Agricultural workers constitute the most neglected class in the Indian rural structure. Their income is low and employment irregular. They are not organized because they are scatted across the country in 5.6 lakh villages1.

Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee defined agricultural labour as a person who, for more than half of the total number of days, worked as an agricultural labour. An agricultural labour may be the small or marginal farmer or an artisan, but when a person derives his main earning by doing some agricultural work on others farm is called an agricultural labour2.

 

Classification of Agricultural Labourers can be divided into four categories

1.Landless Labourers, who are attached to the land lords;

2. Landless labourers, who are personally independent, but who work exclusively for others;

3. Petty farmers with tiny bits of land who devote most of their time working for others

4. Farmers who have economic holdings but who have one or more of their children and dependants as share croppers /lease holders working for other prosperous farmers or absentee landlords.

 

APVVU is a federation of mandal level agriculture workers unions spread over in 14 districts of Andhra Pradesh. The genesis goes back1980’s where the agriculture is predominantly in the hands of dominant caste landlords directly involved in managing the farms engaging bonded labour / attached labour and casual agriculture workers. Some agricultural workers do engage in sharecropping in the lands of absentee landlords. The common phenomena prevailed in Andhra Pradesh was that no where agriculture workers paid minimum wages and no equal wages between men & women low share for share croppers - 1:3 ratio between sharecroppers and absentee landlords respectively while the Tenancy Act profess the reverse ie. 3:1 ratio between sharecroppers and the land owners.

Although, 58% of agricultural operations are contributed by female labour, their contribution to agrarian economy has not been recognized. In addition to the drudgery of domestic work fall in the hands of rural women as their bound duty in the family, they have to work freely in the landlords house before going to the field as agriculture workers. This amounts to almost 15 to 18 hours of work for women agriculture workers. Sexual abuse at work place by landlords is also common for women agriculture workers.

Dalits&Adivasis share 77% of the agricultural workers in Andhra Pradesh.Dalit agricultural workers not only face the economic exploitation but also caste discrimination in various forms Viz. no access to common property resources like water bodies, grazing lands, Dalits were not allow to walk with sandals in dominant caste villages, discrimination in rural tea shops & barber shops, prohibition of temple entries. Most of Dalits villages were under the control of dominant caste landlords who conduct village courts, imposed fine and confiscate small resources of Dalits whenever there is any collective voices against exploitation and suppression the landlords. Access to any government programs was distant reality and the village landlords decide who should get what schemes from government. The common strategy of landlords was to keep Dalits& Adivasis in total vulnerable situation - without pacca-houses, electricity, approach roads, burial grounds, and access to drinking water and so on. Any anger of landlords results in attacks and atrocities, rape dailt women, firing of huts and file false cases in the police stations. The agriculture workers are intimidated by landlords using their linkages to political parties and bureaucracy.

It is in this context, unionization of agricultural workers has been initiated in the year 1987 motivating the rural Dalits, Adivasis and backward communities in conscioutisation process of pedagogy approach - action–reflection–action learning process for release of bonded labour, orientation on Minimum & equal wages, forming the village level membership based associations, prepared for the demand/or negotiations for higher wages with the landlords. Though feudalism is end, the feudal cultures inherited by landlords did not appreciate the release of bonded labours and also asking for minimum wages. It was not surprised to note that APVVU leaders had to demand Tahsildars (block level revenue magistrate) to conduct enquiry and to record the statement from the bonded labour in a place where the bonded labour feel comfort. Most often,Tahsildars conduct enquiry in the landlord’s house, so that he is intimidated and do not give complaint against landlords. It was long way to convince bureaucracy by showing them Bonded Labour Abolition Act1976. In the process, it was realized that the economic issues cannot be resolved without addressing the social issues. Therefore, the membership associations are converted into mandal level unions and majority members being Dalits, the untouchablity practice issues has also become prime important concerns in the union.

 

Strategies adapted in building the union among the rural workers:

  • Trainings and capacity building for youth on leadership skills, training on progressive legislations and implementation strategies on Bonded Labour Abolition Act, Minimum Wages Act, Tenancy Act, Equal Remuneration Act and various land Reforms Laws & regulations. The leaders were also given training on criminal procedure code where they could able to catch up most needy issues that they want to learn and practice. The procedures of arrest, bail and non-bailable offenses, use of SC & ST (POA ) Act are quite useful not only to apply and also build confidence in the minds of Dalits&Adivasis that there are favorable laws which they have used appropriately. Most often, they are exposed to the areas where people have been motivated to use the legal spaces to assert their Rights. Face to face discussions with the people helped a lot to strengthen the collective actions against discriminations and also for economic issues.

  • Conducted foot marches and cycle rallies across the villages for 7 to 10 days at a stretch campaigning against untouchability practices, issue of Minimum wages, release of bonded labour. The reports are submitted on each of the foot marches with authentic data to the respective higher officials to seek their support in implementation of Act. Most often higher officials will cooperative while the local bureaucrats are not in favor due to the pressures from landed upper caste gentry. Report recommendations are followed up with officials for implementation , viz. removal of the practice of untouchabilityin public places at 28 villages are recommended in the first foot march organized from 5th to 12th September 1989. The district revenue officials along with the police involved and finally removed the practice in public places which has given lot of hope among the youth to engage for building the union. In another instance, youth are given responsibility to write on the walls of every village about the Wages according to Minimum wages Act. While organized work boycotts in the peak agriculture season lead to negotiations for higher wagesand individual farmer to farmer basis. APVVU has also simultaneously engaged at state level to demand the government for the revision of minimum wages once in three years as per the Act.Further, we were also conducted one crore signature campaign in the state of Andhra Pradesh and submitted the list to the then governor of Andhra Pradesh with the demand for Right to work and employment guarantee scheme. So the gross root level wage struggles are linked to national level campaigns for policy level changes. This kind of educational interventions by participating in the struggles led to build confidence among the workers and their collective interventions. Similarly, organized sharecroppers for the implementation of Tenancy Act which provides opportunity for sharecroppers and land owners will get 3: 1 ratio as respectively as against the practice 1:3. The journey of preparing for collective mass mobilizations has generated interest and also the workers are getting the fruits of the campaign.

  • Using law and mass mobilizations created sense of confidence in their collective actions which led to strengthening the membership based unionization from village level to state level federation.

  • Nonviolence and collective mass actions are the uncompromised strategies adopted to demonstrate the leadership building from gross roots and also democratic decision making process in the hands of members of the union. It was mere necessity to registered mandal level unions of agriculture workers to prove that we are accountable to the members and also work within the constitution to get out of the labeling of violent groups.

  • Successfully released bonded labour and rehabilitated not only with monitory benefits and also assign government land.

  • Promotion & strengthening of women leadership and also consciously build membership based proportionate caste and identity leadership. 56% members and leaders are women. Similarly, 65% Dalits leaderships, 15% of Adivasis leadership are developed in the union.

  • Networking and alliance with other mass organizations locally and also build linkages with national and wider level struggling organizations.

  • Policy level advocacy for new legislations joining hands with appropriate and likeminded platforms at national level – SC & ST POA Act, NREGA, Right To Information Act. Forest Rights Act, Unorganized Workers Social Security Act and Food Rights Act.

  • Organized mass actions against the anti-people policies, and displacement induce development projects viz – Coastal Zone Management (CZM) policy, Special Economic Zone (SEZ ) policy, Amendment to Assignment Land Transfer of Prohibition Act.

  • Develop leadership skills and knowledge on various existing favorable social legislations and also strategies to implementation. Using law as a tool along with mass actions build confidence in the collective actions and also get positive results.

  • Develop the skills of youth on writing petitions, write applications for common cause and also for individual schemes, skills on building pressures by non violence actions – signature campaigns, release of pamphlets exposing the facts,organize public demonstrations and rallies, conducting public meetings, other strategies like hunger strikes, conduct press meets and press releases, conduct fact finding in times of violation of Rights.

