Rights and Responsibilities in teacher – student relations: Historical Context of Tamil Nadu Teachers Trade Union Movement (1977- 2004)

Prof. Sivakumar, Marxist-Leninist trade union organizer, was a college professor in Mathematics and principal of Gudiyatham Government College. He was a union representative in Tamil Nadu Government College Teachers Association (TNGCTA) and went on to co-found Tamil Nadu Government College Teachers Council (TNGCTC). In a series of video interviews with Comrade K. Natarajan, he describes the Tamil Nadu College Teachers Trade Union movement between 1977 till 2004, the struggles confronting the movement and internal issues that the movement faced. In particular, he traces the political differences by traditional left movements in integration and solidarity between teachers and student movements and other movements and how these political differences influenced the teachers movement. This note is prepared from the video interviews. This note is a compilation of his thoughts and notable points but is not a full transcript.

The video interviews in tamil are available here:

Important Struggles

Prof Sivakumar discusses various struggles that were taken up when he and like minded comrades took up positions in Tamil Nadu teachers movements. There were various unions representing teachers including Tamil Nadu Government College Teachers Association (TNGCTA), Madras University Teachers Association (MUTA), Annamalai Teachers Union (AUI). There was a joint action committee JACTO which became a platform for integrating struggles and building solidarity among various organizations. In addition, there was an All India Federation (AIFETO) in which these movements were part of. Prof. Sivakumar emphasizes the need for taking struggles for precarious workers especially temporary and contract teachers and teachers in private colleges by teacher unions and the solidarity extended by left parties and activists in the teachers struggles. He emphasizes the ground level activities by teachers especially in building awareness campaigns and doing mundane activities such as putting up posters are critical part of movement building.

The struggles in 1977 among teachers union were of twofold: employment security and wage increases for teachers in private institutions and termination of employment among college teachers due to the transfer of pre-university classes (PUC) to higher secondary education. So the demands that were raised included that PUC not be removed, guaranteed employment, payment and leave for government-aided college teachers, enactment of legislation for regulation for private institutions, proper wages for trainee teachers, permanent employment for temporary teachers in government colleges. These demands became the platform for creation of JACTO (Joint Action Commitee for Teachers Organizations).

In an election among Tamil Nadu Government Teachers Association (TNGCTA), a new member team including Prof. Narasingham and Kesavan with Marxist-Leninist sympathies had taken over the union representation. A mass action with leave by all teachers became a mass strike protest. Road rokos were conducted along Napier Bridge and hunger protests on the beach. When the government college teachers were marching to Napier Bridge, they were unaccustomed to shouting slogans. It was comrades such as Varadarajan from Reseve Bank, a member of CPM, Jagan from the Telephone Department, R. Geetha who has been working as temporary teacher in Queen Mary’s college and had gone to mobilize construction workers under a union along with her partner Subbu and her friend Jayaprakash who taught us sloganeering. The protest becomes very militant and teachers from various colleges including government, government-aided and private colleges were arrested.

Only after that, the Government took over direct pay for government-aided college teachers. The government set up subsidies for these colleges and provides leave pay for the teachers. All the benefits for the government teachers were given to aided teachers. All of this because of the long struggle of JACTO.

Annamalai University teachers were demanding employment guarantee and that the Government should take over the functioning of the university and had gone to prison after a major protest during MGR period. The teachers were not being released from prison and there was an attempt to repress the struggle. JACTO committee and individual organizations including TNGCTA, MUTA, AUT decided that TNGCTA members will also do a solidarity strike on behalf of Annamalai university teachers. Due to this, the government college teachers did a 7 day strike to release the Annamalai teachers from prison. When we went to mobilize among college teachers, we faced opposition on why they should fight for Annamalai teachers not only among Chennai college teachers but throughout Tamil Nadu. So we had to conduct meetings in every college to convince the teachers. It is remarkable because this was an extension of camaraderie beyond self-motivated economic reasons. Various groups and individuals including MUTA, TNGCTA and Kesavan who took this struggle politically, played its part in this achievement. People from various ML movements and CPM via MUTA provided an impetus in taking up such struggles. JACTO started to achieve its aims in employment protection, regulation of private institutions and permanency for temporary teachers. For practical lecturers, it was partially successful. The rest of the success came after 10 years. JACTO also became a fore runner for other such initiatives among school teachers.

