November-December 2009

Table of Contents

  1. The Myth and Reality of Congress Revival

  2. Defeat the UPA’s War on Democracy!

  3. Open Letter to Indian PM

  4. India’s China Policy: Calling for Cooperation, Not Confrontation

  5. Pricol Workers’ Struggle: Justice Must Prevail

  6. Land Reforms Sangharsh Yatra and Convention

  7. Women Workers’ Convention

  8. Tamil Nationalism: Ducking the Issues
  9. Saluting the Memory of K Balagopal
  10. Adieu to Comrade Ibn-ul Hasan Basru!

Assembly Elections in India

The Myth and Reality of Congress Revival

– ML Update, 27 October – 2 November, 2009.

In the recently concluded elections to State Assemblies in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress has predictably managed to retain power in all the three states, triggering a growing media buzz regarding the revival of the Congress and the return of the old era of Congress domination.

A closer look at the poll outcome however reveals a number of holes in the story of Congress revival. In Haryana, the Congress tally has dropped from 67 to 40 while a resurgent Indian National Lok Dal finished a close second with more than 30 seats in its kitty. The dramatic revival of Om Prakash Chautala signifies nothing short of a huge backlash by the aggrieved electorate of rural Haryana. In Maharashtra too, the Congress- National Congress Party (NCP) combined tally fell one short of the majority mark and its vote share dropped by six per cent. The big news from the state is the rise of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). More than anything else, it is the MNS factor which has helped the Congress by not only splitting the Shiv Sena vote, but also pushing a disillusioned electorate back to the Congress in search of some sense of safety and security from the MNS brand of divisive and aggressive politics.

The Congress would of course like to attribute its return to power to a ‘positive mandate’ from the electorate. But the ground reality in neither Maharashtra nor Haryana would endorse the Congress claim. Maharashtra is still reeling under the combined impact of agrarian crisis and economic recession while Haryana remains notorious for its retrograde and patriarchal social environment that continues to deny large numbers of dalits and women their basic human dignity and civil rights.

According to Maharashtra’s state economic survey, three out of every eight residents are below the line. Every day since 2006, 1,800 people have lost their jobs. Regional disparity is quite glaring – per capita income in Vidarbha (Rs. 29,000) is only 40 per cent of the per capita income of a Mumbai resident (Rs 73,930). The corporate-builder-politician-bureaucrat nexus reigns supreme in the state even as real estate and share market have replaced the manufacturing industries of yesteryears as the biggest sources of wealth accumulation. Haryana too has a similar story to tell. Congress rulers in Delhi and Chandigarh keep showcasing Gurgaon as the shining star of economic boom, but beneath all the corporate glitter and gloss, there is little urban infrastructure and no industrial democracy in this hugely over-rated success-story.

By all accounts, the Congress win in these elections is more a victory by default aided by a weak opposition and the absence of any credible and consolidated Left-democratic challenge. Both in Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP failed to make any headway – in fact, it suffered further erosion and this in turn has aggravated the chaos in the party. Also notable is the decline of the BSP in both Maharashtra and Haryana. The rise of the MNS in Maharashtra of course marks a major challenge to the working class movement in the state. In the 1960s, the Congress had facilitated the rise of the Shiv Sena to curb the Left trade union movement in and around Mumbai; four decades later the MNS is raising its head, once again with blessings from the Congress, giving a distorted and divisive ex-pression to the popular anger against deindustrialization and joblessness.

As far as Arunachal Pradesh is concerned, election in the state continues to be viewed more in the context of border dispute and bilateral tension between India and China than as a reflection of the political situation and public mood in the state. Like most small states in the North-East, elections in Arunachal too are heavily influenced by money-power and bureaucratic manipulation. An NDTV correspondent covering Arunachal elections put the average amount spent by victorious Congress candidates at a staggering Rs. 5 crore per Assembly seat!

Far from returning to the old paradigm of Congress monopoly, Indian politics continues to evolve through the maze of multi-party competition. The forthcoming elections to the Jharkhand Assembly should provide further proof of this political diversity.

Struggles in India

Defeat the UPA’s War on Democracy! Build Broad-based Democratic Resistance!

– Liberation, November, 2009.

In the name of combating the ‘Maoist menace’ the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is gearing up for a massive combat operation. The Cabinet Committee on Security has already cleared the Home Ministry plan to take the “war on Maoists” to the next level even as Chidambaram shies away from describing the operation in terms of an outright war. While on record the Prime Minister has ruled out the possibility of deployment of the Army in the operation, the scale and framework of the proposed operation indicate nothing short of an all-out military offensive. The Home Ministry talks of waging simultaneous operation on eleven theatres covering over 2000 police station areas in 223 districts, and the Defence Minister and Air Chief Marshal talk of deploying (Indian Air Force) IAF’s special force Garuda with powers to fire in ‘self-defence’. A special central force called COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) has already been raised and pressed into service. Chidambaram has also spoken of ‘amending’ the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) (presently deployed in Kashmir and the North East) in order to make it applicable in the whole of India.

In tandem with this military offensive, a full-scale propaganda war is also underway. Influential sections of the print and electronic media are working overtime to manufacture a ‘national consensus’ in favour of the military offensive. With state governments all joining in, contours of a grand political consensus are easily discernible. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) session at Rajgir has expressed its full-throated support to Chidambaram’s ideas. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee too made it a point to take time off from the CPI(M) PB meeting in Delhi to meet Chidambaram over breakfast to demand more forces and a more intensified and concerted drive. Mamata Banerjee of course conveniently seeks to distance herself from this consensus, expecting everybody to ignore the fact that the ongoing paramilitary offensive in West Bengal is very much a joint venture sponsored by the government at the Centre where she is a cabinet minister.

