“We denounce the Maharashtra government which is pushing to promulgate draconian MESMA”, “We pledge to unitedly oppose MESMA and fight for its withdrawal”, so declared representatives of more than 18 organizations of working people in a meeting in Mumbai on 21st July. In the last week of April ’12 the Maharashtra Legislative Council passed the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act 2011 (MESMA) and sent it to Governor of Maharashtra for his signature.
Lok Raj Sangathan, Maharashtra Committee, took the initiative and formed an organizing committee comprising of nearly 20 organizations representing railways, Air India, Municipal workers, BEST workers, doctors, post and telecommunications, etc. to oppose this Act. The public meeting on July 21st was organized by this committee.
The public meeting was attended by representatives of Lok Raj Sangathan, Western Railway Motormen’s Association, Voltas Employees Union, Mumbai Labour Union, Mumbia Electric Employees Union, Airport Employees Union, All India Federation of Trade Unions(AIFTU) , CGPI, CPI, CPI(ML) Liberation, Republican Panthers, Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Hind Naujawan Ekta Sabha, Kamgar Ekta Chalwal, Forum Against Oppression of Women, All India Aircraft Engineers Association and Bharat Petroleum Lab Technicians Association.
The meeting which began at 6pm was presided over by Justice Hosbet Suresh, Honorary Chairperson, Lok Raj Sangathan and Com. Mathew, Mumbai Convenor of Lok Raj Sangathan. The meeting opened with a talk by Advocate Mihir Desai, Human Rights & Labour lawyer of Mumbai who highlighted the main features of MESMA. He explained that under this draconian Act, any employee working in an enterprise which is declared by Government of Maharashtra as an ‘Essential Service’ can be punished if he/she participates in a strike action. Under this Act without any warrant police can arrest any such person and he/she can get punishment of 6 months imprisonment. He clarified that such a draconian provision of arrest is not there in Industrial Disputes act. He further explained that if employer feels that refusal to work on over time, work to rule etc. is affecting the productivity of the enterprise, then even such actions will be declared as strike and participants punished under this act! Just to make it appear that government is maintaining a balance between working people and employers, there is a provision to punish employers for a lockout. He clarified that though strike has been defined in such a way that any protest by employees can be termed as strike, definition of Lock out is kept completely vague thus ensuring that employers would never be punished. This real intention becomes clear from the fact so far not even one employer all over India in last more than 3 decades have been punished under such act, whereas a large number of employees struggles have been crushed using such acts. He clarified that working people should not look at courts for justice since they will never get justice from Indian courts, but instead working people have to unite and fight as they have done in the past and defeated such draconian acts. His presentation was received with applause.
Com Mathew, Lok Raj Sangathan, then explained as to how the struggles of teachers, doctors, municipal workers, Railway drivers, Air India pilots and other employees, bank and telecom workers etc. are very just struggles. He explained that all of them are fighting for improvement in their inhuman working conditions and a life of dignity. But the government wants to crush these struggles thus clearly indicating whom does this government represent in reality. He clarified that government wants to withdraw from the responsibility of providing services and instead wanting to hand them over to private capitalists. Lok Raj Sangathan has been opposing such privatization of public assets right from the beginning with a principled stand that no government has a right to sell off public property under any pretext. Employees in these sectors are also opposing privatization and that is another reason for bringing law like MESMA to crush this dissent. Who should have the right to make such laws in a genuine democracy he asked? In our country such laws are passed without seeking people’s opinion and not even their elected representative’s opinion. Such laws are passed on the instructions of the rich of our country he clarified.
The representative of Communist Ghadar Party of India congratulated various trade unions and organizations who have decided to unitedly oppose the draconian MESMA. He said the Ruling classes and their political parties treat Fundamental rights as "rights which can be given or taken away under some pretext or other". But all democratic people should refute this logic he said. Fundamental rights and Human rights belong to each human being by dint of their being Human. It is on the basis of this principle that all democratic minded people, whether they belong to this party or that party, must denounce MESMA as an attack on Fundamental right to protest, the speaker declared. One of the spokesmen of the ruling classes of India, PM, has made it clear what ruling classes want when he declared “animal spirit " must be revived in the Indian economy. What this means is that attacks on our livelihood are going to intensify. More public sector enterprises are going to be sold to private capitalists. Capitalists know that working people , be them white collared or blue collared , be them flying aircrafts , running trains , treating patients teaching students operating banks or doing hard manual labour as permanent or contract workers , will be opposing such attacks. They also know that working people in big enterprises have the maximum capability to resist these attacks. This is the main reason as to why capitalists want draconian acts like MESMA to stifle the working people. He called upon the organized sector employees to take a lead in developing an independent program of working class as opposed to the capitalist program of liberalization and privatization, since it is only such program can take India out of the present crisis.
