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Imperialist and big business capital wants to extract profits,
super-profits. Hence, they carry on production through labour-saving
technology. The main theme today has become jobless growth. In this
aspect how far is it possible that their capital investment will be
translated into sizeable employment opportunities? Actually Buddhadeb
pretends to be in the era of the first phase of capitalism when there
was scope for huge employment opportunities. That was the progressive
era of capitalism. But now in the era of imperialism it is not possible.
Let’s hear from the horse’s mouth "that increasing international
competition and free-wheeling capital will not only cut jobs, but will
effectively wipe whole nations and regions off the economic map. It
understands that scenario of workers’ fortunes worldwide. Converging is
less likely than growing divergence. In brief, globalisation offers
opportunities, but also exacerbates risks.’’ (World
Bank, 1995, p.124) Still then, Buddha a ‘simpleton’, a
happy-go-lucky man is inviting foreign and domestic big business houses
luring them with incentives. We will now trace the facts as to how far
the employment scenario of West Bengal will be brightened by these
Before discussing the same, let us explain the prospective of the West
Bengal labour scenario. In 1991 employment in the manufacturing sector
was 7.75 lakhs, a negative growth rate of 25.81%. The service sector,
hotel etc. shows a positive trend. In 1991 the employment in this sector
was 0.32 lakhs while in 2001 the employment in the said sector was 0.37
lakhs, a positive growth rate of 15.62%.24
This signifies a grave situation for Bengal. The government of West
Bengal, at this juncture, is implementing the policies of liberalisation
to tide over the above stated unemployment problem. But as per the
liberalisation policies, labourers are the most hit. Flexibility of
labour is a pre-requisite condition for imperialist capital vis-a-vis
the ongoing crisis management measures. The dominant theme of
imperialist capital is that labour flexibility leads to economic growth,
which in turn creates new jobs. According to the OECD (Organization of
Economic Co-operation and Development) the flexibility of labour takes
five main forms: 25
(1) External numerical flexibility: number of employees adjusted in
accordance with the employer’s needs.
(2) Externalisation: Part of the firm’s work is put out through
(3) Internal numerical flexibility: working hours and their ‘delivery’
is adjusted according to the employer’s need.
(4) Functional flexibility: Worker’s jobs modified according to
(5) Wages flexibility: Labourer’s reward according to productivity and
The flexibility of labour implies a smaller workforce, fewer rules in
the workplace, weaker unions etc.
Thus flexibility of wages is upheld by the imperialist’s conclave as the
panacea of all capitalism’s problems, in particular of employment
opportunities. If the masters show the way, how can its pet lag behind?
The CPI(M) has opened the floodgate to domestic and foreign investors.
But what is its result? The private sector, though it registered a
growth rate of 8.02% during the year 1999-2001, the growth of employment
opportunities shows a negative growth rate of 12.95%.26
The government is touring throughout the globe. It has signed a number
of MOUs, of which a percentage is really invested. But the labour-saving
industries like infotech or food-tech etc., ie. the much hyped
industries, shows a dismal figure in terms of employment scope. The
table below testifies this fact.
Capital invested in industries (in lakhs)
Employment per lakh invested
Source: Labour in West Bengal, Department of Labour and Paschimbanga:
Anya Chokhe. Compiled in
Prasanga Sramik booklet published by Nagarik Mancha.
Moreover, in 2001, 412 new factories were established employing 40 new
labourers per factory. In the same year 325 companies were shut down
retrenching 456 workers per factory27.From all
aspects, the tall claims of the government of West Bengal are dashed to
the ground. Still Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his party are chanting the
slogan of privatisation! Not only this, the CPI(M) is also there to
safeguard the interests of private and imperialist capital. It is acting
like a reliable watch-dog to look after the peaceful profit extraction
of the business houses. Consequently they are appeasing the business
houses, and are assuring them of guaranteed return!
The Left front government’s acts remind us of the faithful, Chief
Executive Officers (CEOs) of multinational corporations. The Bengal
chief minister, on repeated occasions is accusing the militant trade
union movement as the sole cause to prevent industries from operating.
