INDIA: JACTO GEO coordination committee replaced as rank-and-file workers leave old leadership;
Abolition of NEET included as part of demands;
Government’s victimisation of employees who participated in August 22nd strike and September 7th strike;
New committee pays respect to Anitha, the student whose suicide has spawned a massive spontaneous student protests across the state;
Over 300 members of JACTO-GEO (Joint Action Committee of Teachers’ Organization – Government Employees Organization) came together to protest at Chennai Ezhilagam on September 11th, for various demands including replacing the New Pension Scheme with old pension scheme, implementation of 7th pay commission, interim wage increase of 20%, abolition of various pay structures aimed at contractualization and abolition of National Eligibility and Entrance Test for students aspiring for medical education (NEET).
The strike has been called by a new leadership in JACTO-GEO after the former leaders had withdrawn from the strike following a meeting with Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The strike is happening despite a judicial stay order given in Madurai High Court on September 7th where the bench has asked the workers not to strike. The State Government has also threatened to take repressive action against striking workers.
JACTO-GEO comprising of over 65 unions in public education and Government offices have been pressing for the following charter of demands:
Abolish the new pension scheme implemented for the workers who have joined after 2003 and replace with older pension scheme with guaranteed pension.
Remove existing anomalies in pay scales and implement 7th pay commission. Provide a 20% interim hike.
Remove the existing contracualization and outsourcing pay schemes and bring them under consolidated pay scale.
According to Comrade Sekaran of AIBOA who had spoken in the protest meeting, a committee was formed to resolve the issue of new pension scheme under then Chief Secretary, Shantha Sheela Nair. In a consultative meeting, the various public sector unions had steadfastly opposed the implementation of new pension scheme and called for old pension scheme. However, the committee became defunct after Shanta Sheela Nair resigned. Now the Government has reconstituted a new committee which is expected to give its recommendation by end of November.
However the unions under JACTO-GEO have been frustrated without any resolution on these long pending demands and had led a massive protest on August 5th in Chennai, which had been successful despite the Government’s effort at stopping the Teachers and Government employees from coming to the city. The committee announced one day strike on August 22nd and an indefinite strike starting from September 7th, if the Government did not resolve their demands.
After the one day strike, there was a high level meeting with Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisami in Erode on September 6th, after which then JACTO-GEO coordinators announced a withdrawal from the strike. According to Comrade Mayavan, current state coordinator of JACTO-GEO, the chief minister had only promised implementation of the new Committee recommendations. This seems to have prompted a major revolt as several unions vowed to continue with their planned strike. On September 7th, massive protests were organized all over the State. Comrade Aruna of Tamil Nadu Post Graduate Teachers Association says that the Government estimate of those who struck work was at 7 lakhs.
On September 9th, there was an executive committee meeting in Chennai and a new coordination committee has been announced with resolution to continue the strike in Tamil Nadu.
The new coordination committee has paid respects to Anitha, an medical aspirant who committed suicide after the State Government accepted NEET as the only eligibility test for admission to medical seats in Tamil Nadu . The new committee has also added a new demand on abolishing NEET. The committee has also appreciated the struggle of Sabarimala, who resigned her teaching position to support the ongoing protests against NEET.
Madurai High Court stays the strike
On September 7th, The Madurai Bench High Court had passed a stay order after a PIL was raised in the Court. According to news reports, The PIL had contended that the strike was not a basic right and the bench had stayed the strike observing ‘teachers should not use strike as a tool and could press for their demands through other means’. Responding to this threat, the protesting committee had changed the struggle from strike to protests on Friday, September 8th. However, after the executive committee meeting, the new JACTO-GEO committee has decided to initiate an indefinite strike starting on 11th September and hold various protests on 11th and 12th of September.
Leaders vow to continue the struggle
The protest on the 11th in front of Ezhlilagam, saw a gathering of over 300 workers, predominantly teachers and government employees,, attending the protest. Most of them were reluctant to speak on the issues and referred the leadership to speak on the issues. Comrade Aruna said that rank and file workers of unions who had chosen not to participate in the strike, had also come to participate in the strike.
