Showdown in the factories: Maoist trade unions threaten strike against Maoist-led govt
Posted by Winston on October 3, 2011
A new confrontation is looming in Nepal’s workplaces and streets.
Nepal’s Maoist movement and its sister organisations are currently going through a bitter struggle over the path forward, and nowhere is this more apparent than within the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation. The union has split, and there have been violent clashes between rival factions. The establishment faction under ANTUF Chairman Jammarkattel (considered close to Prachanda) has been accused of sending thugs to attack grassroots leaders of the emergent radical union faction.
The radical union faction commands serious weight. In allegiance with Madhesi unions in the southern Terai belt, it has previously carried out strike waves that crippled industry across large swathes of Nepal – and these were strikes explicitly called in defiance of the ANTUF establishment, which struck deals with employers and the government that the union radicals felt delivered too little to the workers, and conceded too much.
Decades of revolutionary struggle and the overthrow of a dynasty that declared itself to be divine have left the Nepali working-class with very high levels of militancy and knowledge of its own power. Strikes and bandhs are everyday occurrences, and the trade unions commonly operate as wings of the various political parties. The ANTUF is arguably the strongest of the trade union federations, and over the past years has certainly been the most militant… However, many within the Maoist trade unions argue this is now no longer the case.
The central leadership faction of the ANTUF has just agreed, along with the unions of the right-wing Congress and UML parties, to sign a set of accords that promise no industrial action in the coming years. In practice, such an agreement will almost certainly prove unenforceable, but more controversially, the union leaderships have agreed to a “No Work, No Pay” policy for their own members. This is a radical departure from previous practices, where unionised workplaces in Nepal would demand that their members receive payment even for days when they were protesting in the streets, or staying home due to a bandh called by a different union or political party. Previous attempts to enforce ‘no work, no pay’ have been met with resistance by the unions, but in exchange for wage rises, the central leadership faction of the Maoist union federation has given that up.
The Himalayan Times reports that UCPN (M) Vice-Chairman and Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai personally chaired the meeting that oversaw this deal;
KATHMANDU: The government today endorsed the March 24 agreement between employers and major trade unions that proposes implementing ‘No Work No Pay’ policy and providing social security allowance to workers.
Endorsing the deal, today’s meeting of Central Labour Advisory Committee, held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who is also looking after the Labour and Transport Management Ministry, made a four-point pact to maintain industrial peace.
The meeting agreed to form a Minimum Wage Board and enforce the ‘industrial peace year’ declaration that envisages banning industrial strike for the next four years.
Reports from Myrepublica indicate that the deal also includes union endorsement of ‘hire and fire’ practices, presumably referring to increased casualisation of the workforce.
… the workers will get better pay among the two pacts and in return, trade unions promised not to call any industrial strike for four years. They also agreed to ´conditional´ hire and fire and no-work, no-pay regime.
… “We agreed not to go on strikes for four years and expressed openness to no-work, no-pay, hire and fire and restricting workers participation in political activities,” said Ramesh Badal, secretary of GEFONT.
… PM Bhattarai instructed the Labor Ministry to take serious initiatives to introduce the Social Security Act. He also instructed officials concerned to finalize flexible labor law.
This deal does not appear likely to pass quietly. A coalition of eight unions has emerged, comprising the radical faction of the Maoist union movement (now calling itself the ANTUF – Revolutionary) and a number of unions based in the Terai districts. It has condemned the deal and intends to launch a campaign of protests and industrial action against it.
“The agreement goes against the interest of workers. We will strongly protest the decision,” said Badri Bajagain, coordinator of ANTUF- Revolutionary.
According to the Himalayan Times, the militant unions issued a statement saying the following;
“The decision of committee is against workers, so trade unions will not obey it. Adaptation of ‘No Work No Pay’, ‘Hire and Fire’ and restriction in strikes shows that Dr Bhattrai government is not worker friendly.”
The Himalayan Times further reports that employer associations are urging the government to crack down on the radical unions and enforce the new arrangements – but their calls have been met with defiance by Bajagain and the eight-union alliance, who promise to resist with strike action after the end of the Nepali holiday of Dashain;
Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) has urged the government to take legal action against the ultra-leftist and Madhesi trade unions that are protesting the landmark agreement between government, trade unions and employers on Friday. Eight trade unions — including Badri Bajagai faction of All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF) — have threatened to go on strike immediately after Dashain against the decision of Central Labour Advisory Committee.
The Bajagai led ANTUF faction — close to UCPN-Maoist leader Kiran Baidhya — and seven other trade unions close to Madhesi parties have been demanding not to endorse ‘No Work No Pay’ and four years long industrial peace period. “It violates individual rights to protest,” Bajagai said.
This is just the latest move by the Bhattarai government to be denounced and opposed by left-wing factions within the Maoist movement. With Maoist radicals threatening to prevent his government from returning land seized during the People’s War and union militants promising a wave of strikes in the weeks ahead, it would appear his government does not have an easy road ahead of it.