Dispelling all illusions spread by CPI-CPI(M), the first budget session of the Gowda government has made it clear that this government is in a hurry to complete the unfinished economic agenda of its predecessor. It is also becoming increasingly evident that in its essence the socalled Common Minimum Programme of the new government only represents a further extension of the infamous new economic policy of the Rao regime. Within the first hundred days of its assumption of office, this government has not only announced an unprecedented hike in the administered prices of various essential commodities, it has also enacted the biggest fraud of the century on the Indian working class by taking away half of the employees' provident fund in lieu of a dubious scheme of meagre monthly pension. The launching of the disinvestment commission suggests a treacherous transition from pragmatic to programmatic privatisation. The decision to introduce private rural banks and the impending opening up of the crucial insurance sector threaten to tighten the monopoly-imperialist grip over the all important finance sector of our economy.
Understandably enough, this anti-worker offensive of the new government has generated serious resentment and unrest among almost all sections of the Indian working class. Yet, at this juncture, most of the central trade unions today find themselves caught in a most unenviable position. The present government is run by a United Front of 13 parties including the four-party Left Front. The only two major parties outside this front are the Congress(I) and BJP, the two parties which are most openly identified with the new economic order. In other words, we have a situation where of the fifteen mainstream parties, thirteen have a direct stake in the present government and the other two have a direct stake in the economic policies being implemented. The established central trade unions associated with this political establishment are thus severely constrained to face the situation. The CPI and CPI(M) are trying to find an escape route by opposing on the trade union front measures which they have already conceded at the political level.
The Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions which was formed in 1991 to oppose the new economic policies and under whose banner lakhs of workers had marched to the Parliament in November 1995, had lost much of its will by 1993 in the wake of the communal offensive of BJP and adoption of the same economic policy orientation by the Left Front Government in West Bengal. It is highly unlikely that this platform would regain its initial momentum at this juncture. However, the Committee has not dissolved itself and has resumed its activities on a low key by observing an all-India demands day on September 27.
A smaller forum has come into being on the issue of pension scheme comprising CITU,
AICCTU, UTUC, UTUC(LS) and IFTU. It may be noted that with the three constituents of the
Sponsoring Committee (viz. AITUC, HMS and TUCC) supporting the fraudulent new pension
scheme, the latter has chosen to keep silent on this contentious issue. The five central
trade unions opposing the pension scheme therefore separately held a national convention
in Delhi on 25 August and also organised a demonstration the next day. Currently a
signature campaign is being conducted all over the country which is expected to culminate
in a rally in Delhi in November followed possibly by another all-India strike action.
While remaining a party to these joint initiatives, AICCTU is trying to raise the level of its independent initiative and activism in keeping with the simmering unrest within the working class. Towards this end, a countrywide mass awareness campaign was observed from 17 to 26 August. The campaign revolved around the following salient demands:
1.Announce an Immediate Revival Package for Sick Units;
2.Scrap Disinvestment Commission and Stop PSU Disinvestment;
3.Stop Handing Over Core Sector to Foreign Multinationals;
4.Delink Pension from Provident Fund, Guarantee Pension for All as Third Benefit;
5.Lift the Ban on Recruitment, Withdraw Austerity Measures;
6.Stop Engaging Contract Labour in Public Sector Units, Ensure Automatic absorption of Contract Labour.
August 17 was observed everywhere as the Demands day while the concluding day was marked by demonstrations and burning of effigies of the pension scheme.
On 27 August, a seven-member delegation of the All-India Save NTC Action Committee comprising AICCTU and the Maharashtra Girni Kamgar Union led by Dr. Datta Samant met the Union Textile Minister Mr. R.L. Jalappa to convey textile workers' rejection of so-called NTC revival scheme. The scheme envisages massive reduction in the number of NTC mills and in the size of the already declining work force in NTC. The textile ministry was called upon to ensure
(a)that full production is restored immediately in all NTC mills - in several cases workers are receiving idle wages for months and years causing a massive wastage of workforce and productivity;
(b)that there is adequate order for items produced by the NTC from various government departments and public sector units;
(c)that urgent action is initiated against all corrupt officials currently occupying top managerial positions in various NTC subsidiaries and mills;
(d)that all outstanding loans and interest accumulated by the NTC are waived by the Union Government;
(e)that the new revival scheme is urgently worked out in line with the basic objectives of NTC and in consultation with not only leaders of central trade unions but also the mass of workers in different subsidiaries with a clear accent on ensuring workers' participation and supervision and eliminating managerial corruption and inefficiency.
In Madras, workers of Ashok Leyland, the automobile giant, have snatched a significant victory under the leadership of AICCTU state president Com. S. Kumarasamy. The recent wage agreement in the Leyland's Ambattur unit provides a monthly hike of Rs. 1,300 coupled with a substantial increase in Variable Dearness Allowance. The agreement was preceded by a strike lasting for more than a month. But when the management seemed all set to declare a lockout, in a sudden change of tactics the strike was called off and Com. Kumarasamy launched a fast-unto-death. That transformed the issue of a single factory into a battle of entire Ambattur industrial estate and with more and more workers thronging the fast camp and embarking on solidarity fasts, the headache of the management of a single factory started growing into a "law and order problem" for the local administration. This worked and the Leyland management had to concede more than double the amount that they had initially offered.
The coming winter session of the Parliament is likely to see the government come out with more anti-worker measures. And protests are also bound to grow stronger and louder. Insurance employees have already held an impressive demonstration outside the Parliament on September 9. More such protest actions would follow in the next few weeks. As a revolutionary trade union centre, AICCTU will try and organise extensive solidarity action with a view to forging broader class unity and bigger class battles.