Struggles of Uttar Pradesh road transport workers, defeated by unions

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Transport workers all over India are severely exploited. Whether drivers, conductors or workshop workers, all suffer the same conditions: low wages, long and irregular working hours, tough conditions of work, relentless oppression and persecution by bosses. This is daily grind of their daily life. This is true of workers of state road transport corporations as well, of Delhi Transport Corporation workers in the capital where the bourgeoisie has no qualms in spending any sums for exhibition of its ‘prestige’ in spectacles like Commonwealth games. The conditions of Uttar Pradesh road transport workers are no different from others.

Capitalist crises and policies of austerity of the bourgeoisie

Capitalist crisis is further worsening living and working conditions of workers. This crisis has shaken up the whole world since 2008. Tens of millions of workers have lost jobs in different parts of the world under the lashes of the crises. USA, leader of world capitalism, is ahead of all in this. The jolts of crises have pulled down economies of a whole series of countries like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Everywhere the bourgeoisie is imposing austerity and poverty on the working class.

This is the context in which working class and young exploited populations have been developing their struggles against policies of austerity of the ruling class.

In 2010 alone workers and students have waged struggles against policies of austerity in Greece, Turkey, France, Britain and Italy. Although efforts are being made to derail popular revolts and workers struggles in Tunisia and Egypt by democratic mystifications, there is no doubt that these struggles express explosions of anger of the exploited populations against worsening living conditions.

In India the effects of the crises are expressed in intensification of a series of attacks by bourgeoisie and its state:

-          Firing huge number of workers from every part of the economy. Stoppage of recruitment.

-          Offensive of state and private sector bourgeoisie against permanent jobs and their substitution everywhere by temporary and contract work;

-          The objective of these steps is to lower wages and living conditions of workers. Bourgeoisie is using all tricks, including privatizations, to fulfill its objectives.

Another tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie to worsen living conditions of workers is price rises. By statistics of the government itself, the food inflation has been 18% since several years. This is in fact an average which hides even higher inflation of some of the basic necessities of life. The impact of all the steps is that despite so-called boom in the economy, conditions of living of the working class has gone from bad to worse.

Development of class struggle

Different sections of the working class have tried to fight against these attacks. There are many examples of this: in Gurgaon workers of Hero Honda, Honda Motor Cycles and Scooters and of many other factories. In Chennai, struggles of workers of Hyundai and other companies. Elsewhere, struggles of banks, airlines and airport workers. Strikes of road transport workers in different states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu etc are also expressions of this. In this, strikes of road transport workers in Kashmir between 2008 and 2010 have special importance. Here workers not only went on strikes several times in the middle of violent fights between separatist and Indian state, their movement also impulsed a ten days strike by all state workers in Kashmir in 2010.

Struggles of Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) workers against attacks by the management are part of this general developing trend. In July 2006, permanent and temporary workers of UPSRTC in Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Kanpur went on strikes for better wages and regularization of temporary workers. Government of UP suppressed this strike by imposing ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) and by repression. Hundreds of permanent and temporary workers were fired from their jobs as part of this campaign of repression. In 2009 UPSRTC workers of Allahabad region went on strike. In April 2010, 15000 temporary workers of UPSRTC throughout UP went on strike for regularization of their jobs and for better wages and working conditions. This was suppressed by repressive steps by the state government.

One of the more militant struggles of UPSRTC workers was in 2008. 25,000 workers participated in it. The government suppressed this by violence. On 5 February 2008, state police attacked UPSRTC workers with batons, tear gas and by bullets. In these attacks one worker was fatally wounded and 20 others were seriously injured. Hundreds of workers were arrested.

Workers' struggles defeated by union sabotage

But one thing needs to be remembered is that unions played as big a role as the state government in beating down these workers’ struggles.

All the struggles were controlled by the unions and were initiated by them in the face of anger by workers and under their pressure. Before these struggles, unions fanned all types of divisions among workers: divisions between drivers and conductors, between bus workers and workshop workers, between permanent and temporary workers and divisions on the name of castes and on the name of affiliations to competing bourgeoisie political factions (BSP versus SP, Congress versus BJP etc). Thus before the start of workers struggles, instead of strengthening workers unity, unions did everything to wreck it. If the unions still called for strikes under workers pressure, they tried to maintain them at the level of ritual actions of one or two day strikes. Before these strikes could develop, unions put an end to them on the name of fake agreements. These maneuvers by the unions not only sabotaged these struggles, they did everything to weaken workers will to fight.

But this is not a particular character of unions active among UPSRTC workers. Today unions have the same character and role everywhere. This is the character of all the unions, whether they are controlled by Congress, BJP and BSP or unions controlled by CPI, CPM and Maoists or ‘independent’ unions. Not only in India but everywhere in the worlds unions play the same role: to divide the workers, to stop their struggles from developing and, if these struggles cannot be stopped, to turn them into ritual struggles and thus ensure the smooth working of capitalist exploitation.

Way forward for workers' struggle – struggles outside union controls

That is why when we look at workers struggle in different parts of the world today, we note certain things. Workers struggles have been able to advance only where workers have been able to make efforts to get out of unions control and take struggles in their hands. Workers have tried to do this by organising general assemblies. General assemblies are places for workers to discuss and decide about their struggles, its path and their demands. In addition to setting up general assemblies, another step important for their development is to extend the struggles. For transport workers and other sectors of workers to extend a hand toward others sectors of workers. This is a lesson of recent workers struggles throughout the world.

The latest effort of UPSTRC unions to derail workers anger and demoralize them was displayed recently. A strike was declared for 7 Feb 2011. Before the strike took place, on 5 Feb 2011 unions declared – the government has promised to look into their demands.

With this they took back the strike. It was natural for workers to get angry against this. In Kanpur depots, workers assembled to oppose this sabotage by the unions. The meeting called for this discussed how to develop the struggle by taking it out of union control. It proposed to work for calling general assemblies of depots and others workers and instead of fighting separately, workers of UPSTRC should fight along with other workers of Kanpur. This was effort of a small minority and about 200 workers took part in these discussion. But this is an expression of a developing questioning. Only strengthening of this tendency of questioning the unions and taking struggles in their own hands can open the door for the development of workers struggles.

Alok/RB, 14/2/11