Curb the Prices or Quit!
Even as the prices of all essential commodities soar sky-high, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister tell us that inflation is here to stay. According to these high priests of economic liberalisation, rising prices only reflect the global market reality and it is not fair to expect the Government of India to have any control over international market forces! In other words, the gospel of globalisation tells us to bear with the ‘inconvenience’ caused by rising prices today and wait till the market chooses to relent!
While the government tinkers with wholesale price figures, and the capitalists and traders calculate their enhanced profits, the aam aadmi continues to get increasingly impoverished with every passing day. It is officially acknowledged that three out of every four households in India live on a daily per capita expenditure of Rs. 20 or less. When prices of everyday food items escalate, many of these families are actually pushed down from chronic malnutrition to semi-starvation or worse. Rising prices are their one-way ticket to destitution.
The government invokes the market mantra to justify the upward movement of prices of essential commodities. This is nothing but a complete abdication of the basic tenet of governance. No elected government can be allowed to leave the people at the mercy of a marauding market. It is the job of the state to make sure that the people have access to the basic necessities of life. We have had enough of the farce called the “Targeted Public Distribution System”. To protect the masses from the onslaught of soaring prices, the UPA government must universalise the PDS and expand its coverage to include all essential articles of consumption including sugar, pulses and edible oil.
All sections of the working people who have to sustain themselves on the basis of daily wage earnings or a low salary income are hit hard by rising prices. Real wages are defined only in terms of the purchasing power of the wage-earner. In order to ensure that real wages do not fall below a minimum level, every wage formula is supposed to provide for a variable component known as dearness allowance. It is another matter that the quantum of dearness allowance always falls far short of the actual impact of price-rise. But Railway Minister Laloo Prasad would like us to believe that the current spate of price-rise is actually a response of the market to the pay-hike announced by the Sixth pay Commission!
The ministers can have their own fancy theories and hypotheses, but the government cannot avoid its responsibility to ensure that minimum wages keep pace with the prices. Economists often wax eloquent about the need to maintain some kind of parity across different sectors of the economy and different segments of the working people. If the market maintains parity by demanding the same prices from different segments of consumers, the government too must ensure parity in matters of minimum wages. The Sixth Pay Commission has recommended a minimum monthly pay of about Rs. 6500 for central government employees. Why can’t the same minimum level be ensured in every sphere of employment?
The government has a readymade answer as to why it cannot provide for a minimum cushion to protect the people from the ravages of the market. It says it has to abide by the so-called “Fiscal Responsibility and Budgetary Management” Act. If it is the Act that comes in the way of ensuring basic necessities for the masses, why can’t Parliament repeal the Act it has made? And if the government is indeed so handicapped in matters of budgetary resources why does it not make a beginning by doing away with the huge tax exemptions handed out to the corporate sector. The government that allocates only Rs. 16,000 crore for rural employment ‘guarantee’, gifts away ten times that amount as exemptions. Add to it the whole range of hidden corporate subsidies (in the form of ridiculously low royalty rates for minerals, for instance) and the bogey of resource-constraint instantly vanishes into thin air!
More often than not, price-rise is a man-made disaster, and the real guilty is the government which instead of managing the disaster compounds the misery of the masses by hiding behind the veil of the market. A government that cannot check prices and guarantee jobs has no business to stay in power. Let us once again raise the battle cry “Dam Bandho, Kaam Do, Nahi To Gaddi Chhod Do”.
CPI (ML) 8th Bihar State Conference
The 8th Bihar State Conference of CPI(ML) was successfully held in Bettiah, Western Champaran from April 14-16. Though W Champaran has been an old centre of our work, this was the first time a major state level programme was ever held there. Comrades of Western and Eastern Champaran were involved in the Conference preparation – a challenging task, given that there are very sharp contradictions with feudal forces in Bettiah, who tried to prevent traders and so on from cooperating with the Conference. For the conference, Bettiah town was beautifully decorated with Party flags and banners. Around 17 gates were made welcoming the delegates. The successful organizing of the Conference has given a boost to the Party’s profile and prestige. It will provide an impetus for further expansion of Party work in this region.
Delegate elections were held amidst much enthusiasm, and 492 delegates were elected from 24 districts. In all, 593 delegates were to participate; however 562 delegates ultimately did participate in the conference, representing more than 50,000 Party members. More than 100 delegates were participating in a State Conference for the first time. Compared to the last Conference, the number of delegates from student-youth and peasant front doubled this time, while the number of worker-employee delegates trebled and the number of women delegates increased by 50%. During this period, Party membership too registered an annual increase of 10,000. The number of branch committees nearly doubled (from 1300 to 2500) and their stability reflects the functioning of organizational network at the grass-root level.
