Towards 8th All-India Conference for AICCTU

Grasp the new dynamics of ongoing working class movement!

Strive for a planned expansion of our TU base!

The 8th All India Conference is due to be held in the second week of November, 2011 at steel city Bhilai, one of the important industrial centres of Chhattisgarh. The crucial point in this Conference is how to rise above the mere technical accomplishment of the conference and promote a new vision, along with achieving some new gains to justify the radical character of our TU centre. In this context let us start with 8th Party Congress Political-Organisational Report guideline:
“On the basis of the latest count of membership AICCTU has been officially recognised as a central TU. The TU centre must try to improve its membership ranking and more importantly it should expand its role and raise the level of its initiative and organisational functioning …... as the first radical left TU centre to win central level recognition, we should pay more attention to unleashing our independent initiative and raising our operational profile through our own struggle as well as timely and appropriate solidarity action.”
In the light of the above guideline and experiences gained in our practice in the working class movement of the last three years, let us try to determine our tasks and targets for the proposed All India Conference of AICCTU.
Ongoing situation at a glance:
The impact of economic liberalisation for the past two decades has already reshaped the industrial and service sector scenario. The main developing trends that can be identified are:
a) growing contractualisation and casualisation of labour has made far-reaching changes in the working class movement. It has made the organised and unorganised component of industry and service sector organically linked. In fact, the big contingent of unorganised workers has emerged as the liveliest and most developing strike force of the working class movement.
b) Introduction of contract or casual workers as a dominant trend is being done to exploit cheap labour. So it is not a question of mere wage discrimination. Rather, it is capital’s way of enforcing brutal working conditions, through the violation of existing labour laws or their suspension in a variety of special zones like SEZ, EPZ, FTZ or latest proposal of NMIZ etc.
c) A typical nexus of contractor/mafia – public sector/corporate management – administration/police has emerged in the contemporary industrial and service sector scenario which is instrumental in unleashing “extra-economic” coercion, particularly when the concerned workers dare to organise themselves for their rights and security.
d) The Indian TU movement is facing new challenges to organise the huge contingent of unorganised workers amidst their struggle for existence. This challenge amounts to restructuring the TU movement of India to face a new reality. Now the TU movement is bound to revitalise its potential to advance with very limited or absent legal rights, like in the early days of the Indian TU movement.
e) The emerging issues of the ongoing working class movement are very much related to the policies of the Indian ruling class across governments. So the working class struggles on these issues are objectively political in nature, which challenge and demand the reversal of these policies of the governments. But economism and trends of depoliticisation still dominate in the existing organised TU movement. This paradoxical state of affairs must be confronted, which demands a revival of the socio-political role of the TU movement.
New Trends in Ongoing Working Class Movement
Objective developments have forced the main stream TU movement of India to come out from the shell of economism and legalism. For example, Central TUs have time and again organised joint political campaigns against the policies of liberalisation and its impact, and have even gone for an impressive show of strength of united workers’ resistance at the national capital. But in spite of this new motion, it couldn’t completely rid itself of its old baggage; it utterly failed either to develop the germ of solid workers’ unity at the grassroots in factories and the workplace or to shape meaningful class unity of the working class through solidarity action of workers at large.
On the other hand new trends of working class struggle have also emerged in terms of forms of struggle, leadership, and relation with society. We should never assess this new variety of struggle as a mere spontaneous outburst or rebellion of workers. Rather, in many cases, it showed the potential to achieve the basic demands of the related workers through prolonged bitter struggle. To cite a few examples, the Pricol workers’ struggle, Gurgaon workers’ struggle in Honda, Pilots’ strike in Air India, the ongoing struggle of Maruti workers, and the struggles of ASHA-Anganvadi-Midday-meal employees and various other categories of casual/contract workers who never hesitate to go for a confrontation with the government/management/administration.
So far as new trends of struggle are concerned, in some cases we could take a meaningful role in leading and shaping a movement like Pricol, the transport workers’ struggle in Kolkata or struggles of ASHA employees or Para Teachers in Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand etc. But we are yet to get fully habituated with this new movement-oriented practice.
We must understand that grasping the new trends of ongoing working class movement, and our ability to prepare a comprehensive response to it, constitute the key to unleashing our independent initiative and expanding our operational profile through our own struggles.
Towards A New Lease of Life in Our Organised Sector Work
From the very inception of AICCTU, our main presence was limited mainly to small and rather sick industrial units and among unorganised workers. Still, from the beginning, we could register our presence in the organised sector like steel and coal through formation of affiliated unions, along with the transport sector at Delhi (DTC). In the service sector, like Central Health or State Government employees in united Bihar, the most influential federations maintained close and friendly ties with AICCTU since its formation.
