BMS-a Trade Union with difference
Thengadiji the founder of BMS built up the ideological basis of it right from its inception. When political trade unions misused workers of our country for their power politics, BMS was formed with the slogan “apolitical trade union” (above politics). It believed in genuine trade union activity inculcating National spirit in the minds of workers. Instead of the Communist theory of class conflict it believed in the concept of industrial family. Hence instead of the Communist slogan “workers of the world unite” it said- “workers, unite the world”. The cyclic concept of “Nationalise the labour, labourise the industry, industrialise the Nation” gives the idea of what BMS is striving for in the labour sector. Viswakarma Jayanthi day was decided to be celebrated as National Labour Day. The apolitical character of the organisation was kept on from its inception till now without dilution.
In many issues it displayed its own ideological and organisational identity in its approach. The reason for its miraculous growth was its distinctive peculiarities. If we examine the formative background of the organisation we will recognise two of its specialities which led to its historical success. They are: 1. The inspiration and organisational culture derived from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, 2. The guidance given by Thengadiji who is non-compromising on fundamental ideals.
BMS approach to various issues
It was BMS that for the first time in the Country started agitation for removing the anomalies in fixing consumer price index (CPI- the basis of Dearness Allowance paid to workers). Other organisations like INTUC & AITUC opposed this in the beginning. Slowly organisations like HMS, HMP joined it. Later on all other organisations also joined the agitation. Soon the demand gathered momentum and culminated in a Mumbai Bandh on 20th August, 1963. The Bandh was a great success. The Lakdawala Committee was constituted to look into the calculation of CPI Index and recommend necessary rectification.
During this time, BMS demanded “Bonus To All” and effectively argued that Bonus is a “deferred wage”. The legal world and others later accepted this view.
During the Chinese attack of 1962 and the Pakistan attack of 1965 BMS served the Nation in its defence activities by forming “Rashtriya Mazdoor Morcha”. Through this forum BMS gave all possible help to the Government as well as to the Jawans. Again during the Bangladesh liberation war also this “Rashtriya Mazdoor Morcha” was formed to assist the war efforts of India.
First All India Conference
After hard work for about 12 years, an all India conference was convened on 12th and 13th of August 1967 in Delhi. It was in this conference that the first all India committee was formed for BMS. Till then BMS work was discussed and looked after by a five member informal committee and Thengadiji was named as the General Secretary of BMS for trade union purposes. Shri Dadasaheb Gaikwad, who was a leader of the downtrodden and who had worked as the right hand of Dr. Ambedkar, inaugurated the first conference. By this time BMS has obtained recognition in states like UP and Delhi. In Punjab, BMS representative was included in the State Labour Advisory Board.
By the time of all India conference at Kanpur in 1970, BMS obtained recognition in states like Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, MP, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In Andaman and Nicobar islands, all the employees of Nationalised banks became members of BMS.
Various facets of BMS work
In the All India Strike of Central Govt. Employees on the 19th September, 1968, Bharateeya Railway Mazdoor Sangh and Bharateeya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh actively participated. As a result many employees were suspended, terminated and many were put in jail. Many of them lost their job. In January, 1969, in the Joint meetings of all Central Trade Unions, BMS proposed to complain to the ILO of the high handedness of the government in crushing the All India Strike. The proposal was welcomed by all other Central Trade Unions.
BMS gave a detailed submission to the 1st National Commission on Labour under the Chairmanship of Justice Gajendragadkar appointed by the Central Government in 1969. This submission was published as book by name “Labour Policy” (Sramneeti). It is an excellent and comprehensive study on the views of BMS on different aspects of labour.
On 22nd September, 1969, BMS in a delegation of around 50,000 workers, placed a National Charter of Demands, to the then President Shri V V Giri. The National Charter of Demands given to Shri. V.V. Giri on 22nd September 1969 is also an authentic document on the views of BMS on different socio-economic and labour issues. It contained thoughts not only on labour but also on the entire manpower in the society.
During 1971, it was a novel experience when BMS started work among the unorganised domestic servants in Mumbai and formed a separate union for them by name “Kharelu Kamgar Sangh”. Their speciality is that, contrary to the conventional employments, one domestic servant works with more than one employer, sometimes upto eight to ten different employers. They did not have any legal recognition or protection of any of the labour laws. Their only asylum was the union. Instead of the methods of strike and other agitations this union adopted the method of peaceful satyagraha. A big rally of around 60,000 Gharelu Kamgar was taken out in the streets of Mumbai on 22nd and 23rd May, 1972 on the third conference of BMS held there.
In 1973 BMS decided to give more attention to spread its work among unorganised and insecure workers. In 1974 Bharatiya Railway Mazdoor Sangh also actively participated in the strike of railway employees. But BMS was very particular that there will not be any destruction to National property. In the same way BMS union actively participated in the joint strike by LIC employees.
