A day after over one lakh defence civilian workers of 41 Ordnance Factories started their one-month long strike against the corporatisation of factories on August 20, waves of support are surfacing from every corner of the nation. The total success of strike on the first day resulted in “scaling down of the Defence Production to zero level.”
According to the statement released by the Joint Action Committee, which comprises of three recognised federations who are leading the strike, “strike [on August 20] was a total success in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh (Jabalpur, Katni), Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Chandigarh, where the Ordnance Factories are located.”
The statement gained much currency by the compiled attendance report of 41 Ordnance Factories accessed by NewsClick which shows the percentage of attendance at all units to be as low as 10% – majority of them being the Grade A officers, who were not part of the strike.
Also read: Ordnance Factories’ Workers Plan Strike Against Move for Corporatisation
The Indian Ordnance Factories are engaged in production and development of a comprehensive range of defence hardware and equipment – from ammunitions to army uniforms – for the Indian armed forces. Under the smokescreen of major economic reforms as part of the 100 days programme of the Modi 2.0 government, these ordnance factories are up for corporatisation, putting questions over the job security of lakhs of defence civilian employees.
Calling it a historic strike, numerous central trade unions have stood in solidarity with 82,000 defence employees and 40,000 contract workers for their struggle against Modi government’s ‘arbitrary’ move of converting factories into corporation/ public sector undertaking (PSU).
Women observing strike at Ordnance Clothing Factory in Tamil Nadu's Avadi. Courtesy - Facebook
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) issued a statement ‘saluting’ the workers of the fourth force of the defence of India, the ordnance factories. The statement said, “Through their total strike across the country, the defence civilian employees in the ordnance factories have warned the government that they would not allow national interests to be sold off to corporates, that it is the workers who would be in the forefront in protecting the nation and the country.”
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) also came forward in congratulating the workers for their exemplary unity and has asked the Modi government “to pay heed to the voice of these soldiers behind the lines”.
In addition to this, railway employees, who are members of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) – affiliated Indian Railways Employee Federation (IREF) observed a one-day hunger strike at the Rail Coach Factory in Punjab’s Kapurthala on August 19 to showcase their support to the protesting defence workers.
All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEC) and Income Tax Employees Federation (ITEF) also conveyed their solidarity among others to the struggle of defence workers.
“Why are we excluded from ‘sabka sath, sabka vikas’?”
The current strike is the biggest, in terms of number of workers participating, in the 218 years of history of Indian Ordnance Factories. A strike ballot was conducted on August 1 after the failure of the talks between the trade unions and the ruling government. Cutting across political affiliations, the strike call has been supported by all the three recognised federations, namely, All India Defence Employees’ Federation (AIDEF), Indian National Defence Workers’ Federation (INDWF) and even the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh (BPMS).
Strike at Ordnance Metal and Steel Factory in Ishanpore. Courtesy - Facebook
NewsClick spoke to various protesting defence workers who are fearing the commercialisation of the operations of the factories and exposing it to be influenced by the vicissitudes of the market.
Also read: Three-day National Strike of Defence Civilian Employees Brings All Units to Standstill
According to them, the employees stand to lose various benefits available to them as defence civilian employees after the corporatisation of the ordnance factories.
Moreover, it is the fear of a fate similar to that of BSNL that has caused anxiety among the workers regarding the proposal to corporatiae. BSNL was formed in October 2000 with the promise of taking full care of its financial viability by the central government. However, almost two decades later, as it has been reported, an ill-intentioned narrative is getting pushed by the BJP government to benefit its corporate patrons.
In such a scenario, the defence employees are apprehensive that the proposed corporate structure is only a “route to privatisation” – a move which amounts to compromising national security.
NewsClick also spoke to Mukesh Singh, General Secretary of the RSS-affiliated BPMS, according to whom, the strike represents the safeguarding of the interests of the defence workers – a unilateral decision of all the three federations – which is above political predilections.
Also read: Privatisation Plagues Armed Forces, Ordnance Factories to Shut Down?
“Do we, the defence employees, not get considered when the BJP government said sabka sath, sabka vikas,” Singh said, adding that the strike will continue till the government bows down to their demands.
After a number of failed negotiations with the officials of Defence Ministry, a joint meeting has been called, this time by the Chief Labour Commissioner, on August 21 in an effort to resolve the issue.