Calcutta, Jan. 5: Jyoti Basu today admitted having made a mistake by encouraging militant trade unionism for over 20 years from the tumultuous sixties.
In what must rank alongside his confession that passing up prime ministership in 1996 was a “historic blunder”, Basu said the mistake was committed when the CPM was under Promode Dasgupta and continued during his tenure in office as chief minister.
At a meeting organised by Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, Basu admitted that neither Dasgupta nor he could foresee that gheraos, sit-ins and other forms of militancy would spin out of control and mess up industrial relations, shattering Bengal’s economy and casting a shadow on its future with investors shunning the state.
“Little did we, Promodebabu, Ajoybabu (Mukherjee, the first United Front chief minister) or myself, realise that gheraos, strikes and other extreme forms of trade unionism in support of workers’ demands in 1967 would take such a dangerous shape,” the former chief minister said.
“Even a farsighted man like Promodebabu had failed to gauge its likely impact.”
Labour minister Mohammad Amin and a dozen Citu leaders were present when Basu spoke at the 59th state convention of the Bengal Chatkal Majdoor Union at Baranagar Circus Maidan.
Also a senior functionary of the Citu, Basu asked the labour organisation to take note of the changing times in the context of globalisation and economic reforms and make its supporters aware of the need for constructive trade unionism.
“Militant trade unionism is a mistake even for an organisation like Citu,” Basu said. “Gheraos, strikes and other kinds of hooliganism are not conducive to the changing industrial scenario in Bengal.”
Basu lent his voice to successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s repeated statements that indiscipline would not be allowed at the workplace. Both are driven by the realisation of the damage stray acts of labour militancy had caused to Bengal’s image outside.
Last week Bhattacharjee took on the Citu, decrying militant trade unionism, while addressing a conference of the West Bengal State Electricity Board Workers’ Union. He asked trade unions to make sure that “no disturbance is created in industrial units”.
Basu exhorted workers to behave responsibly while dealing with managements. He condemned last Friday’s attack by a group of employees on a few senior executives of a newspaper. “Such vandalism cannot be regarded a part of trade unionism.”
He also referred to an incident at a Baranagar jute mill, where an official was lynched by agitating mill workers.
“The workers might have had some genuine grievances but violence of this nature is not the solution,” he said.