Later AICCTU enhanced its attempts to expand its influence in the organised sector. Our work in the organised sector at the present juncture can be qualified as follows:
a) We are facing a stalemate in our oldest work in sectors like steel and coal both in terms of fresh expansion and breaking the inertia of our leading comrades.
b) We have been able to maintain a lively practice in medium and big corporate sectors in Tamilnadu and the Transport sector in Kolkata and Delhi.
c) We have launched AICCTU-affiliated unions in four zones of Indian Railways, and one union in the power sector in West Bengal. But this practice is yet to be internalised in AICCTU’s mainstream activism.
d) In addition we have AICCTU groups within different unions and federations of organised sector like Oil, Power, Banking or big corporate industries and different segments of central/state government employees. But here also, we are facing stagnation, particularly on the question of sustaining our independent initiative and developing more natural and lively relation with AICCTU.
We need to be involved more vigorously in the process of organising the contract and casual workers of organised sector which represent the most living chord and crucial component of future dynamism in their sectors. Our limited experiences have confirmed that if the vanguard organised workers get involved in organising the unorganised workers of their own sector, they can draw new inspiration and enthusiasm which in turn can spread among the broad section of organised workers.
Secondly, let us consider the organised sectors where we have AICCTU groups but no independent TU. Here our challenge is to break our confinement in stereotyped Trade Union activism as decided by the TU leadership. We must pay attention to organising unorganised workers of the sector, overcoming the chronic generation gap of the existing TU leadership, to assert as champions of the new generation workers both in organised and unorganised form. In addition we must shape a lively mass political campaign among workers.
Thirdly, we must redouble our efforts to explore the scope of asserting our TU existence in key sectors like Railways. A meaningful joint venture of AICCTU and our forces within Railways is very crucial. Of course the overall influence of our Party and role of our popular leaders can also be channelised in this venture. We have seen that despite domination of socialists and HMS in the Railway sector, BJP & BMS and CPI(M) and CITU could break some ground in certain states and Railway zones. Similarly we can also make some breakthrough in states like Bihar-Jharkhand and parts of UP and related zones in Railways.
Organising the Unorganised Workers:
AICCTU as a latecomer in the TU arena was forced to seek its space in small/sick industries or unorganised workers at the beginning. But later, in the era of liberalisation, unorganised workers have assumed strategic importance in restructuring and reshaping the TU and working class movement. So our focus on unorganised workers continued as an objective response.
Our practice of organising the unorganised workers can be discussed as follows:
a) Old big industries and services like Steel, Coal, Oil, Power, Railways, Telecom etc. where contractualisation of labour has emerged as a growing trend. Here, understanding contract workers  as belonging to the concerned industry, targeting the management as principal employers, and developing a lively bridge between organised and unorganised workers constitute the real challenge.
b) Government service sector, particularly related to state governments where casualisation of employees has emerged as a dominant phenomenon. Examples are the big contingent of ASHA-Anganvadi-Midday-meal employees/para teachers/contract workers related to PWD, Irrigation, PHE dept. etc. Here, channelising the spontaneous militant and confrontationist mood of casual employees into a functional organisation and prolonged organised struggles, and integrating with mainstream employees’ movement led by the concerned Federation represent concrete tasks before us.
c) Newly formed medium or big corporate industries and factories which are products of pro-corporate liberalisation, and where labour laws are virtually all being shelved and abandoned on some plea or the other.
In this segment non-permanent workers in different forms predominate from the very beginning. Obviously, here, organising the unorganised workers and developing working class or TU struggle are synonymous.
d)       Relatively independent segments of unorganised workers, like construction (including Brick kiln, Stone quarries, Woodwork, Painting, Fabrication work, Sand loaders etc.), bidi, newly emerged privatised service sectors related to health, education, tourism, hotel etc. and forest workers or different agro-industries. Here developing a functional TU structure and shaping a sector-level all-India federation (as we have launched in the construction sector) pose a real challenge before us.
Our work among unorganised workers as a whole has the potential to contribute in expanding our profile, provided we can develop our organised efforts to a new height.
It demands, firstly, a vision to shape a new awakening of unorganised workers based on their awareness for rights, dignity and security, to challenge the policies of the government.
Secondly we must develop a vibrant functioning and style with due concentration to maintain lively links with the broad section of unorganised workers despite the instability in their workplace. Here, expanding our activism in the residential localities of unorganised workers is crucial.
Thirdly, we must be able to develop cadres and activists from among unorganised workers and unleash their independent initiatives and activism.
Our success in this practice can be the basis for a new revolutionary or radical potential in the ongoing working class movement of our country.
Developing “Areas” of Working Class Struggle
After the 8th Party Congress we decided to develop areas of working class struggle throughout the country and in view of this task we identified 50 districts in the relatively long term basis and 20 districts for immediate concentration. Our progress in this regard is not significant. Our conscious efforts are not at all satisfactory in translating our decisions in to real practice.
If we really want to advance this practice it is imperative to achieve clarity on the comprehensive idea on working class work through dialectical negation of the metaphysical notion of reducing the entire work to TU work. Party building and mass political campaign among workers must be recognised as an integral whole of working class work. Obviously it requires a radical departure of our style of work; and calls for creative skill of leadership on the basis of proper separation and combination of different related tasks.
