With his neatly-combed white hair, thick glasses, soft manners and nuanced word delivery, K.N. Raveendranath, 79, has a professorial air about him. To buttress his arguments, he flips through the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘How to Change the World’ and quotes statistics from The Economist’s ‘Pocket World in Figures’.
More than two decades after the downfall of the Soviet empire, Mr. Raveendranath, with half a century of trade union work behind him, is still dreamy-eyed about socialism and believes in class struggle and Karl Marx’s predictions about capitalism. Like all old-generation Communist leaders, he has a knack to explain away criticisms of the movement he is passionate about by using Marxist jargons and putting issues in a global context. Only, some of these explanations betray disconnect with the mundane realities of current Kerala life.
In an interview at his modest home at Edappally near here, the CITU State president and CPI(M) State committee member, who is often identified with the ‘VS’ faction in the party, spoke about his trade union work, his firm faith in Communism and the troubles in the party.
Mr. Raveendranath said factionalism—the inner-party rivalry between the factions led by Pinarayi Vijayan and V. S. Achuthanandan—was weakening the party. In Communist terminology, this was ‘party deviation.’ Recalling the Soviet debacle, he warned that if corrections were not made in ‘ideological, tactical and organisational areas,’ the party would disintegrate. “Fortunately, corrective steps are now being taken.” And as a result, he claimed, factionalism had come down in the recent months.
The former CPI(M) central committee member, who was once stripped of all party positions, claims he is neither pro-VS nor pro-Pinarayi. “My support is issue-based, and I support progressive issues.” Mr. Achuthanandan had raised certain progressive issues and hence he supported these. Asked about the T.P. Chandrasekharan murder for which the CPI(M) is blamed, he said: “I oppose political murder and the party too opposes it.” The Central Committee was now looking into the T. P. murder charge.
Asked if he felt sidelined in the CPI(M), Mr. Raveendranath brushed it off. He said he had chosen the political path while he was a BSc student at Ernakulam Maharaja’s College and was still an active Communist.
Mr. Raveendranath, who is also the vice-president of the national CITU, says the biggest challenge of the trade union movement now is the neoliberal economic policies followed by the Central Government. “Neoliberal policies are influenced by global finance capital, which, with the aid of science and technology is restructuring the global economy according to its needs.” These policies were leading to pauperisation of society, huge disparities in income and wealth and shrinking of employment.
Mr. Raveendranath, who headed many unions in the public- and private-sector companies in the Edayar-Aluva industrial belt, points out that many of these companies went out of business because of the market forces and lack of technological upgradation.
He seeks to explain away the practice of ‘Nokkukooli’ as the ‘compensation’ for head-load workers for the loss of work when machinery is used. “When a tipper lorry uploads and downloads cargo without using head-load workers, it is displacement of labour and hence the workers need to be compensated for the lost work opportunity.” But he hastens to add that all Nokkukooli cases do not qualify for compensation and agrees that criminal gangs do extort money under the garb of trade unions.
Mr. Raveendranath does not regret the CITU’s earlier hostility to mechanisation of farming and computerisation. When pointed out that the Deshabhimani was one of the early Malayalam newspapers to computerise its operations and that most CPI(M) offices now used computers, he claimed that they had taken care of job losses.
And what about CPI(M) local bosses involved in real estate deals, labour supply contracts and assisting in levelling of farmlands? “If the charges are proved, they will be out of CITU.”