The conference venue was dedicated to the memory of Comrade Yogeshwar Gope while the conference hall was named after the martyred peasant leader Comrade Shafayat Ansari. Inaugurating the conference, General Secretary Comrade Dipankar said that CPI (ML) was the real inheritor of all peasant movements in Champaran, before and after independence. Terming the Communist victory against monarchy in neighbouring Nepal as a victory of democracy and people’s assertion, Comrade Dipankar called upon comrades to create a similar mass upsurge in Bihar also.
A 7-member Presidium comprising Comrades Rameshwar Prasad, Pawan Sharma, Ramadhar Singh, Meena Tiwari, RN Thakur, Dhirendra Jha and Raja Ram Singh conducted the proceedings of the conference wherein more than 70 delegates expressed their views. The Conference was addressed by Politburo Members Comrades Swadesh Bhattacharya and Ramji Rai as well as Central Observer Comrade Janardan Prasad
The conference dealt in-depth with the functioning of Panchayat representatives, the issue of making the movements against Nitish Government more broad-based, militant and consistent and the issue of expanding as well as strengthening the Party. The political-organisational report presented in the conference emphasized the need for imparting a leftward orientation to the mass movements erupting against Nitish’s farcical claims of good governance and development. It noted that Nitish had replaced Laloo-Rabri’s catch-phrase of ‘social justice and secularism’ by World Bank-inspired idioms of ‘good governance and development’ which were equally hollow. In the name of good governance, feudal-police-bureaucratic rule had been imposed and in the name of development, corruption was prevalent everywhere. Though there are officially no SEZs, land grab by the back door is rampant.
In the concluding session, Comrade Dipankar called upon the delegates to strengthen the Party ideologically and to ensure its all-round expansion by intensifying political initiatives. He stressed the need to make the oppositional role of our Assembly and Panchayat representatives still more concrete and consistent. He also called upon comrades to impart a new context to the land struggle and organize the peasants under the banner of our peasant association on the issues of land grab by government, comprehensive agricultural development and land reform.
The conference resolved to intensify initiatives for student union elections and campus democracy against the prevailing campus anarchy. It called upon RYA to establish its identity at state level by intensifying initiatives on the question of employment. The conference approved plans to organize women in its fold on a large scale by recognising the new churning among working women, their increasing participation in public life, their increasing assertion on the question of their dignity and rights and their heightened anti-establishment consciousness. Assertion of the women delegates and panchayat representatives from among women was a notable feature of the conference.
The Conference resolved to intensify our preparations for impending elections, keeping in mind the new contours of constituencies carved out through delimitation.
The Conference elected a 45-member State Committee which in turn reelected Comrade Nand Kishore Prasad as State Secretary. Twelve new members were inducted in the new State Committee.
AICCTU National Council Meeting Towards 7th National Conference
The National Council meeting of AICCTU was held on 18-19 April 2008 at Rourkela, the steel city in Orissa. The meeting was presided over by a 5-member presidium comprising Comrades S. Kumaraswamy, Swapan Mukherjee, Subhash Sen, S Balasubramanium and R N Thakur. Comrade D.P. Buxi, PB member of CPI(ML), was also present in the meeting. The meeting began with 2-minute silence in the memory of Comrade Yogeshwar Gope, former President of AICCTU and other departed leaders.
The major decisions of the meeting include the following:
1. May Day- AICCTU has given a call to observe May Day preceded by a campaign which will focus on the demands to check skyrocketing price rice; strengthen PDS; immediate reversal of private trade in essential commodities and total crackdown on profiteers and hoarders; distribution of 25 essential commodities through PDS; declaring minimum wage recommended for lowest category of government employees by 6th CPC as the national floor level minimum wage including all sections of contract and unorganised sector workers as well as NREGA workers. Some of the other demands are - Enacting a comprehensive legislation in this session of Parliament for the unorganized sector workers; Immediate implementation of 5-year wage agreement in CPSUs; Declaring 200 days job for NREGA workers; Increase the minimum wage 5478/- as recommended by 6th CPC to 10,000/; Immediately come out with a plan to revive sick PSUs like Sindri Fertilizer, HEC, IDPL etc.,
2. 7th May Strike - AICCTU has given a call to actively participate in the 7th May strike of CPSUs focusing on the demands of: Immediate implementation of the 5-year wage agreement in CPSUs like coal, steel etc.; inclusion of contract labour of these units in the wage agreement; Contract labour in PSUs must be paid the minimum wage fixed for that particular sector; Stop outsourcing and privatization in CPSUs.
