ILC: Defending Workers During Meltdown or
Countdown for Elections?
[Address by Swapan Mukherjee, General Secretary of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) in the inaugural session of the 42nd Session of Indian Labour Conference (ILC). – Ed/-]

In his speech at the inaugural session, we have just heard Labour Minister Shri Oscar Fernandes extol a range of leaders from Mahatma Gandhi down to Indira Gandhi. In this phase of meltdown, this session of the ILC seems more convened with more concern about the countdown to elections. Whereas the Government should have taken the opportunity to seriously review its record of implementation of schemes like NREGA, the platform of ILC is instead being used to project these schemes. The inaugural speech of the Finance Minister preached ‘austerity’ in times of financial crisis; but it is obvious that this ‘austerity’ does not apply for rich CEOs who, as recent reports show, continue to earn obscenely high salaries and indulge in unabated conspicuous consumption and lavish lifestyles. These latter continue to get huge sops and subsidies unabated – while the FM preaches ‘wage cuts’ for workers! This, while the Government’s own Arjun Sengupta Committee revealed that 77% of India’s people survive on Rs. 20 a day.   
For the past 15 years, governments (the present aam aadmi Government being no exception) have stubbornly implemented US-dictated neo-liberal policies with disastrous consequences on our agriculture, economy and lives and livelihoods of the labouring poor. Now, even as the global centre of neo-liberal policies, the USA, itself has collapsed under the financial crisis, the same crisis (made in the USA) is being imported on to Indian shores. At least 20 lakh workers have been rendered jobless in just a few months; several industries face ruin – particularly export-oriented ones like textiles, diamond etc., as well as automobile, steel, construction, et al, and workers all around face severe wage cuts and increased workload.
For the past several years, lakhs of farmers have been committing suicide – a haemorrhaging wound refusing to heal in spite of some band-aids applied by governments time and again. Now, there are ominous signs of this trend shifting to workers too – seventy-one laid-off diamond workers have committed suicide in Gujarat (see HT, February 19, 2009): the state admiringly hailed as a ‘development model’ by the corporate class.   
Surely it is time to realise that band-aids cannot help our bleeding nation; the only solution is to reverse the policies responsible for the crisis. The Government has just recently bypassed Parliament itself to rush through sweeping changes in FDI norms that virtually throw open the entire economy to the very forces responsible for the global crisis – thus trapping the country in a vicious cycle of reforms-crisis-reforms.
In the deliberations in the next two days, we would like to draw attention to some of the burning problems facing the workers – problems that are all the more cruel in times of global economic crisis. There is all-pervading contractualisation in the name of promoting competitiveness - even in public sector units like steel, coal, oil and government departments like Railways, and core and perennial jobs too. The very word ‘abolition’ (of contractualisation) in the CLARA has been thrown to the winds, and even the word ‘regulation’ is in the process of being abolished. The Central government, which used to be termed the ‘model employer’ has emerged as the greatest violator of contract labour laws. Through the ILC, the Government should at the very least promise to implement their own law with the utmost strictness.
Migrant workers – mainly from Bihar and UP – are facing barbaric attacks and humiliation at the hands of chauvinistic forces as was evident – at the hands of Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s MNS in Maharashtra, but also in states like Assam and Punjab. For the last five years the Government has been pushing for amending the labour laws – thereby sending a clear signal to the employers that it condones their violations of the law of the land, and wants to turn those violations into policy! The Government’s role in the tripartite committees has become pro-employer.
Even the Government’s showpieces like the Unorganized Workers’ Act is far from adequate to address the needs and aspirations of the unorganized workers: the largest component of workforce with no provision of permanent fund and empowered boards. The NREGA, another ‘flagship’ showpiece, has become a scheme of contractors and tractors. The national average for the number of man-days of employment provided, even according to the Government’s own estimates, and in spite of fake muster rolls, stands at a dismal 40 as against the promised 100; in several states it could not cross 20 man-days, while backward states like Bihar have not achieved even 10 man-days. 

6th Conference of AICCTU, West Bengal

The 6th Conference of AICCTU, West Bengal State Committee was held on 15-16 February 2009 at Com. Yogeswar Gope Manch ( Rly. Institute Hall ) Naihati, North 24 Parganas. An open mass meeting was organized before the delegate session where approx. 2000 workers participated. The mass meeting was marked by the overwhelming presence of Jute workers, particularly the workers of Gouripur Jute Mill which was closed for good for the last 12 years. The mass meeting was addressed among others by Com. Swapan Mukherjee, CCM and General Secretary of AICCTU, Partho Ghosh, State Secretary, CPI(M-L) Liberation, Atanu Chakraborty , President , AICCTU, West Bengal, Basudeb Bose, General Secretary , AICCTU,West Bengal and Mr. Somenath Basu of "Naihati Shilpanchal Banchao Manch".
The AICCTU leaders called for a workers’ movement against the anti-worker policies of the UPA-Left combine and the divisive policies of NDA-BJP, and also exposed the betrayal by the LF government. Observer delegates from organized sectors e.g. Rail, Defence, Bank and Power also addressed the Conference. CPI(ML) PBM Comrade D P Buxi also addressed the conference emphasising the need to organize the workers of the organized sector, and on the political orientation of the workers’ movement. 
The workers’ representatives of Calcutta Tramways Company described their recent spirited struggles and their plans for a State-Level Transport Federation.

Besides 198 delegates from 15 districts, fraternal delegates from RYA, AIALA, PBKS, AIPWA,AISA and Paschimbanga Ganasanskriti Parishad, and observers from Railway, Bank, Defence, Power, CGHS and State govt. employees also attended. Two special sessions were devoted for Bidi and Construction sectors. Com. Meena Pal and Com. Dibakar Bhattacherjee presented their papers in the above sessions respectively. The conference unanimously elected 55 members as State Council, 21 members State Working Committee and 13 members Office-Bearers and Com. Atanu Chakraborty and Basudev Bose were re-elected as President and General Secretary respectively. The conference ended with great enthusiasm and accepted the challenge with a new membership target of 40,000 before the 7th Conference.

The crying need of the situation is that the Government must come out with a declaration to halt retrenchment/lay offs, wage cuts and closure on the pretext of financial crisis; increase the purchasing power of common people; universalise and expand the PDS; make massive public investment in agriculture and social infrastructure; revive closed and sick public sector units; enact a separate law for agricultural labour; introduce unemployment allowance for all unemployed; ensure protection to migrant labour from barbaric attacks and form a National Commission for Migrant Labour on the lines of SC/ST Commission or Women’s commission, and must also enact a law against atrocities on migrant labour; extend the minimum wage as recommended by the 6th Pay commission to all unorganized workers of the country including agricultural labour; ensure strictest implementation of the CLARA, the Inter-state Migrant Workers Act 1979 and other labour laws. These and other demands raised by the Sponsoring Committee of TUs must be taken up with the utmost urgency and seriousness. Nothing less than reversing the disastrous economic policies – that favour corporates at the cost of the labouring poor - can correct the course and benefit the working people of India. Anything short of this can be nothing but feel-good eyewash.