Resolutions of the Third General Council of the New Trade Union Initiative

The Third General Council of the New Trade Union Initiative, held in Kolkata on 7 and 8 January 2012, signalled a new marker in its growing membership and spread across states and sectors. It also signalled the enormous coming together, deep sense of solidarity and enjoined in a commonality of purpose in struggle amongst the working class that binds affiliates and their membership together into one organisation. The unexpectedly large number of delegates and mood of celebration at both the rally and public meeting on 6 January 2012 and through the length of the General Council were a reflection and symbol of this collective energy. What it is reflective of is the clear understanding of expression by the militant section of the working class for unity as the first and necessary step for building a base for sustained struggle to meet the needs of the working class. That the need for this first step towards building working class unity, based on the core values of progressive multiple political tendencies existing within one national trade union organisation has been internalised and taken by a large number of unions and their members across this country in that sense completes the first task of the NTUI.

Yet this is only the first step. There are some parts of the country where the idea has not reached. There are also many states in the country, where the NTUI is both strong and growing and yet where the co-existence of multiple political tendencies still remains to be deepened. And there is the vast body of industrial sectors in which trade union multiplicity and division continues to dilute union power. Taking the NTUI to those parts of the country where it has not yet reached, opening up the NTUI in states where several progressive political traditions are still outside us and responding to the needs of building strong industrial unions remain key challenges for the immediate future. While we must put in more energy in organising our state and industrial councils, we must in the year ahead win national recognition for every union member and the right to be represented by every union. The General Council came at the end of several months of preparation through affiliate, state and sectoral conferences. The General Council heard the views of an unprecedentedly large number of affiliate leaders who addressed the General Council. And this process culminated in the NTUI resolving to build a sustained national struggle on the minimum wage, to fight against all forms of informal labour and especially against the discriminatory contract labour system, to put its energy and resources in organising women workers and above all in defending and advancing democratic rights.

Never have democratic rights been under attack as they are today. Never have workers rights been under attack as they are today. Never has the right to freedom of association been under the attack as it is today. And this is the situation both within this country and across the globe as the agenda of capital have taken primacy over all others.

Building union power to respond to these attacks must form the core base of the militant struggle to resist the forces of imperialist globalisation.

It is this spirit that the NTUI carried forward from its Second General Assembly held in Mumbai in December 2009 to Kolkata, a spirit from the city that is the home of militant working class struggle to the strongest site of parliamentary left politics. In doing so the NTUI recognises that the events of the past year have as never before sent out a clear message from the working class of the need to reorganise, rebuild and re-energise the left. The NTUI commits itself to these future steps in the faith that a renewal of the left can only come through the unity of effort and purpose to advance the values of democracy through militant struggle.

Resolution No. 1 – Crisis of Imperialist Globalisation and Trade Union Movement

Economic Crisis

The global economy is in crisis, and facing recession. This round of crisis is wider and deeper than the previous one. The imperialist globalisation has been locked in a crisis. The trend of rate of growth during each expansion has been falling. This, with the increasing volatility, indicates the direction of deep recession of the global economy. The crisis of 2007-9 with the US mortgage bubble burst, that engulfed the global financial system because of the securitisation of subprime assets, has now broadened to include sovereign debt and the real economy in the European zone. The extent of this global debt is best reflected in the staggering increase in global government debt of over $40.1 trillion by 2010. The 2010 recovery was a feeble one which did not enable the expansion of productive forces at the periphery of the imperialist system.

The imperialist globalisation in the present phase is imposed through financialisation and restructuring of production. This became possible with the delinking of the dollar from gold and the breakdown of the Soviet bloc. These developments forced open the economies of developing countries in a major way and weakened the power of national states to impose capital controls. As a result, capital acquired the capacity to both flow to low wage locations as well as to devalue labour. This phase is coming to an end with a crisis of the dollar itself. For the first time since the Second World War, the US Treasury bond has been downgraded from its prime status, thereby undermining the dollar as the world currency.

