Petroleum and gas workers have decided to step up their struggle against the anti-social, anti-national and anti-worker program of privatization and in defence of their rights as workers. They will coordinate with electricity and coal workers to organize a united All India strike of energy sector workers in the near future. This decision was taken by the Petroleum and Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI) at its fifth triennial conference held at Duliajan, Assam in December 2022.
The PGWFI is a federation of over forty trade unions representing workers of the petroleum sector public sector undertakings, which was formed in 2005. It includes unions of workers in petroleum and gas exploration and extraction, petroleum refining, petroleum and gas distribution and marketing. Trade Unions of regular workers as well as contract workers of Oil and Natural gas Corporation (ONGC), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), Oil India Limited (OIL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), Mangalore refineries (MRPL) and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) together constitute the PGWFI.
The unions of petroleum and gas sector workers began to form a joint front against privatization and the attacks on workers rights following the attempts of the then Vajpayee government to privatise the marketing assets of BPCL and HPCL in 2002. They went on a successful three day strike, forcing that government to withdraw its privatization plans. However, successive governments have continued to push for privatization of the petroleum sector, by liquidating the public sector petroleum companies.
Thus, ONGC was forced to take over Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation Limited, a loss making company, which produced no petroleum. OIL and ONGC have been forced to hand over profitable oil fields to private parties. 60 per cent of ONGC’s offshore fields have been handed over to foreign companies. In 2018, the decision was taken to sell profit making BPCL at a throwaway price of Rs 50-60 thousand crore against the actual value of Rs 9 lakh crore.
Most recently, the government has announced the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), through which the government is handing over the infrastructural assets of the oil companies to private parties. This includes about 8154 km of gas pipeline, 3196 km product pipeline, two hydrogen plants, LPG pipeline, and other assets.
The petroleum and gas workers are correctly realizing that Indian and foreign monopoly capitalists want to establish their control and domination over the crucial energy sector – petroleum and natural gas, coal, as well as electricity. The Indian state is working to fulfil the greed of these monopoly capitalists.
Energy in the form of petrol, diesel, gas, or electricity is a vital necessity for the functioning of modern society. It fulfils a social need. It csnnot be allowed to be turned into a source for fulfilling the insatiable greed of monopoly capitalists.
The decision of the petroleum and gas sector workers to join hands with electricity and coal workers in a strike action to oppose privatization of the energy sector deserves the support of the whole of society.
Over the past few decades successive governments have resorted to hiring contract workers in place of regular workers in the petroleum and natural gas sector. Today, nearly half the workforce in this sector consists of contract workers. Regular workers are realizing that by depriving a huge section of workers of their rights as workers, the capitalist class is driving down the wages and working conditions of all workers, and weakening the united struggle of workers in defence of their rights. The unions of petroleum and gas workers have decided to step up the struggle in defence of the rights of contract workers in their sector.
The petroleum and gas sector workers are seeing their struggle against privatization and for their rights, as an integral part of the struggle of the workers and peasants of India against the anti-worker, anti-peasant, anti-social program of the ruling bourgeoisie. The struggle against privatization needs to be carried through to the end, with the perspective of replacing the rule of the bourgeoisie with worker peasant rule. With political power in its hands, the working class will be able to reorient the economy to fulfil social need, instead of capitalist greed.