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AICCTU’s 4th All-India Conference and After

Towards a More Powerful Political Assertion and Wider mobilisation of the Working Class

 Dipankar Bhattacharya

The 4th All-India Conference of All India Central Council of Trade unions got off to an inspiring start on September 21 with an impressive "Oust Saffron, Save the Nation" rally. All through the previous day, Delhi had witnessed heavy and intermittent showers. Whatever camping arrangements had been made for rallyists coming all the way from Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, got almost washed out. On September 21, the weather pendulum swung to the other extreme and a blazing sun made life difficult for all pedestrians. Yet defying all difficulties, agricultural labourers and industrial workers came out in their thousands with red flags and "Oust Saffron, Save the Nation" placards in their hands. Private, public and government sector employees, both men and women, marched shoulder to shoulder from Lal Qila to Jantar Mantar demanding immediate enactment of a central statute to improve the conditions of India’s more than 200 million agricultural labourers, who constitute the single biggest contingent of the Indian working class. Perhaps this was the first occasion in the capital when the so-called "privileged" urban workers of the organised sector gave such an organised expression to their class solidarity with their most oppressed rural brothers and sisters.

The conference proper began the next day at Mavalankar Auditorium near Parliament at 1 p.m. The first session of the conference was the guest session. After Comrade Gope’s presentation of the inaugural presidential address, the guests, including leaders of several other trade union centres in India and also representatives from Nepal, Bangladesh and Indian Workers’ Association in U.K. , were invited one after another to greet the conference. Among the Indian leaders who spoke at the guest session were Comrade M.K. Pandhe, General Secretary, CITU; Comrade K.L. Mahendra, General Secretary, AITUC; Comrade Ashutosh Banerjee, Vice-President, UTUC(LS); Comarde K. Ashok Rao, President, Professional Workers’ Trade Union Centre, Comrade Nirmal Jyoti of Mazdoor Ekta Committe, Comrade C. M. Singh, Secretary General, All India Railway Employees’ Confederation. Comrade D.D. Shastri, President of TUCC who could not come because of ill health, sent his written message of solidarity. The conference also had the honour of having the presence of a four-member guest delegation from the Maharashtra-based Lal Nishan Party (Leninist).

Among foreign guests who spoke were Comrade Umesh Upadhyay, Chief, Department of Foreign Affairs, GEFONT, Nepal; Comrade Tafazzul Hussein, President, Bangladesh Jatiyo Shramik Federation and Comrade Harpal Brar, Editor of "Lalkar", organ of the Indian Workers’ Association in U.K. On behalf of the Presidium, Comarde S. Kumarasamy thanked all the guests. The conference also presented each guest with a memento commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the historic Communist Manifesto.

Following a brief break, General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya presented his report to the conference (the full report is being carried on the following pages). Delegates then organised themselves into different language-groups and in every group discussion went on late into the night. Based on these group discussions, some sixty delegates, representing 15 states and almost all major sectors of the economy and segments of the working class, spoke on the report for the next one and a half days, highlighting all the major points raised in the report and enriching the discussion with a whole range of valuable experiences.

On the last morning of the conference on September 24, a special session was held on the subject of developing AICCTU’s work among women workers. A delegation of leaders of the All India Progressive Women’s Association was specially invited to participate in this discussion. Apart from a number of AICCTU delegates from Assam, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, several senior AIPWA leaders including Kumudini Pati, Saroj Chaube and Srilata Swaminathan addressed this session of the conference. It was decided that special women’s sections should be formed on an experimental basis in trade unions with a substantial women membership and special efforts must be made to develop trade union leaders from among women members. It was also felt that AICCTU and AIPWA could coordinate their activities on this score and joint campaigns should be conducted in working class neighbourhoods with a view to freeing the working class from patriarchal prejudices and a host of other reactionary attitudes inhaled from society.

