The seventh all-India Conference of IFTU from 16-18th April took place in the backdrop of politics of hatred and divisiveness. Open calls are being given for the eradication of minority communities by saffron seers with no action taken but anyone questioning the Modi government is foisted in cases and jailed. Draconian laws like the UAPA are freely operating to crush dissenting voices. Democratic spaces are being ripped apart with neo-fascism at a helm.
Leaders at the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) 7th All India Conference in Tirupati on Sunday on Apil 16th, pledged to build a united resistance by the trade unions to restore the workers’ rights and to launch an effective counter attack to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s pro-corporate policies and aggressive privatisation drive. Exactly 399 delegates participated in the actual conference.
Founded in 1978 as an alternative trade union centre with a resolve to organize the exploited workers in the various industrial and service sectors of the economy, to fight for realizing their legitimate demands , to establish solidarities between the different segments of the working class and to forge alliances with other exploited classes of society, the 7th conference of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions critically analysed the fulfilling of its commitments, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the movement. .
Despite huge opposition to the four labour codes from various trade unions and workers, the central government appears to be hell-bent on implementing these four anti-labour codes because they were designed to meet the needs of the native corporate and foreign companies. They are anti-labour codes because they deny millions of workers any labour legislation, because they pave way to management’s rampant hire and fire workers and because they crush the right to strike and association.
The two-day conference went underway with a buoyant rally on the 16th of April 2023 at 10.30 am with a huge march from Laxmi Puram Circle to Nellimarla Martyrs Ground, Padmawati Park. 400 delegates assembled together from Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh,Odisha, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and TamilNadu, who participated in the procession which culminated in a public meeting. Slogans were reverberated of uniting the working class against the politics o communal division and hatred. Spirit of resistance shimmered at it’s crescendo.
Led by members of the outgoing National Committee of the IFTU, several thousand workers and IFTU activists from especially local districts and also rest of Andhra marched along with the Delegates. The colourful procession, marked by the high participation of women scheme workers, was decked with red IFTU flags and banners. It marched behind the Arunodaya activists who performed at several points in the rally. The lead banner was shouldered by the members of the outgoing National Committee, who also carried seven flags soaring high above the rally and signifying the 7th Conference. Activists and leaders of fraternal organizations as well as well as leaders of several fraternal militant trade union centres walked in the procession.
Addressing the meeting at Indira Gandhi maidan , Polari, Gen Secretary of AP IFTU State Committee and NCM too, then took the mike and called the speakers at the meeting onstage.
Aparna, President NC IFTU,presided. She briefly narrated the situation of the working class in the country, pointing that the new century had embarked on path of one of temporary workers and decreasing wages, which situation must be completely reversed.. Highlighting several ongoing workers’ struggles, the communal fascist divisive challenge and the repression of democratic rights she said IFTU must focus on unionizing the working class, cultivate correct method of work and unleash sharp struggles, themselves and by catalyzing joint activity. It must defeat anti worker pro corporate policies.
Aparna said Prime Minister Modi was jeopardising the country’s future with anti-labour policies, aggressive privatisation of public sector undertakings (PSU) and unscrupulous pro-corporate approach. Making a turbulent attack on the Modi government, she said the four labour codes replacing the labour laws and the reforms in the industrial sector were devised with the objective of robbing the hard earned rights of the working class and gives a free licence to the corporate to completely subjugate the workers to their tune.
Summarising how the rights and job security were robbed in a stealthy manner, the IFTU senior leader recounted, first it was a contract system followed by temporary appointments, outsourcing, daily wage, voluntary service or work. She said that that the situation would aggravate like a fire emerging from a pan if the working class remain passive and wanted them to rise to salvage the country’s future. Aparna also narrated the uprisings of workers globally, illustrating example of France in recent times, and of unity of coal miners Internationally.
Kakatiya University retired professor Katyayini Vidmahe, who was the chief speaker at the public meeting, said that the working class was in a pathetic e condition with the government sector including PSUs, industries and even higher educational institutions like universities filled with contract and outsourcing basis denying job and wage security but they hapless to raise their fists against the turmoil, reminding the ‘Emergency Days’. The government evaded all responsibility of education and health, she said victimised even the agriculture, placing them at the mercy of the corporates.
