This week, Tamil Nadu saw a range of protests against a number of issues across the state: from one-week long signature campaign organised by the opposition, Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA), against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) to the protest by employees of Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) against the announcement of the listing of shares in the Union Budget. Apart from this, while Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) held demonstrations opposing the anti-worker policies announced in the Union Budget, the Pondicherry University Students’ Council (PUSU) laid siege on the administrative block of the university demanding rollback of the fee hike and the withdrawal of the newly introduced transportation fee for the students.
On the other hand, casual and contract workers of the BSNL breathed a sigh of relief as the Madras High Court ordered the BSNL to pay 30% of the pending wages before February 20. NewsClick brings a round-up of the key developments during the week.
ANTI-CAA SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN
The SPA, led by the principal opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) started a signature campaign opposing the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). The parties constituting SPA demanded immediate withdrawal of the amendment in the citizenship law, along with the demand to repeal the NPR and NRC. The DMK leader M K Stalin announced that the one crore signatures collected will be submitted to the President, reiterating their demands. DMK MP Kanimozhi Karunanidhi termed CAA “divisive and diversionary”. The alliance partner of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), after supporting the bill in the Rajya Sabha, has now joined the protests demanding the withdrawal of the CAA, NPR and NRC.
The state secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), K Balakrishnan said that the Sri Lankan Tamils living in Tamil Nadu for decades should be granted citizenship. The BJP, however, has found a supporter in actor Rajinikanth. The actor has been also accused of receiving favours from the BJP government in the form of awards and withdrawal of three cases filed by the Income Tax Department.
LIC EMPLOYEES PROTEST
The employees of the LIC are protesting against the proposal of listing its shares announced by the union finance minister. The employees, officers and the agents held a one-hour walkout strike during the lunch hours on February 3. The protest saw massive participation cutting across the unions. With this announcement, the government has moved towards killing a golden goose for temporary financial gain. The LIC enjoys confidence of being the biggest insurance company in the country with a consistent and high settlement ratio.
The BJP government’s policy of selling the shares of even the profit-making Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) has picked up the pace after capturing power with massive majority in the 2019 general elections.
CITU PROTESTS AGAINST ANTI-WORKER BUDGET
The CITU members held statewide protest against the anti-worker, anti-people Budget by the Modi government. The CITU alleged that the Budget failed to address the continuing economic crisis and increasing unemployment. The number of people living below the poverty line is seeing a steep increase, said a press release of the CITU Tamil Nadu state committee. The Budget was strongly criticised for the reduction of funds for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and scheme workers.
The demands of the unorganised workers for minimum social welfare measures also did not find space in the budget. The trade union also condemned the insufficient measures to resurrect the ailing small and medium enterprises after the twin economic disasters of demonetisation and Goods and Sales Tax (GST).
PU STUDENTS PROTEST FEE HIKE
The PUSU has continued the ‘occupy admin’ protest opposing the steep fee hike for courses, and for the demand of withdrawal of newly introduced transportation fee and implementation of 25% reservation for the natives of Puducherry. The vice chancellor had a tough time leaving the campus as a result of the protest. The university administration has been paying no heed to the demands for the past several months, alleged the students. The vice chancellor had constituted a grievance committee to look into the demands of the students after they sat on an indefinite hunger strike during the beginning of the academic year. But the PUSU office bearers have accused the administration of having lethargic attitude towards the students’ demands and the vice chancellor of skipping the meetings. The fee hike was as high as 225% for certain courses while the transportation fee has been introduced for the first time since the university was established.
The PUSU opined that the union government is reducing the allocation for public education, which would deprive the socially and economically backward students of quality education. The PUSU has announced that the protest would continue till their demands are met.
BSNL CONTRACT WORKERS GET INTERIM RELIEF
The Madras High Court, in an order, instructed the BSNL management to disburse at least 30% of the pending wages to the casual and contract workers before February 20. The order brought a sigh of relief for more than 5,000 casual and contract workers in Tamil Nadu who are working without wages for almost one year. The Tamil Nadu Telecom Casual and Contract Workers’ Federation filed a case in the court after their continuous struggles yielded no results. The wages for the workers are unpaid from January 2019 in many of the telecom circles in the state. The union minister for telecommunication, much to the apprehension of the workers, announced in Parliament that the government cannot be held responsible for the non-payment of wages to the casual and contract workers.
Even worse, he announced the reduction of casual and contract workers by almost 30% raising questions over the future of around one lakh workers across the country. With around 70,000 regular employees being forced to opt for voluntary retirement, the very existence of BSNL depends on these workers. The fast-paced activity of selling off the PSUs by the Modi 2.0 regime has only accelerated.