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January 11, 2019

The strike is on


January 11, 2019

The Indian working class once again showed power and muscle in the two-day general strike on January 8 and 9. According to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), nearly 200 million workers from all sectors of the economy participated in the general strike across India. Millions took to the streets to express their anger and discontent against the economic policies of the Modi-led government.

Tens of thousands of workers defied intimidation, harassment and threats of sacking and salary cuts by state governments to join the national strike. This mass mobilisation is a powerful indication of the extent of opposition to the Modi government and its escalating attacks on jobs, working conditions and basic democratic rights.

The Indian working class is fighting back against exploitation, inequality, poverty and repression. This general strike showed that India’s working class is determined to defend its interests and rights.

The Indian ruling class is trying to take back all the rights and concessions won by the working class in the past. The last four-and-a-half years of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government have witnessed an aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies and mounting burden on peasants and workers. Attacks on the hard-won rights of the workers have been accompanied by increasing casualisation, cuts in social security measures as well as an ever-increasing burden of price rise, and increase in health and education expenses. The agrarian crisis has also intensified, leading to increased farmers’ suicides, indebtedness and migration.

The continued onslaught on workers’ rights and conditions left the working class with no other option but to fight back. The workers are angry that they have been left out of the economic progress and high growth rate. The shining India that Modi and the Indian ruling class project internationally never really touched the lives of ordinary working class people. India is shining for the rich and middle classes, which have enormously benefitted from neoliberal free market economic policies.

The 10 largest national trade union centres gave a call for a two-day nationwide general strike against planned amendments in labour laws, privatisation of state-owned companies and industries and the anti-workers neoliberal economic policies of the BJP led government. The strike was very effective in Assam, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Manipur, Bihar, Rajasthan, Goa, Punjab, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana – particularly in the targeted industrial and mining areas. In Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka and Orissa there were mass protest rallies, marches and road and rail blockades.

This was the second massive general strike organised by the Indian trade unions against the policies of the Modi government. The first was organised in 2016 in which more than 160 million workers participated.

The successful strike and mass mobilisation of millions of workers, students, farmers and women workers is a clear indication that there is widespread anger, discontent and resentment against years of neoliberal onslaught and attacks on their working and living conditions.

The trade unions say that there was no expansion in the capacity of manufacturing units, many of which in have shut down. There is no social security, and the performance of this government has been exactly the opposite of what it had promised.

Workers are also opposed to the proposed amendments in the Trade Union Act of 1926, and have called them extremely damaging to the independent functioning of unions.

The Modi government consciously adopted a policy to sideline trade unions. The government also refused any dialogue, undermined tripartism, and did not hold the Indian Labour Conference for the last more than three and a half years. In the meanwhile, it continued its aggressive attack on the lives and livelihood of working-class people.

Desperate attempts are being made under pressure from Big Business to make pro-employer changes in labour laws, and also hastening the codification of 44 central laws into four, totally ignoring what trade unions have to say on the matter. An attempt is being made to usurp funds accumulated in various welfare boards, in the name of providing “universal social security”.

The very concept of regular employment and job security is being sought to be wiped out from the workplaces. This is being done unilaterally and through arbitrary notification on fixed-term employment through executive order and through gradual replacement of workers by apprentices in various establishments.

Now the cabinet has come out with amendments in the Trade Union Act, 1926 which are irrational, highly discretionary and extremely damaging to the independent functioning of trade unions. They seem to be designed to cripple unions and control the trade union movement.

At the same time, the government’s policy of mass privatisation of strategic PSUs, crucial infrastructure and public utilities, especially targeting ports, airports, telecom, financial sector etc, with defence production and railways thrown open for 100 percent FDI, is aimed at the plunder and loot of national assets and resources as well as the destruction of India’s economic base.

The trade unions are fiercely opposing the proposed Trade Union (Amendment) Bill 2018, which is designed to impose conditions of slavery on workers and totally abrogate trade union rights.

One main trade union leader summarised the situation in these words: “It is not merely labour reform, it is an all-out degeneration in the life of productive people in the whole economy.

“It is just not distress and destitution, there is an altogether a repressive atmosphere creating in the total uncertainty in the world of works”. The Indian working class is fighting back.

The writer is a freelance journalist.