Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Suneet Chopra

THE general council of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) met at Kozikode in Kerala on July 31 and August 1, 2011. The meeting was well-attended with 98 members attending from 13 states, out of a total of 109. They represented a membership of 50,54,502. Kerala topped the list with a membership of 21,34,539, followed by Andhra Pradesh 15,14,960 and Tamilnadu 5,09,546. The states with above one lakh AIAWU members were Tripura 2,34,009, Punjab 1,70,520, Maharashtra 1,26,530 and Karnataka 1,07,546, reflecting the growth of the union in all parts of the country.


In fact, apart from Bihar, all state units in the country increased their membership. This not only reflects the better organisation of the union in different states but also the growing discontent of rural masses on issues like the takeover of land for non-agricultural purposes, growing unemployment and the failure of the central and various state governments to ensure the proper functioning of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and other development schemes that could have provided work and livelihood for the rural labour, and the destruction of the public distribution system (PDS) as a result of governmental corruption, negligence and the determination to dismantle it at any cost despite the excruciating price rises. The union has addressed these issues successfully in a number of states and this is reflected in the growth of the organisation.

The meeting was presided over by P Ramayya, president of the union, and the welcome address was delivered by the Kozhikode mayor and former member of parliament, Premaja, who highlighted the tradition of struggle of workers, peasants and patriots in the district since the colonial period; even today this spirit of struggle in our masses is reflected in the victory of LDF candidates in ten out of the thirteen assembly constituencies in the district. She welcomed the council members to this arena of struggle and hoped that it would help them chalk out a relevant and successful programme of action for the future.

The condolence resolution was then placed by union joint secretary Suneet Chopra, expressing the sense of loss at the demise of CPI(M) Central Committee member and AIDWA leader Papa Umanath, CPI(M) Central Committee member and former deputy Tripura chief minister Baidyanath Majumdar, SFI’s founder president C Bhaskaran, Janvadi Lekhak Sangh’s founder general secretary Professor Chandrabali Singh, artist M F Husain, writer Dr Nirupama Rath, progressive intellectual S R Sankaran, former chief secretary of Tripura, and Telangana veterans K L Narayana Rao and D Bhiksham. It also remembered former Kozhikode MLAs like A Konaran, Mathai Chacka and M Dasam. In regard to the kisan and agricultural labour movements, the union offered its condolences to the families of Abani Dutta of Tripura, K Vasu and M K Gopalan of Kerala, B Srinivas and Sunil of Andhra Pradesh, J Navalan, S Manian, M Vedayyan, A Bose, B Chehniyappan of Tamilnadu, Harnek Rana of Punjab, Jayamahalingappa and Hekkalagonda of Karnataka and Mohan Sah, Baleshwar Kesari, Jawaharlal Choudhury, Ramdev Mandal of Bihar. The union also condemned the murder of over 400 Left leaders, activists and supporters of CPI(M) by Trinamul Congress and Maoist hooligans in West Bengal, and condoled the death of the Mumbai carnage victims and those killed in attacks on dalits, women and minorities all over the country.


In his presidential address P Ramayya noted the enormous contribution of Kerala to the agricultural labour movement from the time of stalwarts like P Krishna Pallai, A K Gopalan and E M S Namboodiripad and expressed his thanks to the comrades of Kozhikode, for hosting the general council meeting there.

He pointed out that the meeting was taking place at a time when many important issues were facing us like the price rise, widespread corruption and huge scams. It was in this background assembly election were held in five states. In case of West Bengal, the unified force of imperialists, big corporate houses, corporate print and electronic media came together to support an omnibus coalition of the Trinamul Congress, Congress and Maoists against the Left Front. But even in these conditions, the Left Front secured over two crore votes and it is the rural poor and toiling masses who constituted these sections as they had benefited from the pro-people policies of the Left Front government.

In Kerala, the United Democratic Front (UDF) formed a government but with only three seats more than the Left Democratic Front (LDF), with the CPI(M) emerging as the single largest party. Given that the UPA-II government is unlikely to take any genuine steps to help the poorest sections, all council members need to do their utmost to concentrate on the concrete problems facing the agricultural labour in their states and take up year-long plans to ensure that these problems are tackled in a way that some benefits accrue to the people at large. Problems like drinking water, house-sites, public distribution system and wages should be addressed and their links with government policies exposed to awaken the people to fight against them.

A Vijayraghavan, general secretary of the union, then placed his report. He highlighted how the central government was pursuing a cynical policy of cutting down expenditure on agriculture, encouraging the shift from food to cash crops, cutting down on input subsidies making farming unviable, leading to over two lakh suicides farmers. To make matters worse it encouraged speculation in the necessaries of life and had virtually destroyed the public distribution system, by not allotting adequate quotas to the states while allowing grain bought out of public money to rot in godowns. Moreover, administered prices of foodgrains, petrol, diesel and kerosene were raised time and again making the survival of the rural masses impossible.