Between 1985 and ‘88, there were major protests by JACTO on the demands to make pay and dearness allowance equivalent to Central Government staff. There was mass protest and a road roko in Chennai. In other parts of the state, teachers had been arrested for protesting. Treasurer of AUT Purushotaman and I would finish all the meetings and at night go to Marina beach and other colleges to put up posters. TN College Teachers Association District Secretary, Govindaraj, would also accompany us. Purushothaman would bring his bike. Govindarajan and I would spread gum and hand it to Purushothaman. Purushotaman was a professor in Pachiappas college. He was tall, so he would stand on the bike and stick the poster in the bus stands. We need to tell college teachers about this struggle. Not only did we participate in struggle, it was teachers and professors who put up posters. Today we may give someone money and ask someone to do the same thing. But we must understand that it was because of direct struggle and even going to jail, that we have gained many things.

In the 1987 protests (when I was the president of AIFETO), the demands were put forward to implement University Grants Commission recommended salary for all professors of government and private colleges. This was the demand for entire country. In case of government colleges, there were many professors under 10A1 (contractual position – they are all now working as principals of colleges in 2014). We demanded that all their jobs become permanent. These protests were not supported by all comrades and I personally faced criticism in the Executive Council. There was a big discussion about whether to involve the temporary professors in the strike but Shantaram, Marx, Vasanthi Devi and I convinced the Executive Committee and we involved all the 10A1 teachers in the struggle. This involved more than 400 to 500 temporary teachers whose employment had been terminated by ADMK minister. During this time, Ponnaiyan thought that all the terminated teachers would eventually sign an apology letter and go back to work. The nalakazhagam (formed by teachers supportive of the state) transferred many of the professors and victimised them. There was even a point of view (like water flow) that the group headed by Marx, Sivakumar and Vasanthidevi were going aggressively but they continued to be united with us. The leadership of AIFETO including Bhattacharya came as a group and took part in a demonstration and road roko in Chepauk against the termination and transfers. I would like to register this important incident in the history of the trade union movement, the history of teachers trade union struggles, that in order to protest the termination and transfer of government teachers, many who were working in Telephone Department like Jagan, Lily, and Central Government Office Mahasammelan’s Venkatramanan, who was working in AGS office were all comrades who protested at DMS in support of us and were arrested. Later, even cases against us were withdrawn. But the government did not withdraw cases against Lily and Jagan. On the very next day, the government gave us the opportunity to meet CM Janaki. They said they would reinstate all the terminated teachers and an order to that effect also came. This happened only because of the unity of trade unions at the national level and at the state and united struggle. All the temporary teachers were later confirmed without any examinations because of this.

In 1988, there were problems in implementation of University Grants Commission order on salaries in Tamil Nadu and we conducted a protest asking for it to be revoked. There has never been an instance in history where a trade union rejects a salary increment. Usually the union will take what we get and go in, thinking the rest can be fought for later. After Kesavan and I spoke to everyone, we rejected the order/notification. As soon as we rejected it, the government was shaken wondering why they rejected the order and claimed that the order was correct. If we had not rejected the order that day, college teachers today could not have reached pay band 4 without obstacles. We said that if the teachers in south India are not given permanency, we will not go back on our decision. Proper implementation of UGC pay scale became possible only after a joint struggle of teachers and government employees through JACTO-GO Federation.

