A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 17 | No. 48 | 25 NOV - 1 DEC 2014
Resisting the Modimix of Corporate Plunder and Communal Venom
'Government that cares for the poor, government that lives for the poor' – this is how Narendra Modi had described his would-be government addressing newly elected party MPs in his first speech in the central hall of Parliament. That was on 20 May, 2014, six days before he was actually sworn in as Prime Minister. Six months later as Narendra Modi returns to India after completing yet another long foreign trip, the new regime has indisputably established itself as India's most openly corporate-driven government till date, government that is completely dedicated to big business, government that exists for Adani-Ambani and their ilk.
A picture is worth a thousand words, goes the adage. Two images of Modi out of the thousands that we have seen in the last six months give us a clearer idea about his government than all the broom-wielding photo-ops showcasing Modi and other BJP leaders and ministers. The first picture was Modi climbing into an Adani jet to fly from Ahmedabad to Delhi before his May 26 swearing-in. The second was when Modi went to Mumbai to inaugurate the latest Ambani hospital to provide us with that rare photo of Mukesh Ambani patting Modi on his back. If it took the Radia tapes to testify to the UPA variety of crony capitalism, Modi is brazen in displaying his intimacy with Adani and Ambani.
Indeed, the rise of Gautam Adani as India's tenth biggest dollar billionaire has been an integral part of the larger Narendra Modi saga. Adani's financial muscle grew from 765 million USD in 2002 to 8.8 billion USD in 2013. Adani virtually grabbed Kutch after the disastrous 2001 earthquake, using the exemptions and incentives granted in the name of post-quake rebuilding of Kutch to build his own economic empire. And now the central government is on the job – it has granted environmental clearance for Adani's massive SEZ project in Gujarat which was dubbed illegal by the Gujarat High Court and the SBI has sanctioned 1 billion USD (Rs 6000 crore) loan for Adani's coal mining venture in Australia. It should be noted that between March 31, 2014 and September 30, 2014, Adani group's outstanding bank loan has already shot up by Rs 7653.33 crore to reach an astronomical Rs 72,632.37 crore.
Ahead of the winter session of Parliament, the Modi government has clearly unveiled its reckless pro-corporate pro-FDI agenda. The notorious coal ordinance has already opened up the coal sector for private commercial mining, the shares of ONGC are up for sale, diesel price has been deregulated and gas pricing policy has been revised to raise domestic gas price by a third. Key sectors like defence, insurance and railways are being opened up big time for foreign investment, and the drug price control regime has been subverted to allow foreign pharmaceutical majors to make bigger profits from the Indian market. India's intellectual property laws are being subjected to US monitoring and US pharma MNC representatives are being allowed to openly lobby with Indian patent officials and judiciary.
Add to this the ongoing subversion of welfare legislations and the new government's economic agenda become as clear as daylight. Labour laws are being amended to free companies from any monitoring regarding compliance with factory laws and give them a free hand to hire and fire on their own terms without bothering about the laws of the land. The MNREGA is being sought to be restricted to select districts and degraded from its present status as an employment guarantee act to an employment generation scheme dependent on the whims of the government of the day. The land acquisition act is being sought to be amended to dilute provisions of consent and compensation for land-losing farmers and remove landless livelihood losers from the ambit of compensation and rehabilitation. The food security act is being subjected to endless dilly-dallying even as the process of capitulation to the pressure of rich countries on the issue of food subsidy has begun with the recent Indo-US deal on WTO's Bali round.
Accompanying this anti-poor economic offensive is the new regime's relentless campaign for deepening RSS control over the country's system of education and research and information and broadcasting. So six months after the BJP's ascent to power we are faced with this ominous Modimix of corporate plunder and communal venom. The new regime has accelerated the processes of concentration of wealth, centralisation of power and communalisation of society. The fighting contingents of the Indian people will have to summon all their strength to challenge and defeat this dangerous design.
Historic Strike by West Bengal Tea Garden Workers
On 11-12 November, tea garden workers in West Bengal registered a militant protest demanding minimum wages and other workers' rights. They held a 48-hours strike in the entire tea sector of North Bengal, and a 12-hour general strike in three tea intensive districts and 2 sub-divisions.
It is a well-known fact that tea garden workers in Bengal, who produce tea which is enjoyed across the world, work under abominable conditions and are paid extremely paltry amounts for their hard labour. The fact of the matter is that the wage paid to tea workers is less than the wage given to agricultural labours under MNREGA, which is Rs 167 per day in West Bengal. As a result of the persistent denial of rights, there have been several deaths due to malnutrition and illness in the tea gardens of north Bengal.