This, according to him, subsequently leads to loss of man days, ie.
Employment! But the table below shows a different picture. It shows man
days lost due to lockouts far outweigh the loss due to strikes.
Total Lockouts & Strikes
mandays lost %
mandays lost %
mandays lost (lakh)
Source: Labour in West Bengal - 2001
Even then, who cares? On December 13, 2003, in the presence of as many
as 80 top industrialists of India, the West Bengal chief minister
categorically said that his government shall not hesitate to resort to
lathis if the workers movement crosses the limits.28
He also begged apology for the CPI(M)’s past mistakes, which translates
the 26 years’ rule for them in West Begal! Buddhadeb exclaimed that, ‘‘We
gheroed in 67-69, that was a mistake. Gherao is not the path of the
workers movement,... gherao cannot be the path of the workers’ movement.
Fighting-clashes cannot be the path.’’29
The industrial houses may render mercy to the CPI(M) and Co., but will
the martyrs forgive them? The martyr workers of Hindmotors or other
factories who laid down their lives; who had sacrificed their yesterdays
for these nymphs’ cozy life and utter surrender!
The Chief Minister further added that, ‘‘Democratic trade union
movements, demonstrations, rallies, strikes are legal rights. Who can
take away these rights? Nobody can take away the rights.’’30
Which is your real face? What you said at the business conclave, or what
you explained at your party meet? Yes, Mr. Bhattacharya, nobody can take
away the rights earned through the movements. The red banner that your
party hails is stained with the blood of so many martyrs. Hence please
dare not take away the rights of the trade union movement on one pretext
or other. Refrain from appeasing the court by stating that your
government will enact laws to curb rallies or processions. Justice
Amitava Lala’s recent order of banning rallies or processions is an
exccuse for the CPI(M) to come down with more draconian measures.
The West Bengal government is planning to enact a law in the coming
winter session, namely the Special Economic Zone Bill 2003. In the bill
it is proposed to ban any type of militant strike, demonstration or
sudden demonstration. The government has also planned to increase the
number of special economic zones or export processing zones in different
corners of Bengal (Haldia, North Bengal etc). Now, in the changed
situation, the CPI(M) is creatively applying Marxism so that very soon
Bengal becomes a peaceful oasis to the investors. They have perfected
the art of betrayal. Let us cite a representative example!
On July 28, 2003 employees of Wimco went on strike after the management
dismissed eight workers, and suspended and chargesheeted 16 others on
disciplinary grounds. The deadlock failed to be solved even after three
tripartite meetings held at the Labour Commissioner’s office at the New
Secretariat. At last the chief minister intervened. In a meeting held by
the special secretary to the chief minister, S.A. Ahmed, at the Writers’
Building the leaders of the CITU and INTUC agreed to call off the
strike. The suspension of 16 employees were called off, but the sacked
workers were not taken back. This type of classic surrender of the
workers cause in West Bengal, courtesy the CPI(M), is very much evident.(Source:
‘Sramik Andolon’, the monthly organ of CITU, September 2003)
The left front government led by the CPI(M) is now not concerned about
the retrenched workers, but about pursuing them for a VRS scheme. The
Bengal chief minister expressed that, ‘‘if factories are to shut down
then we have to decide about our future course of action on the basis of
discussions with the workers. We cannot tell them that you all get lost.
Or tell them about VRS etc. We have to take the social responsibility to
save them.’’31 But, on the contrary the CPI(M)
forced the workers to take VRS. Recently, the Mulajore workers of CESC,
owned by the Goenkas were forced to take VRS, even distorting the CPI(M)
consent and the supreme court’s verdict.32 (The
matter will be dealt in detail in the power chapter). Not only this, the
government is seeking a fund from the imperialist funding agency, DFID,
to implement VRS in the sick industries. The DFID has sanctioned, until
4th September 2003, Rs. 18 crores with a right to supervision of two
government institutions to facilitate VRS. More conditional funds are to
trickle down in future. Mr. Bhattacharya what about your slogan of
The CPI(M)-led government, in a recent bid for disinvestment of the
public sector units, have expressed that it is ‘‘open to manpower
restructuring and waiver of outstanding liabilities to ensure
sustainable viability of these units.’’12 Dear
reader, can you hear the foot-steps of OECD which expressed what it
means by labour flexibility, the pre-requisite for globalisation!
