March 10, 2016
AICCTU, AITUC, AIUTUC, HMS, LPF and CITU held a joint protest at Chepauk in which close to 500 workers participated. Although BMS was part of the organising committee, it did not actively participate in the protest and its affiliated members were absent at the protest site. The protest saw speeches by close to 15 office bearers from various participating unions. This All India protest was planned during the meeting held on January 27,2016 by the eleven central trade unions who had resolved to continue the struggle against the ever-increasing anti-labour policies of central and state governments. According to the resolution the unions had decided to observe March 10th, 2016 as an All India Protest day against the central governments denial of the 12 point charter of demands that was put forward by the national convention of trade unions in the September 2nd strike of last year.
Com. Sivakumar of AIUTUC saw this protest as a big victory for the trade union movement as he observed that all the major unions had participated in the protest. He spoke about how government on one hand is trying to make conditions increasingly worse for working class families by proposing tax on EPF (Employment Provident fund) and on the other hand trying to make life easier for corporates by giving a variety of tax subsidies. He mentioned how the minimal minimum wage they were demanding (namely 15,000/- per month) was not even being discussed by the government. He insisted that the point of trade union movement was not to fight this or that government as all of them are primarily anti-labour but to strive towards a common goal of socialist society.
Com. S. Kumar of AICCTU spoke at length. He talked about the 12 point charter of demands that government was not even ready to take a look at. He spoke about the inconsistencies in neoliberal paradigms like putting a ceiling on bonus of workers even when there is no ceiling on profit whose producers are the workers themselves! He also touched upon the relationship between political parties and central trade unions by mentioning that soon, when state assembly elections come up in Tamil Nadu, as members of various political parties they will all be pitted against each other but they should never forget that the common platform of the unions will always unite them. He mentioned how in freedom struggles, unions always played a vital role. He gave example of Nelson Mandela who had acknowledged the importance of unions in the struggle against Apartheid.
Com. S. Kumar also mentioned that even if their political parties when in power wavered from their promises, the unions irrespective of their affiliations with such parties should always continue the struggle. In light of the fact that BMS had chosen to not actively participate in this protest (even though it was part of the resolution) this point is rather relevant. He spoke about the tactics of government to declare private companies into public utilities to suppress the rights of workers and stop them from unionizing. He reminded the government what Ambedkar had said; that the biggest tool available for the workers to fight for their rights was ‘Strikes’ and this right to unionise should never be taken away. Events in last year clearly suggest that this is one of the many advices of Ambedkar our present government has decided to ignore completely. Com. Sivakumar finally ended his speech by mentioning the ongoing Pricol struggle, and the 19 workers who are currently out on bail (apart from the 8 workers who have been jailed) mentioning that the government is demanding that they too be punished with double life imprisonment.
Com. Murthy of AITUC mentioned how while organising this protest police asked about which political party was organising the event, but he said this protest was organised not by political parties but by workers who are united in their struggle. He spoke about how workers are not asking for more rights but their rights ! He also mentioned how from the times when contractual staff used to be 20 percent, it has now seen a reversal where permanent staff never exceeds 20 percent! He even mentioned example of IDPL which had only one permanent worker and rest were all contract workers. He mentioned how there is going to be a national convention towards the end of March , where a decision to carry this struggle into more intense phase will be taken. He warned the government that this protest was just a trailer and the movie will be far more action packed!
Com. Sukumar of CITU spoke at length about how the Modi government lies pathologically. On one hand they tell the union, we agree with your demands and will fight with you for minimum wage and on the other hand tell capitalists to fight such demands in court. He spoke about how even though seventh pay commission had recommended salary hikes in many sectors they were not being implemented faithfully in many states. He also explained how unionisation is becoming increasingly diifficult with even process like registration takes months.
Although the protest was attended by a large number of workers there seemed to be a distinct lack of enthusiasm among them. Most of them were senior office bearers from various affiliated unions and had heard similar speeches many times over. While the unions had worked around their issues and put up a united front, this unity was not visible among the cadres, who were seen cheering their respective leaders but otherwise uninterested with the proceedings. Some unions in the state like DTUC, NTUI were also missing. While the turnout significant, the rank and file members from most unions were missing and the unions will have to introspect their methods of mobilization if such protests have to impact state policy. As the conditions of working class becomes increasingly precarious, symbolic protests and speeches need to be followed up with more substantive forms of struggle for an effective resistance to neo-liberal onslaught.