3. 7th National conference of AICCTU: will be held on 2-4 August 2008 in Chennai. Chennai will be named as Comrade Yogeshwar Gope Nagar and the Conference Hall will be named after Com. Pelliyappan.
4. The National Conference will be preceded by a campaign to observe 100 years of the first political strike by Indian working class in Mumbai against British imperialism, which will culminate in nationwide Rashtriya Sankalp Diwas on 23 July.
5. The founding National Conference to launch the National Federation for Construction Workers will be held on 28-29 June at Patna.
Bhilai Steel workers Strike
The Committee of Public Sector Trade Unions (CPSTU), Bhilai has called for a strike on May 7. The main demands include: wage agreement of steel employees should be for 5 years and gap between the salaries of officers and employees should be reduced; annual salary increment should be 10%; earlier facility of LTC should be restored; contract workers’ wages should be equal to that of steel employees; they should be issued pay-slips and payment should be made though banks; privatization-contractualisation-outsourcing must be stopped; sick industries must be provided help; 50% of the dearness allowance should be added in the basic salary. Centre of Steel workers (AICCTU) along with AITUC, CITU, HMS, HMKP, BMS, INTUC conducted a referendum at different gates of the Bhilai Steel Plant after massive campaigning. Out of the 17400 votes collected, 98% workers supported the strike. Comrades Jai Prakash Nair, Shyam Lal Sahu, Rajendra Pargania, Brijendra Tiwari and Ashok Miri were actively involved in the campaign.
AIALA Meeting in Bilaspur
A meeting of leading AIALA cadres from Bastar, Raipur and Bilaspur took place at Bilaspur on 3 April. Implementation of NREGA, BPL cards, pension schemes for the poor etc. were discussed, plans made to intensify the movements of rural poor in Jagdalpur of Bastar, as well as Bilaspur and Raipur. AIALA National Secretary Satya Dev Ram, Party in-charge Brijendra Tiwari, Raipur Party Secretary Narottam Sharma and Bastar Party secretary Gopal Dhar Yadav were present in the meeting. A demonstration was held in Bastar demanding an end to the Salwa Judum in keeping with the Supreme Court reprimand on March 31, and also highlighting widespread irregularities in implementation of NREGA and BPL cards. Around 500 people participated in the demonstration, of which half were women.
AIPWA Team Meets Women Agitating in Patna Remand Home
An AIPWA investigation team comprising Meena Tiwari, Prof. Bharati S Kumar, Shashi Yadav and Anita Sinha visited Patna-based Remand Home on April 3, where women had been on hunger strike for the last 3 days demanding speedy trial of their cases. The administration, instead of heeding their just demand, summoned the police which resorted to a lathi-charge, forcing them to break their hunger strike. Only 3 months back, there had been an incident of lathi-charge in the home when the husband of some detainee came to meet her. He was dragged inside the home and beaten. When the girls protested, they too were beaten. On that occasion, one lady constable had complained that girls from the Home are taken out to 'serve' the big-wigs. When AIPWA leaders inquired about it the officials said that the complainant had been removed immediately and the Government had constituted an inquiry committee which had submitted its report to the Government. The detainees told the investigation team that despite proof that they had become adult they were forcibly kept here in the name of being minors. There are pregnant women, children and their mothers too in the home but there is no arrangement of doctors. There are neither fans nor cots in the Home. Despite tall claims of women empowerment, the Chief Minister and the State Women’s Commission are least concerned for these hapless women. The ‘reform home’ has been converted into a prison. AIPWA has demanded action against the officials responsible for the lathi-charge, speedy trial of the cases and other reforms in the Home. Meanwhile, after the AIPWA intervention was widely covered in the press, the High Court too has intervened and summoned the women detained under the charge of (love) marriage despite being minors.
Convention at Bhilai Against Politics of Salwa Judum
In Bhilai on 9 April, the CPI(ML) held a Convention at Bhilai on the ‘Politics of Salwa Judum’. Leaders of AITUC and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha too participated in this Convention and demanded disbanding of the Salwa Judum and release of Binayak Sen and others incarcerated for exposing the Judum’s politics. The main speaker at the Convention was Kavita Krishnan, CCM, CPI(ML), who spoke at length of Maoism was the mere bogey, and the real aim of the Salwa Judum was to facilitate grabbing of tribal land by companies like Tata and Essar, and to suppress potential people’s movements.
