Vol. XLIII No. 14 April 07, 2019
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Ninth Conference Of The All India Plantation Workers’ Federation
Ninth Conference Of The All India Plantation Workers’Federation :Pay Special Attention to Social Issues

THE ninth conference of the All India Plantation Workers’ Federation (AIPWF) which concluded in Agartalaon November 24,2013 left an indelible impression on all the delegates who participated in it from all the major plantation states in the country.More than 200 delegates from Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura attended the conference.The delegates from Kerala came in their full strength despite the long distance. Workers from all the major segments of the plantation sector – tea, coffee and rubber were represented in the delegations. The conference started with the hoisting of the CITU flag by Hemalata, president of AIPWF and paying floral tributes at the Martyrs’ column by all the delegates. The conference was presided over by Hemalata. The office bearers of AIPWF acted as the steering committee. Tapan Chakraborty, chairman of the reception committee welcomed the participants. A resolution committee with Zia Ul Alam from West Bengal as the convenor, and a credential committee with PA Raju from Kerala as the convenor were elected. SPECIAL ATTENTION TO SOCIAL ISSUES Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU inaugurated the conference. He pointed out that while the plantation workers were among the poorest sections of the society and among the most exploited sections of the working class, the owners of the plantations were reaping huge benefits. The area under plantations was increasing and the sector also is expanding to newer areas and states. The industry faced no crisis today. But the workers were being denied their due rights. He said that the plantations reflect the multiple nationalities and ethnicities in the country and are like mini India. The plantation workers’ movement has a glorious history of struggles and sacrifices. The AIPWF has to carry forward that tradition and make serious efforts to strengthen the unity of the plantation workers and develop a strong movement in all the states. Referring to the decision of the 14th conference of the CITU to pay special attention to the social issues of the workers, he emphasised the need for the AIPWF to take up the specific problems of the adivasis, migrants and workers of different ethnicities working in the plantations, particularly in states like Assam, West Bengal and Tripura, from the class platform. He warned of the dangers of the divisive forces who were trying to utilise the genuine discontent among these sections against the denial of their due rights, to disrupt the unity of the workers. Many NGOs were also active to prevent them from being organised as a class and participate in struggles. Tapan Sen also emphasised the need for the plantation workers to participate in large numbers in the joint trade union campaigns and struggles on the basis of the ten-point charter of demands. Plantation workers must be mobilised in their thousands in the ‘March to Parliament’ on December 12, he said. P Lalaji Babu, general secretary placed the report. The report noted that the plantation crops that include major cash crops like tea, coffee, rubber and spices were grown over around 16 lakhs hectares providing direct employment to around 17.10 lakh workers. In addition, there were more than 40 lakh growers, most of them small growers. Around 2 crore people derive their livelihood from activities associated with plantations including production, value addition, marketing etc. India was the largest producer and consumer of tea, the fourth largest producer and third largest consumer of rubber and sixth largest producer of coffee in the world. India was the largest producer of spices enjoying 46% share in the global spice market in terms of volume. Small producers have large presence in the plantation sector in terms of numbers. But big tea gardens dominate the sector in terms of production. 75% of tea is produced in the 1686 big tea estates while 1.41 lakh small growers contribute to 25% tea produced in the country. In the case of coffee, 99% of the total 2.58 lakh holdings are owned by the small holders. But the 1% big holders occupy 25% of the area under coffee cultivation and contribute to 30% of the total coffee production. However, in the case of rubber, around 11 lakh small producers account for 90% of the total area and 94% of total production. MISERABLE WORKING CONDITIONS Though the national and international big corporations reaped huge profits, plantation workers live in miserable conditions. Due to the pressure from the trade unions, the government of India amended the Plantation Labour Act to provide some benefits to the workers. But the state governments have not formulated the rules necessary for its implementation. The Act remains mostly unimplemented. Even the meagre wages are not paid regularly. The work load is being increased. The workers are forced to work for longer hours. The houses provided in the plantations which are isolated and removed from the cities and towns, are in dilapidated conditions without maintenance; they have no safe drinking water; no sanitation facilities. There are no teachers in most of the estate schools, no doctors nor medicines in the hospitals. The period after the last conference witnessed major changes in the tea industry. While tea cultivation spread to non traditional areas, the number of tea manufacturing units without any plantations, the Bought Leaf Factories (BLFs) has also increased remarkably. The neo-liberal policies imposed intense competition and for the first time tea is being imported into the country. The owners have been seeking to restructure the industry with the objective of lowering the cost of production, flouting the welfare provisions in the Plantation Labour Act and other rights of the workers and resorting to large scale casualisation. Most of the small tea growers are also squeezed in the present situation. As a result of the miserable conditions in the tea gardens, migration from the tea gardens has increased. Thousands of tea workers are leaving the gardens, seeking employment elsewhere. Thousands of workers from the north Indian plantations are also migrating to the plantations in the south. The general secretary’s report dealt with the present situation of the tea, coffee, rubber and spices production and the conditions of the plantation workers in the country. It highlighted the need for the AIPWF to undertake a serious study of the changing scenario in the plantation sector and formulate appropriate strategies to unite the plantation workers and launch wider struggles to protect their rights. It also called upon all its units to link the struggles of the plantation workers with the broader struggles of the working class to change the neo-liberal policies. The report also self- critically noted the shortcomings of the federation in developing an effective countrywide movement of the plantation workers to face the onslaught on their conditions although in almost all the states the grass root level unions were active in taking up their issues and fighting for improvement in their working conditions. It stressed the need to pay more attention to raise the awareness and consciousness of the plantation workers and develop cadres from among the workers. 21 delegates participated in the discussion. The discussions reflected the strong urge among the delegates to develop a strong country-wide movement of the plantation workers by overcoming the existing weaknesses. Several delegates told that because of the lower wages in the plantation sector, particularly in states like Assam, workers were migrating out of the plantations. No male workers can be seen in some gardens in Assam. The need to urgently address the specific issues and demands of the adivasis and workers of different ethnicities by the unions was highlighted by many delegates. The report was unanimously adopted after Lalaji Babu replied to the various points raised in the discussion. The conference unanimously adopted the resolution supporting the joint trade union call for ‘March to Parliament’ on December 12, introduced by Sukumaran and seconded by Sukhmoit Oraon. It gave a call to all the state committees to ensure that plantation workers participate in thousands in the programme. Other resolutions – against ban on plantations in Western Ghats, demanding strict implementation of the Plantation Labour Act, wage boards for plantation workers, minimum wages as applicable to industrial workers and not less than Rs 10,000 per month, land rights for families of plantation workers, against price rise, tribal status to the migrant plantation workers in Assam as is applicable in their original states etc. The conference unanimously elected a new team of office bearers with Lalaji Babu as president, Zia Ul Alam as general secretary and Ashit Dutta as the treasurer. In her concluding address, Hemalata thanked the Tripura state plantation workers’ federation and the state committee of the CITU for the excellent arrangements for the conference. The delegates who came from Assam, West Bengal and Tripura comprising the North Zone of the federation met immediately after the conference and decided to conduct a meeting of union activists, mainly adivasis and those belonging to different ethnic groups, on February 3-4, 2014 in Guwahati to discuss their specific issues and formulate demands to be taken up from the union platform. On November 24, all the delegates were taken by the reception committee to the Durgabari Tea Estate, a cooperative run by the tea garden workers themselves under the leadership of the CITU. A massive public meeting was organised on November 24 which was addressed by Manik Sarkar, chief minister of the Left Front government of Tripura, Tapan Sen, Lalaji Babu, Zia Ul Alam and Tapan Chakraborty and was presided over by Hemalata. Hemalata