The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sangh union for poll truce

New Delhi, June 6: The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Sangh parivar’s trade union wing that has been relentlessly opposing the Centre’s economic policies, is singing a different tune.

“We do not think the government will push through any worker-unfriendly policy till the general elections are over,” said the outfit’s president, Hansubhai Dave. The general election is scheduled for the end of next year.

Dave said he sees no reason to be “unhappy” with the government over the provident fund tussle — the labour ministry and trade unions have refused to give in to the finance ministry’s demand for a cut in the fund’s interest rate. “The interest remains the same — 9.5 per cent. The government has not reduced the interest,” the trade union leader added.

Although the rate has been officially lowered to 9 per cent, the provident fund trustees have decided to pitch in with a half-per-cent bonus to retain the present interest rate, at least for this year. The bonus will be given on the occasion of the fund’s golden jubilee celebrations this year.

“We will try to retain the 9.5 per cent (interest) next year also. Let’s see what happens,” Dave said. “It will depend on the rate of returns from the fund’s investments.”

For the time being, the outfit is staying off the path of aggressive agitation and keeping away from joint movements with other trade unions. “We may have some kind of a movement when the Parliament session begins in July,” Dave said.

But it will not team up with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu) or the All India Trade Union Congress (Aituc) to protest against the government’s policies.

Till a year ago, the outfit was speaking in a different voice — as militant as that of Citu — opposing tooth and nail every move of the government to push through liberalisation.

The organisation embarrassed the government no end by refusing to sanction labour law reforms, despite repeated reminders by the Prime Minister that the country needs more flexible labour laws to grapple with the increasing global competition.

This was also the period when joint trade union activities gained ground as the Sangh outfit walked shoulder to shoulder with other trade unions, participating in their strikes.

However, the BMS leadership is now confident that the government is not going to tinker with the volatile labour law reforms and pursue moves that will alienate the general public. “Before the elections, it is not possible for the government to ram through labour law reforms that will facilitate a hire-and-fire system,” Dave said.

What happens later in case the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government returns to power is another matter, the BMS president added.

Dave insisted the organisation’s decision was not prompted by any political consideration or to spare the Vajpayee government the embarrassment of tackling unruly members of the Sangh parivar. The CPM-backed Citu had faced a similar kind of dilemma during the ruling United Front regime — the Left Front was then part of the People’s Front, which supported the government.

The bonhomie among trade unions seems to have tapered off. Both the BMS and Intuc did not join the all-India industrial action sponsored by the Left trade unions and others last month. Like Intuc, which has always opposed strikes and bandhs, the BMS wants to distance itself from such actions.

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