June 24, 2019

The Saga of Unity & Struggle of Petroleum Workers

 

Against the Onslaught of Neo-liberalism

Swadesh Dev Roy

 

At the time of foundation, the activities of CITU among Petroleum sector workers were in limited sphere. CITU affiliated and friendly to CITU unions in Oil and Petroleum Sector existed in Eastern and North-Eastern regions of the country by and large. However, quite obviously, West Bengal and Tripura was our main base.

 

The first initiative to coordinate, at national level, the activities CITU affiliated unions in Petroleum sector was taken in the year 1989.On the sideline of a meeting of the General Council of CITU held at Dhanbad a meeting of the comrades from oil sector trade unions was held on 28th September 1988 and decided to have a broader all India meeting of  the CITU affiliated and the friendly unions in oil sector.

 

Accordingly the All India Broad based meeting was held on 23rd April 1989 at Yuva Kendra, Calcutta. Apart from West Bengal, representatives, from our unions in Assam, Tripura, UP, Bihar and Southern states participated in the meeting. From CITU centre Comrades M K Pandhe, Jibon Roy and SwadeshDevRoye attended the meeting.

 

All India Coordination Committee of Oil & Petroleum Workers

 

As per decision of the broad based meeting at Calcutta, a meeting at the CITU centre at New Delhi SwadeshDevRoye was elected as Convener of the All India Coordination Committee of Oil & Petroleum Workers and thus the National Coordination Committee (NCC) started functioning.

 

The NCC of Oil & Petroleum Workers started its functioning around 1990 and continued for a period of around 15 years during which it accomplished its desired task of steering the formation of our Petroleum & Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI) on 15th November 2005 at Haldia. Some of the landmark activities of the NCC may be traced in the following events very successfully organized by the NCC.

 

National Seminar on Self-Reliance on Oil & Natural Gas

With the beginning of the neo-liberal attack of liberalization, opening up and privatization of Oil & Natural Gas CPSUs, the NCC under the guidance of CITU centre successfully mobilized the INTUC and the AITUC federations for joint initiative on defending Self Reliance. Accordingly a ‘National Seminar on Self-Reliance on Oil and Natural Gas’ was jointly organized at New Delhi on 1st and 2nd September 1993. An Advisory Council was constituted with Com M. K. Pandhe, Raja Kulkarni, Y.D.Sharma, K.AshokRao and M.P. Parameswaran.  SwadeshDevRoye was entrusted the task of the Seminar Coordinator.

 

Comrade ChittabrataMajumdar participated in the seminar with a team of comrades from West Bengal with expertise in the industry who presented papers on various topics. The seminar was a grand success. Trade unions of all affiliations representing all major oil PSUs participated in the seminar. A seminar of such dimension was organized for the first time in the country.   All the participants highly appreciated the realisation of such important forum.

 

 

 

National United ForumAgainst Privatisation of Oil PSUs

 

In March, 2002 the then NDA Government at the centre had decided to completely privatize the total Marketing Divisions of BPCL and HPCL and handover the entire established Retail Network to MukeshAmbani’s RIL. Various steps had already been taken by the Government and the management of both the oil PSUs. At this stage CITU took the foremost initiative and successfully united all the unions of both the oil PSUs and launched the National United Forum.

 

The foundation of the Unity Forum was laid down in the first meeting held in the BPCL Central Office complex premises in Mumbai on 01.11.2002 which was attended by the representatives of four trade unions from the BPCL refinery, Mumbai and four marketing trade unions of BPCL, Mumbai. SwadeshDevRoye and Tarapada Roy Choudhury attended andguided the meeting. This meeting decided to convene a bigger all India meeting of the Trade Unions of BPCL, HPCL, KRL, NRL& MRL at the BPCL refinery auditorium complex, Mumbai.

 

Accordingly a meeting took place on 19th November, 2002 at the BPCL Refinery Sports Complex, Mumbai. This meeting was attended by around 70 delegates from all over the country representing the 17 trade unions from the refineries and marketing operations of BPCL, HPCL, KRL& NRL. This meeting adopted programmes of struggles and also gave a call of strike to oppose the decision of the Government to privatize BPCL and HPCL. The NATIONAL UNITED FORUM Against Privatisation of Oil PSUs was formally launched from this meeting.Between 1st November, 2002 to 27th February, 2003 we conducted several meetings of representatives of unions and every successive meeting was attended by more number of unions. Then we conducted several conventions at different locations and this phase continued upto February 2003.

 

On 27th February 2003 at a joint convention at the BTR Bhavan, New Delhi the decision for three days strike on 25th, 26th and 27th March 2003 in BPCL and HPCL was adopted. 26 participating unions from BPCL and HPCL signed the strike notice. The glittering success of the strike created a commotion, particularly among the trade union movement in oil PSUs…

 

The reverberating success of the three days countrywide strike in BPCL and HPCL opened up the horizon for involving the trade unions of ONGC, IOC and other oil PSUs in the joint struggle against privatization. Now, with the joining of the unions of IOC, ONGC and others, the next higher phase was launched again from Mumbai with a joint extended all India meeting of the representatives of the unions held on 27th April, 2003. Two more conventions were held at Kolkata and Delhi on 1st June, 2003 and 28th September, 2003 respectively.

