the urgency and concern with which agricultural labourers view their future as well as the need to organise themselves today. In fact, as was evident from the welcome address delivered by Master Mool Chand Sarhali, even the present day conditions of agricultural workers could not have been what they are without determined struggles and sacrifices of agricultural labourers and their union leaders.


The conference elected a presidium consisting of Bhup Chand Channo, Ram Singh Noorpuri and Vasudev Jamsher; a steering committee consisting of the office bearers of the outgoing committee; a credentials committee of Gurcharan Arora, Baldev Singh Noorpuri and Prakash Kaler and a minutes committee consisting of Lal Singh Dhanaula, Master Mool Chand and Jagdish Ram Dhoot.


In his inaugural address, AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra recounted the history of sacrifice and success of the union which had made Punjab an important centre of the struggle of agricultural labour. This tradition was all the more important as in today’s conditions the governments are committed to enriching a handful of the corporates at the cost of the people. The result is that the people are forced to face inflation, unemployment and dispossession as never before. Moreover the ruling classes are going ahead with their disastrous policies regardless of their consequences for the people’s lives. The only way to face this onslaught was to organise ourselves to implement pro-people measures like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), land reforms and a universal public distribution system (PDS), uniting the rural masses in the villages in powerful class base movements rising above divisive casteist and communal forces. Chopra stressed the importance of such a resistance in restoring the values of social support to each other, sharing and cooperation that had kept the people of Punjab in the forefront of the struggles against untouchability, oppression and imperialism. He urged the union leaders to go among the masses, mobilise the young and develop a militant and inspiring leadership to carry forward the class struggle as never before. He pointed out that this was not only possible but necessary in today’s conditions so there was every possibility of success in our endeavours if we keep the masses united and in struggle and did not let that momentum disintegrate.


The state secretary of the union, Gurmesh Singh, then placed a report that dealt with the growing crisis in agriculture, the collapse of law and order and the disintegration in social values as a result of neo-liberalism and cut-throat policies of immediate success at any cost without any concern for their long-term consequences. He noted that the BJP, the Akalis and the Congress were all united in pursuing these policies as a strategy which they opposed or supported opportunistically to gain tactical advantages for the moment. This therefore left only organisations like ours to challenge them and put forward an alternative. Our presence among the masses in the villages, their pressing need and miserable conditions, and with weapons like MGNREGA, the PDS and the land question that affected the rural poor as a whole were advantages we could take hope from and ensure successes with on the ground that we should prepare for both agitationally and organisationally.


Twenty seven delegates took part in the lively debate that followed and hammered out a programme of struggle not only against neo-liberal policies and the social disintegration they had unleashed in the villages, but also for implementing pro-people laws and schemes to ensure their being carried out. The MGNREGA stipulations, house-sites for dalits and the landless, free electricity, education and a pro-people PDS were all to be fought for and their scope extended, like the demand for Rs 300 per day and 250 days of work a year under the MGNREGA, 10 cent house-sites for the landless, interest free rural credit to agricultural labour, free electricity and education and 35 kg for all poor families at Rs 2 per kg. The conference also decided to hold a state level convention on the problems of dalits, dalit women and migrant labour, after having successfully held a number of conventions on women agricultural labourers.


To ensure that these programmes are carried out successfully, the conference unanimously elected a 55 member working committee. Bhup Chand Channo was re-elected as the president; Ram Singh Noorpuri as the working president and Gurmesh Singh as the secretary. Vasudev Jamsher, Amarjeet Mattu, Kuldeep Jhingar and Lal Singh Dhanaula are the vice presidents; Gurcharan Arora, Pal Singh Jama Rai, Baldev Singh Noorpuri, Satpal Bannur and Sudha Rani are the joint secretaries and Praksh Kaler is the treasurer. Three places in the committee were kept vacant for expansion.


The conference closed with a stirring call to make the proposed strike on February 20-21, 2013, to press for the agricultural workers’ demands, an unprecedented success.