The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha gets his core way in IT

New Delhi, Oct. 26: At the end of a long-drawn debate on the right to strike in information technology services, the CPM politburo decided to keep both Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the party’s labour wing, Citu, happy.

Bhattacharjee wanted infotech to be free from strikes while Citu president M.K. Pandhe refused to treat the industry differently.

Wedged between the two, the politburo struck a middle way. It recognised the right of infotech employees to form unions and to collective bargaining in deference to Citu.

When asked if infotech workers can strike, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said: “Collective bargaining includes strike.”

It possibly means Bhattacharjee’s agenda to keep infotech out of the purview of strikes altogether might not have succeeded in full, but the party appeared to be accepting the view that 24x7 activities cannot be disrupted.

The politburo decided to prepare a document that will identify the core sectors in infotech in order to have greater “clarity” about the way the business functions. The document will be placed before the central committee, which will have a three-day session from December 14.

“Information technology has got different types of sectors ' hardware, software, BPO. There are some core areas with essential services. We want greater clarity on the way the sector functions to educate our party,” Karat said.

The politburo-authored document on core infotech areas will help the leadership to identify services that will function even during strikes. A parallel exists in the continuous-process steel industry where certain sections essential to its functioning are allowed to run on a strike day.

Karat, however, said the question of calling strikes would arise only after trade unions get a foothold in infotech.

“Citu has not even been able to organise infotech workers. We have to first find out whether they want unions,” he added, disapproving of imposition from outside.

During the national strike on September 29, Citu had allegedly targeted infotech to enforce shutdown, which angered the chief minister and appears to have earned the politburo’s displeasure.

“In Bengal, they are drawing lessons from September 29,” Karat said in a statement that is an unequivocal endorsement of Bhattacharjee’s position. Earlier, Karat had said workers should not be coerced into joining a strike.

Citu is eyeing infotech as a potential recruiting ground for membership. For Bhattacharjee, unionising infotech workers is obviously not a priority, but at its two-day meeting the politburo underlined the need to organise.

It felt infotech and related services were creating a great deal of employment and should be studied in detail. “Infotech is not a homogenous sector. We need to see how they organise their business. There should be no labour law violations,” Karat said.

This would be the CPM’s position nationally. But Karat left enough elbow room for Bhattacharjee who fears strikes will scare investors away from his state.

“If there is a strike call, the Bengal government, state party and the Citu unit can decide what to do (on infotech),” he said.

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