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World Social Forum

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From: The Socialist issue 332, 31 January 2004: Blair is Damaged Goods

Search site for keywords: World Social Forum - India - CWI - Socialist - Economy - The Socialist - International - Socialist Party - Asian - Committee for a workers international - State

World Social Forum: 

Workers Speak Out

AS WE reported in last week's issue of the socialist, over 120,000 people, mainly from the Indian sub-continent and other Asian countries, attended the fourth World Social Forum in the Indian city of Mumbai.
Members of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI - the international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated), have sent these reports and interviews with workers who attended.

Indian Garment Workers Fight the Bosses

DESPITE ITS domination by largely middle-class non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and left wing 'celebrities', the WSF offered a lot of information on workers' struggles globally. Groups of Indian workers involved in 'dharammas' (strikes, sit ins, protests) approached the CWI stall.

PER-AKE WESTERLUND spoke to NM MUTHAPPA, general secretary of the Garment Workers Union (GWU) in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state. The union was formed in 1996 and has 25,000 members today. 97% of the members are women, as are all members in the leadership, apart from Muthappa. He told us:

"WE ARE 500,000 garment workers in Bangalore, facing a very bad environment at work. 70% have no proper toilets or safe drinking water. The official working day is eight hours, but in reality it's 10-12 hours, with only one hour extra pay. That's why we have formed our own union.

"Women workers from the rural areas are recruited to the garment industry in fast growing cities like Bangalore. Here they are extremely exploited by the employers.

"Most live in 15x20 foot rooms with up to five other workers. The wage is 700-2,500 rupees per month. The minimum wage in Karnataka is 2,100 rupees." (1 euro = 58 rupees. £1 = 73 rupees).

"On top of the bad conditions and the low wages, they are subject to sexual harassment at work, from supervisors and management. Women workers are regarded as of less value than male workers. They have almost no education and their own families don't want them back after moving from home.

"After five years of work, they should be permitted to a gratuity, 15 days extra wage. But the employers even go around this, by removing them just before the five years have gone. This makes our union work even more difficult.

"In October 2003, the company, NJIP Leather India, announced that it would close its factory in Bangalore, keeping one in Delhi and one in Chennai (Madras). The workers were sacked instantly and would get no benefits.

"On 10 October we organised a dharamma, a four-hour sit-in strike outside the factory. We had invited media and everyone who supported us. The workers in Chennai gave their support.

"Despite the factory eventually being closed, it was a success. All workers got benefits. 128 out of 138 workers did get new jobs. A provident fund was initiated, to help workers when factories are closed.

"Dudiyorahoraata (CWI India) offered us support during the strike, the only political organisation organising solidarity action for us."

"Why did you start your own union?"

NMM: "I started the work in 1996, after working three months in a garment factory. The Communist parties, CPI and CPM, both have unions, but we did not want to join them. Because of the problems of organising activity in the factories, we have 23 area committees. We are discussing the need for a new political alternative.

"In the local elections in three years time we are planning to stand 70 GWU candidates, all women. Our programme is for a minimum living wage, gender equality, and to campaign against violence against women. We now have 25,000 members based in 60 factories.

"We are planning our own Mayday rally with 5,000 workers during the day and 10,000 after work has finished at night time.

General Electric

Building Solidarity Against Lock-Out

SINCE LAST November 136 workers at the General Electric factory in Hosur have been locked out by their former bosses. C. PARTHIBAN, (general secretary), SHANKARA NAYANAN (vice-president) and P.Raman (joint secretary) of the General Electric workers union leadership told their story to Per-Ake Westerlund, and the CWI team in Mumbai.

"WE HAVE all been working since it started in 1981. The factory produces electrical goods, switch gears, fuses etc. In the 1990s, when we had 268 workers, the French owner Alstom sold the company to General Electric (GE).

"GE immediately increased the share of temporary jobs and subcontractors. Their strategy was to increase the pressure so that workers would leave the factory.

"In 2002 we presented a charter of demands in connection to wage revision. One year's discussions failed on 25 March 2003. Instead the company presented a 'code of demands'.