On 11-12 November, lakhs of workers in nearly 300 tea gardens in Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a strike demanding the declaration of minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a meagre wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day. There was absolutely no work in 103 tea gardens in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration as the workers supported the strike.
The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions operating in the tea gardens, including AICCTU. CPI(ML) CC member Comrade Abhijit Majumdar is joint convenor of this joint forum of trade unions. All these trade unions had called this united protest against the Trinamool Congress led government in West Bengal, which has been continuously denying even basic rights to tea garden workers. While the trade unions have been insisting on the declaration of minimum wages, the Bengal government has only agreed to increase the wages by Rs 40 that too in a phased manner in three years — Rs 18, Rs 11 and Rs 11, respectively. Several rounds of negotiations had taken place between the tea garden workers and the West Bengal government; the government however refused to release a notification declaring minimum wages for workers in the tea industry.
The strike was a huge success as workers in three districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and parts of two districts Coochbehar and Uttar Dinajpur chose not to work. The Joint Forum of trade unions also called for a 12-hour general strike in the entire area, demanding rights for tea garden workers.
Working Women's Workshop in West Bengal
Close on the heels of the working women's workshop held successfully in Hooghly on 9 November, a state level workshop was held jointly by AICCTU and AIPWA on Nov. 16 in Kolkata. This workshop was also aimed at concretizing women workers' specific demands to be raised during the upcoming united workers' rally and congregation organized by AICCTU on Rani Rashmani Road on the coming 8th December. Trade Union leaders as well as working women comrades from various sectors such as Asha, Anganwari, Mid-day Meal, Domestic Work etc. took part. Some salient points that came up in the workshop paper (presented by comrade Atanu Chakravarti) and the ensuing discussions are-
1. The demand for conducting an extensive 'labour census' of women workers in the state must be constantly raised and popularised.
2. Rights won on the question of sexual harrasment at the workplace, along with the current legal understanding of the 'workplace' as the 'world of work' (including not just the confines of the workplace but also all spaces involving commutes and travels related to the work) must be disseminated widely through awareness programmes.
3. Equal rights, Dignity, Equal wages, Social security are the overarching slogans for the massive contingent of women workers.
4. Social security (including rights to health, pension, children's education) is either completely absent or grossly inadequate. While 5 types of schemes exist for organised workers, there are 9 categories of schemes for unroganized workers – but these remain mostly on paper and the budgetory allocation for 95% of India's working population (employed in the unorganised sector) is a meagre breadcrumb of 1000 crores.
5. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Programme) was discussed at length, and demands for extending it to women workers of all sectors (for example Mid-day meal workers who are left out of its scope) came up as an immediate demand.
6. Three sectors where women are exclusively employed as workers – Asha, Anganwadi and Mid-day meal – were discussed at some length. It is important to note the different terminologies employed by the government in these three sectors. The Anganwadi workers are "honorary workers", the Anganwadi workers are "cook-cum-helpers" whereas Asha workers are "honorary volunteers"! These terminologies imply that the government trivialises women working in these sectors as something "less than a worker", and thus deserving less or no labour rights! A detailed assessment of the terminology and associated rights showed a direct correlation between the degree of trivialisation of terminology and rights denied! For example, for the Asha "volunteers", there are no monthly salaries but performance-based incentives! There are no holidays nor are there PF rights! For Mid-day meal workers, the rights to 'permanent work' is eternally denied so is the acknowledgement as full-fledged workers. For Anganwadi workers, official salary is replaced by monthly honorariums! There exist no rules whatsoever for increments, employment or permanence of work!
7. The National Labour Conference has demanded women working in all the above three sectors to be acknowledged as workers by the government and to be brought under the scope of minimum wages, social security rights such as pension, gratuity, health and maternity rights.
8. At present India has 25.7 lakh Mid-day meal workers. Our mid-day meal union has submitted a charter of demands to the Rajya Sabha standing committee, demanding among other things, an 'Employment Standing Order' to be instituted (which should specify rules of recruiting, employment conditions, and implement safeguards against arbitrary firing). This demand should be made more popular.
