Stop the privatisation program!

End the anti-labour and anti-social offensive!

Keynote Speech at LRS Conference on Privatisation & Anti-Labour Offensive, April 2002

Comrades and friends,

End the anti-labour and anti-social offensive!

Keynote Speech at LRS Conference on Privatisation & Anti-Labour Offensive, April 2002

Comrades and friends,

I would like to begin by hailing the Lok Raj Sangathan for posing this very important and crucial question on the agenda today, namely: how to stop the privatisation program and how to end the anti-labour offensive. It is one thing to denounce this or that policy of the government. But to pose the question as to how to end the anti-social offensive means that we are seriously taking up the problem for solution.

I applaud LRS for formulating the topic in this manner. Organising this conference is a very timely initiative for advancing the cause of the working class and all the oppressed. It is an initiative which is in the general interest of society at large. I am honoured to present the keynote address on such an occasion.

Comrades and friends,

A wholesale attack has been launched in the name of globalisation through privatisation and liberalisation. Everything is being converted into commodities sold for maximum profit — everything including even water and health care, not to mention electric power and bus transport. Over the past 10 years, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost as a result of these “reforms”, including jobs in the modern communications sector. Livelihood has been destroyed for lakhs of peasants, adivasis, fisherfolk and other sections of working people. Yet the “reforms” are continuing because they are of benefit to the Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis and other big business interests of India and the multinational and imperialist interests abroad.

As part of the privatisation and liberalisation program, the rulers of India want to reform labour laws in favour of the employers, at the expense of job security. Proposed reforms in the Industrial Disputes Act and the Contract Labour Act were to have been tabled in the Parliament during this Budget session. But they have been postponed to a later date. They were postponed because the rulers calculated that the opposition of the working class and people will be too strong if the Budget measures, passing of POTO and the anti-labour legal amendments were all announced at the same time.

The program of privatisation and liberalisation, including the proposed amendments to labour laws in favour of the capitalist class, robbing of the people’s savings through cuts in interest rate and tax benefits, the passing of draconian laws like POTO, the unleashing of state organised pogroms and playing the politics of ‘riots’ — all this constitute one broad offensive. It is an offensive directed against the working class, the middle strata and all the working and oppressed people.

The struggle of the Indian working class against the privatisation program and the attacks on the rights of labour is important for the whole of Indian society. It is important because the most organised sections of those who labour are under attack. How this section fares in this struggle affects the fate of all those who labour, who constitute the majority in society.

If we, the working people, are to really end this offensive, we must have political power in our hands. We have to imbue ourselves with the consciousness that only those who labour have the right to rule. Political power in the hands of workers, peasants and all those who labour, with their hands or their brains or both, is the necessary condition for success in our struggle. Only then can we reorient the economy and economic policy in favour of those who work and not those who live off the labour of others. With the strategic aim of becoming the ruling class, the working class must set as its immediate aim the ending of the anti-labour and anti-social offensive. This is the first step and the most necessary step for the renewal of India.

Comrades and friends,

How far we workers succeed in the struggle against the program of privatisation and liberalisation, against the broad anti-social offensive, depends on how far we unite as a class.. How can such a fighting unity be built today against the program of privatisation and liberalisation? This is the real issue facing the working class today.

Today, the workers are uniting across party affiliation and organising united actions against the privatisation program. This, in itself, is a positive development. The demand that this development poses is the need to set clearly the political aim of our struggle. Unless the aim of the struggle is clearly defined, consistent and united political action by the entire working class will not be possible.

We know that we are being pulled in different directions. There are some leaders who want to use our discontent and anger for their own partisan aims, such as to replace the BJP with the Congress Party or some “secular” coalition at the head of the Central Government. Such leaders blame only the BJP and its method of implementing the privatisation program. They openly say that there is no escape from this harsh program. They suggest that a ‘pro-worker’ party or coalition of parties can implement this program with a ‘human face’.

Comrades and friends,

In order to stop the privatisation program, it is first of all essential to understand who is behind it. What really is the content and aim of this program? Who stands to gain from it, and who stands to lose? Is it just this or that party that is behind the privatisation program and the anti-social offensive or is it the ruling class as a whole?

