People's Democracy

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


No. 13

March 31, 2013






For Strengthening Unity,

For Countrywide Struggles


                                                                              A K Padmanabhan


THE Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) is getting ready for its 14th national conference which is scheduled to be held in Kannur in Kerala from April 4 to 8, 2013. The 13th conference of the organisation was held in Chandigarh on March 17-21, 2010.




This three year period was a period of great importance in the 43 years’ existence of the CITU --- for the organisation as well as for the working people of the country. This was a period when the working class of India showed its capacity to unitedly fight on the demands of not only the workers but all the working people in the country. This was a period when the country witnessed an unprecedented unity of all the central trade unions and most of the national federations, which came together to fight on a common ten point charter of demands. In many states several regional and independent trade unions too joined in the campaigns and struggles, thus widening the trade union unity further.


For the CITU, it was a step towards fulfilling the clarion call given at the time of its foundation conference in May 1970.


Immediately after its formation, the CITU started its efforts to turn its slogan of ‘Unity and Struggle’ into a reality. These efforts received the support and solidarity of several organisations and resulted in the formation of various joint platforms in various phases, including the United Council of Trade Unions (UTUC), the National Campaign Committee (NCC), the Sponsoring Committee of Indian Trade Unions and the National Platform of Mass Organisations. The joint movement was further broadened since 2009, achieving total unity of all the central trade unions and national federations.


Almost all these struggles were on issues concerning various sections of the working people --- for remunerative prices for the peasants, for a comprehensive law for agricultural workers, for ensured employment and, pending that, unemployment relief to the youth, etc. These demands were raised by the historic strike on January 19, 1982 --- the first of its kind in independent India.


From that countrywide strike to the recent 48 hours general strike, trade unions in the country have broken many a barrier, and various sections have felt the importance and impact of this latest action. As George Mavrikos, general secretary of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), noted, “The successful two day strike has been an important lesson for the international working class and a loud message to the Indian government.” The fact is that not in many countries have we witnessed united actions by central trade unions affiliated with the ITUC or WFTU and by those not affiliated with any international organisation. It is also a fact that, considering the happenings in the past, not many would have even dreamt of a joint platform of all the central trade unions and national federations in India. Yet, it is also a fact that each and every organisation involved in this joint movement contributed in its own way to making a joint platform and struggles a reality.


On its part, the CITU remained true to the call coming from its foundation conference and to its class orientation, and has made all-out effort to discharge its role with the necessary enthusiasm, initiative, commitment and dedication. Every member of the CITU can justly be proud of this role.




In fact, joint activities at sectoral level in various industries, like steel, coal etc, and by the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (CPSTU) in the central public sector undertakings (PSUs) in general, played an important role in unifying the workers. Almost all the major sectors like electricity, transport, banks, insurance, defence production, telecom and government employees, saw united struggles at various levels, including the countrywide coal workers’ strike etc, during the last 30 years.


In the recent period, scheme workers, like the Anganwadi employees, ASHA workers, mid-day meal workers and others, and workers in the unorganised sector, like beedi workers etc, have also conducted united campaigns and struggles. This period also saw many a united struggle in various states.


These struggles laid a firm foundation for forging unity at the lower levels during the joint national struggles.


The present phase of united struggles had already begun by the time the CITU held its 13th conference. The inaugural session of the 13th conference in Chandigarh did witness a reiteration of the resolve to strengthen united struggles by various central trade unions. Then, immediately after the 13th conference, the decision to go in for a countrywide strike on a five point charter of demands was taken. Incidentally, the strike on September 7, 2010 coincided with the International Day of Action called for by the WFTU, resulting in strikes and struggles in different parts of the world.


The last three years saw two more general strikes --- on February 28, 2012 and on February 20-21, 2013. In between, we witnessed the largest mobilisation of workers for a March to Parliament on February 23, 2011 and another March again on December 20. Large scale demonstrations, dharnas and Jail Bharo actions were also organised. There were many sectoral strikes, too, during this period, including a few countrywide strike actions.


