1. All over the world, predatory capital on the neoliberal prowl has intensified its multipronged offensive on labour in the name of overcoming the global economic crisis. In our country this has assumed various shapes old and new: job cuts, retrenchment, forced retirement in the name of voluntary retirement schemes, wage freeze, increased workload and working hours, downsizing, outsourcing and casualization of jobs of permanent or perennial nature, union- busting and denial of industrial democracy – the list is endless.
2. The Indian state, the judiciary not excluded, facilitates the enhanced exploitation and oppression with a whole range of anti-labour laws and regulations, anti-worker judicial verdicts, creation of no-union zones in new industrial centres, high-handed repression on workers’ struggles in government as well as private enterprises and so on – all in the name of economic reform and growth. The corporate media as a rule sings the tune of big business and religiously portrays strikes and trade unions as the biggest obstacles to national prosperity.
3. Workers and employees in India, their backs to the wall, are resisting such concerted attacks at the factory/workplace, industry and national levels with determination. Recent years have witnessed a new militant awakening among unorganized workers and contract labourers, many of whom are women, who constitute the overwhelming majority of our labour force. The same period has also been marked by exemplary united struggles of permanent and contract workers in the auto industry, the showpiece of the emerging “India Inc” as well as highly successful industrial actions and political campaigns jointly organized by central trade unions. The Indian contingent of the world proletariat is taking steady strides along the path already being charted by workers in Greece, Spain, South Africa and other countries – a path full of tough challenges as well as big opportunities provided by the spreading crisis of neoliberalism.
4. The recent two-day all-India general strike on 20-21 February marked a new high in working class action against the neoliberal offensive of the Indian ruling classes. More than 10 crore workers participated in the strike cutting across states and sectors. The strike evoked a good response in almost all major industrial centres and the financial sector. Life in Delhi and Mumbai remained rather normal with the transport sector not joining the strike even as public transport remained off the roads across North India. Our Party and central trade union played an exemplary role in mobilising the working people in support of the strike – in Tamil Nadu, for example, a state-wide yatra was organised in the run-up to the strike to popularise the strike call and the agenda and demand a special session of the State Assembly to address and resolve workers’ issues. In many areas, notably in Bihar and West Bengal and in parts of Jharkhand, the strike became total with broad-based popular support, but in a bid to crush the growing spirit of working class unrest and popular resistance in the National Capital Region, the state unleashed repression on general workers and TU activists in Noida, raiding TU and Party offices and arresting Comrade Shyam Kishore, member of the Party’s Delhi State Committee, a CITU leader, and a group of workers and common people on framed-up charges. A transport worker leader belonging to the AITUC was also killed in the course of the strike in Ambala depot of Haryana. Weeks after the strike, the Noida comrades are still in jail and have been denied bail.
India’s Growth Story: Gainers and Losers
5. The brief periods of high manufacturing growth in the mid-1990s and the 2000s that is now petering out were propelled by increased productivity of labour. But labour was denied the fruits of growth. Wages as a share of net value added in the manufacturing sector were close to 30% in the 1980s, declined to around 20% in the 1990s and dropped to an all time low of 10% by 2008-2009. Not surprisingly, we find that the share of profits in net value added, which was at around 20% throughout the 1980s, climbed above 30% in the 1990s, and rose to an incredible 60% by 2008. The same story is repeated in the service sector. Here the share of wages declined from more than 70% in the 1980s to less than 50% by 2009 while profit share increased from 30% in the 1990s to more than 50% after 2004-2005.
6. While real wages stagnated and declined, the top management in virtually every company pampered itself with hefty increases in salary and other accompanying privileges. Wages of managerial staff were roughly twice that of workers’ wages until the 1990s, but increased thereafter at a faster rate to reach 4.3 times that of the workers’ wages by 2008. The CEOs have been drawing obscenely high salaries – some to the tune of more than Rs. 10 lakh per day. In 2011-12, the Naveen Jindal drew a salary of Rs.73.42 Crore. Kalanidhi and Kaveri Kalanidhi of Sun network each drew salaries of Rs.57.1 crore. Pawan Munjal and Brij Mohan Munjal of Hero Motor Corporation drew salaries of Rs. 34.55 crore each and PR Raja of Madras cements got Rs.29.34 crore.
7. The skyrocketing profits have been further bolstered by huge tax concessions and other sops offered by central and state governments. The total quantum of corporate tax exemption in the last five years has been of the order of Rs 25 lakh crore. This is by far the biggest scam enacted openly and legally, even as more than 70% of Indians have to make do with a daily expenditure of less than Rs. 20. Along with hefty tax exemptions, the rich are also endowed with enough loopholes to enable them to accumulate and hold wealth illegally in foreign banks and launder black money white through multiple routes.
