AIAWU General Council Calls for Mass Actions
THE general council meeting of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) was held at Hyderabad on 6-7 November 2013 at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram in which 82 leaders of agricultural labour movement participated from across the country. Presenting the general secretary’s report, A Vijayaraghavan said that the government’s priorities have changed under UPA-II which resulted in cutbacks on social security measures for agricultural labour, while these are even more necessary now as the days of work available in agriculture shrunk and unemployment increased as a result of the sale of land in the agrarian economy. In the name of reaffirming the policy of land reforms, the government is paving the way for more and more land concentration in hands of the elite, both rural and urban. He added it was a shame on the part of the central government that the land reforms committee under the chairmanship of none other than the prime minister could not meet even once since its constitution. He also felt that most state governments are not paying serious attention towards the problems of agricultural workers despite the onset of a crisis in multiple sectors. The measures initiated by the governments under World Bank and IMF prescriptions have failed to check the ever increasing rural unemployment and poverty. Recognising the rural employment guarantee scheme MNREGA’s contribution in raising the rural wages, Vijayraghavan also pointed out that the never ending increase in inflation is eating away at the wage hikes and the net real wages that are far less today than in previous decades. This requires an increase of work to 250 days and of wages to Rs 300 per day as the AIWU is demanding. The food security act piloted by the UPA-II government on the eve of elections is bound to fail if it did not delink from the direct benefit program, popularly called as cash transfer scheme and the cutbacks on food subsidy. The proposal to replace the food articles with cash will enhance food insecurity, he said. While referring to the organisational aspects, he said, “the state conferences of the organisation marked a positive change during this period and turned out to be popular conferences with large mass participation.” At the same time he stressed the importance of focusing on the primary and middle level unit functioning. When these units succeed in maintaining the live contacts with the rural poor, they help us in expanding the influence of our organisation. He also called for identifying the opportunities to open up new avenues for organising rural labour, platforms that can deal with the different sections of rural poor with AIAWU being an umbrella organisation for them. He mentioned the experiences of Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu in this regard. He also informed the council that despite the adverse situation, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, the union has succeeded in registering growth in its membership. He also called for a time bound completion of 6 million membership enrolment for the next year, rather than delaying it as elections were due. Commencing the general council meeting, president P Ramaiah highlighted the changes that are taking place in rural India which were reflected in the Census of 2011. With regard to the land reforms, he said “Till 1970s we have seen land concentration in the hands of a few individuals whereas under the period of economic reforms we have witnessed the institutionalisation of land concentration also in the name of development or infrastructural projects or ashrams,” leading in effect to the dispossession of mass of peasants. Addressing the council meeting, the vice president of AP Agricultural Workers Union and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, B V Raghavulu said that the nation is facing testing times as the sharpening of communal and religious fundamentalist forces is being spearheaded by Narendra Modi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. He also brought to the attention of the council the worsening economic scenario and the possible negative impact on the livelihoods of agricultural workers in particular and rural poor in general. He urged the leaders of agricultural workers movement to champion the cause of rural poor and consolidate them behind the progressive and secular forces in the forthcoming general elections. Eighteen members participated in the discussions on general secretary’s report. A common theme in these deliberations was their experiences in organising the rural poor. The members from Hindi-speaking states highlighted the increase in atrocities on dalits and women as a major feature in recent times, although Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Odisha also noted how the union had to confront these issues in their states, whereas the members from south and central Indian states noted that land acquisition and forest rights were the major issues they encountered during this period. Another major feature experienced by all the states is failure of the state and central governments in ensuring the proper implementation of MNREGA. All the participants felt that the Act is not being implemented in its true spirit and both the central government and the administration on the ground are trying their best to stifle the implementation of this flagship program. Certain states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar had mobilised agricultural workers on the demands of getting job cards, work, payment of backlog wages, and on the correction of faulty measurements. It was also felt that there is no structured mechanism in place to verify the claims of the administration regarding work done as in the majority of states the state governments failed to appoint Shrama Mitras and field assistants who are supposed to take care of measurement aspects and other implementational issues. In states such as Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh, the incidence of social discrimination is another important issue which is encountered by the union. At the same time, the joining of young and able bodied agricultural workers in the ranks of unorganised working force in urban centres is another major development during this period leaving rural employment to the aged and women workers as observed by the representatives from Odisha. The discussions also threw light on the nature of new demands in the new situation. The question of reclamation of land for rice cultivation in Kerala, and lack of proper implementation of Forest Rights Act in Andhra Pradesh are some examples of this. Also, the issue of house-sites has become a crucial one in most states as land becomes less and less available to the landless and rural poor. Both these units designed special programs to cater to the new situation and mobilised thousands of rural labour. Apart from the issue of house sites, the cancellation of ration cards stands out as a major issue in Haryana and Punjab where lakhs of agricultural workers have been deprived of ration cards on one or other pretext and the state units are gearing up to take up these issues. AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra proposed the future program consisting of a month long campaign and state and lower level protest action in December 2013 – January 2014, demanding steps to curb the price rise, proper implementation of MNREGA, implementation of comprehensive food security by universalising the PDS network and providing the required funds to expand its coverage, a call for the passing of a Comprehensive Central Legislation for Agricultural Labour, provision of house-sites for the landless and on the protection of land rights of dalit and tribal communities as well as prevention of atrocities on the downtrodden sections of society. A national level joint convention is also proposed to be held in collaboration with All India Kisan Sabha on the question of land reforms in January 2014. All the units were called upon to gear up for actions from the village level upwards for the proper implementation of MNREGA and wage struggles, the issue of a universal PDS and proper check up of mid-day meals with proper staff to implement them, organising women agricultural workers conventions, monitoring and utilising government schemes in the interest of rural labour. This would be a good foundation for the preparation of the forthcoming all India conference of AIAWU, which is going to be held in Andhra Pradesh immediately after the general elections for which all states must complete their state conferences in time. He pointed out that the anger of the masses was increasing daily and if we did not move forward with a proper sense of urgency to channel it in the right direction it would be used by divisive, casteist and communal forces to weaken our unity and breed despair. The council expressed concern over the depth of the crisis and its devastating effects on people which is reflected in the suicides by the farmers and agricultural labour in large numbers. The meeting also expressed concern over the fact that the human rights of dalits and tribals are under constant attack by both state and central governments. After thorough discussions and identifying the major trends and problems faced by the agricultural workers, the report was passed unanimously. The meeting also comprised two well attended seminars on ‘Land Reforms and Conditions of Agricultural Workers under Globalisation’ with the keynote address by Professor Utsa Patnaik and on ‘Food Security and New Developments in Agriculture’ with the keynote address being delivered by the well known journalist P Sainath.