Centre of Indian Trade Union’s former national secretary V.B. Cherian, who died in Kochi on Saturday after fighting cancer for over a year, was not just a fiery leader, but a man with a deep understanding of the global working-class politics.

Cherian was a hardliner when it came to politics, but one capable of reaching out to even those who did not agree with his politics. His sharp intellect and even sharper tongue made him the darling of workers, particularly in the industrial belt of Ernakulam. His sway over his followers was on display when, after parting ways with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], of which he was a State committee member at one time, he defeated the party’s nominee in successive union elections in the region.

His perspective of events and issues was formed in the classical mould and until the last, he was uncompromising in his positions. He was a powerful spokesman of the trade union wing in the CPI(M), once dubbed the ‘CITU lobby’ by detractors within the party and sections of the media. Under the leadership of stalwarts such as the late E. Balanandan, he played a key role in building the CITU in the State. His focus was on the industrial workers where his keen understanding of issues was a great source of strength for the CITU.

Cherian found himself on the losing side within the CPI(M) when in one swoop the entire ‘CITU lobby’ was swept out of the State party leadership by the faction then led by V.S. Achuthanandan at the Palakkad State party conference. He had gone on to float his own party which sought to ally with like-minded Left groups across the country. Although the parties, most of them breakaway groups of CPI(M), came together to form a common platform, they could not make any major difference or evolve into any sort of an alternative to the mainstream Left in the country or in the State.

Ailing and somewhat disillusioned Cherian had, of late, moved closer to the CPI(M). An accommodative party leadership welcomed him back, though not with open arms and that saw him regaining space in the party organ Deshabhimani. Despite failing health, he was keeping himself busy and was visible on public forums even as late as a few months ago and his death marks the end of trade union activism of the 1970s vintage.

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