The country witnessed a massive strike by the working class across the country on September 2, 2016, the largest ever strike against the impact of the neo-liberal policies. The entire country was brought to a grinding halt. Millions of workers came out on to the streets and blocked the highways and railways to vehemently express their resentment and anger against the BJP government’s anti-worker and anti-people policies. The kisans and agricultural workers joined them in many places.
The massive participation of workers in the strike was a fitting reply to the false and misleading claims made by finance minister Arun Jaitley in his press meet along with the union minister of state for labour and employment, Bandaru Dattatreya and other members of the Inter-ministerial Committee, on August 30. The workers have totally rejected the claims made by the labour minister that the BJP government was taking ‘various pro-worker initiatives for the welfare and well being of workers’.
The strike has also exposed the hypocrisy of the BMS which kept itself aloof from the joint call for the general strike this year. Workers remember that BMS has deserted the joint movement and withdrew from the general strike last year on the pretext of ‘positive measures’ being taken by the BJP government. This time, the BJP government and the BMS tried to enact a drama of consultations to deceive and confuse the workers and prevent them from participating in the strike. It is to the credit of the working class of the country that they have seen through this disgusting ploy.
After its executive committee meeting in Bhopal, on August 14, 2016, BMS issued a strong statement condemning the ‘callous delay and neglecting attitude of the central government in not fulfilling the signed promises it has made on the charter of demands raised by the joint forum of central trade unions.’ It said ‘the government has disrespected the tripartite tradition followed in the country before any labour related decisions are taken. The government, by disappointing 50 crore workers in the country, stands today in a sorry state in front of them’, the resolution adopted in the meeting reportedly said. The statement also criticised the government for not caring to make any attempt to implement the assurances given eleven months back, whereas every time ‘anti worker decisions’ were coming up so fast. It threatened to take strong action including going on a strike. Of course, it had to make such noises as support to the strike call, given by all the other central trade unions, was swelling at the ground level and there was a danger of its getting isolated. But, in less than fifteen days it has changed its tune. Has any one aspect of the government’s attitude towards the workers, mentioned by it, changed during this period? Nothing.
But, that there was no intention on the part of the BMS to confront the BJP led government and join the strike against the diktats of its mentor and parent organisation, the RSS, was clear. Last year RSS strongly endorsed the Modi government and asked all its members to repose confidence in it. A few days back again, in a meeting attended by 33 of its affiliates including the BMS, the Sarsanghchalak of RSS, Mohan Bhagwat advised them not to publicly criticise the BJP government lest it would send a message of disunity within the Sangh Parivar and jeopardise BJP’s prospects in the ensuing elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The statement from its executive committee was a cue for the BJP government to call the BMS for discussions. It is strange that a trade union organisation which has not given any call for strike was called for discussions by the government while totally ignoring all the other central trade unions which have jointly called the strike on the 12 point charter of demands. This was unprecedented and was clearly meant to sabotage the strike. BMS continued its posturing while the government was discussing with them, reportedly announcing that it ‘would decide on withdrawing from the September 2 strike only if the government’s written assurance on their 12 point charter of demands satisfies them’. ‘Withdrawing’ from the strike which it has never called!
And when the entire working class in the country was watching in shock and consternation the press meet where Arun Jaitley announced the decisions of the government, where there was not a single meaningful measure on any of the 12 points in the charter of demands, BMS found them very satisfying. So satisfying that as soon as the press meet was over, BMS came out with a statement calling it ‘a historical victory for the Indian workers’. It also said ‘BMS strongly feels that, the outcome of the talks were the more fruitful and great achievement for Indian workers’. It expressed ‘its sincere thanks to Government of India for taking right decisions’. Not only did BMS direct ‘all its affiliate unions, members and well wishers not to participate in any strike on September 2, 2016; it also directed ‘all its state units and industrial federations to organise victory marches, gate meetings, street corner meetings, workplace meetings and explain the general workers about the success it gained through the talks’ and ‘give proper publicity for this great success’. By joining the government and the corporate media in misleading the people that the government conceded the ‘major demands’ of the trade unions, the BMS has totally betrayed the interests of not only the workers of this country but the interests of the entire nation. The demands raised by the joint trade union movement were not only of the workers; they were of all sections of people and also to protect the self reliance and independence of our nation. So much for the claims of being true nationalists and accusing other trade unions, particularly the left oriented trade unions of ‘playing politics’.
What are the facts?
