IFTU, Mining, Trade Union

2nd International Conference of Mining Workers Held at Godavari Khani, India

From the 2nd to the 5th of February, the coal town of Godavari Khani, part of the Singareni coal belt in Northern Telengana, resounded with slogans and working class songs. It was the venue of the 2nd International Mining Workers’ Conference and delegates from 16 countries spanning 4 continents gathered there for deliberations on formulating a common programme for co-ordinated struggles of miners. Organized on behalf of the International Co-ordination Group (ICG) by the Preparatory Committee of India, the latter group consisted of ten likeminded unions working in the mining sector with Com B. Pradeep (General secretary IFTU National Committee),ICG member, as Convenor and Com. P.K. Murthy as Chairperson.
Since mid January 2017, Godavari Khani was the scene of hectic work by the leaders, cadres and activists of the IFTU affiliated GLBKS and Coal Contract workers union, other unions of the IFTU, all under the able guidance of the area’s political organizers. In the last ten days they were joined by members of the IFTU National Committee. Many volunteers from Germany also arrived ahead of the delegates to help with the preparations. Mine meetings of all three shifts were conducted daily in the mines in Godavari Khani, Manchhreyial, Bellampalli and Srirampur by the local leaders and activists who were accompanied by Arunodaya activists. Thus a concerted drive was taken to acquaint all the coal mine workers of the area about the Conference which was to take place in their area. Similarly, meetings and propaganda were conducted by members of the Preparatory Committee in their areas of work among mining workers in Jharkhand, Asansol (W. Bengal), Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, other parts of Singareni, Chindwara in Madhya Pradesh and other parts of India. Workers in mining of coal, lignite, uranium, stone, gold etc in different parts of India attended the Conference.
International delegates representing mining workers came from Germany, Turkey, Columbia, Peru, Poland, Kazakistan, Ukraine, Peru, Congo, Tunisia and Morocco. In addition were present delegates from Russia, Bangladesh and Nepal. They represented mining of Coal, Phosphate, Silver, Platinum and other minerals. Thus one of the sober assessments in the last session of the Conference was of the need to add more miners’ organizations and representatives from more mining countries to the ICG. Keeping this goal in view, it was decided that the next International Conference will be held after five years instead of four and the interim period would be used to organize regional conferences so that mining workers of more countries especially of Africa, Asia and Latin America where there is actually an explosion of work in this sector, can be involved. This alone could render the ICG as an effective co ordination of struggling organizations of mining workers.
The Conference got off to a start on the afternoon of 2nd February 2017 with a rally whihc marched through mine workers’ colonies to the GM Office Grounds. The ICG banner, held by the members of the ICG leadership led the rally and it was followed by the international delegates and volunteers. Next came the delegates and participants from the various members of the Preparatory Group of India, each behind their own banners. They were followed by an Arunodaya troupe of grass skirted dancers. The National Committee leaders of IFTU came next, as also the state leaders of the GLBKS (the IFTU union of the permanent workers of Singareni) each behind their respective banners. Behind them walked members and activists of IFTU drawn from coal workers (both contractual and permanent) and also other IFTU members and this was the overwhelming bulk of the rally.
The public meeting was held on a gaily decked stage. Com Naresh (GLBKS) called the members of the National Preparatory Committee and also the members of the ICG on to the dias. Com Shamshul Islam from Nishant (Delhi) rendered a song for the martyrs of the working class and the revolutionary movement and thereafter Com. Andreas, Chief Co-ordinator of ICG addressed the gathering followed by Com. Pradeep. The Chief Guest and main Speaker of the evening was Prof. Haragopal, prominent Civil rights activist. Then the other members of the ICG addressed the gathering including Com Eugene from Congo, Com Alberto from Columbia as did one member each from the ten unions who were members of the Preparatory Committee of India including Com. T. Srinivas, President of GLBKS and National committee Member IFTU. The proceedings were conducted by Com Murthy. The speeches were punctuated by performances by Arunodaya artists and the meeting ended with the singing of the Internationale sequentially in several languages.
The next morning the Inaugural session was held in the Laxmi Narsaiha hall and the Chief Guest here was Retd. Justice Gopala Gowda from Supreme Court who hails from Karnataka but spoke fluent telegu, much to the delight of the audience. The proceedings began with the hoisting of the flag of the ICG and of the Preparatory committee by Com.Nambaiah, one of the older workers of Godavari mines and a member of GLBKS (IFTU). Com Andreas then began the formal proceedings which were conducted by Com. Pradeep. Facility for simultaneous translation was available in the Hall and after the Chief Guest, the various members of the ICG as well as members from the various international delegations presented the country reports in English with each country being given 5minutes. Com Gautam Mody, Gen. Secretary of NTUI presented the India report on behalf of the ten unions of India.