Working Class: Changing Composition
8. With the change in the country’s GDP mix, the composition of the labour force is also undergoing a steady change, though not in the same proportion. Agriculture now contributes less than 15% of GDP, yet close to 60% of the population still depends on agriculture for their economic wherewithal. The service sector is now the dominant part of the Indian economy accounting for about 59 per cent of Gross National Product. Over the last 40 years, employment in this sector has grown at anaverage of about 3.5 per cent per annum, yet its share in total employment has risen from around 15 per cent in 1972-73 to only 26 per cent in 2009-10.
9. Employment in the primary or agricultural sector has been steadily declining, and in the secondary sector comprising mining, manufacturing, electricity, water and gas, and construction, it is only construction which has witnessed a significant growth in employment, while in the tertiary or service sector, employment growth has been concentrated primarily in three segments: financial services, trade and transport.
10. If we compare rural and urban areas, employment growth has been higher in urban areas than in the rural economy. The stagnation in rural employment is caused primarily by the decline in agricultural employment, and continues despite the steady growth in non-agricultural employment in rural areas. According to NSSO estimates rural non-farm activities employed 28.51 million workers in 1972-73, the number went up to 56.11 million by 1987-88 and to 93.53 million in 2004-05. According to the NSSO survey of 2009-10, the number stood at 107.51 million in that year.
11. From the point of view of overall employment generation, economic growth in India should be characterised as jobless growth. And this is especially true of the current phase of economic liberalisation. In the pre-liberalisation phase, when GDP grew at 4.7 per cent per annum during 1972-73 to 1983, employment growth was 2.4 per cent; between 1983-84 and 1993-94 GDP growth increased to 5 per cent, but employment growth declined to 2.0 per cent; over the next ten years GDP growth accelerated to 6.3 per cent, but employment growth further declined to 1.8 per cent, and between 2004-05 and 2009-10, when GDP growth was as high as 9 per cent, employment growth virtually stopped, declining to an all-time low of 0.22 per cent!
12. Within this overall pattern of decelerating rate of employment growth, a few features stand out in bold relief. Firstly, agriculture, despite a sharp decline in its importance in gross domestic product, continues to be the largest employer, as the non-agricultural sectors have not generated enough employment to cause any major shift of workforce away from agriculture. Secondly, most of the employment growth has been contributed by the unorganised, informal sector which is characterised by poor incomes and conditions of work. And, thirdly, employment growth in the organised sector has been mostly in the categories of casual and contract labour. On the whole, an estimated 1.3 crore workers are joining the labour pool every year. While 8 million jobs are added to low paying unorganized sectors, 5 million remain either unemployed or join the contingent of casual workers.
Working Class under Intensified Attack
13. Intensified exploitation of wage labour takes place in several ways. While extraction of relative surplus value is enhanced by introducing latest high-speed plant and machinery, effective working hours are extended by various means – for example by cutting down and strictly monitoring recess periods available to workers – to squeeze more of absolute surplus value out of the workers’ toil. Secondly, casual/contract labour is extensively used even for permanent jobs to reduce the wage bill. Though illegal, this is easily done thanks to the existence of a large and growing pool of industrial reserve army, which also serves to depress the general wage level. Thirdly, pay commissions and bipartite/tripartite wage agreements are being increasingly delayed, subverted and even scuttled to erode real wages or keep them stagnant.
14. Privatisation of PSUs and semi-government undertakings–piecemeal/backdoor, if not outright – has become more extensive and rapid than ever. It is not only pushing concerned workers and employees into an uncertain future, but leading to immediate job cuts as well as reduced pay packets and worse working conditions. The government of India has already closed down 7 PSUs and even as it talks of reviving other ‘sick’ PSUs, employees of eight PSUs under the Department of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises have not received their salaries since October 2012. The state must be held accountable for payment of regular salaries and wages in all PSUs and for making sure that the Payment of Wages Act is not violated by any enterprise, public or private.
15. Apart from SEZs, new industrial zones like the Gurgaon-Manesar belt of Haryana, Rudrapur and other pockets of Uttarakhand, and Sriperumbudur belt in Chennai are being converted into “no-trade union zones”. Registration of trade unions is denied and workers are debarred from forming or joining trade unions. Even in the organised sector with long-established trade union culture, the management often refuses to recognise the popular militant union and grant recognition to pro-management pocket unions.
