Successful Struggles that have been able to halt the Privatisation / Corporatisation policies of the Government

Tenth meeting organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee in the series “Unite Against Privatisation!”

The struggle against privatization has a long history. Ever since then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao launched the program of globalization through privatization and liberalization, the working class of our country has been in the forefront of opposing this program. In order to smash the opposition of workers to privatisation, the ruling capitalist class has adopted cunning tactics. Its aim has been to split the workers’ opposition to privatization.

The United Front governments in the years 1996-1998 laid the foundations for the privatization program by setting up a Ministry of Disinvestment. They divided PSU’s into different categories, and declared that only PSU’s which were loss making and not of strategic importance would be privatized. In January 2000, the then NDA government of Vajpayee sold Modern Food Industries Limited (MFIL) to the multinational Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) under the slogan “it is not the business of the government to make bread”. It also sold the Bharat Aluminum Company (BALCO) to a private capitalist monopoly. The workers of MFIL and BALCO waged a heroic struggle against privatization. They forced the NDA government to stop further privatisations. The UPA government of Manmohan Singh was forced to declare that navratnas and strategic sectors would never be privatized. It pursued the course of privatization through various other means, such as corporatization, disinvestment, etc. Now, the Narendra Modi government has come out publicly declaring that it will privatize everything.

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar has been reporting on a series of meetings organised by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) against privatization. On Sunday, April 4, 2021, KEC organised a meeting to highlight “Successful Struggles that have been able to halt Privatisation”. This meeting was the tenth in the series, “Unite Against Privatisation!” that KEC had initiated in September 2020.

Com Mathew welcomed the participants and explained that KEC was attempting to unite various unions and federations in a common struggle against privatisation and we have got an excellent response from national leaders, activists and members of public sector federations and unions from across the country, from activists of various people’s organisations, as well as from people at large. We have organised this meeting to draw valuable lessons from struggles that have managed to halt the privatisation and corporatisation of different public sector establishments.

He welcomed the invited speakers. Shri Shailendra Dubey, President, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF), Shri S N Pathak, President, All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Shri Nathulal Pandey, President, Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation (HKMF) are leaders of all-India Federations. Five representatives of different production units of the Indian Railways (IR)  were present to address the meeting , Shri L N Pathak, General Secretary, Modern Coach Factory (MCF) Men’s Union(AIRF) and Convenor, Joint Action Committee (MCF), Rae Bareilly, UP, Shri Naib Singh, Chairman, Rail Coach Factory Men’s Congress (NFIR) and Chairman, Joint Action Committee, MCF, Rae Bareilly, UP, Com Nirmal Mukherjee, Ex-General Secretary, Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) Labour Union (CITU), Chittaranjan, West Bengal, Dr. Pradeep Sharma, General Secretary, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) Men’s Union (AIRF) and Convenor, Joint Action Committee, (DLW), Varanasi, UP and  K. V. Ramesh, Senior Joint General Secretary, Indian Railway  Technical Supervisors Association (IRTSA) .  He also welcomed Sanjeewani Jain, National Vice President, Lok Raj Sangathan, a people’s organisation that has been fighting against privatisation right from the beginning, along with other organisations like the KEC.

(Please see the boxes for highlights of the speeches by the three federation leaders).

Shri L N Pathak, General Secretary, Modern Coach Factory (MCF) Men’s Union (AIRF)  and Convenor, Joint Action Committee (MCF), Rae Bareilly, UP pointed out that as per the government’s policy they are going to stop the diesel engines and they want to connect all the railway networks using electricity. This is done to curb the expenses as we import the fuel from other nations. Despite this, why was America’s General Electric given a private space and permission to manufacture new diesel engines? The government bought ABB engine worth Rs. 22 crore while we manufacture similar engines in India for around Rs. 9 crore only in Chittaranjan. The coaches that are produced in Rae Bareilly are worth Rs. 2 crore while the government imports them for Rs. 6.5 crore! The 100 days road map of railways that was given by the government along with the Railway Ministry stated that only MCF Rae Bareilly will be made into a company and later on rest of the production units will be joined in it. All the government recognised unions and even non-recognised unions together organised a strike along with their families. Even though the government has promised us multiple times on several occasions that no decisions will be taken without consulting the employees of railways, it has not placed its proposals openly before us.
Shri Naib Singh, Rail Coach Factory Mens Congress (NFIR) and Chairman, Joint Action Committee, Modern Coach Factory (MCF), Rae Bareilly, UP said that on 19th June 2019 they got to know that 6 production units will be made into a Nigam (Corporation). Immediately, on 20th June 2019 itself, a general meeting was organised with a majority of the employees participating in it. On 25th June 2019 the Railway Board sent their Finance Commissioner to the MCF. The workers were agitated. Though the factory was established to produce 1000 coaches, in actual fact 1900 were being produced! Then why was it being corporatized? The first fight that took place bothered the Railway Board greatly because families, whose number was more than that of the actual employees, were also involved. The workers did not agree with any of the terms which were brought to us by various Railway Board members, and due to their constant refusal and fight for 9 months straight, the government had to put a halt to its plan. The same proposal had been put forward in 2006 as well. Even at that time the families, especially the women, had fought against that. They fought for 71 days and then the government had to take back their proposal of privatising the coach factory in Kapurthala.
Dr. Pradeep Sharma, General Secretary, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) Men’s Union (AIRF) and Convenor, Joint Action Committee, (DLW), Varanasi, said that there are 12.26 lakh railway workers. DLW is saving a lot of money by renovating old coaches and making them as good as new ones. His organisation educated the public about the bad effects of privatisation. The government owned Shatabdi as well as the private Tejas trains run between New Delhi and Lucknow. The workers put up posters at booking windows in Lucknow explaining that Tejas tickets cost Rs. 174 each more than the corresponding ones for Shatabdi.