The business session of the Conference began after lunch. The venue remained the Laxmi Narsaiha Hall and while all participants could witness the proceedings only the delegates were members of the General Assembly and could participate in its proceedings. The General Assembly passed a resolution agreeing that every country could have a maximum of ten delegates in place of the earlier stipulation of 5 delegates per country. Thus one member each of the ten unions who made up the Preparatory Committee of India became delegates and this allowed a fair representation from India. The Chief Co-ordinator Com. Andreas presented the work report of the past four years since the First Conference of the ICG in Peru. After discussion this report was accepted. Then the Assembly took up the main agenda of the Conference- the finalization of the Programme of the ICG. Com Pradeep presented a proposed draft of the Programme and then delegates were given time to submit their amendments and suggestions in writing. The Assembly then broke up for the evening. The stage was taken by the cultural troupes as began the much awaited cultural evening. This first day was marked by presentations mainly from the Indian groups including several troupes of Arunodaya, Pala group from Tamil Nadu and several comrades from the various participant delegations, who combined together to present songs and even enacted a Hindi play.
The next day, 4th February, was devoted to workshops on ten different issues concerning miners, their work and their lives. Five workshops were conducted in the morning session and five in the evening and were open to all the participants. Usually each workshop had one moderator and one person entrusted with the presentation. All the workshops witnessed lively discussions and active interchange of experiences not only between different organizations but also between different countries. The moderators were tasked with preparing summaries of the discussions of the various sessions for presenting to the ICG General Assembly. The workshop on Democratic Rights of Working class was presented by Com. Aparna (IFTU) and moderated by Com. Gautam Mody (NTUI), both from India. The topics of the other workshops included Aspects of organizing contract workers along with regular workers, Movements of people against mining, Environmental issues, Miners wives, families.etc. The workshops were organized in Sindura College using the lecture theatres. After they were over, the delegates and participants moved back to the Laxmi Narsaiaha hall for another cultural evening followed by dinner. This evening, the various foreign delegations presented their pieces along with the Indian comrades.
The last day of the Conference was devoted to the final session of the General Assembly. Several suggestions had been received for amendments to the draft Programme. The Co-ordination committee announced that all the amendments received were being accepted and the new Committee to be elected by the Assembly would be charged with the responsibility of re-writing the Programme incorporating all the amendments. This suggestion was accepted by the Assembly. Some of the moderators of the workshops held the previous day then presented their reports and the others are to submit it to the Co-ordination committee. The Assembly then elected the new Co-ordination committee consisting of all the outgoing members and adding one representative each from Phillipines, Morocco and Poland. The Assembly passed a Declaration summing up the Second Conference. Regarding the venue of the next Conference, the suggestion from the dais was that it should be held in Europe but there was a suggestion from the delegates that a better venue would be Africa, where mining was widespread rather than Europe where mining activity was on the downswing. As the next conference had anyway been postponed by a year to five years later, the venue will be decided by the end of 2018 reviewing the various proposals. The 5 year period would also be used to improve co- ordination and to hold regional conferences where more countries can participate. The proceedings of the Assembly then ended with the singing of the Internationale.
The Conference was held in India at a time when the current Central govt. is going all out to increase the loot of India’s mineral wealth by Corporate, especially MNCs. The situation of the mining workers is deteriorating and contractualizaton is widespread, increasing and the norm in employment. Safety standards have been given the go bye. The situation is best summed up by the accident in Lalmatia mines in Jharkhand on 29th December 2016, just weeks before this Conference. This was an open cast mine of Eastern Coalfields Ltd. which had been outsourced to a private company. The workers had been warning about an impending accident since a few hours earlier as the dug out earth had started falling into the mine, but to no avail. 28 bodies were finally recovered from the site but it is feared that many others are still buried as there were no records of contract employees available while several families arrived at the site claiming that their relatives had been working there and were untraceable; many more have been injured. Thus, holding of the Conference gave an opportunity to the Mining workers’ unions in India to focus on the situation of the workers here and on the several policies of the Govt. to allow unfettered loot of the underground riches of the country.
As imperialism worldwide seeks to increase the loot of mineral resources for superprofits, this Conference was also an opportunity to exchange experiences from world over. It is quite clear that the situation is similar in the developing and poor countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America and that everywhere workers need to organize both for their own rights as well as against the policies of their own governments and of imperialist loot. The Programme passed by the Conference reflects the need for co-ordinated struggles on these issues.