The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left labour arms flex muscles

Calcutta, May 23: The Left trade unions have lined up a meeting in Delhi tomorrow to draw up a common charter of demands, particularly an inquiry into the “gross under-sale” of public sector enterprises like Jessop and Balco, and place it before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Apart from the inquiry, the items topping the agenda include abolition of the disinvestment ministry, and increase in interest rates of provident fund and long-term bank deposits. Introduction of a proper labour code to protect the rights of contractual workers will also be taken up at the meeting.

Those attending the one-day session will also dwell at length on how to bring all the trade unions, including the Congress-backed Intuc and the BJP’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, under one umbrella to work out a joint movement against the Centre in support of the common charter of demands.

“During the BJP-led coalition’s five-year regime, working masses were brutally assaulted by various policies adopted by the Centre. Workers were not attacked like this even during the Emergency. Now, in the changed circumstances, trade unions want a fair deal so that the working classes are benefited,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, Aituc leader and CPI MP from Panskura.

Dasgupta made it clear this afternoon that trade unions are ready to become a “social partner to bring a turnaround in the economy. We want the labour ministry to be labour-friendly and an effective instrument to protect workers”.

He called up Singh on Friday to request him to draw up a pro-poor economic policy. A delegation of trade union representatives would shortly meet both the Prime Minister and the labour minister to apprise them of their charter of demands.

The Aituc leader said efforts are on to involve the Intuc and BMS to mount a bigger trade union movement and put pressure on the Congress-led government. “I hope the two unions will share a platform with us in support of a common charter of demands,” he added.

State Citu general secretary Kali Ghosh said besides tomorrow’s conclave, the CPM’s labour arm has on its own convened a two-day meeting beginning Tuesday to discuss the same “burning issues”.

“Over the past few years, we have strongly spoken against the NDA government’s economic policy. This orchestrated protest by Left trade unions against the labour policy has contributed to the fall of the BJP-led coalition,” he said.

Echoing Dasgupta, Ghosh said there was no need for a disinvestment ministry and interest rates should be pushed up to help the poor and the middle class. “We shall also definitely discuss the under-sale of public sector units. However, we can make our stand clear on this score only after May 26,” he said.

Sunil Sengupta, the national general secretary of the RSP-backed United Trade Union Congress, said the Left labour arms would first go through the common minimum programme of the United Progressive Alliance before drawing up their agenda.

“Let us see if the interest of the working class has been protected in the CMP or not. If this government fails to ensure a hike in provident fund rates and other long-term bank deposit rates, we will have to launch a movement,” he warned.

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