 

The peak of the phase witnessed at the national convention held at the premises of IOC Refinery at Noonmati, Guwahati on 16th November 2003. The history created in this convention is unforgettable. A record number of 70 unions of regular workers and contract workers from practically the entire oil and natural gas PSUs participated in the convention.  Befitting to the unshakable conviction for struggles, the convention decided to observe a nationwide strike on 16th December 2003. The country never witnessed such total strike in the oil sector in the past and that too, jointly by regular workers and contract workers.

 

It is on record that the then Chairman and Managing Director of IOC in his address to the Annual General Meeting of the shareholders of the company for the Financial Year 2003-2004 mentioned that if the strike would not have been observed the Marketing Division of IOC would have been hived off and privatized.  No further elaboration is needed.

 

Protest against Government move to privatise oil PSUs has been the major enabling factor in forging the widest ever mighty unity of the petroleum workers of the country cutting across all affiliations and jurisdictional barriers. Again, we have experienced that simultaneously with the heightening of the struggle the unity also got broadened. The message is clear – unity is better achieved in the process of struggle.

Participation in World Conference of Oil & Natural Gas Workers at Paris

Today’s strong international fraternal net work of  CITU and for that matter PGWFI has its origin with the World Conference of Oil &Petroleum workers jointly hosted by FNIC-CGT France, OCI Union of Mediterranean, Libya and IEMO, Paris was held at Paris on 18-20 October, 1999. From India the only delegation was from CITU consisting of Comrades SwadeshDevRoye, T.S.Rangarajan and SwapanMitra. 140 Delegates from 36 countries attended the conference.

This conference really gave huge exposure to us before the world oil & petroleum trade union movement. We may mention with humility that the paper we presented was highly appreciated and recognized by the conference by incorporating our nominee to the ‘Declaration Drafting Committee’ of the conference. More so as per decision of the Centre Secretariat of CITU we extended invitation to host the next world conference which was obviously applauded by the conference.

 

2nd World Conference of Oil, Gas and Refining Trade Unions in India

 

As a follow-up of the Paris conference, the 2nd World Conference of Oil & Petroleum Workers was held at Kolkata on 08-10 March 2003. This was a land mark event of Oil &Petroleum workers organized by us. The conference achieved resounding success in all the aspects of the same.

The organizational credibility we achieved nationally and internationally from the conference was of the tallest order. And we should not miss to note that the quality of the conference in the matters ofpresentation of documents, deliberations and declaration adopted was appreciated by the participants from the country and abroad alike. 124 delegates from India and abroad participated in the conference. Comrades JyotiBasu, the then Union Oil & NG Minister Ram Naik and number of CITU Secretariat members including the President and the General Secretary attended the conference.

 

The Foundation Conference of PGWFI

 

The foundation conference of Petroleum & Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI) was held at Haldia on 14-15 November 2005.  Around 200 delegates representing 52 unions of both regular and contract workers from Production,Refining, Marketing and other activities of oil sector participated in the conference. Moreover 19 fraternal delegates from abroad (Britain, France, Russia,Egypt, Greece, Libya, Tunisia and Bangladesh) also participated in the conference.  Some of the most significantformulations of the Report of the Convenor to the conference are paraphrased below:

An in-depth analysis will clearly show that the Federation being launched from this conference shall have the distinction of being the biggest apex organization of the petroleum and gas workers of the country. The Federation would constitutionally represent number of trade union streams and hence truly the ‘Prayag’ of Petroleum and Gas Workers of India. All the oil PSUs, all the Regions of the country, all the segments of activities of the petroleum industry are being represented in the Federation. The Federation affiliates together would command the support of majority workers in the different respective oil PSUs and of course in tis totality in the entire oil PSUs. Largest number of recognized unions in the entire industry would be with the Federation.

 

No other Federation has been launched in course of a conference of this magnitude. Each aspect of the conference has been taken care of with utmost seriousness, decency and discipline. The presence of so many fraternal delegates from abroad in the foundation conference of any Federation is also unprecedented.

All these big parameters in the Federation are a matter to rejoice and at the same time endow responsibility as well. Let the Federation take off with the collective understanding and reverberating resolve: ‘Biggest Federation – Highest Responsibility’.

The Message and the Task

 

Today’s Petroleum and Gas Workers’ Federation of India (PGWFI) consisting of unions affiliated to CITU plus the Independent trade unions, is the result of long 15 years of struggle. THE NATIONAL UNITED FORUM Against Privatisation of Oil PSUs acted as a piece of magnet which attracted the Independent unions to join our United Federation i.e., PGWFI. It is important to note that our presence in Mumbai is note-worthy. Our dominant position in the Eastern and North-Eastern regions continues. Our international activities have been expanding. We have been regularly sending delegation to various world trade union events.

 

Precisely our Federationhas really emerged from the successful united struggle against the then Government’s move to privatise BPCL and HPCL Marking Divisions.  However, meanwhile, attack of privatisation of public sector in general and petroleum PSUs in particular has reached to worst level.

The depth of destruction of Public Sector inflicted by Narendra Modi led NDA Government during their last tenure has well surpassed the record of the past 24 years of neo-liberal era. Modi Government has collected the highest amount by privatisation of CPSUs through different methods and degrees.  From 1991 to January 2019, the total privatisation proceeds is Rs.3,84,293.79crore, Modi Government alone has collected 60.24%.

In the coming days, attack of PSU privatisation by Modi Government shall call upon us to “Protest and Protect or Perish”.  To live upto their achievements of the period before the launch of the Federation captured above, the PGWFI must reinvigorate the already tested fighting capability of the petroleum workers unleash total organisational initiative to meet the challenge of the time.

 

 

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