 

Achievements:

Building structure of union among the unorganized rural workers: Historically rural workers are not considered as workers but as beneficiaries. Therefore, the traditional unions also could not succeed to organize agriculture workers even though 60% of workers in the country are the agricultural workers. Therefore, organizing the rural poor as workers is not easy tasks. APVVU has 30 years of history in unionizing the agriculture workers and today it is the federation of 387 mandal level unions in 13 districts having the membership of 578500 rural workers. Although it is a trade union federation, it has grown as a social movement in Andhra Pradesh expanding its interventions fromagriculture workers unions to incorporate small & marginal farmers, fisher folk, forest workers, rural artisans, and shepherds.It has started as a class organizations but could not stay only on class lines because the majority of workers come from Dalits who face discrimination although the lives. Hence, it has grown as a union with the perspective of class, caste and gender perspective.

Union has 5 state secretaries to coordinate different thematic areas of struggles supported by national secretary and also 26 district secretaries (13 women secretaries). Each mandal level union is independent unit with its 7 members elected executive committee of which 3 office bearers. All the office bearers from mandal to state level have to be elected once in two years and one can get elected only for three terms. This way the union has developed a culture of collective leadership with decentralized decision making process- is the strength of the union.

Organized against bonded labour system:

One of the first interventions of APVVU is the release of bonded labour from agriculture and brick-kilns. So far, 18470 bonded labours are released and 80% of released bonded labour rehabilitated with package of government schemes and government land assignment with an average of 1.5 acre per head.

Organize for better wages & equal wages:

During the process of releasing the bonded labour developed good rapport in the villages of poor families (predominantly agricultural workers), build their confidence to collectively engage& network between the villages and decide what should be the wage of the season. Though, it was not easy for agriculture workers to stand before the landlords to ask for wages in the beginning, they are able to send the message of demanding wages by tom-tom in their respective villages. The angry landlords tried to engage the workers from nearby villages but failed all the workers in the mandal (block) collectively decide to increase the wage. The neighboring Even if the landlords offer higher wages for neighbors villages. They were instances where the landlords have decided to harvest the crops without engaging the workers in order to threaten the agriculture workers for losing the employment in the season but that did not work long. So, the culture of negotiating for higher wages in every season is practiced all through after 5 years of regular efforts in this process. Demanding equal wages for women as become much more difficult as male workers were misguided by the landlords that women will not listen to the men’s in the family once they earns equally. This has taken at least couple of years of time to convince men workers to ask for equal wages for men & women. Thanks to NREGS, which has given space for rural workers to demand for higher,& equal wages in agriculture.

Struggle for land Rights is the strength of union:

Conducted a study on the status of the implementation of land reforms in Andhra Pradesh involved extensively collecting empirical data from the government revenue records. First time it is exposed that 65% of the government lands are alienated to ineligible rich. The constrains faced to access to information on government land led to be part of campaign for Right to Information Act. Today, APVVU has been successfully using RTI to get access to data on land and also social welfare schemes of the government. Through the regular campaign for land 135670 families got 192830 acres of land. 70% of the lands are assigned in the names of landless women(70% dalit women) who are today engaged in MGNREGS to develop the distributed land and convert into bio-diversity based ecological agriculture to produce their own food grains.

MGNREGS is a tool to stop the migration and child labour:

While demanding regularly (every agriculture season) for higher and equal wages involved the national level campaign demanding for right to work – Two decades of campaign resulted in the form of MGNREGA where APVVU has been extensively involved in implementation to achieve maximum number of days in employment and also involved in successfully to get the minimum wages in NREGS in the entire country by PILfiled in High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Followed by the High Court verdict, the A.P. government subsequently increased the minimum wages from Rs.80/- to Rs.120/- and now Rs.141/-. The negotiations with the state government on regular basis led to mobilize the work even for 150 days employment for Dalits and Adivasis in Andhra Pradesh. APVVU has been involved extensively to conduct social audits and exposed the corruption in NREGS. 95% of distress migration is stopped in the areas of APVVU based villages as they are all making use of MGNREGS successfully. As the migrations stopped, all the children of migrant families are enrolled into the schools in all the areas of APVVU covered.

While implementing the MGNREGA in gross root level, it is realized that the funds allotted to panchayat works have not followed the rules of using 60: 40 ratio between workers wage components and the materials respective. A study analysis done by APVVU on the government website data along with field level verification it is revealed that 75% of funds for used for materials violating the NREGA Act. Therefore, APVVU filed a Public Interest Litigation Case which is still in the court forthe misuse of the funds by the government and the panchayats. APVVU, always tried to collaborate with the government for the proper implementation of MGNREGA and also any other social legislations but at the same time it also challenge to work with the government when it violet the basic rule.

Land Assigned to women is converted into production of food crops:

All the lands got through struggle are converting into cultivable using NREGS fundsto develop the land by clear the shrubs and bushes, developing water harvesting structures by making bunds around the land, digging trenches, farm ponds and improved the soil quality by applying tank silt. All these activities have been incorporated in MGNREGS where the assignees get employment and also develop the lands for cultivation. As most of the land is assigned to women, they are involved in cultivation food crops collectively developing and managing seed banks of native and drought resistance seeds. So, women agriculture workers are becoming new farmers.

First union struggle for Dalits dignity:

Generally unions in the country work only for economic Rights of workers and maintain distance in attending the social issues. APVVU has broken the tradition and involved in social dignity issues- released the bonded labour, campaign against discrimination and untouchability practice perpetuated against Dalits. APVVU has conducted a detailed survey in 3780 villages of 11 districts, Andhra Pradesh on the forms of discrimination practiced on Dalits. First time APVVU has exposed 58 forms of discriminations and the detailed village wise report are submitted to Justice Punnaiah commission which was appointed to look into the forms of discrimination. Subsequently the government of Andhra Pradesh has come out with a policy to address the issue on the same lines that we have demanded. APVVU has been using that space to campaign against the discrimination in temple entries and any other public places.

Rights of women agriculture workers:

In the process of organizing agriculture workers into unions, it was realized in the beginning itself that the women will not be allowed to talk in front of the men workers in the meeting. Therefore, women are organized as separate units within the union, so that women can gather separately in the villages and analyze their issues from women’s perspective. As usual it took long time for men to convince them to allow women for separate meetings even though women conduct the meetings. They got space to share the issues of violence with in the family and outside, in addition to the issues of unequal wages, landlessness. In the process, women membership is increased in the unions and their participation in public actions to demand basic needs has positive impact than men representing to the officials. This trend been used as an opportunity to convince men workers that women’s presence will bring benefits to the family. This way, women are allowed to participate in mandal level union meetings to take part in the decision making process in the union. In the process, the leadership capacity has been developed and they have consistently raised the issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse by landlords at work place, child labor, discriminative wages, minor girl child marriages, landlords attack onDalits&Dalits Women, social boycotts by landlords & breach the contract of sharecropping to confiscate the crops and burning huts to displaceDalits.

All the programs mobilized from government are assigned in the names of women workers. Gradually women workers own houses, agriculture lands, development programs as a result of their collective campaigns. Women ownership to resources has positive impact in the family where women take part in decision making process both in the family and in the village level. As they own the house, unlike earlier times men cannot say“get out of my house“ when their relationships are strained because women own the house. Women decide what crops to grow on the land .this has so much positive impact on the food intake in the family.