Rousing slogans were raised and speeches were made against the current coziness between Central and State Governments, which are determined to privatize education, health care and public sectors and removing social justice programs for the marginalized. The slogans compared the new pension scheme to gambling as the scheme is aimed at investing the 10% contribution from employees and 10% contribution by the State in stock market. The protesters questioned the sanity of such a scheme which guarantees nothing to the workers, while taking their own money.
The struggle of JACTO-GEO has coincided with the the spontaneous protests involving college students, high school students, student movements and worker movements on NEET and the issue had remained conspicuously absent in the agenda of JACTO-GEO’s struggles. With the new leadership, solidarity with students demanding abolition of NEET has found prominence with this becoming the fourth demand of the committee Slogans were raised to demand abolition of NEET. The protesters demanded how there can be a single exam based on one curriculum when each state had their own curriculum and there was massive social and economic inequality with in the State.
The order by the Madurai High Court was criticized for its arbitrariness by various leaders. Comrade Mayavan questioned how the Madurai High Court could have issued a stay order without asking the inputs of the unions whose members are impacted by the order. He in turn posed if the High Court asked the Government on the demands and the issues raised by the workers and sought their response. As the threat of ESMA-TESMA loomed, the leaders also reminded the workers of 2003 struggle where over 1.8 lakh teachers were dismissed under ESMA after striking. The leaders said that those who were dismissed have not only been reinstated but continue to enjoy promotions in their career. Comrade Daniel, Chennai District Coordinator of JACTO GEO, said that the workers or unions have not been issued any notice and will respond legally upon receipt of the notice.
Various public sector unions including BEFI, AIBOA and DREU have also supported the strike and have demanded united struggle against the privatization of public services. The leaders of these unions addressed the gathering and extended their solidarity.
Government as the neo-liberal employer
The Government as a neo-liberal employer continues to lead the corporates in dismantling various worker welfare schemes, privatizing the public sector services and repressing workers struggles. Even before the August 22nd one day strike, the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu warned that workers who participated in the strike would be penalized. Reports have emerged of employees’ wages being withheld for participating in the strike. The State has threatened to take punitive action on striking workers and is said to be gathering details of the workers who have participated.
The Judiciary has continued to put forward its anti worker judgements just as it did in the case of public transport workers and private sector workers. Just recently, reports have emerged of JK Tyres getting a court order prohibiting assembly within 100 meters of their gate, after the workers won a struggle for right to unionisation. The approach of the Judiciary has been to give such orders impacting hundreds and thousands of workers(For more information, read the struggles of Greaves Cotton workers), without giving any chance for these workers to give their side of the story. The pro-state and pro-corporate stance of Judiciary has shown that justice cannot be attained at the doors of the courts anymore.
The breaking away of rank and file members of various unions as their leaders have toed to the Government line is an important milestone, This was crucial in the victory of the transport sector workers strike also, as workers belonging to the union affiliated to the ruling party struck work with other union members. This militant mood of the rank and file workers is mainly because they see the futility of delayed negotiation process that Government and Capitalists use to ensure that workers never get justice.
However, would the same Government employees realize that in the case of private sector workers, they themselves play the stumbling block in delaying these processes which work against these workers, who often do not even enjoy the level of wages, job security and rights that public sector workers enjoy?For instance, consider the case of Integra workers, Greaves Cotton workers and Noble Tech workers, where the apathy of Labour Department officials has led to these workers even losing their employment. The disbursement of social security to lakhs of workers in construction, domestic work, manual work have been woeful because of delay in processing of workers’ applications. This has led to even repeal of cess for Cine workers, salt pan workers etc. In all these cases, the rights to unionisation, social security for private sector workers have not been at best been delayed as the public sector workers have tended to confine themselves well within the rules of the law or at worst even deny due process because of contempt for such workers. Its time for these workers and unions representing these workers to rethink their alliance by understanding that only when every worker in this country comes to enjoy those rights that they claim, they themselves will be able to achieve it.