By Sukumar Damle
The AITUC was formed in 1920 in erstwhile Bombay during the British Raj. Prior to that the First World War had ended (1914-18) and the Indian working class had gathered some experience of united action (six days hartal for six years imprisonment of Tilak in 1908). There was also sprouting of local unions from Bombay to Calcutta to Madras presidencies (Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Calcutta (1907), Kamgar Hitvardhak Sabha, Bombay (1910)). And the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia had raised the hopes of toilers world-wide.
This was also the time of rising independence struggle against the British rule in India. Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in India from South Africa in 1915, ushered in a new era, when the subject of British exploitation and fetters on the freedom, crossed the boundaries of middle class drawing rooms and gripped the mass of toilers, workers and peasants.
These circumstances on the one hand brought all shades of political opinion, which were united in freedom struggle on one platform called AITUC, with a common understanding that it was meant to work, side by side with the freedom struggle, for the welfare of the workers. This then is the first and the most important lesson for us to imbibe: “Unite all those with the same overall goal”.
Lala Lajpat Rai, who was the founding president of AITUC, spelt out very clearly in his presidential address in 1920, in Bombay, the basic ideas of (i)workers organizing and acting as a class, (ii) Indian workers uniting at national level and acting in solidarity with workers outside India, (iii) organised Indian working class participating actively in the battle for Swaraj, while fighting against exploitation, and for its own demands.
The AITUC, since then has experienced many world shaking events, ups and downs and also u n p r e c e d e n t e d advance. The market crash of 1930, rise of fascism in Italy and Germany throwing the world into World War II, Indian independence followed by a mighty wave of freedom of colonies, split in AITUC, era of cold war, end of Soviet experiment and rise of finance capital on the world stage. Through all these varied situations, the untiring struggles of the workers under the AITUC banner, won them the right of forming unions (Trade Union Act, 1926), Right to Dearness A l l o w a n c e Compensation (1934), Right to Wages (Payment of Wages Act, 1936), Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, Minimum Wages Act, 1948, Factories Act, 1948, ESI Act, 1948, Employees PF Act, 1952, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, Bonus Act, 1965, Gratuity Act, 1972, Equal Remuneration Act,1976 and so on.
When the Indian National Congress ministries were restored in anticipation of handing over the power by the British rulers, in May 1947, the AITUC was deliberately split with the justification that “the Communists have captured AITUC”, which was refuted by none other than N M Joshi, the then general secretary of AITUC, who was himself not a Communist, saying, “Communists have a majority in the AITUC today but all decisions taken in the AITUC are the decisions of the AITUC as a whole … Unfortunately, the bewildered Congress ministries think that the easy way out of the difficulty lies in dividing the ranks of labour. They will live and learn but in the meanwhile the mischief has been done”.
But the process of fragmentation of AITUC along political lines began — HMS was formed by Socialists, TUCC by Forward Bloc, UTUC by RSP, AIUTUC by SUCI, CITU by CPI(M), AICCTU by CPI(ML) and so on. The BMS was floated by the RSS with its communal agenda. The present AITUC has maintained its democratic functioning, irrespective of the political outlook of its constituents (barring of course, any communal and class collaborationist outlook). Even today, each new political formation floats their own “workers’ wing”, yet everyone in the trade union movement has indeed ‘lived and learned’ the mischief that has been caused. The given situation is forcing everyone (except the BMS) to move jointly, to struggle jointly, to take joint stands, coming around to the first lesson stated above: Unite all those with the same overall goal.
Since 1991, India has changed its track of self-reliance and moved on to accept “Structural Adjustment Programme” for its economic development. This basically gives a free hand to global and indigenous capitalists, by changing laws to suit their machinations to maximise their profits. The common people are told that this will give impetus to the economic activity and everyone — even the last man — will benefit. This is the so-called “Trickle Down” theory. Experience has proved this wrong and all the wealth generated is being cornered by a very few persons in the country.
The last four and a half years of BJP-led NDA rule has taken the situation of the common people from bad to worse. They have undertaken all sorts of “law reforms” in the name of “ease of doing business”. Labour laws are changed, diluting what we achieved during the long struggle (as stated above), all public sector is thrown open for privatisation, communal forces and their vigilante gangs are given a free hand, lynching of innocents by mobs is the new normal, bureaucracy is infiltrated, media, police, CBI, judiciary are infiltrated, education, health, transport are privatised, contracts and labels of excellence are given to non-existent entities of buddy corporates of Mody. The list has become unending. The Rafale deal is the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. This Modi government is not fit to continue a minute more than what the Indian Constitution allows – till the next general election.
The AITUC has only recently carried out a 40-day campaign throughout the country with the slogan “Desh Bachao, Mazdoor Bachao, Modi Hatao”. It has, along with all the other Central Trade Unions, adopted a declaration on September 28, 2018, to observe an all-India General Strike on January 8-9, 2019 with the same message. So, the task for the immediate future is precise: Build the widest possible unity to make the AlI India General Strike on January 8 and 9, 2019 a success and Defeat the BJP in the coming general election. (IPA Service)