The Imperialism-CPI(M) nexus is very much evident. Still Mr.
Bhattacharya will express that they are not surrendering! Then what is
it? It’s not fun but a crude joke to the teaming multitudes. The CPI(M)
is not callous to the social security measures of the workers. It
consciously goes against the issue. The Central labour minister recently
announced to freeze the PF(Provident Fund) and other social security
measures in the special economic zone areas. The days are not far off
when the Bengal government, like other states, will follow the centre
with regard to the above said measures. But at the same time will dupe
the people by telling the story of ‘compulsion’. The surrender
before the imperialists and big business is sure not to be limited in
those special economic zones alone, because there is no Chinese wall in
between other areas and the special economic zones of Bengal!
In 1999-2000 though there were 267.32 lakhs employee eligible for PF
only 23.35 lakhs are registered as EPF members.33
The CPM-backed bureaucracy, meant to look into the affair, is busy
taking bribes from the business houses.
Moreover the West Bengal government from 2nd April, 1998 started a
‘scheme for financial assistance to the workers in locked out
industrial units’. In that scheme, the workers of the closed units get
Rs. 500/- per month as a dole. Now, the government has stopped the
said scheme due to "scarcity of funds".
Not only this, the business houses evade PF dues, thereby depriving the
workers of their legitimate demands. In 2000-01 and 2001-02, Rs. 309.2
crores and Rs. 296.8 crores are the dues owed by the business houses.
Till 2002, 164.06 crores is due from the jute-mill owners in the PF
account.34 Though there are provisions of
stringent legal measures against the defaulter business houses with
regard to PF, they are moving freely in the ‘oasis’ of West Bengal
guarded by the CPI(M) and its partners. With the government defaulting
for the same reason, how can it penalise others? In the Bengal
government owned jute-mills, the PF due is to the tune of Rs.22.89
crores in the year 2002.35
ESI is an insurance guaranteed medical benefit for the workers. The
business houses are to deposit the amount. But only in 2002, the ESI
amount due was Rs.155.04 crores.36 Till now, only
in 8 districts out of 17 districts; workers are covered under the ESI
scheme.37 Even the workers do not receive
compensation for professional diseases. In West Bengal 620 factories,
notified as ‘red’, are dangerous from the perspective of workers’
health. There, thousand of workers are involved. But, in 1999 and 2000,
compensation was received by 9 and 17 workers respectively. In 2001
there were no workers who received compensation.38
Such is the seriousness of the ‘pro-people government’ committed to the
The left front as per their election promise of 1977, promised
unemployment dole to the registered unemployed youths. The left front
government started collecting proffessional tax from service-holders to
collect funds for this purpose. But, the monthly unemployment dole of Rs.
100 is now stopped. A new scheme for a one-time unemployment dole has
been introduced. Consequently in this scheme the government, which
collects Rs. 288 crore from professional tax, gives/distributes Rs. 14
crore (approx) to the registered unemployed youth.30
The benevolent scheme started on the ground that employed persons will
contribute a meager amount of their income to heal the pain of the
unprivileged unemployed youth, to an extent. But the amount of money
collected has become a source of income to the CPI(M). It is like a
Bengali story written by Parashuram, a famous writer, where in a temple
everywhere there is money — sometimes in the form of donation, sometimes
in the form begging. whatever be the form, the temple, authority cuts
the devotees pockets on any excuse.
The 2nd labour commision of 2002 of the central government seems to drag
society towards a classic fascist set up, where everything is at the
whims of the imperialists and the big business houses. The CPI(M) is an
important ally in this regard. They disagree with the central
government’s proposal only to agree on the next day! This holds true
with regard to the 2nd labour commission report as well.
