The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Citu dithers on closure protest

Calcutta, Dec. 15: The monolithic labour wing of the CPM, the Citu, is finding itself in a bind trying to reconcile itself to the state government’s divestment programme while opposing the one pursued by the BJP-led government at the Centre.

To chart a way acceptable to its rank and file, the working committee of the trade union will meet tomorrow, Citu officials said. The agenda is going to be dominated by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s move to close down sick public sector undertakings and curb “militant” trade unionism.

“We believe there are certain fundamental differences between the two disinvestment programmes and the lines of approach to labour,” said state Citu secretary Kali Ghosh.

In a bid to reconstruct the wobbly economy, the government had decided to close down nearly a dozen state PSUs, which had been diagnosed as terminally ill and burdened with large work forces.

The government has already secured a commitment from the Department for International Development, UK, towards assistance in operating voluntary retirement schemes for the employees and workers of the units marked for closure.

Among the PSUs to be shut down immediately are India Paper Pulp Company in Naihati and Sunderbans Sugarbeat in South 24-Parganas. About 900 people will be rendered redundant in the two units following their shutdown.

Officials said it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to generate funds for loss-making units like Krishna Glass, West Bengal Plywood, Engel India, Lily Biscuits, Carter Pooler, Nisco, West Bengal Chemicals, Apollo Zipper and India Belting and Neo Pipes.

Though the Citu has chosen to put a brave front in public, deep down, its leadership knows it would face adverse labour reaction once the marked units are shut down. “The big question will be what role to play after disinvestment starts affecting the labour class,” a Citu official said.

Apart from the 10 listed above, the government has identified six other units and proposed to restructure their manpower and financial setups. In course of time, the government might be forced to shut down these as well.

In that case, the Citu will be under greater pressure to take a stand — the absence of which might lead to an erosion in its constituency.

“We are not opposing the government line on India Paper Pulp and Sunderbans Sugarbeat because they have become unsalvageable,” Ghosh said. “What we will do is educate the labour about the role Delhi plays in turning our companies sick.”

Asked if the Citu will oppose the plans to close the sick units, Ghosh said the government had promised alternative employment to those who lost jobs. “Once the government offers alternatives, we will have nothing to complain. We will demand immediate re-employment,” he added.

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