More importantly though the crisis has engulfed the very centre of the global economy and opened up the irreconcilable contradictions in the capitalist system, the governments are still not willing to confront finance capital. In fact, the response of governments is to acquiesce to the dictates of finance capital. Moreover, the imperialist globalisation has brought the stress on the centre and the periphery in both economic and political terms. Even the crisis of the euro and the EU, is in itself, a reflection of the inability of even the periphery of the European core to be integrated in the EU on equitable terms. The collapse of the credit cycle has impacted even the Chinese economy and growth in China, India and other developing countries has slowed down. This fall in the growth in the developing countries has fore grounded the excess productive capacity that has arisen and cannot be serviced within the capitalist system, and this will open up various forms of protectionist measures as countries respond to the situation, raising the possibility of a trade war. This is what brings the imperialist globalisation led by financialisation of the global economy into a serious crisis open to challenge by various classes, peoples and nations.

The coming time will be a phase of contention and struggle between two broad trends. One, of governments bending to the needs of finance capital, a process that works best within a monetarist ideology. The other, of peoples’ power asserting itself to reverse this financialisation process. This contention will emerge at many levels and will force a reversal of this financialisation process, beginning with the imperialist determined monetary framework.

The labour movement has to pose an alternative to imperialist globalisation both at the international and domestic levels. It has to struggle for a framework of development within which technological upgradation and wage rise are allowed simultaneously through institutional mechanisms. This will require unionisation and collective bargaining processes to be firmly established at both firm and industrial / sectoral level, which can only lead to an equitable sharing of rises in productivity in the real economy and provide grounds for expansion of the economy.  In the first instance, clearly fiscal expansion has to become the immediate target point of intervention. But it needs to move beyond that and combine public resources with public debt for industrial development. As such, growth will require building up capacities in the traditional goods sectors. This may not be possible with just the market forces and private sector investment playing a role.

People’s movements can force governments of their individual countries, more so in Asia and other developing regions, to implement national policies to reduce the impact of this imperialist globalisation. However, it may not be sufficient and effective, to reverse the imperialist globalisation without collective action at global level. The peoples’ movements and unions have to coordinate for this convergent action. One such alternative is to campaign and force governments towards a global reserve currency other than the US dollar, for this will allow for a new phase of global restructuring.  Despite the difficulty, contentious or protracted nature of this struggle unity has to be forged of trade unions for this policy.

Emerging Political Crisis

The economic crisis is precipitating a political crisis. In a way people are moving away from dominant political parties and the parliamentary system. The political crisis is also manifested with wider layers of society becoming actively involved in anti-government movements. The militant strikes and mass demonstrations in Europe and the Occupy Wall Street campaign in USA are significant manifestations of the breaking down of the capitalist hegemony. Moreover, the peoples and workers upsurge for democracy in the Arab World, the massive demonstrations in Chile, in Tiananmen Square and Dalian in China, and the wide protests in Russia and Latin America, all show the disillusionment about imperialist globalisation and the rising curve of people’s upsurge globally.

In India, the anti-displacement movement of peasants and adivasis, the militant and violent outbursts of workers in industrial areas have been joined by the wide mass movement against corruption in India, which are drawing the middle classes, and now even the traders, into anti-government movements. The emergence of the political crisis is manifested in the loss of credibility of the parliamentary system and representatives of dominant parties in parliament – Congress, BJP, and even the CPM, representing the parliamentary left. Moreover this crisis is spilling into a growing contention between these parties, and even undermining the possibility of a stable two party system. This weakens the possibility of forging a wide consensus on key issues by the ruling classes, and therefore contributing to the emerging political crisis in the country.

This opens up the possibility of widening the base of peoples’ movements to reassert the democratic power of the people at political, social and economic fronts.  The task is of identifying the social movements that articulate and represent this social base, building unity of these peoples’ movements and labour movements for political struggle institutionalising the gains of mass movements in local governance structures, and building up a framework and institution for national and sustainable development. It is a step in the direction of a large-scale political mobilisation and nationwide resistance, for forcing a reorganisation of the left forces and creation of an alternative political bloc against dominant parties.

The political mood in the country is created by many strands of opinion that coalesce around few core ideas. The opposition to bureaucratic capitalism is very wide, cutting across classes, with each having different reasons and interests for their opposition. The present context foregrounds the bureaucratic power, which people experience as issuesof corruption and maladministration in public institutions. This struggle against bureaucratic capitalism, though, draws on the anger of people, who experience corruption as a part of our public culture. It always emerges with the dominance of middle class, which retains the liberal framework and desires to sustain the bourgeois hegemony.  Instances of corruption that are directly experienced by the working people are the result of the unequal power relations and the illegalities in which they are forced to exist and which make them dependent upon patronage of state, to state officials and politicians who have access to the state. For the working class, corruption deepens their experience of subordination.

