Re-examine strategies to protect working class, Verma tells TUs

CHENNAI Oct. 5. Trade unions of `Marxist' and `social-democratic' orientations should re-examine their methods and objectives in the face of the utmost need for unity of the working class which is facing "the biggest challenge in the history of the TU movement", the chairman of the Second National Commission on Labour, Ravindra Varma, said here today.

Delivering the first G. Ramanujam memorial lecture instituted by the National Centre for Industrial Harmony (NCIH), of which the late INTUC leader was a founder, Mr. Varma said the world over workers were facing job losses and erosion of social security in the face of the development models imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.

The picture in India was much worse, with thousands of indigenous enterprises, especially small and medium units, being closed and lakhs of workers being retrenched. The Indian industry faced the prospect of becoming franchisees of foreign capital.

However, the trade union scene in India continued to be characterised by fragmentation along party lines, which was a response of various parties in the preceding decades to protect their worker-followers from being controlled by unions serving as tools of the communists in their "primary" agenda of "destroying the State."

A rethinking of the strategy and methods of organisation and struggle of the working class was also needed in view of the changed conditions of production — a highly skilled and aware workforce with new aspirations, production under one roof being replaced by dispersed production, including from homes and without physical contact with other workers or direct supervision by employers, Mr Varma said.

He asked communists whether after all that had happened in the erstwhile Soviet Union, China and the post-war history of many countries, "the TUs should be a feeder in the struggle to destroy, and not transform, the State itself."

"Do you believe that TUs can play this role, and get the support of the people if their real intentions are known or discovered" he asked, observing that the British labour movement had solved this "dilemma" by accepting democracy and democratic socialism.

Referring to those (in India) who described themselves as democratic socialists or socialists who believed in democratic socialism, Mr. Varma, who was for a long time a Youth Congress and AICC leader before becoming minister in the Janata Party Government in the late 1970s, asked how far, out of fear of being branded less militant, they could "employ methods and tactics that are employed by those who believe in the destruction of the State through violent means and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Mr. Varma wondered whether the trade union movement could consolidate itself without unity and whether ad hoc coordination and coordinating machineries "provide immunity from attempts at domination or attempts to ensure party interests when action reaches a critical phase."

He also asked whether unions could ignore the interests of other sections, especially the 91 per cent of the workforce who constituted the unorganised sector, and whether or not union strategy and tactics demanded maximisation of public sympathy, especially when socially essential services were involved.

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