The main leaders of the federation were arrested and imprisoned. It was a time when we were in hiding and conducted our trade union activities. At the height of the struggle, when many of the teachers were in jail we formed a shadow committee. In the shadow committee, those of us who were not put in jail were present. This was a protest where government employees, teachers and corporation employees participated. There was a complete black out for a day because all the municipality workers decided to strike, they decided to switch off electricity for an entire day and the city was in darkness. We gave such an impact to the government. There were discussions with comrades in left movement about how to overcome obstacles to take the struggle to the next level. I remember Srinivasan of ML telling me that when government employees in Bihar were protesting, tribal people came with bows and arrows in support of them and gherraoed secretariat just when their struggle looked like it was becoming dull.

We announced the fort gherrao protest. Thousands and lakhs of teachers and government employees from all over Tamil Nadu came to Chennai and blocked the entire stretch of Anna Salai from TVS bus stop to Walajah Road. They began at 8 in the morning. Buses were blocked at Tambaram – no buses were allowed to enter. People came in trains – they walked and blocked the roads. If the traffic chokes, entire Chennai had a problem and so the police came in horses and beat all the teachers. Despite that, the teachers conducted a mariyal (road block). The struggle continued. Because of this, on the next day they released some of the leaders.

The leaders told us to give up the protest and to come there. The protest went on like this, a negotiation was going on. In the discussion, it was decided by all the government teachers, including teachers of aided schools and colleges, permanence of the temporary teachers and all benefits for them would be given on par with University Grants Commission and Central Government teachers. But they said they will not talk about the College Teachers Union, that is related to the University Grants Commission, it is a different issue. It is an issue that does not concern our State Government. Mayilsami walked out of the discussion saying that they will not take part if the issue of college teachers is not taken up.

In 2002, when Jayalalitha was chief minister, college teachers and government employees including the lowest level went on a struggle under JACTO-GO .The demands were that the dearness allowance that was paid until then was stopped. Surrender leave was also cancelled. Teachers were upset as the rights that were hard won are now being removed one after another. So they were militant about it. From the secretariat to the panchayat level worker, everyone came to the streets. Even tahsildars and revenue officers and block officers went into protest. Lakhs of employees were dismissed. Not only were the teachers dismissed, they were also imprisoned. A debate is called for by Judge Dinakaran which is made into a negotiation. Through that negotiation, the teachers dismissal was withdrawn and the protest came to a close.

When Stella Soundararajan started here anti-teacher attitude and Aranganmayakam was supporting her, there was a vigorous protest against her attitude. As instructed by Kesavan, the teachers crossed Kooum river and started lying on the streets to do a road roko. The police had to lift us and throw us into lorries to evacuate us from protest site. These are unforgettable memories. Another struggle was in Madras Christian College when Oliver John, Brinda Moses and another teacher were dismissed. MUTA, AUT and TNGCTA all went on a strike to reinstate the teachers. After negotiation in front of Jayalalitha, all three teachers were reinstated. This is the history of Government College Teachers fighting for private college teachers. These are important struggles like Annamalai University. So we have taken various protests other than wage struggles.

State Repression

The state responded brutally to the struggles of the teachers unions. Repressive tactics included transfers, memos, arrests and even lathi charges. Prof. Sivakumar narrates incidents on how the teachers were able to mobilize in prison to demand rights as prisoners.

Between 1985 and 88, there were major protests by JACTO on the demands to make pay and dearness allowance equivalent to Central Government staff. There was mass protest and a road roko in Chennai. In other parts of the state, teachers had been arrested for protesting. We were courting arrest and met to put together a list for courting arrest. We were imprisoned in a cell which can hold upto 100 people with only one toilet for the night. In the day, they would open more toilets but for the night, there is only one. The first demand we asked was to open all the toilets for the prisoners. They did not do it first time but we complained to jailor and it took 2-3 days for the toilets to be opened. They asked us to be seated while taking attendance. We refused and gave attendance only standing up. A comrade from private college had a heart attack in the night while this was all going on. There is a medical hospital but we could not get the guards who were circling outside. So we decided to bang our plates together. They came running to see the commotion and said they would take him in the morning but we protested loudly and then they took him to the hospital.

