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Indian trade unions: united in labour cause, divided over RSS ideology

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Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh skipped conclave backed by 10 central trade unions, plans separate rally on 17 November.

New Delhi: India’s trade unions have split right in the middle, with the Left and Congress-backed unions joining hands in a show of strength while the RSS-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has decided to chart its own course even though their agendas and concerns have much in common.

The three-day ‘Mahapadav’ of trade unions that concluded in the capital Saturday saw Congress-affiliated INTUC sharing space with CITU, AICCTU and other Left unions. The only exception was the BMS, considered India’s largest trade union at present.

The BMS is now planning a separate event — ‘Sansad Chalo’ rally — on 17 November, BMS media spokesman Sanjay Upadhyay told ThePrint.

One of the key issues emerging from Mahapadav’s 12-point charter of demands was fixing Rs 18,000 as minimum wage for workers, in line with the recommendations by the Seventh Pay Commission, which suggested an increase in minimum wages of central government employees to Rs 18,000 from Rs 7,000.

“We currently get paid barely Rs 1,250 per month — that too for 10 months. Every day we reach school at 10 am and leave by 4 pm. In smaller schools – those with less than 200 students — we have to sit by the chulha (earthen stove) and work. The money is too little for us,” said Sangeeta Kumari, a member of the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Workers’ Union from Bihar’s Araria district.

Adds A.T. Padmanabhan, CITU organiser from Madhya Pradesh: “This Mahapadav has all the major trade unions barring the BJP government-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. All of us here are demanding Rs 18,000 minimum wages, checking inflation, resisting disinvestment of PSUs and treating the work done by Anganwadi, ASHA-USHA as proper occupations by the state.”

“We plan to hold rallies throughout December and a Jail-Bharo Andolan across the country in January,” he said.

The BMS has also framed its own set of demands, one of which concerns ASHA workers. “Our demands include recognising ASHA (community health workers) members as workers, their entitlements to social security, ‘equal pay for equal work’ in case of contract workers, among others,” BMS vice-president Virjesh Upadhyay told ThePrint.

Compulsory work of 200 days for MNREGA labourers, opposition to disinvestment of PSUs and allowing representatives of workers and farmers in NITI Aayog also figure in the BMS list of demands.

All 10 central trade unions opposed the Wage Code Bill, 2017, which was introduced in Lok Sabha in August this year. They allege the bill is actually diluting whatever pro-labour elements that existed in the four earlier legislations.

The BMS has also strongly criticised the proposed bill.

Asked why they did not participate in the Mahapadav, Updahyay said BMS had already planned its own rally in advance. “We have our own charter of demands, which are almost the same,” he said.

Upadhyay, however, did not clarify BMS’s stand on what the minimum wage should be. “They (Left unions) have a political agenda. They focus on issues such as caste, communal hatred and religious minorities, which are not trade union matters,” he added.


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