Carrying forward the decisions of its 13th conference, the CITU played an effective role in all these struggles --- at the national, state and workspot levels.


The CITU has been taking the message of unity and struggle to every nook and corner of the country. An improvement in carrying the message of unity down to the grassroots level was noted during the successful 48 hours strike recently.




In this period, CITU unions and federations, and also its committees at various levels, took up many issues independently and conducted militant strikes and struggles. The struggles for trade union rights, especially in the multinational corporations, in different parts of the country conducted during the last three years, are of great importance. Moreover, notable successes have been achieved in this process, including the struggles on economic demands of workers. These militant resistance struggles were necessitated in view of the various governments and employers trampling upon the democratic rights of the workers and of the people in general.


Several CITU leaders and workers, both men and women, faced physical attacks from the police and goons. False cases were foisted on them and they were put in jail. There were large scale victimisations, too, in different parts of the country. The CITU could effectively fight back these onslaughts in many centres, often with the solidarity and support of fraternal trade unions and other mass organisations. Many local struggles in organised and unorganised sectors, and also by scheme workers, were conducted in different states.


The countrywide one day strike by construction workers, led by the CITU-affiliated Construction Workers Federation of India (CWFI), in November 2012 was an important struggle in the unorganised sector. Organised by the CITU, the two day mahapadav of scheme workers in New Delhi in November 2012 witnessed massive mobilisations, especially of women workers, strengthened the confidence and fighting spirit not only among the participants but also among the CITU members on the whole.


Also, it was in this period that the CITU got formally affiliated to the WFTU and has taken up certain organisational responsibilities.


The CITU’s tradition of upholding the banner of international solidarity is being carried forward, despite all the limitations and difficulties.




The period since the last conference was also politically critical for the working people. The Chandigarh conference of the CITU took place within a year of the 2009 general elections, in which the Left parties suffered a setback. In the subsequent assembly elections in 2011, the Left lost in both West Bengal and Kerala. We then saw a belligerent UPA government going ahead with its neo-liberal agenda, with the main opposition party, BJP, generally supporting the government on these policy matters. Though led by different political parties of national and regional status, almost all the state governments too have been following these disastrous policies.


West Bengal witnessed murderous attacks on the trade unions and on the cadres and leaders of the Left and democratic movements.  The effect of the so called `paribortan,’ with the whole democratic system coming under attack, is new being experienced by everybody.


It was in such a critical situation that the trade unions successfully built up a united movement, challenging the neo-liberal policies and demanding a change-over to an alternative set of policies.  Trade unions effectively put the policy issues and the people’s demands in focus.


The unprecedented mobilisation of various sections of people --- protesting against corruption, attacks on women etc, and demanding justice --- are notable developments. Added to these was the impact of the 48 hours general strike, which received massive support from ordinary people in urban and rural centres.  


All these are reflections of the urge among the masses for a change. These have to be properly channelised into a mass movement and it is here that the trade unions have to play a leading role.


All these mobilisations, mass movements and successes attained in various struggles --- and also the victory of the Left Front in Tripura, leading to the formation of the seventh LF government in that state --- form the background of the forthcoming 14th CITU conference.


All this is happening at a time when the capitalist system is engulfed in an unprecedented crisis. This was indeed noted by the Chandigarh conference, but the crisis has further deepened since then.


The working class, all over the world, in all the continents, is on the move, fighting against the denial of even its existing rights and benefits that mean serious attacks on the livelihood of the working people. The increasing disparities all over the world have resulted in the now famous slogan “99 per cent versus One per cent!”


Despite the severe attacks and serious problems even in day to day functioning of trade unions in many parts of West Bengal, the CITU has improved its overall strength since its last conference.  Though many of the weaknesses still persist in different areas, the CITU has no doubt been marching ahead.


The forthcoming Kannur conference of the CITU will be discussing all these issues of importance to the working people of the country and also going into various aspects of its organisational growth. The conference will hopefully pave the way for further strengthening of the united activities and struggles of working class and also other sections of the toiling masses.