Anti arrack movement in 90’s is an opportunity to strengthen women’s leadership in the union:

This movement has up-raised the capacities and power of rural women in 90’s where APVVU women leaderships led the movement in spread over way. Almost twoyearpeak movement resulted in ban the arrack in the state created hope for women’s unity and power as they have challenged the most powerful liquor lobby in the state and also completely vote against the ruling government as they did not ban. The TDP, which was in opposition made use the situation by, impose ban on liquor soon after they come to power. This historical movement is a challenge to patriarchy and its practices. Rural men workers attitude towards women has slowly changed ever-since the anti arrack movement. The women collective response to the liquor lobby in the state has given signals to men in the community and in the family that they should change their attitude and many men addicted to alcohol has been tackle by women groups in the community.

Organize the agriculture workers for basic amenities:

It is not surprise to say that 100% agriculture workers fall under the below poverty line. Being the most vulnerable section in economic ladder in rural society they are the most neglected group in terms of the implementation of state welfare and development programs. It is in that context; agricultural workers are formed into unions at village level and put up the applications collectively to access to the government programs. One of the great successful interventions is submitted applications simultaneously in all the mandalsfor village electrification. 35% of 614 villages applied for electricity got sanction as a result of regular follow up with the concern authorities. The first attempt success develops confidence among the rural workers that they don’t need the support of landlords to access to the government schemes. Similar successful efforts for drinking water, mobilizing PDS cards, old age and widow pensions, maternity benefits has given them the knowledge of where to go and approach for what. In the process of applying for various schemes, they have been oriented to feel that they are workers contributing to the economy without getting access to the government resources. So, they have realized that demanding state resources as their Right to get their share in the national economy. In the process, all the government welfare and development programsmobilized in the names of women because women stand first in all public actions and also negotiate with the government authorities. Women developed skills of protest, organizing public rallies, preparing the petitions, representing the higher officials when the lower rank did not respond positively, sitting for hunger strikes for long pending issues, addressing to the media has been developed as a mere necessity. One of the major issues addressed across the state is mobilizing the housing program from the government. As the landlords always intimidate the workers by firing huts it is decided across the state that the workers should get pacca housing program. As a result, villages after villages mobilized government housing programs to get out of the huts. Beyond the individual issues, agricultural workers have been collectively representing for schools, Anganwadi centers, monitoring the functioning of mid day meal schemes and enrollment of the children to schools have become regular activity.

Girl’s education, child marriages, infanticides:

In most of the agriculture workers families, the girl children used to be the baby sitters at the cost of foregoing the childhood and access to education. They assist the parents in cooking and to maintain the house. In migration all the children use to accompany parents and also assist them in work to contribute the family income. Ever since the union membership is started enrolling, it has been made propaganda that the workers should get employment and children should go to school. It has become mandatory for every agriculture worker to send the children to school to get the membership in the union. As they have tasted the results of collective interventions as union, they do not want to be isolated without being member. Hence, every parent become member of the union started sending the children in the school. It is in that process they have recognized the importance of the schools, demanded for schools and facilities access to the village. When the teacher is not regular to come to the school, the village union committee will monitor the work and give complaint to the higher authorities to take necessary action. However, it has taken long time for agri. Workers to send their children to school on regular basis even when they are in distress migration.

The girl children areconsidering as a burden in the family because of the fear of sexual abuse in the villages and also at work place. Therefore, marriage of minor (below 18 years) girls among the agriculture workers is common. Further, the dowry which was not an issue earlier has become major melody even among the rural labour/ Dalits families. Therefore, investing for girls on education is always considered as waste. APVVU has taken a drive against the girl child marriages motivating the parents to understand the problems around the early marriages are more dangerous than what they perceive the problems as unmarried girls. The women vigilance committees are promoted within the union at mandal and district level to monitor the violence against women and girl child marriages. These committee members are well trained to work as emergency rescue team to address the violence against women by visiting the victims giving counseling and moral support, encourage village level women workers to take control over the situation, prepare fact finding reports and launch complained against the accused. This way, the women violence issues have been properly monitored in the union base villages.

However, when pending problems are addressed, the new issues have been sprung up. Presently, APVVU is engaged a campaign against female feticides in the villages as this has become major issue in Chittoor district. APVVU has conducted a survey of girls and boys ratio in the villages and realized that there are only 80 girls for every 100 boys in the villages from 0 to 5 years. The reveling fact that the fear of dowry for girls at the time of marriage, the parents are testing the sex of the feit in the scanning centers and if it is female, it is good income for the scanning center as they conduct abortions. APVVU has initiated a campaign joining hands with other likeminded organizations at state level, motivating the parents not to go for sex determination test and also gave complaint to the respective district collectors to stop the illegal / unlicensed scanning centers.

 

Challenges:

  • Agriculture workers being unorganized nature without having permanent employer and employee relationship is not so easy to organize. They are scattered and volatile nature of employment, majority of them are poorest of the poor work to earn hand to mouth existence. Unlike traditional trade unionism , they are identified more as caste background than class and quite often it is difficult to come out of the traditional caste systems and also patriarchal practices.

  • Agriculture workers being majority work force in India do not have comprehensive legislations which can implementable for payment of minimum wages, social security and regulation of working conditions.Although comprehensive agriculture workers welfare Bill has been tried to enter into the parliament gates for about 4 times between 1974 to 2003 but failed as majority of the parliamentarians do not have political will to support the agricultural workers cause. On the other hand, the ranks of agriculture workers is swelling year by year despite of agriculture is in crisis and it's share in GDP is fall down from 26% to 14% from 1994 to 2013.

  • Crisis in agriculture, urbanizationand state land grab policies in favor of corporations to convert agricultural lands for non agriculture purposes affecting the rural communities at large and it is a challenge for agriculture workers to survive in rural area without having any other skills.

  • Expansion of industrial growth in agricultural fields, multi-lateral institutions development induce displacement projects have been coming up in big way where the coastal regions forest and agriculture fields are getting so polluted that affect the health of the workers. In addition, modern agricultural practices inviting lot of health hazards and accidents for agriculture workers and more so on women agriculture workers as they involve in using the toxic pesticides, weedicides and chemical fertilizers.

  • Membership fees of Agriculture workers is only nominal (Rs.50/- per year) to keep the values of unionization and unite together but the issues are mounting from multi directions which needs resources externally. In the context of economic crisis generating resources other than membership is not easy task.

  • Unions being a political, retain the leadership as against the manipulationsof politicalparties is a challenge. Elections and political parties always divide the workers. This hamper the unionization process as APVVU do not take side with any party in elections.

  • The state has not been considered agriculture workers as workers but as beneficiaries. As a result of 67 years of internalizing beneficiary concept, did not have adequate space for agriculture workers to feel that they are workers and they have Rights as workers. On the other hand there is hardly any favorable legislation which are implemented to safeguard the interest of agriculture workers. For instance, Minimum Wages Act has come into force in 1948 so far no where agriculture workers are able to use the Act to claim their minimum wages. As the Act do not have any implementing mechanism. If the agriculture workers are getting fair wages in place means it is because of the collective struggles, not because of the implementation of Law. Therefore, unionizing them is also is a challenge.

  • Government has become insensitive to respond to the problems of agriculture workers, any nonviolence struggles are undermined. As a result, there is every chance for youth to join the criminal political goondhs it is a challenge for the unions like APVVU to retain such youth.

Lessons learnt:

  • Unionizing agriculture workers and retain the membership in sustained manner is possible when they are engaged in the struggles for their immediate needs and crucial issues.

  • Organizing agriculture workers addressing the issues of class (economic issues –wages & employment, land & resource Rights) caste (subaltern communities predominantly being agriculture workers the issues of caste discrimination and social dignity is also equally important). and gender(women being dominant work force in agriculture, the issue of unequal wages, violence in the family and at work) perspective will strengthen the union and its political agenda to address the issues of agricultural workers comprehensively.

