By C Srikumar
Eighty-two thousand permanent defence civilian employees and 40,000 contract workers of the 41 Indian Ordnance Factories went on an unprecedented total strike from August 20 to 25, 2019. The three federations of defence civilian employees — All India Defence Employees Federations (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), Bharatia Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS) — gave a clarion call to the civilian employees of Ordnance Factories to go for a one month strike against the 100 days agenda formulated by the Modi-02 government to convert the 218 years-old Ordnance Factories into a corporation/ public sector.
For the last 218 years the Ordnance Factories are departmental industry which manufacture and supply all types of equipments, tanks, ammunition, rifle, weapons, vehicles and troop comfort items like battle field dress, extreme climate clothing, parachutes, optical instruments, etc, to the armed forces. The policy of the present government is to privatise the public sector units and to convert the government sector like railways, defence, National Highways Authority of India, etc, into a corporation, so that the government can easily privatise and then handover all these national assets to big corporate houses. The Ordnance Factories are having huge infrastructure which includes modern plant and machineries and above 60,000 acres of land throughout the country.
Since, the representations of the federations have not yielded any result the federations served the strike notice on the government. The government attempted to crush the strike in the following manner. The government declared all the defence establishments as ‘Public Utility Service” under the provisions of Industrial Dispute Act 1947 to impose Essential Service Maintenance Act. The government issued circular threatening imposition of ESMA.
Apart, Home secretary issued direction to all the state DGPs and central para-military forces to provide full police protections to the strike breakers. The government issued series of threatening and warning letters and the government made attempts to declare the strike illegal through RLC and CLC.
Besides, the ministry of defence (M0D) issued press statements saying that the government will not privatise the Ordnance Factories so as to create confusion amongst the employees and general public.
In spite of all the above anti-labour attitude of the government the employees voluntarily participated in the strike. The effect of the strike forced the government to directly hold three rounds of negotiations and another round of discussion through the Chief Labour Commissioner. Ultimately on the fourth day of the strike the government was forced to give the following assurances:
The matter regarding corporatisation of Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) is under the examination of the government. o final decision has been taken by the government with regard to corporatisation of OFB.
The concerns raised by the employees federations regarding the interest/ benefits of the employees with regard to all their service matters, future workload, achieving Rs 30,000 crores target in the present setup, budgetary support for salary, etc, will be considered by a high-level official committee which will consult with the federations, to examine these aspects and make suitable recommendations to the government.
With the government agreeing to examine all concerns raised by the trade unions, the federations decided to defer the strike on the sixth day for the time being. However, they have informed the government that in case of any arbitrary decision the strike will be revived. The defence employees have demonstrated its resentment against the anti-labour policies of the Modi government. They have also warned that they would not tolerate corporatising and privatising the national assets.
The strike of the defence workers has motivated the entire working class of the country. The central trade unions (CTUs) have now decided to convene an ‘Open National Workers Convention’ in Parliament Street, New Delhi on September 30, 2019 to decide about the future course of action to save the various sectors such as defence, railways, transport, telecom, steel, coal, non-coal, mining, petroleum, power, banking, insurance, central and state government employees and other PSU’s. The working class of the country is now firm and preparing themselves to fight back with series of struggles in the coming days.