Leaders including J.S Raj were being arrested and thousands of teachers were imprisoned in Chennai. There were altogether 10,000 women in Tamil Nadu who went to jail during this time in 1985. This included from primary school to college teachers. One of the prisoners called Karuppannan died in prison. That’s when the protest became so powerful. We only got a promise at the end of this protest. We had to carry other protest to ensure the demands were met. But the protest was crucial in organizing the teachers and taking it further.

The teachers started cooking for themselves and started organizing their life in the prison. One of the members who had gone out, a Brahmin, had bought some food to eat. The then DSP snatched and threw the food away. So we all decided to protest outside and decided not to go inside the cell. We demanded that the DSP apologize to the teacher and sat in the ground outside the cell. We went back only after they came and apologized.

These are examples of how professors took part in public issues, or in political causes, were given memos with false charges and victimised. Professor Kalyani was transferred. Kalyani did not receive pension and Advocate Chandru fought the case. Because at that time, the cases for members of Tamil Nadu Teachers Association were decided under a tribunal. At that time when there was a discussion, they said there is a Q branch report on Professor Kalyani. Chandru said “Q branch report is a questionable report.” It was only through these strong arguments, that later Prof Kalyani was able to get his pension.

During the 1987 protests, many professors were transferred to remote places without any facilities. Professor Vasanthi Devi was transferred. This case was fought by (Retired Justice, then lawyer) Chandru, they won the cases and Prof Vasanthi Devi went back. When Marx was working, he spent very little time with his family. Throughout his working life, he was transferred many times.

He was given 17A memo. Professor Saraswati was working at Queen Mary’s College. She joined Women Rights Forum (Penn Urimai Iyakkam) in a struggle to tear down posters that depicted women in a vulgar manner. For this she was given a 17B memo asking how she can take part in this action being a government teacher. Just like how a memo was given for tearing vulgar posters, I was also given a memo. You know about Article 311 (2) A, B, C (of constitution) under which a Central Government or State Government employee can be dismissed without an enquiry.

Teachers attitudes towards student issues and progressive issues

Prof. Sivakumar discusses the prevalent attitude in teachers union to be regressive rather than work towards broader platform building linking with other progressive platforms. In particular, Sivakumar and his comrades were very vocal about taking up student issues especially on issues of caste and were criticitized even by left movements. He emphasizes that militancy in teachers union does not mean progressive politics unless the struggle is integrated into larger socio political struggles.

Teachers looked at their own protests as legitimate and the protests by students as unjustified. Even the militant teachers felt this. Only those teachers with political ideologies and interest in socio-political conditions were interested in forging solidarity with students. The teachers would take medical leave for various personal reasons. When a student gives a medical leave, then it is scrutinized much further by teacher even when they know that the student could lose their attendance.

Kesavan, Radhakrishnan in Mannarkudi and Prof Annadurai would conduct political seminars among Ambedkar College students. Similarly Prof. Sudhanthira Muthu in Government College would conduct a poetry session called Neithal. In that college, students had issues with a professor from Tamil Department and published a pamphlet on these issues. There were also issues and protests emerging in hostels and students themselves organized around these issues. When we took up these issues in solidarity with the students, it was said that we were terrorists and were creating propaganda among students. Gangadharan, currently a municipality teacher, when he was a student had published a pamphlet. We were accused of writing the pamphlet for the students. One student called Sundar Rajan in Progressive Students Union was accused of making a bomb using the sulphur tips of matchsticks in Dharmapuri and was arrested under NSA (national securities act). I appeared on their behalf.

When we including Marx, Kalyani, Kochadayan and Thirumavalavan interceded for the students, the rest of the teachers looked at us differently. They thought we were taking up unnecessary tasks. They did not want to identify with us in the union. Even if some teachers thought we were the ones who took up issues democratically for others, they were still intimated by the other teachers. All these had an impact in union elections when our comrades participated and were defeated in the elections. There was a protest by teachers in Queen Mary’s College against the move by government to make the college a member of University. Both TNGCTA and TNGCTC had participated. Sankarasubramaniam tried to coordinate various student movements including Progressive Students Union, Student Federation of India, Ma.Ka.I.Ka’s student wing and AISF to protest with the students. But the Association leaders from CPI objected to it.

