Coal Workers Strike Against Disinvestment
India's Coal Industry, regulated by the Coal India Ltd., is a major disinvestment target of UPA-II govt., along with some other major CPSUs of the country. The Coal Minister, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, has already declared the intention of the Central Government to denationalize the coal industry. The Government through its present budget intends to amass Rs. 40,000 crore from selling off the profit-making CPSUs by means of disinvestment.
The coal industry has become a test case for disinvestment. It is the coal workers (and also bank employees) who have most intensely resisted and so far successfully stalled the attempts of the Central Government to amend the Nationalization Act to pave way for wholesale disinvestment and privatization. Given the fact that a large part of coal workers including regular and contract workers, particularly in Jharkhand, hail from nearby areas and villages the resistance to denationalization attempts has always assumed a mass dimension.
The UPA Government's disinvestment drive forced 5 central TUs (CITU, AITUC, INTUC, BMS and HMS representing coal workers in JBCCI- joint bipartite committee for coal industry) to call a 3-day strike from 5 to 7 May on a 10-point charter of demands comprising some major demands like stopping disinvestment and handing over coal blocks to private hands, providing wages and other facilities to contract workers in accordance with 8th wage agreement, compensation and jobs to the displaced, stopping deduction on perquisite tax, declaring one lakh new recruitments, etc. The AICCTU-affiliated union Coal Mines Workers' Union (CMWU) had separately given a call in support of this 3-day strike on a 14-point charter of demands including the above demands.
This strike call had galvanized the workers of coal industry and preparations were in full swing, but suddenly three unions in JBCCI- INTUC, BMS & AITUC withdrew from strike call and surrendered particularly on the issue of disinvestment after talks of 5 unions with the CIL management on 16 April 2010. Later on, another union affiliated to HMS also withdrew from the strike call. These five unions also met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee a few days before the start of strike, perhaps to strike a deal. So, it is evident that from the very beginning these five unions were vacillating on the question of strike.
It is highly ironical that those unions who, through national level joint trade union action involving 9 CTUs, are raising the demand of stopping disinvestment and privatization of CPSUs along with four other demands, chose to retreat from the strike call in coal sector on the same issue of stopping disinvestment and privatization in coal industry. Their duality in action thus stands exposed. However, notwithstanding the retreat by four unions in JBCCI on the strike call, the AICCTU-affiliated CMWU and also CITU-affiliated unions including BCKU continued with the strike call, and in the changed situation both the unions separately gave a strike notice for a one day strike on 5 May.
The strike call received an enthusiastic response in the biggest area of coal mining, the coal belt of Jharkhand and also adjoining areas of W. Bengal, recording up to 80% success in some areas of Jharkhand, despite the retreat by four unions and the strike-breaking role played by some of them. The coal workers have a glorious history of militant struggles against privatization and outsourcing and they have also won a 5-year wage agreement despite the nefarious designs of government to force a 10-year wage agreement on workers in the coal industry. The success of this strike, which was mainly against the policies of the Government, is a clear pointer to the coming upheaval of workers of coal industry. The success of the strike also shows that the independent assertion of the left is the need of hour instead of depending on rightwing trade unions like INTUC and BMS. The independent assertion of left will only ensure the isolation of rightwing trade unions and mobilization of coal workers under the red flag.
To take the example of Jharkhand, the strike was quite effective in the Mugma area of ECL and generally in BCCL and CCL. Even the media had to acknowledge the success of the strike. In the Mugma area of ECL, the strike was nearly complete and the AICCTU-affiliated CMWU was the leading force in organizing strike there. In BCCL, Dhanbad district, the strike was 80% successful. In the Jharia area, despite the main union of this area, the Janata Mazdoor Sangh, not participating in the strike, the strike was still partially implemented. In areas 10, 11 and 12 of BCCL, CMWU was in a leading role. In these areas the CMWU workers organized rallies and demonstrations. In most of the areas of the CCL subsidiary, including mines and workshops, the strike was effective and nearly 60% of the workers observed strike. In Argadda, Ramgarh the strike was complete under the leadership of CMWU. In other areas of its influence CMWU went all out to make the strike successful.