16. Curbing industrial democracy with special focus on denial of hard-won trade union rights has thus become a most widely used political weapon in the hands of capital for holding down its class adversary, so that the latter cannot rise in organised resistance. These issues and the associated question of dignity of labour have therefore emerged as most important concerns of the working class movement today.
Flashpoints in Workers’ Resistance
17. Recent years have been witness to frequent joint national campaigns of central trade unions and federations. Even the TU centres owing allegiance to the Congress and the BJP have been compelled to join these campaigns under pressure of the masses of workers. The coming together of all trade unions whether centrally or on a sectoral basis in joint actions is a characteristic feature of the present phase. Such pan-union unity can and must be utilised not as an end in itself but as a favourable platform to sharpen and intensify class struggle and forcefully assert the united working class resolve to roll back the policies of liberalisation and privatisation.
18. Inseparably linked to each other, the auto and auto component industries have together emerged as the most dynamic flashpoint of class struggle in India. Mahindra (Nasik), Sun Beam Auto (Gurgaon), Bosch Chassis (Pune), Honda Motor Cyle (Manesar), Rico Auto (Gurgaon), Pricol (Coimbatore), Volvo (Hoskote, Karnataka), MRF Tyres (Chennai), General Motors (Halol, Gujarat), Maruti Suzuki (Manesar), Bosch (Banglore), Dunlop (Hoogly, Chennai), Caparo, Hyundai (Sriperumbudur) – almost all the well-known auto industry units that witnessed labour unrest in the period from 2007 to 2012.
19. The automobile industry has recorded remarkable growth in gross production as well as per capita productivity of labour: from 8.5 million vehicles (of all types) in 2004-05, production has risen to 20.4 million in 2011-12. In both industries, cheap contract labour far outnumbers regular workers and real wages (after discounting for inflation) have been falling continuously, between 2000-01and 2009-10 real wages actually fell by 18.9 per cent. In 2000-01 an auto worker spent 2 hours and twelve minutes in an eight hour shift for his/her own subsistence and that of his/her family. He/she spent the remaining 5 hours and forty eight minutes generating surplus for the capitalist (and the banks, land owners, management personnel and so on). By 2009-10, he/she spent just one hour and 12 minutes for his/her own subsistence and family and 6 hours 48 minutes for the capitalist.
20. In the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal zone outside Delhi, which accounts for about 60 per cent of auto production in India, 80 per cent of the estimated one million workers are hired on contract. Union busting, sacking, beating (recall the police brutality on absolutely peaceful Honda workers, who were invited for talks, at Gurgaon in 2006), foisting criminal cases and even murder are the order of the day. The German auto parts manufacturer Bosch for example managed to resist three attempts at formation of a union and the story is nearly the same in other factories too.
21. Naturally, recognition of genuine trade unions enjoying the confidence of the majority of workers and regularisation of contract labour and ‘apprentices’ engaged in regular jobs in violation of law and at unbelievably low rates have emerged as the basic demands of the twin industries. At the shop and plant levels, workers often resort to work stoppages and other forms of protest on the issues of dignity and victimisation of their militant comrades. The new features of class struggle – the MNC techniques of management, the emerging face of workers’ resistance and the role of the state – came out in vivid colours in a couple of representative movements in two of the most important ‘modern’ industrial centres of India.
Lessons of Maruti and Pricol Struggles
22. Situated in the conservative Hindi heartland dominated by the notorious Khap panchayats, the Maruti Suzuki factory at Manesar has been a forward post of industrial conflict for quite some time. Most of the workers are young and more or less educated, a good many of them coming from far-off places. Since the company – as is the norm nowadays unlike in the past – does not arrange forhousing, workers live in small rooms in converted hostels run by local landlords. Following prolonged peaceful agitations for the right to unionise, the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) – which embraces all categories of workers – was registered in March 2012. However, till date the management, in violation of the law, insists that the Union cannot be affiliated to any central Trade Union. There was a 13-day long strike in June 2012, which ended when the company agreed to take back 11 terminated workers.
23. Very significantly, the July 18, 2012 showdown was ignited by an incident in which a supervisor abused a Dalit worker in caste terms and the latter replied in a befitting manner. It is to be noted that such humiliation is no aberration: supervisors and managers are trained to do this as a matter of routine for breaking the morale of workers. In the ensuing violent clashes between workers on the one hand, and the management and bouncers on the other, many were injured on both sides while a human resources manager died. The management and state authorities immediately swung into action. Large-scale indiscriminate arrests were made and a reign of police-goonda terror was let loose on the entire area.
