Activity Reports - UP, WB, TN
ASHAs of UP On AN Onward March!
On 15 May 2022, Uttar Pradesh Asha Workers Union (affiliated to AICCTU) organized a state level convention of ASHA workers in Lucknow. About 150 delegates from different districts of the state - Rae Bareilly, Lucknow, Shahjahanpur, Jaunpur, Hardoi, Bareilly, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Mau, Sitapur, Pilibhit, Unnao, Amethi, Pratapgarh, Allahabad, Kanpur and Barabanki participated in the convention. Leaders of Uttar Pradesh Mid-Day Meal Workers Union, AICCTU and CPI-ML were also present as guests in the convention.
The convention was presided over by a seven-member presidium. Inaugurating the conference, ASHA leader Kamaljit Kaur said that the Uttar Pradesh ASHA Workers Union has not only emerged as the only organization in the state that is fighting honestly for the rights of ASHA workers, but it has also registered itself with the Labour Department. It has thus achieved the distinction of being the only recognized organization of ASHA workers in the state. She also said that many NGOs who work in the name of ASHA workers do not engage in challenging the misdeeds of authorities and in demanding the rights of ASHA workers. There is a need to isolate these organisations from our movement. These organisations thrive on funds of the government and create troubles in building a decisive movement.
Two resolutions were passed unanimously in the convention. These resolutions underlined the demand that all outstanding honorarium, amount payable due to service in Covid period and the outstanding 8 months honorarium of the mid-day meal workers should be paid within a week. The convention warned that if the demands were not met on time, demonstrations would be organized at district headquarters across the state on June 6, and a massive demonstration in the capital will be held on September 12, 2022, in support of the demands presented before the government. A demand of compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the family and a permanent job to a family member in case of death of any ASHA worker while on service was also one of the resolutions.
The State Secretary Sadhna Pandey, while answering the questions raised in the debate on the proposed draft, said that the Uttar Pradesh ASHA Workers Union has been fighting for basic rights of ASHAs for more than a year and the struggle must be expanded and strengthened to ensure that ASHAs get their rights. She said that our demand is to get a salary of Rs 26,000 per month, maternity leave, ESI facility, life insurance of Rs 50 lakh, securing the status of a state health worker for ASHAs and setting up of gender cell to stop sexual harassment. The struggle must march forward to guarantee fixed working hours for ASHAs.
Comrade Sarojini, State Secretary of the Mid-Day Meal Workers Union, also addressed the convention. She called upon all the scheme workers to move towards a united struggle.
The convention was concluded with a call to Strengthen the organization, to identify and isolate the broker organizations and to move forward to achieve your rights on the strength of your unity and struggle.ν
Convention of Railway Employees against Privatization and NPS
On 23 June, a convention against privatization and corporatisation of Indian Railways and New Pension Scheme (NPS) was organized under the banner of DLW Rail Mazdoor Union (affiliated to IREF and AICCTU) in the Employees' Club of Banaras Rail Engine Factory (DLW).
The convention, which concluded with the impressive participation of DLW employees, was addressed by Rajiv Dimri, all India General Secretary, AICCTU, Manoj Pandey, all India President, IREF (Indian Railway Employees Federation) and Sarvjit Singh, all India General Secretary, IREF. The speakers at the convention emphasised that the struggle against NPS and for the restoration of the old pension scheme led by Front Against NPS in Railways and IREF have brought these issues to the national political scenario of the country. While the governments of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have recently announced the cancellation of NPS and restoration of Old Pension Scheme (OPS), the same also emerged as an important issue in the recently held assembly elections in UP, Punjab, etc. Now, the time has come to build up a nationwide movement with wide solidarity between employees of the country's largest government organisation, railways and other central and state government owned organisations. On the basis of this movement, the Modi government at the Center and all other state governments must be forced to scrap the New Pension Scheme and restore the Old Pension Scheme. Just like the farmers forced the Modi government to bow down and repeal three anti-farmer laws, similarly the railway employees will have to force the government to get this anti-worker NPS scrapped.
