Report by Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL) correspondent of the meeting organised by Mazdoor Ekta Committee (MEC) held on 5 February, 2023 at New Delhi
The walls of the meeting hall were decorated with banners that bore slogans such as: ‘No compromise with privatisation!’, ‘Those who create the wealth of the country have to be the masters of the country!’, ‘Mazdoor Kisaan Ka hai Yeh Nara, Sara Hindostan Hai Hamara!’, ‘Workers of all countries, unite!’.
Activists of trade unions, workers’ organisations, kisan organisations, human rights’ organisations, women and youth attended the meeting in large numbers and actively participated in the discussion.
The meeting was conducted by Santosh Kumar of MEC. He welcomed all the participants to the discussion on this burning issue. He pointed out that a major struggle is going on throughout the country, against the privatisation of public assets and services. We are witnessing workers uniting in the struggle against privatisation, across trade union and political party affiliations. The purpose of this meeting, he explained, is to bring workers of all sections on a common platform to discuss how to take the struggle forward. He then called on Birju Nayak of MEC to present his views.
Birju Nayak began by expressing his view that the natural resources of this country as well as the wealth created by the labour of our people belongs to all of us. We cannot allow the capitalists to exploit these to enrich themselves, while depriving the people.
He recalled the heroic struggle led by MEC, against the privatisation of Modern Foods India Limited (MFIL), 23 years ago. It was a struggle against the sale of the central government owned MFIL to the private multinational company Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL). The NDA government of Vajpayee had then recently announced its decision to sell MFIL and BALCO (Bharat Aluminium Company). He explained that the struggle was waged in very difficult conditions, because at that time, most of the major trade unions had accepted the logic of the ruling class that “there is no alternative to privatisation”. These trade unions were advising the workers to accept a VRS package and quit.
He described how the struggle of the MFIL and BALCO workers had forced the Vajpayee government to set up a Prime Minister’s special committee in October 2002, to investigate the consequences of privatisation of these state-owned companies. The MEC and MFIL Union placed before this committee documentary evidence of how the HLL management was liquidating the plant and machinery, resorting to subcontracting, using contract labour in place of the regular workers and violating all labour laws. They showed that the HLL management was only interested in the brand name of Modern Bread and in the immense value of the real estate acquired as a result of the privatisation deal.
When the Committee submitted its report to the government in September 2004, the MFIL workers demanded that the report be placed before parliament and discussed. However, the Manmohan Singh led UPA government, which had by then come into power, did not fulfil this demand. Instead, the UPA government took a different route for privatisation to achieve the same aims.
The struggle against privatisation has shown time and again, that there can be no compromise with the bourgeois agenda of privatisation, in whatever form or name it may be implemented, Birju Nayak said.
He pointed out that every government that has come to power since that time has relentlessly pursued the agenda of privatisation. Over the years, railways, banking, insurance, electricity distribution, telecom and even ‘strategic’ sectors such as defence production, basic social services such as education and health have all been thrown open for privatisation. The struggle of the working class against privatisation is also growing. Workers are asserting that these services cannot and must not be run with the motivation of maximising profits for private capitalists.
Birju Nayak showed, through numerous examples, that the motivation behind the policies and laws implemented by every government has always been the maximisation of the profits of the biggest monopoly capitalists. In the 1950-1970s, the policy of creating and expanding state-owned heavy industry, state-owned banks and insurance companies, served to create the infrastructure for industrialisation, to expand the home market for capitalism and to guarantee maximum profits for the monopoly capitalists. In the period since the 1980s, the pursuit of maximum monopoly profits is being served by the agenda of globalisation, through privatisation and liberalisation.
The ruling class perpetuates the illusion that through elections people determine the government and its policies. But the reality is that the monopoly capitalist houses pour in thousands of crores of rupees to bring to power that political party or coalition which can best fulfil their agenda, while most effectively fooling the people. The vast majority of people in our country have no power to take decisions, to influence policies or initiate legislation.
The working class has to carry forward the struggle against privatisation with the aim of ending the domination of private capitalist greed over the needs of the vast majority of society. The program of the working class is to fight for a new society in which the workers, peasants and all toilers will be the decision makers. We have to reorient the entire system of production of goods and services with the aim of fulfilling social need and not capitalist greed, he concluded.
The next speaker was Lata from SEWA. She spoke of the different sectors in which privatisation was taking place, including essential social services such as health and education. As a result, a large majority of the workers are being deprived of these essential social services, she pointed out. She gave many examples of the increasing use of contract labour by the capitalists and even in the government departments. She highlighted the plight of contract workers and migrant workers, recalling the massive human tragedy that the country witnessed during the Covid lockdown.
Lata denounced the four labour codes and elaborated on how the conditions of workers will get worse when these are implemented, especially regarding safety at the workplace and social security. She pointed out that the problem of growing unemployment will only get worse with increasing privatisation.
Communal propaganda and the unleashing of communal violence and state terror are the weapons with which our rulers are dividing the workers, intimidating us and trying to weaken our united struggle against exploitation, Lata said. She thanked MEC and emphasised the need to make workers conscious of their rights. She called for a united and resolute struggle against privatisation.
Nazim Hussein from UTUC spoke next. He explained how PSUs were deliberately looted, systematically destroyed and made to run at a loss to justify their privatisation. He gave examples of Telecom, Railways, and other sectors where this has been going on. The communist movement has not been able to give unified leadership and a clear direction to the struggle of the workers against privatisation, he said. He thanked MEC and appealed to the youth in the meeting to take the struggle forward.
Several other participants elaborated on the issues raised by the speakers.
Participants questioned the capitalist definition of “efficiency”, under which pretext the big monopoly capitalist companies are justifying lakhs of workers being thrown out of their jobs. This is only efficiency of the capitalists to increase their wealth, but it is totally inefficient for the society to have a large section of the productive population unemployed, they pointed out. They gave examples to show how many sectors vital for the society to progress, such as public health and education are being privatised, rendering these services out of reach of a majority of the working people. This is leading to increasing poverty on the one hand and fabulous enrichment of a handful of big monopoly capitalist houses on the other.
Concluding the discussion, Santosh Kumar emphasised that the immediate aim of our struggle is to halt the anti-social agenda of privatisation. We have to carry forward the struggle to put an end to capitalist greed and reorient the economy for ensuring the fulfilment of social needs, he said.