By Girish Bhave, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC)
AIFAP has been reporting on its website about various struggles being waged against the privatisation drive of the Central government. There is a lot to learn from all the struggles. There are many learnings, in particular, from the struggle against the privatisation of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, also known as the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL).
It was on January 27 last year that the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) gave an in-principal approval for 100 per cent strategic disinvestment of the Government of India shareholding in the RINL along with handing over management control by way of privatisation. A week later, the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) Secretary, Tuhin Kanta Pandey tweeted the decision of the CCEA to privatise RINL, as part of the Central Government’s efforts to raise ₹1.75 lakh crore through strategic disinvestment of loss-making PSUs. The former Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in their replies to the queries raised by the Andhra Pradesh MPs in parliament, asserted that there is no question of going back on the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. It is thus quit clear that the Central Government is hell bent on selling the plant.
However, the government has been unable to execute the plan even after one year of the announcement for the following reasons:
- Workers of the steel plant have firmly united keeping aside their differences vis-à-vis union affiliation, hierarchy, political affiliation
- They have been successful in building a strong unity of everybody opposing the privatisation drive, including workers of the factory and other people’s organisations in one committee, the Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Samithi (Committee to protect Vizag Steel)
- They have mobilised public opinion of the entire state against the privatisation plan by highlighting that the assets of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant belong to all the people of the state and they have successfully popularised the slogan “Visakha Ukku Andhrula Hakku” – Visakha steel is the right of the Andhras.
- They have continuously kept the pot boiling by involving the employees by organizing a continuous relay hunger strike which has already completed more than 300 days
- By building popular pressure they have succeeded in forcing political leaders of various parties to take a public stand against the privatisation process
- They have involved the people of Andhra Pradesh in the struggle by carrying our massive campaigns like forming a 10 km long human chain
- They have succeeded in enlisting support of other organizations of workers like All India Loco Running Staff Association, organizations of workers from Defence, Railway, Banking Sector, LIC, GIC, not in mere words or letters but in actual protest actions! Students’, Youth, and Women’s organizations also joined their protests
- They have also organized protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi
In a nutshell, they literally organized opposition from gali to Delhi!
They realized that the fight against privatisation of public sector enterprises is in reality not just a fight against the BJP government but a fight against the onslaught by the Indian capitalist class, and hence it can be successfully waged only by the firm unity of all working people in action.
These are the lessons that can be drawn from this struggle for all of us involved in fight against privatisation.