By Narendra Sharma
NEW DELHI: The labour movement in India is at a crossroads. This became obvious when 11 CTUOs met on April 26 in the INTUC Delhi office to plan their future course of action. This was the first joint meeting of all the CTUOs after the February 28 nationwide massive protest strike.
Their wait for the Government’s response to their 10-point demand-charter, presented before the strike, ended in the absence of any positive move for a Govt-CTUOs meeting from the official side. This certainly posed a serious question before the labour movement about how to translate their demand-charter into a reality when the Government continues to be intransigent.
The April 26 meeting, it seems, recognised that each of the organisations must come prepared with an answer so that they could together work out an “effective” action-plan. There was realization that they have already tried all traditional protest actions like demonstrations, dharnas, jail bharo andolan, nationwide strikes etc and therefore to keep repeating these would not do. What other effective “innovative” action could be taken? This was one of the issues that was posed at the April 26 meeting, and each CTUO will have to come with an answer at the next meeting, especially when every one agreed that strong and effective all-out action was necessary to make the Government realise the need to remedy the sufferings of vast number of working people. They are expected to meet sometime in June at Mumbai, it is gathered, to find an answer.
The search for “innovation” in the future course of CTUOs’ action plan itself points to the movement finding itself at a crossroads. It was also being suggested that to be effective the future course of action should include strike of a longer duration involving Railways, Ports and other sensitive installations.
This is stressed because they saw that before February 28 strike Manmohan Singh Government did seem to be waking up at least. For instance, Prime Minister did seek to persuade INTUC Chief Sanjeeva Reddy to convey his appeal to other CTUOs not to strike. Likewise, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee also contacted AITUC General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta in this connection. Not only it was too late, it was also “one-sided move”: only asking to withdraw the strike without any consequential promise to discuss demands.
It is apparent that CTUOs will have to do serious fresh thinking on the ongoing Government policies, their direction and their attitude to people and popular movements, more so the labour movement. Without doing such an exercise the so-called innovative action plan may prove futile. No harm in learning from the adversary, in this case corporate-centric UPA-2 Government.
It is recalled that when during 2004-05, the corporates protested about violence in industrial relations, Dr Manmohan Singh had given them a simple advice: the organised labour is only 7 per cent of the total labour force, the 93 per cent being unorganised. Thus started contractorisation of labour force, even in places of regular/permanent workers, on the one hand, and on the other, UPA Government started paralyzing the Labour Department at Central level as well as in States. Corporates freely started flouting labour laws.
This made the CTUOs to include in their demand-charter the demands for implementation of labour laws and registration of trade unions in 45 days. Under the Manmohan Singh Government the labour situation had reached such a pass! And CTUOs have kept adding to their demand charter whereas the Government had so far been bothered too little despite massive labour actions.
One more instance will be relevant for the labour movement to take note of. The CTUOs have been demanding social security for all. Look at the response of the Government! The Planning Commission under Montek Singh Ahluwalia announced that because of improved economic conditions, 50 million poor have been removed from the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. Thus they will be denied the cheap foodgrain facility and this probably is the way to reduce the Government expenditure on subsidies – making BPL poor the first target.
But the same Government’s liberalism towards the corporate sector can be seen to be unbounded. In the seven years between 2005-06 and 2011-12, the total revenue forgone under Corporate Income Tax was Rs 3,95,878 crore, under Excise Tax Rs 9,55,726 crore and under Customs Duty Rs 12,22,438 crore. The total Revenue forgone, “as revealed by successive Union Budgets – Statement of Revenue Forgone” came to Rs 25,74,042 crore.
Compare it with the Planning Commission applying cut on subsidy to 50 million BPL poor.
The point is that the CTUOs have to clearly analyse what makes the Government to ignore the labour movement’s force and gives the Government confidence that it can ensure economic growth rates, labour movement’s discontent notwithstanding. A few factors can be mapped out here for consideration.
From 2005 onwards UPA Government under Manmohan Singh went all out to help corporate sectors growth. It has helped development of first Export Promotion Zones and later Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which are out of the Labour Department’s jurisdiction and where investors enjoy liberal tax and custom concessions. Similarly, Clusters of production industries are being developed. Making use of all these concessions, the corporate sector employers adopt the strategy of spreading out their production units (producing same product) so that if one unit stops working, others keep meeting the domestic or foreign orders.
These SEZs and Clusters largely remain outside the fold of the labour movement, and therefore a reliable base for Government’s growth rates, export-oriented and corporate-centric policies.
On its part, Government has also tried to ensure that in areas crucial/critical for the economy, like Railways and Coal Industry, workers’ discontent does not cross border line. On the other hand, CTUOs have failed to forcefully sponsor the problems facing workers in SEZs and Clusters where workers conditions are like those of slave labour.
This makes it obvious that the Labour Movement needs serious fresh thinking before chalking out next action programme. (IPA Service)