 

K V Ramesh, Senior Joint General Secretary of IR Technical Supervisors Association (IRTSA), said that the Chairman Railway Board (CRB) had announced a plan on corporatization of Indian railway production units on 18th June 2019.  Immediately after this announcement, spontaneous agitations and protest erupted. All the unions and associations, i.e. the affiliates of NFIR, AIRF, affiliates of the two major political parties in Tamil Nadu i.e. DMK labour union and AIADMK Anna Thozhir Sangam and DREU (CITU),  BRMS and associations of OBC and SC-ST associations and of course the IRTSA joined together. From that point till now every agitation is being organized under the banner of the Joint Action Council of ICF (Integral Coach Factory).

Nearly 6000 employees participated in a procession headed for the General Manager’s office at ICF. Nearly 8000 workers signed against the corporatization of ICF and the other PSUs and it has been forwarded through the General Manager of ICF to the Chairman Railway Board. There has been a chain of agitations, meetings and processions conducted in ICF, in front of GM’s office, in front of the coach factory, in front of the furnishing factory and in front of the LHB factory. All the unions approached members of parliament and other political leaders to submit the memorandum against the corporatization of production units, and the united struggle has to continue.

He went on to reveal many interesting and important points about the IR. Immediately after independence, all the rolling stock had to be imported from countries like USA, UK and Australia with high cost and no control over the supply schedule. Today these seven production units can produce 10,000 passenger coaches and the 1000 locomotives to meet the requirement of Indian Railways, which is in the main self-sufficient now.

These production units have proved their efficiency by reducing the number of men required   per unit production. From the year 2012 to 2018, for CLW, to produce one locomotive, the average number manpower required has come down from 51 to 30.5 in CLW (Chittaranjan Loco Works, Chittaranjan), 22.8 to 19 in DLW (Diesel Loco Works, Varanasi), while  the average manpower  to produce one coach has come down from 8.1 to 4.5 in ICF(Integral Coach Factory, Chennai) and  3.9 to 3 in RCF (Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala).

This has greatly controlled the costs for IR. In 1995, IR introduced LHB coaches from Germany, with average cost per coach Rs. 5.5 crore. Now an LHB coach is produced in India for only Rs. 2 crore. Likewise Indian Railways is also proposing to purchase locomotives for the dedicated freight corridor (DFC) at a cost of Rs.20 crore each. But CLW is producing the same capacity of locomotives at a cost of Rs.12 crore each!

The seven production units have a capacity to produce 1000 locomotives and 10,000 coaches annually. The Indian Railways currently has 12,500 locomotives and 70,000 coaches with a total value of Rs 3.1 lakh crores. Making Indian Railway Units as corporations will increase the cost of locomotives and coaches.

Moreover these seven production units have 36 sq. km of land. ICF is located in a prime location of metropolitan Chennai city, where the cost of land is more than 10,000 rupees per sq. ft. That means that the cost of land under ICF is more than Rs. 12,000-13,000 crores. If it is handed over to corporates, it will be at a throwaway price of less than Rs. 2,500 crore.

Apart from factories, these production units have colonies, hospitals, good sports facilities, schools, and so on. All of them are self-sufficient mini-towns!

 

Sanjeewani Jain, Vice President of Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), talked about the numerous campaigns against privatisation that LRS had participated in or led, as well as the workshops and seminars it has been organising to educate people about the necessity to oppose it. The globalisation through privatisation and liberalisation policy has been implemented by every government for thirty years and it is to the benefit of the Indian as well as foreign monopoly capitalists. It is totally against the interests of the people. It is also necessary for educated people to question the total lack of accountability in this system that allows such anti-people actions to be taken by successive governments despite protests by crores of people.

