Meeting organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee on Saturday, September 5, 2020
Every other day we get news of the systematic loot of the people of our country by big capitalists by way of privatisation of important public sector establishments worth lakhs of crores of rupees. The workers in targeted establishments as well as others understand that it is imperative to unite, overcoming all barriers of industry, party, union and any other affiliations, to halt the privatisation juggernaut. As a step in this direction, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) organised a program, “Unite against Privatisation!” on Saturday, 5th September, 2020. Leaders and activists from all over the country, working in various public sector and other establishments like Banks, Railways, Air India, Oil industry as well as professors, teachers and other concerned citizens participated.
Com Mathew, the Secretary of KEC welcomed the participants. He said that the KEC along with other organisations has been opposing privatisation since it began with the sale of over 2000 crore worth of Modern Foods for a paltry sum of Rs. 124 crore. Since then it has been working along with other unions to oppose privatisation. He announced that this was the first meeting in a series in which we would learn about the problems of workers in various sectors and chalk out a plan for combined action.
Com Ashok Kumar was invited to make a presentation on behalf of KEC on the topic, “Oppose the privatisations of public sector banks (PSBs)!” The speaker explained how this has been carried out step by step over the last 25 years or so by selling of shares. Now mega banks are being created by merging PSBs. The objective is to create mega banks that could serve the needs of big capitalists for tremendous amounts of capital. As various bank unions have pointed out, the merger of 10 banks into 4 banks this April is likely to lead to the closure of 7000 branches as well as the loss of 4000-5000 jobs. Now the privatisation of four unmerged banks, the Bank of Maharashtra (BoM), Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) as well as Punjab & Sind Bank (P&SB) is in the offing.
The speaker gave many facts and figures to explain how PSBs have been run in the service of big capitalists and their corporations. For instance, in just the last 7 years, Rs. 6.7 lakh crores of loans taken by them have been written off. There is no punishment for capitalist loan defaulters. To make up for the losses incurred by PSBs, Rs. 3.15 lakh crore of public funds have been infused to recapitalise them!
Indian capitalists see big potential for profit in financial sector. The Indian financial sector contributes only 15% of total corporate profits, as against up to 40% in the USA. Big capitalists want the entire financial sector under their control to make maximum profits.
Bank workers have repeatedly opposed the privatisation of banks, pointing out that PSBs shoulder many social responsibilities that private banks do not, like lending to farmers and to small scale units, opening bank accounts for poor people operating branches in unbanked areas, and so on. The workers have raised important demands like “People’s Money for People’s Welfare!” Banking needs to be reoriented to fulfil the needs of all people and not to fulfil the greed of a handful of super-rich capitalists.
The struggle of bank workers against privatisation deserves the support of the entire working class and people, he said. We need to win the support of all the users of banking services!
Com Devidas Tuljapurkar, the General Secretary of the Bank of Maharashtra Employees Union as well as the Vice President of the AIBEA (All India Bank Employees Association) was then asked to express his views. After expressing gratitude to the organisers, he pointed out that over the past three decades; various governments have relentlessly pushed towards privatisation.
He explained how PSBs have been systematically weakened over the years. Public money has been gobbled up by the big capitalists, with government playing an enabling role. Out of loans written off, 67% were of big corporates while agricultural loans accounted for only 7.16%. Yet, RBI and others object to writing off of loans of farmers. At the same time crores of public funds have been infused into the loss making PSBs. Corporates have been looting banks through frauds too. Corporates have committed 93% of the frauds amounting to Rs 1.02 lakh crores in the last two years.
The interest on savings account has been lowered. Banks formed a cartel and decided not to give more than 3.5% interest on savings account. Now during the pandemic it has come down to 2.70% for deposits. For every 1 % fall in the rate of interest on savings account, the public loses Rs. 1.5 lakh crores. So the fall in interest rates means that more than Rs. 6 lakh crore has been taken from people in this way.
Banks now charge people for everything – passbook update, annual ATM maintenance, SMS, ATM transactions over a stipulated number, non-maintenance of minimum balance, etc. Penalty for non-maintenance of minimum balance in mainly paid by the poorest of the depositors.
Banks are not interested in giving loans to priority sectors. Over the years the definition of priority sector has been altered, so in practice banks hardly lend to poor farmers. They find it more convenient to give a loan of say 2 crore to a warehouse, which after redefinition is considered to be a priority sector. Mahindra Transport can get a loan of Rs. 200 crore for agricultural transport vehicles as that now comes in the priority sector! In Maharashtra the highest agricultural finance is by the bank branches in Nariman Point (the posh financial hub of Mumbai). There is no farming for more than 20 km from it!
The Bank of Maharashtra (BoM) is under threat of privatisation. With its largest network in Maharashtra it is its lifeline. Com Tuljapurkar announced that this year during the Foundation Week of the Bank (13-20 September), 10,000 workers would demonstrate in 50 locations around the country, with posters, badges, etc. They would take a pledge to fight to the last against privatisation of their bank. They have created a data bank of all their 5 lakh customers and will contact them through emails, SMSs and social media to explain to them why privatisation of BoM is against their interests. He appealed to TUs and other organisations to support them. He declared that we have to set aside petty competition and egos and work for the larger cause of our country and its people.
There were interventions by a number of participants, who expressed their wholehearted support to the just struggle being waged by bank workers against privatisation and against capitalist robbery of people’s deposits. Anger was expressed at the way working people are being looted by the big banks and at how the central government was making the people bear the burden of capitalist loan defaults. Many participants pointed to various examples to show that united opposition by workers and by the people at large can succeed in halting privatisation. The meeting concluded with the determination to further strengthen and widen public support for the struggle against privatisation of banking in our country.
The meeting concluded with all participants expressing their enthusiasm to attend the next session which will be on the privatisation of Indian Railways.