Protest for Pretension – and Unity in Action
Even as the Rajya Sabha set its seal on the UPA Govt.’s much-touted Employment Guarantee Bill, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that EGA was possible only if ‘7-8% growth’ (fuelled by FDI) was ensured; making it clear that for the UPA, the human face of job guarantee came at the human cost of liberalization. Killing two birds with one stone, Singh not only made ‘Employment Guarantee’ the pretext and justification for ‘reforms’, he also called the bluff of the Left’s anti-liberalisation rhetoric by his fulsome praise for the West Bengal Government’s model, which he called upon others to ‘emulate’. What was good for West Bengal , he said, was surely good for the rest of the country; ‘those who are in any way linked to governance’, (as opposed to those ‘dogmatic’ ideologues who are free to make ‘irresponsible’ Leftist prescriptions?) - be they Buddhadeb or Manmohan – have to submit to the compulsions of ‘growth’.
Buddhadeb’s scramble for FDI in Bengal is indeed providing the Congress with its most persuasive justification for neo-liberal policies at the Centre. In a bid to deny any contradiction between CPI (M)’s protest against FDI in the Centre and its passionate embrace of FDI in Bengal, Comrade Karat and Yechury have declared that FDI in Bengal, as opposed to that proposed by the UPA, fulfils the three criteria of ‘promoting productivity, upgrading technology and generating employment’. Yet, they are at a loss to explain how 100% FDI in airports (as promised by Buddha) can promote productivity, technology and employment in Bengal , but not in Hyderabad or Delhi !
The harmonious duet between Buddha and Manmohan goes back a long way. Even as an article by a reputed CPI(M) academic in PD correctly described Manmohan’s Oxford speech as that of a neo-liberal ideologue, Buddhadeb wrote a letter congratulating the PM on his ‘scholarly’ speech! But this admiration for Manmohan’s scholarship is not limited to Buddha alone. The neo-liberal ideologue-PM has recently been the star guest at the Seminar organised by the CPI(M) Telugu organ Prajashakti and the release of Globalisation: India’s Adjustment Experience, a book by the late Professor Biplab Dasgupta. In his Rajya Sabha speech, the PM may have referred to his visit to the ‘Marxist conclave’ of Prajashakti as a ‘learning experience’ – but he has in fact used all the occasions provided by his obliging and admiring Marxist hosts, to ‘teach’ various capitalist mantras!
CPI(M) would like us to believe that it is they who are reining in the Congress’s runaway steed of liberalisation; the PM has shown that on the contrary, for the liberalisers, Left support has its uses. Last week, Manmohan was not the only neo-liberal figure to heap accolades on Buddhadeb: the other was US Ambassador David Mulford. Addressing a meeting of businessmen in Kolkata, Mulford hailed the LF Government’s willingness to change with changing times, not only by welcoming foreign investment, but also by ‘adapting’ labour laws and disinvesting PSUs.
Buddhadeb’s strident slogan of ‘land to the MNC’ instead of ‘land to the tiller’ has met with dissent even from within his own party and his allies. In particular, his move of promising 5100 acres of agricultural land to Indonesia ’s Salim group has met with protests from those who remind that this was the company that financed the Suharto regime, which jailed, tortured and massacred millions of Communists. Soon after having sealed the deal with the Salim group, Buddhadeb said in an interview that the CPI(M) was ‘trying to change the mindset of workers’. Pointing out that their ‘involvement in trade unions is an advantage’, he said he could persuade workers that running the industry was not the headache of the management alone – the workers too must ‘share’ these responsibilities. It is clear why the LF Government was able to assure MNC investors that SEZs which are fast gobbling up arable land in Bengal will never turn into Gurgaon-type battlegrounds. Hooda had to resort to violence to prevent the Honda workers from unionizing. But Buddha can flaunt his control over trade unions as an ‘advantage’ - as his USP – after all, he can broker peace and ‘discipline’ the workers without lifting a lathi or firing a shot.
For the ruling class, the LF Government is the most eloquent argument for the ‘inevitability’ of globalisation and the redundance of land struggles and labour movements. Who better than the Communists to persuade workers and peasants that it is time to give up their hammer and sickle and shoulder the burden of ‘governance’? With the left hand (Karat and Yechury) and the right hand (Buddha and Manmohan) clapping in perfect ‘co-ordination’ to balance governance and dissent within the same ruling compact – what better help can the Congress-led UPA hope for?
While the CPI(M) is turning the red flag into a ‘stop sign’ for the workers’ movement and into a red carpet for MNCs, Buddhadeb proclaims that ‘globalisation is a must’ and ‘no one can hold it back’, and that India must ‘Reform or Perish’. Manmohan couldn’t have put in better. But unfortunately for Buddhadeb and Manmohan, the starving poor and suicidal farmers of India and the anti-globalisation masses the world over are declaring – ‘Stop Imperialist Globalisation, Or We Perish!’ Long live their struggle to make another world, free of capitalism and imperialism, possible!