Through several interventions, various speakers pointed out that it was absolutely essential to educate and involve people at large and make them understand why privatisation is against their interests and to unite with the workers in opposing it. This contributes to multiplying our strength. And it was especially necessary to enable women to participate in these struggles because they are half the population. Involving youth is also very important. We should conduct such informative sessions at workplaces and societies as well as amongst our families and friends. Mass awareness campaign was carried out during the privatization of Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam and received a positive response from people.

The way the present system works is that the actual power resides in the hands of a few corporate families and they support and fund the party that can implement the agenda that favour them the most with least resistance from the masses. So, no matter which party is in the power, they all work in the favour of these corporate houses. The farms laws, Land Acquisition Act or the changes in the labour code are a part of the agenda of the same corporate houses which they have been trying to implement through different parties in power.

Land is one of the important resources public sector units have. Big corporate houses are interested in getting precious land at throw away price through privatisation. According to one of the reports of government, there are 13 major Port Trusts in India; they have 1 lakh hectares of land. The Ministry of Defence has two and a half lakh hectares of land, while the Airport Authority of India has 20,400 hectares. Also the area around the airports is highly priced. Indian Railways has 43,000 hectares of land. Corporate houses have their eyes on all this land. The cost of 43,000 hectares of land of railways is Rs. 3 lakh crores!

We have no option but to fight in the spirit that an attack on one is the attack on all!

The spirited meeting went on for three and a half hours. Com Mathew announced that the next meeting in the series would be on Sunday, 25th April, 2021 against the privatisation of electricity distribution.

 

Highlights of the speech by Shailendra Dubey, President, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF)

Privatisation of the electricity distribution has been going on for the past 30 years. Even during the pandemic, on 13th may 2020, Finance Minister Seetharaman unilaterally declared privatization of the power department of union territories without amending the Act. As far as electricity is concerned, it has been a long fight.

Recently in Varanasi, the UP government decided to privatise Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam. The Union Minister of Power came to Lucknow in July 2020 and in that meeting it was decided that Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam, which is a very big distribution company across 21 districts out of the 75 districts in UP will now be privatized. From September 2020 onwards we started opposing it. In UP our organization is named Vidyut Karmachari Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti (VKSSS) which has 18 unions; the members include the Chief Engineer and all positions below him. A letter was sent to Office Bearers of these 18 unions and Convener VKSSS which threatened that “under the Management Disaster Act during this pandemic you will be sentenced for 2 years, under ESMA another 2 years jail and under Pandemic Act another one year jail.” But no one was scared of these threats and we were all continuously in contact and conducting meetings.

We conducted our first meeting in Varanasi on 1st September 2020, where more than 300 employees gathered. Even though Section 144 was imposed in UP, we planned this meeting and were ready if they wished to arrest us. From 25th September to 2nd October we contacted all the MPs and MLAs and handed over letters to them.

On 28th September about 2000 people participated in the mashal juloos.

On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Shahid Bhagat Singh, a rally was organised to oppose the privatization of various public sectors and to show the unity of the workers. In Lucknow, there were roughly 4000 employees who were surrounded by police from all sides. The ACP approached me and said he will not allow us to conduct the rally to which my response to him was no one can stop us in this entire nation to celebrate the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh. The ACP said that you cannot do this at the last moment and I informed him that the application for permission of the rally was submitted by us 15 days prior which you did not deny meaning we were given the permission to conduct it. I was arrested by ACP and at that very moment 900 employees voluntarily arrested themselves. The police were unable to accommodate such huge numbers in their vans. As soon as this news reached the other parts of the state, another 10000 employees surrendered themselves to police. They had to finally give in and release everyone without any charges.

After 28th Sept they played various tactics to divide the workers but we remained united. On 5th October, after discussion with VKSSS, the government had to withdraw the privatisation proposal of Purvanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam and had to promise in writing that even in future the government will not propose any such plan without taking power employees into confidence.

In 2018 as well, the government had to cancel all the franchisee tenders after we opposed their plans for privatisation. The private corporations only want the profits from these public sectors but do not wish to invest in the infrastructure of the public sectors.

The Electricity Amendment Bill 2021 states that private companies will participate in this public sector using the existing infrastructure of the government companies and no licence is required by them for providing the service of electricity distribution to the general public. They can charge people whatever they see fit for their profits.