Outgoing IFTU national general secretary B Pradeep said that the four labour codes were invoked only to give free licence to Corporates to have complete monopoly over the workers. The BJP government was breaking working class unity in the name of religion to avoid them uniting, he said and persuaded the working class to guage the game plan and prepare for a massive fight and sacrifice to retrieve their rights, job and wage security. He lashed out against privatization of public sector built on public money and being handed over to corporate, chiefly foreign, at throwaway prices, and about the attack of right of unionization and struggle enshrined in the Industrial Relations Code. He elaborated the communal fascist challenge to working class unity. He exposed the slogans of Achche din and showed status of workers in Amrit Kal. He ended with a rousing call for building struggles against the policies.
P Prasad of AP IFTU Commitee spoke about the struggles of the working class in Andhra in detail. he challenges before that Aasha and Anganwadi workers.
At this juncture PALA cultural team from Tamil Nadu led by Koram, recited a inspiring song.
The final speaker T.Srinivas, who was president of the IFTU state committee summarised the challenges in detail facing the working class in the public sector.
IFTU AP vice-president R Harikrishna said even the rich Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) downsized the regular employees from 15,000 to 7,000 and employed 11,000 on outsourcing basis exploiting the workers. Telangana IFTU president T Sreenivas, leaders Polari, G Bharathi, K Subramanayam and Jyothi also spoke.
The same evening, a Cultural Evening was held between 6pm and 9pm in which Arunodaya teams from Andhra and Telengana as well as PALA from Tamil Nadu participated. Interaction of Militant Unions In the course of the evening, IFTU NC had convened a discussion among the leaders of the fraternal militant trade unions whom were invited to address our inaugural session.
This session opened on 17th April morning with the hoisting of the IFTU flag by the IFTU President. The IFTU GS then inaugurated an exhibition set up in the same ground. All activities over next two days were in the premises of Com Satyanarain Singh Nagar where the delegate sessions were also held and where the delegates stayed. Immediately thereafter began the Inaugural Session, presided over by IFTU President.
Significant speeches were made in the Inaugural session at Balaji Kalyana Mandapam on 17th by Gautam Modi of NTUI,Venkat Ramiah of AIKMS, Amitabh Bhattacharya of West Bengal, and Deepak Kumar of TUCI and Arun Kumar , who was formally a professor at JNU. Most illustratively Professor Arun Kumar illustrated the penetration and nature Of corporate fascism, highlighting case of patronising a tycoon like Adani., Dr Arun laid gave an illustrative account of the Deepening Economic Crisis in India and the Challenges before the working class. He spared no mercy in questioning govt data and claims on growth of organized sector or on the links of corporate and the Govt. He called for a systematic change led by the working class.
These speakers portrayed the sale and privatisation of state owned enterprises and opening up of feeing investment by selling banks, insurance companies to private owners. They summarised how in the name of self reliance coal blocks are being handed over to giants like Adani. In no uncertain terms they condemned attacks on minorities.
Post lunch on April 17th and post registration of delegates by the NC Committee of Com Animesh, Polari and Ashish, began the first session. Before the delegate proceedings began, Gurram Vijay Kumar President AIFTU ( New) delivered a message of solidarity to the Conference. Outgoing Gen Sec B. Pradeep declared the outgoing NC as the Steering Committee of the Conference. He suggested a five member Presidium of Coms Aparna, Patole, PP, T Srinivas and Kulwinder, which was accepted Doors were now opened the deliberations of the 7th Conference. The Draft Call to Working Class along with list of official amendments was presented by Com Aparna on behalf of the National Com. The Draft had earlier been translated and distributed over two months ago and also discussed in all state conferences. After the presentation, 29 comrades, either individually or on behalf of state committes came forward formulating suggestions and amendments to strengthen the Call. The Steering Committee critically applied itself and accepted almost all suggestions in some form, giving clarification on two issues. The Draft Call with official amendments and accepted amendments was then accepted by loud clappping of hands and sloganeering. In the same session, Com Pradeep presented the Report and Review of the NC. This was to enable more time for discussion the next day and also to give delegates more time to deliberate over the draft.
