By Arpan, Chennai
On October 14, hundreds of delegates of different constituent unions of the Electricity Employees Federation of India (EEFI) gathered at Kerala Samajam Chennai to attend what they named the First National Convention of Power Sector Working Women.
It was hosted by the Tamilnadu-based Central Organisation of Tamilnadu Electricity Employees Union (COTEE in short).
According to leaders EEFI is a national-level federation of electricity employee unions in which mostly CITU-affiliated unions and a few independent trade unions are part. COTEE has a co-ordination committee of working women in which the current convener is Comrade Vijayalakshmi.
In the 9th conference of EEFI held at Chandigarh from 13-15 October 2022, it was decided that a women’s sub-committee shall be formed. In accordance with that on 24 November 2022, the first working committee meeting (WCM) was held in Delhi and it was decided to comply with the decisions taken by the 9th conference.
On 5th February 2023 the second working committee meeting of EEFI was held in Amaravati, Maharashtra. In this, the working women subcommittee of EEFI was formed with Comrade Deepa K Ranjan as convener, all women WC members as committee members, and the President and General Secretary as ex-officio members of the committee. On July 21-22, 2023 the third WCM was held in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. In this very meeting, it was decided that the first convention of Working Women in the Power Sector will be held in Chennai on October 14, 2023.
Points of Discussions
The convention discussed the various specific problems faced by women workers in the electricity sector and how those are connected to more generic issues faced by all women whether they are formally employed or not. It also situated these problems in the context of nationwide assault by the union government and the corporates on the workers’ rights.
It also tried to unravel the big picture: how the assault on the working class struggle is ultimately linked with the anti-people national trend of corporatization and privatization of key public sectors like electricity. They further situated this in the international context of the imperialist aggression of the US and its Western allies on the countries of the global south like India and how privatization is a policy that benefits the imperialist countries at the expense of the inhuman exploitation of workers and the broader masses of the global south.
They discussed how women workers in society face oppression and exploitation both as a worker and as women. Due to the centuries-old patriarchal structure of society, the fraction of women in the total labour force is very low, and even when women get employed they are compelled to work in harsher conditions than men. Issues related to the gendered wage gap, unpaid domestic labour of women, gender-specific issues of workplace safety, and particular difficulties in the unionization of women workers were raised.
It was raised how the unholy Nexus of the BJP-RSS ruling regime with the corporates is reversing the progress made by the women workers through decades of struggle. Women, religious minorities, and Dalits are facing attacks from the ruling regime with a Manuvadi mindset. It was also stressed why it is important to understand the oppression of women through a class perspective.
The concluding speech of this convention was given by Comrade Sindhu, national general secretary of CITU. Comrade Sindhu summarized the various issues and presented a class perspective on the working women question. Comrade Kareem from Kerala also gave a speech, which echoed similar points.
Union representatives from various states of the country including West Bengal, Haryana, Puducherry, and Tamilnadu spoke at the convention. Participants in the convention belonged to permanent as well as contractual workers. From West Bengal, the representatives of the contract workers union named Paschim Banga Rajya Bidyut Shilpa Sahayak Karmi Union were present.
There was a self-critical reflection on the progress made in the field of struggle. Struggle against the privatization of electricity boards was mentioned. It was acknowledged that the resilience of working women helped to reach the struggles to newer heights. It was mentioned that due to decades of struggle working women’s participation in the protests has hugely increased. Militant anti-privatization protests of the Puducherry electricity board workers and women being at the forefront of this struggle were mentioned.
In terms of intra-organisation struggle successes regarding the women’s representation both as ordinary members of the union as well as bringing them to the leadership level were celebrated. However, criticisms were made that the rate at which women’s participation as ordinary members has increased, the rate of increase of women at the leadership level is slower.
The formation of women sub-committees at each level of the committees in the organization was praised. The Internal Complain Committee (ICC) structure existing in the organization for dealing with the sexual harassment case was mentioned. On the other hand, it was acknowledged that since the members of the organization come from an existing patriarchal society, various backward patriarchal ideas and anti-women biases still persist. It was decided to resolutely fight against them.
Charter of Demands and Resolutions
Also, resolutions were taken about solidarity with the people of Palestine in the wake of Israel’s war on Palestine, against the installation of smart meters, etc.
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