SPEECH AT THE WEBINAR OF KERALA NFPE ON LAHORE SPEECH AND 26TH NOVEMBER, STRIKE.
Com. President and comrades,
I am thankful to com. P.K. Muralidharan, for inviting me to part-take in this webinar. That interalia has also given me the opportunity to be a small partner in the working class effort to oppose the economic policies of the Government of India, which all of you are aware had been destroying our country as a sovereign nation. There had been upheaval of great dimension in the socio-political scenario of the country ever since the new policy was put into operation. Despite the three decades of disaster to the vast millions of our countrymen, the Indian media still rolls out its eulogy unabated. Today our economy has nosedived to a negative growth rate. The just concluded quarter has indicated a reduction in our growth rate of such a high dimension as big as minus 23.9%. It is during this period, Mukesh Ambani has become the fourth richest man in the world worth 80 Billion dollars. There are only three persons ahead of him, Jeff Bose of Amazon, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zukerburg of Face book . As on today, 44% of the Indian telecom sector especially the 4G spectrum is controlled by Ambani’s company. It is now 4 years that the 4G spectrum has been allotted to the private companies. And the facility denied to the Indian public sector undertaking BSNL. During our younger days, the slogan against the two monopoly houses in our country viz. Birlas and Tatas was the rage. They have now been relegated. Though the Ambani’s and Adani’s have taken over the reins of the economic administration through the crony capitalism the anger against the monopolisation of Indian business has not yet been manifested. Having said very many facets of the neo-liberal policies by my illustrious predecessor speakers and the comrades who are participating in this webinar are well informed and knowledgeable, I avoid the repetition. My only appeal to all of you is to take the strike campaign seriously and make every effort to bring the pernicious impact of these policies to the young comrades.
Having denied the Dearness compensation for about 18 months, and having no certainty as to when it would be resurrected, let me caution you of the present decision taken by the Government to change the base year from 2001 to 2016 for the purpose of consumer price index computation. Changing the base year periodically is no doubt what is recommended even by the international body. But then why 2016. It is specifically ordained that the base year must be a normal year without social, economic, or political upheaval. You know 2016 would have been a normal year but for the grand and surprise announcement of the Prime Minister on 8th Nov. night that 86.4% of the currency notes in circulation would no longer be valid. The demonetisation of such large number of currency had been unheard of in the history. We were told that 4 lakh crores of black income in circulation would be recovered for the benefit of the exchequer. Leaving aside a small amount of money, almost the entire demonetised money came back calling the grand announcement of arresting the generation and proliferation of black income a hoax. To the best of my information, the Reserve Bank of India is yet to release the final figure of the extent of money got recovered. As you all know the success of demonetisation is gauged from the extent of the currencies not exchanged for the new notes. Some time back we were told by the RBI that the information and data from Nepal and some other neighbouring countries are yet to be received and even without that more than 98% of the currency that was in circulation had been got exchanged. The one and only impact of this grand foolishness idiosyncrozy was that the economy got shattered and the poor people suffered. I am not to elaborate this issue, as I am sure you must not have forgotten the travails of the common people as we had been part of that bitter experience. My point is as to why the Government has now chosen that disastrous year as the base year for the computation of CPI; One can perceive a method in the madness.
2016 has another connotation. Our last wage revision has been made effective from Ist January, 2016. The minimum wage was fixed at Rs. 18000 It was an erroneous computation. We wanted the Government to consider the submissions made by us in the matter. We pointed out that the minimum wage would come to Rs 26000 if the formula for the said computation is correctly applied. The earlier Pay Commissions, especially the 3rd CPC had computed the minimum wage. We had no quarrel with their computation. However to deny it to the workers, they cited the deplorable state of the Indian economy then. No such plea was made either by the 7th CPC or later by the Government. The Union cabinet simply took the stand that they would not budge and would go by what the Commission had recommended for the Commission was headed by a Supreme Court judge and is composed by men of high standing etc. etc.
