On 17th June 2011, representatives of many fighting organizations of working people met in Mumbai, to discuss the problems each one of them was facing, as well as how to build the solidarity of the working class cutting across trade and industry barriers. Representatives of the Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), All India Loco running Staff Association (AILRSA), Western Railway Motormen’s Association (WRMA), Joint Action Committee of Central and Western Railway Motormen(JACCWRM), Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), Association of State Medical Interns (ASMI ), Bharat Petroleum Process and Lab Technicians Association, Ladaku Garment Mazdoor Union (LGMU), Gharelu Kamgar Sangathan, and the Communist Ghadar Party Of India (CGPI), participated in the meeting.
Welcoming all those present, the LRS representative explained that whenever working people agitate in support of their just demands, the State and Central Governments, ruling class controlled media and the big political parties of the ruling classes all unite and vilify the struggling workers. It is to smash these attempts to isolate the struggling workers and to build our unity that such joint consultative meetings are important. He said due to the efforts of the Maharashtra Committee of Lok Raj Sangathan, in the last one year many of those organizations that were present had supported each other’s struggles. This meeting was the culmination of those united actions. He explained that organizations of working people from the main sectors of the economy such as transport, manufacturing, banking and insurance etc. have a very important role to play in building the unity of the working class. While fighting for our rights, it is also important to work for People’s power which is the main objective of LRS.
The meeting was interrupted by a telephone call from the leader of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), expressing solidarity with the aims of the meeting and with the struggles of all those present in the meeting, especially the motormen of Western Railways, who were currently on a go slow agitation. The LRS representative explained that Government of India (GOI) has gone back on the promise of not victimizing the leaders of Air India pilots by giving termination notice to their leader. This notice was given on 17th June itself in response to the successful attempt of the ICPA to unite all the Unions representing different sections of the employees of Air India, under one banner.
The representative of AILRSA explained that their main fight was against the abysmal working conditions, and for proper and just wages as well as for safety of passengers. Loco drivers have very long and strenuous working hours. They have to catch their sleep and freshen up far away from their homes in retiring rooms which are in pathetic condition. The ex President off India, Dr. Kalam had personally instructed to provide retiring rooms of the level of at least 3 Star hotels, but nothing has been done on this score. Vacancies have not been filled up resulting in additional work load which is very unsafe for passengers as well. Hence they are fighting to fill up all the vacancies. They are fighting to get rid of many unjust anomalies in the 6th Pay Commission. For example, the entry scale for a loco driver has now been put on par with Khalasis completely ignoring the fact that educational qualification, nature of work, and the nature of responsibility of drivers is very different. Another anomaly is that right from Senior shunter to Mail driver, all have been kept on one grade! Their arrears of running allowance have not been paid for 3 years, etc. He denounced the Pay Commission which has justified low pay scales to engine drivers by saying that more than 20 crore Indians are below the poverty line.
The WRMA representative reiterated that the fight of loco drivers as well as that of the motormen is for similar demands. Motormen are also demanding a regular weekly off, which they do not have. After the two day strike of 3rd and 4th May last year, various promises were given by the administration including the concerned Ministry that all their grievances would be sorted out within a month, but nothing has been done. Hence their organization is currently on a go slow agitation. He explained that the management has tried to break their unity for the last 15 years, ever since their organization has been formed, but all these attempts have miserably failed. Due to their strong unity their members know that in case of attack on even one of them all the Motormen will jump into the struggle. Most of their smaller issues get sorted out immediately since the management is aware of their strength.
Representative of the LGMU explained that the Maaliks have ensured a split between permanent and contract workers. But it is very important for permanent workers to realize that contract system is actually responsible for many of the ills they face and hence they also need to fight for its abolition. He stressed the need for unity of both permanent and contract workers.
Representative of Gharelu workers explained how their fight started with getting their work recognized as that of a “worker” and now they are fighting for weekly off , minimum wages, PF and other benefits .
The representative of MARD very forcefully expressed the determination of the doctors to continue their struggles. Their member doctors have to put up with extremely inhuman working hours , many times 48 hours at a stretch! All of them are on call 24 x 7! Their living quarters are in pathetic condition . Many times they have to use folded empty cardboard boxes of medicines as mattresses on the floor! Since doctors treat patients with all kinds of diseases they are always exposed to serious danger of getting infected. As a result of that one of their senior colleagues has been detected with HIV ! There is no free treatment for this doctor even though HIV treatment is very expensive. They are also demanding that doctor to patient ratio should be as per WHO norms. He said that many times when a patient dies, the relatives attack the doctors who are overworked and are not to be blamed. He appreciated the role of LRS in mobilizing the support of many organizations for their struggle.
The representative of ASMI, said they get a very paltry stipend. Interns in Maharashtra are paid a paltry Rs.2550/- per month as stipend. This is much less than even minimum wages. This cannot take care of even their monthly food expenses and they have to depend on their parents’ financial support. In many other states the stipend is much more , for example. in Delhi Rs.13,500/- , in MP Rs.14,000/- in Bihar Rs.7,500/-. Four to five interns are bunched together in small rooms. Most interns dream of doing specialization but seats are very limited.
Both the organizations , MARD and ASMI are demanding better working and living conditions and interns are demanding major revision of their stipend.
The CGPI representative explained that CGPI is not a party which fights for power in its own hands but instead its objective is to establish the rule of the working people. She explained in brief, the heroic struggle waged by Maruti Suzuki workers in Manesar, Haryana.
It was unanimously decided to send solidarity greetings to the Maruti Suzuki employees and the Air India pilots.
Vigorous discussion also threw up various ways in which all of them can support each other during struggles. It was also decided to take up issues other than their own demands , especially issues which affect society at large. It was decided to bring out a souvenir detailing issues faced by all of them and to distribute it amongst the entire membership.
The Meeting ended with a resolution that such meetings are held once in 2 months . Each representative agreed to mobilize more such fighting unions for the next meeting. The representative of JACCWRM expressed the mood of all those present when he said this is the seed we have sown to usher in the rule of the working people of India!