The Speakers said that the future of Indian Railways and its employees are confronting the biggest attack ever in the form of privatisation and corporatisation of the railways. These policies are being imposed only to give away the railways to the crony corporates like Adanis and Ambanis. The result is the destruction of permanent jobs in railways and the accessibility of common masses to the railways.
NPS is nothing but a privatization of pension funds. This is only a part of the entire privatisation project being followed by the present regime. While intensifying our fight against NPS we should also resist the massive privatisation drive by all government companies, We should also protect resources and oppose the project of National Monetisation Pipeline being brought in by the Modi regime.
The speakers condemned the current atmosphere of communal polarization being created by the trio of BJP-Sangh Parivar-Modi government. They said that well-planned efforts are being made to bury the real, life-related issues of the people.
When the people of India are at the receiving end of massive unemployment, inflation, privatization, violation of rights, and are taking to the streets, the Modi regime is conveniently turning a blind eye to these issues and is busy in spreading communal hatred. The speakers called upon the working class to resist these communal conspiracies by Modi-BJP-RSS regime and to intensify their fight for basic rights, while remaining alert. The speakers emphasized that without resisting the communal conspiracies, our struggle cannot reach its destination. Those who addressed the convention included Kamal Usri, Jumerdin, Rajendra Pal, Manish Harinandan, Bharat Raj, Ratan, Ravi Sen, Partha Banerjee and Pradeep Kumar Yadav. ν
Save Public Sector Forum Launched
Save Public Sector Forum may be a common platform for public sector employees both in service and also the retired, irrespective of cadre and category.
Few months back, some retired bank and rail employees and a retired trade union leader of Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, a Ramnath Goenka company, came together and formed a platform called “Save Public Sector Forum” which began its functioning from North 24 parganas district of West Bengal. The forum felt the crying need to initiate a campaign against the BJP government’s policy of outright sales and privatisation of all government owned assets, including public sector companies and all important infrastructures.
Though the intention of wholesale dismantling of public sector was not so explicit in 2014, it is no more a secret now that they are committed to hand over the entire public sector to the Indian capitalist cronies and their foreign agents. While, from the Prime Minister to the Finance Minister, keep uttering that it is not the business of the government to do business, the Modi led BJP government is virtually playing the role of a broker between the public sector and the private capital.
The Modi government started with demonetisation under the plea of eliminating black money with an appeal for fifty days’ time period for course correction, has now placed before the nation a new project called National Monetisation Pipeline. The Central Finance minister has said that the project is expected to earn 6 lakh crores by next four years only through handing over nation's wealth to private players for a price, perhaps, set by the buyers only.
The forum is conceived to act as a platform to raise voice against privatisation and to go all out to resist it in every possible way, including campaigns and suitable forms of protest actions. It is a fact that Comrade Provat Kar, a leader of bank employees and an MP, first tabled a proposal for bank nationalization before the Lok Sabha on 21st August 1959, ten years earlier than the actual date of enactment. Bank employees raised the slogan 'People’s money for people’s Welfare; not for Corporate loot'. Now, they have developed it as 'Save Public Sector Bank; Save the Nation'. We have already witnessed the outcome of corporatisation of BSNL, that has resulted in liquidation of the same. Similar fate is awaiting various public and government owned sectors like Defence factories, Railways and so on.
Save Public Sector Forum can be developed as an umbrella organisation of various public sector and government owned organisations and its employees. The forum should actively engage in campaigns against privatisation, for patriotism, etc., among its employees. At the same time, it should also highlight the connect between privatisation and common masses because of the issues that affect the people in large.
The Save Public Sector Forum actively worked for the success of the two days all India strike on 28-29 March 2022 along with AICCTU. Joined the joint conventions in support of the strike.
Sooner, the forum is planning a state level convention to launch a campaign against privatisation in its next phase. ν
Mid-day Meal Workers Demand Increase in Honorarium
A two-day dharna of mid-day meal workers at Esplanade in Kolkata was organised on 7-8 June demanding 12 months' salary for 12 months' work and regularisation as government employees.