You know almost similar stand was taken by the first Government of the post independent India. The first strike action of the civilian employees of the Government was the product of that ill-informed decision. Thereafter, there had been discussions and negotiations with varying degree of success. The best bargain we had was the post 5th cpc negotiations. We could not demonstrate our united strength in such a sounding manner afterwards.. It had its disastrous impact. One by one this Government was emboldened to take on us; be it outsourcing, privatisation; corporatisation; denying the hard earned benefits; the denial of an age old social security system of pension etc. etc. So the 26th November is an opportunity for those who believe struggle as the only and certain way of advancement. The threat against the cost indexed wage system has now become real. The Covid 19 situation has been taken advantage of to deny the DA due to the employees and pensioners. The re-engineering of the commodity basket for CPI is the means to achieve that objective. We should realise that our reaction has been unfortunately muted. Our sliding down the path as a potent organisation commenced with the refusal to tread the path of struggle even against such an important issue like wage revision. This is not to say that the Confederation and the affiliates like NFPE had not strived to bring about it. We could not succeed to bring about the requisite unity is however a reality. To our dismay we now find that a one man rule is being perpetrated in our country. Democracy has been mutilated. Disruption of the societal fabric has become the means to garner electoral support. The one point demand, if one can reduce the whole of the charter of demands, is to bring about change in the governance of the country. In other words, let us realise the politics behind the policies.
We have seen over the years how the hard earned savings of the Central Government employees could be channelled to finance the private corporate entities in the country; to provide the catalyst for maximisation of their profit. The very purpose of NPS was that. The return from the NPS as we all know is now linked to the profits of the corporates. The recession in the economy on which we had no role at all, will affect the savings of our young comrades. It is their money which will go into the drain. Once the corporate declares themselves as bankrupt they escapes from all criminal proceedings in the country, including cheating of the investors. What we had been telling all along about the NPS, its ill-conceived objective, its incapacity to provide any assured decent return have now been bared by the Comptroller and Auditor General through their performance report. Com.Sreekumar, President of Kerala COC has made a copy of the said report available for us to see. They have questioned why not a minimum guarantee when many other countries could provide it. This is not an answer to our basic objection to the NPS itself. It must go lock, stock and barrel. Because it is an instrument to cheat the employees, take away their money with the help of a sovereign Government in a compulsory manner. Our young comrades are naturally disturbed. They will fight and fight back this chicanery. The strike of 26th November must further embolden them; provide them to feel optimistic that the struggle will win ultimately provided it is sustained; carried on with conviction, courage and determination.
As you know this webinar has another objective too, though I personally do not consider it as another objective. In fact the observance of the Centenary of the great speech delivered by Com. Babu Tarapada Mukherji at Lahore in 1921 is befitting to the occasion. Anybody who makes a re-reading of the speech will realise as to how relevant it is today as it was in 1921. I had read an extract of this speech for the first time somewhere in 1970 during my moulding days. As you know every trade union worker, who wanted to rise to the level of leadership will consider oratory a pre-requisite. Mark Antony, Winston Churchill and many of the Candidates for the American Presidents, back home, our own National and Regional leaders had been our icons. The speech of Com. Babu Tarapada was on a different plane. Perhaps one of the speeches which received the world acclaim and could produce an instantaneous impact was the one delivered by William Jennings Byran at the democratic convention of US election in the year 1896. That fetched him the nomination as the Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in the US election. In the preparation of this webinar I had a re-reading of the great speech delivered by Com. Tarapada Mukherji. What a fantastic speech it was. I think a circulation of the full text of the speech will have an exhilarating impact over the minds of all those who are associated with the trade union activities. That I am sure will be a great campaign material to prepare our comrade to realise the importance of struggle, self respect and organisation.
When the country was in serfdom, he was the man who spoke in a trade union convention of the “emancipation from slavery economic or otherwise.” He wanted his comrades to fight against the Postal Committee’s report. Are we not in the same position today in so far as the 7th CPC report and the Government’s action thereon is concerned. He characterises the suggestion made in the Committee’s report as “grotesque in the extreme, absurd as absurd can be and insulting to the dignity of labour. Those who are doubtful thomases must read between the lines. He asserts that labour has become self conscious enough to contemplate taking “direct action” even in the affairs of the State. He had no hesitation to refer to the age long silence as nothing but crime. He asserts unambiguously that workers are the very people who produce wealth. Those who do not work, according to him are parasites like vampires sucking the blood of the society, akin to what Karl Marx described the middle class in the society. He told his brother comrades without mincing words, that they had a past akin to a somnambulist and exhorted them to come back to reality and real life. In all the Commissions for wage revisions appointed by the Government of India, there had been a representative of labour. But that was discontinued from the day of the 6th CPC. We had no labour representative in the 7th CPC. Our objection remained and got restricted to letter writing. What Com. Tarapada says about such exclusion form the Committees and Commissions to go into the matters concerning the working class is worth noting. You cannot be bound by the findings of a committee with which you had nothing to do and who had nothing to do with you.
