The Power Workers of Uttar Pradesh Show the Way

The majority of the revolutionary groups in India have over decades upheld and propagated the view that the industrial working class in this country does not have the revolutionary potential to shake the existing social, economic and political system and overturn it. Parties such as the CPI and the CPI (M) had already embarked upon the reformist path of adhering to 'pure trade unionism' while the Marxist-Leninist groups virtually abandoned the workers' movement and shifted their focus to the peasantry. These developments in turn created a vicious circle where the class movement of the workers had to develop independently or worse under the impact of reactionary ideologies. This has resulted in the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), under the political leadership of the Hindu communalist-fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), establishing itself as the largest trade union centre, while revolutionary politics has been marginalised in the working class on an nation-wide scale.

The revolt of the Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) power workers proclaims that the working class has not lost its potency or vigour and it is ready to start an offensive against its enemies without assistance from the outside. It is also a warning to those who underestimate the revolutionary energy of the industrial working class.

90,000 workers of the U.P. State Electricity Board went on strike against a Cabinet decision of the 14th of January 2000 which disbanded the Board and replaced it by three new corporations : the UP Power Corporation, the UP Hydro-electric Corporation and the UP Thermal Power Production Corporation : Already in 1999 the Kalyan Singh government in UP has passed the Electricity Reforms Bill and an electricity regulatory body was established and the ICICI was appointed as the consultant to dissolve the Electricity Board. In real terms the disbanding of the Board and its substitution by 3 corporations was but the first of a two phase process of privatisation which has as its aim the transfer of the entire power sector of UP into private hands. All this was being done under the dictates of the World Bank by the new lending Adaptable Programme Loan (APL).

Under the APL the World Bank is directly disbursing loans to the state governments who in turn are required to make structural adjustments on the lines desired by the bank. The move to privatise the UP State Electricity Board was a part of this restructuring plan. When this process was initiated in 1999 by the passing of the Electricity Reforms Bill the workers had hit back with a strike. The then Kalyan Singh government in UP summoned the Army, invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act and the National Security Act and resorted to other repressive measures to crush the strike. At that time the strike did not last longer than two days. Since then some 25,000 jobs have been abolished under the restructuring plan. As the plan entered the second phase the workers again took the offensive through fresh strike action.

The government was fully confident that it would be successful in breaking the strike as before. The Union Minister for State for Power and Energy P. Kumaramangalam in unambiguous terms declared that no dialogue would be opened with the striking workers. Similar statements were issued by the UP Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta and the UP Power Minister Naresh Aggarwal. When the workers did not budge the government resorted to repressive measures. The Army was called in to maintain the electricity supply but even 20% of the supply could not be maintained. In desperation the UP government terminated 25,000 workers and started fresh recruitment. The workers still did not relent. Then 6,000 of them were arrested, their houses were raided and their families harassed. The workers remained as firm as a rock. Electricity production ground to a halt in U.P.

The initiative was now in the hands of the striking workers and the U.P. government was forced to retreat and proposed negotiations which ultimately ended in a complete surrender on the part of the government which halted the plan of privatisation. The power workers won their struggle.

After the Railway Strike of 1974 the strike of the power workers was the most important action of the organised workers, it heralded a new phase of the workers' movement which resolutely fought their enemy - the global march of international capitalism. At this crucial juncture when the working class is in an upsurge the consciousness of the communist revolutionaries lags behind the mass movement. The absence of the communists in the UP power workers strike is the proof of this. When other sections of the workers expressed solidarity with the striking power workers and even the most reactionary unions such as the BMS were forced to declare their support for the struggle, the revolutionaries stood nowhere. This demonstrates the backwardness of the revolutionary movement and its inability to cope with the requirements of the present day working class struggle. The sectarianism of our revolutionaries and their inability to appreciate the potential of the industrial working class has prevented the development of a broad mass workers' party which might respond to the class struggles and convert them into the red battles of the conscious proletariat against its enemies.

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