Even as 10 lakh plus ASHA workers have been conferred the WHO Global Health Leaders Award for their salutary role in providing direct health care access during the pandemic, millions of scheme workers, including ASHA, are pushed to the sidelines and are languishing in a system that appears to be thriving on the forced labour of women workers, almost for free of charge. The mid-day meal scheme is one such scheme under the Ministry of Education, which is now the PM-POSHAN Shakti Nirman scheme.
In Bengal, the mid-day meal workers are organised under a state-level registered union affiliated to AICCTU, which has resolved to mobilise MDM workers of the state highlighting their precarity for years together.
For the last two decades, 2.5 lakh workers from marginalised sections are working as mid-day meal workers in Bengal drawing a meagre honorarium. In 2013, a monthly honorarium of Rs.1,500 was sanctioned, which is still continuing without an increase of a single pie. While in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Puduchery, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, they are being paid a sum of Rs. 7,600, Rs. 3,000, Rs. 3,000, Rs.1,650, Rs. 6,458 , Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 2,000 respectively, the state government under Mamata Banerjee has not increased the monthly honorarium till date. In fact, Bengal is paying the lowest honorarium in comparison to other states. Though a number of representations has been made to the concerned education department, they have not paid any heed to mitigate the economic hardship of the mid-day meal workers.
The top brass of the state education department, which controls and supervises this scheme is now mired by grave economic scandal for illegal recruitment of primary, pre-primary and secondary school teachers after accepting mind-boggling amount of rupees as bribe depriving the legitimate candidates, who are now on the warpath. This scandal has now hit the state politics and top ministers of the cabinet are grilled every day by the CBI. Demonstrations against this highly corrupt state government have become a regular affair.
In this abnormal situation of spiraling price rise, it is imperative to increase the budgetary allocation of mid-day meal per student. AICCTU has demanded to increase the existing budget to Rs 10 per student, so that nutritious meal could be provided.
A mass signature campaign is going on among the mid-day meal workers, guardians, and members of the civil society demanding increase in their honorarium, introducing government stipulated minimum wages, recognition as workers, social security benefit, accident insurance, increasing budgetary allocation and providing nutritious meals to the students etc. This memorandum would be submitted to the Chief Minister of the State.
Meanwhile, initiatives have been taken to organise the MDM workers in different forms and small group meetings are being organised. ν
Jute Workers Convention Resolves to Fight Back
A successful state-level convention of Jute workers was held on 23 May at Kolkata, where jute workers of different mills participated. The jute industry of the state is now in throes, passing through multiple crises. A total of 14 mills are closed in the pretext of shortage of raw materials, more than fifty thousand workers are out of employment. The skyrocketing price rise has thrown them from a frying pan to fire!
The irony is that despite a bumper crop of raw jute this year, a powerful section of raw jute traders in tandem with the speculative owners of jute mills (quite a number of owners being jute traders themselves) closed their mills to create artificial crisis of raw materials. Extracting high premium from raw jute was their main target. The Jute Commissioner of India intervened at this juncture and clamped a cap on the price of raw jute at Rs 6,500 per quintal. The mill owners objected to this cap, closed one mill after another on the pretext of non-availability of raw jute, rendering thousands of workers jobless even as the pandemic was raging high. And, both the State and Central governments remained as silent observers during this grave crisis. It was accompanied by a political tussle. Arjun Singh, a history sheeter and a turncoat and now a BJP MP from Barrackpore industrial belt (predominantly jute belt), joined the BJP on the eve of last Loksabha elections, after Mamata denied a ticket. An owner of a number of jute mills, Arjun Singh, was instrumental for the firing of the Minister of Textiles for clamping a price cap on raw jute and started his 'homeward ' return journey to the Trinamool Congress. As a BJP MP he had considerable clout in the corridors of power at New Delhi, and the BJP, fearing of another series of desertions that might cost it dearly, was forced to roll back the cap. The Central Government, hurriedly issued a notification declaring removal of the previous price cap on raw jute. However, this couldn’t stop Arjun Singh from homecoming and he officially joined the Trinamool again. The situation is now favourable for reopening of the closed jute mills and its mainly a matter of time.