The next morning, i.e. 18th April, the session began at 9am and a lively and most spirited discussion took place with 32 delegates speaking for themselves or their committees. The Steering Committee sat through lunchtime and when the post lunch session began, Com Pradeep accepted all factual additions to report and discussed all the other suggestions. The Draft Report- Review with amendments was then passed amist apaluse and slogan shouting. The Agenda of New National Committee was now taken up.
Outgoing secretary Pradeep proposed the new team of office bearers and national commitees. Of the old national committees, all were proposed re elected except Byas Tiwari who requested to be relieved due to age and ill health. All three invitees should be elected as regular NCMs. In addition, MV and Bharati from AP, Aruna from Telengana, Chandan from West Bengal, Rajesh from Delhi and Joginder from Punjab were suggested to be added to NC. Lively discussion and exchange took place as is necessary in a democratic and growing organization, in a country of differential development, with also different levels of organization. Ultimately, a new National Committee of 25 members with 22 posts being filled now was elected. The new leading committee with office bearers were passed amidst loud hailing, clapping and sloganeering. Aparna was re elected as President, Patole was re elected Vice President and Pradeep, PPrasad and Kulwinder will join him and thus the new NC has four Vice Presidents. T Sriniwas is the new General Secretary of IFTU. Com Raj Singh is re elected and will be joined by Com Polari as Secretaries and Animesh was re elected as Treasurer of National Committee. The list of NCMs is attached. All the NCMs and Office bearers came to the dias before the cheering delegates.
Admirable to witness the self-critical, exploring or perceptive approach of the activists in this session, planting seeds for new roses to bloom. A new life was given to IFTU,enlivening democratic spirit.
The Conference passed Resolutions on
1 Withdraw 4 Labour Codes, Privatization, and Pro Corporate anti worker policies of Central Govt! 2. Reject New Pension Scheme. Implement OPS. 3. Save National Industry Jute! 4. Regularize All Contract, Outsourcing and Scheme Workers. 5. Welfare Boards be established for Hamali, head loaders, Auto workers and others. 6. Expose and Fightback Divisive Communal Fascist Agenda of Modi Govt. 7. For AP Govt to ensure restarting of schemes under BOC Act, which boc workers in AP have been denied since past 5 years.
The Conference issued May Day Call to the working Class with the central slogan- REGULARIZE ALL CONTRACT, OUTSOURCING AND SCHEME WORKERS IN THE COUNTRY! The deliberations of the Conference witnessed a lively use of several languages reflecting the multilingual diversity of India. Gen Secretary. T. Sriniwas gave the vote of thanks to the AP State Committee and especially to the local IFTU committee, the local activists and all the kitchen staff for their service rendered to the successful holding of the Conference. He vowed to the delegates that he would dedicate himself with all his strength to discharging the new responsibility. The Conference ended to the tune of the Internationale.
The 7TH conference of IFTU was bold step in the light or concurrence of corporate fascism and Saffron fascism plaguing India at an unparalleled scale and workers robbed of their rights at height never before transcended. Very positive to witness workers assembling from diverse regions of India and their do or die spirit to combat the neo-fascist oppression. Very positive participation and integration of leaders and activists. I was privileged to attend my first ever conference of IFTU,here.
There were weaknesses like insufficient ground work within the working class .lack of adequate democratisation within functioning unions, splits with the Organisation in recent times, economist or legalist tendencies, inadequate expression of voice of workers etc. Regrettable that important organisations o the working class refrained from participation like Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra or even other factions of IFTU.
However overall the event was a positive step in giving a boost to the Indian labour movement, giving me nostalgic memories of the days in the 1990’s.IFTU faces a major challenge in overcoming all obstacles planted by the neo-fascist rulers, to keep the revolutionary labour movement on song and not derail. I can never forget the role of IFTU in Mumbai in the 1980’s and 1990’s in penetrating the mass base of the working class, to steer it revolutionary orientation.
The revolutionary trade Union movement will face a most concerted challenge in striking a blow to the imperialist and neo-fascist backed economic policies, extricating working class movement from the shackles of economist and communal division devise new methods of struggle with modern machinery and technology completely dividing the working-class and making inroads in the working class movement to establish genuine democratic organisations.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India. Attended the 7th conference of IFTU and 3 decades ago was associated with this organisation.