The broad front against corruption has an internal contention between liberalism and democratisation. This means that the fight against corruption must include demands for legislation and democratic implementation of a law that allows people who are interested or are entitled to rights and benefits under the law, to become an agency for implementing the law.

The NTUI believes that we need to build the widest unity for broad-based multiclass movement and draw from this a wider social base for alternative political options. At the core of this broad based movement must be the united working class and trade unions have to evolve flexible tactics to be able to move step by step towards higher forms of action.

Build the Widest Economic Struggle

In a phase where the masses have already moved on economic issues, it is important to widen the arena of economic struggle and scale it up to transform it into a political struggle. Unleashing of wage struggle on a broader scale and building public opinion for higher wage share will sustain the emergence of spontaneous movements of the masses on economic issues. Moreover, this will not allow the mobilisation and spontaneity to slide into parochialism and social prejudice or get dissipated into minor reforms. The NTUI calls for widening the economic struggle by drawing in all sections of the working people to force a shift in the balance of forces. A key task of the NTUI has to be also to translate this active participation of the working people into a union-building process.

The NTUI is opposed to the notion of unrestricted eminent domain of the state and calls for defining public interest and deciding it through a democratic and participatory process. It further demands a policy for democratic industrialisation that gives the gram sabha the concurrent right to decide land use within its domain and ensure free and fully informed prior consent, ensure net benefit to all affected people and a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for displaced people, which allows all affected person access through justiciable process of law.

The various protests and opposition to land acquisition have to be consolidated to become effective and a nationwide force. NTUI calls for all working people dependent on natural resources to unitedly struggle to dismantle the power of eminent domain of the state, demand democratic industrialisation, and build on the common property resources into higher forms of legally recognised cooperative and collective institutions and thereby expand the sector of people’s control in the economy.

The government’s ability to manoeuvre this political crisis is also narrowing. The open opposition by the army and business organisations on policy issues is a sign of the increasing possibility of authoritarian turn of the State. This brings forth the danger of people’s upsurge being channelled into sharpening social prejudice and anti-minorityism as part of fascist ideology. More immediately, the state is taking recourse to increasing coercive methods and acquiring legitimacy for this by building wide consensus on the doctrine of internal security.

NTUI reaffirms its opposition to the doctrine of internal security and has stood for immediate prohibition on the use of defence forces in internal issues without prior parliamentary approval; monitoring and review of all actions of central forces by a parliamentary standing committee; and strict legal accountability for all violations of human rights and fundamental rights by specially constituted Human Rights Courts.

In our struggle for democratisation, one axis has been to defend human rights and the human rights defenders. NTUI will continue the efforts to build a robust and strong co-ordination of mass organisations and human rights organisations to build a strong line of defence of human rights and for human rights defenders. The widespread use of internal security laws and the pretext of extremism are used to curb and destroy the union movement and detain union activists. The defence of democracy means the defence of union rights and union leaders in the most difficult and distressed areas of the country. The NTUI has to defend and sustain the frontline of this union movement.

The next phase of our struggle has to be focused on forcing the retreat of military from society and demanding the repeal of all laws that legalise the intrusion of military in society and calls for the widest unity for a decisive struggle to repeal AFSPA.

Building Unity

Our effort at building unity with all trade union federations has opened discussion within the trade union movement but has not acquired critical strength to force a change for unity at the national level beyond joint statements. Though, in some states we have acquired the legitimacy and capacity to shape this unity, we have to draw appropriate lessons from this experience. However, the militant mood of the workers and union members has compelled the central unions to take united actions against the anti-people policies of the government. The march to Parliament on 23 February 2011, and now the all India strike called on 28 February 2012 are steps in this direction. Though, the broader trade union unity has become dependent on the will of the pro-government central trade unions and has not yet moved beyond tokenism. NTUI will unite with this joint agitation and strive for the inclusion of the demands of all sectors of the working class. It will deepen this unity through consistent and militant struggles. In this context our tactics for unity has to be forged from below. It has to be grounded and shaped in industrial areas and towns with working class concentration. Our capacity and strength for intervention at the national level will depend upon our ability to scale up this local unity in a strategic way.

