Working Class: Promises Betrayed
By Swapan Mukherji
Within less than one month of its rule, the Congress-led United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) government has, through various steps, declarations and
appointments, started sending "positive" messages to those who
'felt good' under Vajpayee rule. A section of Left leaders, supporting
the government from "outside", have started feeling like "outsiders".
A left columnist had to write that the central government must send at
least some positive message to the poor immediately, by taking some concrete
In reality the appointment of Manmohan Singh, initiator of neo-liberal
policies in the country, as the Prime Minister was itself the first step
to woo the multinational corporate lobby. The appointment of Mr. Chidambaram
as the Finance Minister (FM) in the background of "Black Monday"
followed - the FM rushed to Mumbai to reassure the foreign institutional
investors (FIIs) not to panic, reminding that during the United Front
(UF) days he had come up with a "Dream Budget". The presidential
address clarified further, which did not mention about Common Minimum
Programme's (CMP) commitment to food for work programme or comprehensive
legislation for agricultural labourers. Rather, to dispel any doubt from
the minds of corporate houses and foreign bosses, it linked the CMP implementation
with availability of resources. To round off things Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia,
a close comrade-in-arms of Manmohan Singh during his tenure as Finance
Minister, was made Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission. Montek is
notoriously known for his prescription of doing away with permanent jobs
and their contractisation and casualisation in order to eradicate unemployment.
Lastly, the government decided to raise prices of
diesel, petrol, coal and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). The step conveyed
the government's intention of refraining from subsidizing the poor people's
need, and it was taken in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) style - announcing
hikes just before Parliament's budget session.
All this goes against the spirit and essence of Verdict-2004. Workers
of sick and closed industries, government employees, starving agricultural
labourers and landless peasants, farmers pushed to commit suicide and
hopeless unemployed youth workers - all played a key role in voting out
the NDA. It was a verdict against neo-liberal policies. But the presidential
address interpreted it only in terms of establishing the rule of law and
repairing secular fabric.
One can only expect from the capitalist class an ambiguous document
like the CMP, which can be interpreted the way one wishes. On the crucible
of concrete policies and actions, however, its real essence is betrayed.
CMP pledges to provide a "corruption free, transparent and accountable"
and at the same time, Laloo Yadav becomes the Railway Minister. CMP says
that profit making public sector units (PSUs) will not be privatised generally,
but it allows selling shares to private and foreign hands. Sick industries
are no doubt to be privatised, of course on throwaway prices. Electricity
generation and particularly distribution is to be privatised. Reform (read
part-by-part privatisation) will continue. Foreign direct investment (FDI)
will be courted in infrastructure, nationalised banks will be allowed
to enter capital market to raise resources. Mr Praful Patel, Civil Aviation
Minister took the CMP as a green signal to privatise airports in Mumbai
and Delhi, which earn 70% of the profit for Airport Authority of India
(AAI). As a result the AAI became a loss-making PSU. This opened the way
to its privatisation. Mr. Amit Mishra, General Secretary of FICCI interpreted
it as a formula: Total privatisation of all loss-making PSUs, 74% disinvestment
(privatisation) of the profit making PSUs; and 49% disinvestment in strategic
profit making PSUs. And this is incidentally being called similar to the
CMP says there would be no automatic hiring and firing of labour. However,
in the same vein it commits to end"Inspector Raj" in labour
relations and need for some changes in the labour laws. The whole concept
of labour laws is based on government supervising its implementation and
punishing the violators. The NDA government had made all the tripartite
committees and government intervention irrelevant. Similarly this government
wants the market to be totally "free" to take its own course.
Doesn't it mean giving free hand to the employer in labour disputes? The
government likes only to be responsible for maintaining "law and
order" and "industrial peace".
As far as the comprehensive bill for agricultural labour is concerned,
consecutive central governments invariably came out with the excuse that
governments do not agree with the propositions and as agriculture is in
the concurrent list. Surprisingly, heading the list of opposition are
the governments of West Bengal and Bihar, led by parties part of the Central
government or supporting it. In West Bengal, agricultural labour unions
are denied registration.
Construction Labour Act, which is implemented in many states, is conspicuous
by its absence in West Bengal.
Unwilling to send any wrong message to the moneybags, the government
has not put the rural poor in the priority list. Land reform has not been
even mentioned in the CMP. It promises 100 days work to only one member
of a family, whereas the minimum demand of guarantee of employment for
livelihood sake is 180 days. Moreover, the promise has not been linked
to any concrete scheme like food for work. Thus it remains a hollow promise.
In the backdrop of reduction in jobs in public and private sectors, ban
on recruitment in government sector, growing mechanisation in the countryside
and closure of small scale industries, the government must come out with
a blueprint of creating large-scale job opportunities in a time-bound
The CMP, however, has no ambiguity on foreign investment. All sorts
of deregulation and incentives are being presented so as to double or
present inflow of FDI and FII. The government is, however, unwilling to
raise import duty on coal to 96-98 level.
The World Bank country director praised the CMP for promising massive
investment in the rural areas. He said that the World Bank is inspired
by the quality of the CMP and the continuation of reforms with focus on
rural areas, and increased its aid to India from $ 1.7 billion to $ 3
billion in the fiscal year 2005-06.
Some of the economic demands like lowering the interest rate of small
savings and provision of EPF were major demands during the movement against
government. Restoration of 12% interest on EPF has been turned down by
the UPA government too, because lower interest rate on EPF will drive
the flow of
money to stock market and ensure very low rate ofinterest against the
loan taken by the capitalist class. This issue has come up as a major
issue before the working class.
The CMP may contain some popular slogans and clichés, it is nothing
but continuation of neo-liberal reforms in another form. Its essence is
withdrawal of state, whereas the need of the hour is the intervention
of the state. The state must institute a law to exercise control over
the entry and exit of capital in stock markets, so a miniscule minority
of investors and their foreign bosses cannot play havoc with the nation.
Tax net must be tightened around the rich, who engage in vulgar display
of wealth in social functions. Rural rich must be brought under taxation.
Corruption and black-marketing must be checked and
money hidden in the coffers unearthed. The resources should be used for
generating large-scale employment for the rural and urban poor.
Unlike the UF era, when the Sponsoring Committee was put on hold, this
time the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions met immediately after the
formation of the new government and prepared a detailed memorandum, and
submitted it to the new Union Labour Minister Shish Ram Ola. Unlike NDA,
the UPA has agreed to hold pre-budget consultation with trade unions.
The experience of one month tells us that whereas the CMP has failed to
reflect genuine aspirations of Indian toilers, such superficial exercises
have started creating illusions among a section of labour leaders. Working
class however demands all anti-worker, anti-people measures to be reversed.
The need of the hour is to discard illusion, defeatist and pessimistic
ideas and prepare for the next round of battle.
© Liberation 2003-2008