In Chandigarh, which is a Union Territory apart from being the capital of Punjab as well as Haryana, the power sector from the last 5 years is making profit and last year it has made a profit of 365 crore rupees. Electricity there is cheaper than both the states. The same was done in Mumbai and Dadra, Nagar and Haveli. Thus the government clearly wants to privatise all the profit-making public sectors under the PPP model.

However we will keep fighting for as long as necessary.

 

Highlights of the speech by Shri S N Pathak, President, AI Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF)

Defence civilian employees are distributed over MEC, COD, Ordnance Depot, Army, Navy and Air Force as well as in 42 ordnance factories. Earlier there were 7.5 lakh defence civilian employees, but now the strength has been reduced to half. We have been struggling against privatisation for the last 20 years, since the Rajyadhyaksha Committee was formed. Three defence ministers have given us written agreements, but since this PM came to power, decisions to privatise ordnance factories have been taken in cabinet meetings. We started fighting with this government from 2016, when about a thousand people from ordnance factories participated in a hunger strike in Jantar Mantar for 47 days. Trade unions and railway unions also joined in our struggle and supported us. The government told us not to worry as nothing has been done so far to privatise the factories but it has not given us its word in writing.

In 2019, the government started with the revival of their plans again and we sent a notice to government for indefinite strike. During the 5th day of our strike, the CLC (Chief Labour Commissioner) of Delhi along with the government told us to call off our strike and we were promised that no steps will be taken to privatise this sector without the consultation of the employees from this sector.

In spite of making this promise they again started working on privatisation in 2020 and we were forced to send notice for an indefinite strike to the government. The government again approached CLC of Delhi and said that it will maintain the status quo and no further steps will be taken until there is some settlement between the government and the employees. When we were called upon for settlement, the government said we cannot talk about privatisation as it is the matter of policy making and decision. To this we responded that Mr Modi does not own this country and neither does Amit Shah. We were told that it was passed in the cabinet. We made it clear to the government that we will not let these factories get privatised.

After many discussions the government said that it has a target of Rs. 30,000 crores of production of armaments and we cannot help them to meet this target and this is the reason they need to privatise. We discussed with CLC and told him that we will help you meet the target of Rs. 30,000 crores. He asked us to give the proposal for the same. We did give them the entire plan within the same government setup and after 4 months he said that unless you receive purchase orders, how are you planning to meet this target? The purchase order is given to us by the Army but unfortunately the people in the decision-making process there want it to get privatised. We have to date not got even Rs 1000 crores worth of purchase orders!

The government has claimed that the assets of defence are around Rs. 75000 crores. This rate is quoted for people like Ambani, Adani, Tata and Birla, otherwise how will they get funding for their elections? Actually the value is ten times more. To make a field gun, 60 to 70 crores are required. In Nagpur, near our factory, the government has provided ordnance factory land to Anil Ambani free of cost to make ammunition.

My aim of participating in this meeting is not to show others how we fought but to tell everyone that we all have to fight our battles together to win over this government. We alone don’t stand a chance and we need to unite.

 

Highlights of the speech by Shri Nathulal Pandey, President, Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation.

Coal India is the parent organisation in the coal industry, and it has 8 companies under it. It fulfils 72% of the energy requirement in India. Coal India was established in 1975, when we were able to produce only 70 million tonnes of coal; today we have crossed the figure of 559 million tonnes. Earlier, even Coal India had 7.5 lakhs employees and today it is 2 lakhs 67 thousand employees. The number of employees has continuously gone down but the production kept on increasing year after year.

Coal India is not being privatised directly; none of the official mines is being sold to private players but instead they are giving permission to mine parallel to the already existing mines. We organised a successful strike and all the unions in the coal industry affiliated to HMS, AITUC, CITU, INTUC and also BMS came together against this from 2nd to 4th July 2020. It was a 100% successful strike and almost the entire Coal India came to a halt for those 3 days. We also participated in all-India strike that took place on 26th November 2020.

We have 5 government recognised trade unions and we are very united. I would like to say that BMS also sincerely participated in opposing the Governments privatisation policy. All of us are always ready to fight whenever required. We all from different sectors have gained small success when we were fighting alone. Bank Unions had a two day strike on 15th and 16th March, 2021. Insurance unions went on strike on 17th and 18th March 2021.   I suggest that we should organise a nationwide strike for all the sectors for 3 to 4 days and decide a way to fight unitedly against this privatisation problem. I am sure that if we organise ourselves like the farmers have done and plan a nationwide strike then we will be able to have significant impact. Even many members of BMS do not agree with the steps taken by the government.

I promise all of you that if we plan a nationwide strike then all the employees of Coal India will be in support of this and we will not let even a gram of coal to be dug out of the mines!

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