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Thursday, November 14, 2013

"ONWARD TO PARLIAMENT MARCH ON 12TH DECEMBER, 2013" - AK Padmanabhan


THE historic 48 hours strike on February 20 -21 with the participation of more than 12 crores of workers from each and every sector was a milestone in the history of Indian trade union movement.  This strike had even forced the prime minister to go on record that many of the demands of the workers are demands not only of workers, but of the people as well.  But, that the statement of the prime minister was only an effort to create some expectations among the gullible has been proved during the last few months.

Feeling the pressure of the total unity amongst the central trade unions and also the justness of the demands which could not be refuted, the prime minister had to announce that the group of ministers – formed a day before the strike  –  would continue the discussion with the unions.  This meeting, as has been reported earlier and known to everybody, was held on May 21, where in the defence minister A K Antony had promised to continue the discussions after a month in the name of consultations within the government.

When it comes to the issues of workers, it seems, the government of India’s calendar has innumerable days in a month. There has not been any communication from the government to the unions after May 21.

It was in this situation that an all India joint convention of trade unions was held on August 6, and a detailed programme for another phase of united struggle was adopted.


SEPT 25 RALLIES

As part of this phase of action, rallies, demonstrations and dharnas were held on  September 25, following a countrywide campaign. Though the decision was for holding rallies in the state capitals, in many states, massive rallies were held in different centers.

The rallies on September 25 were massive in various centres with the participation of workers including women, from different industrial and service sectors.These rallies and demonstrations were addressed by central and state leaders of all the central trade unions.

In Punjab, where section 144 was clamped in the capital city of Chandigarh and demonstrations, processions or meetings were not allowed, the government could do nothing to stop the massive demonstrations that converged from different points at the meeting place in the city.  More than 15,000 workers participated in this rally.  In Kerala, the state capital witnessed a rally of more than 25,000 workers. More than 10,000 workers participated in the rally in Mumbai.  In West Bengal, rallies were held in several district headquarters in addition to the state capital Kolkata where workers from the neighbouring districts too participated in a massive meeting.  In Tripura, the mass rally was addressed by leaders of the different trade unions, while in Jharkhand  four processions merged into a march to the Raj Bhawan.  In Tamilnadu, six regional rallies, with massive  participation, were held. Agartala march was also massive with large number of men and women.

In Odisha also, workers marched to the Raj Bhawan, breaking the ban orders under Section 144 and held a meeting at the police barricade. Despite the difficult situation in Andhra Pradesh on division of the state, Hyderabad witnessed a massive rally of more than 12 thousand workers and employees with the participation of all central trade unions and national federations and also trade unions affiliated to TDP (TNTUC) and TRS(TRSKV).

Reports from all over the country, including from Karnataka, Jharkhand,  Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana  fully reflected the anger and resentment of the working people against the government of India’s attitude towards their demands.

SECTORAL STRUGGLES

Huge struggles and campaigns are also taking place in several states, many of them under joint platform of the trade unions.
         
Notable among them was the strike preparation by the coal workers in the country. All the five federations of the workers of Coal India decided to go on a three days’ strike from September 23-25 against the 10% disinvestment announced by the government.  This has now been deferred to December 17-19.  Full preparations for this are going on.

Bank employees were also preparing for a day’s joint strike on September 25, which was also postponed after discussions with the authorities.

Unions affiliated and also friendly to the CITU in the central PSUs held demonstration all over the country on September 23 against the policy of disinvestment and other anti-worker policies of the government. In Indian Oil Corporation, a Maharatna PSU, unions in refineries and marketing sections have given strike notices demanding dropping of the moves for disinvestment.

Lakhs of anganwadi employees and mid-day-meal workers are on struggle against the attempts of the government to handover these important schemes to private organisations and corporates. The All India Kisan Sabha, All India Agricultural Workers Union and All India Democratic Women’s Association are joining the CITU in the country-wide campaign to `Save ICDS’. Country-wide joint campaigns and movements have been planned to build up unity at grass root level.

ON TRADE UNION RIGHTS

Struggles to safeguard the basic trade union rights are continuing. The struggles against victimisation in MNCs like Maruti, Hyundai, Volvo, Nokia, Foxconn, Siemens and also in the factories of Indian corporates like Jindal, Mahindra and Mahindra, Bajaj etc were conducted during this period; some struggles are continuing.