Facts show that the entire capitalist system is facing a deep crisis today, in India and all over the world. Average annual economic growth has declined to a very low level, just 1 or 2% in most parts of the world, and negative in Japan, Argentina and other countries that have been most severely hit by the crisis. Faced with the pressure of falling average rates of profit in most industries, the biggest monopoly capitalists and international financial oligopolies are seeking to find new areas, new space for reaping the maximum rate of profit.

Privatisation is part of the attempt of the monopoly bourgeoisie, both Indian and foreign, to find a way out of the crisis at the expense of the workers, peasants and all the oppressed. The monopoly capitalists want to expand their private wealth at the maximum rate, in spite of the economic crisis. They want to do so by increasing the burden on the backs of the majority of the population. This is the real aim and content of the program of privatisation and liberalisation.

In the first phase of the program, initiated in 1991 by the Narasimha Rao government, privatisation largely took the form of throwing open sectors that had been reserved as state monopoly for new private entrants. This was the case of banking and some other financial services, as well as with hospitals and engineering colleges. Alongside this form of privatisation, sale of shares of state owned enterprises to private bidders also took place; but it was mostly the sale of a minor portion of the shareholding, while management control remained in the hands of the government. There were no cases that involved outright sale of a public enterprise to private owners.

In this first phase of the program, stronger emphasis was on liberalisation, or throwing open the Indian market for foreign goods and foreign investment, and lifting regulations on private profiteering in various sectors. In the present period of the “second generation of reforms” that were initiated by the Vajpayee Government in 1999, the pace of privatisation has been stepped up and the form has become more open, involving outright sale as in the case of Modern Foods, BALCO, VSNL, IBP and Hindustan Zinc.

Privatisation is a direct threat to security of livelihood of the workers in the ‘public sector’. The capitalists and their spokesemen say, “why do these workers need security when so many others have none?” And then they turn around to the workers in the private sector and say, “When even public sector workers no longer have any security, how dare you demand such things in the private sector?” Privatisation is the way by which the bourgeois class has intensified its attacks on the basic rights of the entire working class.

The privatisation program has been accompanied by the drive towards the increasing casualisation of labour. The proposed amendment to the Industrial Disputes Act is to raise the size limit of enterprises that need government permission before closing down or retrenching workers, from the present level of 100 workers to 1000 workers. If this is passed, then those in the management of the vast majority of enterprises in India can fire workers or close down production altogether whenever they please, purely on the basis of the private profit calculations of the owners and free from any other consideration.

The proposed amendment in the Contract Labour Act seeks to vastly extend the scope of the use of contract labour. The current laws formally restrict contract labour to work of a seasonal nature or work which can be proved to be not core to the particular company. The proposed amendment seeks to lift these restrictions, there by legalising what is already a growing but illegal practice in both the public and private sectors.

The spokesmen of imperialism and the Indian big bourgeoisie claim that the key to economic success for India is to deprive workers of their right to any security of employment. They claim that only if the Indian capitalists are so empowered that they can hire and fire workers at will can they become globally competitive. The proposed amendments to the labour laws are aimed only at fulfilling these illegitimate claims of the capitalist class.

By doing away with whatever legal protection that exists for workers in large-scale industry today, the rulers of India want to put an end to any state intervention in the workers’ interests. They want to amend the law to ensure only one thing. That one thing is that the Indian state will intervene strictly in the interests of big business, both Indian and international.

Comrades and friends,

What Bush, Vajpayee and others are trying to do, like one cartoonist has depicted, is to convince the workers and all labouring people, that the only right they have, is not to have any rights at all. This is their definition of human rights. Depriving working people of their rights, they claim, is necessary for the sake of the nation and society! However, how can it be accepted that inhuman conditions for those who labour can be in the best interest of society as a whole?

How can it be accepted that workers must run from one employer to another seeking work at daily wages, with no guarantee that their family will have enough to eat, while the government will provide guaranteed rates of profit to private monopolies such as Enron and Reliance?

When the process of production has become highly socialised, the question of one’s livelihood cannot be left to chance. The state has an obligation. Every member of society has rights, including the right to livelihood.

