Thursday, May 31, 2012

Venezuela Unveils Revolutionary Labour Law

THE new labour law that Hugo Chavez, president of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, signed on International Labour Day (May 1, 2012) did not get the desired attention. This is nothing surprising as corporate media always tries to block all news about the empowerment of the working class. The law defines work as a social process, guarantees minimum wages, right to organise, strike and ensures equality in work place. Signing this law, Chavez stated: “The triumph of the people, of the workers, has never come about without a long process of resistance, of struggle, suffering even. This law, which I will have the honour of the product of a long process of struggle.”

Signalling the importance of this law, Fidel Castro wrote: “It satisfies me greatly to observe...the profound impact on the sister people of Venezuela of the Ley Orgánica del Trabajo (comprehensive labour law) promulgated by the Bolivarian leader and president of the republic, Hugo Chávez Frías. I have never seen anything like it within the political scenario of our hemisphere. I paid attention to the enormous crowds who gathered in the plazas and avenues of Caracas and, in particular, the spontaneous words of citizens interviewed. I have rarely seen, perhaps never, the degree of emotion and hope which they put into their statements. One could clearly see that the overwhelming majority of the population is constituted of humble workers. A veritable battle of ideas is being forcefully waged.”

The process of reforming the labour laws in Venezuela began in 2003. The consistent pressure exercised by the Venezuelan working class hastened this process and it gained momentum since last year. The entire concept of 'reforming labour law' and the process carried out in Venezuela is in contrast to what we witness in our country. (A brief summary of various articles, given at the end, distinctly bring out this contrast.) Numerous missions that were functioning in the country were used to collect input from a large cross-section of society. During the five-month consultation process with communal councils, trade unions, and political parties, the government received 19,000 proposals, 90 percent of them from workers.

According to many experts, this is the most important document issued by Chávez's government since the Bolivarian constitution of 1999. Just as the constitution was opposed by the oligarchy, the opposition is back again in arms against this labour law, which they rightly see as targeting their privileges. They were unable to digest the fact that Chavez announced a 32.5 percent increase in the monthly minimum wage, to be carried out in two phases. [The first phase took effect on May 1 with an increase from 1,548 bolivares ($360) to 1,780 bolivares ($413.90). On September, it will increase another 15 percent to 2,047 bolivares ($476).] True to their class interests, they are protesting against the law, which the majority of the people are supporting. According to International Consulting Services, an international polling agency, over 80 percent of Venezuelans hold a positive view of the law, compared to 13 percent who do not.

The law, many believe, will become one of the important agenda on which the presidential elections scheduled for this year would be fought. Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro called the labour law “an instrument for constructing the highest stage of socialism.” The government had already initiated an extensive discussion on this law among the people. A large number of copies are printed and distributed among the workers and other sections of the population, to be studied by them.

The law comprises nine chapters and 554 articles. Some trade union activists and defenders of labour rights consider this law as one of the most advanced and innovative labour laws in the world. The timing of the law, amidst the severe global economic crisis and the attacks on working class rights in the name of austerity, enhances its significance.

The law identifies its objective as to “protect work as a social deed” and to “protect workers’ rights, recognising workers as creators of socially produced wealth and as protagonists in education and work processes.”

Some of the most important and radical features in the law are as below.

1) House work is an economic activity that creates added value and produces wealth and well being. Housewives have the right to social security, in accordance with the law (Article 17).

2) The social process of work has, as its main objective, to overcome forms of capitalist exploitation, as well as to produce goods and services that guarantee our economic independence, satisfy human needs through the just distribution of wealth, and create material, social, and spiritual conditions that allow for the family to be the fundamental space for the integral development of process of work should contribute to guaranteeing: independence and national sovereignty, economic sovereignty, human development for a dignified existence and economic growth that allows for the elevation of the standard of living of the population, food sovereignty and security, protection of the environment and the rational use of national resources (Article 25).

3) It defines outsourced labour as “fraud committed by employers in order to distort, deny, or create obstacles for the application of the labour law” (Article 47) and prohibits outsourced labour in Article 48, which means that the following is not permitted: contracting work entities for a public work, service, and so on that is permanent and directly related to the productive process of the hirer, hiring workers through intermediaries in order to avoid obligations to those being hired, creating work entities in order to avoid obligations, and so on.