It can hardly be coincidence that key arenas of the proposed war are precisely those mineral-rich areas on which mining corporations have had their eye. Whether Chidambaram, himself one of the Directors of Vedanta until becoming a UPA Cabinet Minister, and a favourite lawyer for many of mining companies, will succeed in his stated goal of wiping out the Maoists is uncertain – what is however clear is that it will pave the way for corporate land grab.

The Maoists with their reckless actions are of course doing everything possible to alienate large sections of the democratic opinion. With every passing day, they demonstrate increasingly clearly how far they have moved away from the legacy of the Naxalbari peasant rebellion and Comrade Charu Mazumdar. Comrade CM was no advocate of isolated and exclusive armed actions – for him the two key phrases were “integration with the landless rural poor” and “politics in command”. The Maoists have delinked the whole question of arms from this essential context and have thus moved beyond the purview of the CPI(ML), the party founded by Comrade Charu Mazumdar. This is why they have had to find new names to describe their ideology and organization. The alienation and anger of the tribal masses does provide the Maoists with some favourable initial conditions, but they have done nothing to channelize it to any powerful mass awakening. On the contrary, Lalgarh shows how the Maoists have miserably misled a popular uprising.

The Government of India and the various state governments are however invoking the ‘Maoist threat’ not only to tackle the Maoists but to suppress every movement of the working people and stifle every democratic dissent. Reports of indiscriminate detention in false cases and on fabricated charges, custodial torture and harassment, and attacks on the press and on the freedom of expression are coming in from every corner of the country. The dark days of the Emergency seem to be staging a comeback in so many ways. The revolutionary Left movement must boldly face this situation by in close association with other democratic forces. There can of course be no condoning the reckless acts of the self-styled Maoists, and it is imperative to sharpen the lines of demarcation between anarchism and revolutionary Marxism even as we seek broad-based cooperation to defeat the growing war on democracy.

Struggles in India

Open Letter to Indian PM

– Liberation, November, 2009.

October 12, 2009

We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigeneous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.

Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.

We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.

Indian Signatories include Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, CESP, JNU, Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, Nandini Sundar, Delhi School of Economics, Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, Sumit Sarkar, Historian, Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, JNU, Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, EPW and many others.

International Signatories include Noam Chomsky, David Harvey, Michael Lebowitz, John Bellamy Foster, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Mira Nair, Howard Zinn, Gilbert Achcar.

Asia

India’s China Policy: Calling for Cooperation, Not Confrontation

– Dipankar Bhattacharya, Liberation, November, 2009.

The October 1 celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China has attracted worldwide attention. Considering the historical baggage of backwardness with which modern China had begun its journey and the size of China’s billion-plus population, China has indeed come a long way in these six decades. With “made in China” products virtually swamping the global market, the whole world obviously recognizes China’s economic prowess. Compared to China’s economic strength, its voice in the strategic domain of international relations has of course been rather soft and subdued, but of late China seems to have begun stepping up its role in this arena too.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, for a few years the world looked quite unipolar with unchallenged US domination in every sphere. But over the last one decade, the aura of American power has started fading. With every passing month, the burden of the economic, human and political cost of the US-led military misadventure in Afghanistan and Iraq is becoming increasingly heavy and unaffordable. The US has also had to bear the brunt of the global financial crisis and the recession that has revived memories of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The steady rise of China marks a striking contrast to this unmistakable decline of an overstretched superpower.

China of course does not seem to be in any hurry to assert its status as a rising global power. The keyword in Chinese foreign policy parlance is not superpower but multipolarity as opposed to a unipolar world. In its quest for a multipolar world, China is seeking closer strategic cooperation with Russia and the Central Asian republics within the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and closer bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation with major developing countries like India and Brazil (the combination of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) can indeed be a powerful bargaining bloc). Apart from pressing for restructuring of the IMF, China has also come up with the idea of ending the US dollar’s prolonged reign as the universal currency of international exchange. China has suggested that as a medium of international transaction, dollar should be replaced by a supranational currency basket like the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) used by the IMF.

While China’s record in terms of domestic economic advance is quite extraordinary and its growing role as a balancing force against unipolar imperialist domination is undoubtedly significant, a lot is however left to be desired when one judges China by the yardstick of socialism. Much of the initial post-revolution gains achieved by the toiling masses towards genuine liberation and social progress have been lost in the wake of post-1978 modernization. Disparity, social as well as regional, is assuming critical proportions, even as the working people in both rural and urban areas are faced with growing unemployment and insecurity. No wonder popular anger is also exploding in different parts of China at regular intervals, with the state often unleashing repressive measures to handle such protests.

For communistas and anti-imperialists the world over the sixtieth anniversary of the victory of the Chinese revolution is an occasion to gather inspiration and strength from the historical transformation of a backward country into a powerful modern nation even as the problems facing China demand close scrutiny and critical introspection. At the same time it is imperative that we must boldly denounce and resist the American design to encircle China. In India the pro-US lobby has been working overtime to project China as a big imminent threat. The US military-industrial complex wants to capture India’s lucrative defence market by promising to enhance India’s military capacity vis-à-vis China. Such a course will not only make India ever more dependent on the US but also cripple whatever democracy we have by subordinating the country’s economic and political agenda to the disastrous logic of war and militarization. We must learn from our past history and save the country from this US-prescribed road to disaster. Avoiding the path of confrontation, India must move towards comprehensive cooperation with China.

