On the 27th of November, the contract workers union of BSNL are taking a most important and necessary step. On this day nearly one lakh contract workers employed in BSNL are going on strike across India. It is a united strike action by all workers around eleven key demands crucial for the contract workers.

1) Regularisation of left out casual and contract workers.
2) Casual labor wage to be the same as the lowest wage of BSNL instead of DOT.
3) Minimum Wage as per Government Orders to be implemented for the contract workers, including higher wages for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled as per A, B, and C cities.
4) Wages must be paid through cheque/account in time. Even if contractor changes, the same workers should continue.
5) Implementation of Social Security measures like EPF, ESI, and Gratuity, Bonus.
6) HRA quarters to be allotted to contract workers.
7) EPF account to be opened by Principal Employer instead of contractor.
8) Issue ID cards by BSNL management.
9) Equal pay for Equal work for contract workers.
10) Vacate Victimisation – Reinstate all retrenched workers.
11) Recognize BSNL Casual Contract Workers Federation.

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Duality of responsibility b/w company and contractors. Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

The need for unity and organization. Unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

The Causes and Consequences of the BSNL workers strike

– Comrade KrantiGarjana

Major workers unions in BSNL called a strike on 1st and 2nd Dec

Their main Demands were:
1) Govt compensate for the losses on 3G spectrum allocation.
2)Effect a roll back on Disinvestment of BSNL.
3)Provide Advance Technology to BSNL.
4)Make the company free from bureaucratic obstacles
At the end of the strike none of these demand could be achieved.
Throughout its history, the telecom sector has seen a decided discrimination in favor of private enterprises and every Bourgeois Govt in power under the direction of their Capitalist boses used the public sector telecom units as cash cows. Be it the BJP or the Congress both followed a policy of actively undermining BSNL. The situation became particularly adverse after the ‘liberalization’ of the economy. As a result of increased competition faced from private companies in the telecom sector, coupled with discriminatory practices of the government, the BSNL employees were pushed in the direction of militancy to defend their company. Obviously, the government’s attitude aims towards fully privatizing the company much to the detriment of the workers and employees . It was against this backdrop that the decision to strike was called. The final straw for the workers were of course the spectrum scandal.
The strike itself was unsuccessful in meeting any of its demands. The reasons put forward by the unions to abruptly call of the strike were :
1) To keep up competition with the pvt sector companies *(where militancy is less)
2) Customer welfare. i.e. minimal difficulty to the customer
3) To keep good relations between private corporations and the government
Thus, we see the core reason for BSNL’s present dismal state of affairs is due to the intention of the bourgeois governments and their bureaucrat lackeys.
The strike in Calcutta like the rest of the country was carried out in a most bureaucratized manner by the unions. But in Calcutta the workers openly disobeyed their union bureaucrat bosses and gatecrashed their way back to work by breaking the picket line. These workers who broke the picket weren’t scabs or from unions affiliated with the bourgeois parties, but active members of left wing unions which called the strike. This act was an open mutiny against the bureaucratization of the union and of the leadership. Incidents like this point towards the failure of the unions to present a militant alternative for the working class in BSNL . The net result of such unionism is that workers lose faith in the unions.
The only solution before us now is towards building a new militant working class leadership which can fulfill the much desired need for working class militancy at BSNL.