4) Wages can’t be below the established national minimum wage, nor less than what other workers are paid for the same work, in the same establishment. It’s preferred that the work contract is in writing, where there is nothing in writing, the statements made by the worker are assumed to be true until proven otherwise (Articles 55-65).

5) If a worker is unjustly fired, they have ten days to go to the judge of Sentencing, Mediation, and Execution so the judge can order salary payment. The employer has three days to comply, and if he or she doesn’t, the judge can force compliance by confiscating property of the employer. If the employer still fails to comply, they can go to prison for six to fifteen months (Article 85-95).

6) Workplaces should distribute at least 15 percent of liquid benefits (net earnings after tax) obtained at the end of the financial year. For each worker that is also a minimum of one month’s wage and maximum of four months. Workers have the right to examine and verify the work place’s inventories and balances in order to check that they are being paid the correct amount (Articles 131-140).

7) Where there is an illegal or fraudulent closing of a workplace or an employer strike, the work minister can, at the request of the workers, order the occupation of the workplace and restart productive activity. Worker’s can request state technical help to reactivate the productive process (Articles 148-151).

8) Salaries, social provisions, and any other amount owed to the worker will have preference over any other debt owned by the employer, including mortgages and loans. Preventative confiscation of the employer’s property can be carried out in order to guarantee this (Article 151).

9) Working days per week can’t exceed five, and workers have a right to two days of rest. The working day can’t exceed eight hours per day or forty hours per week. A working night can’t exceed seven hours per shift or 35 hours per week. The same hour limits apply to a 'mixed' work week which combines night and day shifts (Article 173).

10) Work carried out in the home, by paid workers such as gardeners, cooks and babysitters, will be regulated by the new law (Articles 207-208).

11) The working day for workers from home is regulated by the law and workers must also enjoy two full days of rest as established in the law. They cannot be paid less than their counterparts who work in their employee’s shop or workplace and who carry out the same tasks. They should never be paid less than the minimum wage (Articles 209-217).

12) Agricultural workers will be entitled to paid holidays as defined in the law. Agricultural workers should work no more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day. They have the right to two days of rest per week. If the agricultural worker has personally cultivated a plot of land within the agricultural production unit, they will be entitled to stay there once the working relationship has ended. If they did not make use of that right, the employer will be obliged to pay the agricultural worker for the value of any produce which remains in the agricultural production unit and has been cultivated by the worker (Articles 229-238).

13) Young adults have the right to participate in the development of the nation. As the result, the state must provide for their education and inclusion into the social process of work as students, apprentices, interns, scholarship holders, and workers (Article 300).

14) Inventions, innovations and improvements are classed as products of the social process of labour, to satisfy the needs of the people through the just distribution of wealth...A worker will always maintain a moral right to their invention, which under no condition can be removed from them (Articles 320-329).

15) Employers are prohibited from soliciting medical reports or exams from female applicants to a job to determine whether they are pregnant or not (Article 332).

16) Maternity leave is granted for 6 weeks before and 20 weeks after giving birth, to be extended in case of illness, during which time the mother will receive full salary and benefits (Articles 333-338).

17) Workers have the right to be affiliated to trade unions without exception and free of discrimination. Trade union activity is also a right guaranteed by the state. Employers cannot fund trade unions, establish them, obstruct union activities or discriminate against workers based on their trade union affiliation. Employers have a legal obligation to put an end to anti-union activities within 72 hours of becoming aware of them. Failure to do so is punishable by law (Articles 353-430).

18) It defines a strike as a “collective suspension of work activity,” workers are allowed at the work place during a strike. Requirements for striking include: having presented the list of demands and that 120 hours have passed since presenting the list. Importantly, workers’ service time isn’t affected by strikes, and companies can’t hire workers or transfer workers from other places to carry out the work of the strikes (Articles 472-496).

19) An employer who doesn’t pay their worker on time, or enough, or in a prohibited place, will be fined a minimum of 30 to a maximum of 60 UT (tax units, that go on increasing with inflation, as of May 2012, 1 UT was worth 90 bolivars or US $21) (Article 523).

