New Delhi: As the sword of privatisation hangs over State-owned oil companies, petroleum workers are gearing up for a tooth and nail fight to opposing the Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s “suicidal” decision to sell off the country’s ‘jewels’.
On Thursday, employees of BPCL, HPCL and ONGC’s subsidiary, MRPL, staged a nation-wide one-day strike. In Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, thousands of workers took to the streets, led by three apex federations across public sector oil enterprises, namely, All India Petroleum Workers’ Federation (AIPWF), National Federation of Petroleum Workers (NFPW) and Petroleum and Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI).
“It is an unprecedented and unexpected success of the strike where workers are unitedly fighting to save the Indian oil sector from the onslaught of privatisation unleashed by the Modi regime,” Centre of Indian Trade Union Secretary Swadesh Dev Roye, told NewsClick.
The strike was observed by employees active in all the arms of the oil companies – production, refining, pipeline and marketing.
At BPCL’s refinery in Mumbai, the strike participation was 100%, with the petroleum workers taking out a march from the refinery building in Chembur, holding banners that called for “no privatisation of BPCL,” said sources.
In South India, at Kerala’s Kochi refinery, the protesting workers drew support and solidarity from the public and central trade unions cutting across political affiliations. Left trade unions, namely, CITU and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), joined hands with Congress’s Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in the state to oppose the Modi government's decision to sell off the Centre’s entire 53.29% stake in BPCL, the country’s second largest state refiner and fuel retailer.
Protest demonstrations were also observed at fuel retailing units in various states, such as Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha among others.
Interestingly, the struggle of the petroleum workers also secured support from saffron trade unions, namely, Sangh Parivar-led Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Shiv Sena’s Sena’s Kamgar Federation.
In the national capital, the protesting petroleum workers were addressed by central TU leaders and a few members of Parliament.
“The decision to put BPCL up for the grabs of private giants will have unending negative consequences. It is a profit-making public company and given the strategic importance of the company to the nation, it must remain under public ownership,” a protesting worker told Newsclick.
While some workers apprehended how the transfer of ownership of major oil PSUs would affect the energy economy of India, others expressed their concern regarding the ripple effects it would have on other sectors that are hugely dependent on petroleum products, be it Railways or Civil Aviation.
“What will happen to the LPG subsidy schemes under Prime Minister’s Ujjwala Yojana? Will the private players who are eyeing all the resources of BPCL also take up such responsibilities?” asked another worker.
The outrage among petroleum employees is significant as many questions are left unanswered as the Modi government prepares to exit the oil business with the Centre also mulling stake sale in IOCL, along with ONGC, which is looking to sell its share in HPCL after failing to derive any benefit out of last year’s acquisition.
However, none of this seems to worry the Modi government which, on November 20, cleared the disinvestment of BPCL along with the four more public sector enterprises.
The nationwide strike of the petroleum workers on Thursday also saw solidarity by the employees’ fronts of other public enterprises.
Hailing the ‘together-we-win-divided-we-fall’ idea, CONCOR Employee Union President Binay Kumar Chaudhary said, “to oppose the privatisation project of the Modi government, a joint struggle of all the workers is needed.” Container Corporation of India Ltd. (CONCOR) – a ‘navratna’ company is one of the five public enterprises lined up for sale.
Charting the future course of action, the petroleum workers declared their solidarity with the nation-wide general strike on January 8 next year called by the 10 central trade unions.
“The Modi government is inviting crony capitalists to grab resources that belong to the nation. The workers will welcome them with strikes, dharnas, and opposition,” said the protesting workers.