He goes on to say that comparison has been made by the Committee with commercial firms as if the Government are to follow instead of setting example to capitalist justification of denying what constitutes the real living wage in the present time.
When we were denied the minimum wage, the barest minimum required for human existence, as the 1957 formula is of the need based minimum wage, not living wage as guaranteed under the Constitution, we ought to have remembered Com.Babu Tarapada. What did he say one hundred years back. What was his advice to his comrades at Lahore. He exhorts:
The burning question of the day is the bread and decent living. Are we paid a living wage . Do we get sufficient wages to nourish our children with healthy and nutritious food, to clothe them decently, to house them in proper and ventilated quarters with sufficient accommodation for purposes of decency and health moral development to give them education, to pay proper medical help, to meet the marriage expenses and various other social obligations and provide for the rainy day? As brothers we all know to what strait we have been reduced to. We do not live , we merely exist and drudge on to sustain life. He continues:
Man is something more than an animal. He cannot afford to pass his days in mere animal existence. He cannot live confined only to his physical needs are satisfied. His moral nature will rise in rebellion if it is altogether neglected. It is impossible to live the life of a moral being who exists for a higher end to develop into fine manhood and bring into harmony with the universe and its author-unless he has a mind free from anxiety and unless he has sufficient leisure for contemplation and introspection.
We must fight and fight streneouslsy to secure what alone can make life worth living.
Just listen to these words, how apt it is today in the background of our decision to fight against the continuing oppression.
Once we succeed in overcoming the mean terror and low selfishness and abject submission the soul will manifest in all its glory and it will triumph even whatever obstacles may stand in our way.
His firm advice was:
take it from me brother, the petitions and memorials and supplications will count for nothing so long as you do not organise yourself in a manner to convince the Govt. that you will no longer stand non-sense.
He very optimistically conclude :
the ground is ready; only some daring spirits are wanted to sow the seeds and reap the abundant harvest.
In his speech, he twice refers to the greatest qualities a union should possess: He says :
we must fully develop class consciousness in one word we must feel strongly that we are for the union and union for us.
He had identified the following as cardinal weaknesses. He use a particular word which is not in currency presently: Flunkeyism . Though it must have gone out of circulation, what it connotes is in abundance in our official parlour.
Cowardice, selfishness, treachery, supineness, and insincerity all are for asphyxiate the soul.
The fifth pre requisite he has expressed as most important was the sense of discipline. He has gone at length to explain this.
We have been often old and being told even today is that the Pay Commission is composed of people of high stature, of great integrity, of the foremost judicial mind, and the Government is thus duty bound to accept their recommendations. Have the Government accepted all the recommendations made by this Commission. Why did they change in so for as option No. 1 for pensioners are concerned? Even the suggestion of the Staff side to accept it as the third option was rejected. Why? Com. Tarapada said in 1921 that the Postal Committee was so great that they could call the workers beggars: The 7th CPC could commit such grievous error in computation of the minimum wage. According to Com. Tarapada Govt. must consult the employees before the suggestion from whichever exalted source it emanates .
One can go on quoting from the speech to prove beyond an iota of doubt that how relevant the speech is today, even after one hundred years; how great was his thinking, how clear was his thought process and how unambiguous was his conclusions. I am enamoured over the vocabulary employed, the symmetry of the presentation, the content, the force and confidence it conveys to the listener. The everlasting impression it makes on the mind , the very essence of oratory and above all its permanency is beyond time. I am certain that this speech must have made an everlasting contribution in building a powerful, strong, united and militant movement of the postal employees. Let me conclude by placing by admiration which I do not have the capacity to express in words. Thank you comrades, once again, for giving me this opportunity to be a participant of this meeting convened for a great purpose and greater objectives. I hope that it would be apt and appropriate If I quote Com. Babu Tarapada Mukherjee once again to conclude:
We beg no longer, we entreat no more, we petition no more, we defy them and we must defy them :