20) Certain cases warrant arrest (for 6-15 months) of an employer who refuses to obey an order to rehire a worker, violating the right to strike, obstructing the work of the administrative authorities, or illegally or unjustifiably closing a workplace (Article 523).

As we see from the above points, this law not only 'unleashed a battle of ideas' in Venezuela, but will further radicalise the working class. It also has the potential to become a weapon in the hands of all those who are fighting for the rights of the working class. How this battle will be waged and in which direction this battle will progress, depends on the strength of the working class and its political maturity.

It is these 'weapons of alternatives' which Venezuela supplies to the international working class movement that makes the ruling classes afraid. Tremble they may, but they cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
(This article is by R.Arun kumar as printed in "Peoples' Democracy" May 27, 2012 issue)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

01.05.2012---100th Birth Day of Com P.Sundaraiah (01.05.1913—19.05.1985), a great revolutionary leader and a great human being

Com P.Sundaraiah was one of the great leaders of the revolutionary movement of the working class and people in the world in 20th century. He was born on 01.05.1913 in Alaganipadu village in Nellore District in Andhra Pradesh. Though born in a landlord family, he opposed all forms of feudal oppression. Even at the age of 17 years, he organised the agricultural workers mostly belonging to the scheduled castes in his village against such feudal oppression and fought against the landlords who were his relatives. He participated in the struggle for independence and worked in Congress. Later he became a communist and leader of the working class and peasantry. He was given the responsibility of building the communist movement in South India and he was instrumental in converting Com EMS Namboodiripad, Com Krishna Pillai in Kerala from Congress Socialist Party to Communist Party. He lead the great armed struggle of the Telangana peasants against the oppressive rule of the Nizam. He was one of the top leaders who contributed in organising the Communist Party into a strong force. He was the first General Secretary of the CPI(M) from 1964 to 1975.

He was called as “Communist Gandhi” for his simplicity inspite of being a great leader. He donated his entire property for the Communist Party. He married Com Leela, but undergone family planning operation so that without children, he and his wife would completely dedicate their time for the cause of bringing revolutionary change in the society. When he worked as the Member of the Parliament, he attended the Parliament by going on a cycle. Throughout his life, he fought against all forms of feudal oppression including caste oppression and oppression of the women. He fought for the oppressed people, for social justice and for socialism.

He was always interested in reading books. But such reading, according to him, has to be linked with the cause for changing the society. When he died on 19.05.1985, more than 10 lakh people attended his last journey in Vijayawada. Since there was no other place available for accommodating so many people for the farewell meeting, the cremation and public meeting was held in the river bed of Krishna river at Vijayawada.

On the occasion of his 100th birth day on 01.05.2012, we are publishing this article written by Com B.V.Raghavulu, Secretary, CPI(M) Andhra Pradesh Committee.)

Revolutionary Zeal is His Greatness

B V Raghavulu

2012 marks the birth centenary year of Putchalapalli Sundarayya. With the passage of time, some people fade from public memory. But Sundarayya’s personality will keep shining forever without losing sheen.

Comrade Sundarayya is a great human being. I think his world outlook is even greater. Some people may not agree with this view. People, who miss the link between his personality and world outlook, talk only about his personality. It is not possible to understand his personality, overlooking his earnestness and zeal to change the society, to establish an egalitarian social system and the movements that he led to achieve these. Sundarayya’s personality evolved from his efforts to serve the people and for their development.

Simple living, honesty, sacrifice, principled life, determination, truthfulness, hardwork, self-confidence, discipline, courageousness and fearlessness – all these best qualities are imbibed in his personality. These still remain the ideals to be emulated by all those who yearn for an egalitarian society. When he believed in something to be right and good, he never confined himself to just it. Putting words into deeds was his greatness. Practicing and not just preaching was his way. That is why, the entire humanity pays him tributes. It is hence not surprising that the well-wishers and the followers commend him so much. Those who detest him in their hearts also praise him for his qualities. They portray Sundarayya’s personality as something super-humanly and sky-high, which cannot be achieved by ordinary human beings, and as such proclaim that they are beyond emulation.