Proclamation of Emergency
During the all India conference at Amritsar in April 1976, Thengadiji cautioned about the coming menace to the Nation. He opposed the policy of oppression. As cautioned, on June 26th, Indira Gandhi declared emergency in the country for protecting her personal power position. RSS was banned on 4th July, 1975. When people’s fundamental rights including right to speech and right to organise were taken away there was continuous agitation by Nationalist forces in which BMS also was in the forefront. INTUC owing to its allegiance to ruling congress supported the autocracy. Since CPI was supporting Congress, AITUC also took the same stand. Other Communist and Socialist trade union leaders were frightened and most of them withdrew from the scene. The Lok Sangharsh Samiti was formed and a joint circular by BMS, CITU, HMS and HMKP was issued. But BMS was the main organisation that worked openly among the workers for the protection of the Nation. When the workers’ right to Bonus was taken away during emergency, both AITUC and INTUC supported it. Other trade unions except BMS displayed their helplessness and made only token protest. They forgot all their traditions of going on strike even for trifle matters. For agitating against emergency, thousands of BMS workers were jailed and many were brutally tortured. Most others have to work underground. Before the emergency period ended in March 1977, more than 70,000 BMS workers had participated in Satyagraha. More than 5000 workers of BMS were arrested and many were jailed. Around 111 were jailed under MISA alone. The Nation had a first hand experience about the efficiency, sacrifice and patriotism of BMS in contrast to other trade unions.
Apolitical ideal of BMS
The Janatha Party, which came to power at the centre in 1977, made repeated requests to BMS to become an affiliate of that party. But BMS stood firmly on its ideal of keeping away from power politics. Even though many leaders and intellectuals said it is foolish to spoil the golden opportunity, test of time proved that the decision was an apt one. By the end of 1979, Janatha party was divided into pieces because of its run for power politics. Due to the tragedy of Janatha Party, again Indira Gandhi was elected to power with landslide victory after 1980.
When right to Bonus was taken away in emergency period, INTUC and AITUC did not oppose it. But when Janatha Party came to power they started making noise. At that time Janatha Party’s trade unions like HMS and HMP supported the policy of the Government and kept mum. Again when Congress came to power, INTUC and AITUC became silent, where as HMS and HMP started opposing the Government. Thus it is the political affinity or hostility towards the ruling party both at the centre and the states, that decided the policy of all the trade unions except BMS.
But during the period of Janatha Party’s rule, BMS stood on the side of workers without any political affinity in issues like bonus, railway employees’ strike, industrial relations bill etc. At that time it was a widely discussed news that due to the strike of BMS workers the supply of water to the Parliament area was stopped.
Thus BMS always took the policy of “responsive co-operation” towards Governments irrespective of its political colour. Responsive co-operation means that the co-operation or hostility of BMS towards the Government or the employer depends on the attitude taken by them towards the workers. The ideal of apolitical trade union activity followed by BMS from its very inception is reflected in every one of its actions.
Because of the confidence so obtained, BMS had a record growth after that period. During 1975 the total membership of BMS was over 8 lakhs, which increased to over 18 lakhs by 1981. In 1980 which was the silver jubilee year of BMS, the Viswakarma Jayanthi day was celebrated throughout the country as National Labour Day. In 1984 as a part of the programme of 60th birthday of Thengadiji, rupees 24 lakhs were collected for the day to day organisational work of BMS.
BMS continuing its Pursuit
On 4th June, 1981, a National Campaign Committee comprising of 8 Central Trade Unions and National Industrial Federations, including BMS was formed at Mumbai to counter the faulty anti-labour policies of the government. BMS worked actively in NCC. During 1986, ten central trade unions joined together to form a common platform to address issues like national unity, disarmament, and racial discrimination.
BMS welcomed all labour aiding devices and rejected all labour displacing devices. In the all India conference at Hyderabad in 1984, BMS decided to observe 1984 as “Anti Computerisation Year” to oppose labour displacing computerisation. It was a time when in industrial and banking sector computerisation was spreading. Instead of assisting labour, it was displacing labour and capturing its place. What Indian situation required was not labour displacing technology, but labour intensive technology to accommodate the ever-growing army of unemployed people waiting for job. At the same time BMS said that computerisation can be there in inevitable areas like research, defence, atmospheric study, oceanography etc. BMS accepted computer and opposed computerisation, just as Gandhiji accepted capital and opposed capitalism.