24. The kulak-landlord forces organised in Khap Panchayats resolved that the striking union must be suppressed. They forced their worker tenants to vacate, landing them in greater trouble. Meanwhile the whole factory was transformed into an iron curtained ghetto. An undeclared lockout was imposed in the form of demanding a written “good conduct” promise from every worker who intended to enter the factory.
25. Against this backdrop, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) and Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) started demanding ‘flexi’ labour laws and the right to lay off even permanent employees during slowdowns! ‘Experts’ on labour relations endorsed this position, ostensibly in the interest of workers themselves: it was argued that employers are compelled to use contract workers because India’s ‘archaic’ labour laws do not allow regular workers to be fired even during slowdowns! Auto firms threatened shifting their operations to Gujarat, quite blatantly stating that they wished to “union-proof” their production (i.e., they hoped Narendra Modi would take care of such troublemakers).
26. Workers on their part staged a prolonged dharna, where university students from Delhi joined them, even as workers of Pricol in Coimbatore and Honda in Gurgaon staged demonstrations in solidarity. Eventually production was restored, but only under the watchful eyes of the police, ex-military persons, and a special action force patrolling the factory round the clock, and security cameras watching every movement of every worker.
27. A similar story turned out differently at the Pricol automobile component factory (Coimbatore). A determined struggle commenced here in March 2007 with a single demand: recognition of the newly formed union enjoying the confidence of overwhelming majority of workers. The permanent workers, the ancillary unit workers and the contract workers fought together. The union, affiliated to the AICCTU, was branded as Maoist. The management, with full support of the state government, resorted to punishments like denial of wage increase, deductions, stoppage of increment, break-in-service, foisting criminal cases. Unfazed, workers launched the March 2007 strike.
28. The violent death of the human resources vice president in September 2009 was used to the hilt in a bid to isolate and crush the workers. False cases were foisted on the entire union leadership and leading workers including women. Some of them had to spend more than 100 days in prisons. But they were never defensive; they were never apologetic about their struggle. The battle went on in court and out of court.
29. Our party and trade union worked extensively and intensively among workers, encouraging them to mobilise their families and the local people in support of the struggle. Continuous and creative efforts were made to raise their political consciousness through various programmes and discussion sessions. The communist party was expanded in the district, with Pricol workers playing an active role. The combined effect of all this was that the management-government nexus failed to achieve what they often do in similar cases: tiring the workers out of the battle and ultimately forcing them into submission.Workers stood their ground. With the pilloried union winning recognition, they won their basic right.
30. In a situation where the system stubbornly refuses to uphold labour laws and allows open violations to be the norm; where avenues for redressal of grievances are denied and union functioning curbed; and where managements routinely introduce hired muscle, victimization, and corrupt means to deal with workers protesting against undemocratic, undignified, and exploitative work conditions, outbursts and violent clashes are inevitable. Previous incidents at Graziano (NOIDA) and Regency Ceramic (Puducherry) – in which managers lost their lives in industrial clashes – and at Rico factory (Gurgaon) where a worker was thrown into a furnace and burnt to death by company officials and hired musclemen (a case in which the killers are yet to be punished) bear ample proof of this. At the same time, the corporate sector and governments are using such incidents as pretext to demand ‘reform’ of labour laws. In other words, they are seeking the legalization of the ongoing violations – and the freedom to exploit the workers without any legal impediment.
31. In a situation like this, the working class must intensify the struggle for industrial democracy, equal pay for equal work, and workers’ rights and dignity. It faces the challenge of developing a political resistance that can mobilize democratic sections of the people beyond the factories, and establish the working class as a political force to be reckoned with. It goes to the credit of Maruti workers that defying systematic assault and repression by the management and the state, they have kept up the banner of struggle and protests. Most of the ‘recognised’ central trade unions have mobilised little effective support and solidarity for the fighting Maruti workers and AICCTU must play a consistently active role in this regard.
32. The two decades of neoliberal reform have been marked by changes in production processes (from labour-intensive to capital-intensive automated production for example) as well as in the composition of the working class (e.g., large-scale casualisation of labour). The relative importance of different industrial sectors and labour categories has also undergone some changes and so has the nature movement means to of break problems needs the to artificial in restructure each sector. barriers itself In created this and context evolve by capitalism suitable the working ways between class and the permanent workers and others like contract, casual, temporary workers and apprentices.
