A national consultation on workers’ movement and communalism was organized by Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai on 18th October, 2014 in Mumbai. The primarily aim for organizing this consultation was to take stock of the communal politics that is so largely prevalent and its impact on the trade union movement.


After preparatory meetings and discussions attended by comrades like Praveen Nadkar, Sukumar Damle, Vasudevan, A Golandas and others who showed keen interest in such a consultation, the consultation was designed. 45 comrades associated with different trade unions in Mumbai and UP participated in the consultation. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Ram Puniyani who succinctly analyzed the politics of RSS and how it is characterized by feudal values which is in favour of maintaining status quo perpetuating domination of upper caste Hindu males.


Communal riots along with other instruments are used to polarize communities and create fear of minority amongst the majority. For the success of this strategy they try to project a homogenize society by coopting all castes and identities while in reality keeping caste system intact. Thus it strengthens hierarchies and discrimination in society. Comrade Ashish Mittal from UP pointed out how communal forces succeeded in organizing riots in Muzzafarnagar and other villages where there was no trigger cause for riots. This is a concerted effort to spew hatred against Muslims.


There is a deep connection between communalism and displacement of the poor as was cunningly demonstrated to the victims of the Muzzafarnagar riots. They were made to take an undertaking that they won’t return to their villages or claim compensation for damage to property in lieu of compensation given by state amounting to 5 lacs. Along with this there is a rising trend of criminalization of Muslim educated youth who are incarcerated on pretext of terrorism. In this context, the society is fragmented where insecurity against Muslims is rampant and response of left forces is weak. There has to be a struggle like one in 1857 for Independence which reflects unity and shared aspirations inclusive of aspirations of working class.


Comrade Jairus Banaji very effectively added a new perspective which called for construction of a clear role of trade unions and infuse energy in the new generation of workers who have little class consciousness. He warned that the State is keen to keep the workers unorganized. But it’s essential that workers understand that unions are political entities and not just economic. Trade unions are mass organizations that can revive democracy. He reiterated that true democracy is self organization of masses which is distinct from organization of masses in a fascist state where marginalization and persecution of minorities is the norm. he went on to discuss the rise of unfettered capitalism where State no more representative of voices of the masses. It’s now representative of the interests of the business houses. There is a vicious nexus between media, business houses or capitalist and an autocratic head of the state. The capitalist have direct access to the autocratic head that stamp out cultural and academic freedom which are dissenting voices. There is unfettered dispossession. In this context, the trade unions must reposition themselves role as political actors and be mass organizers.


Comrade kango summed up the session by adding questioning what kind of development is been talked about. He re-emphasized that working class has to be politically conscious and fragmentation of working class is a primary concern. The participants then went on to discuss their experience and views. They outlined a framework of possible responses to the threat of communalism.


The central thread running across all the suggestions or responses was that workers must unite and there has to be a strong class conscious among the unorganized. Towards this goal, some suggestions were proposed. It was stated since communal forces used media in a big and organized way during electoral campaigns which yielded rich benefits for them, the labor movement also must try to use social media to their own advantage for rising awareness and creating solidarity. While reiterating the question of inclusive development which is not the case in present model of development pursued by Right government, it was suggested that awareness raising work and unionization must happen at grassroot levels too through cultural interventions. Others also agreed that people’s culture must be focused on in order to enable workers to identify with trade unions and accept them as leaders. Culture will also help reach out to many people. At the same time, workers and trade unions will contest labour related statements of this government and analyze it threadbare. Thus efforts must be made to deconstruct campaigns like Swach Bharat and oppose the limited application of MNREGA scheme. For this building solidarity across movements is required apart from regularly writing to editors of newspapers to expose anti labor tilt of the economic policies. Attention must be paid to violence that commonly takes place against Dalits and minorities like in case of Muzzafarnagar. However at a larger level there must be some interventions to connect with workers internationally.


A committee must be formed to make an action plan which can be replicated in all the cities. It was lamented that most workers today are in the service sector or small scale industries and due to closing down of factories many workers are outside the net of trade unions. There concerted efforts must be made to mobilize and unions these workers. A campaign called ‘mi kamgaar’ can be started to create a strong sense of class through distribution of leaflets, badges etc. This campaign can carry out activities to unionize workers and create more solidarity. Invitation was also given b com. Sukar Damle who informed the group about the struggle of a trade union to restart a primary health centre in Malad, Mumbai. At the same time, a powerpoint presentation can be prepared to systematically lay down the ways in which workers are polarized and encouraged to develop communal attitudes. A manifesto can also be drafted consisting of demands and ideas of workers and steps to be taken towards benefits for workers. Along with this, cultural interventions must be used to change the mindset of the workers. Campaigns must be run through cultural expressions. For the actual working of this campaign, a committee must be formed which can guide and help plan activities. A meeting must be called soon to discuss all these suggestions. But prior to that a concept note must be drafted regarding the possible thematic interventions explaining the roadmap for the future. This concept note can be deliberated upon in the next meeting. The next meeting was slated to take place on 8th November at CSSS office.


(From ML Update 24, November 2014)

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