George Gomez has been a Trotskyist since 1948. He recently attended the Asian Social Forum at Hyderabad and spoke to Joseph Choonara about his life.
I was born in 1927 in the state of Tamil Nadu. I come from a Roman Catholic family in a fishing community. I was born and brought up among fishing workers. My parents were socialists and progressive. Through them I got interested in the problems of the people and started looking for solutions. After I had finished studying I had to go to Sri Lanka to find work. My father had died and I was the only member of my family earning money. I wanted to get involved in progressive groups in Sri Lanka, and I contacted Indian socialists to get magazines. I organised an Indian student group and a socialist youth league in Sri Lanka, through which I distributed the magazines I received.
Most of the socialist groups in India had driven out the revolutionaries and were reformist parties. At the same time, I could not agree with the Stalinist Communist parties. Their role in the Second World War, when they supported the British rulers of India, betrayed the freedom struggle. I was very confused about which party to identify with. While in Sri Lanka, I made contact with the Bolshevik Leninist Party of India [a Trotskyist organisation] and became a member.
Socialist groups played a very active role in the freedom struggle [against British rule]. The Indian National Congress under Nehru and Gandhi was a bourgeois nationalist party. Socialist groups had to work with them while fighting against them. The movement in August 1946 was led by socialist groups with workers playing a key role. The navy supported our struggle--they came out of their ships and marched through the streets of Bombay. A very big movement was developing. We all thought that if the right leadership was there events in India in 1946 could have been like those in Russia in 1917 under Lenin and Trotsky. The August struggles could have turned into a socialist revolution if they were led by workers, instead of being led by the Indian National Congress.
The Muslim League and the forerunners of the BJP [the Hindu chauvinist party currently in power in India] wanted the partition of India. These people were not involved in the freedom struggle. In my opinion these people were with the British. After the mutiny and the end of the Second World War, the British decided that they could not keep hold of India. The Indian National Congress agreed to the partition of India in order to get power.
When I left Sri Lanka I went to Bombay and became a dock worker. I was very active in the dock workers' union. As today, there are many problems in the countryside--such as starvation and unemployment--and people go to the cities to get jobs. Most of the dock workers were casual contractors. Conditions of employment would fluctuate, so we wanted a centralised scheme ensuring work. Dock workers were involved in many struggles. We thought it was necessary to create a federation of dock workers--we travelled through many port areas and organised the first national meeting in Delhi in 1952.
Bombay workers got the best wages--we were often on strike--and we got a dock labour scheme. In 1958 we went on strike over the establishment of an all-India wage level. Gradually all of the ports were brought into the dock labour scheme. We also fought to make clerical staff part of the scheme which was only achieved in 1981.
If you want to resist globalisation you need a strong workers' movement. Today only 7 percent of workers are organised in India. Today I am organising construction workers on a national basis. We have branches in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. We recently decided to call a mass demonstration outside the Indian parliament. Construction workers need education allowances for their children, compensation for death or injury, and a pension scheme. We are also working with unorganised workers such as salt workers and fishing workers. You have to organise rank and file workers and put demands. According to Marx, trade unions are not just for services--they should stand up against oppression.
I came into the Trotskyist movement in 1948. Today I am still part of that movement. If not today, the younger generation will have to make the revolution.