I had an opportunity to interview Comrade Baburam Gautam, Vice-President of the All-Nepal Trade Union Federation (Revolutionary) – ANTUF(R) – yesterday and these are some notes from my interview that I can share with you regarding the situation here (I will transcribe the full interview when I get back to Canada). I had started our conversation by asking about the relative strength of the UCPN(Maoist) in the city, especially as numerous people have argued that the Maoists are weak in Kathmandu. Com. Baburam explained that this perception is actually inaccurate as in the 2008 elections, the Maoists were able to win 7 out of 15 seats, whereas the traditionally strong Nepali Congress was only able to win 6 seats, and the other small “communist” parties were able to to win a paltry 2 seats. This is despite the fact, he told me, that many of the workers who have been working and living in Kathmandu were forced to return to their villages to vote. He said that in every village and in every urban neighborhood there is a Maoist mass organization.
He told me that the ANTUF(R) has an incredibly strong base amongst the lowest working classes of Nepali society. The ANTUF(R) currently has 1 million members, 200,000 of whom are in Kathmandu alone, which are organized into 32 sectoral unions. The largest of these sectoral unions is the industrial worker sector with 50,000 members (the district-level leader of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union told me that out of 70,000 workers in the sector 30,000-35,000 workers were unionized by the Maoists, and in the tourism sector 5000 out of 25,000 workers had been unionized into the Maoist sectoral trade union). It is important to note that these 32 sectoral trade unions do not include professional trades (doctors, lawyers, teachers etc) and public sector workers, who have their own respective mass organizations. He admitted that they were weaker in those sections of society as the position of the professional trades and public sector workers isrelatively better than that of other workers, although he did stress that they were trying to merge those sections of society, but was serving to be difficult. The Maoists are in the process of trying to develop support amongst the professional classes and the public sector workers and were in the process of developing the appropriate slogans for them.
I asked him what he felt was the role of the union movement in the revolution, to which he immediately responded that they are the main weapon of the revolution. I then asked about him about the fact that in my discussions with many workers in the trade unions that I had met, that they seemed content to have simply a larger share of the pie , rather than actually capture the means of prodution i.e trade union consciousness (although one hotel clerk very confidently, in the lobby of the hotel he worked in, said that if the boss was no longer there that it would be of no concern as he and the rest of the workers could run the union, as that is what they already do and the boss just sits in his office). He stated that the duty of the unions was to improve the lives of the workers and that is why they are with the Maoist party, and see it as a pro-worker Party (a common refrain that I heard repeatedly from Union members), but that could not be the end goal in itself, there needed to be a capture of power. He said that since the Union is so large, with thousands of units (what we refer to as locals) it was difficult to do the appropriate education and raise worker consciousness, especially in specific units. This was a problem that they recognized needed to be overcome and they were in process of doing that education through regular meetings and of course political action (a unit leader told me that they held monthly mass meetings in which they discussed the political situation, grievances etc. The district-level treasurer of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union told me that elections are held every 2 years, he had been elected for the second time, and could be recalled at any mass meeting if enough workers voted for it). However, he stated that this indeed was a contradiction that had yet to be resolved and would take time, it could not be done over night. As he reminded me it is easy to talk and there is no danger in doing so, but doing work is dangerous and takes time.