  • Agriculture workers being scattered and unorganized, the union can only sustain when they are run by local leadership within the limited geographical location (block/ mandal )of administrative division for better bargaining power with the administration and also ensure the accountability of leadershipto the union membership. These unions can only be meaningful and powerful when they develop collective leadership in decentralized democratic decision making process. In order to have its visibility at wider level and also draws solidarity ,the unions can federate at state level. This will gives space for unity in diversity and respect for bottom up approach of functions. For instance, wage struggles have been launched based on the agro-climatic conditions which defers from coastal & water belt regions to dry & backward regions. Similarly, struggle for land is only possible when the rain starts in dry region, whereas in water belt areastype of crops decides the season. However, some common agenda’s have been in state level to build the unity, such as demanding for wage revision for once in 3 years. As a whole, the agriculture workers unions will sustain when the workers are engaged in the struggles for contextually relevant and such actions should also delivered results to benefit the workers.

  • Leadership sharing proportionate to membership of women, caste and identities play important role in the union’s growth. This also should reflect in resource sharing giving priority to the most vulnerable groups within the union.

  • Organizing agriculture workers as an independent union without being associating with political party but a political has advantages to maintain the independence and also decision making powers always lay within the union. On the other hand, party linked agriculture workers unions have to compromise occasionally for the party decisions as against the interest of the members. For instance, when APVVU has been leading the anti arrack movement in association with other likeminded agriculture workers unions of left parties in Andhra , the unions of party affiliated always have to get permission to demand for total prohibition as they have to see how party interest have to been incorporated. Therefore, they have demanded prohibition of government liquor shops. The independent unions are also in disadvantage situation to represent their issues in the legislative bodies like political party affiliated unions because no party can own the struggles. Most often party affiliated unions do not consider APVVU as a trade union (even though it is registered trade union) mainly because APVVU will work not only on the class issue and also give equal importance to social and gender issues and it is our strength because it is majority of the members concerned issues.

  • Local unions can only be meaningful when they understand the link between to local issues and the wider political & economic changes and its impact in the economy. Their local actions should be able to design to incorporate the local concerns are also in response to national and global impacts. So, the localization is an important element in strengthening the ideology, perception of the issues ,root causes and the responses can be influenced from all these angles.

  • Most of the local struggles can be successful as long as they draw the strength of constitutional Rights and also link up to the human Rights dimension.

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  • Non violence and using Law in appropriate way of addressing the issues is the best tool for the success. There are vested interests in the society always try to encourage for short cut methods and instigate towards the violence which always ends up with the total failure.

  • Alliance building with the likeminded organizations at national level has also been contributed to a large extent to success in APVVU initiated local struggles.

APVVU has been affiliated to NCL as one of the apex body of unorganized workers in India consistently working on building the unity among various unorganized workers unions and organizations in the country. Similarly, APVVU has also been affiliated to National Alliance of People’s Movement as this body is able to bundle the voices of most marginalized and displaced people against the injustice. APVVU in association with these organizations has mutual benefits of showing solidarity, learning from the experiences. APVVU is able to take up consistently on implementation of land reforms and land distribution which has become also serious issue in NAPM. Similarly, APVVU is influenced very much by NAPM members like NBA to take up issues of displacement on the construction of dams. We have learned from the experiences of NBA to work on thedisplacement issue of Maddu Valasa dam, Polovaram, displacement due to Krishnampatnam port expansion and Jerrikona dam. We are also influenced forest and Adivasis Rights influenced by CSD (Campaign for Survival and Dignity platform). While APVVU is local union and also become national by joining with likeminded national bodies by National Fish Workers Forum in the issues of fish workers. Similarly, on. Similarly, APVVU is one of the unions to build Coalition of Agriculture Workers International-CAWI, Asian Peasants Coalition-APC and People’s Coalition of Food Sovereignty-PCFS. Being member of our World is Not for Sale and also in alliance with other mentioned international organizations,APVVU isinstrumental to build the movement of peasantry in India against WTO – led to derail in Hon Kong ministerial meeting.

Way forward:

  • Agrarian reforms from the perspective of peasants are the way to protect the agriculture in the hands of agriculture communities (farmers/ cultivators/ small & marginal farmers, sharecroppers, agricultural workers and rural artisans). In other words, the onslaught of corporate sector grabbing the agriculture lands for non agriculture purposes need to be monitored / and reserve the agricultural land and extent support for biodiversity based agriculture. APVVU will continued to engage in campaign for genuine agrarian reform ( including land reforms) joining hands with national level likeminded mass organizations and platforms. The experience advocates that the land already assigned in the names of landless women agriculture workers has been taking up biodiversity based ecological agriculture producing food for the family as primary concern -is quite encouraging and this will be continued. So that the land will not be easily alienated and

  • After the advent of green revolution introduced in 60”s onwards, agriculture has become most hazardous sector in the world. Therefore, ILO has brought out 184 conventions in the year 2001 raising concerns onsafety & health of agriculture workers. In India, 620 millions of population still depends on agriculture need to give legislative production for the workers in the lines of ILO 184. APVVU is very much concerns to take forward the campaign at nationally.

  • After decade long campaign, the government of India has given a toothless social security Act for unorganized workers in the year 2008 but so far no sign for implementation in any of the states in India. APVVU will continue to strengthen the campaign both in state level and also at national level in collaboration with the national level platforms and alliance bodies.

  • National living wage policy is an important long pending policy campaign. It is to safeguard the basic Right to decent living of agriculture workers very much in need in the country. Therefore, APVVU will continue to engage along with other organization.

  • 5th schedule of Indian constitution is to guaranteespecial Rights of schedule Tribes (Adivasis).Government of India has declared 5th scheduled areasin 107 mandals of 9 districts covering 5948 villages where Adivasis are predominantly living in the forest belts of Andhra Pradesh. 25 years after declaring 5th schedule, the A.P cabinet ministry has passed the resolution on 10-03-1976 to incorporate 805 uncovered Adivasis villages within the scheduled area. Of course, it has taken again 37 long years between state & central governments to respond on this issue after APVVU has initiated campaign for the expansion of 5th schedule. In response to our representation, NAC chairperson issued a letter on 26th March to the Tribal welfare Minister to pursued the matter urgently and the MinisterKishore Chandra Dev has send a letter to state government in July 2013 to submit fresh list of villages.

APVVU will continue the campaign for the reasons: (1). There are many Adivasis villages within the 5th schedule which are not covered in the 805 list prepared in the year 1976. So, the campaign is to demand for thorough enquiry in the entire state of Andhra Pradesh to prepare the new list. (2) There are Adivasis dominated forest areas in Andhra Pradesh which are not yet incorporated in the 5th scheduled area. For instance, Nallamala forest belt dominated by Chenchu tribes and Talakona forest belt dominated by Yerukala tribes have not been covered in the 5th schedule which is to be incorporated. (3). There areTribal migrated to plains long time back and settled down. Their Rights over the resources and properties need to be protected applying the same principles of 5th schedule. For instance, the government of India has come out with a law “ A.P. land Transfer Regulation Act” which is popularly known as 1 / 70 Act which ensures indigenous people’s Rights over the properties which canno

Agricultural workers constitute the most neglected class in the Indian rural structure. Their income is low and employment irregular. They are not organized because they are scatted across the country in 5.6 lakh villages1.

 

Agricultural Labour Enquiry Committee defined agricultural labour as a person who, for more than half of the total number of days, worked as an agricultural labour. An agricultural labour may be the small or marginal farmer or an artisan, but when a person derives his main earning by doing some agricultural work on others farm is called an agricultural labour2.

 

 

 

Classification of Agricultural Labourers can be divided into four categories

 

1.Landless Labourers, who are attached to the land lords;

 

2. Landless labourers, who are personally independent, but who work exclusively for others;

 

3. Petty farmers with tiny bits of land who devote most of their time working for others

 

4. Farmers who have economic holdings but who have one or more of their children and dependants as share croppers /lease holders working for other prosperous farmers or absentee landlords.

