On December 27th, 2017 , the BJP government of Jharkhand banned Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS) a 30 year old union in the un-organized sector under Criminal Law Amendment Act (CLAA) and filed false cases under the same act on 10 office bearers of MSS. The grounds for banning and the cases were that MSS invited Varvara Rao, a renowned Telugu poet to speak on the 100th year anniversary of Russian revolution. This was enough for government to conclude that MSS is affiliated to the Maoist party and ban them! The charges also accuse MSS of “illegally raising funds” for organizing the program.
Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS) is a registered trade union in Jharkhand. It was established in 1985 by an advocate, Satya Narayana Bhattacharya in 1985 and was registered in 1989. The union currently has 22,000 members and they are all in unorganized sector. MSS has been organizing workers in the coal mines of Dhanbad, thermal power plant workers, agricultural workers as well as workers who work on the pilgrimage site of Shikharji. The union runs a hospital in Jharkhand which is free of cost for all the workers and tribals in the area and runs a monthly newspaper for the workers. Due to its work in the un-organized sector , MSS has been at the forefront of many of the struggles of the tribals and workers for over three decades.
One might ask why now? After thirty years of legal trade union activities during which time they have not been charged with any FIR accusing them of violence or illegal activities, why does the government ban them now? There are several reasons for this. As one of the primary agendas of this BJP government is its anti-worker policies under the guise of labour law reforms, it is especially scared of millitant trade unions which challenge their anti-people policies. Specifically in the case of MSS, it was having significant success in organizing the tribals who work in the pilgrimage site and in the coal-mines. This has clearly made the government nervous. MSS has also been at the forefront of opposing the so-called “momentum Jharkhand program” which is just another name for displacing the tribals and destroying the livelihood by depriving them of natural resources in the name of development. When a worker Motilal Baske was killed by Jharkhand police in fake encounter last year and was accused of being a maoist, MSS led the protest against the government and demanded a judicial inquiry .
When we have union, which organizes the un-organized, runs medical facilities for them and directly confronts the government and the state for its anti-worker programs, it is not a surprise that a government based on principles of neoliberalism and facism will try to ban them.
The charges on MSS are farcical. Varavara Rao is a poet who himself is not banned from speaking and nor he is an escaped convict, so why does inviting him constitute an illegal activity? Raising funds from public and workers who are part of the union for organizing a program is also absolutely legal and to charge the office bearers for raising public funds for a program is completely against basic norms of justice. The illegality of the ban does not stop here.Any ban on an union requires a two month notice to the office bearers for them to present their defence. Formal process of cancelling registration of a union can only be done by the Registrar of union,who is usually the Deputy Commissioner of Labour from labour department. Not only was the ban imposed not involve registrar’s office, no opportunity was given to the union to defend themselves and challenge the ban. This ban is yet another dagger in the fundamental structures of the constitution as it questions right to form association and right to free speech.
This is not the first time a union has been banned in independent India. In 1992 SIKASA, the coal miners union in Singareni, Andhra Pradesh was banned. SIKASA was a millitant trade union which carried out massive strikes in 90s to fight for basic rights of Mine workers. However this is the first time when a registered union has been banned without any legal basis whatsoever.
One is reminded of Nazi Germany where onslaught on the working class began by banning trade unions.What is also surprising and rather upsetting is the absolute silence of left central trade unions. A moment like this required all these unions to come together and fight the ban, but far from supporting MSS in their fight, left CTUs have not released a single statement of solidarity or done any protests. If today we remain silent as a militant trade union is banned, soon every trade union will follow. If this ban stays , then an already weakening working class movement in India will receive a significant blow. Unions and the workers must realise this and join MSS in their fight to ensure that the ban is lifted and all the charges against the officer bearers are dropped.