Role in ILO
Since the installation of Janata Govt. at centre in year 1977, BMS was recognised as a responsible central trade union to represent in ILO along with the Indian delegation. Shri Thengdiji attended the 63rd session of International Labour Conference at Geneva in 1977. Immediately after declaring BMS as the second largest trade union in the country in 1984, BMS was officially included in every Indian Trade union delegation for representation at international forums. From 1996 onwards BMS was designated to represent India in ILO as labour delegate, with the other Trade Unions accompanying as advisors. Only in the year 2005, Ministry of labour arbitrarily superseded the right of BMS as the ‘most representative workers’ organization’ to have the delegate status, and conferred their political trade union INTUC the status of delegate. BMS raised complaint before the Credential Committee of ILO and they warned in its own way the Government of India not to repeat it in future (See appendix). In the next time onwards the Government restored delegate status to BMS.
Solidarity with International Trade Unions begins
In April 1985, at the invitation of All China Trade Union Federation, the only trade union of China, a BMS team led by Shri Thengadiji visited China. There the ACFTU leaders showed much interest in studying the special working method and views on labour relations of BMS. The Beijing Radio broadcast Shri Thengdiji’s address to China and the Chinese workers.
During November 1990 at the World Conference of WFTU, in Moscow, BMS was invited as a Special Invitee.
At the international level there are three different trade union federations, viz. 1. Pro capitalist ICFTU now called ITUC, 2. Pro-leftist WFTU and 3. WCL claiming to be independent which has now merged with ICFTU (to become ITUC). Since BMS could not ideologically identify itself with their political stands and established interests, BMS did not get affiliated with any of them. Still our direct international relations with the trade unions of other countries are getting strengthened. BMS had been participating in various international labour conferences of ILO and others. BMS has participated in the Government level labour conference in USA and many other countries. ILO officials as well as trade union representatives from various countries of the world have visited BMS central office.
BMS opposes Social Clause in ILO
During the ILO conference of 1994, BMS representative Shri R. Venugopal opposed the implementation of “social clause”. The representatives from many other countries welcomed this. In the subsequent years also the same resistance was continued by BMS. In 1997 under the pressure from WTO, the same idea came up in ILO in a new name, “social labelling”. BMS opposed this also. Again in the ILO conference of 1998 when the same was presented in a new name, BMS representative R. Venugopal organised trade unions from 12 different countries and opposed it. Federations like ICFTU took a stand in favour of WTO. Thus at the international level BMS is endeavouring to liberate the poor countries from the exploitative clutches of Capitalist countries, which was an objective put forward by the RSS founder Dr. Hedgevar. It is historical task of BMS to take up the leadership that can give confidence and direction to the trade unions of third world countries.
BMS grows to top position
In the 5th all India conference at Jaipur in 1978, the membership of BMS exceeded 10 lakhs. This again grew to 20 lakhs by the time of the 7th conference in 1984. Central Government conducted a membership verification of the entire central trade unions based on the cutoff date of 31-12-1980. The result was published only in 1984 by the Government according to which, INTUC came to the first position and BMS came to the second position. Even though BMS had over 20 lakhs membership in 1984, in the eye of Government BMS had to satisfy itself with 2nd position.
During the next membership verification with 31st December 1989 as the cutoff date, the Central Government under the congress rule had to declare in 1994, that BMS is the largest Central Trade Union in the country with an approved membership of 31,17,324 members. Right from 1948, INTUC was holding the top position. But for the first time they were pushed to the second position behind BMS. Thus BMS created history. The combined membership of both AITUC (the first central trade union of the country) and CITU was only far below than that of BMS.
In 1987 the actual membership of BMS was about 33 lakhs. It increased to 39 lakhs in 1991, 45lakhs in 1994 and 47 lakhs in the 11th conference at Bhopal in 1996.
The long drawn legal process on membership claim finally culminated into Honourable High Court of Delhi directing the Central Government to hold verification on the basis of the membership as on 31st December 2002. Thereafter a nationwide verification was undertaken by the Ministry of Labour in which again BMS was declared as the No. 1 CTUO of the country with an approved membership of 62,15,797. INTUC came to the second position with a membership of 38,92,011 only, AITUC third with 33,42,213, HMS fourth with 32,22,532 and CITU fifth with a membership of 26,77,979. BMS is active in 44 industries and in new areas of unorganized sectors.
Other forums of BMS
At a conference at Calcutta in 1981, a separate wing for women was formed by BMS.
The Hyderabad conference of 1984 declared war against the unholy alliance of multinational companies, Indian monopolies and the Government. In 1989 USSR disintegrated and world Communism collapsed in the east European countries, resulting in the world becoming uni-polar. By 1990 New Economic Policies like LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) and Open Market Policy came into being. On 3rd July 1991, Narsimha Rao Govt announced the New Economic Policy (NEP) and New Industrial Policy (NIP) in India, which opened all her doors for foreign investment, first by Institutions and later by FDI. After 1990s when developed countries spread their economic empire, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch was formed and BMS participated in many of its agitational programmes. The Tenth National Conference of BMS held at Dhanbad between 18th and 20th march 1994 declared a ‘War of Economic Independence against the Western Imperialism’.