Workers’ Struggle in India

Pricol Tragedy: Witch Hunt Must Stop, Justice Must Prevail

– Liberation, November, 2009.

The tragic death of a senior management representative of auto part manufacturer Pricol in Coimbatore on September 22 has triggered a frenzied reaction from the Pricol management, the Tamil Nadu (TN) police and sections of the corporate media. Roy George, Vice President (Human Resources) of Pricol had reportedly suffered head injury in the course of talks with a group of workers on 21 September and succumbed the next afternoon in a city hospital.

The company describes the tragic end of its VP as ‘planned and premeditated murder’ and attributes it to a conspiracy hatched by the leadership of the fighting union of Pricol workers (Kovai Mavatta Pricol Employees’ Trade Union) as well as the central trade union (All India Central Council of Trade Unions) with which it is affiliated. The Coimbatore police have already arrested some thirty workers and a witch hunt is on against several other worker activists and their leaders including Comrade S Kumarasamy, President of AICCTU.

Newspapers and TV channels have all noted the similarity of the Coimbatore case with a similar incident that happened exactly a year ago in Greater Noida in which the local head of Italian firm Graziano Transmission was reportedly beaten to death by a group of sacked employees. It was reported that the Graziano incident was sparked off when goons hired by the management beat up workers who had been summoned on the pretext of talks. A similar incident has recently been reported from Gorakhpur. Meanwhile at Gurgaon, the killing of a worker by management ‘bouncers’ during an agitation against sacking of employees who were leading the struggle to unionise, has sparked off a massive strike in Gurgaon. A few incidents involving mill managers have also been witnessed occasionally in the jute mills in West Bengal notorious for huge PF defaults and most anarchic and arbitrary labour practices by the mill owners. The recent suicide of Manikandan, a worker at Pricol for the last 19 years, is the latest addition to the toll of human life taken by the undemocratic and repressive tactics of the Pricol management.

Yet instead of highlighting the common causal thread that runs through such cases – absence of industrial democracy, rampant violations of labour laws and complete denial of the right to unionise, miserable working and living conditions of workers, and recurrent violence by management against vocal workers, to name just a few causes – or helping us understand the incident in the context of the deep anxieties and uncertainties fuelled by the recession, most media reports have tended to join the corporate chorus defaming the organized trade union movement and calling for labour reforms to give still greater freedom to capital to dictate terms to labour. Some have even gone to the extent of demanding a ban on the AICCTU and CPI(ML).

The Pricol management has been notorious for its record of rampant violation of labour laws, court verdicts and government orders. Far from recognizing the union supported by the overwhelming majority of workers, it has constantly victimized workers for siding with a ‘Marxist-Leninist union’, hoping to break the union through coercion and intimidation. In recent months, in the name of facing the recession, it has resorted to harsh wage-cuts, robbing every worker of tens of thousands of rupees. On top of this, came the September 21 termination of 40-odd workers and the dam of workers’ patience burst asunder.

Even in the face of such a vindictive and arbitrary management, Pricol workers have actually been waging a protracted and patient battle exploring every legal avenue available for bringing the management to justice. From Madras High Court to Supreme Court to the floor of the Tamil Nadu State Assembly, the contention of the fighting workers has been upheld time and again and notice issued to the management for legal compliance. The tragic incident of September 21-22 should not blind us to this real history of Pricol workers’ struggle.

By launching a witch hunt against Pricol workers at the behest of the Pricol management, and framing the all-India leadership of a recognized trade union centre like AICCTU, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) government is now playing its bit to intensify the state-corporate assault on industrial democracy and basic trade union rights. The trade union movement and the broader democratic opinion must resolutely resist this assault and stand by Pricol workers for fulfillment of their just demands.

The Centre too is trying to use Pricol-Graziano-type incidents to discredit the working class movement and push for the corporate-sponsored agenda of ‘labour law reform.’ In other words, instead of correcting the course of rampant violations of labour laws by managements which led to such tragedies, the Centre is planning to institutionalise and legalise those very violations! The Pricol tragedy cannot and must not be allowed to be utilized as a corporate handle to coerce workers and suppress the voice of justice. The deaths of Roy George and the worker Manikandan in Pricol, and of Gurgaon worker Ajit Yadav should serve as a warning bell to the government to strictly act against the anarchy perpetrated by managements across the country, legislate in favour of workers’ right to form unions, sternly penalise every violation of labour laws, and uphold principles of industrial democracy and collective bargaining.

At Coimbatore, a single day’s tragic incident is being deliberately sought to be used to prejudice public opinion against the Pricol workers and suppress the truth of the nearly one thousand days of their united and determined struggle.

Pricol: Confirmed Violator of Labour Laws

Among other basic things, a key demand of Pricol workers has been for the recognition of their unions which enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of workers while the management has been constantly pressurizing workers to withdraw from the road of struggle and sever ties with the ‘Marxist-Leninist’/‘Maoist’ leadership.

In this long struggle of Pricol workers, the government of Tamil Nadu has repeatedly censured the Pricol management. The state government has issued three advices, passed one government order (GO) prohibiting the continuance of lockout, passed three GOs ordering references, passed two orders under section 10B of the Industrial Disputes Act (ID Act) 1947.

On 29th of July 2009 the state Labour Minister, while replying to a calling attention motion moved on the floor of the assembly by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Congress, Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist), catalogued the various unfair labour practices indulged in by Pricol Ltd, and stated that the workers had given up their indefinite fast which had been continuing for the 15th day as their demands were accepted by the government. He further assured that the government would not let the workers down.

Have things completely changed in a few months and more particularly on a single day with the unfortunate death of an executive? In the heat and passion generated by this tragic incident, can we allow rational reasoning to become a casualty?