During this time 1987-88, I was elected by the College Teachers Union to be a part of the Chennai Governing Council/Syndicate. There was a move towards starting self-financed institutions and we wrote dissent notes against selling education. We were in the midst of a sustained struggle against New Education Policy and we had to face many hurdles put forth by the TN Government. Jeppiar (head of Sathyabama University) was chairman of TN Water Board and asked us not to write a dissent note about private institutions encroaching on water bodies. The Union made even the syndicate a platform for protest. So we don’t discuss only teacher’s issues, we also discuss problems of the students, debate issues on education. But later, the syndicate became a power by itself. Within the leadership of the union, a group was formed which would control who went to the syndicate, and only those favourable to the leadership would be sent.

In the Government Fine Arts College in Egmore, till 1987, all the students who studied there would get only a diploma, it was not a undergraduate degree. So if one had to pursue higher studies or even go to the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad you would need a degree. The students led a struggle to change the diploma into a degree. So these students led a struggle in an innovative way. They would draw pictures near the beach and through these they would let the public know about their issues. So it was also decided that I would raise this issue at the Syndicate and Senate meeting. The Senate has to pass a resolution to convert the diploma into a degree, only then it can become a law within the University. So we brought the students into the university campus and a protest was conducted. The issue was solved by the joint efforts of the teachers unions and progressive unions. It was a big struggle which happened in Chennai.

When Professor Marx was in Mannarkudi, he protested for a hostel for the backward students and was opposed even by members of the CPI party. There was a big struggle and he was transferred from Mannakudi to Gudiyattam. When Marx was involved in various students issues, he took part in a struggle in Tanjavur Womens College and he was a given a memo saying he broke the rules. So Marx retired, even his salary increments were affected. Kochadai protested against copying in Athur College. Thangavelsami exposed many illegal activities in Melur College near Madurai. Professor Shankarsubbu was involved in a struggle in colleges in rural Thiruthani.

Eelam protests were going on against the burning of Yaalpanam library and the murder of Kuthumani and Jagan. There was a mass mobilization in Tamil Nadu with students participating in the strike. There was a spontaneous strike without much conscious mass mobilization during that bandh. Indian Government was ready to send its own committees to articulate their own political agenda. There was a meeting in Ilavarasu’s home which took a position to show solidarity to the on-going struggle in Eelam without showing support to any single group on the ground. I wanted to show this as an example of our involvement in such social causes outside the purview of normal union activities. Also, we had a standing that we will talk about education issues in both outside forums and union meetings. In this our standing was different from CPI, CPM which tried to separate the teachers unions from other mass movements. Even when Prabakaran invited IPKF, I remember Prof Inquilab opposing such moves. I believe this came from his deep understanding of Marxism. In this sense, we did not hesitate to take up social issues. We conducted a training meeting near Ambattur. We invited CPML Trade Union representative Ramamurthy, Comrade Ajitha, Jayaprakasam. Again there was an opposition on our interaction and engagement with other mass movements.

In terms of outside meetings, we have conducted hall meetings on New Education Policy. Kalyani had initiated People Education Movement and through that we conducted meetings on education via local language during Mandal Commission visits. We have given voices against Indian Peace Keeping Force. We were also engaged in opposition to POTA at these times.

Internal Democracy and lack of solidarity among the left groups

Prof. Sivakumar discusses accountability among teachers and the need for the union to step into this. According to him, because of the politics of integrating struggles, taking up issues not related to teachers and developing democratic space led to internal strifes between various political parties. This led to internal split with the more radical union members forming a separate initiative Tamil Nadu Government College Teachers Council. At the same time, the government, having lost to the union in terms of temporary teachers, started employing contract teachers and guest teachers.

