Ten years ago, in February 2000, the workers of Modern Foods India Limited (MFIL) carried out a bold protest action in New Delhi on the opening day of Parliament. They were objecting to the sale of central government owned MFIL to the private multinational company Hindustan Lever Limited.
The workers of MFIL were joined by hundreds of textile workers from Kanpur, who were facing closure and fighting for reopening of their mills. That joint action 10 years ago marked an important milestone in the struggle of the Indian working class against the privatisation and liberalisation program of the bourgeoisie. The lessons of that struggle assume significance today, as the ruling bourgeois class is once again preparing to step up the sale of state owned assets to private owners.
Sale of MFIL and BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company) by the then Vajpayee Government marked the launching of the so-called second generation reform program of the bourgeoisie. It was a time when various so-called leaders of the working class were repeating the capitalist propaganda that "there is no alternative" to privatisation or closure of 'loss making units'. They were advising workers that it was wise for them to quit their jobs and take some lump sum of money through a VRS scheme. "That is the best you can hope for today", was the tune being sung by many trade union leaders belonging to parliamentary parties of all kinds. It was in such difficult conditions that the workers of MFIL heroically unfurled the banner of uncompromising struggle against privatisation, a struggle that opened the eyes of workers in many other companies and sectors.
Led by communist activists, the workers of MFIL questioned why this company was making losses in the first place. "Who is to blame and who should pay for having turned this profitable enterprise into a loss making one?", they asked. They exposed relentlessly, the game of the capitalists and their political representatives to hoodwink public opinion. When the then Minister for Disinvestment, Arun Jaitley, declared publicly that "it is not the government's business to be making bread", the MFIL workers shot back, "what then is the business of the government – only to serve the capitalists?"
People's Voice, the organ of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, carried out a sustained campaign in support of the struggle of MFIL workers, attracting widespread attention and soliciting support from among workers' unions, women's organisations and human rights groups. This campaign helped to expose the truth that the privatisation program is geared to fulfil the greed of monopoly capitalists at the expense of the working class and the general interests of society. The organ of CGPI popularised the slogan that no government had the right to sell public property to private companies.
The example set by the workers of Modern Foods inspired the workers of Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO) and the trade unions of electricity board workers in various states to join the movement against the privatisation program. The struggle gained momentum. The growing unity and fighting spirit of the working class was in evidence at the mass rally held in February 2003, three years after the MFIL workers had launched their struggle.
During the course of their uninterrupted struggle against privatisation that carried on for over 7 years (till the last worker was thrown out of their job in MFIL Delhi unit), the workers of MFIL Delhi unit, the biggest and most militant unit of Modern Food Industries, waged numerous forms of struggle – demonstrations to parliament, protests with the Delhi Government, appeals to Members of Parliament, and so on. They organised a dharna at the gate which lasted nearly two years. The struggle forced the Vajpayee government to set up a Prime Minister’s special committee to investigate the consequences of privatisation of MFIL and BALCO. They placed before this committee documentary evidence of how the HLL management was liquidating the plant and machinery, resorting to subcontracting, using contract labour in place of the regular labour, violating all labour laws. They showed that the HLL management was only interested in the brand name of Modern Bread, and in the immense value of the real estate accrued as a result of the privatisation deal.
When the Committee on privatisation consequences submitted its report to the government, the MFIL workers demanded that the report be placed before parliament and discussed. However, the Manmohan Singh government, which had by then come into power with the support of Left parties, stonewalled this demand. Having organised a wall of silence on the demand for reversal of privatisation of MFIL and BALCO, the UPA government with Left support took a different road of liberalisation and privatisation to achieve the same aims in order to put the working class to sleep. The heroic struggle of workers of MFIL and BALCO gave a temporary respite to other workers facing the privatisation sword temporarily.
Looking back at the course of events since the formation of the UPA government in 2004 with left support, it must be admitted that the momentum of struggle achieved by the working class receded. The UPA government with Left support concocted a so-called Common Minimum Programme that would satisfy the capitalists as well as the workers and peasants.
The promise of satisfying capitalist greed and workers' needs at the same time stands exposed as something impossible to deliver. The working class is facing soaring food prices alongside massive retrenchment and layoffs in export oriented units and many other sectors. The capitalists are continuing to pocket maximum profits and continuing to buy up companies abroad, in pursuit of becoming one of the leading global imperialist powers.
It is not possible to fulfil the greed of the capitalist class and at the same time address the needs of the working class. This is one of the basic discoveries of Karl Marx, that great scientist and teacher of the working class. This truth has been proven over and over again by life experience in many countries. The recent experience of the Indian working class drives home this truth once more. Those who preach otherwise are not Marxists, even though they may call themselves as such.
The Congress Party and the BJP are both parties committed to implement the same program and pursue the same imperialist aim of the Indian bourgeoisie. To extend support to one of them in the name of keeping the other out, as the CPI(M) did during 2004-09, means to deceive the working class and divert it from the class struggle. It means to blunt the fighting edge of this struggle by creating the illusion that a capitalist party will also look after the working class; and that privatisation and liberalisation can be implemented with a 'human face'.
To maintain itself in power in West Bengal, the CPI(M) has compromised on the question of the privatisation program of the bourgeoisie. It has converted it into a question of a good way versus a bad way to implement privatisation. The Left Front Government led by CPI(M) has organised seminars and conferences, where it has invited the experts of the World Bank to come and learn how it has been able to implement privatisation in West Bengal without any opposition on the part of workers' unions.
Conciliation and compromise with the bourgeoisie and its so-called reform program of privatisation and liberalisation has landed the CPI(M) in a deep credibility crisis in West Bengal. It has also had a negative impact on the morale and fighting spirit of the working class and its most organised sections.
Today, in the year 2010, ten years after the historic MFIL struggle against privatisation was launched, the times are calling on the working class to draw some crucial lessons. We cannot afford to tolerate any compromise on the question of opposing the privatisation and liberalisation program. We have to oppose the very essence and aim of this program, not just the way it is implemented. The struggle is not between a good way and a bad way to implement capitalist reforms. The struggle is between those who want to expand the scope of capitalist private property and those who want to begin converting it into social property.
To compromise with the privatisation and liberalisation program of the bourgeoisie means to compromise with imperialism and betray the working class. This is the most important lesson of the recent past.
Let us do justice to the struggle initiated by the workers of Modern Foods! Let us reject and defeat the path of conciliation and compromise with the privatisation and liberalisation program! Let us wage uncompromising struggle against this capitalist imperialist program! Let us unite around the alternative program of the working class to build socialism!