The chieftains of imperialism and the bourgeoisie want to define rights in any way they please, to suit their own self-interest. These proposals show how arrogant they have become at the present time. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, monopoly capitalists and financiers on the world scale have become more brazen in their claims, demanding that the whole of society should adjust to accommodate their greed for the maximum rate of profit in all circumstances. They are openly demanding that the State should provide guarantees only for the super rich to become richer at the maximum possible rate, while the rest of society can go to hell!

The demand to do away with legal protection for security of employment is a demand to return to the stage of European slave society, where slave owners had all the rights while the slaves had only duties. Such a demand is unacceptable in a society that calls itself modern and democratic. It is certainly unacceptable to the modern Indian working class.

We Indians, who have constantly rebelled against any form of slavery, will never accept this definition of a modern state that is in essence extremely backward. This proposition that the state has no obligation to the most numerous and most productive part of human society, the workers and peasants of this country, is completely unacceptable to us. We will never adopt the slavish, shameless and spineless character of the Indian bourgeoisie as our core value.

The right to work, to secure livelihood, is an inviolable right of every adult member of society. It is not a privilege that must be made available only to a small section of workers. The Indian Constitution of 1950, prepared by the then leaders of the Congress Party sitting in the Constituent Assembly formed under colonial rule, does not recognise the right to work as an inviolable and justiciable right. Work for all only appears as part of the directive principles of state policy, as a noble objective on paper, without any means for the workers to ensure its enforcement as a matter of right.

According to theories of governance that developed in the Indian subcontinent before the colonial conquest, the right of the State to levy and collect taxes emanated from the fulfillment of its duty of providing for the wellbeing of the people. From Rg Veda to Arthashastra and after, the necessity to suppress private profiteers and other vested interests has been considered as an essential duty of the State. This was seen as an essential condition to ensure prosperity and protection for all members of society.

Further, it was considered the right of the people not to pay taxes to a king who did not fulfill his duty of providing for their wellbeing. In fact, in the Mahabharata it is even said that the praja had the right to kill that raja who does not protect but oppresses them. Should not the Indian working class learn from the theories of rulership developed in India and the best from all over the world?

The most important lesson is that we, the working people, must demand the enshrining of the right to work as an inalienable, inviolable and justiciable right. We should demand our right to establish a new constitution, a new fundamental law of the land, which will enable us to enforce our rights. We must demand and struggle to establish new arrangements, a new state that will protect the rights of labour and of human beings, and suppress all vested interests inimical to society.

Comrades and friends,

Ever since the Great October Revolution ushered in a society and economic system based on social and collective ownership of the means of production, the world has been witnessing an acute clash between the capitalist way and the socialist way. Should society be organised on the basis of the drive of private owners of productive assets to maximise their profits, with the corresponding anarchy and periodic or continual destruction of jobs and livelihood? Or should it be organised on the basis of the working people collectively taking control of the means of social production and deploying them to fulfill the needs of all members of society in a planned way?

When India gained political independence in 1947, power was transferred from the hands of the British colonialists into the hands of the Indian big capitalists and big landlords, who dominated the leadership of the Congress Party. These new rulers of India made a conscious decision that India would follow the capitalist way and not the socialist way. However, they were faced with the fact that the workers and peasants of India had immense love and respect for socialism and communism. The example of the Soviet Union, where the socialist state guaranteed the right to work and secure livelihood for all the working people, reinforced the longstanding aspirations of the people in the Indian subcontinent to establish a social system that would ensure sukh and raksha for all its members.

The new rulers of India found a way to satisfy their own narrow aims while at the same time pacifying the masses of workers and peasants. They found this way which they called the Nehruvian “socialistic pattern of society”, which was presented as a middle road or a third way, different from both capitalism and socialism. The Tatas, Birlas and other big business houses sat together and formulated the Bombay Plan on the eve of Indian independence. They decided that the State would invest public funds to create a “public” sector of heavy industry and infrastructure, so as to facilitate the expansion of the private empires of the capitalists. They also decided that this should be presented to the people as a “socialistic pattern of society”.

As part of the illusions created with the slogan of building a “socialistic pattern of society”, the impression was also created that the workers in the public sector can enjoy a secure and prosperous life without having to wage class struggle against the bourgeoisie. These illusions are now being shattered as the big bourgeois class is revealing its true face and openly attacking all sections of the working class.