As per the decisions announced by the finance minister,
1. The Bonus Amendment Act will be implemented strictly. The central government will pay bonus for the years 2014-15 and 2015-16 based on revised norms.
The fact is that the Kerala and Karnataka High Courts have given stay orders on bonus payment on cases filed by some employers. But the BJP led governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where these stay orders are not applicable have illegally stopped payment of bonus as per the amended Act. Even when this was brought to the notice of the government of India by the CITU with all the necessary evidence, no action has been taken even after around one year
Bonus is delayed wages. Bonus to the central government employees should have been paid in October 2014-15. It is no magnanimity of the government that it has decided to pay them their due after delaying it for one year.
With this experience, can the assurance on strict implementation of the existing Act, on the eve of the strike, convince anybody? Except, of course, our friends in the BMS, who see a ‘historic victory’ in this!
2. Based on the deliberations in the meeting of the minimum wages advisory board under the chairmanship of minister of state for labour and employment, for revising the basic minimum wages for central sphere, the government has decided to fix the minimum wages at Rs 350 per day for unskilled non agricultural workers for ‘C’ category areas keeping in view the modalities of fixing minimum wages.
While this is what the press release states, the finance minister in his press meet stated that ‘the government has accepted the recommendation of the minimum wage advisory board regarding minimum wage’. Both were far from true. The meeting of the minimum wage advisory board held on August 29, 2016 ended inconclusive. The entire media reported so on August 30. All the trade unions including BMS unanimously pressed for fixing the minimum wage as Rs 18000 based on the recommendations of the Indian Labour Conference. Even the government did not propose fixing minimum wages at Rs 350 per day in the central sphere, in this meeting. The labour minister left the meeting midway. While it is strange that the country’s finance minister makes such false claims in a press meet, it is even stranger that BMS discovered an ‘achievement’ in this! The fact is that in several states like Karnataka, Kerala, Delhi etc, minimum wages are already equal or more than what is now announced by the government of India
3. The issue of giving social security benefits to the unorganised sector (eg: anganwadi, midday meal, ASHA volunteers etc) will be examined by a committee which will give its report at the earliest.
The government has been repeating these words several times since more than a year; they were also reiterated in the August 26-27, 2015 meetings with the trade unions. But not a single measure has been taken to put it into action. This is the type of ‘high priority’ that this government gives to the issues of scheme workers. Not only this. This government has also drastically cut the budgetary allocations for these schemes and is doing its best to dismantle them. Can any trade union worth its salt claim this as an ‘achievement’ and a reason for organising ‘victory marches’?
4. The central government has reiterated its commitment towards tripartite consultation process.
The minister has claimed that ‘25 tripartite consultative meetings on the various issues related to the workers’ were held. The fact is that these meetings were mostly related to the government’s proposals on amending the labour laws aimed at curtailing labour rights and pushing majority of the workers out of the purview of any legal protection. The unanimous views of the trade unions expressed in these meetings were totally ignored, as in the case of the latest meeting of the minimum wages advisory board. Executive orders were issued allowing ‘fixed term employment’ and ‘enhancement of overtime work’ in the apparel manufacturing sector without any discussion with the trade unions. Is singling out for talks a favoured union which has not called for strike while totally ignoring ten other central trade unions that have issued strike notice, the BJP government’s brand of tripartism?
It was also reported in the press that ‘the two sides agreed to drop four demands’. Obviously, one side, the BMS agreed to drop the policy related demands – curbing price rise, FDI, disinvestment and stopping anti-worker labour law amendments? Whose victory is the BMS asking to celebrate? Victory of the workers or of the national and multinational corporations?
On August 31, the very next day of BMS statement on ‘historic victory’, the union cabinet gave its approval for the FDI policy amendments announced by the Modi government in June 2016. These pertain to 100 percent FDI in various sectors including defence, broadcasting, pharma, civil aviation, private security agencies, animal husbandry, single brand retail etc. Can this be an additional cause for celebration, according to the BMS?
Today, when the working class and its ideology is under severe attack by the ruling classes, it is necessary for the working class to understand the character of the government and whose interests are protected by its policies. The general strike on September 2 should help the workers understand this. It is also important for the workers to realise that when the ruling classes are resorting to increasing attacks on the basic rights and livelihoods of the working people, even their day-to-day issues cannot be solved by the concept of ‘family in the industry’. The working class and all sections of toiling masses have to resist these attacks through their unity and struggle.