33. As noted earlier, the post-reform industrial growth in India has been powered by ill-paid contract, migrant and women workers. The share of contract workers in the total workforce in the factory sector increased from 20% in 1999-2000 to 32% in 2008-2009. More and more jobs in the organized public and private sectors are arbitrarily categorised as non-core and non-perennial and then handed over to contractors. In some cases in Mumbai it has been observed that leaders of pro-management unions have also turned into labour contractors. The 2001 Supreme Court verdict on SAIL has subverted the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act 1970 by ruling out automatic absorption of contract workers by the principal employer even after abolition of contract labour by the appropriate governments. The trade union movement will have to fight hard for a stronger legislation and strict implementation to defend the interests of contract workers and check the rampant growth of the contract system.
34. The contract workers, who are employed mainly in hazardous jobs and paid a pittance, are of course not suffering silently. In addition to joint struggles with permanent workers, they are independently launching their own movement. A remarkable recent instance was the 44-day strike that began in April 2012 in the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC). This was the culmination of many years of struggle conducted by a few thousands of contract labourers to win wage parity with permanent workers and regularisation of their jobs. In the absence of any attempt on the part of TUs to mobilise the permanent workers in support of contract workers, they were defeated once again, but not before demonstrating the great potential and staying power latent in contract workers. Thanks to our relentless struggle, more than a thousand contract workers of Calcutta Tramways Corporation, a state PSU, have succeeded in becoming permanent. In Assam, our comrades have succeeded in organising and uniting contractual workers in the oil sector. In Chandigarh PGI our union representing 1800 contract workers succeeded in forcing a formal agreement accepting the principle of equal pay for equal work but the management is dilly-dallying on implementing it.
35. Key sectors of public service like education and health remain an important source of employment, but the nature of jobs has turned increasingly insecure. From primary schools to colleges, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of contract-teachers with posts of permanent teachers being steadily abolished or lying vacant. The much-touted National Rural Health Mission which is now being extended to cover urban areas as well, runs primarily on the unrecognised contribution of Accredited Social Health Activists who get a pittance as honorarium and have no security or recognition associated with regular employment.
36. Contract teachers and honorarium-based employees like ASHA have shown great determination to get organised and fight for better wages and improved working conditions. Militant struggles of contract-teachers and ASHA have become an inspiring emerging feature of the working class movement across the country. The notion of ‘honorarium’ has been introduced to negate the very issue of employment and wages, and honorarium-based employees are rightly demanding recognition as employees and implementation of the principle of equal pay for equal work.
37. Migrant Workers work long hours for low wages in insecure and dangerous working conditions. The Interstate Migrant Workers Act is a law which is observed only in its breach. Away from home and community, they are victims of all sorts of humiliation and harassment, including chauvinistic prejudices and communal campaigns, as seen repeatedly and most glaringly in the vicious anti-migrant assaults unleashed competitively by the Shiv Sena and its offshoot MNS. The sinister SMS-instigated rush to return home (in the wake of the Kokrajhar violence in Assam) among panic- stricken workers from Assam and other North-eastern states working in cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai underscored the vulnerability and insecurity that define the daily existence of millions of migrant workers in India. We must fight for a law to deal with atrocities on migrant workers on the lines of the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
38. The pattern of migration of workers is not confined to inter-state migration, but increasingly workers are also migrating abroad in search of higher wages and better opportunities. While Indian professionals settled abroad – doctors, teachers, IT workers and the like – have secured their rights through decades of struggle and have acquired a visible presence in North America, parts of Europe and Australia, blue-collar Indian workers working abroad have to face a very harsh reality marked by racist discrimination and assaults and at times even conditions of semi-bondage. The remittances sent by Indian workers working abroad constitute a much bigger sum than foreign investment, yet the Government of India remains largely apathetic to the insecurity faced by Indian workers abroad even as it goes out of its way to woo foreign investment.
39. Thanks to the real estate boom all over the country, the construction sector is now the second largest employment provider after agriculture. There is a Central Welfare Act for workers but its implementation is very tardy, half-hearted and partial. We have achieved some progress in unionisation in several states. On that basis we have floated an all India federation of construction workers and are trying to incorporate allied categories like workers engaged in brick-kiln and stone crusher units in the same union. But there is an inevitable risk in this sector that workers tend to view the trade union activists simply as welfare agents. The larger issue of how to approach the workers not as mere beneficiaries but as potential fighters remains to be clinched. Despite a few negative experiences of TU leaders themselves turning into contractors or getting mired in economism and pragmatism, our experience of organising construction workers has generally been quite encouraging with large numbers of unionised workers taking an active role in trade union struggles as well as political actions.
40. Mostly unorganised or weakly organised workers engaged in labour-intensive manufacturing/assembling – such as apparel and footwear, diamond cutting and polishing, making safety matches (where child labour is extensively used), ready-made garment assembly – operate in actual sweatshop conditions. To take the garments sector as a typical example, intensified international competition following the demise of the International Multi-Fibre Arrangement in 2004 has led to further deterioration in working conditions and terms of employment – e.g., lower wages and greater insecurity. The Indian industry has to face tough competition from Bangladesh and other Asian countries including China and the entire burden is passed on to the workers.
Tea Plantation Workers
41. Workers in tea plantations work with low wages and in an environment of systematic violation of trade union rights. The recent assassination of Comrade Gangaram Kol, General Secretary of Asom Sangrami Chah Shramik Sangh and a leader of the CPI(ML) with decades of dedicated work for the welfare and rights of the deprived tea community of Assam, has once again brought to the fore the unholy nexus of tea companies, the state government and the pro-management pro-government trade union. Comrade Gangaram Kol had been spearheading a popular agitation against corruption in the public distribution system, for improvement in the conditions of tea workers and for recognition of the tea community of Assam as a Scheduled Tribe to enable the community to avail of the benefits available to the STs. In the Dooars region of North Bengal, several tea gardens remain closed and tea garden workers and their family members continue to die of starvation. In August 2011 tea garden workers went on a powerful two-day strike and secured some partial redressal of their grievances. Our comrades are waging a sustained struggle for increase in wages, payment of variable dearness allowance and bonus on the basis of total wages received after taking into account the money value of the customary food and fuel benefits and on various issues of community and local development.
42. In addition to women-only sectors like ASHA and Anganwadi, women predominate in sectors such as domestic work, beedi, mid-day meal scheme in schools etc., and constitute a sizeable section in many other fields including garments, health, education, IT and media and communication. In many sectors, the search for ‘cheaper and more docile’ labour often leads to greater feminisation of employment, with a good many women forming part of on-going ‘distress-driven’ migration from rural areas.
43. Patriarchal bias and malice, and often outright sexual harassment, combined with class exploitation make life doubly difficult for women workers and that is precisely why they are rising in struggles everywhere from the Anganwadis to various Airlines. Both AIPWA and AICCTU must pay special attention – jointly wherever possible – to encourage and assist in every possible way the emerging contingent of women workers to organise and fight for their rights. The government must be compelled to set up a committee to carry out a census of women workers and make a comprehensive study of the conditions of women workers and implement its recommendations in a time-bound manner.
Downsizing in Organised Sector
44. The organised sector employs less than 5 per cent – less than 3 crore in numerical terms – of the work-force in India, but in terms of degree of unionisation, experience of struggles and rights won in the process, the organised sector workers constitute the core of the Indian working class. Neo-liberal reforms have unleashed a sustained attack on the workers in key segments of the organised sector who find themselves faced with the twin pressures of downsizing and outsourcing. Whereas the revolutionary trade union movement has been trying to organise the unorganised sector workers, the neoliberal offensive seeks to disorganise the organised sector. The process can be best understood if we look at important pillars of the organised sector like railways, telecommunication, steel, coal, banking and insurance.
45. The wheels of the railways are riding roughshod over the lives of the railway workers. The more than 2-million-strong workforce in the railways today stands reduced to a little over one million, with relentless privatisation and outsourcing of processes like sanitation, catering, signalling, maintenance of tracks and coaches, production of equipments and so on. As many as 2.4 lakh posts are lying vacant and a four-phased reduction in permanent workforce to the level of 4 lakhs has been proposed. But the number of trains has been increased manifold and the average speed has been doubled. This puts tremendous strain on the system and the workers, resulting in more and more accidents as well as deterioration in service.
46. Comparable conditions prevail in sectors like coal, steel and telecommunications. In 1973, when the coal sector was nationalised, 7.2 lakh workers were engaged in producing 60 million tons of coal. Now 3.5 lakh workers produce 434 million tons. Of course, 52% of this is produced by contract workers hired by various contractors to whom the work has been outsourced.In Bhilai steel plant, per capita annual output has increased from 116 tonnes in 1993 to 347 tonnes in 2012 even as the ‘incentive’ paid to workers has dwindled over the same period from 47% of basic pay and dearness allowance to 5.44% of basic + DA! The story of telecommunication is quite similar. The state-run BSNL today caters to 65 million wireless subscribers and 27.9 million fixed-line users, but the size of the workforce has come down to less than 300,000. The implication is, while the staff to line ratio was 50 to 1000 in 1983, it came down to 10 to 1000 in 2003, and today it stands at 3 to 1000!