 

 

 

Background& issues:

 

APVVU is a federation of mandal level agriculture workers unions spread over in 14 districts of Andhra Pradesh. The genesis goes back1980’s where the agriculture is predominantly in the hands of dominant caste landlords directly involved in managing the farms engaging bonded labour / attached labour and casual agriculture workers. Some agricultural workers do engage in sharecropping in the lands of absentee landlords. The common phenomena prevailed in Andhra Pradesh was that no where agriculture workers paid minimum wages and no equal wages between men & women low share for share croppers - 1:3 ratio between sharecroppers and absentee landlords respectively while the Tenancy Act profess the reverse ie. 3:1 ratio between sharecroppers and the land owners.

 

Although, 58% of agricultural operations are contributed by female labour, their contribution to agrarian economy has not been recognized. In addition to the drudgery of domestic work fall in the hands of rural women as their bound duty in the family, they have to work freely in the landlords house before going to the field as agriculture workers. This amounts to almost 15 to 18 hours of work for women agriculture workers. Sexual abuse at work place by landlords is also common for women agriculture workers.

 

Dalits&Adivasis share 77% of the agricultural workers in Andhra Pradesh.Dalit agricultural workers not only face the economic exploitation but also caste discrimination in various forms Viz. no access to common property resources like water bodies, grazing lands, Dalits were not allow to walk with sandals in dominant caste villages, discrimination in rural tea shops & barber shops, prohibition of temple entries. Most of Dalits villages were under the control of dominant caste landlords who conduct village courts, imposed fine and confiscate small resources of Dalits whenever there is any collective voices against exploitation and suppression the landlords. Access to any government programs was distant reality and the village landlords decide who should get what schemes from government. The common strategy of landlords was to keep Dalits& Adivasis in total vulnerable situation - without pacca-houses, electricity, approach roads, burial grounds, and access to drinking water and so on. Any anger of landlords results in attacks and atrocities, rape dailt women, firing of huts and file false cases in the police stations. The agriculture workers are intimidated by landlords using their linkages to political parties and bureaucracy.

 

It is in this context, unionization of agricultural workers has been initiated in the year 1987 motivating the rural Dalits, Adivasis and backward communities in conscioutisation process of pedagogy approach - action–reflection–action learning process for release of bonded labour, orientation on Minimum & equal wages, forming the village level membership based associations, prepared for the demand/or negotiations for higher wages with the landlords. Though feudalism is end, the feudal cultures inherited by landlords did not appreciate the release of bonded labours and also asking for minimum wages. It was not surprised to note that APVVU leaders had to demand Tahsildars (block level revenue magistrate) to conduct enquiry and to record the statement from the bonded labour in a place where the bonded labour feel comfort. Most often,Tahsildars conduct enquiry in the landlord’s house, so that he is intimidated and do not give complaint against landlords. It was long way to convince bureaucracy by showing them Bonded Labour Abolition Act1976. In the process, it was realized that the economic issues cannot be resolved without addressing the social issues. Therefore, the membership associations are converted into mandal level unions and majority members being Dalits, the untouchablity practice issues has also become prime important concerns in the union.

 

 

 

Strategies adapted in building the union among the rural workers:

 

  • Trainings and capacity building for youth on leadership skills, training on progressive legislations and implementation strategies on Bonded Labour Abolition Act, Minimum Wages Act, Tenancy Act, Equal Remuneration Act and various land Reforms Laws & regulations. The leaders were also given training on criminal procedure code where they could able to catch up most needy issues that they want to learn and practice. The procedures of arrest, bail and non-bailable offenses, use of SC & ST (POA ) Act are quite useful not only to apply and also build confidence in the minds of Dalits&Adivasis that there are favorable laws which they have used appropriately. Most often, they are exposed to the areas where people have been motivated to use the legal spaces to assert their Rights. Face to face discussions with the people helped a lot to strengthen the collective actions against discriminations and also for economic issues.

  • Conducted foot marches and cycle rallies across the villages for 7 to 10 days at a stretch campaigning against untouchability practices, issue of Minimum wages, release of bonded labour. The reports are submitted on each of the foot marches with authentic data to the respective higher officials to seek their support in implementation of Act. Most often higher officials will cooperative while the local bureaucrats are not in favor due to the pressures from landed upper caste gentry. Report recommendations are followed up with officials for implementation , viz. removal of the practice of untouchabilityin public places at 28 villages are recommended in the first foot march organized from 5th to 12th September 1989. The district revenue officials along with the police involved and finally removed the practice in public places which has given lot of hope among the youth to engage for building the union. In another instance, youth are given responsibility to write on the walls of every village about the Wages according to Minimum wages Act. While organized work boycotts in the peak agriculture season lead to negotiations for higher wagesand individual farmer to farmer basis. APVVU has also simultaneously engaged at state level to demand the government for the revision of minimum wages once in three years as per the Act.Further, we were also conducted one crore signature campaign in the state of Andhra Pradesh and submitted the list to the then governor of Andhra Pradesh with the demand for Right to work and employment guarantee scheme. So the gross root level wage struggles are linked to national level campaigns for policy level changes. This kind of educational interventions by participating in the struggles led to build confidence among the workers and their collective interventions. Similarly, organized sharecroppers for the implementation of Tenancy Act which provides opportunity for sharecroppers and land owners will get 3: 1 ratio as respectively as against the practice 1:3. The journey of preparing for collective mass mobilizations has generated interest and also the workers are getting the fruits of the campaign.

  • Using law and mass mobilizations created sense of confidence in their collective actions which led to strengthening the membership based unionization from village level to state level federation.

  • Nonviolence and collective mass actions are the uncompromised strategies adopted to demonstrate the leadership building from gross roots and also democratic decision making process in the hands of members of the union. It was mere necessity to registered mandal level unions of agriculture workers to prove that we are accountable to the members and also work within the constitution to get out of the labeling of violent groups.

  • Successfully released bonded labour and rehabilitated not only with monitory benefits and also assign government land.

  • Promotion & strengthening of women leadership and also consciously build membership based proportionate caste and identity leadership. 56% members and leaders are women. Similarly, 65% Dalits leaderships, 15% of Adivasis leadership are developed in the union.

  • Networking and alliance with other mass organizations locally and also build linkages with national and wider level struggling organizations.

  • Policy level advocacy for new legislations joining hands with appropriate and likeminded platforms at national level – SC & ST POA Act, NREGA, Right To Information Act. Forest Rights Act, Unorganized Workers Social Security Act and Food Rights Act.

  • Organized mass actions against the anti-people policies, and displacement induce development projects viz – Coastal Zone Management (CZM) policy, Special Economic Zone (SEZ ) policy, Amendment to Assignment Land Transfer of Prohibition Act.

  • Develop leadership skills and knowledge on various existing favorable social legislations and also strategies to implementation. Using law as a tool along with mass actions build confidence in the collective actions and also get positive results.

  • Develop the skills of youth on writing petitions, write applications for common cause and also for individual schemes, skills on building pressures by non violence actions – signature campaigns, release of pamphlets exposing the facts,organize public demonstrations and rallies, conducting public meetings, other strategies like hunger strikes, conduct press meets and press releases, conduct fact finding in times of violation of Rights.

 

 

 

Achievements:

 

Building structure of union among the unorganized rural workers: Historically rural workers are not considered as workers but as beneficiaries. Therefore, the traditional unions also could not succeed to organize agriculture workers even though 60% of workers in the country are the agricultural workers. Therefore, organizing the rural poor as workers is not easy tasks. APVVU has 30 years of history in unionizing the agriculture workers and today it is the federation of 387 mandal level unions in 13 districts having the membership of 578500 rural workers. Although it is a trade union federation, it has grown as a social movement in Andhra Pradesh expanding its interventions fromagriculture workers unions to incorporate small & marginal farmers, fisher folk, forest workers, rural artisans, and shepherds.It has started as a class organizations but could not stay only on class lines because the majority of workers come from Dalits who face discrimination although the lives. Hence, it has grown as a union with the perspective of class, caste and gender perspective.