In this context, we have to focus on –

a) Intervention in the emerging mass movement against corruption and inflation in order to bring institutional change which allows for more accountability of state and power to working people to decide issues;
b) Widening the democratisation struggles to force the retreat of military and para military forces from policing functions and repeal of AFSPA and other security laws;

c) Widening the wage battles as key economic struggles, through the fight for universal minimum wage and eliminating the wage gap between regular and contract workers and build on these battles for the democratisation of industrial relations, and strengthening unions’ power to enforce laws and eliminate unfair labour practices.

We call upon the working people and their organisations to grasp the roots of this deep crisis in imperialist globalisation, build upon the people’s upsurge and unite the spontaneous struggles into a progressive and militant movement to defeat the imperialist globalisation.

Proposer: N Vasudevan, All India Blue Star Workers Federation, Maharashtra
Seconder: M Rajan, Kerala State Council

Resolution No 2: To build an incremental national struggle to win an indexed minimum wage and universal social security, in order to fight growing inequality and for advancing national development

The NTUI notes that

Resolution No 2 at its 2nd General Assembly, when calling for the building of a militant struggle to transform the economy to progressively increase the share of wages in national income, recognised that the present sharpness of attack on the working class is the result of an economic crisis that is a product of the nearly four decades of capitalist expansion under neo-liberal economic policies.

The present global economic crisis is sharp, deep, and systemic. The crisis, that began as a crisis of private debt and the financial system, is no longer restricted to the private sector and has come out clearly as a crisis of the capitalist state and its debt.

The present crisis is marked by two features – first a crisis of credibility of the United States dollar, opening up a currency crisis; and second, a declining global economic hegemony of the United States – and these two markers together pose an unprecedented crisis of capital.

Under these circumstances, the United States, in its struggle to maintain its hegemony is more likely to look at unleashing aggressive wars much the way it has encouraged northern intervention in Libya and is aggressively seeking to isolate Iran.

As the European sovereign debt crisis looms and balance of force continues to be ranged against the south by the north, it makes the emergence of alternatives to the reserve currency unlikely in the immediate future.

This will not only further contribute to uncertainty in global recovery, but also disproportionately disadvantage southern countries who will pay a disproportionately high price for sharp fluctuations in exchange rates.

The experience of every crisis in the capitalist system over the past century has been that capital has displayed enormous resilience to re-draw rules each time, ensuring a tightening of the share of wages and an increase in the share of profits to offset the persistent tendency of the rate of profit to decline.

The persistent increase in the share of profits in relation to the share of wages is continually contributing to widening income disparities that have reached proportions unprecedented in over a century.

Economic recalibration of the wage share and profit share within Europe and North America has resulted in a sustained attack on social security systems.

There have been sharp reductions in government contribution to social security, further contributing to growing income disparities.

The attack on the working class in Europe is being carried forward by undermining democratically elected governments.

The relative loss of hegemony of the global north has resulted in dispersing power between countries of the north and the larger economies of the south and the shift in focus from the G7/8 to the G20 for consensus building.

The inability of the G20 to arrive at consensus on substantive issues is a display of the lack of willingness of countries of the G7 to accept sharing of power with southern nations.

The G20 November 2011 summit’s inability to arrive at a consensus on fiscal expansion to fuel growth while accepting national autonomy of southern nations in retaining or introducing capital controls and promoting tax based social protection programmes is a clear reflection of this.

This lack of global consensus on fiscal policy lowers the possibilities of a sustained global recovery.

In the absence of a consensus on global recovery, the United States and the dominant European economic powers continue to base the core of their strategies of ensuring economic recovery on the back of consumption in the global south.

This is manifested in the substantial pressure being brought to bear on the large growing southern economies to enter into preferential trading agreements with countries of the global north.

The pressure on India to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union is a clear manifestation of this.

The NTUI notes, in the Indian context, that

Clearer weakness is emerging in government’s economic growth policy.

Although, despite deceleration, service exports have been growing at a reasonable pace, they do not contribute significantly to growth as they continue to be dominated by low value added services. More importantly, deceleration in service exports , due to the weak economic recovery in developed western economies, particularly the USA, has meant that service sector exports are no longer in a position to offset a widening trade deficit in goods, resulting in a growing current account deficit, putting downward pressure on the rupee.

