The Indian trade union movement has lost one of its most honourable leaders. The death of comrade Gurudas Dasgupta marks the end of an era; an era of non-compromising and powerful negotiators who transformed the concept of collective bargaining and workers’ unity amidst ideological differences.
He was a tough negotiator, a powerful leader and an amazing organiser. He was a compelling platform orator with a strong ability to articulate critical issues that affect the common man, earning respect and affection in the global trade union spectrum. He was a walking encyclopaedia on the global trade union movement, ILO Conventions and international agreements on workers’ rights.
For me, and many other fellow labour activists across the world, he was a source of support, advice and pragmatic suggestions. I fondly remember an occasion when his timely intervention helped me convince senior bureaucrats take an inclusive policy decision favouring millions of women workers in the unorganised sector.
It was in 2009. I, representing my trade union, was attending an expert committee meeting of the Planning Commission with the mandate to propose a detailed skill development strategy for the young workforce. But the discussion focussed only on the formal sector. When I raised the issue, senior bureaucrats did not take it seriously, considering the practical difficulties. I felt it as an insult to the entire working class in the informal sector who form 90 per cent of the total workforce. Dasgupta, then representing AITUC, and M.K. Pandhe of CITU and other senior trade unions leaders also participated in the meeting. During the tea break, I approached Dasgupta and requested him to intervene. He smiled and agreed immediately. The next session literally witnessed his strong oratory skills. With solid evidence, he criticised the approach towards workers in the informal sector and demanded an inclusive and participatory policy process that can better represent the majority of the working class. The committee membe
rs were spellbound. After completing his speech, amidst wide applause, the comrade looked at me and smiled. I smiled back; a smile direct from my heart. The agenda was changed immediately. Alternatives were discussed to develop professional skills among agricultural workers, artisans and construction workers. Then, I was allowed to speak without interruption.
Yes, he was a communist in every sense of the term. A rare, unparalleled leader with a remarkable strike record within and outside Parliament. One can cherish his memory only with respect and affection. On the broader issues that affect the working class, he always defended the workers’ cause irrespective of their ideological positions and trade union affiliations. That is why he is remembered fondly as a warm, genuine and immensely committed leader by all those worked along with him.
For us, he is always relevant as a leader who offered space for alternative voices and narratives. He offered a trade union culture based on dialogue, consensus and mutual respect. In spite of the setback to trade unionism in the era of globalisation, he always believed in the infinite possibilities of the working-class unity and the power of their collective consciousness.
(The writer is a labour researcher based in Ahmedabad)...