Correspondents of the Mazdoor Ekta Lehar interviewed many leaders of the working class who were participating in the Mahapadav. Below we publish excerpts of some of these interviews.
Comrade Prakash Rao, Spokesperson, Communist Ghadar Party of India
MEL: What is the main challenge facing the working-class movement at this time?
Com Prakash Rao: The number of workers participating in our protest actions has been steadily increasing over the years. Millions of workers have participated in general strikes during the past few years. Despite these protest actions, the central government, whether of the Congress led UPA or the BJP led NDA, has been continuing to vigorously implement its anti-worker, anti-peasant and anti-national policies without any let up. How to stop these attacks of our rulers on our livelihood and rights, and how to change the direction of the economy in the interests of the working class – this is the most urgent task facing us.
MEL: The United Trade Union Front which has organized this protest action has been repeatedly organizing such national level protest campaigns for the past 15 years. The workers’ demands are extremely just but they remain un-fulfilled, despite the fact that the government has changed thrice, during this period. What is the reason for this?
Com Prakash: Our rulers incessantly propagate the lie that the party in power, whether in the states or in the centre, determines the direction of the economy and we can change that direction by voting in a different party in government. But the reality is different. Our own experience has clearly demonstrated to us that one cannot change our conditions of existence and the direction of the economy by changing the governments in power. Actually, the direction of the economy as well as the national agenda is not decided by the political party in power but by the 150 monopoly capitalist groups who finance and control these bourgeois parties. The monopoly capitalists own all the means of production. These monopoly capitalists determine the direction of the economy and their main goal is to maximize their own profits. Maximization of capitalist profit can only be achieved by increasing the exploitation of the workers. They do not care about the working people and their conditions of existence. They have total control of the media and the state machinery and through these instruments, they ensure that the party of their choice – the party which is best suited at a particular time to serve their interests most effectively - is installed in power. This is the reason why we find that the party which comes in power, is even more aggressive than the party which has been replaced, in attacking the rights and liberties of the working people. Irrespective of the party in power, the agenda of the 150 monopoly-capitalist groups continues to be implemented without fail. That is the reason why despite our determined protest actions involving millions of workers, our demands are ignored by the party in power. The bourgeois parties are not accountable to us but to those who finance them.
MEL: How can we, the communist parties, lead the militant working-class movement at this point in time?
Com. Prakash: Communist party is the advanced detachment of the working class. We communists must speak the truth. We must tell the workers that irrespective of the party running the government, only the agenda of the 150 monopoly capitalist groups is implemented. They are the real rulers of the country. The government only implements their dictates. We must warn the workers abut the true nature of the Indian state. We must tell them the truth that by becoming the tail of this or that bourgeois party, we cannot accomplish anything for the benefit of our class. We should not mislead the people and spread the illusions about the bourgeois political parties which defend the existing political system and fight for power for themselves in the existing system. For example, it is extremely dangerous to spread the lie that the “BJP is communal and Congress is secular” and replacing BJP with Congress will make the life better for the workers. Instead, we, the communists must organize all the workers, peasants and other oppressed sections of our country around our agenda and our program and lead them to end exploitation and oppression in the society.
MEL: What is our program, the program of the working class?
Com Prakash: The program of the working class is to organize all the peasants and oppressed in the country, politically unite them in a militant united front of the working people of India and take political power in our hands – become the rulers of India. We will have to bring all the means of production as well as all the natural resources of the country, under our ownership and control. We can fulfill the needs and aspirations of our people only by establishing the worker-peasant rule. We must tell our fellow workers the truth, clearly and forcefully, that we will have to do exactly what the working class of Russia did in October 1917, hundred years ago. There is no other option for us.
Comrade Santosh Kumar, Spokesperson, Mazdoor Ekta Committee
MEL: What is Mazdoor Ekta Committee’s view on this mass rally?
SK: Lakhs of workers and peasants have come together during this mass rally between 9 to 11 November 2017 to demand their right to livelihood, social security and their right to a life of dignity. This mass gathering shows that the workers are not going to tolerate the government’s anti-worker, anti-national and anti-social policies. Women workers have come to this mass rally in their thousands and they stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers, together taking the struggle forward. This united power of the working class can overthrow the capitalist system and bring about the rule of the workers and peasants in the country, just like it was achieved by the working class during the Russian Revolution.
MEL: Which are the areas that the workers have come here from and what kind of occupations/sectors do they belong to?
SK: Workers belonging to almost all sectors have come to participate here from different states of the country like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, North Eastern states, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and others. For example those participating include, workers’ trade unions and federations, bank workers, insurance workers, defense workers, electricity, petroleum, machinery and machine tool workers, ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, mid-day meal workers, steel and mine workers, peasants, water transport, railways, airlines, telecom, IT sector workers and teachers. The entire working class is starting to understand that its enemies are the handful of capitalist monopoly households like Tata, Birla, Ambani etc. The policies of privatization, liberalization and globalization are being implemented to ensure their maximum profits. Workers have gathered in lakhs in this three day event against these capitalist policies.
MEL: What kind of steps are the trade unions and workers’ organizations’ going to take now?
