Labour in West Bengal: Scenario under the Trinamool Congress rule

November 26, 2013

by Partho Sarathi Ray

An interesting fact has come to light in the recently published “Labour in West Bengal” report brought out by the labour ministry of the government of West Bengal. Designed to tout the achievements of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in the field of labour and industrial relations and to portray an investor-friendly climate, specifically to reinforce the chief minister’s oft-repeated claim that the number of workdays lost in West Bengal has been drastically reduced under her regime, this report paints a really very different picture. For understanding this picture, let us take a look at the following statistics which is found in the abovementioned report:

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One thing gets amply clear as soon as we look at this data. Contrary to all claims by the chief minister, the total number of workdays lost has not reduced during her regime, rather it has increased from 1 crore 49 lakhs in 2011-12, when the TMC came to power, to 1 crore 57 lakhs in 2012-13. The more interesting thing is that what has actually got drastically reduced is the number of workdays lost due to strike action by workers. It was 65,000 in 2011-12 (during which period there were 5 strikes) which came down to a meager 5000 in 2012-13, during which year there was just 1 strike. This information is interesting due to a number of reasons. Firstly, it puts the last nail in the coffin of the oft-repeated myth that militant action by workers is the cause of workdays lost. This myth, which originated during the Left Front rule, and was perpetuated by corporate media and all sorts of commentators and pundits who attributed the capital flight from Bengal due to militant trade unionism, has always been what we now clearly see it to be, a myth. All statistics on causes of deindustrialization of Bengal during the Left Front rule clearly showed that the vast majority of closure of industries was due to lockouts by the owners, rather than due to strikes by workers (see Table 1 in http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv9n1/westbengal1.htm for the statistics on the decade of the 90s), but it became a sort of folk wisdom that militant action by workers was the cause of deindustrialization.

Now, the statistics during the past two years of the TMC government clearly shows the fact as it is. With a very corporate friendly government in power, whose labour minister Purnendu Basu, an ex-radical left trade union organizer, who has now adopted a tricolour angavastram, together with the sole agenda of destroying the independent trade union movement in Bengal, the number of strikes by workers have been reduced to nearly nothing. The report shows that there were only five strikes in 2011-12, one in 2012-13 and none till date in 2013-14. This has been achieved by blatant state repression on workers, arm twisting by the trade unions most of which have been taken over by the INTTUC, the trade union arm of the Trinamool Congress, and illegalization of nearly all strikes. However, this has not contributed to any reduction in the total number of workdays lost, which has instead increased. It is therefore clear that the main cause of workdays being lost is not strikes by workers but lockouts by owners, which have actually increased, despite all efforts by the labour minister, and his “netri” (leader), the redoubtable chief minister, to destroy the trade union movement and provide an “investor friendly” climate. Rather, it appears that the suppression of the workers’ movements has made it easier to declare lockouts, thereby increasing the total number of lockouts during the year.

What are the statistics about lockouts? According to the report, there were 276 lockouts in 2011-12, affecting 90,000 workers. In 2012-13 this increased to 294 lockouts, putting 91,000 workers out of employment. The report has also mentioned the causes of the lockouts. In 2012-13, 140 lockouts have been caused by financial losses, contraction of market, loss of credit-worthiness and similar financial reasons. 112 lockouts have been attributed to protests (not strikes) by workers. Eight have been attributed to increase in wages, payments of bonus and other benefits to workers which has made the enterprise nonviable for the owner. From these, it is quite clear that militant action by workers is not the cause of closure of industries in Bengal, rather it is the greed for profits by the industrialists. It was same during the so called Left regime, and during the current right wing quasi-fascist TMC regime, the extreme suppression of workers’ movements have also not changed the scenario.

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