The General Secretary of Western Railway Motormen’s Association (WRMA), Com P.N.Gupta in his address thanked Lok Raj Sangathan for taking the initiative in forming the organizing committee. He declared that just as all the policies of government are as per the instructions of rich minority of the country, so is this decision of MESMA will be for the benefit of the rich employers of our country. He said the policies being pursued are leading to social inequality and the people will be forced to retaliate. He then explained why on 20th July’12 the Western Railway motormen had to go on flash strike. He explained that their organization has been pursuing their demands to improve their working conditions with various officials of Indian railways but the administration is not paying any heed. Hence they were forced to go on flash strike. Then management immediately started discussions. This is how when working people are not left with any other alternative that they resort to strike actions, which is what MESMA seeks to prevent. He declared his organizations full support to the fight against MESMA.
Working President of Mumbai Labour Union and Veteran Trade union leader Comrade Shankar Salvi declared that his organization is actively opposing MESMA and has petitioned the governor that he should not sign on the bill. He clarified that the bill was tabled on the last but one day of the summer session of Vidhan sabha and hurriedly passed in the presence of only 15 legislators without proper debate. He also denounced various legislators who call themselves as labour leaders but did not oppose the passage of MESMA. We can only rely on our united efforts and strength he declared.
General Secretary of Voltas Employees Union, Comrade Nair said that Voltas Employees have been on continuous relay hunger strike for the last 330 days in support of their demands. He declared full support to the agitation against MESMA.
Com Gaikwad of Mumbai Electric Employees Union explained how they were targeted by Government of Maharashtra at the behest of Reliance Energy Ltd. of Anil Ambani group and their committee members were sacked using MESMA 2005. They were demanding equal pay for equal work as per the Contract worker’s Act rule 25 and were demanding wages equal to the lowest level worker category of Reliance energy. When Reliance management refused to accede to this just demand they resorted to strike. Reliance immediately asked Government of Maharashtra to apply MESMA, and the government promptly complied and arrested 12 workers in 2007. These workers have not been taken back till date. But they have resolutely continued their struggle and Com. Gaikwad pledged to be part of this struggle against new avatar of MESMA.
Comrade Rath of All India Railway Employees Confederation and Com. Anil Tyagi of AIUTUC (Lenin Sarini) also expressed their full support to the movement against MESMA.
Comrade Dipti of Airport Employees Union described the attacks being launched against the Maruti Workers and their Union. She also hailed the struggles of the Western Railway Motormen. She described how in 2003 the Air Traffic Controllers of Mumbai had formed a union and gone on strike. This had totally paralyzed the air traffic operations in Mumbai. The authorities attacked the Union representatives in the most vicious manner and from this we have to learn that we must take the support of all sections of people especially within our own sector before we go on agitation. Only this can ensure victory for us she said.
Comrade Praveen Nadkar of All India Federation of Trade Unions (A IFTU) reminded everybody as to how inspite of earlier MESMA more than 1000 badali workers in various hospitals of Maharashtra fought and won permanent employee status even though government GR said that badali workers can not be made permanent. And similarly 1800 loaders of Air India & CPWD employees bravely fought and won in spite of ESMA. Workers of Maharashtra will definitely defeat this MESMA he declared.
Justice Suresh in his address denounced MESMA as a draconian attack on fundamental right of working people. If working people are demanding a life of dignity, if they are demanding human working conditions, if they are demanding a decent livelihood then how can anybody declare this as a crime and illegal he thundered! The proposed act talks about maintenance of essential services, but it does not have any proposals of “maintenance” of the services but only has draconian provisions to attack workers, clearly showing that government’s real intention is far from improving essential services. He declared that there are many provisions in the present Indian constitution which the proposed act violates like Article 19/1 A, Articles 1C, 23 & Article 21. Right to strike involves three rights he declared namely Freedom of association, freedom from forced labour & Freedom of expression and hence is very much a part of right to life and liberty. He declared that not only the workers but all the democratic minded people of our society must oppose this law tooth and nail. He also declared that not the courts and ruling class politicians but only fighting people can save our country from disaster. He pledged his unequivocal support to this fight against MESMA.
Kamgar Ekta Chalwal representative declared that the need of the hour is to build the unity of all the working people irrespective of whether they are blue collared or white collared, permanent or contract workers, whether they are working in same sector or different sectors of economy, whether they believe in this ideology or that ideology. This unity needs to be built cutting across party lines he said. Only such unity can ensure defeat of capitalist program he declared.
At the end of the meeting four resolutions were passed unanimously. The first resolution denounced MESMA as an attack on fundamental right to strike and called upon all democratic minded people to demand immediate withdrawal of the Act. Second resolution called upon the government to provide all the necessary funds and ensure that all working in Essential services should be immediately made permanent and all of them be given decent working conditions so that they can provide best service to society. The third resolution called upon the government to institute necessary mechanism to ensure that the employees’ grievances are settled urgently so that they do not have to resort to strike actions. The last resolution expressed full support to heroic Maruti Suzuki workers and denounced the capitalist owners of Maruti Suzuki and Government of Harayana and Government of India.
The meeting ended with a declaration that various organizations will plan out various joint actions against MESMA.