Towards 7th National Conference of AICCTU

(The 7th National Conference of AICCTU is being held at Chennai on August 4-5-6 2008. Towards the Conference, we carry some excerpts from the draft report for the Conference as well as a report of the inaugural Conference of the All India Federation of Construction Workers held recently. Ed/-)         

Long Live the Legacy of July 23 2008
Centenary of the Political Awakening of the Indian Working Class

On July 23 1908, the nascent Indian working class came of age by doing direct and militant battle with the British colonial regime – not on any immediate bread-and-butter question but on the question of Indian freedom and democracy. In protest against the nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s arrest on charges of ‘sedition,’ wave upon wave of workers of Mumbai poured out on the streets and clashed with the police in front of the courthouse. The struggle intensified during the entire trial, with workers facing off with the colonial police force and the army. There was repeated police firing on the striking workers. 200 workers and common people lost their lives in the course of the struggle.
Lenin hailed the political awakening of the Indian working class in the following words: “The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak … evoked street demonstrations and strike in Mumbai. In India, too, the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle — and, that being the case, the Russian style British regime in India is doomed.”
A century later, July 23 follows on the heels of a Parliament session in independent India in which the Indian ruling class has sealed the sell-out of our hard-won freedom and sovereignty to the dominant empire of today – the USA. Our economic and foreign policies are being defined to pamper and please imperialist forces, corporate houses and MNCs – and the lives of peasants, workers and common people are being devastated.
On 23 July, in a fitting tribute to the legacy of the first political strike of the Indian working class, AICCTU and CPI(ML) are launching a month-long intense campaign for National Resistance against Pro-Imperialist Betrayal. Today’s working class and common people are determined to declare that our ruling class will not get away with its mockery and betrayal of our national freedom and self-respect – and Indian people, with their glorious history of anti-colonial resistance will not accept. The campaign will culminate with a massive nationwide Jail Bharo struggle on August 20, the day of the General Strike called by the Sponsoring Committee of Central Trade Unions. 

    Inaugural National Conference of  All India Construction Workers’ Federation
On 28-29 June, 2008, unions of construction workers of about a dozen states assembled in Com. Yogeshwar Gope Nagar (Patna) at the founding conference of the All India Construction Workers’ Federation and pledged to dedicate itself to the struggles of the 32 million construction workers of this country.
Prior to the commencement of the Conference veteran trade-union leader Shyamlal Prasad hoisted the Red Flag and a two minutes silence was observed in the memory of the martyrs. The Conference was inaugurated by Swapan Mukherjee, General Secretary, AICCTU. National Convenor of the National Convening Committee R.N. Thakur presented the draft document of the Conference which highlighted the present condition of the construction workers, problems faced by them, inconsistencies in the Construction workers’ Act 1996 and put forward a charter of demands of the construction workers of India. The Conference also pledged to hold a training camp-cum-workshop soon to develop activists emerging from among the construction workers. Other areas of focus of the Federation in near future will be emphasis on enrolling women from among the construction workers, establishing direct links with the labourers for membership enrolment and nurturing leadership from among them rather than from among petty contractors. The Conference also decided to demand that the Government include brick-kiln and sand extraction labourers in the category of construction workers.
The Conference elected a 29-member national working committee and from among this a 11-member office bearers committee. The office bearers are: Com. Balasubramaniam – President; Comrades Natarajan, Tarsem Jodha and S.K. Sharma – Vice Presidents; Com. R.N. Thakur – General Secretary; Comrades V.K.S. Gautam, Raghunath, Araniyappan, Harkesh Bugalia, Diwakar Bhattacharya – Secretaries and Com. Chandra Kishore Prasad as Treasurer.
117 Delegates from ten states – Bihar, Jharkhand, W Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Punjab, Pondicherry and Delhi, participated in the Conference.
In response to AICCTU’s national call, the Conference resolved to participate with full vigour in the AICCTU membership campaign, the pledge-taking day of 23rd July and the General Strike and Jail Bharo on 20 August.
Anomalies in the Building and Other Construction Workers Act 1996
The Conference highlighted anomalies in the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996. While drafting this Act, the Government failed to take into account the fact that 90% of workers in this sector are unofficially daily wage workers. They get less than the minimum wages fixed by the Government. Therefore the welfare scheme for these workers should have been based on government contributions and taxes on the employers rather than on registration fees and monthly shares. Central trade unions had advised the Government to empower welfare boards to implement the Migrant Workers Act since the bulk of such workers are migrants, but the Government ignored the suggestion. Likewise the welfare boards have no power to implement other relevant labour laws – Industrial Disputes Act, Minimum Wages Act, Equal Wages Act, Contractor System Act, Payment of Wages Act, and the Compensation of Workers Act. Eager to pamper the real estate sector, the Government included no effective provision for punishment of those who violate the 1996 Act. Further, given the huge profit the real estate sector squeezes out from the sweat and blood of the workers, the cess collected from employers ought to be at least 5% rather than 1 or 2% as it is now.
The 1996 Act also does not recognise workers in activities allied to construction: sand excavation, chipping stone, making bricks, thatches etc...Also, while advisory boards can be at a state level, it is essential that welfare boards be formed at district and block levels, and block-level officers are a must for registration. The Act fails to provide for payment of wage dues, depending completely on the Payment of Wages Act 1936.
Major Demands
The Conference raised a range of demands, including strengthening of PDS and PDS cover for all construction workers; minimum wages recommended by 6th Pay Commission to be paid to unorganised sector workers; implementation of 1996 Act in every state; 2% cess to be mandatory in all states; Pension amount to be increased to Rs. 2000; construction workers’ colonies be created to ensure homes for workers; implantation of the Tamilnadu model – i.e no registration and renewal fees, government to bear the monthly share on behalf of workers; pro-worker amendments of the 1996 Act, and a national commission to end discrimination of migrant workers. 