"That meant increased productivity with targets of 100%, 500% and 40% respectively in different parts of the factory, with no change in the number of workers. Our response was to agree to half an hour increase in the working day.

"The company just dismissed our offer and proposed a wage increase of 975 Rupees per month, not even a third of what other companies offered. Our wage is 9,300 Rupees per month after 23 years in the factory. On 27 March the company dismissed the union treasurer and in July another leading union member was also sacked.

"The final straw came on 28 August when the Union General Secretary Parthiban was sacked along with six other workers. The six belonged to a group of 12 workers which the company ordered to be transferred to the factory in Delhi. We went to court against this 'transfer'.

"Our answer was a lightning strike the same day. We developed a dharamma (sit-in strike) for 14 days. Then the company with the help of the high court and police force, forced us out of the factory. Before that the company had cut off electricity, water and toilets.

"It is very difficult for us to survive since the lockout declared on 3 September. We can't cover the costs of food, education fees for our children and loans for housing. On 11 September we organised a one day hunger strike. We are all 40+ in age and have difficulties in getting a new job.

"Our case is still in court. The company use scabs and subcontractors to keep up production. We are organising support and solidarity from unions and community organisations."

"Globalisation Means Global Exploitation"

BANNERS, POSTERS and slogans against Bush and his war on Iraq were prominent in Mumbai on 21 January when the World Social Forum finished with a demonstration through the city centre.

Sonja Grusch CWI, Austria

Over 100,000 took part in the WSF but this demo was smaller because some delegations had already left for their homes. The CWI delegation was the only one giving out material in Indian languages - we distributed 12,000 leaflets in Hindi and Tamil, as well as in English. The lack of material in the different languages spoken by people in India was a problem at the whole WSF.

Although English is widely known, many people can't read or speak it, and most prefer written material in their own language. So in particular the CWI's Hindi leaflet was warmly welcomed by the people of Mumbai.

Girisch from Mumbai told us that he and other fishermen came to the demonstration because, he explained: "Globalisation means in fact global exploitation". Delegations of workers took part in the march, like railway workers and domestic workers.

A group of six women from a domestic workers union wanted to stress their demands for basic social security, as they do not even get sickness pay from their employer.

For railway workers, as Mohammed Ali from Mumbai explained, the main topic of protest was against the government's policy of privatisation, which also affects the railways.

The hunger for our leaflets proved our point, that the WSF had a lack of political answers and gave little opportunity to participate fully. The large number of people that signed to get active with the CWI for a socialist world made that very clear.

India: 'Boom' Passed By Workers

AROUND THE world, the capitalist press call India the next "miracle economy." They take it for granted that India, in conjunction with China, will deliver the next boom in the world economy. This, together with the recent 'peace talks' with Pakistan, is the reason why India's ruling BJP has announced an early general election in India this spring.
JAGADISH G CHANDRA, from the New Socialist Alternative (CWI India) analysed the political situation in a speech at a meeting at the World Social Forum in Mumbai on 20 January.

"MANY MULTINATIONAL corporations feel their mouths water at the mention of the opening up of the Indian economy. India offers a good ground for plunder. Even if only 10% of the population of over a billion have 5,000 rupees to spend, that offers a big market.

Like China, India will apparently offer an endless supply of cheap labour, including child labour. Both the ruling BJP, under Vajpayee, and the Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, believe that India can be ranked amongst the developed countries by the year 2020.

They base themselves on the prospect of maintaining a strong foreign exchange reserve, on having 'stable' inflation at 5% to 6% and annual economic growth at 7% to 8%.

For workers and ordinary people, however, this boom is passing them by. At this World Social Forum, there are hundreds of facts given about the problems of the poor in India. Half of the children in the country are malnourished, we have water shortages, diseases spreading etc.

Per capita annual income is $435, compared to the $725 a head needed to be counted as a developed country. $725 is 35,000 rupees, but in the poorest state of India, Bihar, GDP per capita is just 7,500 rupees. Millions live on less than a dollar a day.

