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(en) Canada, ucl-saguenay, Collectif Emma Goldman - India: Political parties, unions and their alliances in building checks and balances (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Fri, 24 Jan 2020 09:20:19 +0200

In Bhopal, India on January 8. ---- During the mass demonstrations of the general strike in India on January 8, our comrades from the anarchosyndicalist organization Muktivadi Ekta Morcha ( Libertarian Solidarity Front ), from the city of Bhopal, took part in the events while bringing a point of view. critical of the popular movement. They said: " general strikes like these[in India]are for the most part political electoral fronts to the detriment of the real demands of workers. Most, if not all, unions affiliated with "left" parties treat their workers like infants in these protests, controlling them more severely than at their workplace. There are less authoritarian independent unions, but hardly any truly democratic workers' organization ". In the text below, a union activist from India analyzes the limits and deceptions of this model of union political action where unions seek to ally themselves with political parties in a quest for feedback. Once in power, these "workers' parties" turn over their jackets and it is the leaders of these unions who take advantage of new conditions. For the author, state power ultimately appears to be a trap for the workers' movement and an alternative based on development by the base of counter-powers must be constructed.

A text by Sameer Pandy (National Congress of Indian Trade Unions), translated by us. This text is adapted from a presentation made at the 11th Global Labor University Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, which took place from September 28 to 30, 2016.

Historically, workers found themselves at the end of the table, being refused the fruits of their labor. Unionization has therefore sought to change the balance of power in society. Sometimes unions have tried to align with governments to push them on the workers' side. At other times, unions have instead developed organizational strategies that look beyond state power. In India as elsewhere, trade union political action[NDT.Free translation of the concept "political unionism" in the original article]- where unions support a political party in search of state power - has been very common.

This short article will bring a critical point of view on the history of trade union political action in India. I will defend there the necessity of a change of strategic perspective of the unions, towards a work which is located outside the state frameworks, towards the construction of movements which refuse to participate in the State and which seek instead to exert pressure on him to bring improvements where possible, through bottom-up mobilization, from bottom to top (from the bottom).

Unions are still political and have strong traditions of political engagement. It is important to note that unions in the past have contributed to the transformation of the political and economic landscapes of many countries around the world, appearing as a source of power for the working class against authoritarian governments and exploitative bosses. There are different ways in which unions can get involved in politics, but in the West this has frequently involved union political action in the form of alliances with Labor or Left parties. In Asia and Africa, trade union political action has developed during and through the course of struggles for independence and has seen the mesh in several cases of unions with nationalist parties. The problem,

In general, after the anti-colonial victories, trade union political action found itself busy with the postcolonial agendas of developing states, which saw unions as "subordinate partners" in an era of economic reconstruction born out of the end of the colonial era. Trade union political action has attempted to influence the state and, specifically, to influence labor policies. Most of the time, however, the union leaderships have been directly instrumentalized by the state in its objectives. This has weakened unions and - as more and more parties have emerged - fragmented the union movement as each party sought its own union wing.

Today's unions have been weakened by the changing form and increasing strength of capitalism under neoliberal globalization, but we cannot reduce the problems to neoliberalism. Unions were already weakened by postcolonial governments, who saw them as threats and reacted strategically, either by dismantling them completely, or by trying to control and co-opt them. India presents an interesting case: with a very large population, a high rate of joblessness and cheap labor, it has become a hub for foreign direct investment ( FDI). Workers are constantly being squeezed out of formal jobs, where unions are most present, and are therefore pushed out of the umbrella of the labor movement. India today has a plethora of unions, with weakened bargaining powers and real challenges in organizing the growing mass of workers in the informal sectors of the neoliberal era.

But union weakness did not start with neoliberalism. At independence in 1947, the Indian government implemented a new industrial policy: from 1947 to 1966, it resulted in intensive transitions to industrialization by import substitution (ISI). The unions were large enough and exercised enough influence at the time to pressure the government to nationalize banks, mines, oil companies, etc. The ISI has led to the growth of state-owned enterprises, which in turn have brought strong growth in the number of public sector employees and the rapid rise in unionization rates. The state was now one of the largest employers and played a major role in defining wages and working conditions.

However, workers remained excluded from any control over state possessions. Union structures became highly centralized, as the state aimed for centralized collective bargaining, and collective bargaining became entangled in parliamentary politics due to union political action. Unions have not united, the same pattern of divisions has long been established. The number of recognized unions increased from 4,623 in 1951 to 14,686 in 1966[2]. By 1979, the number of recognized unions had skyrocketed to 34,430.