On Septembner 23 evening, the conference hosted a special seminar on "The Asian Economic Debacle, the Crisis in India, and Lessons for the Working Class". The speakers were Jayati Ghosh, eminent economist and columnist, JNU; Arvind N. Das, noted writer and social scientist; and Vinod Mishra, General Secretary, CPI(ML). With her characteristic lucidity and cogent analytical approach, Jayati Ghosh traced the trajectory of the Asian tiger economies from the success-story of the 60s and 70s through the miracle of the 80s and early 90s to the debacle of the present. While exposing the dubious role played by the IMF as one of the principal architects of the current crisis,and denouncing the collusive and treacherous record of the ruling elites of these countries, she ended her talk on an optimistic note pinning her hopes on the widespread questioning and rejection of IMF prescriptions among different quarters in this region, and above all, on the renewed popular quest for a better and more sustainable and equitable alternative to the all-round social disaster and degeneration spawned by the brutal anarchy of the market that is capitalism.

The second speaker, Arvind N. Das, focussed on India, especially on the dynamic of what he called "lobby capitalism", akin to the "ghetto capitalism" of Latin America and "crony capitalism" of East and South-East Asia. Using explosive examples from several recent policy pronouncements by the BJP-led coalition, he pointed out how the state in India was abdicating its general responsibility of promoting social development, albeit on capitalist lines, and instead playing the role of a dubious benefactor of powerful lobbies which are engaged in a blatant plunder of all our scarce resources. In this context, he also drew the attention of his audience to an internal parallel of what is known as the "secession of the successful" - the continuous flight of capital, talent and sections of the Indian elite to developed capitalist countries of the West (which is, however, quite distinct from the migration of Indian labour and professionals and their consequent incorporation into what can be called the global working class). The elite sections in India are busy destroying everything public to develop their own parallel private systems and flourishing pockets of obscene affluence - instead of migrating to the so-called Great American Dream, they are creating their own Indian version of the same while the rest of society is condemned to a nightmarish existence.

Comrade Vinod Mishra situated the current Asian debacle in the historical perspective of the unending contention between capitalism and socialism. He pointed out that in the wake of the victorious Chinese revolution and the wave of anti-colonial upsurges in the post-war period, Asia had emerged as an important base for the ineternational communist movement, and the American imperialists and their western allies were afraid that revolution might soon break out in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines. It was to contain this advance of communism that imperialism embarked on the two-pronged strategy of organising physical massacres of communist forces on the one hand, the 1965 Indonesian bloodbath being the most barbaric application of this strategy, and engineering economic growth on the other. The so-called Asian miracle had happened against this specific geo-political backdrop. Today with global capitalism entering a new phase of crisis, Asia being only of the most important hot-spots of this crisis, tables are being turned on anti-communist reactionary forces in the political arena as well. Suharto has had to go, communists are making headways even in a country like Japan, never known as a communist stronghold, and waves of mass resistance are splashing against the rocking wall of capitalism in one Asian country after another. The situation is also quite similar in the so-called transition economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The task of the Indian working class, stressed Comrade Mishra, is to see that India does not remain an exception to this developing tide of popular resistance and fightback by progressive forces. And it is most important in this context that the working class asserts its independent role at the forefront of resistance, does everything it can to unleash the fighting initiative of the rural poor and rejects every proposal of class collaboration in the name of fighting imperialism. The opportunist official Left and several of the so-called "ultra-Left" groups, he pointed out, are converging on this position through different routes, the former advocating an alliance with the Indian big bourgeoisie and the latter surrendering their independent intiative to the political representatives of kulaks and rich farmers in the name of resisting the IMF, World Bank and WTO.

In the concluding session of the conference, the seven hundred-strong house elected a National Council of 101 members who in turn elected a Working Committee of 35 and 17 office-bearers. Comrades Yogeshwar Gope and Dipankar Bhattacharya were re-elected to the posts of President and General Secretary respectively. Comrade S. Kumarasamy was chosen as the Working President along with a panel of six Vice-Presidents - Comrades R.N. Upadhyay, Holiram Terang, Srilata Swaminathan, Shyamlal Prasad, Meena Pal, N.M. Thomas - and eight secretaries comprising Comrades Subhas Sen, Partha Ghosh, R.N. Thakur, Upendra Singh, Bachcha Singh, Ranjan Ganguly, K.K. Niyogi and M.K. Natarajan.