Peasant Protesters Faced One More Brutal Attack by Police in Rajasthan
A heavy police contingent attacked a demonstration of peasants who were demanding rollback of hike in electricity tarrifs on August 24 in Buhana town in Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan. The attack was carried out at the direct instructions from the state Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria who had to visit the town to inaugurate a police station. While tens of peasants got injured in lathicharge, the State Home Minister announced that police forces will be 'strengthened' in the state. He indirectly praised the state police for carrying out their repression on people's movements in his statement made to the media after the brutal lathicharge and arrests that 'the police had to be more aggrassive at times to fulfil its duty'.
This was a pre-planned protest with proper intimation given to the administration. And so was the attack, pre-planned and deliberate to teach the peasants, opposing Vasundhara Raje govt., a lesson. CPI(ML) district secretary Phoolchand Dheva along with Ram Chand Kulhari, General Secretary of Rajasthan Kisan Sangathan, Ratan Singh Arya, President of Gramin Mazdoor Sangathan, Om Prakash Jharoda, Dara Singh of RKS and hundreds of activists faced state brutality and arrests when they peacefully marched towards to venue of the Home Minister's public meeting only to apprise him of the demands of the peasants. It was pre-meditated as the Minister did not want to face the peasants.
In spite of rising state repression, peasant protests against the policies of liberalisation are on the rise in Rajasthan. Peasant protest in Tonk town last month, demanding water for irrigation, faced with police firing, while peasants opposing imposition of toll tax on a national highway in Jhunjhunu district few months ago resulted in a much wider mobilisation and administration had to come to the negotiation table leading to a partial fulfilment of demands. Current agitation also was a part of a much bigger mobilisation where thousands of peasants are organising protests and chakka jam against the power tarrif hike all over in the region.
CPI(ML) and Rajasthan Kisan Sangathan have demanded to formulate a pro-people alternative agrarian policy and withdrawal of the privatisation and corporatisation of agriculture and called upon the peasantry to march ahead against these anti-peasant policies with much bigger and broad based movements. After the incident of August 4, it has been decided by the Jhunjhnu unit to conduct a massive campaign in nearly 200 villages which will culminate into a massive protest rally on September 1 at Jhunjhunu district headquarters.
Thousands Courted Arrest in 'Jail Bharo'
[In addition to the report published in last issue]
In protest of UPA Govt.'s anti-people and pro-imperialist policies and press for the demands of universal employment guarantee round-the-year, central legislation for the agrarian workers, 33% reservation for women, etc. CPI(ML) activists in various districts of UP, including Lucknow, Raibarelly, Kanpur, Sonbhadra, Chakia, Chandauli, Bijnaur, Pilibhit and Lakhimpur, held out demonstrations, blockades and court-arrests in thousands. National highways were blocked at Moradabad , Robertsganj, Kanpur and many other cities. The block office in Raibarelly was locked by people for an hour in protest.
More than hundred people held out a protest inside the district magistrate office in Udaipur in Rajasthan. Hundreds of CPI(ML) activists staged jail bharo at Jaipur. In Jhunjhunu, peasants march was met with a brutal police repression.
Programmes were held in Uttaranchal in Lalkuan, Bhikiasain, Shrinagar, etc.
Due to State Holiday in Assam Jail Bharo programme was held on August 23 instead of 24th. Nearly 3000 people took part in 'jail bharo' at various places in Assam . It was held at Guwahati, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Nagaon, Behali and Jorhat. On Aug 24, programmes were organised in Pathsala of Barpeta district and Diphu, Bokajan, Rongbongway, Hawraghat and Hamren of Karbi Anglong district.
Gujarat unit of the Party organised a dharna against UPA govt.'s anti-people policies on July 25 in Ahmedabad as part of the Party's nationwide campaign. Hundreds of people took out a rally against American imperialism on August 8 in Maninagar where effigy of US president was burnt. Protest demonstration was held on August 24, the concluding day of the current phase of the nationwide campaign. The RYA unit in Ahmedabad had also organised a signature campaign on the issue of insufficient buses in state transport and handed over a memorandum in this regard to the Chairman of AMTS. These programmes have led to an increased mobilisation amongst youth who took initiatives in distributing pamphlets, organising meetings and discussions among the members and activists.
SC Defends Judgment Scrapping Quotas in Private Educational Institutions
The SC judgment scrapping SC/ST quotas in private educational institutions but allowing NRI quotas is a sign of the fact that Courts too are increasingly dancing to the tune of liberalisation. Interestingly the SC judgment speaks against SC/ST quotas on the ground that they would compromise ‘merit’, but advises that in the case of NRI quotas, ‘merit should not be given the go-by completely’! To justify NRI quotas, the spurious logic is offered that NRI fees will ‘subsidise’ poor students, and that NRIs like to expose their children to ‘Indian culture’ and invest their money in their ‘own country’.
Following objections from various parties in Parliament and widespread protests, the UPA Government announced that legislation would be introduced to ensure quotas in private institutions. The Government is however evasive about the issue of fee structure and NRI quota.
The Court responded with a severe outburst daring the Government to ‘wind up the courts’ if they were not prepared to obey them. Since then, much is being made of the so-called ‘clash’ between the legislature and the judiciary. The fact, however, is that all the arms of the State in times of globalisation have scant concern for social justice – and the days of hope that ‘judicial activism’ could protect the interests of the weaker sections of society, are long past.
