[dropcap]O[/dropcap]N August 20, all industrial, nonindustrial (clerical, office staff), junior officers, charge hands walked out of all the 41 Ordnance Factories (OF) against government’s plans to corporatize and then to privatise them.
As many as 82,000 permanent employees and 40,000 contract employees started agitation and strike. All India Defence Employees Federation, Indian National Defence Workers Federation and Bharatiya Pratiraksha Mazdoor Sangh have jointly given this call for one month strike.
The 218 years old Indian Ordinance Factories under the Ordinance Factory Board are all government departments. The present government has arbitrarily decided to convert these factories into corporations.
In the past also there were attempts and various committees have made recommendation for the conversion of the Ordinance Factories into corporation. However, these factories being war reserve and solely dependent upon the Armed forces cannot function as a commercially viable or profitable units. These factories cater to the needs of the Defence forces.
Defence ministers in the past like George Fernandes, Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony, Manohar Parrikar have rejected the recommendations and had assured that these factories would continue as a department of the government under the ministry of defence.
But the present government has brought this as an agenda in its 100 days programme and has decided to corporatize the ordinance factories. The idea is that first corporatize these factories and then privatise them through disinvestments, etc. This move of the government will put national security at risk and hence is against national interest. This move will also totally alter the status of the employees depriving them of all their existing benefits and rights.
The unions have been pleading with the government not to proceed with their agenda of corporatization but the government has decided to go ahead. Hence the Unions gave the strike Notice three weeks ago and have commenced the strike today.
The Government wants these 41 Indian Ordnance Factories to produce Rs. 30,000 crores worth of goods by 2024. The Unions have accepted the challenge, but they want the government to assure them that the plans to corporatize the ordnance factories will be shelved. The government has refused to make any such commitment.
The workmen in essential services like fire-fighting, water and electric supply, hospitals in the OF colonies have also struck work, but are back manning those services voluntarily, foregoing the salaries for the days of strikes. We salute them for their sense of duty and commitment to the call of the Union.
The strike has been a total success in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Chandigarh where the Ordinance Factories are located as well as at the Ordinance Factory Board Headquarters in Kolkata. Because of the total success of the strike, the production level has come down to zero level in the factories. The call is for strike for 30 days from August 20 to September 19, 2019.
This massive strike has been peaceful, except in West Bengal, where the oldest ordnance factories are situated. There are reports that the police have lathi charged the striking workers, injuring scores of them, four seriously. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) has condemned this unprovoked police barbarity.
The AITUC has called upon the Modi government to pay heed to the voice of these soldiers behind the lines, who have not struck for any of their immediate demands but for guaranteeing supply lines to our Army. The government’s plans of corporatization of ordnance factories will jeopardize just that guarantee.
On behalf of the AITUC secretariat, Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the AITUC has called upon its units to organize solidarity actions in support of the striking defense employees. On Behalf of bank employees under the banner of All India Bank Employees Association have also issued statement greeting these fighting comrades of Ordinance Factories and express their total solidarity with their justified struggle. (IPA Service)
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal.