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.

Women Workers

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