Swadesh Dev Roye
The workers of BPCL, HPCL and ONGC (MRPL) observed a massive nationwide strike opposing Modi Government’s suicidal move to completely sell out BPCL to giant private business of his choice in oil sector. It was a united strike action on 28th November 2019 under the joint leadership of all the three National Federations of oil & petroleum workers. Around 30,000 regular and contract workers led by around 25 Grass-root level unions affiliated with these Federations took part in the strike.
Impact of the Strike in the Refineries & Marketing Operations
BPCL, HPCL and ONGC (MRPL) Refineries and Marketing Operations all over the country witnessed huge impact of the strike. So far as the Refineries are concerned, the epic-centers of the strike were Mumbai, Kochi and Mangalore. It is but obvious that in Kochi Refinery all the unions affiliated with different CTUs participated in the strike with full strength. Militant and colorful processions, demonstrations and dharna by the striking workers were organised in and around the Refinery Complex. At the joint call of CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, UTUC & TUCC workers all over the state of Kerala participated in large numbers in solidarity action by organizing street mobilization and black-badge wearing.
In Mumbai Refinery the strike was complete. It has been an unprecedented demonstration of conviction and determination to defeat the privatization move by the striking workers. Marketing workers from far flung locations of Mumbai travelled down to the Chembur Refinery gate, many with their family members and around 500 workers wearing Black T-Shirt, staged powerful demonstration. Later a 2000 strong Workers’ Long March was performed covering about nine kilometers distance from Refinery gate and culminated into a big public meeting near Ambedkar Gardens near Chembur Railway Station. Many prominent trade unions leaders addressed the striking workers. In Mangalore Refinery (MRPL) the regular and contract workers numbering around 5,000 were on strike. A notable fact about the strike in MRPL is that it is fully own by ONGC.
The workers of HPCL refinery at Vizag organized a March and Demonstration. However, the contract workers in the marketing operation in HPCL and in IOCL in all the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh participated in the strike in full strength. Tanker Lorry Workers also joined the strike in the southern states.
At the Main Gate at Numaligarh (Assam) Refinery (NRL) regular and contract workers staged a huge demonstration in support of the strike opposing privatization of BPCL. It should be noted that succumbing to the protest agitation by the people of Assam in general and the workers of NRL and people from the nearby villages, the Government had to agree to maintain complete public sector entity of NRL separating from BPCL.
On the other hand the success of the strike in the Marketing Operations throughout the country had been significant not only for the sweep but also for the spread, engulfing the entire length and breadth of the country covering around one hundred locations. All the workers engaged in the Bottling Plants, Bulk Storage Installations and all the Regional Headquarters overwhelmingly took part in the strike. Around 250 striking workers from the Northern RHQ in Noida and surrounding states organised a Dharna at Jantar Mantar Road, New Delhi and they were addressed by several MPs and Central Trade Union Leaders. The biggest Bottling Plant of Asia situated in the Western Region at Uran, near New Mumbai had to be shut down due to the impact of the strike.
Unique Solidarity Action by Coal & Power Workers
All India Coal Workers Federation (CITU) had already decided to organize mobilization and agitation in support of the strike by oil & petroleum workers on 28th November 2019. Accordingly Gate meetings, Pit meetings, Effigy burning etc against the move of privatization of BPCL has been carried by coal workers in different locations and work stations of almost all coal producing subsidiaries of CIL situated in different parts of country. In fifty-five collieries the solidarity activities were carried out. The subsidiary-wise picture is: ECL -19 Collieries, BCCL - 5 Collieries, CCL – 14 Collieries, WCL – 5 Collieries, SECL – 7 Collieries, CMPCI – 5 Places.
Yet another significant development is that on 30th November 2019 the electricity workers in Kerala under the banner of Electricity Employees’ Federation of India (EEFI) organized a huge demonstration in front of the Kochi Refinery Gate in solidarity with the struggles of Kochi Refinery workers opposing privatization.
Such a large scale solidarity support to the striking workers of one of the energy segments (Oil & Petroleum) by the workers of other energy segments (Coal and Power) is unprecedented. And the significance of this development must be understood in the political, ideological and organizational perspectives. These strategic sectors “economically dominate the centre and nerve of the entire economic system of capitalism.”
Integrated Struggle of Entire Energy Sector Workers is Imperative
All the segments of energy sector are under the grip of challenges of different dimensions. It is amusing to note that the CPSUs which are currently under the hammer of privatization, pertains to the sectors (oil & petroleum, coal, power and shipping & Container business) already under the business domain of two monstrous crony capitalists of Modi Government - Ambani and Adani.
The energy sector as a whole – Coal, Power and Oil & Natural Gas is worst victim of the policies of neo-liberalism. The successive Governments have been carrying out legislative onslaught of dismantling of time tested statutes supportive of self-reliant, social welfare oriented and people centric energy industrial policies. On the contrary they are enacting private sector supportive legislations. Further, through executive orders structural destruction of PSUs are implemented.
Under the impact of systemic crisis of capitalism and conspicuously capitalist class oriented anti-people policies of the Modi Government in dealing with the crisis, the public sector energy industries have also been pushed into the grip of the crisis. Amongst the list of eight Core Sectors which have suffered contraction of growth, the worst record of the sector in last 14 years, five are from energy sector – Coal, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Refinery Products and Electricity. Clearly the energy industries in public sector are exposed to economic and political onslaught leading to dismantling, down slide in commercial strength and ultimately pushed to privatization. The situation is full of challenges and providing opportunities for integrated united resistance struggles of entire energy sector workers.
Convention at Kolkata to Decide Next Strike Action
The huge magnitude of the strike has clearly demonstrated the determination of the affected workers to fight the Modi Government’s move to privatise BPCL and HPCL. It is necessary to note that the workers have participated in the strike braving the threat and intimidation by Modi Government and prohibitory orders obtained by the managements at the behest of Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas through various High Courts.
Many new encouraging developments have been witnessed centering round the 28th November strike struggle. Workers at locations which are historically weak in participating in strike struggles, this time it was exceptionally record breaking success. Voice of condemnation of the Modi Government policies was in high pitch in course of rallies and dharnas. Participation of women workers was remarkable. Strike day demonstrative mobilization throughout the country on the roads was massive and militant in character.
The message and mandate of the 28th November strike action is loud and clear. There is clear affirmative signal for integrated and united struggle of all the segments of energy sector to defeat the move to handover the domination and control of energy sector as a whole to the cronies of Modi Government.
The post strike National Convention of Oil & Petroleum workers under the banner of the three National Federations at Kolkata on 22nd December, 2019 is under preparation. There is perceptible enthusiasm amongst the unions regarding participation and conclusion of the forthcoming Kolkata convention.