Today, the Indian big bourgeoisie and its foreign collaborators are eager to destroy much of this “public” sector that they themselves created in the past. Why is this the case? This change in policy is dictated by the laws of capitalism, by the nature of the bourgeois class. It is not a matter of this or that party. The parties of the bourgeoisie find ways to implement the program set by the bourgeois class in power.

In the conditions prevailing in 1947, the big capitalists of India needed the state to intervene in a particular way to enable them to reap maximum profits. In the conditions prevailing in 1991, they want the state to perform a different function. They want the State to facilitate the destruction of the “public sector”, by handing over the assets to private companies and by shifting the liabilities on to the backs of the people.

For over four decades, the Indian working class was made to believe that the Indian State would look after the interests of all classes in society, including the working class and the bourgeoisie. This was the impression created by the Congress Party, which ruled at the centre for many decades, and by those in the working class movement who conciliated with the program and promises of the Congress Party. Today, it has become amply clear that the Indian State only looks after the interests of the rich and economically most powerful minority. The vision of the “mixed economy” and the “maibaap sarkar” stands thoroughly discredited.

One of the most important lessons that Indian workers need to draw from this entire experience is that the state must be brought under the control of the working people. This is the necessary condition for building a social system that would look after the wellbeing of those who work.

Unable to find any justification for the privatisation program today, the rulers of India are resorting to the cheap trick of pointing to the failure of what was called the “socialistic pattern of society”. They point to the financial bankruptcy of the majority of public sector companies today. On this basis, they assert that there is no alternative to privatisation, as if there is nothing further to argue about.

Why are the majority of public sector companies facing financial bankruptcy? The main reason is that the “public” sector has been run in the private interests of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and big businessmen, who collaborated in looting and bleeding these enterprises. The main problem therefore is that this “public” sector is not really under the control of the public. If the workers, peasants, women and youth become the masters of the country and in charge of all the major productive assets, then the economy can be run truly in the public interest, to ensure protection and prosperity for all.

Comrades and friends,

The failure of the “socialistic pattern of society” in India is not the failure of socialism. It is the failure of a hybrid system that was essentially capitalist but cloaked with socialist pretensions. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Union is also the collapse of a hybrid system that replaced scientific socialism there.

The Soviet Union deviated from the socialist way starting in the 1950s. Capitalist relations were restored in the economy, even while the shell of the socialist system was maintained for appearance’s sake. Unemployment and inflation returned to plague the people. The Soviet Union became a social-imperialist power, preaching socialism in words to cover up imperialism in deeds. The discontent of the people grew widespread, until Gorbachov emerged in the 1980s and called for dismantling even the shell of socialism.

The main point to grasp is that ownership of the means of production by the state does not, in itself, guarantee that socialism will be built and all the working people will prosper. The outcome depends on who controls the state power. In the hybrid system that replaced scientific socialism from the mid 1950s onwards in the Soviet Union, most industrial assets were owned by the state. But the state was no longer acting in the interests of the workers and peasants. It was acting in the interest of the new bourgeois class that controlled the leading organs of the Party and the state. The bulk of resources in the hands of the state was invested to promote the arms race with US imperialism, while the basic needs of the people went unattended.

The key lesson from the failure of such hybrid systems, in India and in the Soviet Union, is that the working masses need to exercise political power in order to ensure that the economy serves to fulfill the claims of all those who work. The working people have to become and remain the masters of society.

The strategic aim of the struggle of the working class is to replace capitalism with socialism. It is not socialism in words or just as a shell, with the state acting in the interests of a minority of capitalists. The strategic aim is scientific socialism, a system that is built on the basis of the working people exercising power and making all the vital decisions. With this strategic aim, the working class sets its immediate aim of halting privatisation and putting an end to the anti-social offensive. Putting an end to the bourgeois offensive is the necessary condition for society to move forward, towards scientific socialism.

Comrades and friends,

The privatisation program is not only against the working class but also against the middle strata and against the general interest of society. It is not only anti-labour but also anti-social. It is a program that only serves a miniscule minority in society, the big bourgeois class that is super rich and wants to hang on to the existing crisis-ridden system.