Sundarayya is an embodiment of simplicity. At a younger age, his clothes were khaki shorts and coarse khaddar shirt and later on, khaddar shirt and loose pyjama. These remained his clothes life-long. He himself used to wash his clothes. He travelled on foot and by cycle. No matter how far is the distance, he used to travel on cycle, with ease. He used to undertake long distance journeys by train and that too, only by third class. One hold-all for wrapping all the things he needed and carrying it; no preferences for eating. He ate whatever was available, whatever was there with the people to feed him. He even ate gruel, rice with just chillies, or even sankati. Eating whatever was given to him, without wasting even a morsel, washing the plate himself, was his habit. These were normal activities and a routine for him. For taking rest, it didn’t matter if it was a hard floor, or an elevated surface or a cot with woven strings (charphai). Whatever facilities the people had for taking rest, he considered them to be his too.

With files tied to the carriage, arriving to the parliament on a cycle, parking the cycle in the stand, walking inside the House and taking his seat on time and with concentrated attention studying the papers and getting down to business – Sundarayya was unique to the parliament even in those days. When he was a member of the state legislature, he not only used to go to the Assembly on cycle, but he used to go to the chief minister’s house too on a  cycle and used to get his work done, which astonished everyone even in those days.

He used to carry his things all by himself. He never used to agree to any kind of help offered for carrying his luggage. He detested elaborate receptions at stations. He used to object asking why such things were organised wasting the work and time of comrades. In 1977, a summer training camp was organised for the Party cadre in Anakapalli. Many eminent leaders were the speakers in that camp. To welcome Comrade Sundarayya, many people including the students attending the camp and the organisers went to the railway station to receive him. Sundarayya severely objected to this. He argued with the organizers asking them whether the students were brought to the training camp to teach them politics, or to welcome the leaders? He did not move from the station till everybody left. Such incidents are innumerable. Those who are acquainted with him can recall many such instances.

There were many leaders who lived a simple lifestyle among the yesteryear leaders. The freedom struggle and the communist movement had influenced them to be simple. It became necessary to mingle with the lives of the common people to mobilize people against the British rule. They believed that only by mingling with the common people, could they enthuse them. That is the reason why Gandhi had given away his suit and shoes and wore the attire of a common man – the simple dhoti and a walking stick. In the same way, Sundarayya, who was born into a rich family and was in a position to live a luxurious life, gave up all of them and lived a simple life endearing himself to the common people. Even today, it is important for the leaders and cadre to mingle with the common people and follow their lifestyle, if they want to build peoples’ movements. Simplicity means to mould one’s life according to the lifestyle of common people. This not just a question of individual morality, but also is an effective means to mobilise people.

In the struggle for equality and for the protection of environment, simplicity becomes an effective weapon. This also becomes the basis for an alternative development model. Lavish lifestyle is a symbol for inequalities and dominance. It is a means employed by the rich classes to show their ‘greatness’, though it is not really needed for them.

  Ostentatious and pompous spending is a reflection of unhindered consumerism. The present system draws one into the whirlpool of the market, promoting spending and hoarding irrespective of one’s actual needs. As a result, our natural resources too are getting depleted and wasted, jeopardising the needs of our future generations. The forces that are fighting against inequalities, those advocating protection of our natural resources and environmental and ecological balance should train their guns at such ostentatious spending. Simple living should be made a way of life.

The sacrifices made by Sundarayya are well known. He used his share of the family property for the movement. He collected money from friends and relatives and spent it for the people. He chose not to have children because it might not be possible to pay enough attention to them, as he had decided to devote his entire life and time for the people’s movements. Once he decided to devote his entire life to serve the people, it was natural for him to consider the people themselves as his successors. In the history of our struggle for independence and the communist movement, we find several such people who have sacrificed their properties, those who did not marry because they thought that marriage and family would create hurdles to their activities. Such sacrificing attitude among the activists and cadres working in people’s movements is necessary even today.

But the trait of sacrifice is becoming rare among the politicians and political activists today. Selfishness is increasingly becoming the norm. Politics and business are getting intertwined. Business people are joining politics and utilising it to further enrich themselves. Politicians seek to convert their influence as a means to enhance their incomes. The more one excels in amassing wealth through such dubious and exploitative means, the more one is considered to be successful and flourishing. Honest people, people who do not make use of their political positions for increasing their wealth, are considered either incompetent or naive. Today’s dominant ideology treats honest people and people with a sacrificing attitude as in same, as people belonging to some other world. It is quite evident that such an ideology only helps to protect the present exploitative system.

