As the Modi government moves ahead with steps to boost India’s attractiveness as an investment destination, the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is firmly amongst trade unions opposing easing of FDI norms, plans for disinvestment and privatisation. “Development does not depend on any big industry or foreign money,” BMS president Baij Nath Rai told Lola Nayar in an interview. Excerpts:
The government has further opened up several sectors for FDI, including allowing 100 per cent in some through the automatic route as part of its ease-of-doing business plans. How does BMS view the developments?
You see, we have already communicated to the government that FDI is not the only means for the development of a country. We have told the government that if you desire FDI in any industry, you must hold a tripartite meeting with the industry concerned, the union concerned and yourself. You have to convince them why you desire FDI there. Unless this is explored, you cannot announce suo motu FDI for any industry. We have communicated to the government that unless they are able to convince the trade unions, we will oppose the FDI tooth and nail. We have also asked them to study and bring out a white paper on how much FDI has come in and how has the country benefited from it, because we have information that whatever FDI has comes in, eight times of that has been the FDO (Foreign Direct Outgo). Let them say that this information is not correct. If Rs 100 is coming in and Rs 800 going out, then it is a dangerous situation.
You mentioned that ahead of the second anniversary of the NDA government, the trade unions were given assurances on the reforms process, apparently in a bid to stop strikes. Is the FDI policy going back on the assurances given by the government?
“We have information that whatever FDI has come in, eight times of that has been the FDO. We have asked the government to tell us how the country has benefited.”
That was about labour reforms. I don’t think this is in any way a ‘going back on assurances’ as labour reforms are separate from FDI, MNCs and disinvestment. The government has already communicated to the trade unions that they will not agree to our demands on FDI, disinvestment and privatisation. Similarly, the unions have also conveyed that they will not agree with the government. On these issues, we are 100 per cent opposed.
What is BMS’s plan of action up ahead? Are you planning to join other trade unions if a joint strike is proposed?
It would be premature to say we are planning confrontation as talks are still going on. It would be wrong if I threaten you (the government) with strikes to make you hold talks. This may be the practice of any of my brother unions, but we don’t believe in it. We will adhere to talking and debate. And if that fails, then the other option is open, where everyone knows what to do.
You have stated that BMS and the government are on different planes when it comes to FDI and disinvestment. How do you propose to have a dialogue when the government is not listening to trade unions on these subjects?
On June 20, we communicated to the labour ministry, after the new FDI proposals were announced, to ask the government to call not just a general meeting but an industry-wise meeting and reveal how much FDI has come in so far in those particular industries and what has been the outcome. They have to tell us how much employment has been created and how much momentum has the development process gained.
Activists protest against the fuel price hike in Mumbai
Is BMS happy with the NDA model of privatisation; a greater private sector role being pushed in what was earlier the public sector domain?
“We have asked the Centre to restrict the entry of MNCs in the consumer goods segment and promote domestic industry instead. Only then will small industries enter.”
In one line, we are not satisfied. Development does not depend on any big industry or foreign money. If big companies are coming in, whether domestic or international, it is all in the consumer market. Basically, the MNCs are targeting the 125 crore consumers in the country. Their purpose is not to give you technology or push your development, but to become richer. This is not development. We have asked the government to restrict the entry of MNCs in the consumer goods segment and allow them only in high technology areas and instead, encourage domestic industry. Our demand is that every producer should be a consumer and every consumer a producer. Only if this concept is pushed will home-based industry flower and small industries enter and India will be able to save more money.
During my earlier interaction with the BMS, I was told that for at least one year, the union will not take up the cudgels against the government to allow it to play its cards. Now, two years have passed, is there going to be any change in your stance?
It is true that we gave the government one year’s time to settle in and we convinced our brother unions to follow suit and they supported us. Before the first year got over, we gave the charter of demands to the government, stating that if they don’t fulfil it, we will come to the road. In August (after a round of talks ahead of a planned agitation in September), the government indicated that it was willing to accept eight out of the 12 demands related to bonus, gratuity, social security extension, minimum wages, the Factory Act and labour law reform. (The four demands left out related to ILO convention, controlling price rise etc.) Then, we insisted on being given two separate assurance letters on the acceptance of the demands—one by the labour secretary and the second from the government. Two letters were given to all trade unions, asking for eight months’ time as ‘things are in the pipeline and discussions are already on’. Our brother unions were still insistent on going on strike but we told them that strike for the sake of strike was not acceptable. Moreover, with the government showing willingness, we should compel it to give us something. After that, the Bonus Act and the Minimum Wages Act has been changed and the labour law reforms have been stopped. So whatever the demand, it has been accepted.
What about the states which have gone ahead with labour reforms? Reports state that the Centre has been pushing states to pursue reforms.
“The RSS was started in 1955, the BMS also came in the same year and the BJP came in 1981. By birth, we are the BJP’s fathers. But, we come from one school.”
We are told that the Centre, which initiated the labour reforms process, has stopped it. It is expected that the states will be asked to do the same. Not even a month has gone by since the government gave us assurances. Let’s give them more time. On June 15, we told them to stop the disinvestment and the banks merger process or else, we would come out on the streets as stated in our letter.
BMS is closely affiliated with the RSS. What is the mood in Nagpur on labour related issues?
This is an absurd thing as BMS is affiliated neither with the RSS nor the BJP. You have to understand that the RSS was started in 1955, the BMS also came in the same year and the BJP in 1981. By birth, we are the BJP’s fathers as we are senior. But, we came from one school. RSS is a school where only national spirit is imparted. They have no course in political movements or labour issues. But we do sit together and exchange views. They only give their viewpoint. The RSS has only heard us on what we do and they accepted it. They are supporting what we are opposing on labour reforms and asking the government to listen to the BMS.