The struggle for restoration of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) for central and state government workers is spreading all across the country with increasing unity and resolve. In Maharashtra too, state government, semi government, teaching and non-teaching employees have declared that they will go on an indefinite strike from 14th March 2023. Some of their main demands are restoration of OPS, regularization of all contract workers and filling up of all vacancies immediately. Meetings are being organised, all across the state, to mobilise the workers for this struggle.
On 20th February more than 500 delegates from Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nasik and a few other places from Maharashtra participated in a meeting in Mumbai. The meeting was jointly organized by the Central Government Employees Federation, Central Government Employees Co-ordination committee, Brihan Mumbai State Government Employees Sangathan, Government-Semi Government Teaching and Non-teaching Employees’ Coordination Committee Maharashtra. Various other organizations representing the teaching community like Shikshak Bharti and the Co-ordination Committee of Teachers’ Organizations Bombay also sent their delegates to the meeting. Maharashtra State government has, in the past, clamped down on Municipal employees using the draconian Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA). However, many organizations of these workers of Maharashtra got together in Pune and decided to defy any such pressure tactics. As a result, delegates from various municipal employees’ organizations also joined the meeting. Speakers of all the participating organisations addressed the meeting.
During the winter session of Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha, the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra had arrogantly declared that under no circumstances will the state government revive OPS since that would impose an “undue burden” of more than one lakh crore rupees on the state finances. Following that, OPS became a major issue in Legislative Council elections. The ruling coalition in Maharashtra lost some seats in the elections. Immediately after that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra hurriedly declared that his government is sympathetic towards the demand of OPS and promised to find a middle path.
Referring to these developments, some speakers at the meeting, explained as to how the figures quoted by Deputy Chief Minister were deliberately exaggerated and the intention was to pit working people of Maharashtra against state government employees demanding reinstatement of OPS. They denounced these divisive tactics. Some other speakers declared that they will not be fooled by the promise given by the Chief Minister about finding a “middle path” and will not accept anything but OPS.
Some speakers referred to the Prime Minister’s speech in parliament when he advised the state governments that conceding the demand of OPS will jeopardise the interests of future generations and hence not to commit a “cardinal sin”. They questioned the moral right of government, which on the one hand advises employees to desist from demanding OPS since government has no money to satisfy their demand while on the other hand, writes off more than Rs.12 lakh crore of loans given to capitalists and has reduced the corporate tax to levels never before thus ensuring more than one and half crore rupee bonanza to big corporates.
Speakers highlighted that the struggle for OPS is part of the struggle against the policies of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation of economy. They also reiterated the demand of the working class for regularisation of all contract workers and filling up of more than seventy lakh vacancies in state and central government enterprises and departments.
The meeting was interspersed with slogans upholding workers’ unity and their resolve to fight for their just demand.
Many organizations like the Cast Tribe Mahasangh, All India Adivasi Employees Federation, Health Department Karmchari Sanghatana and others have also declared their resolve to join the struggle. Many organizations have declared that they would be joining a rally to begin from Nagpur and culminating in Azaad Maidan in Mumbai on 14th March. Such a united struggle is bound to put tremendous pressure on the state government.
Central government and various state governments have been trying to incite other working people against the government employees by saying “choose between improvement of public health system, public education system and other government schemes which will serve all the working people on the one hand and support to pension for government employees who constitute less than 4% of working people”. We must challenge this nefarious propaganda by demanding that the government must ensure a universal pension scheme for all the working people of our country. It is we, the working people of our country, who create all the wealth of our society, and hence it should be the prime responsibility of those who govern to provide a livelihood to each and every adult, to ensure security of employment and a living wage during his/her working life and guarantee a defined and regular pension to every retired worker.