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Privatisation Robbing us of our Dignity, say Striking Workers

Thousands of workers from across sectors gathered at Jantar Mantar and pledged to intensify their stir if the government does not heed their demands.
Jantar Mantar Trade Unions

New Delhi: A blazing sun, sweltering heat and rising fists with slogans marked the second day of general strike at Jantar Mantar in the national capital where a thousand workers affiliated to different unions assembled to protest imposition of four labour codes and unhindered privatisation, among other demands.

The central trade unions had called for two-day national strike on March 28-29 after the Centre did not budge over merger of 29 labour laws into four labour codes. The unions maintain that the laws will deprive workers of their basic rights such as eight hours of work and labour courts for resolution of disputes. They were equally distressed over rising inflation furthered by a hike in petrol and diesel prices, soaring unemployment and sale of national assets. 

The gathering saw participation of bank employees, health and scheme workers, informal sector workers including street vendors and domestic helpers.

A K Roy Chaudhary, an employee of Union Bank of India, who came along with other colleagues, said he was miffed over enforced privatisation drive through the national monetisation pipeline scheme. The Ministry of Finance expects to garner Rs 6 lakh crore by transferring revenue rights of several projects to private players. 

Talking to NewsClick, Chaudhary, also secretary of All India Bank Employees Association, Delhi Unit, said that successive governments had peddled lies about privatisation as the sole panacea for all problems. However, no Prime Minister dared to ask private players to return money to public banks even when their balance sheets showed that they were wilful defaulters, he added 

“Let me make it very clear that the public banks remain heritage of the people of this country and the regime at Centre wants to transfer this precious treasure to big capitalists. It is the unions which made people aware about absconding wilful defaulters and mounting non-performing assets. It is the unions that emphasised that hair cut to private players is an unjust practice. Hair Cut refers to major proportion of debt written off every year to big businesses. Will banks do such amnesty to common people?” he asked.

He said if privatisation was such a wonderful thing, why did private banks fail?

When asked about further action if government does not relent, Chaudhary said bank unions would not allow plunder of public assets. “Public banks are ensuring a higher GDP. We would not let it go to private hands even if it means a longer strike. We also want to make it clear that the government should release the list of wilful defaulters just as it does with income tax defaulters,” he said.

The anguish of public sector bank employees could be gauged from the example of Siva Industries which demanded haircut of 93% on a loan of Rs 4,864 crore and offered to pay Rs 328.21 crore only. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal rejected the offer in January this year. Public Banks’ non-performing assets or bad loans are estimated to be around Rs 10 lakh crore this month.

At the gathering, healthcare workers affiliated to AICCTU also marched to highligh how contractualisation had put workers in a fix over future employment.

Tanu Arora, who worked as a dietician in Ram Manohar Lal Lohia Hospital and President Estate Clinic, told NewsClick that she had not received her salary for last 13 months even when she offered her services on coronavirus duty during the lockdown.

“Why should contractors enjoy impunity in determining our salaries and wages whereas we starve on minimal pay. After nine years of service, I have been asked to leave without any explanation. We do not deserve this treatment,” she said.

The protest was joined by many women scheme workers who have been demanding revision of wages post-pandemic. This apart, domestic workers, hotel employees and technicians from Delhi government hospitals too joined the protest. 

Addressing the gathering, Tapan Sen, General Secretary, CITU, said the struggle was entering a unique phase where farmers and workers came together to tell PM Narendra Modi that it cannot run away from its responsibilities.

“Our banks are closed, highways completely abandoned by strike of roadways workers. The Centre should listen to people than to corporate lenders,” he added.

In a press statement, the central trade unions said they were concerned over the unemployment level which has reached 12% and youth below 25 years of age were the majority among the unemployed, as per government’s own statistics.

“Emboldened by the results of election in five states the policy of selling out of land of the Central Public Sector Enterprises has been rolled out, the interest rate on the provident fund of workers has been brought down from 8.5% to 8.1%, privatisation of banks is being talked about vigorously, selling of substantial portion of LIC funds, the talks of report of Supreme Court committee on farm laws is being in the air,” said the statement.

The unions said it was time to strengthen worker- peasant unity to put up a united and vigorous struggle against the Centre that has not only failed the nation but was also letting loose a vicious divisive agenda that was against the core values of the Indian Constitution.

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