Manufacturing industry has not contributed to growth in any sustained manner and data over the last two years shows significant weakness in the sustained prospects of manufactured growth.

Manufacturing industry remains highly import dependent for both capital and intermediate goods especially in both high growth and export sectors.

Many low value added industries that are labour intensive like garments and other consumer products that have come to be part of the global supply chain are facing a decline in production due to decline in demand from the global north and have affected the working class disproportionately.

Manufacturing industry is contributing to the increasing trade imbalance.

Ostensibly in search of global markets, manufacturing industry is seeking capital import of intensive technologies that are labour displacing and in the case of energy and heavy industry, environmentally degrading.

Even at the highest end of manufacturing that involves the highest skill levels amongst workers, the share of wages in relation to the share of profits is declining.

The agriculture sector remains un-remunerative and unattractive with continuing decline in land under cultivation.

There is a trend of land under food grain cultivation being replaced by commercial crop cultivation.

Land under food grain cultivation has also declined due to the increase in demand of high protein food products.

In this environment in the absence of a clear government direction and support there is little possibility of an increase in investment in agriculture.

As a result of this there is a decline in the net availability of food grain.

The government has failed to bring forward legislation ensuring a universal public distribution system in order to meet the needs of the working class.

Stagnation in food grain availability has caused an unprecedented rise in food grain prices.

The presence of hoarding and speculation in food products is an added cause for high food prices.

Food price inflation has been pushed up further with the constant pressure from the upper peasantry to allow exports of essential food produce for higher rates of profit.

Price inflation has also been persistent due to high price of petroleum and related imports.

Despite a decline in the growth of manufacturing industry and decline in demand for manufactured goods, the prices of these goods has not come down.

Persistently high prices of manufactured goods are the result of cartelisation and price fixing in the product market.

Prices have further inflated as a result of integration with the global economy since domestic prices are beginning to mirror international prices that tend to be higher.

Unprecedented price inflation, particularly that of food prices, has eroded real incomes and has affected the working class disproportionately more than any other section of the working population.

This continued erosion of the real wage has caused a decline in the savings rate making the economy more dependent on foreign investment for financing growth.

Increased dependence on foreign investment contributes to increasing vulnerability of stable investment flows in view of the crises of capital in both Europe and North America.

The sharp fall in short-term term investment flows and the growing external payments deficit has already resulted in the devaluation of the Rupee by twenty-percent in the last three months.

The lowering in the value of the Rupee will make the cost of the government’s foreign debt more expensive and also raise the price of imports thereby contributing further to price inflation.

Government’s response to inflation has been limited to allowing the Reserve Bank of India to repeatedly raise interest rates.

Government has also sought to pose the opening of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail as a mechanism to fight price inflation when in fact large corporate retail, including through FDI, would gravely undermine food security, create monopolies adversely affecting prices, cause enormous job loss and deepen the agrarian crisis.

Government has actively contributed to the erosion of real wages by maintaining a wage freeze on wages under the NREGA – for a clear twenty-four months from January 2009 to December 2010 – and thereby maintaining a downward pressure on the money floor wage.

This stands in violation of the commitment of government to maintain a real NREGA wage of Rs. 100 in the Union Budget 2009-10.

During this period the quality of delivery and the implementation of the NREGA have also declined.

Even the minimal provisions of social security envisaged under the Unorganised Workers Sector Social Security Act 2008 have remained virtually unimplemented. 

The provision of domiciliary health services under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna has been hamstrung by the public-private mode.

All of these together have contributed to a decline in the rate of growth of consumption.

Government has continued to place primary responsibility on private capital for investment, job creation and economic growth.

Private capital continues to receive concession both in fiscal terms and in the form of access to opportunities.

The public sector both in manufacturing and in the services has been further placed for providing sheltered market access to capital for private expansion.

The public sector banks and insurance corporations have been placed at the disposal of private capital that has been built on fleeting venture capital especially in infrastructure development under public-private partnership wherein debt, financed by public sector banks, in proportion to private equity is rising.

The private sector has proved to be inadequate in meeting the infrastructure, and especially energy, needs of the economy thereby placing impediments to growth.

The largest share of deposits with public sector banks is that of the working class and hence the savings of the working class are being placed at the disposal of the private sector whose bad loans are on the increase.

