THE Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India Agricultural Workers Union and All India Kisan Sabha have jointly decided to observe January 19 as Martyrs Day all over the country. On that day, in all the districts of the country where these organisations are working, massive district level militant rallies and demonstrations at the district centres will be organised to highlight the Modi government’s anti-people, anti-worker, anti-peasant policies which have disastrous effects on all aspects of life for the majority of people. The corporate, communal and authoritarian central government and many state governments, in aggressive pursuit of the neo-liberal economic policies are causing unprecedented miseries in the life of the vast majority of peasantry, agricultural workers and all workers in organised and unorganised sectors. It is the bounden duty of our organisations to mobilise mass of the people in the struggle against those onslaughts by the ruling classes.
The 19th of February is a martyrs day. On that day in 1982, the glorious struggle of workers and peasants all over the country faced barbaric attack by the police in different parts of the country. Ten comrades – workers, peasants and agricultural labourers – were killed in police firing on that day.
January 19, 1982 was the first all-India general strike in the whole country. It was a successful historical struggle of working class supported by the peasantry. Trade unions organised the general strike unitedly. The National Campaign Committee of Trade Unions and different all India federations gave a call for first all-India general strike. That massive strike of Indian working class, 35 years back, was the first all-India struggle, after long period of several working class actions. The central trade unions together organised it for the first time, in the history of India. This action was followed by 21 all-India bandhs and general strikes during the last three and a half decades.
A meeting of NCC was held in Delhi on March 23, 1981 and decided to hold a national convention in Bombay to take up the people’s genuine issues for nationwide movement. On June 4, 1981, delegates from all these organisations from all over the country participated in that convention. All the major trade unions, like CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, BMS, all India federations of the public sector and many private sector joined the convention. The convention decided to organise first all India general strike on January 19, 1982 and series of regional conventions for its preparation, rallies in different parts of the country on November 3, 1981 and a massive Parliament March on November 23. This Parliament March was the first and largest ever “Delhi Chalo” in which several lakhs of workers, employees, agricultural workers and peasants took part. This historic rally also exhorted the nation for the all India general strike on January 19, 1982.
A 13-point charter of demands was formulated for the struggles. Besides the working class demands, the major demands of rural peasantry and agricultural workers were formulated. The remunerative price for agricultural produces, minimum wage for the agricultural workers, central legislation for agricultural workers for their social security, public distribution for all essential commodities, action against black markets and hoarders etc were included in the charter. Important demands of the workers were: Need based minimum wage for workers, amendment to Bonus Act for bonus for all workers, full neutralisation of rise in cost of living, ban on retrenchment and closure, unemployment allowances, stopping of victimisation of workers, recognition of union by secret ballot, repeal of NSA 1980 and ESMA 1981, full trade union rights etc. But the inclusion of demands of the peasantry was the reflection of the consciousness of the trade union movement.
The strike on January 19 was massive, historical and successful. In West Bengal and Kerala, there was total bandh and successful strike in most parts of working class centres. The government unleashed oppression and propagated falsehood on radio and in newspapers. Finally, INTUC did not join. In spite of all these, the strike was the most successful action of the working people of the country.
The peasants and agricultural workers union extended support to the general strike and took part in the strike in a big way. This made the worker-peasant unity a reality in the history of our people’s movement. 35 years ago, this was most militant historical class struggle after independence when urban and rural workers joined together.
AIAWU and BKMU of Tamil Nadu organised successful strike in the rural areas along with trade unions and there was police firing by the AIADMK government and three comrades were killed. In Nagapattanam district, two AIAWU activists, Comrade Anjan and Comrade Nagooran were killed in police firing at Thirumagnanam. One BKMU activist Comrade Gnanasekharan was killed in Thiru Thurai Poondy. The trade union stood by those families and collected a fund of Rs 40,000 for them. Since then, CITU collects about Rs 3 lakh and gives to the AIAWU for organising agricultural workers in the state every year.
In Uttar Pradesh also, the workers, peasants and agricultural workers and students took part in January 19 general strike in a big way. Before the strike, the students of Benaras Hindu University Students Union organised huge meeting in support of the bandh. The Congress government police resorted to brutal lathicharge and arrested 250 students including SFI leaders. Still they failed to suppress the unprecedented successful bandh. On that day, huge crowds of workers, peasants, agricultural workers and students mobilised at Babur Bazar on the Banaras-Mirzapur road, then in Benaras but now in Chandauli district and organised blockade on the road and transport was totally crippled. A truck load of PAC force led by Satyanarayan Singh, Police Inspector started indiscriminate firing on the peaceful dharna. Comrade Bhola Paswan, the mandal secretary of Kisan Sabha, was leading the agitation and he died in the firing. After that, his younger brother Lalchand Paswan, an SFI leader and convenor of Ashok Inter College, took the leadership. He also fell down due to police firing. Another 32 comrades were injured in the police firing. Both the brothers were CPI(M) members and kisan and student leaders. They sacrificed their life for the cause of the working class and poor. The Congress government and police acted cowardly and took away the dead bodies to 75 km distance at Ramsanchi and clandestinely burned them without informing their family. But they wrote history with their blood of glorious worker-peasant-student unity and struggle against the anti-people policies of the government.
In spite of the struggles for three decades, many of those demands are not yet accepted by the governments. On the other hand, the problems have accentuated due to the blind and aggressive implementation of neo-liberal economic policies. To fight against that, we have to strengthen our unity and build up joint struggle all over the country. This joint observation of the Martyrs Day is an action in that direction. Large number of workers, peasants and agricultural workers will be mobilised on that day and massive militant rallies will be organised in each district. This year, demonetisation has added further difficulties to the day-to-day life of common people. That will be highlighted in the struggle.
The demands are:
1) Adequate compensation for crop loss, job loss and wage loss owing to demonetisation.
2) Remunerative price for peasants for their crops.
3) Minimum wage not less than Rs 18,000 per month for all workers.
4) Comprehensive legislation for universal social security measures.
5) 200 days guaranteed work for all households under MNREGA.
6) Food security for all.
7) Debt waiver for poor peasants and agricultural workers.
The importance of the struggle was that it brought rural and urban working class together and laid a foundation of worker-peasant alliance. Ten comrades, workers, agricultural workers and peasants and students sacrificed their life for a common struggle. This was the major and first nation-wide worker-peasant joint struggle. Its political importance was immense. In the people’s democratic revolution of our country, worker-peasant alliance is the cornerstone of struggle. For this reason, the political parties in a joint statement at that time hailed the working class for raising the demands of the peasantry. Comrade BT Ranadive praised this role of the trade unions and asked for raising their consciousness further in future.
Keeping this in mind, CITU, AIAWU and AIKS have taken the initiative to strengthen the unity of the rural and urban working people and peasantry.