Will TN Police Consult TN Labour Department on Pricol Ltd?

Rampant violation of labour laws, court verdicts and government orders has been the trademark of the Pricol management.

Some highlights of Pricol’s notorious track record in the arena of industrial relations:

Vindictive transfers.

Refusal to engage in collective bargaining in good faith with the majority union.

Illegal partial lockouts.

Break-in-service orders.

Stoppages of increments.

Termination of more than 1000 employees

Illegal deduction of wages and incentives running into crores of rupees; promises by the management to pay all these withheld dues if the workers leave the unions.

Employment of apprentices and contract labour contrary to certified standing orders and the Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act, 1970.

Most recently, dismissal of 44 workers without any domestic enquiry.

In almost all these issues the state government has intervened under sections 10 (1), 10(3) and 10 B of the ID act 1947. In fact Comrade Kumarasami was trying to get the Labour Minister convene a meeting at the earliest to resolve the simmering discontent and this fact is known to the Labour Department.

The management does not want Comrade Kumarasami to defend the Pricol workers in the High Court as well as the Supreme Court on the 29th of September and other subsequent dates. This is the main reason for implicating Comrade Kumarasami, the national president of a centrally recognised trade union.

Continuing Witch-hunt

Subsequent to the incident at the Pricol automotive parts manufacturing company at Coimbatore on 21-22 September 2009, the police initiated a crackdown on innocent workers and their leaders. Murder cases were fabricated against more than 20 workers, including two women. The charges of murder and of damages to properties were framed against the union’s all-India President Comrade S Kumarasamy. The same cases were also foisted against many workers’ leaders and vanguards at factory level who are under suspension or dismissal and who are not entitled to enter the factory. More than 26 innocent workers, including eight women, were arrested within 24 hours on non-bailable offences, digging up some old cases of unlawful assembly that alleged to have happened in March 2009. These arrests were made two days prior to a meeting of an AICCTU delegation with the Deputy Chief Minister and the day before the anticipatory bail petition for S Kumarasamy was filed in the High Court of Chennai. At the next hearing of the bail petition of S Kumarasamy on 15 October, the police gave an undertaking to the Court not to arrest him until the anticipatory bail hearing was complete.

Around 26 workers arrested on charges of unlawful assembly were released on bail on 7 October after having been jailed for over a week. The workers of Pricol wanted to participate in struggles on 1 October as a part of all-India Protest Day called by AICCTU at national level. The police denied permission for the demonstration. On 3rd October, a Solidarity Committee with Pricol workers sought permission to hold a demonstration in support of the struggle and was denied by police. Hundreds of supporters of the struggle courted arrest violating prohibitory orders.

On 2nd October, a state level delegation of AICCTU led by N K Natarajan and comprising of state deputy general secretaries A S Kumar and Bhuvana, G Radha Krishnan and two Pricol workers, met the Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin. The delegation urged him to initiate suitable actions to establish the rule of law and to discipline the Pricol management which is responsible for industrial anarchy.

An all India delegation of AICCTU led by its all-India General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee, and comprising all-India Vice-President V Shankar, Secretaries N K Natarajan and Balasubramanian visited Coimbatore on 6th October. When the delegation went to address the press at press club, more than hundred policemen cordoned off the place to create a situation of terror. The delegation also addressed a well attended convention of workers of Pricol on the same evening. In spite of heavy repression and prevalence of terror situation, workers participated in the convention in good strength and displayed utmost struggling spirit and a sense of fighting unity. The convention was symbolic of the renewed vigour and resolve of workers to carry forward the struggle. The convention also paid homage to a Pricol worker who committed suicide unable to bear the management’s victimization of workers and the police harassment.

The delegation also met the State Labour Minister, State Labour Commissioner and the state police Chief, the Director General of Police and submitted a memorandum demanding withdrawal of false cases against Comrade S Kumarasamy and other innocent workers. The delegation also demanded suitable legislative amendments for recognition of trade unions that enjoy the support of majority workers.

A peace meeting on 7 October was called, under the guidance of the Deputy Chief Minister, by the Deputy Commissioner of Labour Mr. Marimuthu at Coimbatore who served notices to the union and the management. The management chose to stay away from the meeting while the union attended it. The Pricol management continues to arrogantly defy any steps for peace.

The management also declared a differential bonus formula for different groups. While the majority workers in the union were unilaterally offered the statutory minimum bonus of 8.33%, the minority loyal workmen represented by treacherous unions were offered 20% bonus plus gift. This is also a sufficient indication that violation of laws by the management is going on unabated and there is no political or legal authority competent enough to prevail on the Pricol Management. This is the usual story of corporate or Multinational corporation (MNC) influence and control over the State authorities instead of the reverse.

It is heartening that almost all Left trade unions like All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) offered support to the workers’ demands at national and state level. They also readily signed the joint statement. The struggles, rallies and demonstrations emphasizing the Pricol workers’ demands, are on in Chennai on every other day since 29 September. All India Agricultural Labour Association (AIALA) also joined the protest in support of workers in rural areas displaying the sense of unity with workers. Students and women too, joined the voice of protest in the state of Tamil Nadu.

The struggle of Pricol workers’ continues – even as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the Centre is pushing the agenda of ‘reform of labour laws’ – a euphemism for rollback of labour laws to appease the corporations and to intensify the liberalization offensive.

Massive protests

Following the witch-hunt of workers and attempt to frame and implicate the AICCTU National President Comrade Kumaraswamy in the death of a Vice President at PRICOL industries, Coimbatore, there have been a flood of protests – not only in Tamil Nadu bur nationally and even outside the country.