Recent efforts of introducing private and foreign capital into pension funds, and further deregulation of the provident fund system are further efforts to put working class savings and retirement benefits at the disposal of the private sector.

Recent efforts of loosely defining public interest and freeing land acquisition, outside of such public interest, open to private acquisition will open the way for placing land and other natural resources, with at best government regulation limited to defining land use, at the disposal of the private sector.

A section of the peasantry has actively sought an alliance with the capitalist class in seeking at least market prices for their land under acquisition and to dampen wages of agricultural and other rural workers.

Alongside this the upper peasantry has sought to draw in the rural proletariat in alliance with itself to resist land acquisition so as to bargain and negotiate with the state and with capital a profitable exit from agriculture.

While in areas where land holdings are smaller, including areas where land reforms have taken place or have traditionally small holdings, small and marginal peasants who are already impoverished by the deep agricultural crisis are being pushed off their lands, joining the scores of the landless losing their livelihoods.

Agriculture does not have the capacity to create new jobs; hence the landless and those dispossessed of their lands are joining the ever growing numbers of unemployed and underemployed workers in the country.

The sharp increase in surplus workers is contributing to large scale migration from rural areas to semi-urban and urban areas.

Recent data indicates that as many as a 100 million workers, or upwards of one-fifth of the working population, migrates at one time or another each year for however short a period in search of employment.

This enormous underemployed and unemployed section of the working population has no choice but to migrate in search for work, offering itself in desperation at rates significantly below the floor wage and therefore bidding down the floor wage.

The largest numbers of new jobs are being created under the contract labour system.

One in three workers in both manufacturing and services, including in the public sector and government, is employed under the contract system.

The disparity in pay and benefits between regular workers and contract workers is significant.

The creation of a substantial discriminated and insecure workforce at an organised workplace is being used by employers to maintain a sustained attack on the right to freedom of association and erode collective bargaining rights.

The executive and the judiciary are complicit by their sheer failure to enforce statutes that exist.

Opening up large domains of the economic sphere that are natural monopolies to private capital has opened the floodgates for corruption as sections of private capital elbow their way into new avenues seeking extraordinary profits.

NTUI General Assembly Resolution No 2 needs to be advanced over 2012 and 2013 for which the NTUI resolves to build:

A sustained struggle for:

Starting 2nd February 2012 for the stringent implementation of the NREGA and a coordinated militant struggle to win an inflation indexed NREGA wage based on recommendations of the 15th ILC and subsequent Supreme Court judgements in order to ensure that this is a step towards a national struggle for the stringent and rigorous implementation of an indexed minimum wage;

Curbing inflation by building the public distribution system, price controls for essential commodities including diesel and CNG, ensuring comprehensive food security, imposing export restrictions on food grains and food products, and introducing a stringent anti-trust regulation in manufactured goods and services;

Opposing all forms of wage discrimination and inequality, including discrimination against contract workers, women workers including honorary work; and fighting for equal pay for equal work, and lifting the upper ceiling under the Bonus Act;

Winning universal social security and in particular universal access to health, pension benefit and defending provident funds;

Defending the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and putting an end to unfair labour practices.

A united front to:

Advance the cooperative movement and defend the public sector to meet the needs of the working class, ensure self-reliant national development;

Fight corruption through a redressing of grievances and the enforcement of tax and corporate laws;

Further transparency in economic policy making and full disclosure by government; and demand for informed debate by legislature, of all economic actions and international treaties involving an impact in the lives of the working class. 

Build a national consensus on Democratic Industrialisation.

Proposer: Gautam Mody, Kamani Employees’ Union
Seconder: Pradeep Roy, All West Bengal Field Sales Representatives’ Union

Resolution 3: Women workers lead the struggle for labour rights and equality at work, in unions and society

The NTUI has been deliberating on the women’s issues at the workplace, in unions and in society. In the last two years, the NTUI has been able to focus on organising in sectors dominated by women workers. These initiatives come from a perspective that fundamental changes in the union movement can be made by expanding the base of women workers in unions to enable and sustain women’s leadership. NTUI believes that women, in unpaid and paid work, as women workers, and as women in working families and communities of working people, are a major section of the workforce who are deprived and exploited. In order to be socially transformative, the NTUI must enable its affiliates and both men and women members, to have a specific action and programmes addressing issues of women, as workers, as part of working families and communities of working people.

