September 20, 2015

On September 2 Strike Need for Strengthening Unity

From our Commentator

THE working class of the country observed countrywide general strike on September 2, 2015. The strike was called by all the eleven central trade unions. Twelve major demands of the workers as well as other sections of the toiling people were raised by the trade unions. BMS, the trade union wing of the RSS was part of the national convention of central trade unions held in May 2015 from which the strike call was given. However, it withdrew a few days before the strike announcing that it was satisfied with the measures that were being taken by the government on the demands raised by the workers. It directed its affiliated unions to withdraw their strike notices. As per the reports in the media, the impact of the strike was visible not only in the states where the trade union movement is traditionally strong but also in others. Even the corporate media, not known to be sympathetic to the demands of the workers had to report that the strike was effective in many states. The strike, according to media reports, was significantly visible in the road transport sector all over the country, affecting not only the public road transport but also private passenger and goods transport services. Another significant feature of this strike was the support it received from the common people. Vast sections of common people found that the demands raised by the trade unions echoed their concerns. In many places, sections of toiling people like peasants and agricultural workers as well as students and youth joined the processions, demonstrations and other forms of protest actions in support of the strike. The central trade unions claimed that the general strike was unprecedented and was the largest so far. On the basis of the preliminary reports they announced that around 15 crore workers, from the organised and unorganised sectors participated in the strike. According to them, the withdrawal of BMS had no impact on the strike and workers of BMS affiliated unions in several states participated in the strike. The central trade unions will definitely conduct a more detailed analysis of the strike in their respective executive committees to decide on the follow up actions. But all of them made it clear that the withdrawal of BMS from this strike cannot be construed as its permanent withdrawal from the joint trade union movement. They hoped that BMS would join future actions on the common demands of the workers. They expressed the common desire that the unity of the trade unions developed over the course of time with great effort and persuasion needs to be maintained and strengthened. EXTENSIVE PREPARATIONS This is a welcome feature. One of the reasons for the success of this strike was the efforts of central trade unions to take joint campaign to the lowest level, up to the factory and shop floor level. Joint campaign was not restricted to state level conventions. In several states, joint conventions were held up to the district and mandal level. In addition to national level conventions, state and even lower level conventions were held in some sectors. This obviously helped to take the message of unity, the demands and the strike to the lower levels in a better way than the earlier strikes. Maintaining unity of the working class, broadening unity of the workers across sectors, and deepening their unity up to the grass root level is of utmost necessity today. There can be no doubt about it. It is of utmost importance because without the broadest unity, it will not be possible for the working class to resist the type of attacks being perpetrated on it by the ruling classes; it will not be possible to defend its hard won rights. At the same time, it is also necessary to strengthen unity. Unity of the working class, across sectors can be strengthened only on the basis of struggles. It has to be strengthened overcoming barriers like gender, caste, religion and region. This can be attained only through united struggles that raise the consciousness of the working class. It has to be developed on the basis of the awareness of the working class about the link between its immediate demands and the policies being pursued by the governments; on the basis of the understanding about the policies advocated and practiced by different political parties when in and out of power. This consciousness can be created and taken to higher levels only through struggles. The overwhelming response to the strike is an indication that workers have found that their own specific demands were reflected in the 12 point charter of demands jointly raised by the trade unions. The issues of minimum wages, pension and social security for all, contractorisation, labour law amendments, amendment to the land acquisition Act were all in the forefront among the concerns of the workers. Most of these demands were being raised since the last around six years from the joint platform of the central trade unions. They were being raised from the independent platforms of the different trade unions. They were being raised since long by the sectoral unions and federations in different industries. Big struggles were launched on these demands, independently and jointly as well. However, successive governments at the centre have not taken any concrete measures to address these demands. Why? This is the question that lingers in the minds of most of the workers who have been participating in these struggles as well as those who have been observing them. These demands are common to an overwhelming majority of workers. But there are many different opinions among them on the reasons for governments not responding to their demands. There are wide differences in the outlook of the workers, in what they perceive as the causes for their poor conditions; in what they think should be done to improve their conditions. Struggles can be effective if a common understanding can be developed among broadest possible sections of workers on these basic issues. This common understanding can develop only through their own experience. It is the responsibility of trade unions to help develop such an understanding. From their own experience workers know that their interests are different from the interests of the employers who force them to work more, who do not pay minimum wages and flout all labour laws to increase their profits. From their own experience they learn that the government that does not ensure effective implementation of labour laws, that is determined to amend labour laws to remove even the minimum protection they have earned, is not on their side; that it is on the side of the employers. Through their own experience they find that when they demand their rights, they are threatened, victimised and attacked by the employers; they find that the government supports not them, but