In Delhi, AICCTU held a protest at Jantar Mantar on 24 September. On the same day, there was a demonstration in Ambattur industrial estate in which over 500 workers participated. TIDC workers held a gate meeting. Demonstrations were also held in Namakkal, Pudukottai district Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts too.

100s of protest telegrams were sent from all over the State to the Tamil Nadu CM and Governor. The Madras High Court Association passed a resolution against the false implication of Comrade Kumarsami.

On 25 September, a demo was held in Villupuram district. On 26 September, the first State Conference of AISA in Tamil Nadu was held in Chennai. The delegates staged a demo demanding withdrawal of the false charges against AICCTU National President and an end to the police hunt of workers.

TIDC workers held another gate meeting on 27 September. On 29 September, a demonstration was held in Chennai in which over 150 workers participated. Another demonstration took place under the banner of the Workers’ Solidarity Forum at Kumananchavadi near Poonamalli.

An AIPWA team met the State Women’s Commission Chairperson and demanded to stop police harassment on women workers. She appointed a one-woman Commission to look into the issue.

On 30 September, representatives of all Central Trade Unions in Tamil Nadu issued a resolution against the implication of AICCTU National President in the case and against violations of labour laws in the State. Demonstrations were held in Tirunelveli, Pudukottai and Tiruvallore districts.

The Progressive Advocates Association and MRF Workers Seeramaippu Movement of Tiruvottiyur releases posters on the issue.

1st October was observed as National Solidarity Day by AICCTU. Protest demonstrations were held at Ranchi, Lucknow and other centres. A demonstration was held in Chennai in which 1000 workers participated. CITU, AITUC and AIUTUC leaders attended the demonstration. Demonstrations were held in Villupuram, Kumbakonam, Cuddalore, Namakkal, Kanyakumari, Trichy, Salem, Dindigal and Madurai. In Tirunelveli, signatures collected were submitted to the Collector. A public meeting was held in Pudukottai town.

Pricol workers who arrived Chennai on 30 September met the State Labor Minister and demanded that the police harassment should be stopped. New Democratic Workers’ Union staged a demo in support of Pricol Workers.

On 3rd October AIPWA and Workers Rights’ Forum held a demonstration. In Coimbatore, over 120 people led by democratic forces held a rally. They were arrested and released later. A joint demonstration by many TUs was held in Ambattur.

On 4th October, TN Democratic Construction Workers Union organized a demo in Chennai. A Public meeting was held in Suthamalli of Tirunelveli district. On 5 October a demonstration was held in Kanchipuram and a memorandum was submitted to the Collector. A demonstration was held in Tiruvallore district by AICCTU-AIALA.

On 6th October, a hall meeting attended by 300 workers was held in Coimbatore addressed by AICCTU National General Secretary Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, Vice President Comrade V Shankar, Comrades N.K.Natarajan and S Balasubramaniam. AIPWA also held a demo in Chennai.

Also on 6th October, the Chennai Labour Court observed a boycott in solidarity with Pricol workers. On 9th October, a Court boycott was observed in Tirunelveli.

On 7th October, hundreds participated in a protest march in Chennai. A demonstration was held at Salem and Villupuram, and a public meeting at Tirunelveli. Protests continue across Tamilnadu.

Pricol Update

National President of All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) Com. S. Kumarasami was given anticipatory bail in the Pricol incident where he was falsely accused for the tragic death of Pricol’s HR VP. Fifty workers were arrested and put in jail out of which 26 have been given bail and barring one the Pricol management has taken back all 25 for work. Earlier the management never took-back the workers when there was court case involved after industrial dispute. This is the first time the workers released from jail have been allowed to resume their job. The remaining 24 workers who did not get bail have been charged with Sec. 302 of the IPC. The AICCTU is making all efforts for their bail as soon as possible.

At the heart of the incident in Pricol, Graziano and recently Gurgaon is the managements’ continuous denial to the workers to form and recognize their union and total absence of industrial democracy. The AICCTU and CPI(ML) have declared that the nation-wide struggle for workers’ right to form their union, trade union recognition and industrial democracy will be intensified and carried on until the working class win their basic rights.

Land Struggles in India

Land Reforms Sangharsh Yatra and Convention

– Liberation, September, 2009.

CPI (ML) in Bihar launched a state-wide campaign from 3-8 October to demand implementation of the recommendations of the D. Bandopadhyaya Land Reforms Commission (LRC). The Sangharsh Yatra called upon the masses to reject and oust the Nitish Govt. which is so blatantly on the side of landlords and land-grabbers.

On October 3rd, Sangharsh Yatras (struggle marches) were taken out – from Madhuban village in Patna led by All Indian Agricultural Labourers Association (AIALA)’s National President Rameshwar Yadav and Party’s MLA Nand Kumar Nanda; from Arrah in Bhojpur led by KD Yadav- State President of Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha (BPKS), from Karakat in Rohtas led by Arun Singh; from Biharsharif in Nalanda led by All Indian Progressive Womens’ Association (AIPWA) State Secretary Shashi Yadav, from Comrade Chandrashekhar’s statue at Siwan led by CPI(ML) MLA Amarnath Yadav, from Hathua in Gopalganj led by CCM Meena Tiwari; from Manjhaulia in West Champaran led by Virendra Gupta; in Muzaffarpur led by Jitenda Yadav; in Purnea led by Madhavi Sarkar; in Darbhanga led by Dhirendra Jha; in Begusarai led by Chandradeo Ram; in Aurangabad led by Rajaram Singh; in Patna led by Saroj Chaubey and in Bhagalpur led by SK Sharma. Apart from Yatras were also taken out in Chhapra, Vaishali, Araria, Banka, Munger, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Madhubani and Sitamarhi districts.