The 3rd General Council deliberated upon the specific issue of working women and resolved to build a specific campaign to address the issues of working women.

Women and Work

The NTUI recognises the gendered nature work, especially in the informal sector and non-standard work; the discrimination in standard employments faced by women workers; along with policies to promote self-employment for women in order to keep them perpetually out of the ambit of labour laws and social security. Majority of women members of NTUI are in non-standard employments such as rural work including forest work, honorary work, domestic work, garbage collectors, sex work and also in sectors such as the garment industry, construction, plantations, hospital and municipal work.

The issues that have emerged from among experiences of affiliates can broadly be categorised as:

  1. Recognition of Work
  2. Discriminations
  3. Work Conditions
  4. Harassment

Recognition of work and its social dimension

Recognition of unpaid household work

The importance of women’s contribution in the domestic sphere for the production and reproduction of labour is not recognised and not given its due importance. Women’s household work may not be waged work but it contributes to the sustenance of the families and so subsidises the wage cost of the employer and the cost of social reproduction of labour in a capitalist society. The NTUI will undertake a cultural campaign so that the working men recognise this unpaid work and participate in the struggle for socialisation of domestic work and enable participation of the women of their families in political life.

Recognition of families as a social force

The trade union movement does not pay sufficient attention to the context of families and communities of the working class. Yet, this dimension is critical in order to facilitate women’s leadership and to build up trade unions as not just an economic, but also a social force. The NTUI will develop organisational initiatives for brining working class families within its ambit.

Recognition of paid household work

In view of the adoption of the ILO Convention on Domestic work, the NTUI demands that the government brings a separate comprehensive legislation for domestic work that will both recognise and regulate the conditions of work and provide social security for domestic workers.

Recognition of Equal Value for Equal Work

The delivery of key social services of the government today is performed by ‘honorary’ workers who are mostly women – anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, mid-day meal workers, ANMs, contract multipurpose health workers and a majority of para-teachers. Their work is considered ‘voluntary’ and hence remains unrecognised and underpaid.

Decriminalise Sex Work

Sex work borders on being termed ‘illegal’ and hence is completely unregulated with no access to social protection, compounded with social stigma as well as harassment from law enforcers. Though the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) Amendment Bill 2005 and 2007, attempted to criminalise sex work, they were opposed and the Bill was stalled. Such criminalisation of sex work would further weaken the bargaining power of sex workers and their access to law.

Recognition of livelihood rights over natural resources

Majority of rural women are employed in the primary sector and are also primary producers within natural resource based activities such as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.  Their control over productive resources however remains minimal. Modern capitalist development superimposed on traditional hierarchies has further marginalised women leading to dispossession, alienation and lack of control of their means of livelihood, including over natural resources. The struggles by women for the control over productive resources are important. Struggles against land acquisition and struggles for land rights and forest rights form an important part of the work of many affiliates and are enabling women to gain control over productive resources. NTUI must focus on increasing control and share by women over productive resources, while also focusing on their demands as workers.


Wage Discrimination

Sectors employing more women or traditionally identifiable with women are typically not included in wage schedules and hence have no notified minimum wage. This includes all honorary work, domestic work, care-provision, and all forms of home-based work.  For industries with minimum wage notification or some form of agreed wage, women workers are paid far below the legal wage, especially in the construction and garment industries and in all forms of rural employments. Even in sectors employing women workers where wages are notified, the wages are much lower than for work in sectors that are perceived to be male jobs. There is a gendered differentiation of work and ‘female work’ is seen as less hard and skilled often leading to discriminatory wages within the same industry or sector. Wage discrimination along with lack of access to social security is also widespread in the case of migrant workers.

Discrimination in Social Security Benefits

Even with the passing of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, most women workers do not have access to social security. Except a minuscule section in formal employment, access to health care including statutory benefits such as maternity benefits with maternity leave, pension at retirement and other benefits are not implemented. In both the construction industry and in plantations, women workers are assumed to be supplementary workers and hence their access to social security is subject to access of the same by their spouses, if engaged in the same industry, even though this is taken to be a part of the social wage paid to all workers.