In the inter-state council meeting held is Srinagar is August 2003 there
was a discussion regarding contractual employment.40
Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, pointed to the
‘success’ of the scheme which he has introduced in the Hyderabad
Municipal Corporation. Naidu said, government employees would work only
if their jobs were made contractual. The West Bengal chief minister said
that the wage bills of government employees in most states were
increasing so much that they had become unmanageable, though
Bhattacharya cleverly did not say anything on the issue raised by
On the contrary the comments of Mr. Bhattachareya has resemblance with
the 2nd labour commission’s observation: over-manned organization are
also a cause of poor work-culture. "When the number of hands
recruited exceeds the optimum requirement for efficiency, it lowers the
normal level of work efficiency and the work hours per employee. Workers
then have to fritter along. One has only to visit a government office to
see this situation." (para 5.19 of 2nd labour
commission — compiled in ‘Marxist’, the theoretical quarterly of
the CPI(M), volume XVIII: 3-4, July- December, 2002) The ‘left’
chief minister is on the same side of the reactionary arguments of the
NDA government. Actually this argument which ultimately concludes in
downsizing, and the contractual system devoid of any social securities.
Consequently it can be safely concluded that sooner or later, today or
tommorrow, Bengal led by the left front will follow the labour reforms
framed by the centre. Of course, in the same inter-state council meeting
Mr. Bhattacharya stated for not downsizing but rationalisation, the
other name for anti-labour ‘rationalised’ steps.
Let us see one example of rationalisation of the IISCO glass factory at
Kulti. The factory was declared shut down in April 2003. 380 temporary
and 2500 permanent staff were retrenched. The former received no
facility and the later were forced to opt for VRS (voluntary retirement
scheme). The company is shut down in a planned way.
The factory, was shown to have losses while other private factories like
Electro-steel of Khardah and Kalinga Pipe have standard profit in the
business. Actually backward technology and corrupt management made this
unit sick in a planned way.
The CPI(M) on the one hand opposes the 2nd Labour Commission and on the
other implements the provisions of the 2nd Labour Commission
recommendation of the NDA government.
In line with the 2nd labour commission in 2002 there was a tripartite
agreement in the jute industry. There, wage is related to productivity
to the extent of 67%-33%. The ‘vouchers’, ‘vagawallas’— contract
labourers are settled to receive Rs. 100 per day and thereby the system
is legalised. Moreover in the jute factories run by Arun Bajoria or
Wardha, wage is related to productivity by 100%.
The State government has planned to go for a joint venture in the coal
sector. A state government organisation, the Mineral Development and
Trading Corporation (MDTC) has explored good quality coal. The
government, in order to have business, is going for joint ventures with
private houses. It is implementing contract production defying and
negating the workers voice of protest. The CPI(M), in order to carry on
the contractual system has even removed its local CITU leadership from
its post for his opposition to the said system .
The ‘left’ government, trailing behind the business houses by the way it
is carrying on the informalisation of industry, one of the basic
objectives of globalisation, is very thought-provoking. In 1992 the West
Bengal government took on lease from the central government two mines as
captive mines for the West Bengal State Electricity Board and the West
Bengal Power Development Corporation. These undertakings formed a joint
venture company with Emta, a private sector enterprise. The entire
management is controlled by the private sector. About four thousand
workers toil in the mines and load coal on to railway wagons which carry
it to power companies. But the company has not a single worker on its
roll. A number of contractors supply workers who are made to work much
more than usual hours in inhuman condition, have no security of jobs,
are given the lowest possible wage for the day they are engaged, and are
deprived of all usual benefits.41 The legal
machinery of the government even refuses the union rights as per law.
The government has also many other feathers in its cap. It passed a law
by which workers are entitled to elect their own union by secret ballot.
In this case also the CPI(M) and Congress combined at the behest of the
state government, to oppose union elections for many years at the
Hindustan Lever, in Kolkata.
Thus in each and every aspect, the government of West Bengal is in the
service of the comprador-bureaucratic and imperialist capital. Labour/working
class — the vanguards are forced to be backbenchers, to be under a
defeatist mentality, to be betrayed and deprived of their economic and
democratic rights for the long 26 years. It is an important key to the
‘left’s success to become right reactionary.