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.

Report on the General Strike of the 7th of Spetember

The 7th of September proved itself to be a landmark day in many ways in the history of worker’s struggles in India. For the first time in the history of independent India all major central trade union bodies united in action for a one day general strike. The action brought together 100 million workers across the country in unison to fight against the forces of capitalism. In most major metros across India and particularly in the states ruled by the left front parties (whose unions called for the general strike) the strike was overwhelmingly successful. Primary among the support for the strike were workers in the lower levels of employment in service sectors and industrial workers. To some degree unorganized sector workers also joined in support particularly so in the left front governed states. The Strikes in other parts of India were no less muted with Mumbai and Delhi practically shut down by the strike which included in its fold the unions of taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers. However, a few key observations were evinced during the course of struggle from its inception to its execution.

1) The faulty and jagged leaderships of the unions:

Initially the strike action was called by the left unions affiliated with the leading Stalinist parties of the CPI, CPM, SUCI and those of petty bourgeois radical formations like the Forward Bloc. This call was supported from the BMS which is affiliated with the BJP initially. The INTUC which is a union affiliated with the Congress party, opposed the strike call on account of it’s mother party being in government in the centre. Both of these unions presented a show of confusion for the working class where the BMS withdrew their support midway and only after they withdrew did the INTUC support the strike. Whatever are the reasons behind this action the withdrawal of support by the BMS and the entrance of the INTUC in support sowed in the minds of the workers a feeling of utter confusion. The left unions led by the various left parties in India along with a large independent body (namely the HMS) were the only ones consistent in supporting the strike action. However, low awareness among the masses and bureaucratized control and limitations imposed by the Stalinist apparatus of the CPI, CPIM and most of the left parties in the lead served to skew the impact of the strike, ensuring that although it would be a big mobilization of the working class it would not be a “death dealing blow”. The bureaucratizations of the union bodies remain a bane of the Indian trade union movement.

2) Minimalist demands and reformist perspectives:

Though our support for the strike action was unconditional it can never be uncritical. The leadership of the strike action fell squarely to the hands of the major bourgeois parties and Stalinist oriented left. The end result of this scheme of things was a compromised approach which incorporated within the demands of the striking workers support to dying private sector enterprises through a stimulus package as a measure to protect jobs. This among other demands presents the reformist perspectives of the leadership of the strike action. The four basic demands of the strike action were:

a) The halting of ongoing divestment from the public sector.

b) The strict implementation of labor laws for workers in the unorganized sector.

c) The expansion of the social security safety net for the workers in the unorganized sector by removing restrictions in the Workers Social Security Act 2008

d) A stimulus package for private sector companies to ensure employment.

e) The universalization of the PDS system.

Along side these aforementioned demands the unions also demanded a package of 50000 crore rupees for distribution into the unorganized sector for the benefit of the workers employed therein. Till date the central government in power has committed itself to none of the aforementioned demands and of the 50000 crore demanded by the unions only 1000 crore has so far been distributed and there is no guarantee thus far that the government will commit itself to the remaining 49000crore rupees. The issue of the Public Distribution system was addressed by the government where they felt the need for “improving the PDS”. No word on whether the government will move to universalize the Public Distribution system which is an essential component in the chain of distribution of agricultural products. It is in the inefficiency of the distribution process (hijacked as it is by the bureaucrats of the government on the one hand and sabotaged by the forces of the market on the other) that has been one of the factors leading to the rising inflation of food prices. The complications of the inflationary situation was deepened by the manner in which inflation is calculated in India which is unique in the world in which the general inflationary level is calculated taking consumer product prices and clubbing them together with capital goods’ prices. What this means for the working majority in the country is that the general rise in prices is not reflective of the actual burden on the shoulders of the working class. It also means that wage levels decided by the state and central authorities do not take into consideration the general inflation level for fixing wage levels. Strangely enough this was never raised in the gamut of demands by the unions in their strike action.

3) Token nature of the Strike:

The strike albeit large in quantitative terms was qualitatively weakened first by the jagged leadership and fluidity of the union leaderships in its commitment and then by the diminishing of its impact by containing it to a one day strike. A one day strike was yet again a product of the minimalist perspectives of the leadership of the strike action which albeit had the potential to advance into one for an indefinite period and take into its fold strategic sectors like that of transportation. (The leading railway unions supported the strike). However, the essential significance of the strike is in no way undone by these limitations but merely bring into relief the myriad weaknesses of the trade union in the lead of the struggles of the working class.

Conclusion: –

A combination of the aforementioned factors in the agitation had led to a relatively low level of awareness and enthusiasm among the working populace who came out in support of the strike. It was not as though the issues called for were in any way alienated from the masses or that they had no interest in participating in an agitation addressing these issues. What was at fault in the execution of the action was the bureaucratization of the union bodies which has served to act as a burden upon the advanced vanguard of the Indian proletariat. What we must thus aim for in our work within the unions is to constantly and uncompromisingly fight to democratize the unions and convert them from the existing tools of oppression at the hand of the bourgeois into schools for revolution creating conditions for the further advancement of the working class organized in them.

