Beyond struggles

Print edition : June 17, 2005

N.M. Sundaram, president, All India Insurance Employees Association. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

THE All India Insurance Employees Association (AIIEA), the leading union of public sector insurance workers, has carved an unusual place for itself in the Indian working class movement. It has, of course, led a sustained struggle against the entry of foreign investment in insurance through a persuasive campaign of public education conducted in its offices, on the streets, and in Parliament. In November 1999, just prior to the introduction of the IRDA Bill in Parliament, the AIIEA undertook a massive campaign against the entry of private insurance in India, which included lobbying with parliamentarians across party lines. It collected 1,54,00,000 signatures in support of its demands. The government, in the face of this opposition, was forced to retreat on the issue of privatising LIC and GIC, which was very much on the cards.

The spirit that drives the AIIEA, however, has taken it well beyond a formal trade union role. With a membership of 1,10,000 representing 85 per cent of the clerical and subordinate categories of workers in the public sector insurance sector, the AIIEA is spread across the dense network of public sector insurance units in the cities and small towns of India. In these towns and urban agglomerations, AIIEA cadre are at the forefront of progressive movements, associating themselves with the problems of other sections of the working people, and the general citizenry. In conflict situations, as in communal riots; in times of natural calamities like the Bhuj earthquake or the recent tsunami; in mobilising against the Iraq war; in organising cultural or intellectual events; the dedicated cadre of the AIIEA take their duties as conscientious and socially sensitive citizens very seriously.

One of the very successful initiatives of the AIIEA has been in the establishment of People for India Forums in several towns and cities of India. The forums comprise eminent citizens from different walks of life come together for the specific purpose of defending India's secular traditions in a period of growing communal strife. AIIEA units mobilised close to a crore of rupees during the Bhuj earthquake to build three primary health centres.

Their cadres in coastal Tamil Nadu were amongst the first to reach the tsunami-affected villages where they worked right from the stage of body retrieval. AIIEA collected Rs.72 lakhs for the victims of tsunami. The AIIEA has constructed schools in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, and community shelters in the cyclone-affected regions of Orissa. It is, therefore, with justifiable pride that the AIIEA declares that it is "not just a bread and butter trade union".

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