Lucknow: Ahead of the general strike call given by 10 central trade unions (CTUs) and scores of federations on November 26, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), which has been staying away from joint action for worker rights since Narendra Modi came to power, has decided to protest against privatisation of PSUs. However, its decision has been termed as a “ political gimmick” by CTUs, who have questioned the timing of these protests.
On Wednesday, the BMS staged protests in Prime Minister Narednra Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, against privatisation of public sector undertakings (PSUs) saying that it would impact the public as well as hundreds of employees from the state. Workers from Indian Railways, Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, Diesel Locomotive Workers, Airports Authority of India, bank and power department participated in protest,
At its two-day meeting held earlier this month, the BMS had also threatened a nationwide strike.
“The government is privatising all public sector enterprises under anti-labour policies. They want to make workers slaves of industrialists. The government is trying to justify the privatisation of PSUs as it needs money to run the government machinery,” the BMS said in a statement.
“It has no moral right or authority to sell national assets created by its predecessors,” the trade union added. The BMS said the slogan of the agitation will be “Save Public Sector, Save India”.
Speaking with NewsClick, Ram Krishna Pandey, secretary, BMS, said: "Indian Railways remains the most important network uniting our country and providing public transportation for crores of our people. The livelihoods of crores of people are dependent on the Railways. Such privatisation undermines the basis of India's self-reliant economy."
Pandey said "the government is also preparing to give DLW, roadways, airports and banks to private players and millions of families will face a crisis of livelihood. Those who used to see the dream for a permanent job after completing apprenticeship, will remain marginal labourers; third and fourth-grade employees will be left nowhere”. He also feared that contract workers in Railways may face the axe as soon as privatisation comes into force.
On why the protests were being held in Varanasi, Pandey said: "PM Modi is our member of Parliament (MP) and he must understand all problems. The big industrialists will make the workers, labourers and they will work like slaves."
Meanwhile, workers fear that Varanasi’s DLW, which manufactures one engine every day, both diesel and electric, which are exported to 11 countries, may face the same fate as BSNL and Indian Airlines after corporatisation.
"During the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi in a rally in Varanasi had said that he loves Railways more than anyone does as it was Railways that made his life. He said those who are spreading rumours regarding privatisation of Railways are spreading misinformation. But what is happening after six years is not hidden." a DLW worker based in Varanasi told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity.
He said that around 6,000 employees associated with DLW are worried about their future. They are not just scared of facing the same fate as the employees of BSNL and Indian Airlines, but PM Modi’s silence after the 2014 rally is creating a fear psychosis.
Incidentally, Varanasi has also been witnessing a weavers’ strike against the new power tariff system for quite some time, from which the BMS has stayed away so far.
Meanwhile, CTUs, which have been preparing for the countrywide general strike, were sceptical of BMS protests against privatisation of PSUs, as it has so far not taken part in any joint action by workers.
Prem Nath Rai, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), slammed BMS for trying to create confusion before the all India joint action.
"All trade unions are fighting against privatisation against the government since 2009 and we have given a call for a protest against the same on November 26, 2020. There are more than 40 federations, including service sectors and industrial federation. BMS is not the part of this movement,” said Rai, adding that before Modi came to power, BMS was always part of all CTU movements.
“When our first protest against the Modi government was held, BMS was part of the meeting, but a day before the movement, they withdrew since they are poles apart. They are not part of any joint protest against Modi government," said Rai, adding that to “save their credibility”, BMS had held a protest in Varanasi.
Echoing similar sentiments, Chandra Shekhar, UP general secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), said this was a mere political gimmick. "Former general secretary of BMS Brijiesh Pandey had promised that his union will always oppose every anti-labour law with all trade unions, but this only happened on the ground during UPA rule. They have never raised a voice against anti-labour laws or atrocities against weaker sections under the NDA regime," said the AITUC leader adding that BMS has not even given any solidarity statement for the November 26 general strike call by CTUs.
Recently, members of the Uttar Pradesh Power Employees Joint Action Committee (JAC) held candlelight marches across the state against privatisation of the state power distribution company – Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam LTD).
The candlelight march was held in all 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Agitating protesters were seen shouting slogans against the move in Prime Minister Modi's constituency of Varanasi and state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s home district of Gorakhpur. The protesters warned that if the government does not withdraw its decision, there would be a massive agitation in the state.