The national government as well as the state governments use a lot of circus tricks to move people above the poverty line. One 'magic' solution has been to declare families with more than 5,000 rupees (less than 100 euro) to be above the poverty line.

Under the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank, millions have been forced outside the food rationing system. This is irrespective of whether they live in West Bengal, which has a 'Communist' government or in any other state. The governments of all India's states are like pet dogs for imperialism.

Cheap labour

FROM THE 1960s to the 1980s, the Indian economy was a regional manufacturing giant. Today, it is a "shop-window" economy, selling goods produced in other countries. All brands are available. The profits from sales, however, go back to the imperialist countries where the multinationals are based.

The Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) claim that India should use its IT economy and knowledge. But only two or three Indian companies are listed on the NASDAQ (IT) stock exchange. The Indian IT workers are skilled but in general they are just used as cheap labour. Their wages are just 10% of Western wages.

Others say that the 'Call Centre Economy' will take India forward. I have a nephew working in a call centre. He has, for the last six months, not seen the light of day because he works continuous night shifts!

The IT boom and the 8% growth of the economy do not have any effect on the majority of the population of this country. The biggest industry in India is the Bollywood film industry. We also have a booming TV industry, mass producing soap operas.

Their message is that the economy is going forward and that we are all going forward. This can be compared to the seventies when the struggle for food, clothes and shelter featured frequently in Indian films. Today no films are connected with reality.

Congress ruled this country for 50 years after independence, except for 18 months, and served the interests of the capitalists. The BJP was the party waiting in the wings to take power, fed by the policies of Congress. The BJP used slogans to the left of Congress for land reform and for the Indian economy to 'serve the interests of the Indian people'. They hid one word in this phrase. They should have said 'Indian rich people'.

Today the BJP is in no way different from the Congress in its economic policies, serving the interests of the Indian capitalists as it does. The policies of privatisation and neo-liberalism are conducted by the BJP nationally and by Congress in the states of Karnataka and Delhi. The BJP shows different faces to different audiences. It is a Hindu communalist party, even using fascist methods as in Gujarat and Punjab.

Workers are opposed to the communalism of the BJP. The BJP has now declared that elections are brought forward to take place in two to four months' time. The Communist parties - CPI and CPI(M) - are now campaigning for a 'secular front' with the Congress against the BJP.

It is the favourite Stalinist theory of alliances with the 'progressive bourgeoisie'. The Communist parties say: 'We know that the economic policies of Congress are bad, but at least they are secular'.

Workers' alternative

THE CPI and the CPI(M) are responsible for letting the BJP come to power in the first place. It could have been prevented during the period of the government of VP Singh in the 90s, which included BJP ministers. This government was supported by the two CPs. This gave legitimacy to the BJP.

The VP Singh government introduced a ban on recruitment of state employees. State jobs in railways, the post office etc. were up until then the main avenue for employment. VP Singh, who in the '80s was finance minister in Rajiv Gandhi's Congress government, left Congress, and was from then on seen by the Communist Parties as the saviour of secular forces in India.

Only a few days ago, the DMK party from Tamil Nadhu broke with the BJP. The DMK was welcomed by the CPI(M) leader, Harkishan Singh, as 'a new progressive force'.

Multinational corporations think that CPI(M)-governed West Bengal is a safe haven. The 'Communist' state government has introduced strike-free zones in Calcutta and other cities. These Communist Parties have shown that they can never be reformed.

So what is the way forward? Last year on 21 May, 50 million Indian workers went on strike against neo-liberalism, privatisation and WTO policies. One trade union leader in Calcutta commented: "In recent years we have played no real role. We were just facilitators passing on management decisions to the workforce".

This section of union activists and the resentment welling up within the unions will lead the way forward towards a workers' alternative. New Socialist Alternative calls for a mass workers' party to be created, based on the fighting trade unions and poor landless peasants. In the coming elections we will tell workers the truth: There is no workers' alternative in these elections and they will solve nothing."

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