The conference directed all units and affiliated unions of AICCTU to work vigorously for the success of the all India public sector strike on December 10 and 11 and the countrywide general strike called by the National Platform of Mass Organisations on December 11. While intensifying AICCTU’s efforts to organise the unorganised workers, the 4th conference also highlighted the need to make a new breakthrough in the struggles of public sector workers and in raising the level of class consciousness and political activism among the working class as a whole.


Post Script:

Meanwhile, the BJP government at the centre seems to be desperate to transfer the entire burden of the growing economic crisis on to the organised working class. The policy of marginalisation and even demolition of the public sector being pursued by successive central governments has acquired a new momentum. The government has already ordered the closing down of eight PSUs including such well-known units as the MAMC and Cycle Corporation of India. In unit after unit, workers are not being paid their wages for months together. A lag of four to six months has become the order of the day in several major PSUs. The government is also moving in the direction of privatisation of the coal industry. While a bill to this effect is likely to come up before the next session of Parliament, so-called loss-making subsidiaries of the Coal India Ltd., like the Eastern Coalfields and BCCL have already gone in for closure of several areas and projects.

Simultaneously, the government is also toying with the idea of effecting wholesale changes in the country’s existing labour laws so as to shower a whole new set of concessions on capital. Among the proposed sinister measures are the move towards extension of working hours for women workers in EPZs, relaxing the requirements of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition ) Act and Industrial Disputes Act so as to facilitate the practice of hire and fire and exit policy and tightening the provisions of the Trade Union Act with a view to further restricting the scope of trade union activities.

With redoubled vigour and renewed resolve, AICCTU units all over the country have intensified their opposition to these anti-worker measures of the BJP government. Preparations are on in every state and sector for the forthcoming countrywide general strike on December 11 and the all-India public sector strike on December 10-11.

In Delhi, the AICCTU-affiliated DTC Workers’ Unity Centre (DTCWUC) has launched a major agitation since October 16. Demanding immediate disbursement of Vth Pay Commission arrears, implementation of time-bound promotion scheme for all employees of the Delhi transport Corporation, raising the strength of DTC’s own fleet to 5,000 buses, exemplary action against corrupt DTC officials and a halt to the systematic victimisation and harassment of DTCWUC leaders, Com. N.M. Thomas, General Secretary of the union and one of the newly elected Vice-Presidents of AICCTU began a fast unto death outside the main gate of the DTC headquarters at Indraprastha Estate, Delhi. The agitation evoked widespread response from all sections of DTC employees cutting across unions. Hundreds of workers daily began to assemble at the fasting camp. In an encouraging demonstration of fighting workers’ solidarity, activists of the Moolchand Hospital employees’ Union, most of them women, who had joined AICCTU on the eve of its September conference, are also paying almost daily visits to the fasting camp to express their support to their agitating DTC comrades. It may be mentioned that earlier activists of the DTCWUC had also rallied solidly in support of the Moolchand Hospital employees in their struggle against the illegal lockout of the hospital.

After 13 days of hunger-strike when Comrade Thomas was arrested and forcibly evicted by the police on October 28, the gauntlet was picked up by union Vice-Presidents Com. A.S. Siddhu and Com. Om Prakash. On November 9, Com. Om Prakash was replaced by another union leader, Com. V.S. Shukla. On November 17, as the hunger strike entered into the second month, hundreds of workers jammed the main gate of the DTC headquarters in protest against the apathetic and blatantly anti-worker attitude of the DTC management. The police acting in collusion with the DTC management interevened, arrested all the leading activists of the union and forcibly hospitalised the fasting leaders. The month long hunger strike had however already created a record in the history of trade union movement in the DTC.

As the period of the hunger strike coincided with the run-up to the November 25 Assembly elections in Delhi, it also acquired quite pronounced political overtones with the broad masses of DTC workers and employees almost turning their agitation into a referendum of sorts against the hugely unpopular and discredited BJP government of Delhi. As part of their campaign, union activists also took out a mock funeral procession of the Delhi government. The "cortege", after covering a good number of the thirty-plus DTC depots in different corners of Delhi, came back to the fasting camp on the afternoon of November 9 where the effigy of the "dead" government was consigned to flames amidst hundreds of DTC workers vowing to oust the BJP government and carry forward their just agitation till their demands were met. Campaign squads of the union also conducted active propaganda against the chief minister and transport ministers of the BJP government in their constituencies.

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