The bourgeoisie is spreading many lies on this question, to convince the middle strata that privatisation will bring them benefits. One such lie is that the proceeds from selling public assets can help the government increase its spending on basic health and education services. This is such a big lie because, in the first place, public assets are being sold very cheap, to suit the interest of the private bidder. And secondly, the additional resources have not been reallocated to build rural schools or health centres. The soaring interest bill and military spending have consumed whatever additional monies were raised through privatisation.

Another lie is that privatisation is beneficial to the consumers of goods and services. The facts show that whether it is the case of power distribution being privatised in Orissa, or bread making being privatised through the sale of Modern Foods to Hindustan Lever, the consumers have had to pay higher prices, without any guarantee of improved quality.

In order to unite the majority of people against the privatisation program and the anti-social offensive, it is essential to expose and defeat the lying propaganda of the bourgeoisie about the alleged benefits of privatisation to the middle strata. The unity of the workers, peasants and broad sections of the middle strata is the key to success in the struggle against privatisation.

Workers in the state sector cannot be content to wage the struggle against privatisation on the basis of defending only their own job security. They need to take up their own cause within the context of the fate of society as a whole. In the struggle against privatisation of power supply, for instance, the workers must defend the right of every working family in town and countryside to be provided with reliable and adequate electric power at affordable prices. Similar is the case with the struggle against privatisation of banks, insurance and of government provided social services.

In opposition to the privatisation program and the anti-social offensive, the working class must fight for a pro-social program that serves the interests of the vast majority of people. Such a program will include reforms to restrict, rather than expand, the scope of private profiteering in society. It will place on the agenda the reorientation of the economy and economic policy to ensure prosperity and protection for all.

Comrades and friends,

A necessary condition for success in our struggle is to have our political aim and agenda clearly defined. There are some in the movement who are giving the slogan, “Down with indiscriminate privatisation!” All workers must think seriously about this slogan. Whose interest does it serve? If “indiscriminate privatisation” is the problem, then what is the solution? Discriminatory, or selective privatisation? This slogan does not set the aim of stopping the privatisation program altogether, let alone demanding a reorientation of the economy and economic policy. It sets a different aim, namely, of replacing one way of implementing privatisation with another way. It is the slogan of those who have a different agenda from those of the masses of workers. That different agenda is to replace one coalition in power by another, while the privatisation program and the anti-labour offensive will continue.

What will be achieved if the BJP led coalition is replaced by a coalition of “secular” parties in the Parliament? Will it bring us any closer to our aim of stopping privatisation and ending the anti-labour and anti-social offensive? If not, then why should the working people waste their time and energy to enable such a “secular” coalition to come to power?

Those who are advocating an anti-BJP or “secular” coalition at this time argue that the struggle against communalism and communal violence is the immediate struggle. They separate this struggle from the struggle against privatisation and liberalisation. They create the impression that the struggle against economic reforms is separate and unconnected with the struggle in defence of democratic rights and against communal violence. In one struggle they identify both BJP and Congress as parties of the class enemy, while in the other struggle they advocate allying with the Congress Party to oust the BJP, alleging that the BJP poses the main danger of communalism and communal violence.

Politics is nothing but the concentrated expression of economic interests. The political tactics of those in power serve to impose the economic interests of the ruling class. If we examine the facts starting from the mid 1980s, when Rajiv Gandhi gave the call for taking India into the 21st century as a modern big power, economic “reforms” have been accompanied with the unleashing of brute force by the state and the organising of communal violence and “riots” on a large scale. Rajiv Gandhi himself rode to power on the basis of organising a communal pogrom following the assassination of his mother. Then in the 1990s there was mass communal slaughter organised following the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and this has been repeated since then, including the recent killings in Gujarat.

What is the connection between the “reforms”, on the one hand, and the politics of communal riots, on the other hand? Is there a connection? Yes, there is a definite connection. The rulers are implementing a program that is extremely unpopular, against which there is growing mass opposition. The only way they are managing to implement it all the same is by diverting the attention of the people, by making them fight each other, by destroying their unity and drowning their struggle in blood.