Excerpts from the Draft Document of the forthcoming AICCTU National Conference

Restructuring of the Labour-Capital Relationship

Capitalist restructuring has taken place at the international and domestic level. The western countries are offshoring their jobs to the developing world. The public sector as well as the corporate sector is on a spree of outsourcing, ancilarisation, contractualisation and casualisation of the work force. Apprenticeship is another mode. The Govt. sector has become a very different “role model”. Health and Education in addition to privatisation of the sectors, have gone for contract labour system in a very big way.
In the organised sector, there is a planned conscious promotion of an unorganised sector. In Tata Motors Jamshedpur, the number of permanent workers was 14000 in 2002 and it fell to 4700 in 2007. Now it has 3500 casual workers, 8000 contract workers and 6000 apprentices. SAIL produced 2.5 million tones of steel with 62,000 employees in 76-77, 4 million tones of steel with 52,000 employees in 1984 and now in 2208, produces 5.25 million tones with 32,000 employees. It plans to produce 10 million tones of steel in 2010 with only 20,000 employees. The formula for profitable PSUs is to follow in the footsteps of Tatas and Jindals, to employ more contract workers and to raise the workload many times by implementing multi-skill or multi-trade schemes.
It will be quite instructive to study the impact of employment of non-permanent workers on wages and collective bargaining from the Hyundai Motors example. It has 1750 permanent workers. Annual earnings per permanent worker are Rs. 3.5 lakhs. 1750 workers earn Rs. 61, 25, 00,000.
They have 4000 contract workers each earning Rs. 3600 pm and Rs. 43200 per year. These 4000 earn 17,28,00,000. There are 2000 Act apprentices each earns Rs. 1450 pm and Rs. 17,400 per year. The annual earnings of 2000 is Act apprentices Rs. 3,48,00,000.
There are 2000 company apprentices each earns Rs. 5000 pm and Rs.60,000 per year. Their total earnings is Rs. 120,000,000. All these 9750 employees earn Rs. 94 crores per year.
In 2007 Hyundai sold 3, 27,160 cars on an average price of Rs. 5 lakhs. The total turnover is Rs. 16,358 crores. The employee cost is only 0.57 % of the turnover. If all the 9750 employees are paid Rs. 3.5 lakh per annum, their annual earnings will be Rs. 341.25 crores and even then employee cost will only be 2.086 %. The salaries of the employees look so insignificant when you compare it with the profits.
There is another important aspect. The permanent employees, are very much outnumbered by non-permanent workers, lose control over production and their collective bargaining rights are effectively curbed. A very big contingent of unorganised workers existing side by side with organised workers poses not only a challenge but also presents the TU movement with a very big opportunity. The growing strength of casual, apprentice, contract labour must be converted into a source of militant working class movement.
A very large “no trade union zone” is existing in India today. Sriperumbadur, Gurgaon, Sonbhadra, Udham Singh Nagar are practically out of bounds for trade unions. In these newly emerging industrial zones, we have 21st century technology and 19th century labour relations. Trade union activity is brutally suppressed and victimisation is the order of the day. Here again collective bargaining is effectively denied.  The demand for legislation on TU recognition is picking up momentum.
Starting from the 6th Pay Commission Recommendations to CPSUs, there is a concerted attack on labor rights. Srikrishna cites his commission itself as a model to give the message, less people, less expenses, more work and timely results. These recommendations abolish the entire Group D posts, widen the gap between the lowly paid and highly paid, and reduce the pension benefits to new recruits. CPSU wage agreement period is sought to be extended from 5 years to 10 years. Coal industry is the exception. CPSU wage agreement is delayed by more than 2 years. There is no effective neutralization against price rise. Contract labor is excluded from the bargaining process. Even the suggestion of the PM’s office to reduce the ten years period for wage agreement has not yielded any immediate effective result. 
Capital has got its own ways of extracting surplus value. Wherever possible, it extracts absolute surplus value by increasing the working hours. Otherwise, it employs the time tested skillful method of extracting relative surplus value by increasing the intensity of labour in a normal shift. It simply demands a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages and it also invokes the bogey of competition. By and large the unions get less and end up giving more. Touch time, no norms, mobility, flexibility, knowledge teams, Japanese concepts are all fancy names to increase productivity and thus earn more profits. ...
The Condition Of Unorganised Sector Workers
