Amidst an appalling judicial assault on working class, AICCTU’s State Level Convention resolved to make ‘Free the Pricol 2’, the slogan of Tamil Nadu workers. The union has launched a major signature campaign among workers to protest the rejection of special leave petition by Supreme Court and for a review of the unjust imprisonment of workers in the Pricol case. The convention has also placed 8 Hour per day/40 Hour per week wage work and minimum wage of Rs 21000 per month as main demands on which it plans to launch campaigns .
Leaders from AITUC, CITU, HMS and LPF initiated the signature campaign by signing the petition on a public seminar organised on 17th December in Red Hills. The union also released a booklet on the campaign in the event which was attended by over 500 union representatives from all over Tamil Nadu. The leaders expressed their solidarity with the pricol workers and spoke on various objective and subjective challenges facing trade union movement in Tamil Nadu. They have pledged their support to gather signatures among their workers to free Comrade Manivannan and Comrade Ramamoorthy, the two Pricol workers still incarcerated for life.
Anti Labour Agenda under Modi Regime
Comrade Raja Sridhar of HMS, who launched a harsh criticism of the vicious anti labour policies of Modi Government by saying ‘Modiyin Kondattam namakku thindattam’ (Our misery is Modi’s happiness ). While unemployment and underemployment have marked the hallmark of Modi’s ‘development’ agenda, the restructuring of economy by way of demonetisation, GST and the new FRDI bill are unleashing unprecedented attack on working class, he said. Comrade Sukumaran of CITU said that Artificial Intellgience and roboticisation has opened a big question mark on the fate of IT sector. Workers in Verizon, an IT MNC, are being retrenched in Chennai, Karnataka and Orissa but Labour Department is in denial mode, he said.
Privatisation of public services came for strong criticism from the leaders. Comrade Raja Sridhar stated that Manchester School of Economics had done a study on privatization of railways in UK and had termed privatization to be disaster in terms of service deliveries in a report titled ‘Great Train Robbery’. He asked why then the Indian Government was hell bent on privatizing railways. He said that earlier, the Indian Government would provide the combat uniforms for army men. Now, they just give cash in lieu of uniforms, with the effect that three factories that were making these uniforms with over 12000 workers shut down.
‘No time’ for working class representatives
Comrade Raja Sridhar and Subbaraman of LPF said that Central Government was not interested in listening to worker representatives, a departure from previous regimes. In the last meeting prior to Mahapadav, in a meeting organised with Central Trade Unions, only one person per union was allowed and was given 3 minutes for discussion. In a consultation spanning two days, Mr. Modi had attended for few hours to listen to union’s grievances and had only commented on privatization of services asking what is wrong with that strategy. Both reiterated that negotiation is no longer a tool for furthering working class agenda and only mass mobilization by workers would bear results.
Judicial Apathy on workers
The recent judicial stands on various workers issues showed the pro state attitude of the judiciary, said the leaders. Whether it was JACTO-GEO or nurses strikes and transport strikes, the judiciary has been taking up cases on suo moto or on PIL cases filed by pro state elements and have taken a very strong stand against strikes by workers. Comrade Kumarasami of AICCTU explained the ongoing case of Pricol workers, the charges by the State and the acquittal by various courts and their grounds. He said that in this context, how can the Supreme Court reject the special leave petition by the workers’ representatives and take up the case of the management. He argued that either it should have rejected both or accepted both.
Trade Union Challenges
The leaders of various unions agreed that unionism is fraught with challenges. Comrade TM Moorthy of AITUC said that unionism has been seen in a feudal ownership mode and has been changing for the past 10 years where union leaders were willing to engage with other leaders to forge new unity. He recalled increased participation of union leaders in each other’s convention to make his point. He agreed however, that sectarianism continues in unions and needs to be addressed. He commended AICCTU for reaching out to other unions to make Pricol workers issue as a working class issue rather than as sectarian union issue. Comrade Sukumar admitted that the united action was not changing the course of politics. He said that alternates such as the Left program in Kerala has to be articulated to workers. Comrade Raja Sridhar and others said that while there was a spirit of united action at Central and State levels, transforming solidarity at regional and factory levels remained a challenge for unions.
Comrade Sivakumar of AIUTUC said that while workers want unions to be part of their every day work lives, legalism has pushed trade unionism to mobilise workers only for economic demands and said that instead, unionism especially left unionism should become schools for workers to develop their political consciousness. Instead of portraying winning demands as the wins of the trade unions, the unions must develop a language to articulate the level of engagement of workers to fight for their self emancipation as parameters of their success. He called for increase in political education for workers in factories. He also said that while the State has various institutions such as Police, judiciary, press etc, the working class movement had only union for intervention and called for development of other institutions and social capital for workers.
Earlier in the program, comrade Jayalakshmi Manivannan, partner of one of the incarcerated worker shared the details of the imprisonment of her husband and released the book ‘Free the Pricol 2’. The meeting ended with slogans. AICCTU and other unions are resolved to gather as many signatures as possible and also mobilise support international platform WFTU for the pricol workers.