It is of importance that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is helping and guiding Indian trade unions in conducting campaigns for ratification of core conventions of ILO by the government of India.  This includes the convention No.87 on right to organisation and convention No.98 on right to collective bargaining.

The situation in the country is getting worse with not only the workers, but also other sections like officers in the State Bank of India being forced to go on struggles against victimisations and for ensuring trade union rights. These officers under their only all India federation held a massive dharna in New Delhi on September 8 protesting against vindictive actions of the management. The High Court of Madras had to remind the SBI management that peaceful demonstrations are democratic rights and court nullified the charge sheets issued to the leaders in Chennai circle.  The defiant attitude of the management regarding another judgement in favour of these officers had forced the court to summon the chairman of SBI to the Court.

This vindictiveness and victimisations by the  employers in different sectors are in violation of all democratic norms and fundamental rights and are  being resisted by the workers, in various parts of the country.

GOVERNMENT’S APATHY

But, the attitude of the government is that of closing its eyes to the issues related to the workers.  Almost all issues, even on those where a consensus was reached in the highest tripartite body, the Indian Labour Conference, are being thoroughly neglected. These include equal wage for equal work, minimum wages, worker’s status for scheme workers etc.

At the same time the government is going ahead with anti-worker legislations like PFRDA Bill.  The government, which has snatched away the right of employees to pension, has now announced the formation of the Seventh Pay Commission, to be implemented from the year 2016!  None can be cheated by the statements of government’s spokespersons that it cares for the rights of workers and the announcement of Pay Commission is an example of that care!  This announcement on Pay Commission is really an effort to put on hold all issues concerned with government employees for the next two and half years and also to showcase it for the ensuing elections!

Various reports about employment situation in the country point out to large scale  reduction in employment in all sectors and to the increasing contractorisation and casualisation even in the government departments and public sector enterprises, not to speak about the private sector. All the while, the government reassures the employers that it is ready with many amendments to the labour laws, which the employers are pressing for.

AMENDMENT TO ESI RULES

The recent announcement by the government, that the ESI scheme being extended to those earning up to Rs 25,000 per month, is an example of its duplicity. The monthly wage ceiling is being raised from Rs15,000 to 25,000.  At the same time, the long pending demands of unions like those to increase the wage ceilings in EPF, on the removal of the wage ceiling or at least to increase the eligibility under the Bonus Act are not being accepted.  The increase in ESI wage ceiling is an attempt at fund mobilisation, not for expansion of medical benefits to the insured persons but for other expenses like that of starting medical colleges!

The prime minister had announced that certain demands of workers are under serious consideration and ministers have been talking about increasing pension under the Employees Pension Scheme. But no decision is being taken on this. The labour minister has no time even to call a meeting of the central Board of Trustees of EPF. No meeting of the reconstituted CBT has been held though notification of reconstitution was issued in May 2013.

ON TO PARLIAMENT MARCH

It is under these circumstances that the workers all over the country are getting ready for the massive march to parliament on December 12.  Reports from various  sectors from all over the country indicate that the mobilisation this time will be much more than that of February 23 2011, which was the largest ever mobilisation of workers in the national capital. A meeting of central trade unions on October 21, held in New Delhi reviewed the preparations being made in various States.

The CITU held an extended meeting of its secretariat on October 22-23 to take stock of the situations.  Enthusiastic preparations are being made by all the state committees for making the rally in Delhi and also the marches in district centres in the faraway states successful.  Extensive campaign programmes have been made by various committees of the CITU to reach out to all sections of workers as well as the public in general.

It is reported that various sections of employees like that of central and state governments, insurance, bank, telecom, defence production etc are also making countrywide preparations for December 12.

With the UPA government not prepared to listen to the voice of workers and other toiling people, being only worried about the corporates and investors, the working people have no other alternative but to intensify their struggles.  These struggles have to be linked to the struggles for an alternate set of policies, which will safeguard the interests of the common people in the country.  Along with that, all efforts by various forces to create divisions in the ranks of the toiling masses have to be resisted and exposed so that the working peoples struggles can be conducted unitedly.

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