Women’s Bill: The Farce Continues
The PM had announced that the ‘time for the Women’s Reservation Bill has come’, but as has been the case for nearly a decade, once again the Bill has been put to rest on the shelf. But not before the old familiar farce of seeking a ‘consensus’ was played out. Sonia Gandhi said that bills on women’s issues, it was ‘important to seek the co-operation of all, including men’. During the process of seeking a consensus, the 33% Reservation Bill was sought to be negated and diluted in a variety of ways. For instance, the notion of increasing the seats by 33%, or creating dual member constituencies – all these would effectively ensure that women, even if they reached Parliament, would be separated and discriminated against. The demand for a ‘quota within quota’ system was once again mooted. Meanwhile, the CPI-CPI(M) declared that while they stood for the original Bill, they would not stand in the way of a consensus. The BJP began with an assurance of support for the Bill in any form – but eventually they backtracked and said that the NDA would rather back the EC proposal of making it mandatory for parties to give 33% of their seats to women. This formula would conveniently allow parties to allot all the ‘losing’ seats to the women!
Eventually the Bill has been shelved yet again – perhaps indefinitely. Despite the fact that most of the parties pay lip service to the idea of reservation for women, and claim to be for the Bill, there seems in fact to be an unspoken ‘consensus’ that it must be stalled for ever!
World Social Situation Worse than a Decade Ago
According to a recent estimate of the United Nations, 80 percent of the world GDP is in the hands of one billion people from the developed nations and only 20 percent belongs to five billion people from the underdeveloped ones. The report on the World Social Situation says that today´s world is more unequal than ten years ago.
The gap between formal and informal economies as well as the divide between skilled and unskilled workers is increasing. So are the disparities in health, education and social, economic and political participation. The globalization has caused world inequities and high unemployment rates, and millions of people having jobs remain well below the poverty line. 140 million more have been added to the huge contingent of unemployed who account for a sizable section of the world’s working population during last ten years. It also refers to depleting public health system, the marginalization of indigenous people and the menace posed by economic and political inequality.
Even though this report consents with “these disparities, chiefly struggles for political power and land, which have led to violence and conflicts”, it is silent, true to the character of the UN, over the increasing economic exploitation and state terror in the era of liberalisation, particularly in the third world countries. It calls for a halt to inequalities and disparities ‘leading to violence’ but tries to hide the bare fact that it is the US-led imperialism making continuous attacks on nations and the peoples endangering their independence.
Glimpses of Workers' Struggles Around the World
Korean metal workers call strike: The Korea Metal Workers Federation announced that over 110,000 members will hold a six-hour strike from on August 26, in protest against laws governing the employment of casual workers. A union statement said business conglomerates were threatening the livelihood of casual workers by mass lay-offs and unilateral termination of contracts. Strikers will hold rallies in 11 major cities across South Korea. The union said it would be striking against the government, not the employers, despite industrial action over government policies being illegal in Korea.
Hyundai workers strike in Korea: The workers at the Hyundai Motor Corporation, South Korea’s largest carmaker, voted on August 23 to strike. The union is calling for a greater say in managerial affairs, an 8.5 percent rise in base salaries and a special bonus equivalent to 30 percent of employees’ earnings. The strike derailed the production of 8,403 cars for two days and caused a loss of US$120 million, an estimate by the management.
Sri Lankan workers protest for job security: Thousands of road workers from across Sri Lanka protested in Colombo on August 18. They demanded permanency for 7,000 casual workers and improved wages and working conditions.
Ecuador’s military represses anti-oil company protests: The Ecuadorian military assaulted protesters and placed the provinces of Orellana and Sucumbios under a state of emergency. The demonstrations took place in the Lago Agrio region in northeastern Ecuador, where the country’s oil production is concentrated. Workers of both provinces have declared themselves on strike against the activities of two transnational oil companies that exploit the oil, Occidental and EnCara, based in the United States and Canada, respectively. They have demanded the cancellation of contracts with those two companies and the renegotiation of oil contracts so that the state retains 50 percent of profits; oil revenue would be used to provide roads and social services. In addition, the strikers are demanding that the oil companies provide jobs to the inhabitants of the area.
Massive march of unemployed workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina: Thousands of unemployed and underemployed workers marched to Buenos Aires and rallied in Plaza de Mayo square, across from the Government House, to demand greater government assistance. Starting August 16, hundreds of unemployed workers occupied the historic square as part of four days of protest that also included marches and rallies in the city’s neighborhoods and sit-ins to block major intersections.
Brazilian public health workers end 72-day strike: The strike by employees of the Social Security Institute accepted a government offer last week for a 7 percent wage increase, well short of their original demand of 18 percent. The strike lasted 72 days. Retirees will receive a 5 percent increase in their pensions.
Court employees on strike in Bolivia: Five thousand court workers went on strike on August 15. The 72-hour strike was over wages and job security and came in the wake of a 48-hour strike one week earlier. The strikers protested the government reforms beginning this September. (Based on inputs from various sources on the Internet).