the employers; police and administrative apparatus is used against the workers. In such a situation, does preaching them that employers and workers belong to one ‘family’, that ‘clashes’ between them ‘impede advance and development’ help the struggles of the workers to defend their rights? Does abandoning the workers getting ready to assert their rights, because the head of the family is satisfied that all is well and there is no reason to raise their voice, help in strengthening unity? Unity among the workers can be strengthened on the basis of the common understanding that all the workers irrespective of their gender, religion, caste and region are equal, which is also based on our Constitution. Can unity of the workers be strengthened if male workers believe that women are inferior, that their responsibility is to bear children, that they should restrict themselves to doing household chores and satisfy their husbands in exchange for ‘food, shelter and protection’ as is advocated by some organisations? Can unity of workers be achieved by defending the Manusmriti with its rigid caste divisions and hierarchies? By saying that manual scavenging is a ‘spiritual experience’ for those who have been condemned to this inhuman work, as our prime minister, a loyal RSS member and its former pracharak, said? Can unity of workers be strengthened by supporting restrictions on their Constitutional rights to dress as they like or eat the food of their choice? Or by casting aspersions on one’s loyalty to the country because he or she belongs to a different religion? Can unity of the workers be strengthened if workers see the migrant workers from another state or region as their enemies and target them instead of the employers who utilise them for bringing down the wages and increasing their profits? Or can unity of the workers be strengthened if the permanent workers and contract workers doing the same work at the same workplace but with vastly different wages and working conditions fall prey to the machinations of the employers and do not stand by each other? If they do not understand that this is just a ploy by the employers to extract maximum profits from their labour? NEED FOR BROAD UNITY Unity of the workers can only be strengthened by overcoming the divisive influence of all these identities and identifying themselves as ‘workers’ sharing common problems, common concerns and having common demands. Without such unity encompassing all sections of workers irrespective of their gender, caste, religion or region, it will be impossible for the workers to resist and defeat the attacks of their rights and defend their working and living conditions. Government is supposed to be neutral, to protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens irrespective of sex, caste, creed or religion. But, what is the experience of the workers, particularly during the last two decades? During the pre-independence years and in the initial years after independence, because of the then prevailing international situation as well as the role of the working class in the national liberation movement, as a result of the working class struggles to improve their conditions, some legislations to improve the conditions of the workers were enacted. Even today, according to the government’s own admission less than six percent of the total workers in our country are covered by these labour laws. With the advent of neo-liberal policies, there is increasing clamour by the employers to change labour laws to push out even this miniscule section of workers from the purview of labour laws. Successive governments made efforts to satisfy this demand of the employers but could not succeed due to the stiff resistance from the trade union movement. The present BJP led government has accomplished what the earlier governments could not. It has already amended two labour laws and has fast tracked amending the others. The aim of the entire exercise is to push over 70 percent of the few workers who are covered by labour laws out of their protection. It is very clear that the government is acting at the behest of the big national and multinational corporations, for their benefit; that it is acting against the interests of the workers. Workers have to be unified on the basis of a correct understanding of the changes that are being made to the labour laws and the other measures of the government and who benefit from these. They have to be unified on the basis of a common understanding related to the entire policy framework of the government; on the basis of the understanding that the workers and other toiling people, who produce wealth, are being denied of their due share in the so called ‘growth’ achieved in the last decade; on the basis of the understanding that inequalities in the country have widened because larger and larger shares of the wealth produced by workers is being cornered by a few big corporate and business houses. Instead of doing this, certifying that the ‘government is on the correct path’ or obediently accepting such certificates and withdrawing from struggle will only amount to misleading the workers and deceiving them. Can even the basic demands of the workers related to their job security, income security and social security and basic trade union rights be achieved when the entire policy regime is directed at maximising the profits of the employers at the cost of the workers? Calling the struggle against the policies ‘politics’, supporting the false claims of the government and withdrawing from strike can be only to create confusion, mislead and disarm the workers. Will it help in uniting the workers and strengthening the struggle to protect their rights? It is these aspects that the class based trade unions must discuss and take appropriate decisions when they sit to plan strategies to further strengthen unity and intensify struggles to protect the rights of the workers, after the successful country wide general strike, the sixteenth in the series after the neo-liberal policies were introduced in our country. The number of workers getting discontented and dissatisfied with their conditions has increased over years. The number participating in the strikes has also been increasing. Yet these struggles have not been able to attain adequate strength to force a change in the policy direction of successive governments. This can be achieved only if the struggles are based on a stronger unity of thought and unity of purpose at the grass root level. Such strengthening of unity of the working class will not only help the working class movement but galvanise the other sections of the toiling people as well to develop a strong movement that can succeed in reversing the anti-worker, anti-people neo-liberal policies. It should be the task of the class based trade unions to endeavour to develop such unity at the grass root level.