47. The employees of the financial sector – banking and insurance – successfully resisted the drive to privatise and open up this key sector of the Indian economy for the best part of the last two decades of neoliberal reforms. But with the entry of powerful foreign banks and insurance companies, nationalised banks and insurance corporations are steadily losing out and the privatisation offensive has gathered stronger momentum with the passage of Insurance Law (Amendment) Bill, 2008 and Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011. And now there is also the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill, 2011, which seeks to allow 49% FDI in the pension-PF sector. This move will give free hand to the fund managers to invest wherever they want amounting virtually to ‘reverse FDI’ where corporates and multinationals would merrily play with thousands of crores of rupees of hard-earned money of the Indian working people to reap huge profits through share market speculations.
48. The defence industry in India had developed almost exclusively in the public sector. But the trend of privatisation and globalisation has not spared this industry either. Growing reliance on imports – for the last three years India has been the world’s largest importer of arms – has affected the process of indigenisation of defence production. The defence sector – comprising primarily the ordnance factories, Defence Research and Development Organisation and Military Engineering services – still continues to employ a sizable contingent of workers including growing numbers of contractual workers. While guiding our comrades employed in the defence sector, the working class department of the Party and the central trade union organisation must explore possibilities of intervening more effectively in the ongoing efforts of defence employees including contract workers to organise and fight for improved conditions and greater rights. The struggle of the defence, railways and central government employees and some state government employees against a reduced discriminatory pension for new recruits should be vigorously supported by all central trade unions.
49. Our work among Public Sector and Government workers still remains quite limited. In the railways we have floated our unions in three railway zones and one production unit while continuing to work within mainstream unions in other places. In the coal and steel sectors we have our unions, but despite exhibiting great potential in struggles from time to time, the unions still remain confined to a few units and the potential of rapid expansion and greater role is yet to be realised. In banking, insurance, and telecommunication sectors, our comrades work within other Left-led unions. We have a leading presence in the struggles of state government employees in Bihar and Jharkhand and also enjoy significant support in Uttarakhand, apart from having pockets of influence in several other states, but the idea of developing a national coordination on this front has not made much progress. While fighting for the economic demands and political rights of government employees, we must try and establish linkages with the common people to make common cause in the struggle against privatisation and growing cost and deteriorating quality of public services.
50. Our work in the public sector must pay utmost attention to the contract workers who now account for more than half of the workforce in PSUs. Despite their growing numbers and important role in running the core operations, they have been kept out of the purview of bipartite committees and are being denied the right to vote for recognition of unions in the industry, apart from facing daily attacks by the management-contractor nexus. While defending the immediate interests of both permanent and contract workers, we must fight determinedly against privatisation and public-private collusion and boldly raise the workers’ voice against corruption, injustice and infringement of workers’ democratic rights.
Sick and Closed Industries
51. Few industries actually fall sick, most have sickness thrust upon them by cunning industrialists and colluding governments. Also, sickness need not be a chronic or irreversible phenomenon. Thanks to increased global economic integration the recession in one part of the world is being felt in another part and many rising industries suddenly go into a decline. Likewise many so-called sunset industries can also get back into life. An expert committee set up by the central government has for example categorically rejected the perception that jute is a sick industry pointing to the actual profit being earned and the prospects ahead. Yet the industry deliberately ‘nurtures’ sickness by neglecting necessary modernisation and technological upgradation.
52. With closed factories densely dotting India’s industrial landscape, workers and ex-workers of sick and closed factories have come to constitute a category by themselves. Their sufferings know no bounds but they are rediscovering their militant role in sunset industries like textile, jute and engineering by launching struggles on new issues such as claims on land and PF/gratuity dues. A large number of public transport workers in West Bengal are not getting their wages and other dues; a few have even committed suicide even as the fight is on to get what is legally due to them. In Assam, sustained initiatives taken by AICCTU and the Coordination Committee of Trade Unions, Assam have succeeded in securing benefits worth Rs 350 crore for workers of 13 closed PSUs between 2007 and 2010.
53. Experience shows that with determined struggle even ex-workers of closed mills can secure at least some of their dues. The textile workers of Mumbai for example have reclaimed land they had lost in the wake of the historic strike of 1982, i.e., after three decades. They got organized and resorted to various forms of struggle including court battles. The Government of Maharashtra was ultimately forced to promise rehabilitation to workers. Some 6948 of these workers have got subsidised flats built on mill land (going back on the promise of free flats the government is charging the workers at the rate of Rs 7.5 lakh per flat) but another 140,000 workers are still fighting for their rehabilitation. Similarly, workers in Gouripur jute mill (North 24 Parganas, West Bengal) have been able to get part of their PF and pension dues through years of relentless struggle – court battles as well as propaganda and agitation in the mill area. Now the struggle is continuing on other demands like gratuity, inclusion of all workers in the BPL scheme and so on.