 

Union has 5 state secretaries to coordinate different thematic areas of struggles supported by national secretary and also 26 district secretaries (13 women secretaries). Each mandal level union is independent unit with its 7 members elected executive committee of which 3 office bearers. All the office bearers from mandal to state level have to be elected once in two years and one can get elected only for three terms. This way the union has developed a culture of collective leadership with decentralized decision making process- is the strength of the union.

 

Organized against bonded labour system:

 

One of the first interventions of APVVU is the release of bonded labour from agriculture and brick-kilns. So far, 18470 bonded labours are released and 80% of released bonded labour rehabilitated with package of government schemes and government land assignment with an average of 1.5 acre per head.

 

Organize for better wages & equal wages:

 

During the process of releasing the bonded labour developed good rapport in the villages of poor families (predominantly agricultural workers), build their confidence to collectively engage& network between the villages and decide what should be the wage of the season. Though, it was not easy for agriculture workers to stand before the landlords to ask for wages in the beginning, they are able to send the message of demanding wages by tom-tom in their respective villages. The angry landlords tried to engage the workers from nearby villages but failed all the workers in the mandal (block) collectively decide to increase the wage. The neighboring Even if the landlords offer higher wages for neighbors villages. They were instances where the landlords have decided to harvest the crops without engaging the workers in order to threaten the agriculture workers for losing the employment in the season but that did not work long. So, the culture of negotiating for higher wages in every season is practiced all through after 5 years of regular efforts in this process. Demanding equal wages for women as become much more difficult as male workers were misguided by the landlords that women will not listen to the men’s in the family once they earns equally. This has taken at least couple of years of time to convince men workers to ask for equal wages for men & women. Thanks to NREGS, which has given space for rural workers to demand for higher,& equal wages in agriculture.

 

Struggle for land Rights is the strength of union:

 

Conducted a study on the status of the implementation of land reforms in Andhra Pradesh involved extensively collecting empirical data from the government revenue records. First time it is exposed that 65% of the government lands are alienated to ineligible rich. The constrains faced to access to information on government land led to be part of campaign for Right to Information Act. Today, APVVU has been successfully using RTI to get access to data on land and also social welfare schemes of the government. Through the regular campaign for land 135670 families got 192830 acres of land. 70% of the lands are assigned in the names of landless women(70% dalit women) who are today engaged in MGNREGS to develop the distributed land and convert into bio-diversity based ecological agriculture to produce their own food grains.

 

MGNREGS is a tool to stop the migration and child labour:

 

While demanding regularly (every agriculture season) for higher and equal wages involved the national level campaign demanding for right to work – Two decades of campaign resulted in the form of MGNREGA where APVVU has been extensively involved in implementation to achieve maximum number of days in employment and also involved in successfully to get the minimum wages in NREGS in the entire country by PILfiled in High Court of Andhra Pradesh. Followed by the High Court verdict, the A.P. government subsequently increased the minimum wages from Rs.80/- to Rs.120/- and now Rs.141/-. The negotiations with the state government on regular basis led to mobilize the work even for 150 days employment for Dalits and Adivasis in Andhra Pradesh. APVVU has been involved extensively to conduct social audits and exposed the corruption in NREGS. 95% of distress migration is stopped in the areas of APVVU based villages as they are all making use of MGNREGS successfully. As the migrations stopped, all the children of migrant families are enrolled into the schools in all the areas of APVVU covered.

 

While implementing the MGNREGA in gross root level, it is realized that the funds allotted to panchayat works have not followed the rules of using 60: 40 ratio between workers wage components and the materials respective. A study analysis done by APVVU on the government website data along with field level verification it is revealed that 75% of funds for used for materials violating the NREGA Act. Therefore, APVVU filed a Public Interest Litigation Case which is still in the court forthe misuse of the funds by the government and the panchayats. APVVU, always tried to collaborate with the government for the proper implementation of MGNREGA and also any other social legislations but at the same time it also challenge to work with the government when it violet the basic rule.

 

Land Assigned to women is converted into production of food crops:

 

All the lands got through struggle are converting into cultivable using NREGS fundsto develop the land by clear the shrubs and bushes, developing water harvesting structures by making bunds around the land, digging trenches, farm ponds and improved the soil quality by applying tank silt. All these activities have been incorporated in MGNREGS where the assignees get employment and also develop the lands for cultivation. As most of the land is assigned to women, they are involved in cultivation food crops collectively developing and managing seed banks of native and drought resistance seeds. So, women agriculture workers are becoming new farmers.

 

First union struggle for Dalits dignity:

 

Generally unions in the country work only for economic Rights of workers and maintain distance in attending the social issues. APVVU has broken the tradition and involved in social dignity issues- released the bonded labour, campaign against discrimination and untouchability practice perpetuated against Dalits. APVVU has conducted a detailed survey in 3780 villages of 11 districts, Andhra Pradesh on the forms of discrimination practiced on Dalits. First time APVVU has exposed 58 forms of discriminations and the detailed village wise report are submitted to Justice Punnaiah commission which was appointed to look into the forms of discrimination. Subsequently the government of Andhra Pradesh has come out with a policy to address the issue on the same lines that we have demanded. APVVU has been using that space to campaign against the discrimination in temple entries and any other public places.

 

Rights of women agriculture workers:

 

In the process of organizing agriculture workers into unions, it was realized in the beginning itself that the women will not be allowed to talk in front of the men workers in the meeting. Therefore, women are organized as separate units within the union, so that women can gather separately in the villages and analyze their issues from women’s perspective. As usual it took long time for men to convince them to allow women for separate meetings even though women conduct the meetings. They got space to share the issues of violence with in the family and outside, in addition to the issues of unequal wages, landlessness. In the process, women membership is increased in the unions and their participation in public actions to demand basic needs has positive impact than men representing to the officials. This trend been used as an opportunity to convince men workers that women’s presence will bring benefits to the family. This way, women are allowed to participate in mandal level union meetings to take part in the decision making process in the union. In the process, the leadership capacity has been developed and they have consistently raised the issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse by landlords at work place, child labor, discriminative wages, minor girl child marriages, landlords attack onDalits&Dalits Women, social boycotts by landlords & breach the contract of sharecropping to confiscate the crops and burning huts to displaceDalits.

 

All the programs mobilized from government are assigned in the names of women workers. Gradually women workers own houses, agriculture lands, development programs as a result of their collective campaigns. Women ownership to resources has positive impact in the family where women take part in decision making process both in the family and in the village level. As they own the house, unlike earlier times men cannot say“get out of my house“ when their relationships are strained because women own the house. Women decide what crops to grow on the land .this has so much positive impact on the food intake in the family.

 

Anti arrack movement in 90’s is an opportunity to strengthen women’s leadership in the union:

 

This movement has up-raised the capacities and power of rural women in 90’s where APVVU women leaderships led the movement in spread over way. Almost twoyearpeak movement resulted in ban the arrack in the state created hope for women’s unity and power as they have challenged the most powerful liquor lobby in the state and also completely vote against the ruling government as they did not ban. The TDP, which was in opposition made use the situation by, impose ban on liquor soon after they come to power. This historical movement is a challenge to patriarchy and its practices. Rural men workers attitude towards women has slowly changed ever-since the anti arrack movement. The women collective response to the liquor lobby in the state has given signals to men in the community and in the family that they should change their attitude and many men addicted to alcohol has been tackle by women groups in the community.