The present society, dominated as it is by business interests, promotes and universalises selfishness. Hence, corruption, frauds, and illegitimate activities – all are hailed as tools for promoting business. People are totally engrossed in thinking about their own welfare, about their own well being without any consideration for their fellow human beings. They compete with and challenge one another; there is no place for values like mutual cooperation and assistance. A society based on mutual cooperation can alone be the real alternative to one based on business interests. Nurturing the sense of sacrifice is one way to achieve this. The attitudes of cooperation, support and compassion that generate from the sense of sacrifice also help in strengthening people’s movements.

Human existence itself involves change. The struggle of human beings along with their fellow human beings to change nature for their existence, is the driving force that enables society to advance. The efforts of leaders help in hastening this advance and in steering it in the desired direction. Sundarayya’s life is an example of such an effort. Opposing caste discrimination in his own village, taking initiative to form the agricultural workers’ union, wearing a khaddar cap in school, boycotting classes with the slogan ‘Simon Go Back’, his participation in the Salt Satyagraha, picketing the toddy shops, forming the workers’ protection committees, leading the heroic Telangana peasants’ armed struggle – Sundarayya did all these in an effort to remove inequalities in the society and lead it towards equality.

Sundarayya’s work teaches us that activities that provide relief to the people are as important in the revolutionary movement as people’s struggles. Ingrained in this is the thought that constructive activities too can be utilised as forms of struggle. Running an adult education centre for the poor in his own village, organising common partaking of food in his village challenging caste discrimination, learning first aid to provide medical help to the common people, encouraging his brother to start a ‘people’s hospital’, mobilising volunteers for and directly participating in the removal of sludge in the Bandar canal, getting rice sold at Re 1 per kilo to expose the failure of the government in controlling prices, mobilising the Party cadres and placing them in the forefront in the relief work when lakhs of people were affected by the severe cyclonic storm in Divi area – all these are not mere relief activities; these are also activities that raise the awareness of the people against the policies of the ruling classes; these are activities that mobilise the people. Sundarayya considered the attitude to belittle relief activities in as wrong in the revolutionary movement.

Sundarayya had an eternal thirst for knowledge. Reading books became a part of his life since his childhood. The habit of reading all the books that he could lay his hands on, the zeal to learn new things, spending hours at a stretch studying in libraries, collecting valuable books continued all through his life. There are several encyclopaedias, atlases, dictionaries and many rare books in the thousands of books that he had collected. That is why the Party considered starting a library as a true tribute to Sundarayya and established the Vignana Kendram in his name in Hyderabad.

Sundarayya believed that study should be for advancing the movement and struggles. Knowledge does not have much value if it is only for entertainment or just to pass time. Study should be meant to search the truth. The search for truth is to change society. It is with this understanding that Sundarayya utilised study and knowledge as tools for advancing the movement. He collected comprehensive information by conducting survey in the villages of Anantavaram and Kaja and wrote an authentic book on the land issue. He collected concrete information about the wages of agricultural workers and the cost of agricultural production from several villages in the state, made a concrete analysis of this information and presented it in the class for the agricultural workers,that was held in Kollipara In the sixtees. His book ‘Comprehensive Water Plan for Andhra Pradesh’ outlining concrete suggestions on proper and equitable utilisation of the water resources in the state, is valid even today. His book ‘People’s rule in Visalandhra’ incorporating the necessary plans for the all round development of the Telugu people in a united state had greatly enthused the movement for a united state in those days. His book on Telangana armed struggle summerised the experiences and lessons of the great peasant armed struggle against the notorious Nizam feudal rule in Hyderabad State. The ruling classes are afraid of the truth. Hence, any study that is meant for bringing out the truth will be useful as a weapon in the hands of all those thriving to change the society.

Sundarayya’s personality was evolved and grew within the people’s movements. It helped in the expansion and development of those movements. Even today, peoples’ movements need persons with such qualities. Such people are indeed born continuously from peoples’ movements. The qualities that would be seen in future human beings in a new society are born and will be visible in their germinal form in the present struggles against this exploitative society. Sundarayya is a colossal representative of such great qualities.