In the Dhanbad-Jharia coal-fields we met up with permanent mining workers employed by the CIL subsidiary Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) – mainly employed as skilled mechanics. They have been working in the Dhanbad mines since the late 1970s – during the early 1980s they became members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party / Marxist-Leninist (RSP-ML). The RSP-ML split from the RSP in 1969, critical of the parliamentarist turn of the latter. It remained a fairly small political organisation, mainly composed of skilled workers in the old industries like mining, steel manufacturing or the railways. The party emphasises ‘the revolutionary program’ and the ‘development of class consciousness’. Trade unions are regarded as capitalist institutions, which divert class struggle into economism and they see Trotzkyism, Stalinism and Maoism as bourgeois deviations. Despite the – compared to other communist parties – very working-class base of the party, their monthly party organ ‘Kranti Yug’ (Revolutionary Era), hardly reflects the proletarian experience of the organisation and mainly focuses on ‘general politics and their communist interpretation’.
The RSP-ML can be seen as politically attractive for ‘class conscious workers’ like the mining workers comrades in Dhanbad for various reasons. The fact that the party puts a lot of emphasis on ‘theoretical work and positions’ matches the more educated background of these skilled workers. Some of the Dhanbad comrades had been politicised during their participation in the J.P. Movement (Bihar Movement) in the mid-1970s and during Emergency. Their working-times of 8-hour shifts, which could often be shortened unofficially, and a weekly day off allowed to spend time for party activities and study circles. Most of them joined the party individually, after having been convinced of the correctness of its position. The actual day-to-day experiences with trade unions in the mining area and the results of Maoist ‘regionalist alliances’ confirmed the main party lines. But given the rapid changes, the skilled permanent miners find themselves materially marginalised within the new class composition. Their emphasis on ‘class consciousness’ as a precondition for revolutionary struggle becomes more and more a tautological straw to cling onto in order to compensate the feeling of social isolation. The young generation of workers does not use ‘political jargon’ they don’t have time and resources for party activities. The ‘old communists’ denounce them as ‘egoistic’, because they only think about their ‘individual problems’ and not in ‘class terms’. The ‘class consciousness’ of these old workers becomes a cocoon out of which all single conflicts in the area can be interpreted as ‘merely economistic’. The party has become isolated and does not find a practical way to relate to the multi-faced and facetted working class and its material separations – having a look at the different ‘conflicts’ in the area we can assess the difficulty of finding the ‘class program’ within a process of both self-organisation and generalisation.
After spending a few days in Dhanbad-Jharia you are surprised about the large amounts of ‘conflicts’ in the area. You stumble into protest demonstrations in front of administration offices or sit-down actions in front of mine gates and half of the local news in the mainstream newspapers covers some kind of protest related to the mines. At the same time it is obvious that each proletarian group struggles ‘on the bases of it’s own specific relation to the mines and for its specific demands’, represented by their respective institutions: permanent workers, workers hired through contractors, unemployed, displaced villagers. In the following we give a brief overview on conflicts in spring 2011.
The permanent mining workers
The comrades say that the struggles of the permanent workers are shaped by the fact that their total numbers have been reduced to about a third within the last three decades – in Munidih Project even to a quarter of their strength in the 1980s. These old core workers are still under attack. In July 2009, BCCL management announced to shift 10,000 permanent workers from various mines in Jharia to other mines – which was seen as a provocation and a possible instigation to get the workforce engaged in struggles, which could lead to retrenchments. In October 2010 CIL announced to cut its workforce by another 10 per cent in the coming two years. In the official mines permanent workers form about 40 per cent of the manual workforce today, most of the hard jobs are done by the younger and much worse paid contracted workers. A comrade said that the official protests against privatisation of CIL are weak: in April 2010 CIL workers were supposed to go on strike against the CIL share sales, but three of the main trade unions reached a deal with Indian Coal Minister on 16th of April and ended any involvement – part of the agreement was that permanent CIL workers would be offered company shares at a special price. The comrade continued that some struggles developed in the outsourced mines once the new management wanted to introduce worse working-conditions for the remaining ‘old CIL workers’ – these struggles are more direct, but remain isolated. During early March 2011, various permanent workers unions in several mines announced work-to-rule token strikes in order to enforce the 9th wage agreement. The protest remained marginal even within the permanent workforce.
The workers hired through contractors
After 1992 no workers have been hired as permanents, all production workers are since then hired through contractors. They now form 60 per cent of the work-force in Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL). While permanent workers earn between 700 Rs and 1,000 Rs a day and receive company health care, company accommodation and other benefits, the workers hired through contractors are paid 100 Rs a day and they receive no extra benefits. Most of the workers hired through contractors are not unionised. On 8th of March 2011, when permanent workers unions announced the token strike for the wage agreement, security guards employed through a private company in a Jharia mine protested in front of the mine administration office, demanding outstanding wages. The last time that permanent and temporary workers in Munidih Project fought together was in November 2010 after a temporary worker had died after an accident. Both groups of workers went on two-three days wildcat strike demanding compensation for the family, which the management agreed to in the end. At the same 8th of March 2011, unorganised sector workers (from unofficial mines and coal processing plants) organised by the BCKU held a protest rally in front of main administration in Barora and Block 2, demanding the payment of minimum wages and the implementation of other ‘statutory rights’.
