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Condemn the Maharashtra government's draconian, anti-worker law
The fascist, anti-worker, Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) has been passed by the Maharashtra legislature in April 2012, despite opposition from trade unions and other workers organizations cutting across party and trade union lines. Mazdoor Ekta Lehar condemns the Congress – NCP government of Maharashtra for this savage attack on workers right to strike work. It must be noted that the previous version of MESMA had lapsed in May 2010. Workers organizations have been opposing its reenactment ever since.
Armed with this law, the Maharashtra government threatened senior college and university teachers of the state with arrest and termination of services, if they did not end their strike which they launched in April. Tens of thousands of teachers across the different universities of Maharashtra affiliated to the Maharashtra Federation of Universities and College Teachers Organisation (MFUCTO) boycotted the correction of examination papers in support of their long pending demand —the regularization of teachers appointed in the period 1991-1998 —which would result in wage benefits for the affected teachers. The state government has also threatened to invoke MESMA against transport sector workers (truck owners, BEST and Maharashtra State Road Transport workers, and taxi and auto rickshaw drivers) who have planned to strike work in support of their demands.
The passing of the MESMA by the Maharashtra legislature must be seen in the context of the growing resistance struggles of workers of different sectors of the economy against the program of globalization through privatization and liberalization, against the massive increase in prices of food, transport, electricity and water, against attacks on trade union rights, increasing use of contract labour, and the dismantling of the public distribution system. Over the past two years, there have been major strike struggles of different sections of workers in Maharashtra. Pilots, airhostesses and ground staff of both Air India and private airlines, loco men, resident doctors in government hospitals, nurses and hospital staff, municipal workers, taxi and auto workers, university and college teachers, road transport workers, petroleum workers, electricity workers, water supply and sanitation workers — these and many more sections of workers have come onto the streets in defense of their rights. In many cases, MESMA has been used to declare their struggle illegal, to threaten workers and their leaders with arrest and dismissals, and to crush their struggles.
These past two years have also seen growing wave of united pan-India struggles of workers cutting across trade union and party divisions, around the common demands of the workers. Maharashtra is one of the states where workers are relatively more organized and have participated in these major actions in a big way. MESMA has been re-enacted in Maharashtra to attack this growing united struggle as well.
Essential Services Maintenance Act 1981 was enacted as a law by the then Indira Gandhi government at the Centre in conditions when the working class of our country was waging powerful strike struggles in defense of their livelihood and rights, against the anti working class offensive launched by that government. A similar act had been enacted in 1968 when there was a wave of strike struggles all over the country. Indira Gandhi crushed the historic railway strike of 1974 and declared a state of emergency. During the internal emergency of 1975-1977, all workers struggles were attacked. Following the end of the Emergency in 1977, a wave of strike struggles engulfed the country. In these conditions, the bourgeoisie brought back Indira Gandhi and her Congress Party to power to attack the working class, smash its unity, and implement the modernisation program of the bourgeoisie. ESMA was passed by parliament in 1981. It covered as many as 16 specific economic activities including air, road, rail and sea transport, banking, port and docks, airports, electricity generation, transmission and distribution, petroleum, postal and other communications, defense production, hospitals, municipal services, and so on.
Modeled after this ESMA, various state governments have enacted their own versions of ESMA from time to time. The provisions of the ESMA allow the government to declare any sector as "essential service" in order to attack the workers of that sector. Once a sector is notified as "essential", the government can ban strikes and any other forms of industrial actions in that sector, arrest striking workers, dismiss them summarily, impose fines on them, etc. ESMA has been used by governments in the center as well as in the states to attack workers of different sectors, including government employees. The biggest attack using this Act in recent years was carried out in Tamil Nadu in 2003 by the then Jayalalitha government, when it dismissed thousands of striking state government employees.
When ESMA was passed in 1981 by the Centre, it was followed by a wave of united working class struggles including the November 23, 1981 march to Parliament, and an all-India general strike on January 19, 1982. Workers fought for an end to price rise, for trade union rights, and for the revocation of the fascist ESMA amongst other demands. Subsequently, the bourgeoisie unleashed communal and fascist terror to smash the united struggles of the working class and push through its modernization program. At the same time, as a result of workers struggles, as well as the infighting amongst the parties of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie has not been able to re-enact ESMA at the Centre once it expired in 1989.
Various states have passed ESMA over the past two decades, guided by the provisions of the original central ESMA. They have used this law to attack workers struggles in their states. The workers of each state therefore have to fight for the repeal of this fascist law in their state, as well as the repeal of this law in all other states.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar calls upon the workers and trade unions of Maharashtra to stand united and fight for the repeal of the MESMA.