For the purpose of encouraging different religious groups to live like a family, work together for National interest and to inculcate BMS ideals in them, BMS formed “Sarva Panth Samadar Manch” in April 1994. BMS has formed a “Paryavaran Manch” (Environment forum) also in 1995. Every year BMS celebrates security week from March 4 to 11.
Responsive Co-operation and NDA Government
Subsequent to 1990s even though various Governments led or supported by different political parties including leftists came to power, the labour policy as well as economic policy remained the same. BMS protested against the anti labour policies of Narasinha Rao Government of the Congress, leftists supported Deva Gowda Government and Gujral Government. During the tenure of the NDA Government also which had “friends” of BMS in it, BMS had to oppose the anti-labour policies.
On 16th April 2001 BMS organised a very big rally of over 2 lacs workers and mammoth gathering of workers at the Ram Lila Grounds at New Delhi to protest against the Government’s policies. It also wanted to draw the attention of the Government towards the impending perils of towing the WTO way. “WTO MODO, TODO, YA CHODO” was the slogan. BMS urged to take the War of Economic Independence to its logical conclusion by taking lead in forming an alternate to WTO and by bringing together the so called third world countries. The programme attracted the attention of the Nation. After that programme, trade unions of the country felt confidence in BMS and under the leadership of BMS they made various protests against the Government.
Recent Major Agitations
BMS gave a call to observe ‘Public Sector Bundh’ on 16th April 2002 against Govt. s attempt to introduce changes in Basic structure. It was coordinated by other Central Trade Unions as well. BMS Federations in these industries held 2840 meetings and tens of thousands of employees participated. This Industrial Strike of Public sector and financial institutions commemorated a historic event.
A week long Jan Chetana Abhiyan was undertaken between 25th September and 2nd October, 2002 at over 40 state level places in the country when the workers, farmers and public at large were educated about the exploitation mechanism of WTO. As a forerunner to the WTO Ministerial Meet at Cancun, Mexico, a Jan Jagaran Abhiyan was undertaken between 23rd July and 9th August 2003 at all taluka level places in the country where around 4 lac workers participated. This was followed by a Maha Dharna at Ram Lila Grounds, New Delhi along with Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagaran Manch.
Dissenting Note to the Report of 2nd National Commission on Labour
The 2nd Commission under the Chairmanship of Shri Ravindra Varma was appointed by the Central Government after a gap of 30 years since the 1st Commission submitted its report in 1969. The 10 member Commission included only two trade union representatives, Saji Naryanan C.K. of BMS and Sanjeeva Reddy of INTUC. Communist trade unions as usual kept away from the working of the Commission and failed to make any contribution to this historic task. During June 2001 BMS made its submissions to the Commission. The final report of the Commission contained both pro labour as well as anti labour recommendations. Against the anti-labour recommendations, a detailed Note of Dissent was submitted by the BMS representative. This historic Note of Dissent became part of the Commission’s Report. It was a sad thing for the workers of the country that the INTUC representative has endorsed fully the anti-labour proposals in the report. There were mainly 8 issues on which BMS had submitted its Dissenting Note.
BMS has so far held fourteen National Conferences. The first Conference of BMS was held at Delhi on the 12th and 13th August, 1967. Then it continued as:- Delhi– Kanpur– Mumbai– Jaipur– Amritsar– Kolkata– Hyderabad– Bangalore– Vadodara– Dhanbad– Nagpur– Bhopal– Thiruvananthapuram- New Delhi and Cuttack again. From Delhi to Amritsar, Thengadiji was the General Secretary. For Kolkata and Hyderabad Late Bade Bhai held the responsibility as the General Secretary. Later on for a decade Shri G.Prabhakar was the guiding light. Later R.K. Bhaktji took over in Bangalore and Vadodara. From Dhanbad to Thiruvananthapuram, Hasubhai Daveji was the General Secretary. FromThiruvananthapuram to Cuttack, Shri. Uday Patwardhan held that responsibility. There after Shri K .Lakshma Reddy took the responsibility upto Jalagaon conference. At present Shri Baij Nath Rai is holding the responsibility of General Secretary. One specialty is Leaders are changing but systems, traditions and organizational conventions are continuing as it is.
Thus BMS that has made a new turning point in Indian trade union history is also making its un-erasable imprints in the world trade union history. In this historical Aswamedha Yajna, every worker of BMS has to play his vital role.