On 25th June it had been reported on the CGPI website that defence employees have resolved to unitedly oppose the decision of the central government to dismantle the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and convert it into 7 corporations. In an extended meeting of the federations on 27th June it was decided to serve a strike notice to the concerned authorities on 8th July, of an indefinite strike starting from 26th July.
It should be noted that the Centre had made a similar attempt to privatise the defence production sector last year too. However, the move was thwarted by a sustained struggle by the employees. The central government is fully aware that due to the united action of defence employees six different defence ministers in the past had to give a written undertaking to not corporatize the OFB.
As part of its plan for privatisation of the defence sector, this time the central government hastily issued an ordinance on 30th June, entitled “The Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021”. Its aim is to brutally crush the resistance of the defence employees.
The gazette notification promulgated by the President of India empowers the Narendra Modi–led central government to issue an order for prohibiting strikes by employees involved in production of defence equipment, services and operation or maintenance of any industrial establishment connected with the military as well as those employed in repair and maintenance of defence products. It says that “Any person, who commences a strike which is illegal under this Ordinance or goes or remains on, or otherwise takes part in, any such strike, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees, or both,” Besides giving the police force a free hand to ensure “functioning, safety or maintenance of the essential defence services,” the notification also empowers the management to dismiss an employee participating in the strike action without an enquiry. The Ordinance also seeks to dissuade other working people and organizations to support the defence workers by adding that those instigating others to take part in a strike declared as illegal under the ordinance, or provide financial aid to such actions, will also be penalised.
However, this draconian move by central government has not dampened the spirit of the defence workers. The five federations of defence workers have declared in a joint resolution that they will not only challenge the legality of this move but will also observe July 8 as All India Black Day as a mark of protest. A joint resolution dated July 1 released unitedly by all the defence employee federations states that “It is most unfortunate to note the manner in which the Government of India is treating its committed and devoted workforce by snatching away the legal right of the defence workers under the provisions of Trade Union Act 1926 and Industrial Dispute Act 1947”. The resolution refers to the right to strike as being “an inalienable part of protest by the working people”. Signatories to this resolution include representatives from All India Defence Employees Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers Federation (INDWF), the Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS), National Progressive Defence Employees Federation (NPDEF), and All India Bahujan Defence Employees Federation (AIBDEF).
On 2nd July the joint platform of central trade unions released a statement denouncing the central government for the draconian ordinance and expressed full support to the defence employees struggle.
According to the notification, this order shall stand for six months but can also be extended by the Centre if it deems it so necessary “in the public interest.” The experience of the people of our country is that such ordinances continue to get extended for years together.
This gazette notification is on the lines of one of the notorious black laws “The Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968” (ESMA). The central government has used that act many times in the past to curb workers’ struggles by declaring certain sectors as Essential Services. Various state governments have promulgated similar laws for the same purpose. The most recent example has been that of doctors, nurses and other health workers who were denied any right to protest by various state governments like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, etc. by declaring their services as Essential Services. The central government and most of the state governments have however constantly and deliberately neglected public health even though as per their definition it is an essential sector. In the past State Transport workers, Railway and Airlines workers, workers involved in public distribution, teachers, Aasha workers etc. have been the target of ESMA.
The passing of the Essential Defence Services Ordinance, 2021 by the central government must be strongly denounced by all the working people, who stand shoulder to shoulder with the defence workers in their struggle against the anti-people, anti-national and anti-social offensive of the monopoly capitalists.