Even the laws that the UPA-I had passed under pressure of the Left, like the MNREGA and the Forest Rights Act, were being scuttled with changes that the letter of the law did not permit. Moreover, under the pretext of the Food Security Act the number of beneficiaries and amount of foodgrains was being reduced while the price was being raised at a time when days of work available both on farms and under the MNREGA scheme were coming down. Clearly, there was no option but to organise struggles to resist these attacks and put forward alternative policies evolving correct organisational methods to achieve even greater successes than had been achieved this year.

On this upbeat note a discussion followed in which 27 members participated, giving their rich experience in overseeing the implementation of the MNREGA, leading struggles for land and house sites and against atrocities on dalits in Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka, for implementing welfare schemes, housing and activising women in the organisation in Kerala and Tripura, ensuring 20,000 house sites in Haryana, planning struggles on wages in Karnataka, on amenities in Rajasthan and or preserving land from marauding corporates in Orissa, resisting marauding land takeovers and ensuring wages for cane-cutting and rural labour in Maharashtra and reorganising the agricultural labour in Madhya Pradesh.


During this debate, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, AIKS president and the AIAWU central working committee member S R Pillai addressed the council, pointing out that the meeting was being held at a time when important developments were taking place. He noted how the setback to the Left in the recent elections in West Bengal was, despite the close fight in Kerala and a slight expansion in Tamilnadu, bound to make the ruling classes pursue their neo-liberal policies much more vigorously. This would bring the damaging features of the agrarian crisis far more sharply to the fore. Not only have the ruling classes not implemented land reforms, they have rendered peasant agriculture unviable and are cynically pursuing a path of dispossessing and impoverishing the vast mass of peasants in their effort to hand our agriculture over to corporates in every sphere of farming activity, which will lead to at least ten crore more peasants losing their land. And these corporates include multinationals jockeyed by the USA into decision-making in agriculture under the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative (sic!) through which our research too will end up being patented by them. In fact, the central government has already closed down public sector fertiliser factories; land is being taken over as never before; water takeovers and privatisation of power plants and the control over seed production will reduce the farmer to a bonded labourer on his own farm or, still worse, a pauper.

Clearly, many issues of life and death for our peasants and agriculture will come up. These will have to be tackled with strength and vigour. Both the AIKS and AIAWU will have to identify the crucial issues jointly, calling for mass actions with other like-minded organisations and launching decisive struggles to ensure the survival of peasant agriculture and adequate wages for agricultural labour. Only then can the misery these sections face today be stemmed.

In his reply to the discussion, Vijayaraghavan highlighted the increasing consciousness among the union leaders at every level; yet one could not afford to be complacent. Much more work needs to be done in states like Bihar, while expansion of the organisation into Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and the rest of the country has also to be planned. This inclusive approach requires abandoning stale methods of presenting reports that only preach to the already convinced. Without diluting our perspective, we must be able to attract the majority of agricultural labour to our organisation.

At the same time, a narrow and sectarian vision to restrict the organisation to only farm workers will defeat this purpose as ours is an umbrella organisation for rural labour, including casual labour, migrant labour, sugar-cane cutters, fisher-folk and rubbers and toddy-tappers, among others. Organising the rural proletariat under one roof has become more and more necessary to defend their rights and to gain advantages for them. Our success in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh reflects this broader vision. The stress laid on the recruitment and promotion of women cadre in Kerala and Tripura or of integrating elements of the anti-caste dalit movements into our ranks is going ahead in our organisation in a number of states. But beyond this extension of our reach, reflected in our growing membership, militant struggles for employment and wages too are necessary to steel our activists with class consciousness.

He then pointed out that the office bearers who met in a recess during the meeting had also finalised their agreement to hold joint mass actions with the AIKS and other like-minded organisations in September and October, with a view to building a powerful and irresistible movement as we go forward to build a movement for alternative policies. To strengthen this consciousness, while most states had conducted education classes on their own, a school for the North and one for the South were proposed. Publication of a bulletin, the first one with the deliberations of the general council, was also proposed.

After the unanimous passage of the report, AIAWU joint secretary Hannan Mollah enumerated the issues to be taken up for future struggles. Deeper and better planned struggles to implement the MNREGA and to prevent corruption in its implementation, wage struggles both to ensure statutory and MNREGA minimum wages; taking up the issues of the price rise, the functioning of the PDS and the Food Security Bill, for the distribution of surplus land and village common land among dalits and the landless and issues concerning the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the Land Acquisition Bill, local and state level struggles to implement various welfare schemes for dalits, women and the destitute, organised resistance to the growing attacks on dalits all over the country, activising women agricultural workers through conventions of women from state to lower levels as called for by AIAWU seventh all-India conference, the struggle to secure compensation for agricultural labourers who suffer accidents at work and campaigns for them to avail of government insurance schemes; the struggle against the use of poisonous insecticides without proper masks and gloves, banning those that are injurious to health like endosulfan and ensuring free medical treatment for agricultural labour suffering from their ill-effects while holding the producers of such drugs responsible.

The meeting also passed resolutions to highlight these issues which were placed by joint secretaries Kumar Shiralkar and Sunnet Chopra, and vice president Bhanu Lal Saha. The meeting was followed by fourteen area-level mass conventions in Kozhikode district in which the report of the deliberations and decisions taken in the council were explained to the people by office bearers of AIAWU.

Courtesy: People’s Democracy

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