The separation between the individual groups is the most full-on when it comes to ‘fathers and sons’. While the fathers might still work as permanent miners for CIL, their sons are organised in local unemployed unions, protesting and blockading to demand permanent jobs. The sons of permanent workers are very unlikely to continue working in the local mines – they would not want to work for 10 per cent of their father’s wage. The ‘unemployed movement’ is mainly comprised of miners’ sons or sons of the middle-peasantry – it is sometimes organised by a displaced village community. During our visit protests were organised around a local captive power plant in Munidih. BCCL had subcontracted the plant to a private company. The ‘new ‘power plant would employ around 200 people. The private company hired only 20 people from local villages directly, the rest either came from ‘outside’ or hired through contractor on 100 Rs daily wages. In March 2011, the local young unemployed, most of them sons of BCCL permanent workers, some of them sons of the RSP(ML) comrades, staged a protest in front of the power plant. They formed the ‘Unemployed Youth Organisation’ and demanded 60 permanent jobs for each of the two nearby villages. The power plant management postponed the hiring process and the start of production, but at first refused negotiations. The ‘Unemployed Youth Organisation’ – around 80 to 100 people – staged demonstrations, continued the blockade of the power plant and announced a hunger strike. In April 2011 the power plant management agreed to hiring 50 people from each of the villages. While the ‘Unemployed Youth Organisation’ demonstrated at the power plant, in around 5 km distance 20 people of ‘Unemployed Unity Platform’ staged a one-day protest in front of the main mine. Mainly comprised of former local farmers they claimed that they have been displaced by BCCL mines and demanded permanent jobs. They put forward a demand notice and threatened to ‘blockade’ the mine.
Either ‘unemployed protest’ or going far away for work. Given the relatively high income of their fathers, a lot of them have received a ‘good education’. Some managed to get ‘good jobs’, for example as mechanics for the Indian Air Force in Chandigarh. Others migrated to Mumbai or Delhi, in order to work in a call centre, as in one case, or in a lift manufacturing company, as in a different case. Compared to their parents’ situation, their conditions are dire. They have to move around to find temporary jobs, which don’t pay enough to either maintain the current standard of living of their parents’ generation, or allow the ‘educational expenses’ for a future generation. “My dad works on 8-hours shifts, but in the mines they still manage to leave the job early. Someone will clock out for you. If you have the right job, for example in maintenance, you might work 4 or 6 hours a day. We have to put up with 10 or 12 hours shifts”.
The displaced villagers
Many villages are directly affected by mining: displacement, pollution, burnt-up agriculture land, polluted water; or/and they claim their share in the mining in form of permanent jobs or ‘infrastructural investment’. On 8th of March 2011 villagers in Paharigora blockaded rail-tracks, mainly used by the coal mines, in order to demand better water supply. Their water had been dried up mainly by the coal washeries and other mining operations. On 27th of April 2011 police killed two protestors in Dhanbad by gun-shot and injured more than a dozen. People had been protesting the anti-encroachment drive at a Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) colony located in Kusunda and Matkuria, about 8 kms from Dhanbad. People set fire to about 16 vehicles, out of which 11 belonged to the BCCL authorities. State police headquarters said people of the area started pelting stones at the administration team, which went for the eviction of local people allegedly occupying BCCL quarters.
The guerrilla warfare in the mining fringe areas
The Maoist armed insurrection sees the mining area first of all as an ‘economic power-base’ of the enemy, less as a territory of class struggle. They blow up rail-tracks in the impoverished fringes, hoping to put pressure on the government and mining capital. On 8th of February 2011 Maoists blew up train tracks in three places in the Dhanbad railway division disrupting traffic for hours. The traffic on the important Coal India Chord (CIC) remained disrupted from 2am to 10.30am till the tracks were restored. On 5th of March Maoist guerrillas attacked police posts in nearby Balumath, killing two. They subsequently blew up rail-tracks. On 3rd of May 2011 eleven policemen were killed and at least 20 injured when Maoists ambushed a police team in Lohardaga district of Jharkhand. On 21st of May 2011 a 48-hour ‘strike’ called by the Maoists has evoked mixed response. The strike hardly had any impact in urban areas, including Jamshedpur. The strike affected mainly shops and transport companies in the ‘Maoist affected rural areas’. On 5th of June the Times of India reported: “Hundreds of landless villagers have taken control of 210 bighas vested land in Khanpur village of Murarai on the Jharkhand border. Men armed with axes, scythes and sticks stood guard as their comrades plowed the land with tractors and sowed paddy seeds”…
The impoverishment of the proletariat in the mining areas, the destructive character of the industry and the repressive nature of the state regime clearly show the NECESSITY for social transformation towards a class-less society – but only the productive collectivity of the working class can express the POTENTIAL for creating this different society. In Dhanbad area the borderlines between ‘impoverishment of the proletariat’ and ‘social productivity of the working class’ are blurry, but they exist and their over-coming poses the major challenge for a class movement. In other terms: the divisions between different segments of the working-class cannot be done away with by mere preaching of a ‘class position’. With the trap of regionalism out of the way and internationalism imposed by the industrial set-up itself the proletariat can start from its different conditions and find common trajectories in their actions. Let’s document and debate our experiences – here ‘old’ organisations like the RSP(ML) – or rather their communist working class militants – are put to the test.