As part of the anti-people, anti-worker, anti-PSU policy of the Modi Government, each and every PSU, which had given yeomen service to the Nation and the people are either being closed or handed over to the corporates for a song or destroyed ruthlessly. Workers are being thrown to the streets. Even during the Covid period, while the people and the workers are in great financial distress, the corporates have increased their wealth. Govt is giving more and more support to the corporates while putting the people in great distress.
The case of BSNL is not different. BSNL was formed only to be privatised since a govt department can not be directly privatised. It was correctly stated that corporatisation is the first step towards privatisation. If the recognised federations like NFTE and FNTO had taken a strong stand along with the Unions in the Door Sanchar Sangharsh Samithi (National Action Committee) and continued the struggles against corporatisation, the position would have been different. With more than 3.5 lakh workers in a crucial sector continuing relentless struggles against corporatisation, government would have been compelled to drop it.
Of course there is not much use in going back to the past, but lessons have to be learnt from the past mistakes. That is what BSNLEU and the Joint Form of BSNL Unions did. Through continuous struggles with the full participation and support of the workers, they were able to defeat the decision of the government to sell the shares of BSNL as in the case of MTNL, imposing VRS twice in the 2000s, sharing of towers and optical fibres and so on.
The government took another route to weaken BSNL. Undue benefits were given to private companies, 4 G was not given to BSNL, all anti-BSNL steps were taken by the DOT with the BSNL management meekly implementing them. Salaries were not paid in time, management pressurised the workers to take VRS, contract workers were retrenched and wages not paid – all intended to weaken BSNL making it like a bonsai plant, cutting its roots one after another. Now its main strength, optical fibres and towers are going to be handed over to the private companies.
This is a crucial period. All odds are against BSNL and its workers – the anti-PSU policy of the government, the corporate lobby with its vast influence on the government even making the Prime Minister its ‘poster boy’ as pointed out out by a former Communications Minister in the Parliament today and also BJP’s brute majority in the Parliament, making it arrogant to pass any anti-people bill in the Parliament even without discussion.
But there is a ray of hope. Even this central government with its huge majority had to surrender before the year-old patient struggle of the kisans, the food-givers of the country. Prime Minister was compelled to apologise to them and cancel all the anti-kisan laws and agree to other fully justified demands. It made one to remember the 22 days strike of the P and T workers in 1946, before which the mighty British government was stunned and which had to concede all the 12 demands raised by the union. Of course that was part of the great Independence Struggle.
As far as BSNL is concerned it has to be revived and strengthened for the benefit of the Nation, the people and the workers. Telecom is the second line of defence. It is crucial for the growth of the country, especially the far flung villages, border areas, strategical centres etc. The workers have got the responsibility to go to the people and campaign for getting their active support explaining what would happen if telecom sector is completely handed over to the private companies.
The formation of the Co-ordination Committee of BSNLEU-AIBDPA-BSNLCCWF and its campaign programme and agitations are in the right direction. It has to be developed in to a forum of all the unions and associations of the workers, the pensioners and the contract workers and sustained struggles organised with the support of the people.
The two days strike on 23-24 February 2022 called by the Central Trade Unions and Independent Federations is in the right direction and it had to be made a full success. Such unity and struggles are required to save BSNL and revive it.