Volume 1, No. 3, May 2000


World Bank’s Dictate on Singareni


The fortnight long strike by the workers of the Singareni Coal fields is a mirror image of the drastic changes in Andhra Pradesh’s political-economic structure. As with all people’s struggle, the strike by over one lakh workers was totally ignored by the media. As a result, a noticeable factor was the complacent, passive attitude shown towards the strike and the plight of the workers by a large section of the middle class and intelligentia.

The demands of the Singareni workers were nothing new. For years the workers and their unions have been putting forward their demands. Three years back the management signed an agreement on some of these demands, but in all these years they have not implemented even a single one of those demands. The workers’ union in fact cut their demands to 25, compared to the 44 put forward earlier, yet the management was not willing to negotiate. At one stage the management agreed to 14 demands, but after coming out of the negotiations declared that they had agreed to only two. Simultaneously the Chief Minister acted in his typical fascist manner, threatening the workers that they will have to bear the entire loss of the strike period.... even though the strike was legal.

The strike call was given by the workers’ union that had been elected through an election conducted by the management itself. The workers’ union claimed that it was only after attending several futile rounds of negotiations since December 29th, that they finally went on strike from February 9. Even after that, they attended several rounds of negotiations called by the management. The strike was a 100% success with all unions backing it, yet the management did not agree to the workers’ demands.

The strike was total in all the 58 underground coal fields, open-cast projects and several departments throughout the four districts of Khammam, Karimnagar, Warangal and Adilabad. The total 1,20,000 workers participated in the strike. In December last year, the recognised union gave a strike notice with 44 demands. Later, at the request of the management, they cut their demands to 25. The management did not even respond to the strike notice issued on December 24. It was only after the intervention of the regional labour commissioner, that negotiations took place on January 11 and 18; and again on February 3 and 4. Though the management was well aware that a strike had been called from February 9, the management did not bother to call for negotiations until February 7.

Though the strike affected the production of 1¼ lakh tonnes of coal worth tens of thousands, the management was not interested in negotiations, and instead resorted to disinformation and repression.

It issued a series of false statements to dupe the workers, and got some of the worker’s leaders arrested. They put in maximum efforts to crush the strike at Ramagundam, which accounts for 40% of coal production of the Singareni Coal Fields. Here, they used the police to forcefully stop the night shift workers from going home in the morning. But the workers chose to join the strike and went home. The management then got the police to raid workers’ houses, and an attempt was made to run the opencast mines at gun-point. Simultaneously, the management pressed into service their chamcha union leaders to propagate widely that if the strike continues for long, the entire Singareni will close down.

But all these tricks failed. The strike was total and the entire coal fields wore a deserted look. What is more, unlike the earlier strikes, the clerical staff of Singareni and even the staff at the General Manager’s Office participated in the strike.

The background for this struggle, lay in the earlier militant strikes called by the SIKASA (Singareni Karmika Samakhya) led by the CPI(ML)(PW).

From 1980, SIKASA has had a strong hold on the workers. From the historic 56-day strike in 1981, SIKASA developed a strong workers’ union. Though the government banned SIKASA in 1992, it is well known that SIKASA continued to work within the various workers’ unions and played a major role in developing the fighting consciousness of the workers.

In order to contain the influence of SIKASA, the management set up its own ‘official’ union — the Singareni Coal Field Workers’ Union, affiliated to the AITUC. Simultaneously the management began directly introducing new repressive measures without negotiating even with the official workers’ union. They increased the work-load and made workers’ conditions unbearable; and silenced them by using the threat of privatisation and retrenchment. Dissatisfaction grew against the official union, which was totally silent. It was this pressure from the workers that finally led to the current strike.

If one looks at the strike from an economic angle, the amount lost through even one day’s strike, would meet much of the demands of the workers. In fact a major cause for the losses at Singareni, is a result of management corruption, excessive expenditure of the top officials and defective government policies. A strike in Singareni, can paralyse thermal power production and bring the generation of electricity throughout the state to a halt. Yet the management and government has acted in a callous manner towards the striking workers.

The reason for this can be traced to a draft policy issued by the World Bank on August 4, 1997 entitled "Andhra Pradesh Economic Restructuring Project -Public enterprises and fiscal reforms." This draft states that : "To get certain results, the heavy public sector enterprises like APSRTC and Singareni Coal Fields should be privatised.... But to deal with Singareni, some politically sensitive problems are there. So, reforming, privatisation and the retrenchment of employees in Singareni and the APSRTC should be postponed to the second phase, and a special study should be done on efforts to be taken for this." In addition to this, the World Bank has ordered the appointment of special consultants to persuade people towards the privatisation of these two enterprises.

The Chief Minister once said "we can provide free current to the farmers but the World Bank will not agree to this". So also, the government cannot agree to the demands of the Singareni workers as it will go against the dictates of the World Bank. So, in other words, neither the management nor the state government has the authority to determine the fate of the Singareni workers. Only the World Bank can do that !!




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