The convention unanimously adopted 27-point Charter of Demand of jute workers and a campaign will be launched in the entire jute belt of the state on the same demands. It has been decided that four district level workers conventions will be held in the month of June at Howrah, Hoogly, 24 Parganas (North) and 24 Parganas (South). Grassroot level programmes including department and shop level meetings are to be held as a preparation towards a higher phase of struggle.
The representatives of different Central Trade Unions emphasised on the need to fix grade scale, and to enhance the existing abysmally low wages of jute workers that has become a main obstacle for recruiting new and young workers in the industry. Dearth of workers due to low wages in both tea and jute is telling upon the productivity and viability of this labour-intensive industry of the state.
Engaging huge number of informal labour force, sans social security benefits, that is not reflected in the muster rolls have become a consistent problem of this industry where law of the land is mercilessly evaded. As yet, no steps have been initiated by the labour department or law enforcing agencies against these erring mill owners. This industry is plagued by a disease of huge default (dues) of PF - ESI and gratuity accounts. Though enjoying a captive market of guaranteed orders from the Central government, the owners of the mills are not interested in modernising the age-old machinery, rather they want to extract super profit within a short period of time. Of late, new machines are installed in some mills, invariably reducing the workforce. As the man-machine ratio is not fixed based on any industrial norms, this indiscriminate modernisation has become a bone of contention too.
Mazahar Khan, state leader of Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Forum (AICCTU), and secretary of Agarpara Jute Mills Union, was the first speaker of this workers' convention. He exposed the cruel side of oppression, complained that the management is engaging bouncers, threatening workers and is forcing them to accept humanly impossible workload norms. Workers of other jute mills expressed their plight and predicament and all the speakers in unison felt the necessity of fighting this battle unitedly and with all the might.
All the trade unions of the industry participated in this convention. ν
Tuticorin Port Container Drivers Strike
The container lorry drivers union of Tuticorin port, affiliated to AICCTU, led by the Port leader Comrade Sagayam and the state president Comrade Sankara Pandian, struck work on 28th and 29th May on the issue of the death of a worker, who was a crane operator, while on duty in the DBGT terminal owned by a private company. All workers in that terminal went on a strike against the Port administration and the company management demanding compensation and enforcement of safety rules. The port and the company declined to accept the demands.
In such a situation of deadlock in talks between the management and the terminal workers, the Container lorry drivers union, affiliated to AICCTU, joined the strike in solidarity with the striking workers and at the same time raising the demands of container drivers who were suffering because of lack of basic amenities in the Port.
AICCTU demanded a compensation of Rs 25 lakhs to the family of the deceased and also employment to the heir of the deceased.
Hundreds of container drivers were stranded inside the port, because of terminal workers strike, without being able to load and unload export - import items that were carried in the container and the ship. Moreover, there were no basic amenities, including drinking water, toilets, canteen,etc., available inside the port for stranded drivers.
It is in such a situation, AICCTU joined the strike of terminal workers combining the demands of container drivers as well and upheld the unity of workers. Containers stopped running and were parked inside the port and also outside the port, in the entire city of Tuticorin. The operations of the Port came to a grinding halt for two days.
Finally, because of mounting pressure by AICCTU, the management and the Port admin agreed to concede a demand of Rs 10 lakhs compensation and a job to the family of the deceased.
On the issue of container drivers too, the Port admin agreed to provide drinking water immediately and scheduled a meeting with the Port higher officials to resolve other issues.
The militant solidarity strike by AICCTU for two days forced the admin to resolve the issues of the deceased and also the issues of container drivers. This is considered to be a model of solidarity struggle of permanent, contract and other workers which otherwise would have resulted in some kind of antagonism among workers. The situation was turned into a united struggle because of AICCTU intervention. AICCTU and CPIML leaders Comrades Sivaraman and Murugan also played a key role in making the strike successful.
AICCTU salutes the workers and container drivers for the militant, united struggle of all workers.ν