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Resistance to Privatization of the Coal Industry: The Response of the Workers

Resistance to Privatization of the Coal Industry: The Response of the Workers

By Trisha Pande

The coal industry of India is one of the vastest in the world, and provides for about 60% of India’s energy needs.
The problem however, is that India needs 551.6 million tons of coal to function, but the industry fails to cater to this enormous figure – and 300 million people are still waiting to see the day that they will be able to enjoy all the benefits that electricity holds for mankind.
This short introduction to India’s coal industry, however, does not talk about how it is at the hands of political manipulation currently.

In the December of 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that according to the Coal Ordinance Law, the industry would remain 90% state owned – but would allow for 10% of the industry to be bidded upon and become privatised.

This action was undertaken with the hope that the 10% privatisation would raise anywhere between $3-$6 billion in investment, and has been critiqued because the coal industry is one of India’s most valuable state-owned assets.

An overwhelming response from the miners that trudge in the darkness of the mines, deep beneath the earth’s surface, risking their lives so that pie charts and graphs can be discussed in meetings by people who assume authority over the entire industry without ever entering a mine personally decided the temporary fate of the whole business of privatisation.

Out of the entirety of India’s coal production, the state-controlled monopoly which is Coal India Limited (CIL) produces a majority of 80% of India’s coal.
What was demanded initially as a five day strike, joined fully by the All India Trade Union Congress, the Indian National Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, turned into a two day strike ultimately.
This is an extremely impressive feat in terms of strikes called by worker’s unions to meet their imminent demands – and the last such strike that the country observed was the famous 1974 railway strike that ran a duration of twenty days and was joined by seventeen lakh workers who united to ask for a greater pay scale.

As a consequence of the strike, coal production in the country took a hit and India lost about a million tonne of coal, which forced the government into hurried negotiations with the trade unions and at the same time, to rethink their entire strategy.
Modi skeptics are not shy to point out that the only reason the privatisation steps were momentarily retraced were in order to combat the indignation of the workers that would put a halt to India’s coal production, and that the country could rest assured that when the Coal and Power Minister of India, Priyush Goyal, addressed the World Economic Forum, he meant what he said about auctioning shares in the CIL.

The coal industry is not going through only the single problem of privatisation, it also has to combat issues like severely poor, substandard working conditions where people die whilst working in the mines, the issue of children being recruited in the same hazardous conditions and widows of mine workers being forced to go and work in the mines.

If privatisation of the coal industry moves forward in the way that the government has indicated that it will, then a class struggle between the workers and the people in power is unavoidable and shall mark further revolution in the history of the country.

The proletariat’s rivalry with the bourgeoisie in India stands more highlighted than ever before.

Trisha Pande is studying Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and is eager to work on the field and conduct sociological research. She lives among stacks of books which tell tales from different eras, continents and cultures. Writing has always been an outlet for her; and hopefully it shall forever be able to perform that function. Someday, she hopes to visit the women of Afghanistan, live with them and be able to understand their everyday life.

Edited by Anandita malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

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