AICCTU's Orissa State Conference
The first Orissa State Conference of AICCTU was held on 17th April 2008 at Rourkela. 657 delegates from the districts of Sundargarh, Raigada, Puri, Kendrapara, Keonjhar and Bhubaneswar attended the Conference.
Comrade Radhakanta Sethi presided over the Conference, which was inaugurated by Comrade D P Buxi, PB member of CPI(ML). Discussing the organizational report, delegates spoke of the anti-workers policies pursued by the BJD-BJP State Government as well as the UPA Government at the Centre, as they pampered corporates with SEZs. The unorganized workers’ plight was worst. Delegates spoke of the challenges AICCTU faced as it organized workers in Sundargarh, Raigada, Puri, Kendrapara and Keonjhar, and made an entry into Jagatsinghpur and Jajpur. AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee called upon the delegates to resolve to expand AICCTU in Orissa.
Comrades Jatish Chandra Barik, Rupesh Rajhans, Santi and others spoke of the condition of workers in contract, construction and other unorganized sectors and demanded Rs. 200 per day as wages for them. Comrade Kedar Pradhan, Secretary of Ispat Labour Union spoke of the struggles of workers in Rourkela Steel Plant and demanded an early wages settlement in the steel industry.
The Conference elected a 12-member State Committee, with N K Mohanty as President and Radhakanta Sethi as General Secretary.
A procession of workers marched from the Railway Station, culminating in a mass rally at Telephone Bhawan, Sector-6, Rourkela. Apart from the AICCTU leaders, the Rally was also addressed by CPI(ML) State Secretary Khitish Biswal.
Against Price Hike and for Increase in Wages for Handloom Weavers in Puducherry
A joint demonstration by CPI(ML) and AICCTU was held on 15 April 2008 in front of the Registrar of Co-operative societies of Puducherry. The demonstrators demanded that the UPA Government and the Puducherry Congress Government led by N Rangassamy take effective steps to curb the spiralling price rise of essential commodities. And they also demanded the arrest of black marketers, hoarders of essential commodities. The demonstrators exclusively demanded the withdrawal of recent milk price hike which affected children and women.
The gathering, largely from among handloom weavers, demanded an increase of wages and waiver of loans to weavers. The demonstration was presided over jointly by Comrades Vadivelu and K Murugan, and hundreds of workers, especially women workers in Unions affiliated to AICCTU participated.
Comrade S Balasubramanian, Secretary of Puducherry Party State Committee, S Mothilal, Secretary AICCTU, P Shankaran, National Council Member AICCTU, C Sagayaraj, President, Movement for Protection of the Homeless addressed the demo. A memorandum was submitted to the Registrar of Co-operative societies.
Party Foundation Day Observed
Party Foundation Day was observed all over the country. In Delhi, the party flag was hoisted in Okhla, Narela, Jahangirpuri as well as Mandavali in East Delhi. At the Mandavali party office, senior Comrade Mira hoisted the party flag, and a mass meeting was held. Comrade Dipankar, party General Secretary, addressed the meeting, calling for intensification of the campaign against price rise. He exhorted comrades to make all-out efforts to implement the tasks prioritised by the 8th Congress. The meeting was also addressed by Delhi State Secretary Comrade Rajendra Pratholi, and was conducted by CCM Comrade Sanjay Sharma. A Foundation Day meeting took place at Vallabhgarh, Haryana, in which party comrades including many women comrades took part in good numbers.
Addressing a function in Ara on April 22 on the occasion of Party Foundation day, Bihar State Secretary Comrade Nand Kishor Prasad called for massive protests against price-rise at all district HQs on April 28. Addressing the cadre convention PB member Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya demanded stringent action against the hoarders. In Patna, at the Party State HQ, Comrade Ram Naresh Ram hoisted the Party flag. Comrades Ram Jatan Sharma, Pavan Sharma, KD Yadav, Kamlesh Sharma, and others were present on the occasion. At Maley Bhavan, Comrade Ashok Kumar, Editor Lokyuddh, called upon the comrades to intervene with renewed vigour in the ongoing agrarian crisis. Comrades Saroj Choubey, Tota Choudhary, Ran Vijai Kumar, Abhyuday and others were present on the occasion. In more than 1500 Party branches, the CC’s call to party members on the occasion of Party Foundation Day was studied.