During the Sangharsh Yatra in 30 districts of the State more than a thousand public meetings and gatherings were organised and addressed. Foot marches and vehicle campaigns aided the intensive campaign. The Sangharsh Yatra crossed more than five thousand villages in 200 sub-divisions/blocks.

The Yatra culminated in a massive Land Reforms Convention at Patna on 10 October addressed by CPI (ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. He said that Mandal-ite politicians like Laloo and Nitish had conveniently forgotten that the Mandal Commission too had recommended land reforms as a key component of social justice. Nitish Kumar, he said, had set up Mahadalit Commission, Common School Commission and Land Reforms Commission galore – only to turn and make a mockery of their recommendations.

He said that carnages like Amousi could have been avoided if Nitish Kumar led government had implemented the recommendations of the D. Bandopadhyaya Commission, instead of leaving the landless poor and sharecroppers to the mercy of the prevailing agrarian anarchy. Under pressure from his primary constituency of feudal forces, he is now junking the agenda of Land Reforms.

The Convention also warned the Nitish Govt. that if no action is taken within a month’s time towards implementing the Land Reform Commission’s recommendations, the movement would be intensified.

Some of the resolutions passed at the Convention –

(1) This massive Convention of landless-sharecroppers-peasants holds the policy of reluctance and feudal attitude of the Govt. towards land reforms to be responsible for Amousi massacre. The Govt. that swears in the name of Mahadalits is only repressing them and painting them as criminals instead of providing them land, food-grains, dignity and housing. The Convention condemns the large scale repression, implicating in false cases and arresting of Musahar people at Khagaria, Saharsa, Darbhanga, Begusarai and Munger districts after the Amousi massacre, and demands that all the cases be withdrawn and arrested people be released immediately, and all landless families including the Mushahar community be granted 10 decimal housing plot and one acre of farm land,

(2) This convention terms the Rajgir conference of RSS as an exercise in vitalising the feudal-communal forces and calls upon all the poor-secular people to launch resistance against its proposed Gram Raksha Vahinis (village defence squad) aimed at encouraging the aggressiveness of feudal-kulak forces.

Declarations:

(1) In the light of recommendations of the D Bandopadhyaya Commission the State Govt. must urgently enact new laws for ceiling and share-cropping. Bhoodan, ceiling and housing plot parchadharis must be facilitated in gaining possession of the said land. Sharecroppers be safeguarded from eviction and get assured access to all facilities ranging from bank loans to crop-damage compensation and other Government agricultural welfare schemes

(2) The convention strongly condemns the betrayal by past Congress, RJD and current JD(U) governments on the issue of land reforms and calls upon rural poor and peasantry to intensify land struggle. A State-level workshop will be organised at Muzaffarpur on 28-29 October to provide impetus to the struggle for land reforms

(3) A parallel registration campaign will be conducted for share-croppers, landless poor and those without homestead land. The Convention demands that all matters related to land be handed over to panchayats and panchayats be authorised to issue identity cards to share-croppers and landless. This Convention calls upon the Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha (BPKS) and AIALA to collect records of feudal forces holding Govt. land and launch struggle against them.

Tailpiece:

The Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has finally declared outright that he has no intention of implementing the LRC recommendation to enact a new bataidari law. Instead he has directed SPs to deal with land disputes – confirming that in his govt.’s view, land is viewed as a law and order issue, and in effect issuing a veiled threat to the CPI(ML) (i.e that we will have to contend with the police if we take up land issues).

In response to queries by the press, Nitish has declared that when even West Bengal could not implement ownership rights for the sharecroppers, how can Bihar do it? But the fact is that the LRC headed by D Bandopadhyaya does not at any point recommend ownership rights for sharecroppers! It merely recommends registration of bataidars as the most modest and minimum security of tenure and right to cultivate the land, allowing the sharecroppers to thus access government schemes of agricultural compensation and credit, etc… Nitish is setting up a straw man of ‘ownership rights’ and then knocking it down! Nitish has also summarily ruled out the LRC recommendation of uniformity of land ceiling, and even the recommendation of 10 decimals of homestead land for rural poor.

The CPI(ML) has launched a widespread awareness campaign regarding ceiling land, homestead land and bataidari rights. Alongside this, the party has also begun initiatives to organise bataidars and create a pressure from below. In 10 panchayats of Patna where the party has a hold, we have begun to extend subsidy to bataidars. In Samastipur, our panchayats have distributed Kisan Credit cards to bataidars in Bhojpur, bataidari registration forms have been filled up as part of a campaign and submitted to the district administration.

Workers’ Struggles in India

Women Workers’ Convention

– Liberation, November, 2009.

A national Convention of women workers was held on October 9 at Bhilai, to facilitate ways in which to mobilize women workers to struggle for their rights.

The Convention, presided over by Sunita, Meena Pal, Dolly Dasgupta, was inaugurated by All India Agricultural Labour Association (AICCTU) National General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee.

All India Progressive Womens’ Association (AIPWA) Secretary Kavita Krishnan presented a position paper challenging the myths that globalization has empowered women workers. Subsequently, many women workers shared their experiences.

Veena Devi, General Secretary, Bihar State ASHA Employees Association said that ASHA recruits are responsible for a range of pre and post natal care for a mere Rs. 600 honorarium – even that was not paid in full anywhere. We’re demanding the status of govt employees and until then interim wage of Rs. 5000 per month.”