Professor Kalyani staged a protest against this private tuition in Tindivanam. He was actually victimised by the union itself, he was dismissed from the union. Then a big protest to reinstate him as a union member was led by Palamalai and Lohia in Villipuram and Cuddalore district. Later only after facing a lot of pressure, when Professor Illavarasan was the President, he came back into the union. He faced a lot of problems. But he had the support of the students.

Kesavan and I along with Journalist Ananthakrishnan of Hindu took up on the Iranian exam scandal. A very important issue. Kesavan was working in Nandanam College in Chennai. Many Iranian students were studying in New College and would come to Nandanam Arts College to attend exam. A professor from Commerce Department and then Principal would make the students sit in the canteen near New College after the exams get over, and they would give them a new answer sheet and ask them to write and insert this. They would make money for this. We took up this issue at the Syndicate, asked them to re-examine these answer sheets and all these teachers were transferred.

There was a group which was lobbying against us for Kattimuthu to become a member or the teachers union. We removed Kattimuthu from the union. There were people to who opposed our move saying why this action was taken against a member of the union. So if you are union member, you allow students to copy. If you are union member you don’t have to take class. A union member need not drive the bus. If you are union member, you can adulterate the aavin milk. Union members in the railway can get away with not doing their duty. If you are union member, you need not do your LIC job. If you don’t prevent these kinds of situations, you can see the gap growing between the trade union and the public. In a trade union, if the leader of the workers in not politicised and does not lead by example you can see the gap developing between the trade union and people. If there is no sustained politicisation and we don’t take up peoples issues, we will have to face many problems.

Professor Kalyani staged a protest against private tuition by a professor in Commerce Department in Tindivanam. He was actually victimised by the union itself, he was dismissed from the union. Then a big protest to reinstate him as a union member was led and only after a lot of pressure he came back into the union.

Even when we did not want to enforce any ideological barriers with comrades from CPI and CPM, there were such oppositions due to different positions. Particularly, what I saw was that we always felt that there could be common grounds on which we all could work together in spite of our ideological differences, but I felt that these outreaches were not reciprocated in many instances. The approach by CPI and CPM in trying to capture the union positions eventually led to the shrinking of trade union activities into only economic demands in my opinion. Even when asked to address some gathering, they always seem to evaluate if our ideology and political standing will support them and will not go beyond their own party positions. Even today, I feel that may be the approach. I felt that our comrades did not take this approach. We would keep our criticisms in the open.

When we were in prison, CPI and CPM comrades were there with us. Ramamuni was the first comrade who would in cycle everywhere to organize primary school teachers. Eventually the union broke into several unions under various leaderships. When a protest is organized, we want to build a platform for solidarity among various left parties whether it’s CPI and CPM on common minimum demands. Even when we work with DMK or ADMK union, we feel that the left solidarity has to be there in interacting with these unions. But we have faced problems where they have said that the convenor has to be from their own party. So eventually the arguments came from which party had representation as convenor rather than about choosing an individual with capacity to work towards these goals. There may be instances where these groups combine to take up an issue on political level but the intention to come only along those points and to act to take over the unions at other points seem problematic to me. We felt that is not how we approach work. I feel even today, this continues to haunt trade unionism I feel. Why should one person be a president for life? The politburo should not be the one deciding the outcome of a union election. In AIFETO, we saw that there was no direct election, only nominations were there. We even protested against this. When this happens, it becomes a wedge for non-political democratic forces or even RSS/BJP forces to use and push their own agenda.

When we demanded direct elections in AIFETO, there were heated arguments in JAC. When we made these demands, they were willing to engage with other agencies to defeat us. Even comrades who taught us sloganeering started seeing us as troublemakers. These kinds of tactics inevitably led to trade unionism at a narrow sense. Because we wanted direct elections in IFECTO, in a conference held in Mumbai, I contested an election so that elections would be held knowing that others can win the election. We did this as an organizational activity. Prof Marx brought a pamphlet on this. Prof. Kalyani published a pamphlet on direct elections in unions in Madurai.

