September 06, 2015

Historic Strike of the Workers

THE countrywide general strike on September 2 called by the Central Trade Unions and independent national federations received massive response from the workers all over the country. Crores of workers employed in almost all the sectors of the economy participated in this strike. Police was used on the workers in several states. The Trinamool government in West Bengal used the brutal force of its police as well as its goons to physically attack the workers on strike. The workers bravely fought back this terror and participated in the strike. The call for this strike was given by the National Convention of the Central Trade Unions and industrial federations held in New Delhi on May 26, 2015. The 12-point Charter of Demands put forward by the Central Trade Unions contains fundamental demands of the workers including minimum wages, social security benefits to all, trade union rights, labour law amendments as well as other issues like disinvestment, privatisation of PSUs etc. It also included some burning issues of the common people. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh decided to withdraw a few days before the strike, expressing satisfaction with the talks held with the government. But the other Central Trade Unions were not convinced and decided to go ahead with the strike. This is the 16th strike after 1991 when the liberalisation policies were adopted. It is also the fourth strike called by the united platform of all the Central Trade Unions and independent national federations since 2009. The previous joint call was the two-day general strike on February 20-21, 2013. The September 2 general strike has a special significance as it has taken place to counter a serious offensive against the rights of workers and trade unions. One of the new points in the joint charter of the strike is against the anti-worker amendments in the labour laws. Neo-liberalism attacks workers’ rights by making their work “precarious”. It makes workers insecure by ending job security by making work contractual and temporary. This is what is meant by “flexibility of labour” which requires the deregulation of the labour market. The Modi government has targeted the labour laws of the country which provide some protection to workers from arbitrary dismissals, retrenchment and closures. The Modi government is going ahead with the amendments to the labour laws. It has adopted the strategy of getting its state governments push through these changes in labour laws first. The BJP government in Rajasthan took the lead and it has been followed by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments. By these amendments, more than two-third of the workers in factories and enterprises have been taken out of the purview of the protection afforded by these laws. The other purpose of changing the labour laws is to weaken formation of trade union and registration of unions is made difficult. By the amendment proposed, 10 percent of workers in an enterprise, or 100 workers, whichever is lower, have to be applicants to form a union. Now the number required is 7. This will result in employers victimising workers from among the 100 to nullify union formation. Severe punishment will be prescribed for illegal strikes and strikes will be easily illegalised. This is the way the Modi government wants to ensure “Ease of doing business” by attacking workers’ rights. The tremendous response to the strike call is a warning to the Modi government that the working class movement will not countenance any restriction on workers and trade union rights. The other issue which the strike highlighted is the reckless privatisation drive and the opening of FDI in the insurance, defence and railway sectors. Already the Modi government has opened the mining sector to private commercial mining, thus, undermining the nationalisation of coal industry. The Modi government plans to bring down the stake of some of the public sector banks to below 51 percent. The neo-liberal order wants to dismantle the public sector altogether. The general strike has signaled the stiff resistance of the working class for the privatisation drive. It is encouraging that peasants, agricultural workers, students and other sections have conducted their protest actions coinciding with the strike by the trade unions. This highlights the importance of the unity of all sections of the working people to fight back the destructive policies of the Modi government. The September 2 strike will be a landmark in the history of the united mass struggles in the country. (September 2, 2015)