Finally the core reason for the arousal of the working class into militant struggles is the incessant assault of the bourgeois state upon the rights and conditions of living of the working class and its class allies which has reached climactic proportions.

The present Indian government and its Corporationist agenda, that aims at unbridled and unrestrained development of capitalism at the cost of human lives, has brought upon the people of the country unprecedented levels of suffering and misery. Not in the last 63 years of capitalism in post-independent India have the brute force of the state and the devastating destructive power of capitalism be combined in so sinister a manner and undemocratically at that. The present government of the Congress and its allies are undertaking policies which are but keeping with the policy of unfettered and reckless expansion of capitalist forces operating in India and almost certainly at the expense of the working class and its allies in the countryside. Whilst the previous UPA government of the Congress had to undertake some important concessions notably schemes like NREGA under pressure from the centrist forces lead by the Stalinists in the Left Front, the present alliance has no such burden to hinder its intentions to effect the unbridled expansion of capitalism and do so more freely and brutally. The previous elections in the year 2009 in many ways can be said to be a watershed in the recent history of Indian democracy and of the Congress party which saw the return of the Congress with a sizable majority and the complete subjugation of opposition forces both to the left and the right ( namely of the CPI & Left front parties in the left and the BJP in the right ) . It should be remembered in this context that the Congress party has been and will remain as long as Indian capitalism remains the most concrete political expression of the India bourgeois class, one cannot expect any kind of reconciliation because in the ultimate their policies are aimed not at the benefit of the masses but of their hated ruling class that of the Indian bourgeois class organized in giant oligarchies like those of the Tatas and Birlas.

Under conditions of a world crisis the political relations within Indian capitalism had merely come into greater relief as did the intensity of the social upheaval caused by proletarianization of the rural masses in the form of an intensification of the civil war in the countryside. It is the policies of the incumbent government combined with the negative effects of a world wide economic crisis is what has caused the situation of social, economic and political upheaval. Whilst, the contradictions of Indian capitalism show themselves in the most tragic comic way in the ill preparedness and corruption plaguing the Commonwealth games creating a massive waste of public resources, we find millions of tons of precious grain rotting away in government godowns. For the petty greed of a few government bureaucrats, foods for 50 million Indians are going to waste.

This scheme of things makes the reformist oriented calls of the trade unions even more out of motion with the movement of the masses. This presents a case for a struggle on more advanced lines along transitional demands aiming at the conquest of power by the proletariat and the establishment of a revolutionary socialist regime in place of the existing Capitalist bourgeois state. The task of revolutionaries in India is to orient the emerging militant struggles of the working class and its class allies in the countryside towards the revolutionary seizure of power. An integral part of this task is to penetrate the rank and file of the organized proletariat to undertake the fight to orient unions in a revolutionary direction. The recent strike of the organized workers in India securing the support of 100 million workers all over the country, with all its weaknesses and shortcomings, shows in great degree the absolute urgency of this task.

Lessons from the strike: –

The general strike among other things has showed us the tremendous potential of the masses in India but in equal measure revealed weaknesses in the existing workers movement and in the organizations of the working class. The bureaucratization of the trade union bodies and their flawed orientation which emerges from either the flawed orientation of their affiliate parties or in the orientation of their mother organizations ( in case of the HMS the international trade union body of the ICFTU which is notorious for its pro capitalist liberal stance ) has served to cap the advance of the working class despite the enthusiasm of the working masses to the strike action. Thus, a movement which could have gained greater momentum and evolved from a limited struggle along economic lines into a more advanced political general strike was nipped in the bud by the leadership of the strike. It reveals thus, the negative influence of the trade union bureaucracy and of the bourgeois and Stalinist parties which have nothing to offer to the working class apart from a roadblock on the path to greater advance of militant consciousness and the evolution of the consciousness of the working class from its present stage to one of revolutionary consciousness. Struggles such as these can form the groundwork for such advancement however, in the presence of the counter revolutionary dead weight of Stalinism which only serves to ensure the continued dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in India such advancement cannot be achieved. Being a mass mobilization of the working class with an embryonic tendency towards further advancement of militancy we support the movement of the workers. But we as revolutionary Bolsheviks recognize the need to save this movement from the clutches of the trade union bureaucracy and from the ideological dead weight of Stalinism and equally important from the iron grip of the bourgeois parties by relentlessly fighting to overturn the bureaucracy within the trade union and of constantly exposing the treacherous role of the bourgeois parties in India and their allies in Stalinism in India. The strike action has revealed to us the path of future struggle which we must undertake. Namely, one of consistent struggle within the masses aimed against the bureaucratization of the trade union structure and resilient struggle against all forms of opportunism which aim at protecting the bourgeois and shield its political organs in the form of the bourgeois parties.