Hazardous Industries, Degrading Jobs
54. From fireworks factories to illegal mining and risky construction, the problem of hazardous industries is huge. There are frequent reports of factory fire killing children and women workers or construction workers suffering fatal injuries in construction sites. Hundreds of workers died during the construction of Delhi Metro, the showpiece of modern urban transport in the national capital. Then there are industries like asbestos plants and various chemical factories that continue to spread killer diseases and toxic fumes. The revolutionary working class movement must take up the issue of industrial safety and security and the health and hygiene of workers as seriously as the question of employment and wages.
55. While fighting for dignity of labour, the revolutionary working class movement must also fight for abolition of degrading work and suitable rehabilitation of workers who remain trapped in degrading work. Despite tall official claims, manual scavenging still remains a harsh reality in many parts of India and we must press for immediate and total abolition of this degrading practice and adequate rehabilitation of the liberated manual scavengers. Likewise, hand-pulled rickshaws continue to persist in Kolkata in the absence of schemes of alternative employment and proper rehabilitation. Abolition of all sorts of degrading work and all forms of bondage is central to the agenda of the revolutionary working class movement.
Workers in Emerging Sectors
56. The IT sector, various IT-enabled services, BPO, call centres, financial services, sales and media and communication have emerged as a new and significant source of employment for the educated youth. These new sectors have thrown up all kinds of jobs but most of these jobs are highly exploitative and insecure. There is no regulation of working hours and many workers often end up working for as many as 12 hours and even more a day. The trade union rights in these sectors are usually sought to be curbed by bringing them under the ‘essential services’ category, but despite such stifling conditions IT workers are exhibiting encouraging signs of organising and fighting for their rights. The entry of such highly skilled and intellectually advanced work force in the arena of working class movement is an exciting prospect and revolutionary communists must do all they can to realise this possibility.
Tasks of the Proletariat and the Communist Vision
57. In the struggle against its class adversary and the state, workers are not alone. All other sections of working people, peasants and adivasis especially but the youth, the middle classes, and the intelligentsia and other strata as well, are rising in arms to defend their rights, their land, their livelihood and their freedom against growing corporate-state offensive.Where the big bourgeoisie leads the anti-people nexus of corporate, feudal and imperialist powers, the proletariat must lead the fighting alliance of all working masses, extending one hand to the fighting peasantry and the other to the democratic struggles of every section of the people.
58. But this cannot be done without challenging the defensive outlook spread by reformist and reactionary trade unions as well as other organisations in the name of “difficult situation” and “period of defensive struggle”. Dialectically there is an element of offence in every defence, and vice versa. The working masses should be enlightened on the fact that the new onslaughts by capital actually stem from capital’s weakness, its grave problems, not its strength, and therefore now is the time to strike hard. Now is the time when a broad, militant unity of toilers can generate a heroic resistance, mobilise new allies from the non-proletarian strata and bring the day of ultimate victory nearer – to instill this confidence among the masses is a foremost duty of the most advanced class.
59. To raise the working class to this higher political consciousness and role is the duty of its advanced revolutionary detachment, the Communist Party. But developing political consciousness does not consist in trying to artificially impose some sort of activism from above or impart political education in an abstract way. It demands above all that we should help the working class, in course of meeting its real life challenges, gradually raise its self consciousness – the consciousness of the historic mission of overthrowing the rule of capital. To this end our trade union centre must expand its political role – e.g., solidarity action in support of workers’, peasants’, women’s struggles – and the party committees in industrial areas must move beyond phrases like ‘politicisation of working class’ and develop in practice a down-to-earth work style combining factory/industry-based and area-wise political activities and party building, with all our mass organisations also pressed into service.
60. In terms of ideological thrust the party should, while guiding and strengthening trade union work, resolutely combat the tendency, well entrenched in the left movement, of reducing the working class movement to mere trade union struggle. “Trade unionist politics of the working class are precisely bourgeois politics of the working class”, wrote Lenin in a chapter significantly titled “The working class as vanguard fighter for democracy” in the classic “What Is to Be Done?”. What he stressed was the conscious element – revolutionary politics and party building.The more widespread the spontaneity of mass movement, he asserted, the greater must be the conscious role of communists in theoretical, political and organisational terms. In the increasingly turbulent national and international situation, the revolutionary party of the working classmust uphold this Leninist teaching in real earnest.