New Delhi, November 14: The All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) held its first Conference from 8-11 November 1982. For many years, agricultural labour organizations had existed in different states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Tripura, as well as at the district level in Tamil Nadu, UP, MP and Bihar but an all India organization did not exist. Also, agricultural labourers had shown their capacity for militant actions in the peasant upsurge of 1981-82, so it was felt that the effort at organizing them independently was called for to strengthen the Kisan movement by organizing the most exploited and downtrodden, the landless peasants and the rural proletariat, under their own banner as their demands and social standing in the village was crying out for it.
This was a significant development as not only was there increasing differentiation within the peasantry with a large section of small-holders being dispossessed by the ongoing inroads of capitalism in the agrarian sector, but also with the emergence of capitalist farmers among the peasantry. The emergence of an exploiting class and the exploited among the peasants required the addressing of the wage issue and those of working conditions apart from the issues of land to the tiller and caste and gender oppression in a manner different from before.
The issue of exploitation with the peasantry obviously called for an independent organization of agricultural labour. This approach was outlined at a meeting held in Vijayawada on 12 and 13 October 1980 where a statement of policy was adopted on the basis of which an all-India agricultural labour organization was to be started.
The most important thing the statement recognized was that "The agricultural workers constitute the most important part of the agrarian movement in the country. They form a link between the urban working class and peasantry. They are the worst exploited socially, economically and politically. A big chunk of them come from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes who still continue to be the victims of social oppression at the hands of the caste-Hindu vested interests."
The significance of this step for the democratic movement cannot be overstressed. It took up the task of an organization of the most exploited and oppressed, not by splitting the peasant movement, but by taking into account the changing composition of the peasantry and ensuring its thrust towards agrarian change with a joint movement directed towards changing the correlation of class forces in rural India. First, the numbers of rural landless have grown by leaps and bounds over the decades, from 4.74 crores in 1971 to 10.74 crores in 2001. Now, another decade is nearly over, so the figure can well be 15 crores. Secondly, of the 24 crore people living on Rs.10 or less per day, the majority are agricultural labourers. Their days of work have come down from 123 in the eighties to 100 in the nineties and less than 70 today. Clearly, earning a wage of Rs.40 to Rs.45 per day, with the public distribution system in a shambles and the price of foodgrains rising at over 10% at each count, they must organize or die. Thirdly given the fragmentary nature of the caste system, with caste divisions being no less divisive among dalits and backward castes than between the twice born and untouchables, a class-based approach that unifies all those facing marginalization, unemployment and starvation is a necessity. And the All India Agricultural workers Union was the answer to that. This is all the more necessary when we look at the fate of the draft legislation on agricultural labourers that has been in existence since 1980 and is yet to be passed, the continued downscaling of the funds for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the failure to implement schemes for scheduled castes and tribes effectively. Even the Forest Rights Act has been prevented from being implemented with inordinate delays in framing the rules, while thousands of evictions have continued to take place. It is evident that the class interests of the ruling class have to be confronted by those of the working people to ensure a better life.
Indeed, it is no accident that some of the most creative minds of the Left movement in the country supported the formation of the Union. The names of Com. P. Sundarayya, Dasrath Deb, HKS. Surjeet, P.K. Kunjachan and L.B. Gangadhar Rao are linked with its formation and development. Indeed, the development of the organization from a membership of only 7,90,420 from 8 states in 1981-82 to 17,59,565 in 1991-92 and no less than 42,33,470 in 12 states in 2007-08 is proof of how it fulfils the needs of the poorest and most oppressed. Clearly a powerful all India movement can develop to take up issues that are fundamental to change in our country's direction of progress. Issues like the proper implementation of minimum wages and sufficient days of work in rural areas, a public distribution system that functions for all, a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural labour and the strict implementation of the principle of land to the tiller and a powerful class-based movement to end caste oppression led by those who face it daily, like agricultural labour, must all come to the forefront if we are to ensure that the fruits of development reach everyone equally to make a difference to their lives. And only a powerful agricultural workers' organization can ensure this.
To carry forward this message, the AIAWU has decided to observe the twenty fifth anniversary of the union with all-India jathas that will start from Amritsar in Punjab and Erode in Tamil Nadu, on 15 November, and from Varanasi in U.P, on November 17, to conclude in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, on 2nd December, with a massive rally. The jatha from Erode will be led by A. Vijayaraghavan(MP), General Secretary and P. Ramayya, President , the jatha from Amritsar will be led by Suneet Chopra, Joint Secretary and that from Varanasi by Hannan Mollah(MP) and Sarangdhar Paswan, Joint Secretaries. Vice Presidents, Kumar Shiralkar and Bhanulal Saha, as well as leaders of different states like C.T. Krishnan, B. Raghavan, Vasudev Jamsher, Ram Kumar, Brij Lal Bharti, Prakash Choudhury, Nityanand Swami, S. Thirunavakkarassu, G. Veeraiyan, G. Mani, B. Venkat, Sisir Hui, Dinesh Kumar and others will accompany the jathas in different states and address them. This is the first time a country-wide initiative has been undertaken to raise the voice of the voiceless and end the silence their lives and needs have been condemned to so far. The time is ripe to take this step now before the country goes to elections. The demands of the poorest and most oppressed cannot be swept under the carpet. They must and will be heard.