Sangeeta Devi of Bihar said, “I used to work at a juice factory in Hajipur Industrial Area. This year when I participated in a May Day programme organized by AICCTU at the gate of JK Cotton Mill, my factory owner spotted me and called up my manager on the mobile directing him to terminate my employment. But I did not lose heart, and I began to organise construction workers.” Baijayanti Devi, SAHIA worker from Pakhur, Jharkhand told much the same story.

Jaswinder Kaur from Punjab spoke of the agricultural workers’ recent struggle for homestead land in which a large number of women had been jailed.

Savitri Ghatowal said the Assam Tea Plantation Labour Act 1852 is outdated and requires change. The Assam Sangrami Cha Shramik Sangh has been demanding a new Act even the rights enshrined in the old Act are being violated. Facilities provided earlier to tea plantation workers have been withdrawn – for instance the provision of houses. 90 days maternity leave, provided for by the existing Act, is denied often pregnant workers give birth while working on the plantation.”

Thenmozhi spoke of bonded labour under the ‘Sumangali scheme” in the powerloom sector, whereby unmarried young girls worked in virtual bondage to earn a lump-sum amount for their dowry. Most of these women are dalits, she said; they are often dismissed on flimsy charges before the allotted time is up, so the cash amount can be cut. Many who worked the entire period received cheques that bounced.

Shanti Sen, an agricultural worker from Raipur described how her 17 year old son was framed in a false case in order to harass villagers for challenging corruption; her son eventually committed suicide in custody.

Savitri Sahu, a cleaning worker from Bhilai spoke of being victimised by contractors, who laid those branded as ‘leaders’ for several weeks. Geeta Mandal, AIPWA leader from Jharkhand spoke of how Mid Day meal workers and SAHIA workers are underpaid and overworked.

The Convention resolved to form an AICCTU Women’s Cell, and to take up a series of programmes designed to highlight women workers’ rights and develop leaders among women.

South Asia

Tamil Nationalism: Ducking the Issues

– S Sivasegaram.

Although the prospects of a military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rose with every setback suffered by the LTTE since its retreat from the Eastern Province in 2007, its rapid collapse from early 2009 surprised many observers including opponents and critics. Many questions concerning the failure of the LTTE to assess correctly the military situation remain unanswered.

Most Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists, especially among the diaspora, think that the defeat was due to betrayal by India. Many complain that the West, especially the US, too let down the LTTE by failing to intervene. There are also those who argue that weapons supplied by China did the damage, while some seek to justify the conduct of the Indian government based on the rising Chinese and, to a less extent, Pakistani influence in Sri Lanka.

Such explanations miss the point that the West as well as India wanted the elimination of the LTTE as a military force. The US was happy to disarm the LTTE using the negotiating table while weakening it through inducing divisions, whereas the Indian establishment desired the annihilation of the LTTE.

Some think that the LTTE would have survived to return to a position of strength, had it reverted to guerrilla warfare after its defeat in the East. Although this is speculation, resorting to guerrilla warfare would have spared the lives of many LTTE cadres as well as leaders, and more importantly the tens of thousands of civilians killed in the last few months of the war. It could also have averted the ending up of 280,000 in poorly sheltered detention camps, the maiming of well over 20,000, and other known and yet unknown forms of suffering.

What are missing in the explanations above for the defeat of the LTTE are the political reasons. The LTTE, like other Tamil nationalist movements, was never a mass movement, and all along it placed armed struggle above politics. Its anti-democratic approach, resentment of criticism and intolerance to opposition had their roots in Tamil nationalist politics, but the LTTE surpassed all predecessors. Also, besides its reluctance to oppose imperialism, it pinned its hopes on the imperialists as its fortunes declined in the battlefield.

The events of the past several months lead to important questions that are being avoided by nationalists of all shades, including those who support the government.

It is probably true that the people willingly followed the LTTE as it retreated from Kilinochchi at the end of 2008. But as life became harder, many wanted to cross over to government controlled territory, and the LTTE used force, including shooting at people who attempted to leave, to prevent them from leaving. Why did the LTTE insist on the people remaining with it even as the territory held by it was shrinking and difficulties mounted in meeting the basic needs of the people under its control, especially in the context of the government severely restricting if not blocking the supply of essential goods?

The LTTE could not have been ignorant of the firepower possessed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and their willingness to use it at tremendous risk to human life. The LTTE also knew that its military supplies had been effectively intercepted and severely curtailed since 2007 with the help of the Indian military intelligence. Did the LTTE seriously expect that some major power would intervene to save it and avert the impending disaster?

Those who encouraged the Tamils at home and among the diaspora to believe that intervention in some form was impending from the US, the UN and even some European countries include the Tamil elite among the diaspora who still believe in lobbying politicians, and includes the group calling itself ‘Tamils for Obama’. Tamil elitist support in the West called for unqualified support for the LTTE, and refused to distinguish between the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils demanding a just and lasting solution to the national question and the LTTE which claimed to be their sole spokesperson, with rapidly declining justification for such as claim. Why did the LTTE leadership wait until the last moment to announce its surrender? Why did it not let the people leave even when it was clear that military defeat was imminent? If any false hope was given to the LTTE leadership, who or what was its source?

There are also questions relating to the surrender and killing of the LTTE leadership which are as embarrassing to the government as to the supporters of the LTTE, which had demanded of its cadres to commit suicide rather than surrender.

Interestingly, LTTE spokespersons among the diaspora still debate Pirapakaran’s demise. The claim that he is still alive seems to be based on more dubious reasons than blind faith. Those who claim that he is alive seem to have control over much of the wealth accumulated for fighting the cause of Tamil Eelam. Funds came mainly from the Tamil diaspora, although contributions were not always voluntary.

