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Print edition : Jan 31, 2003 T+T-

The 11th national conference of the All India State Government Employees' Federation calls for broad-based struggles against the twin threats of globalisation and communalism.

in Chennai

THE disastrous consequences of the neo-liberal economic policies vigorously pursued by the governments both at the Centre and in the States have begun to affect the labour movement. A qualitative shift is visible in the character of trade union activities, particularly among government and public sector employees. The focus of the movement is shifting from mere economic demands such as parity in pay and allowances to larger issues such as growing unemployment, deprivation and protection of the economic and political sovereignty of the country from the twin threats of globalisation of the economy and communalisation of politics and society in general, which tend to feed on each other.

The All India State Government Employees' Federation (AISGEF), the representative body of a large section of the eight million State government employees across the country for nearly four decades, is a case in point. The Federation partly achieved its major demand for parity in pay and dearness allowance (DA) of the employees of the Central and State governments only in the mid-1980s after a 20-year-long struggle in the form of several all-India and State-level strikes. Thus, it hardly found time to consolidate its gains and launch any struggles to press its other long-pending economic demands because the employees had been pushed to the wall since the early 1990s by the government's policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The need to fight for survival in the larger context of the neo-liberal policies, which have far-reaching implications for the entire society, has forced the AISGEF to change its perspective in favour of a more broad-based struggle.

The four-day, 11th national conference of the AISGEF, held in Chennai from December 27, 2002, provided ample evidence of this metamorphosis. Reception committee chairman and general secretary of the All India Insurance Employees Association (AIIEA) N.M. Sundaram set the tone for the discussions by emphasising that any offensive against government employees "cannot be met unless the larger offensive that is launched in the name of globalisation and liberalisation and as an offshoot of privatisation, is identified and opposed resolutely".

World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) president K.L. Mahendra, who inaugurated the conference, said globalisation had spelt disaster for the people of not only developing countries but developed ones as well. The present situation, he said, had forced even white-collar employees to take to the streets to air their grievances.

W.R. Varadarajan, a national secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that under the globalisation regime the governments both at the Centre and in the States had resorted to concealed ways of raising resources. These governments were not ready to tax the rich but only too eager to cut down subsidies and grants meant for the poor, he said.

Over 1,600 delegates and observers from 15 States attended the conference. Jammu and Kashmir was represented at the conference for the first time. Fraternal delegates from Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were also present.

A report submitted before the conference by AISGEF general secretary Sukomal Sen and the speeches of most of the participants highlighted the twin dangers of globalisation and communalism. The report said that liberalisation and privatisation had proved ruinous to the country's economy and explained how the policy had affected the lives of various sections of people. Among the worst-hit were agriculturists, particularly agricultural workers, village artisans and weavers. Thousands of people had been rendered jobless and almost all sections of workers had suffered income loss of varying degrees. Several leaders pointed out that how the taxation policy of the Centre, which failed to touch the neo-rich, had caused a fall in government revenue. The economic crisis generated by the Centre's policies affected the States' finances as a result of which they had to curtail their expenditure by resorting to the Centre's strategy - large-scale retrenchment, downsizing of the service sector, denial of customary benefits to government employees and so on. To tide over the crisis, several States had resorted to borrowings from international financial agencies, which insisted on `structural changes' such as rationalisation of jobs and withdrawal of subsidies. Leaders pointed out that the absence of transparency in administration caused by these reforms inevitably led to corruption at various levels, which, in turn, often led to friction in the relations between the government employees and the public.

Highlighting the governments' privatisation efforts, Sukomal Sen's report said that it was not just Central government departments such as Telecom that were being privatised, to start with, by converting them into corporations. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh governments privatised several of their departments, including service-oreinted ones such as public health and civil supplies, apart from the State PSEs. In Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Andhra Pradesh, governments had gone in for large-scale retrenchment. However, in Andhra Pradesh, the government's efforts to privatise as many as six departments failed owing to employees' resistance, the report said.

THE conference adopted a resolution demanding that the Central and State governments give up their `anti-people' policies such as privatisation, mass retrenchment and denial of customary benefits and trade union rights won by workers after prolonged struggles. It resolved to launch militant struggles all over the country to press these demands. The conference expressed concern over "the formidable rise of the fundamentalist, communal, casteist and other divisive forces and the brutal violence committed by these forces". Another resolution termed the recommendations of the Second Labour Commission "anti-labour" and observed that it `sharply targeted' working people "in the name of a `new work culture' in consonance with neo-liberal globalisation".

The conference re-elected R.G. Karnik president, M.R. Appan honorary president and Sukomal Sen general secretary. Among those elected secretaries is L.N. Sreedharan, who as president of the Tamilnadu Government Employees' Association (TNGEA) led a 10-day strike in October-November, 2002.

Addressing a mass rally that followed a huge procession on the concluding day, CITU general secretary M.K. Pandhe said there was no truth in `the oft-repeated propaganda' that the State governments were in a mess only because they had to bear huge expenses on account of pay hike granted to government employees as recommended by the Fifth Pay Commission.