In 1987-88, making temporary teachers permanent was ensured after the struggle of the federation. The Government teachers were being paid according to UGC scale. As the Government was forced to make temporary teachers permanent, they started introducing contract system providing contracts over a certain period. Those under this would neither have employment nor wages during summer vacation. They may not be assured of a contract when the school reopens.

There were different opinions among the leadership in Tamil Nadu Government Teachers Association on admitting them to union membership. We including Prof. Marx argued for including them in the union and fighting for their rights. The careerist union representatives were of the opinion that the contract workers should not be part of the union and they can have separate union. We fought for their representation and their right to vote in union elections. We ensured that these teachers will be part of the union.

Meanwhile, in TNGCTA, there was fighting between left party backed groups and careerist union representatives and our faction representatives where targeted. Prof. Mavadian, one of the dalit representatives from Nandanam College was one of the targeted. He was part of education committee in Nandanam College and should have been promoted to syndicate in the university. He was transferred out of Nandanam College as punishment. So the union started having internal rifts. We sent an open letter to members to force open debates on this issue. We started College Teachers Council after this.

Now there are two groups which are operating: College Teachers Association and College Teachers Council. We also started a new magazine called ‘Oli’ under Kesavan but it did not go beyond one publication. Today, there are two groups which are operating but people are willing to work together when it comes to issues. This needs to be the understanding of all unions. Whether it’s an assault on pension or new wage schemes and more importantly on the working conditions – given that after 2006, the working conditions are integrated into the new economic policies – and other assaults that we are going to face from the state, there is a need to come under a joint action committee.

When the union split, there were debates between even Kesavan and Marx regarding whether to leave the union but they also followed suit. Even I felt that we should have stood firm and fought inside the union but now I feel that having two unions means more, different creative activities within the union can be taken forward. The council is now going fine under the responsibility of Prof. Moorthy and Prof. Sivaraman. They are taking up the issue of contract teachers and are approaching it politically.

Some thoughts on today’s political condition

Today there are about 1500 guest lecturers in shift 1 and 1500 guest lecturers in shift 2 working in contract mode. The government has moved from permanency, to temporary, to contract to guest lecturer. The guest lecturers are only paid Rs. 10,000 per month. They have not been paid for 5 months since the college started. The reason for this is the New Education Policy and New Economic Policy which has impacted all facets of higher education including employment confirmation.

Given this, the historical organizing has to be reviewed and studied so that we can understand what we failed to do and what we need to do to resist this. When I look at what we have done, how much we have solved, how much interaction we had with students, our comrades were always integrating with the student movements. Our comrades never shunned college responsibilities but these came from a certain political and democratic understanding. Now only wage related issues are taken up. The external political conditions are also a factor in this. Without resisting this, can this middle class organization go to the next political level is doubtful.

Now every college teacher has one or two flats. They have AC cars. Will these people do what we did when we went on streets and put up posters. I don’t think so. If they face issues, the possibility of them coming to fight is there. Even today, there are individuals who are able to look at the issues of teachers politically. But they are all fragmented today. Dalit teachers are operating as a separate union. But they are also part of TNGCTA. All of these came about after 2000. One needs to introspect on these as well. There are dalit individuals who are articulating on general issues. But their numerical strength is not big. These are individuals who were students when we were teachers. This is our contribution – the community that fought in ‘79, ‘86 and ‘88 – shows how much we were also able to influence the student community and the left movements (CPI, CPM and ML) and progressive forces which fought along with student communities earlier.

Between 1977 and 2002, through TNGCTA and TNGCTC, I had opportunity to continuously work on trade union activities, The Association was successful in many fronts. One cannot say that only our activities were important in this. Many democratic forces, representatives at various times, coordinated fronts with MUTA and AUT. Because there were both unities and contradictions that emerged during such interactions. By approaching them in right spirit, we were not only able to take many activities but also approach them creatively.

