Strike the Iron

While It Is Red Hot

(excerpts from Com. Dipankar Bhattacharya’s speech at the inaugural session of the AICCTU’s 8th National Conference)

Strike the iron while it is hot. Workers all over the world have always applied this wisdom in their work and struggle. There can be no two opinions that worldwide the iron today is palpably hot. The point is how hard and how best we can strike and shape this hot iron. The 8th National Conference of AICCTU has its tasks cut out and I wish all of you present in this conference every success in fulfilling your historic mission. 
Two decades ago when the AICCTU had begun its journey, it was indeed a different and difficult situation. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and the US and other advanced capitalist countries world armed with their MNCs and the power of the Fund-Bank establishment had successfully imposed the neoliberal agenda of imperialist globalization over the entire world. The Indian rulers too had drastically changed the policy direction subjecting our entire economy and all our natural and human resources to corporate invasion and plunder. The idea of India was mortgaged to the mercy of the so-called Great American Dream.
Today, we have the people of America telling us how the Great American Dream has turned into an unbearable nightmare for more and more Americans. The Occupy movement which now resonates through America and Europe and beyond has exposed and challenged every pretension of US imperialism. Washington talks of exporting democracy all over the world, the Occupy movement has exposed that US-style democracy is nothing but the autocracy of the top 1%. It brutally corroborates what Marx had said in the Communist Manifesto – capitalism, however democratic in form, is essentially nothing more than the rule of a tiny minority and real majority rule can only come by overpowering and transcending capitalism.
Every major crisis in the history of capitalism has been witness to powerful working class struggles and upheavals and the current crisis, being compared to the Great Depression in the US and the period of WWII in Europe, is turning out to be no less turbulent. Imperialist powers and the institutions of global capitalism are wary of this globalization of popular anger and assertion and are desperately trying to subvert this process and utilize the aspiration for change to their own advantage.
Even as the Occupy Wall Street movement was inspired by the Arab Spring, the US-NATO alliance has already hijacked the Libyan people’s battle for democracy to make deeper inroads into resource-rich Africa. In Europe too, welfare capitalism has been replaced by warfare capitalism as the Fund-Bank establishment and the bigger powers try to transfer the entire burden of crisis on to weaker European economies and the working people everywhere. But however much imperialism may try to wriggle out of the crisis, the worldwide resistance against corporate greed and plunder is getting stronger by the day.
In India too, we can clearly feel the difference in the situation compared to the juncture two decades ago when the policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization were imposed amidst great fanfare. In the early 1990s, there was considerable illusion among the middle classes that the new policies would spell rapid economic growth. Despite its deceptive rhetoric of swadeshi, the BJP too actually facilitated the new policies not only by aggressively advocating liberalization and privatization but also by dividing and diverting the people along communal lines.
The sharp contrast between Advani’s rathyatra in 1990 and 2011 and the growing popular participation in anti-corruption anti-corporate struggles today clearly indicate the changing mood of the people. Conditions of the working class movement are linked organically to this changing public mood and political climate and we can surely see a new dynamism on the working class front.
In the initial years after the introduction of the new economic policies, the trade union movement was led primarily by the organized public sector workers, the financial sector in particular, and it did succeed in slowing down the pace of reforms to an extent. Today the trade union scene is pulsating with the energy and assertion of a whole new generation of workers. Whether we look at the young striking workers of Maruti Automobile fighting for their fundamental trade union rights or the women health workers of the National Rural Health Mission who are seeking recognition as workers – everywhere we see a new working class comprising first generation entrants leaving their villages in search of work or women stepping out of their families to join the ranks of the working class.
AICCTU must wholeheartedly welcome these new sections of the Indian working class and harness their urge, energy and enthusiasm to inject fresh life in the entire trade union movement. It must be recognized that workers often inherit all kinds of feudal and bourgeois prejudices from the dominant society – to strengthen class unity among workers cutting across the divides of caste, gender, religion and region AICCTU must therefore consciously fight out all these prejudices. The quest for dignity and democracy plays a central role in shaping the consciousness and driving the struggle of new workers. While fighting for better living and working conditions of the working class we must always stand by the emerging and unorganized workers in their battle for dignity and democracy in the workplace and beyond.
The present juncture is also significant because of the emerging patterns of people’s resistance to corporate loot and the growing potential of developing functional unity and solidarity between the trade union movement and various other ongoing struggles against corporate domination and plunder. In SEZs workers are subjected to medieval working conditions and brutal denial of trade union rights and industrial democracy. Imagine the strength that workers in SEZs can derive from any unity with the ongoing peasant resistance to corporate land grab. Imagine likewise the broad unity that can develop on the basis of anti-privatisation struggles in key sectors of public service like education and healthcare or agriculture-related sectors like irrigation and agricultural services. Deeper unity of the working class and broader unity of the working class movement with struggles of other classes must go hand in hand.

The AICCTU or CPI(ML) does not yet have a big base in Chhattisgarh. But the fact that a dedicated team of worker activists comprising permanent and contract workers in the Bhilai Steel Plant and sanitation workers in Bhilai municipality could organize a major event like the 8th National Conference of AICCTU with support from broader sections of workers and the local people holds a great possibility for the future. Time was when the entire belt around Bhilai – from Rajnandgaon to Bilaspur – was known for powerful working class struggles led by leaders like Shankar Guha Niyogi and Daras Ram Sahu. Today Chhattisgarh is a veritable graveyard of democracy – the Supreme Court indicts the state government for its unconstitutional ways, the whole world condemns the unlawful detention of a devoted doctor and human rights activist like Binayak Sen. Let us hope that the working class spirit and activism displayed in organizing this successful conference will grow in the coming days to win the bigger battle for restoration of democracy in this state of repressive rule and corporate plunder.