 

Organize the agriculture workers for basic amenities:

 

It is not surprise to say that 100% agriculture workers fall under the below poverty line. Being the most vulnerable section in economic ladder in rural society they are the most neglected group in terms of the implementation of state welfare and development programs. It is in that context; agricultural workers are formed into unions at village level and put up the applications collectively to access to the government programs. One of the great successful interventions is submitted applications simultaneously in all the mandalsfor village electrification. 35% of 614 villages applied for electricity got sanction as a result of regular follow up with the concern authorities. The first attempt success develops confidence among the rural workers that they don’t need the support of landlords to access to the government schemes. Similar successful efforts for drinking water, mobilizing PDS cards, old age and widow pensions, maternity benefits has given them the knowledge of where to go and approach for what. In the process of applying for various schemes, they have been oriented to feel that they are workers contributing to the economy without getting access to the government resources. So, they have realized that demanding state resources as their Right to get their share in the national economy. In the process, all the government welfare and development programsmobilized in the names of women because women stand first in all public actions and also negotiate with the government authorities. Women developed skills of protest, organizing public rallies, preparing the petitions, representing the higher officials when the lower rank did not respond positively, sitting for hunger strikes for long pending issues, addressing to the media has been developed as a mere necessity. One of the major issues addressed across the state is mobilizing the housing program from the government. As the landlords always intimidate the workers by firing huts it is decided across the state that the workers should get pacca housing program. As a result, villages after villages mobilized government housing programs to get out of the huts. Beyond the individual issues, agricultural workers have been collectively representing for schools, Anganwadi centers, monitoring the functioning of mid day meal schemes and enrollment of the children to schools have become regular activity.

 

Girl’s education, child marriages, infanticides:

 

In most of the agriculture workers families, the girl children used to be the baby sitters at the cost of foregoing the childhood and access to education. They assist the parents in cooking and to maintain the house. In migration all the children use to accompany parents and also assist them in work to contribute the family income. Ever since the union membership is started enrolling, it has been made propaganda that the workers should get employment and children should go to school. It has become mandatory for every agriculture worker to send the children to school to get the membership in the union. As they have tasted the results of collective interventions as union, they do not want to be isolated without being member. Hence, every parent become member of the union started sending the children in the school. It is in that process they have recognized the importance of the schools, demanded for schools and facilities access to the village. When the teacher is not regular to come to the school, the village union committee will monitor the work and give complaint to the higher authorities to take necessary action. However, it has taken long time for agri. Workers to send their children to school on regular basis even when they are in distress migration.

 

The girl children areconsidering as a burden in the family because of the fear of sexual abuse in the villages and also at work place. Therefore, marriage of minor (below 18 years) girls among the agriculture workers is common. Further, the dowry which was not an issue earlier has become major melody even among the rural labour/ Dalits families. Therefore, investing for girls on education is always considered as waste. APVVU has taken a drive against the girl child marriages motivating the parents to understand the problems around the early marriages are more dangerous than what they perceive the problems as unmarried girls. The women vigilance committees are promoted within the union at mandal and district level to monitor the violence against women and girl child marriages. These committee members are well trained to work as emergency rescue team to address the violence against women by visiting the victims giving counseling and moral support, encourage village level women workers to take control over the situation, prepare fact finding reports and launch complained against the accused. This way, the women violence issues have been properly monitored in the union base villages.

 

However, when pending problems are addressed, the new issues have been sprung up. Presently, APVVU is engaged a campaign against female feticides in the villages as this has become major issue in Chittoor district. APVVU has conducted a survey of girls and boys ratio in the villages and realized that there are only 80 girls for every 100 boys in the villages from 0 to 5 years. The reveling fact that the fear of dowry for girls at the time of marriage, the parents are testing the sex of the feit in the scanning centers and if it is female, it is good income for the scanning center as they conduct abortions. APVVU has initiated a campaign joining hands with other likeminded organizations at state level, motivating the parents not to go for sex determination test and also gave complaint to the respective district collectors to stop the illegal / unlicensed scanning centers.

 

 

 

Challenges:

 

  • Agriculture workers being unorganized nature without having permanent employer and employee relationship is not so easy to organize. They are scattered and volatile nature of employment, majority of them are poorest of the poor work to earn hand to mouth existence. Unlike traditional trade unionism , they are identified more as caste background than class and quite often it is difficult to come out of the traditional caste systems and also patriarchal practices.

  • Agriculture workers being majority work force in India do not have comprehensive legislations which can implementable for payment of minimum wages, social security and regulation of working conditions.Although comprehensive agriculture workers welfare Bill has been tried to enter into the parliament gates for about 4 times between 1974 to 2003 but failed as majority of the parliamentarians do not have political will to support the agricultural workers cause. On the other hand, the ranks of agriculture workers is swelling year by year despite of agriculture is in crisis and it's share in GDP is fall down from 26% to 14% from 1994 to 2013.

  • Crisis in agriculture, urbanizationand state land grab policies in favor of corporations to convert agricultural lands for non agriculture purposes affecting the rural communities at large and it is a challenge for agriculture workers to survive in rural area without having any other skills.

  • Expansion of industrial growth in agricultural fields, multi-lateral institutions development induce displacement projects have been coming up in big way where the coastal regions forest and agriculture fields are getting so polluted that affect the health of the workers. In addition, modern agricultural practices inviting lot of health hazards and accidents for agriculture workers and more so on women agriculture workers as they involve in using the toxic pesticides, weedicides and chemical fertilizers.

  • Membership fees of Agriculture workers is only nominal (Rs.50/- per year) to keep the values of unionization and unite together but the issues are mounting from multi directions which needs resources externally. In the context of economic crisis generating resources other than membership is not easy task.

  • Unions being a political, retain the leadership as against the manipulationsof politicalparties is a challenge. Elections and political parties always divide the workers. This hamper the unionization process as APVVU do not take side with any party in elections.

  • The state has not been considered agriculture workers as workers but as beneficiaries. As a result of 67 years of internalizing beneficiary concept, did not have adequate space for agriculture workers to feel that they are workers and they have Rights as workers. On the other hand there is hardly any favorable legislation which are implemented to safeguard the interest of agriculture workers. For instance, Minimum Wages Act has come into force in 1948 so far no where agriculture workers are able to use the Act to claim their minimum wages. As the Act do not have any implementing mechanism. If the agriculture workers are getting fair wages in place means it is because of the collective struggles, not because of the implementation of Law. Therefore, unionizing them is also is a challenge.

  • Government has become insensitive to respond to the problems of agriculture workers, any nonviolence struggles are undermined. As a result, there is every chance for youth to join the criminal political goondhs it is a challenge for the unions like APVVU to retain such youth.

 

Lessons learnt:

 

  • Unionizing agriculture workers and retain the membership in sustained manner is possible when they are engaged in the struggles for their immediate needs and crucial issues.

  • Organizing agriculture workers addressing the issues of class (economic issues –wages & employment, land & resource Rights) caste (subaltern communities predominantly being agriculture workers the issues of caste discrimination and social dignity is also equally important). and gender(women being dominant work force in agriculture, the issue of unequal wages, violence in the family and at work) perspective will strengthen the union and its political agenda to address the issues of agricultural workers comprehensively.

  • Agriculture workers being scattered and unorganized, the union can only sustain when they are run by local leadership within the limited geographical location (block/ mandal )of administrative division for better bargaining power with the administration and also ensure the accountability of leadershipto the union membership. These unions can only be meaningful and powerful when they develop collective leadership in decentralized democratic decision making process. In order to have its visibility at wider level and also draws solidarity ,the unions can federate at state level. This will gives space for unity in diversity and respect for bottom up approach of functions. For instance, wage struggles have been launched based on the agro-climatic conditions which defers from coastal & water belt regions to dry & backward regions. Similarly, struggle for land is only possible when the rain starts in dry region, whereas in water belt areastype of crops decides the season. However, some common agenda’s have been in state level to build the unity, such as demanding for wage revision for once in 3 years. As a whole, the agriculture workers unions will sustain when the workers are engaged in the struggles for contextually relevant and such actions should also delivered results to benefit the workers.