SK: In the last 15 years crores of workers have come together on one platform, irrespective of their ideological differences. This has been a victory for the workers' unions and organizations. However, it is promoted amongst the workers that the Congress is the alternative to BJP. We want that the working class should make its own independent agenda. Workers from different sectors, should organize themselves in workers samitis and step up the struggle. In the capitalist system, the parties replace one another, but their policies remain the same, just like the driver of the cart keeps changing his horses, but the driver remains the same. The working class must understand that changing parties will not end the rule of the capitalists. Here in this gathering we see a glimpse of the tide that will put an end to the existing capitalist system and establish the rule of workers and peasants, in the same way the workers, soldiers, peasants, women and all oppressed people of Russia overthrew the state of the tsar and the bourgeoisie and established a socialist state.
Leader of Anganwadi workers Ms. M Chitralekha
MEL: You all go house to house and provide health care and various services. What tasks are you supposed to carry out?
M Chitralekha: Here we have Anganwadi Workers, ASHA Workers, and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) workers. We have come here in thousands from across the country. In the districts we work we have to go to every household in villages and enroll small children into school. We help the parents in putting together various documents. Most of these parents are illiterate and don’t have any proof of birth. We have to help them to get it. In most of the households both the mother and father go out to work for livelihood, so we have to take care of their children. For the small children we have to provide crèche and nursery services. Informing the families about various family planning options also falls on our shoulders.
The MDM workers have to cook fresh and nutritious food for the children. For this the government gives very little money and within this limited money we have to provide eggs, vegetables, and fruits. We have to arrange firewood on our own. We get only Rs. 4.50 for each primary school child and Rs. 6.50 for each high school child. We have to pay for our own uniforms.
ASHA workers have to take pregnant women to the PHC. Taking care of mother and child, solving their pregnancy related issues, taking them to hospital if necessary, immunisation and child care, counseling the mothers on nutritious food, all these tasks have to be performed by us ASHA workers. There is no written definition of our tasks. Besides all this we have to work for stopping child marriage and harassment of girls and adolescents.
MEL: How much are you paid for all these tasks?
M Chitralekha: We don’t get any salary. We only get honorarium of Rs. 1000-1500 per month. Many of us have been working for over 20 years. But still we get the same amount. We have waged struggle number of times for increase in the amount. The government has only being giving assurances that the amount will be increased to Rs. 6000, but no action has been taken in that direction.
MEL: What are your demands, for which you have travelled such long distance to Delhi?
M Chitralekha: Our main demand is that Anganwadi Workers, ASHA Workers, and MDM workers should first be given the status of a worker. Our employment must be regularized, the wages should be fixed and all labour laws should be made applicable to us. We are demanding a minimum wage of Rs. 18000 per month. Those wages should be increased depending on the inflation. We should also be given allowances for uniform, food, and health services. In the course of our duties we face threat from anti-social elements, and we must be provided with adequate security by the government.
MEL: What are your plans to take your struggle forward?
M Chitralekha: We have been waging our struggle unitedly. We are organised under AITUC. We Anganwadi Workers, ASHA Workers, and MDM workers all come together for the struggle. We have come here with a hope that all the workers will come to know about our conditions and our struggle. We shall continue to raise our demands until the government is forced to fulfill them.
National Federation of Telecom Employees, NFTE, BSNL (AITUC)
The leaders of NFTE Mr Mathivana (Chennai), Mr K S Kulkarni (Maharashtra), and Mr Ranjan Dani (Circle Secretary, Maharashtra) told the MEL that over 300-400 BSNL employees are participating in this Maha-Padav, representing lakhs of BSNL employees across the country.
MEL: How is BSNL being privatized?
Mathivana: The management is splitting the BSNL into different divisions and putting them up, one by one, for disinvestment. For example the government has ordered that all the mobile towers should be included in a new subsidiary company which will be operated like a private company. Similarly various bradband services have also been put under another subsidiary company. Recently a tender has been floated to hand over 3000 customer care centers to private operators.
MEL: In what way has privatisaton impacted your salaries?
Mathivana: Since 2007 there has been no revision in our pay scale. When our pay scales were due for revision the central cabinet gave the excuse that since the BSNL is being operated as a not-for-profit company in interest of the country, there is no question of any increase in our salaries or allowances. BSNL is providing mobile telephony and internet services to far flung places in the country including countryside and hilly regions, where no private company is willing to operate.
MEL: How are the BSNL employees resisting these attacks of the government?
Mathivana: All the employees are very agitated by these measures. The goals for which BSNL was set up, for providing telephony and internet services to every region including far flung areas, to farmers and tribals at an affordable rate, those objectives are being blatantly violated by the government. All the unions and organisation of workers including managers are opposing privatization of this profit- making public sector enterprise.
MEL: What are the various actions you have undertaken in the recent past and what actions you plan to now?
Mathivana: We have organised many protest actions. We had organised an all India strike. On 16 November we organised human chains in all our offices across the country. On 12-13 December we are again going to organize strike in all our centers. If the government does not give in to our demands we will launch an indefinite strike across the country.