Then, there was not an employment guarantee for government-aided college (private) teachers. That was achieved. In Government colleges, temporary teachers were made permanent. Today, the teachers are able to get an excellent salary and a pension of up to Rs. 40,000. However, a guest lecturer is able to get only Rs. 10,000. This shows from where the struggles were to where conditions are. Why is the union unable to make guest lecturers permanent today? Why have we failed to control self-financed colleges? Can we do this alone without working with student movements? We need to look at how to get students to take up such issues in coordination with teachers union.

After the new economic policies and new education policies were in place, the Government put up administrative structures that would enable contractualization of teachers. In addition, the college has outsourced the grade 4 category of employment i.e. sweepers etc. There are no sanitation workers in Government College or schools. Because of this, thousands have lost secure employment. There is no security guard in many government colleges. This comes in the context of enabling private sector in education. In future, this may even take the shape of private public partnership. This was already discussed recently for a corporation school.

This political economy needs to be understood by the union representatives of MUTA, TNGCTA, TNGCTC and AUT which needs to take this issue politically. When I am talking about politicizing the issue, I am not talking about party politics. I am talking about the politics surrounding the education, economy and society. Without doing this, I am doubtful if this this issue can be resolved structurally. To do this, one needs to start thinking how to organize ten thousands of precarious teaching force in private colleges. Without doing this, permanent teachers cannot solve any issue. Because if you go on strike, the institute will still function. The Government will use them to conduct elections if you refuse to perform exams. So how can we even start any action without organizing them. This is the same condition in other sectors too such as postal service or transport workers. Today transport service may not be very much privatized but one needs to work towards reducing the threat. Instead just fighting for bonus and wage increment will not stop the eventual slide. Same goes for banking sector which has so many private banks.

If May Day is to be celebrated, then every union and party does it in its own way focussing on showing its strength? How long has it been since there was a coordinated May Day celebration in Chennai? Similarly why are BEFI and AIBEA not working together? Today globalization and liberalization are creating a casual workforce, casual workers and a casual IT sector. If a broader outlook that creates coordinated integrated struggles and places workers ahead of party is not there, then we will not lead the workers. When Nokia workers protested, did Chennai unions conduct a bandh? Chennai trade union history is important in Tamil Nadu history. It has a long history. If you take the work of Kuselan, AM Kothandaraman, VP Chinthan, whether its Simpson or B&C struggles, we cannot ignore that history. Coming from that tradition, what happened in Nokia shows how far back we have gone. When thousands of workers lost their employment in Nokia, are we not responsible for the fact that transport workers, bank employees, teachers did not descend into streets. Even a protest was not done by these workers. The reason was that when it came to coordinated struggles, criticisms were used as opportunities to veer away from other left forces. Even forging ahead with careerist union leaders. Today CITU has the biggest strength and AITUC has come after that. ML trade unions may have lesser strength or even no presence among trade union movement but still if all these forces do not come together, how can the struggles be taken forward? What are the reasons on why even this level of coordination is not emerging among left movements?

We opposed automation of activities. Still automation came and now we have made our peace with automation. But even if automation decreases the number of workers, can we at least stop the precariousness of the workers? This is the question today. Today, the teachers must start teaching the students and again integrate with students. Just because a revenue officer employee attends a protest, can he be termed as a revolutionary, if they don’t deal with corruption that prevents public from accessing services in his office. Responsibility should become a point of debate. As organized sector is dwindling, if one does not ask these questions, having a union alone will not be enough. Today, unionism should focus on self-financed colleges, unorganized sector, IT sector and manufacturing sector. Today IT sector is not even at a point to make demands on its own issues. We need to understand the objective factors and also understand our political perspective in these issues, how are we placed to address such issues, Are issues that we saw in the ‘80s the same as today’s issues? A sectarian approach to these will only get some minor benefits as and when the state deems necessary.

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