The moot point is to take the specific area which is a relatively broader unit and has a cross section of society, as the basis for working class work rather than production centres or workplace. Of course this does not mean that we reject the necessity of shaping TU structures on the basis of industrial structures, or even developing Party structures at the work place or industry level.
In some pockets of Chhattisgarh, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Delhi we could develop primary conditions to develop our cherished “areas”. Now we have to consolidate and nurture these seeds in a planned way towards a new transition. We can select these potential areas as major operating centres-cum-laboratories to advance the campaign for the coming national conference of AICCTU.
Let us shape these “areas” on the basis of following targets:
a) Forming Party Area Committee as the leading centre
b) Recruiting 3000 TU membership (organised and unorganised workers)
c) Forming organised sector and unorganised sector unions (at least one each) and developing at least 100 worker TU activists and 20 leading cadres.
d) Reaching out to 30,000 workers through planned and phase-wise mass political campaign.
e) Developing other mass organisations like AISA, RYA and AIPWA on the basis of our influence on workers.
Taking the target as a standard, we can scale it down as per our level of work.
Democratisation of TUs and Politicising the Workers
This question is very much related to the basic orientation of AICCTU as a radical TU centre.
From the very beginning we tried to link the question of TU democracy with the real functioning of TUs which must be rooted in the activism and initiatives of workers, combined with their supervision and collective functioning. We identified a distinct line of demarcation between our model of TU functioning and other reformist or reactionary TUs.
But in real practice our TU functioning, barring a few exceptions, is not up to the mark. Moreover, facts suggest that the functioning of newly formed TUs are relatively livelier than older ones. Here we are facing an imbalance between our range of influence or TU membership versus TU activists and leaders from among the workers. The essential problem lies in developing, nurturing and sustaining TU activists on the basis of consistent vibrant activism. We have no other option but to go for conscious and planned efforts to introduce and consolidate seeds of lively TU functioning. A new TU culture and active involvement of workers and initiative of worker vanguards are central to this effort. We have to redefine regular TU work and office functioning to cope with the new challenges and combine propaganda, agitation and organisation in a creative way.
On the question of politicisation of workers we are facing a chronic anomaly between our broad influence in terms of TU and its reflection in political campaigns. Even in Tamilnadu, where our TU work is relatively more organised and developing we couldn’t cross even the minimum level of votes in latest election (in working class belt). Of course it never suggests that we are not taking any initiatives to advance the cause of politicisation of workers. Rather our efforts couldn’t penetrate the deeply entrenched climate of economism, consumerism or depoliticisation in working class front to achieve a qualitative result as trendsetter. Our observations can be summed up as follows:
Firstly, in view of multiple centres and division of TUs we are also more or less confined to our own level of influence. We are yet to break our inertia to reach out to the broader section of the working class.
Secondly, perhaps we have not been able to develop an inbuilt process of imparting political inputs in our practice among the working class including TUs. Rather, the political dimension still remains externalised and limited to some programmes or response to specific events.
Thirdly, we are yet to shape a regular mass political campaign among workers through combining efforts of party, TU and even extra-TU forums of workers.
Fourthly, we can expect a meaningful breakthrough on this question by developing areas of working class struggle.
Concluding Comments
AICCTU has already decided to double its membership in the industrial and service sector, and targets have accordingly been assigned to states and sectors. But achieving the membership target under the pressure of conference cannot be our aim in itself. Rather in the course of expanding our membership we must strive to achieve some qualitative gains, particularly through addressing our chronic problems.
For example, if we fulfil the membership target in Jharkhand without creating a new motion in crucial sectors like coal and steel it would not be praiseworthy. In West Bengal, if our membership drive cannot be linked with the ongoing disintegration of the base of CITU after the fall of LF rule, our practice would be deprived of drawing new energies from the objective dynamics. In Assam, even if we expand in new sectors and fulfil our membership target, the growth would be misleading if we fail to reshape and activise our TU among tea garden workers. Similarly, in Orissa, our membership drive would be meaningful if it can at least make a modest beginning in the mining sector.
Moreover a lively propaganda campaign, centring on the burning issues of the working class in selected industrial areas must be organised to create a conducive climate for the membership campaign.
We should also strive to advance a proportionate development of TU membership and TU activists. (We can adopt a minimum target of developing 1 TU leader and 10 TU activists from among workers for every 1000 TU members).
In the organised sector, in addition to achieving a new lease of life in sectors like Steel and Coal, we must pay attention to giving our TUs in Railways a more solid basis, combining it with our efforts to organise contract workers in Railways. In the unorganised sector, we must develop the Federation of Construction Workers in a meaningful way, through breaking our confinement in small areas and welfare schemes, and developing a batch of TU activists and leaders from among construction workers. We also must restructure our work through the inclusion of workers related to brick kiln, stone quarries, woodwork, painting, iron fabrication, sand loading etc. under the banner of the TU of construction workers.
In addition we must be able to utilise the whole campaign for the upcoming AICCTU National Conference to mature the conditions for shaping at least a few “areas” of working class movement.

With this vision we can go ahead towards an organised and planned expansion of AICCTU as a radical TU centre.