The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector puts the size of the unorganised sector workers at 39.49 crores (86% of the working population of the country). The great majority of the workforce is not organised in trade unions. Starting from the self-employed there are very many categories of unorganised sector workers. There is a commonality in their conditions. There are certain categories of workers which have formal legal protection like plantation, Beedi and Construction workers. There is some unionisation also.
The workers of the tea plantations have for long been cut off from the mainstream. The case of the Tea Tribes in Assam is a specific instance which showed how their long pending demand of conferment of ST status was met with brutal chauvinistic violence. In the Deep South the tea garden workers of Manjolai were literally drowned in the Thamiraparani river when they rose in protest. The tea garden workers of Assam and West Bengal inherit a legacy of colonial exploitation and the globalised policies of corporate takeover, retrenchment of workers, cuts in wages and welfare measures and closure of sick plantations. Deaths due to starvation and diseases are on the increase.
In the case of Beedi workers, in addition to the legislation, the workers had a Supreme Court judgment in their favour. But still, in the eyes of law most of them do not exist as their employment is not registered. They are deprived of PF and other legal entitlements. The employers have a stranglehold over their employment and earnings; do not pay minimum wage; even get stay orders from courts on minimum wages.
Even the Supreme Court was forced to make an observation that the Central Act on Construction Labour is for all practical purposes only ornamental. Many states have not formed Welfare Boards. Even where they are formed, they are not functional.
There are brick kilns which still employ bonded labour. Migrant labourers face not only inhuman exploitation but also chauvinistic attacks. From the Hindi heartland and eastern zone there is very big migration of workforce to the developed areas in the country. In the face of medieval practices like cruel exploitation of child labour, sexual abuse of women and wide prevalence of bonded labour, the inter-state migrant labour Act is rendered ineffective. Attacks on these workers in Mumbai, Ludhiana and Assam point to dangerous portents. We demand a special legislation and a special commission for this workforce.
In the jute sector where the CTUOs have shown a membership of 3,06,909 as on 31 Dec. 2002, sickness, closures, non-payment of PF, salaries and pensions are the issues plaguing the workforce.
The blue collar workers who have gone to the Gulf countries and Western countries contribute substantially to the Indian economy. But from Saudi Arabia to the USA, they face exploitation and are cheated by unscrupulous middlemen and recruiters. When compared with foreign direct investment in 2006, the remittances sent by Indian workers abroad is three times that of FDI received in 2006. In 2006, Indian economy received Rs. 1, 02,800 crores from Indian workers working abroad. India has overtaken Mexico and China in terms of foreign remittances sent by workers working abroad. The issues of their democratic rights and discrimination are neglected.
It is these unorganised workers who constitute the majority of the toiling masses who bear the brunt of the economic policies. Housing, health, education, civic rights, employment, earnings, safety, dignity, democracy and upward mobility are all alien to them. In fact, capitalism’s most inhuman weapons of mass destruction, hunger and poverty, stalk them at every step of their lives. In the year 2002-03, they contributed 56.7% to the overall GDP of the country. These are the real force behind the productive sectors of the Indian economy. But the gains of economic growth are pocketed by the Dollar billionaires and Dollar millionaires and by the top 15 to 20% of the Indian population. All the pains of the growth/development model are borne by this section, who are nowhere in terms of power and property. It is only by organising this large unorganised segment, we can expand the scope of class struggle and enhance the striking power of the working class.
AICCTU Demands:
•       Curb price rise immediately. Take stringent action against hoarders and profiteers.
•       Withdraw all exemptions, concessions and reliefs to the corporate sector.
•       Scrap the Anti-National Indo-US Nuclear Deal.
•       Declare a national floor level minimum wages of Rs. 6,660 pm in tune with the 6th Pay Commission recommendations.
•       Provide 50 Kg rice/wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and 5 liters Kerosine at Rs. 2 per liter to all BPL families.
•       Provide essential commodities through PDS at subsidised rates to all.
•       Provide 5 cent house-site patta for all urban and rural poor.
•       Allocate 3% of GDP to the unorganised sector workers.
•       Scrap SEZ Act and SEZs.
•       Bring in separate comprehensive legislations for unorganised workers and agrarian workers immediately.


Call of the
AICCTU National Conference


Workers’ Dignity
Workers’ Rights
Workers’ Struggles


AICCTU Calls Upon the
Working Class

fight against
Onslaughts of globalisation
Price rise
The Nuclear Deal