Hence the struggle against economic reforms must not be separated from the struggle against political repression and state terrorism, against war preparations and communal riots. These are all part of one offensive of the big bourgeoisie against the interests of labour and against the general interests of society. The struggle against this offensive is one struggle. It must be waged uncompromisingly and directed against the big bourgeois class as a whole, including all parties that represent this class. The aim of ending the anti-social offensive cannot and must not be given up in the name of identifying and isolating one component of the struggle as the “immediate issue”.

Comrades and friends,

None of the parties and coalitions that have ruled India in the 1990s have placed on the agenda the ending of the anti-social offensive. Today, in the year 2002, let us – the workers, peasants, women and youth of India — squarely place this on the agenda. Let us prepare to step up the struggle both inside and outside the parliament and state legislative bodies around the demand that privatisation must be immediately stopped and the anti-social offensive must be ended. This is the necessary condition for placing the claims of the workers, peasants, women and youth on the agenda.

To anyone who calls himself or herself a leader of the working class, let us pose this question: what is your plan to end the anti-social offensive? If they ask the workers to vote for this or that party or coalition, we should ask them what will that party or coalition do to stop privatisation and end the anti-labour and anti-social offensive. This is the meaning of workers setting their own aim and agenda.

Another election to the Lok Sabha is expected in the near future, possibly some time in 2003. What is it that the people should do? Can we afford to place our faith in the very same parties and politicians whose aim is not to end the offensive but to continue with the same program, perhaps with some minor modification?

The people who vote are told that they need their “representatives” sitting in the Parliament in order to look after their wellbeing. But the facts show that these “representatives” only serve the big business interests. They do nothing to end the anti-social offensive. Why should the working people put their faith in such “representatives”? We do not need them. In fact, it is they who need us and our support in order to sit there in the Parliament. It is high time that we deny them this support.

The working people must prepare to select and send their own deputies to the Parliament, those who would fight for nothing less than an immediate end to privatisation and the anti-social offensive. The workers’ deputies must fight for nothing less than constitutional guarantees and enabling mechanisms for the rights of labour to be protected. Similarly, peasants’ deputies and women’s deputies must fight for constitutional guarantees for their respective rights. I hope organisations like Lok Raj Sangathan would take up this problem for solution, and contribute to the political preparation of genuine people’s deputies from among the workers, peasants, women and youth, to infiltrate the Parliament.

Comrades and friends,

The time has come for us, the working people, to take up the problem of political power for solution. Only then can we succeed in our immediate struggle against privatisation and the anti-labour offensive. We can and must organise to put an end to this offensive, as the first step and necessary condition to open the path for the revolutionary transformation of society.

Ten years ago, when the Soviet Union had just collapsed, it appeared as if “free market” reforms would become the norm all over the world. Today, the working people are out on the streets protesting against WTO, against IMF and the World Bank and their prescriptions, not only in India but all over the world. It is becoming increasingly obvious to more and more people that the current course along which the US and other big powers are leading the world is extremely narrow-minded and self-serving, and is fraught with disaster for society as a whole.

The rulers of India have decided that there is no alternative to this course. It does not matter if the vast majority of Indians are hurt or even completely destroyed by this course. It does not matter how many workers are rendered unemployed and how many peasants are driven to suicide. The course of globalisation through privatisation and liberalisation has to be pursued at any cost, they assert.

Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha has declared that a Finance Minister, by definition, has to be unpopular. In other words, he claims that the duty of the Finance Minister is to attack the economic interests of the majority of people. This is the very opposite of everything that Indians have believed in for thousands of years regarding the duty of the State, that it includes the duty of providing for the wellbeing of the people.

The rulers of India are dragging the country on a disastrous course. The conditions are demanding an end to this course. The working class of India has to take matters in its own hands so as to realise this demand. Those who labour have to begin to set the agenda for society, hand in hand with all the oppressed. This is the first step in the struggle to become the rulers of Indian society and dislodge the bourgeoisie from this honourable position.

So Comrades and friends,

Let us resolve to stop privatisation and end the anti-labour and anti-social offensive! Let us build the broad popular front of all the revolutionary forces around this immediate aim, and around the perspective and program of the renewal of Indian society to ensure that it fulfills the claims of all the working people!

Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad!

Mazdoor, Kisan, Aurat aur Jawan ki Ekta Zindabad!

Inquilab Zindabad!

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