The Congress of Indian Trade Unions (AITUC) was formed in 1920, and is linked to one of the communist parties, the Communist Party of India, founded in 1925. Nationalist politicians and union leaders formed the National Congress of Trade Unions Indians (INTUC) in New Delhi in 1947, aligned with the then ruling party, the Indian National Congress. Its purpose was to unite the workers' movement, but it did not end the divisions within it. India saw the establishment of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) trade union center in 1948, which was oriented towards a socialist ideology; then came the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) in 1949, linked to the Revolutionary Socialist Party and with an ideology based on Maoist communism; the United Trade Union Congress-Lenin Sarani (UTUC-LS) in 1951, linked to the Center of Socialist Unity of India (Communist) and to Soviet Communism; then the Bharativa Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) in 1955, based on the right-wing nationalism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Patriotic Organization), parent of the Bharativa Janata Party (BJP). The fate of the unions was linked to that of the parties. For example, with the rise of the BJP, the BMS and its affiliates have experienced an increase in their verified membership to 6.2 million in recent years, making it one of the largest trade union centers.

A fundamental element in the link between unions and parties and an essential factor in understanding the incessant divisions is that the leaders of unions allied with political parties can be generously rewarded when their party forms government. They are appointed to the offices of president, directors and members of companies, parts of the public sector, banks and commissions. There is fierce competition for these lucrative positions and the ruling class prefers union leaders who have a bad reputation or dark backgrounds. They are corruptible. Generously rewarded, they forget the mandate given by the workers they are supposed to represent, acting instead as managers in unions.

Around 1980, the state gradually went from ISI to neoliberalism in a context of recession. Rather than standing united in the face of these affronts, the unions quickly multiplied and joined different political parties in a movement of competition between each. As a result of the economic downturn and increasing repression, the number of recognized unions fell sharply from 34,430 in 1979 to 15,042 in 1981[3]. Then, the number of recognized unions increased drastically, more than triple, from 15,042 in 1981 to 53,535 in 1991. As the number of unions increased, these became more and more polarized and divided as much national than state level.

India has the largest labor force after China, but the working class in India is clearly divided and retreating. It is incapable of building a counter-power from below. Around 2008, there were a dozen federations or union centers. Meanwhile, unions together organized only about 13.4% of all workers (including permanent and temporary workers) and only 28.8% of permanent workers - numbers that in both cases have been declining since 1993[4].

The trade union movement is not in a position to build a counter-power which can profoundly change the balance of power between the classes at this stage. He may suggest policy changes, but it is ultimately up to the ruling party and the capitalists to decide whether these proposals should be accepted or not. The parties see the unions as reservoirs of votes and as a means for politicians to ascend the class system and consolidate their positions within the ruling class. As in the West, the workers' movements are exploited for the benefit of parties and elites - after the elections, the promises are betrayed and the reforms forgotten. For example, the BMS, as well as other union federations, took part in national strikes against privatization and subcontracting, but the BJP continued these policies; INTUC has had the same experience with the governments of the Indian National Congress. Rather than helping unions, these party alliances have hindered them, weakening their bargaining power and their ability to exercise structural power in places of production.

Demonstration in Montreal in solidarity with the social movement in India last December.

Photo: André Querry

It is essential to shape a new trajectory for trade unions, a new trajectory that could be built on the positive developments of recent years in the face of the challenges of neoliberal globalization. Among these are the efforts to overcome union divisions: in India, the relatively new Forum of Federations brings together unions of different ideologies under one roof and organized three historic national strikes that forced the government to back off a bit. There are also new organizational strategies, among them activism with civil society (beyond parties), including NGOs, and engagement in mobilization and awareness campaigns. Many have formed new collectives in unions, such as health collectives, youth collectives and women's collectives. These have helped raise awareness among women workers around issues like pay equity, health insurance, working conditions and above all, raise their voice against sexual harassment in the workplace. . There are also organizational efforts in areas of informal work.

It is crucial to create a distance from political parties and their schisms, and to opt for a class approach, inclusive and "bottom-up" (from bottom to top or from the bottom). It has become imperative for unions to start thinking of alternatives outside their alliances and outside the state, to build structures of counter-power, which can hold out against the state and capital while fighting for the workers and the less fortunate.

This includes fighting divisions, intolerance, bigotry and right-wing ideas and aiming to build a new society of equality and freedom.

Sameer Pandy
Translation of the Emma Goldman Anarchist Collective Blog

1. Ahn P, (2010). The Growth and Decline of Political Unionism in India. The Need for a Paradigm Shift.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Rajiv Shah, 25 August 2019, "India's trade union density lower than Brazil, South Africa; there is tendency to victimize unionized workers: ILO, "Counterview, https://www.counterview.net/2018/08/indias-trade-union-density-lower-than.html
Listed 16 hours ago by Collectif Emma Goldman

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