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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 11

Trade Unions should Actively take up Social and National Issues

Saturday 1 March 2008, by Chaturanan Mishra

During the freedom movement trade unions used to take up national issues as well. When the Simon Commission came, trade unions, at that time under the banner of the AITUC, which was then the only all-India trade union centre, joined the boycott of the Commission. Bombay workers too went on protest strike when Tilak was arrested and also when the imperialist war started. In textile mills when the running thread used to break, the practice was to join the broken thread with spit. Due to this an agitation arose that no Dalit caste people be appointed in textiles. But the Girni Kaamgar Union opposed it and succeeded in foiling the move. In the same Bombay today when North Indians were attacked and thousands left Maharashtra including its capital city, trade unions did not play any active part on the street. Similarly during the Gujarat killing of Muslims, trade unions did not do anything. What type of working class fraternity is this? Thousands of kisans commit suicides in Maharashtra and other States but trade unions never launch any mass protest. This is how the ‘workers-peasants alliance’ is working!

When there is police attack against trade union struggles they expect support from the people and people join the protest bandhs, but when police killed so many in Orissa, Nandigram and Dinhata etc., trade unions kept mum. Police firing on people is frequent now. The largest democracy is perhaps having maximum incidents of police firing. Gone are the days when Pattam Thanu Pillai had to give up Chief Ministership of Kerala due to police firing. Who will be Dr Lohia now?

All the give an indication of the seriousness of the economism afflicting the trade unions today.

Workers are suffering worldwide under globali-sation but no global action has been taken by the international trade union organisations. The world trade unions don’t join the protests manifest in the World Social Forum’s actions, which are indeed massive in magnitude many a time. Even against attacks on Iraq, there were worldwide protests but the world trade unions did not join them. People in China and Russia also did not protest. In India Kolkata alone saw massive protests. The ills of globalisation can be fought only by global actions. At the national level also trade unions don’t go for actions against the ills of globalisation in India. The US recession has already begun to adversely affect our exports and manufacturing etc. Trade unions should come up with concrete suggestions on how to fight this phenomenon.

THE Left trade union leaders rightly speak against communalism and the communal policy of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). This year during verification by the goverment the BMS secured the first place in TU membership, but if you add the verified memberships of various central Left trade unions that combined Left TU membership far exceeds the membership of the BMS, but Left trade union leaders are so sectarian that they will never do so. If we add the verified membership of the AITUC and HMS alone, even then it exceeds the BMS membership. The AITUC and HMS merged once but later on the AITUC snapped its ties with the HMS. It is time that the AITUC and HMS merge again and challenge the first place of the BMS; but there is no such talk in the offing.

If China speaks against the visit of our Prime Minister to Arunachal, Indian trade unions need not keep mum on such a national issue. Nationally India is deficit in coal, power etc. Coal is imported; that means that coal workers suffer whereas foreigners and workers in foreign private companies benefit. Indian trade union leaders have been tolerating this for the last several years but they will not agree to Indian private sector in coal which will give employment to Indian workers. On such national issues trade unions should take positive steps and put across concrete suggestions as the nation as a whole is suffering in such matters. If the Tatas can manufacture lakhpatia cars with your permission, then why not coal and such other essentials?

If Ms Sunita Narayan can expose Pepsi and Coke, the trade unions with lakhs of followers can expose the allround prevalent corruption in the public sector, private sector and government administration, but there is no such move from the side of the TU Leaders. Even the balance-sheets of private companies are studied in the old way on the issue of bonus for workers etc. The time has come when the balance-sheets should be studied from the point of view of high price, excessive profit and tax evasion etc. This will make the trade unions popular in the people’s eyes and it would be difficult to launch attacks on workers. At present due to the media’s vicious propaganda a section of the middle class and even the judiciary are prejudiced against the workers as seen in some judgments.

To conclude, measures must be taken by the trade union leaders to move workers on national and social issues. This will make the trade unions popular among the public at large.

The author, who was the Union Agriculture Minister in the United Front Government at the Centre (1996-98), functioned as the AITUC President for several years.

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