9. Citing a recent MHRD Empowered Committee meeting minutes, the appalling discrepancy in the wages of Mid-day Meal workers was exposed. Whereas Kerala pays 4500-6000, Tamil Nadu 5500-7500, Puducherry 5000-9000, Lashadweep 6000, West Bengal pays its MDM workers a wage of 1500 per month! Budgetory allocations for the MDM sector over the years 2007-2014/15 was discussed to show the insensitivity of the government towards women in this sector.
10. The Domestic Worker sector, comprising presently of 1 crore workers, and 15 lakhs being added annually – the only women-dominated sector that's recognised as workers – is also fraught with gross violation of labour rights. Starting from the non-ratification of the ILO convention, no minimum wages, no mechanisms for redressal of sexual harassment complaints (and disputes not being treated as labour disputes), and no central labour law to cover the domestic workers, no regulation of the exploitative agancies, no check on trafficking the list is long. The 2010 draft of a law resulting from the central government's own task force report is still not passed as an act.
11. Demands in the Domestic Workers sectors must include specifying minimum wages (per hour, per day and per month) on a high priority. All Domestic workers must be covered by the RSBY health scheme. Weekly and annual leave rights must be ensured and ward-level grievance redressal mechanism for sexual harassment and labour disputes must be demanded. Here again, the examples of several states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Rajasthan, TN, Maharashtra were discussed – where minimum wages and/or social security acts for domestic workers have been put in work. But West Bengal has done neither.
12. Several key issues regarding women workers in the construction sector and Beedi sector were also discussed and demands charted out.
Several participants of the workshop – comrades Jahanara, Chaitali, Kajal, Archana, Jayashree, Sabita, Kasturi, Mamata, Swapna and others - chipped in with their concrete experiences and suggestions. Comrade Basudab Bose conducted and comrade Meena Pal summed up the discussions.
West Bengal Blast Probe
Witch-hunt by Investigative Agencies
Ever since the Burdwan bomb blast, there has been a new phase of witch hunt of minorities in West Bengal. Corporate media houses have been running kangaroo trails based on half baked information and misleading facts.
Two men were killed in the blast – Shakil Ahmed and Sovan Mandal. The police, and later the NIA and NSG too, zeroed in on the theory that the perpetrators were associates of Shakil Ahmad, ignoring Sovan Mandal largely.
The story of two young workers, Zulfikar Ali (35) and Haider Ali (34), victims of the witch-hunt is a harrowing one. It underlines how due process and civil liberties are blithely crushed underfoot by investigative agencies.
After three weeks of incarceration, torture and humiliation Zulfikar Ali and Haider Ali(34) were released by the Jammu and Kashmir Police on 30th October evening. Zulfikaar and Haider were picked up by Jammu and Kashmir Police from their rented home in Kanshipura Gausia of Baramula district on 6th and 8th October respectively.
After retrieving their id cards from the police, they boarded a home bound train on 2nd November and reached on 4th November. They held a press conference on 5th November at Rampurhat. Comrade Malay Tewari and Comrade Pradyot Mukherji of CPI(ML) were present at that press conference.
For several years Haider had been going to Kashmir to work as a mason. Zulfikar joined him six months back. Rabiul, Zulfikar's elder brother has been working there for almost a decade. These three used to stay in in a rented house. On the night of 6th October on the day of Bakrid, police raided their rented house in civil dress, and picked up Rabiul and Zulfikar. They were taken to Baramulla Police Station, where they were slapped and verbally abused. They were asked whether they know how to use fire arms. Then the police released Rabiul after getting him to sign a form written in Urdu.
The next day Rabiul with the help of his colleagues Tipu and Barkat and some other friends got to know that Zulfikar was arrested because of his supposed connection with the 'West Bengal Case' (i.e. Burdwan blast). Next day while at work Rabiul got an emergency phone call from Haider and he came back to their rented house and finds it again being raided by police. A scared Rabiul spent that night at a friend's place and boarded a home bound train on the very next day. After reaching home he was informed by his friends from Baramulla that police arrested Haider.
Zulfikar and Haider live in village called Nayagram of Murari-1 Block in Birbhum. When Rabiul with the help of local school teachers and other neighbours called the Baramulla Police Station, police told them that "they were merely assisting the IB". The Murari Police denied to lodge a formal diary entry. On 21st October, Comrade Malay, Comrade Ashoke from Birbhum District Committee and comrade Bilas visited Zulfikar's home in Nayagram. Haider's mother told that his son Haider is introvert in nature, liked by their fellow villagers because of his sweet behaviour and masonry skills with which he constructed the arched mosque of their village.