Discrimination in skill development

Access to training for skill development is limited for women workers in most employments, from construction, to garments, to all forms of rural work. Women are hence employed mostly in what is perceived as ‘low-skill’ jobs leading to low incomes.

Work Conditions

The present global economic crisis has also affected women disproportionately. This is also due to the fact that gendered labour relationships lead to unsecure employment, as a form of gender discrimination. With food prices surging and real wages falling, the pressure on women for providing for the family has increased forcing women to enter unsecure, non-standard, and hazardous employments in order to supplement the household income.

High work intensity and Piece work

The intensity of work is higher in sectors employing women as these are either sectors that are unregulated and hence with no limit on hours of, or in new industrial sectors such as garments which is a low-value added sector that extracts absolute surplus to increase its profit margins.  The proposed amendment to the Factories Act is also proposing to re-introduce night work for women which will further increase the intensity of work and vulnerability of women, more so in SEZs where non-implementation of laws is becoming a norm.

Further, with increasing work being outsourced to home-based production at piece rates, the work intensity has magnified manifold as there is no mechanism for monitoring working hours. This has also reordered the paradigm of employment by introducing family labour for industrial production to meet production targets. The piece rates adopted in tea plantations have re-introduced child labour in order to meet targets.    

Hazardous Work

Today there are more women than men employed in low end hazardous employments such as garbage collection, hospital waste disposal, in mines, carrying heavy construction materials at worksites with no safety regulations or social protection for occupational diseases as these employments are either beyond the ambit of the legislation or there is no political will to implement the laws.


Harassment at the workplace

Harassment ranging from increased work pressure to verbal, written or physical abuse at workplace is common. Harassment becomes an important tool to discourage organising. Women also face harassment from communities, family members and sometimes male fellow workers when they try to take on leadership roles and try to organise.

Sexual Harassment at the workplace

This harassment often takes the form of verbal and even physical abuse, with sexual overtones and reinforces images of inferiority that women have been socialised into. From seeking sexual favours or advances in exchange for work benefits to creating ‘hostile working environment for women to be in, sexual harassment at workplace as specified by the Vishakha guidelines is rampant in almost every workplace.

Restrictions in public life

Social practices and believes often restrict women’s social life, freedom of movement, access to education, and employment. A democratic public culture is essential to enable women to exercise their rights.

The NTUI believes that these issues have become obstacles in self-organising by women workers and unions have to make an effort to support these initiatives as well as enhance the participation of women in unions and its leadership.

In view of this NTUI resolves to:

  1. A Need-based Minimum Wage and Strict Enforcement of Minimum Wages;
  2. Equal Wage for Equal Work;
  3. Universal Social Security;
  4. Universal Food Security;
  5. A Safe and Secure Workplace;
  6. Ratify ILO Conventions related to women workers.

Leading up to the formation of NTUI Women’s Forum by the 3rd General Assembly.

Proposer: Anuradha Talwar, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, West Bengal
Seconder: Milind Ranade, Sarva Shramik Sangh, Maharashtra

Resolution 4: Call to join the 28 February 2012 General Strike

The NTUI will join and support the joint trade union call for a countrywide General Strike on 28 February, 2012. This joint trade union action is a step towards a united struggle against the anti-working people policies of the government. NTUI calls on all its affiliates to participate in the 28 February General Strike and deepen the unity of workers at all levels, in the preparation and agitation for this strike.

Strikes are critical to building and consolidating the working class identity, and such a countrywide working class action is a strong weapon to force the retreat of the government from its anti-working people policies. We call upon affiliates to take organisational initiatives to ensure that unions outside the fold of Central Trade Unions are also brought into this joint action. In this context, our tactics for unity should be forged at the local level: in industrial areas and towns with working class concentration. Our effort should be to build joint action committees to deepen the participation, solidarity and confidence of new unions and, thereby, bring new layers of the working class within strike action.

NTUI has consistently demanded equal wage for equal work, strict implementation of the eight hour work day and universal social security in order to articulate comprehensively the interests of working people as a whole. The NTUI welcomes the inclusion of demands of equal pay for equal work for contract workers and will continue to strive for the inclusion of the demands of all sectors of the working class, while also supporting the 10 demands formulated by the Central trade unions in their call and agitation for the strike.

Proposer: Ashim Roy, NTUI General Secretary
Seconder: M Subbu, NTUI Treasurer

Union Power, January 2012.

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