Anti-Privatisation Day Observed All Over India
15 March 2021 was observed as Anti-Privatization Day in response to the joint nationwide call given by central labour organizations and Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
Bank employees went on two-day Bank Strike on 15-16 March against Privatization of banks by the Modi regime. The joint front of central trade unions and federations and the Kisan Samyukta Morcha have declared full support to the bank strike on 15-16 March, General Insurance workers' strike on 17 March and nationwide LIC strike on 18 March.
CPIML and All India Central Council of Trade Unions joined strikers at all major centres in the country. On 15 March 2021 the first day of the 2-day bank strike called jointly by bank officers' and workers' organizations against privatization, all CPIML MLAs in Bihar went to various banks in Patna and extended full support to the strike and gave the assurance that they would put pressure on the Bihar government to pass a resolution in the Assembly against privatization.
What are the consequences of rampant privatisation in various sectors?
The Modi government is handing over banks to the corporates who have already been looting banks and are the biggest loan defaulters. By defaulting on loans, corporations have already been speculating with people’s savings. Now, by privatising banks, the Government is allowing them a more direct way to do the same.
Privatization of banks will result in:
- Control of corporate houses over people’s life savings
- Closure of rural bank branches
- More risk in public savings and less interest on savings accounts
- Decrease in farm loans especially to small and marginal farmers
- Decrease in loans to MSMEs and small businesses
- Decrease in student education loans
- Increase in service charges
- More contract jobs instead of permanent jobs in the banking sector
- End to reservation in bank jobs
- More aggressive and violent tactics by loan recovery sharks
Other, structural reasons are outlined below
Private players in the financial sector fail and demand bailouts from public funds: Can we forget the the financial markets collapsed in 2008, caused by private players, and bailed out by public funds? None of the fraudsters responsible went to jail. Why should Indian banks be handed over to similar irresponsible private parties?
Private banks fail all the time: The website of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) — an independent body created by the US Congress to maintain stability and public confidence in financial system — shows that in the 20 years from 2001 to 2020, as many as 559 private banks with assets of $721 billion failed in the US. What happened to the depositors? It was the problem of the FDIC to bail them out.
The principle followed by private banks is this. When they make profits, it goes to shareholders. When they make losses, it gets socialised and falls in the lap of the government to make good the deposits either through insurance or taxpayer bailout.
Rail privatisation has been a failure in other countries – why is India pushing it then, in a country where railways is the preferred means of travel for the vast number of Indians, who are poor?
The British Example
Excerpts from an article for the Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA) by Kavita Kabeer below.
In 1994, the British government began a sectional privatisation of the network, leading to the existing franchise system under which 25 companies, including British Rail, operate trains across the country. Railway infrastructure such as tracks, signalling and stations is maintained by another company – Railtrack – while freight is operated by six others. Railtrack didn’t always reinvest profits in the railway infrastructure, leading to a deterioration of the tracks and, as a consequence, accidents. A public outcry compelled the British government to take over Railtrack’s operations. The British rail network today is plagued by crowded trains, cancelled services, and high fares. The coronavirus pandemic further exposed the fragile state of the network. Nationally, the use of railway dropped from 100 percent to 4-6 percentbetween April and May, making it unprofitable for the private players. The government had to spend £3.5 billion to keep the trains running for essential services and workers. Several surveys have shown the British public favour re-nationalising the rail network and pressure is growing on the government to do so. On February 7, the Welsh Government brought back the Wales and Borders franchise into public ownership. Similar measures are being anticipated elsewhere in the UK.
Rail in India
The Indian Railways is the lifeblood of the country’s economy, moving people and goods at affordable prices every day. It has also contributed significantly to the socioeconomic development of small towns and cities, enabling movement of labour and goods and linking manufacturing to markets. In 2019-20, the railways ran 13,169 passenger trains and 8,479 freight trains on average daily, carrying 22.15 million passengers a day, before the pandemic.
The railways has vast landholdings, infrastructure and assets. As per its 2019-20 yearbook, the railways owns 4.81 lakh hectare of land, 12,729 locomotives, 2,93,077 freight wagons, and 76,608 passenger coaches. The railway also runs hospitals, schools, and museums as a social obligation.
The railways isn’t just India’s largest employer, it is a reasonably equal employer. It had 12,53,592 regular employees as of March 31, 2020, of whom 16.84 percent and 7.81 percent, respectively, were from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. In a society ridden with caste inequalities, the public sector, including the railways, is seen as an equal opportunity employer. By privatising its operations, its carriages, its routes, the Modi government will push the railways away from this socioeconomic vision.
Yet, a recent small survey for this study by the author of train passengers from Mysuru and Bengaluru found that while almost all of them were concerned about the rising cost of travel, not many were aware about the privatisation process underway. Some 60 percent of the respondents said they were not aware that private trains will have only AC compartments, and they will run only on the profit-making routes.
Protest Against Steel Plant Privatisation
There was a Statewide Bandh in Andha Pradesh on 5 March against Vizag Steel Plant privatisation. Workers of the Steel Plant have been on a relay hunger strike.
The protestors are raising the slogan ‘Konadaniki Vadevvadu, Ammadaniki Vadevvadu Vishaka Ukku Andhrula Hakku’ (Who are they to buy, who are they to sell? Vizag Steel Plant is Andhra people’s right).
Trade unions, left parties joined by members of Telugu Desam Party, the ruling YSRCP party and other people’s organisations held a massive rally as part of the statewide bandh against the privatisation of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd. (RINL), the corporate entity of the Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) Steel Plant.
A statement by AICCTU against the move to privatise the Vizag plant is below:
After taking steps to handover majority shares in different public and govt. sectors, like Defence, Insurance, Banking, Petroleum, Airways and Railways, to corporates, now it has come up with another destructive step to sell out Visakhapatnam steel plant, which is providing employment to more than one lakh employees directly and indirectly. VSP employs about 15,000 permanent and 20,000 contract workers and provides indirect livelihood to over 65,000 people. The plant thus supports one lakh jobs and about five lakh people – about a quarter of the Vizag city population, unions say.
To give away the Vizag Steel(RINL - Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited) to private players, the government is blatantly lying and claiming the plant is incurring losses. At the same time, as per its policy, it is giving away the Iron ore to corporate companies at throw away prices, granting mining permissions to private companies, while on the other hand it is not allocating its own mines as captive mines, to RINL which is a Navratna PSE under ministry of Steel.
This move pushes the future of lakhs of employees into insecurity in the hands of private owners and the decision has come at a time where the future of workers of all other sectors is also pushed towards despair by amending all the labour laws and bringing in four labour codes.
VSP which became operational in 1992 after the foundation was laid in 1977 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, after a prolonged agitation in the seventies, when people rallied with a popular slogan “Visakha ukku-Andhrula hakku” (Vizag Steel is Andhra's right). The agitation has also claimed 30 lives.
- AICCTU stands in solidarity with the struggling employees of RINL against the arbitrary decision of central govt.
- AICCTU demands to immediately withdraw the decision of Disinvestment in RINL.
- AICCTU demands to streamline the mining policy, allocation of govt owned captive mines to RINL, stop selling mined raw materials at throw away prices to corporate companies and secure the future of all employees of Vizag Steel.
- AICCTU demands passing of a resolution in the floors of the assembly condemning Modi govt and also to join the peoples movement against wholesale sell out.
- AICCTU calls upon the people to join workers movement to stall the privatization of Vizag steel plant.