  • Leadership sharing proportionate to membership of women, caste and identities play important role in the union’s growth. This also should reflect in resource sharing giving priority to the most vulnerable groups within the union.

  • Organizing agriculture workers as an independent union without being associating with political party but a political has advantages to maintain the independence and also decision making powers always lay within the union. On the other hand, party linked agriculture workers unions have to compromise occasionally for the party decisions as against the interest of the members. For instance, when APVVU has been leading the anti arrack movement in association with other likeminded agriculture workers unions of left parties in Andhra , the unions of party affiliated always have to get permission to demand for total prohibition as they have to see how party interest have to been incorporated. Therefore, they have demanded prohibition of government liquor shops. The independent unions are also in disadvantage situation to represent their issues in the legislative bodies like political party affiliated unions because no party can own the struggles. Most often party affiliated unions do not consider APVVU as a trade union (even though it is registered trade union) mainly because APVVU will work not only on the class issue and also give equal importance to social and gender issues and it is our strength because it is majority of the members concerned issues.

  • Local unions can only be meaningful when they understand the link between to local issues and the wider political & economic changes and its impact in the economy. Their local actions should be able to design to incorporate the local concerns are also in response to national and global impacts. So, the localization is an important element in strengthening the ideology, perception of the issues ,root causes and the responses can be influenced from all these angles.

  • Most of the local struggles can be successful as long as they draw the strength of constitutional Rights and also link up to the human Rights dimension.

  •  
  • Non violence and using Law in appropriate way of addressing the issues is the best tool for the success. There are vested interests in the society always try to encourage for short cut methods and instigate towards the violence which always ends up with the total failure.

  • Alliance building with the likeminded organizations at national level has also been contributed to a large extent to success in APVVU initiated local struggles.

 

APVVU has been affiliated to NCL as one of the apex body of unorganized workers in India consistently working on building the unity among various unorganized workers unions and organizations in the country. Similarly, APVVU has also been affiliated to National Alliance of People’s Movement as this body is able to bundle the voices of most marginalized and displaced people against the injustice. APVVU in association with these organizations has mutual benefits of showing solidarity, learning from the experiences. APVVU is able to take up consistently on implementation of land reforms and land distribution which has become also serious issue in NAPM. Similarly, APVVU is influenced very much by NAPM members like NBA to take up issues of displacement on the construction of dams. We have learned from the experiences of NBA to work on thedisplacement issue of Maddu Valasa dam, Polovaram, displacement due to Krishnampatnam port expansion and Jerrikona dam. We are also influenced forest and Adivasis Rights influenced by CSD (Campaign for Survival and Dignity platform). While APVVU is local union and also become national by joining with likeminded national bodies by National Fish Workers Forum in the issues of fish workers. Similarly, on. Similarly, APVVU is one of the unions to build Coalition of Agriculture Workers International-CAWI, Asian Peasants Coalition-APC and People’s Coalition of Food Sovereignty-PCFS. Being member of our World is Not for Sale and also in alliance with other mentioned international organizations,APVVU isinstrumental to build the movement of peasantry in India against WTO – led to derail in Hon Kong ministerial meeting.

 

Way forward:

 

  • Agrarian reforms from the perspective of peasants are the way to protect the agriculture in the hands of agriculture communities (farmers/ cultivators/ small & marginal farmers, sharecroppers, agricultural workers and rural artisans). In other words, the onslaught of corporate sector grabbing the agriculture lands for non agriculture purposes need to be monitored / and reserve the agricultural land and extent support for biodiversity based agriculture. APVVU will continued to engage in campaign for genuine agrarian reform ( including land reforms) joining hands with national level likeminded mass organizations and platforms. The experience advocates that the land already assigned in the names of landless women agriculture workers has been taking up biodiversity based ecological agriculture producing food for the family as primary concern -is quite encouraging and this will be continued. So that the land will not be easily alienated and

  • After the advent of green revolution introduced in 60”s onwards, agriculture has become most hazardous sector in the world. Therefore, ILO has brought out 184 conventions in the year 2001 raising concerns onsafety & health of agriculture workers. In India, 620 millions of population still depends on agriculture need to give legislative production for the workers in the lines of ILO 184. APVVU is very much concerns to take forward the campaign at nationally.

  • After decade long campaign, the government of India has given a toothless social security Act for unorganized workers in the year 2008 but so far no sign for implementation in any of the states in India. APVVU will continue to strengthen the campaign both in state level and also at national level in collaboration with the national level platforms and alliance bodies.

  • National living wage policy is an important long pending policy campaign. It is to safeguard the basic Right to decent living of agriculture workers very much in need in the country. Therefore, APVVU will continue to engage along with other organization.

  • 5th schedule of Indian constitution is to guaranteespecial Rights of schedule Tribes (Adivasis).Government of India has declared 5th scheduled areasin 107 mandals of 9 districts covering 5948 villages where Adivasis are predominantly living in the forest belts of Andhra Pradesh. 25 years after declaring 5th schedule, the A.P cabinet ministry has passed the resolution on 10-03-1976 to incorporate 805 uncovered Adivasis villages within the scheduled area. Of course, it has taken again 37 long years between state & central governments to respond on this issue after APVVU has initiated campaign for the expansion of 5th schedule. In response to our representation, NAC chairperson issued a letter on 26th March to the Tribal welfare Minister to pursued the matter urgently and the MinisterKishore Chandra Dev has send a letter to state government in July 2013 to submit fresh list of villages.

 

APVVU will continue the campaign for the reasons: (1). There are many Adivasis villages within the 5th schedule which are not covered in the 805 list prepared in the year 1976. So, the campaign is to demand for thorough enquiry in the entire state of Andhra Pradesh to prepare the new list. (2) There are Adivasis dominated forest areas in Andhra Pradesh which are not yet incorporated in the 5th scheduled area. For instance, Nallamala forest belt dominated by Chenchu tribes and Talakona forest belt dominated by Yerukala tribes have not been covered in the 5th schedule which is to be incorporated. (3). There areTribal migrated to plains long time back and settled down. Their Rights over the resources and properties need to be protected applying the same principles of 5th schedule. For instance, the government of India has come out with a law “ A.P. land Transfer Regulation Act” which is popularly known as 1 / 70 Act which ensures indigenous people’s Rights over the properties which cannot be alienated to non- tribal.

Adivasis in APVVU working mandals has already filed 68300 applications for the claims under Forest Right Act. So for in 4 years only 35% of the claims are attended and the remaining 65% is still pending for process. Therefore, campaign for implementation of FR Act is one of our main concerns.

APVVU strength is that the recognisation of Identities and their concerns. So the principle of Unity in Diversity will bring more and more Rural informal workers together as part of Federation but they will continue to keep their identities with in the union to share and influence each others concerns and thereby draw support. The agricultural workers are considered as Dalits, as Adivasis , as Fisher people , as shepherds and new class of workers as NREGA workers. Women and Children as the cross cutting issues.

Prepared by .P Chennaiah

Secretary – National Coordination

Andhra Pradesh Vuyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU

22-1096 , SBI Colony

Chittoor 517001 AP ;India

Phone:+91 85 72 22 85 92

Mobile: +91 94402 74143

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1 “ Agricultural Labor in India A close Look” by Dr. Kulamani Phadi

2 Agricultural labor booklet No:501 ;Agriculture and Social Justice: ASJS-2