Zulfikar told the press that he was arrested on 6th October evening on the day of Bakrid. The next day, he was sent to Cargo Joint Interrogation Centre, where he was tortured for several consecutive days. He was given electric shocks in his body parts other than being beaten by lathi and belts made of tyres by 6 IB personnel. According to Zulfikar, he was repeatedly asked why he and his friends went sightseeing instead of leaving Kashmir when most of the migrant labourers were leaving because of the flood. Based on the videos in Zulfikar's mobile taken during their trip, police further arrested Haider.
On 16th October Zulfikar was sent to another makeshift jail within army barracks, where he met Haider. Haider too was heckled, manhandled and abused while in custody. Haider was arrested with Rs 11200, but while being released Police deducted a sum of Rs 3200 from Haider's money as a 'price' of their food. They were never given any arrest memo or any such documents.
On 12th October Times of India reported the arrest of these two youths without naming them, but connecting them with the Burdwan blast and ISIS in a 'bigger game plan'. But with the intervention of civil liberties activists and political activists, the facts began to emerge and the media could not continue with its witch-hunt.
According to story published in 'Indian Express' on 25th October the Jammu and Kashmir DG K Rajindra stated that NIA is conducting the entire investigation, and after thorough investigation they have concluded that the Burdwan blast has no connection with Kashmir, and nobody was arrested in this regard. He further informed that they had detained two people for interrogation, but both of them were released subsequently. Even while talking to our representatives the DG repeatedly said that they have no clue about these two people after them being released. On 28th October he finally said he will see what can be done even these two people are not found after three days. It was after all these efforts that the two men were released on 30th October.
How can the investigative agencies be allowed to abduct people (holding people without informing family of their whereabouts amounts to abduction) and torture them? Had Rabiul and various activists not pursued the case relentlessly, would it not have been all too easy for the investigators to torture the men into a 'confession'? How can the media blithely talk of 'ISIS' connections and brand people as terrorists, and not even have to apologise?
Even failing to produce any substantial evidence after repeated police 'investigation' – i.e indiscriminate raids in the madarsas – most of the media is shamelessly spreading communal stereotypes against the minority community.
AICCTU - HAL Contract Workers Struggle Charter!
Thousands of contract workers of HAL assembled on 20 Nov. 2014 to elect their new office-bearers and to submit their Charter of Demands (C0D) to the HAL Management. Casual and Contract Workers' Association of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore, affiliated to AICCTU, held its General Body Meeting on 20 Nov. 2014. Series of gate meetings addressed by Com. Balan, state president of AICCTU and V Shankar, All India Vice President, culminated in the general body meeting of contract workers of HAL.
The General Body unanimously re-elected Com. Balan as the president, reposing complete confidence in him and removed corrupt, careerist elements from the leadership. Com. Srinivas was elected General Secretary of the new team of Office Bearers.
The Charter of Demands was also passed by the general body to be submitted to the HAL management. Workers demanded abolition of contract labour system in HAL, same pay and service conditions for those engaged in same and similar kind of work, etc.
The workers decided to intensify their struggle to achieve the charter of demands in the coming period.
The General Body was addressed by Com. Balan, State President of AICCTU, Shankar V, AICCTU All India Vice President, Gandhimathi, AIPWA, Mohan Kumar, AICCTU Bangalore City Convenor among others.
Repression on Massive Student Movement in Mexico
A massive student movement is underway in Mexico against the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, suspected of being abducted and murdered. The students had gone to protest a speech by the Mayor's wife, and it is suspected that the police captured them and handed them over to a drug cartel to have them killed.
Protesters have held President Enrique Pena Nieto responsible, and have set fire to the doors of the national palace in Mexico City. Mexico's Attorney General has told parents the students were murdered by criminals on police orders. Three gang members have apparently confessed to loading the students on to trucks, murdering them at a landfill, burning their bodies and dumping their remains in a river.
The Mexico government has responded to the protests with brutal repression. Eight men and three women among the protestors are under arrest and being held in maximum-security facilities, and they also face charges of homicidal intent and organized crime.
The disappearances and brutal killing of the students, followed by the crackdown and arrests of protestors, are compounding the anger of Mexican people against the corrupt political system and repressive police force. "#YaMeCansé" or "I'm fed up" has become one of the rallying slogans of the massive protests, along with "#LibertadPresosPoliticos", or "Freedom for Political Prisoners".