The hope that the LTTE will revive as a fighting force is fast receding among the faithful. Meantime, the idea of setting up a ‘Trans-National Government of Tamil Eelam’ is being promoted by a section of the elite, who accept the demise of the leader. K Pathmanathan, a Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE) promoter who was named the leader of the LTTE among the diaspora since the fall of the LTTE, is now in the custody of the Sri Lankan government. The circumstances of his alleged abduction from a hotel in Malaysia and deportation from Thailand suggest possible surrender, the denial of which suits both the TNGTE elite and the Sri Lankan government.

Internationally, the stock of the Sri Lankan government is low, mainly in view of the detention under unacceptable condition of Tamils ‘freed from the control of the LTTE’, let alone charges of war crimes and human rights abuses by its armed forces. The Tamil elite among the diaspora is seeking solace in the prospect of the West punishing Sri Lanka, based on the some of the harsh criticism emanating from the US, UN and the EU. But they hardly realise that charges of war crimes and human rights violations only serve to bring wayward states into line and not to bring offenders to book and even less to rectify wrongs.

What is evident among the Tamil diaspora is that they are being fed with false hope to avert any serious analysis of what went wrong with the struggle for Tamil Eelam.

The situation in Sri Lanka is similar, with the Tamil nationalist leaders reluctant to discuss pressing issues concerning the plight of the Tamils. Despite superficial political differences, they are, as a whole, reluctant to seriously discuss or debate their political past and the failed armed struggle. As in the past, it is safer for them to blame ‘traitors’ and point to external factors with which they are not associated so that they can continue to fool the Tamil people the way they did for over half a century.

But changes are evident across the Tamil political landscape. Elections to the local authorities in the North were recently held by the government in a bid to show that life there was returning to normal. The New Democratic Party called for a boycott of the elections, but under prevailing conditions could not actively campaign for a boycott.

The people had their own ideas. In the election for the Jaffna Municipal Council nearly 80% of the voters kept off , with more than 6% of those voting spoiling their ballot papers. Voting in the Vavuniya Urban Council was just over 50% with over 5% of ballot papers spoilt, despite impersonation, intimidation and other ‘customary democratic practices’. There was no overwhelming support for any political grouping whether pro-government or not.

That is food for thought.

Short Obituary

Saluting the Memory of K Balagopal

– Liberation, November, 2009.

The untimely death of leading civil libertarian K Balagopal on 8 October 2009 is a great loss to people’s movements for justice and democracy.

Balagopal played a key role in building up a powerful human rights movement in Andhra Pradesh and confront regime after repressive regime in Andhra Pradesh. He was among the first to confront the State on the issue of fake encounter killings – often at risk to his own life.

At a time when both Central and State governments of every hue are intensifying their offensive on democracy and civil liberties through draconian laws, fake encounters and muzzling of dissent, K Balagopal’s memory is a source of strength and inspiration to all those involved in the struggle to defend democracy and resist state repression.

Short Obituary

Adieu to Comrade Ibn-ul Hasan Basru!

– Liberation, November, 2009.

With a heavy heart, we bid goodbye on 29.09.09 to Comrade Ibn-ul Hasan Basru, Central Committee member of the CPI (ML) and one of the leading lights of our party in Jharkhand. Comrade Basru, recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer of the gall bladder, breathed his last at 1 pm on 29 September 09 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Comrade Basru was born in 1943 in Godda district of Jharkhand (then undivided Bihar). He received his schooling at Mirzaganj in Giridih, in the same school where his father taught Urdu. He completed his school finals from Patna College, where he first came into contact with the communist movement, joining the All India Students Federation (AISF). In the 1960s he was drawn closer to the Communist Party of India (CPI), taking a formal party membership in 1968. In 1970 he formed the Mirzaganj unit of the party, and soon led a powerful anti-feudal peasant movement, challenging bonded labour, usury and assaults on dalits, adivasis and women.

Within a very short time, this militant movement made its mark and led to the rapid expansion of the party in the district. In 1972, he also led the resistance to communal politics of the Jan Sangh-Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

In 1973, he was jailed for the first time; in his subsequent political life in the thick of people’s movements, he was jailed many times. In the 1980s, he again led a powerful anti-feudal mass upsurge, and the success of CPI candidates in elections was attributed in significant measure to his efforts.

However, by the 1990s, he began to be dissatisfied with the politics and tactics of the CPI, and eventually came closer to the CPI (ML), which was rising as a powerful force in Giridih and Jharkhand. In 2002, he joined the CPI (ML), and in the 7th Party Congress of the CPI (ML) at Patna in November 2002, he was elected to Central Committee of the CPI (ML).

In the extremely challenging period following the martyrdom of Comrade Mahendra Singh, Comrade Basru shouldered a very crucial part of the responsibility, striving to achieve Comrade Mahendra Singh’s goal of achieving the party’s growth in Giridih.

A very modest and down-to-earth comrade, he easily integrated himself with the toiling poor. He epitomised the communist lifestyle; even with many economic and health travails faced by his family, he always relied on the people and dedicated himself to the party.

Comrades in Jharkhand know that till the very end, he remained quiet about his illness, playing a leading role in the recent militant struggle against irregularities in implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in Jamua.

Our thoughts are with his bereaved family in their hour of loss. Comrade Basru – your simplicity, your courage, your communist spirit and dedication will continue to inspire comrades!

Red Salute to Comrade Ibn-ul Hasan Basru!

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