Ahead of crucial 2021 Assembly polls, Mamata pitches TMC as pro-labour
Leading protests against economic liberalization and disinvestment policies of the Centre, a job traditionally accepted to be the prerogative of India’s Marxists, seems to have been taken over by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Trinamool Congress chief is trying to emerge as the saviour of Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and bank employees who are carrying out agitations across Bengal and other states against Central policies such as foreign direct investment (FDI), mergers and corporatization.
On September 23, Banerjee convened a meeting of trade union leaders and members from Central PSUs, banks and coal companies. More than 10,000 people assembled at Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium.
The meeting took place a day before coal workers stopped work across the nation under the leadership of different unions affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). The last two are the country’s largest Left trade unions. The one-day strike was called in protest against the Centre’s decision to allow FDI in coal mining.
At Banerjee’s meeting, however, it was the leadership of the Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC), the workers’ wing of her party that led the show.
“It is because of Mamata Banerjee’s relentless efforts that Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited recently cleared the salary for three months that its contractual workers were not getting. This happened after we carried out a hunger strike for 25 days in Kolkata,” said Dola Sen, TMC Rajya Sabha MP and president of state INTTUC.
“Didi (Banerjee) is concerned about the fate of the Steel Authority of India Limited, Hindustan Copper Limited, Bengal Chemicals, Braithwaite, Burn Standard Limited, Dunlop and all companies where workers are facing uncertainty,” said Sen.
Interestingly, though Banerjee was the first prominent opposition leader to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 23 about the sense of uncertainty among workers of the 41 factories under the Ordnance Factory Board (which has its headquarters in Kolkata), she did not support the month-long strike that four trade unions of the ordnance factory staff called in August. Incidentally, the unions called off the strike after talks with the Centre.
The new approach taken by the TMC chief is being viewed as a bid to project her party as pro-labour before the crucial 2021 Assembly polls.
“Since 2011, TMC’s trade union leaders only sang Banerjee’s praises and did nothing on the ground. As a result, industrial workers lost their faith in TMC. Banerjee is now trying to control the damage. But she cannot achieve much with false promises and late reactions. For example, when she announced salary revision for state government employees under the Sixth Pay Commission, Central government employees were already getting salary revised under the Seventh Pay Commission,’ said Jay Prakash Majumdar, Bengal BJP vice president.
“Probably she (Banerjee) wants to run a parallel labour movement but that is impossible without the national trade unions. We did not receive any invitation to the meeting held at Netaji Indoor stadium, hence the question of attending it did not arise,” said CITU state committee member and Construction Workers Federation of India general secretary Debanjan Chakraborty.
“We could have attended the September 23 meeting had we been invited,” said C Srikumar, general secretary, All India Defence Employees’ Federation, one of the four trade unions in the defence sector. “She only invited her own party’s trade unions which are confined to West Bengal. Central PSUs are scattered all over the country,” said Srikumar.