THE unprecedented joint trade union Mahapadav (sit-in) of workers concluded in the evening of November 11, with a clarion call to the working class of the country to intensify the struggle against the anti-worker, anti-people and anti-national policies of the BJP led government.
The huge mass of workers who gathered from all over the country and from all sectors of the economy enthusiastically endorsed the unanimous call of the leadership of the joint trade union movement, made in the light of the August 8, 2017 national convention, to prepare for an indefinite country wide general strike if the government does not change tack and heed the voice of the working class. The trade unions decided to chalk out a prolonged course of agitations and actions towards that objective.
The string of actions will start with district level joint conventions to be completed by the first week of January 2018 followed by joint ‘satyagraha’/ courting of arrest at the district headquarters in the last week of January. The common date for the courting of arrest in all districts in the state will be decided by the joint meeting of the state leadership of the trade unions.
In case of any anti-worker measures being announced in the union budget, joint protest demonstrations will be held on the same day all over the country. The central trade unions will meet soon after the presentation of the union budget and decide upon the next course of action.
Along with this programme, the central trade unions also decided to go into joint industry/sectoral strike whenever the government takes measures at privatisation. The national federations of scheme workers affiliated to the central trade unions will go on strike before the presentation of the union budget on their own demands. The date of the strike will be decided in their joint meeting.
SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHAPADAV
The three days Mahapadav was significant in many ways. This was the first time that ten central trade unions and independent industrial federations jointly organised dharna in the national capital continuously for three days mobilising tens of thousands of workers on each day. The participation of women workers, not only the scheme workers, but also from other sections like beedi, construction, domestic workers, street vendors, home based workers etc was very huge, particularly on the third day. The participation of young workers was also remarkable.
Another significant feature is the participation of several state level trade unions. Some of them are part of the state level joint trade union platforms in states like Kerala, Telangana etc. In addition around 3000 transport workers, owners cum drivers of trucks etc from different states, who are not affiliated to any central trade union, participated at the initiative of the All India Road Transport Workers’ Federation.
The workers displayed extraordinary resolve to participate in the Mahapadav overcoming many difficulties. The air pollution in Delhi received wide coverage in the media all over the country. Delhi’s description as a ‘toxic gas chamber’ with a situation of ‘public health emergency’ created scare, particularly among those coming from the southern states. The banning of demonstrations and mobilisations at Jantar Mantar by the National Green Tribunal also raised questions on whether the Mahapadav will be allowed at all.
Many trains were running inordinately late and several were cancelled. Thousands of workers, including women workers from remote villages who travelled all the way to the nearest railway station had to go back after finding that the train they were to travel was cancelled. Thousands refused to go back despite knowing that their train was late. They just wanted to participate in the Mahapadav even for a little while. On each of the three days, thousands arrived at the venue just as the dharna was about to conclude or after it was adjourned for the day. Around thousand women workers reached Delhi in the night of November 11!
Attempts were made to create confusion among the workers. The BMS which has deserted the joint trade union movement on the eve of the country wide general strike on September 2, 2015, the first one after the BJP led Modi government came to power certifying that the government was positive to the demands of the workers, gave a call for a rally in the national capital on November 17. Rumours were floated that the Mahapadav has been cancelled. The government, which has been totally ignoring the 12 point charter of demands of the trade unions during the last over two years, called a meeting on November 3, 2017 sending a notice of less than 48 hours. It did not invite the INTUC, one of the major trade unions and a constituent of the joint movement. When the trade unions protested and refused to attend the meeting unless INTUC was also invited, the government called another meeting but on the same day when three other central trade unions were called to depose before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour in Mumbai. After the trade unions again protested against the casual attitude of the ministry of labour, ultimately the meeting was fixed on the evening of November 7. But the government had nothing to offer. The trade unions stuck to their programme. The workers brushed aside all these machinations to confuse, divide and disrupt their unity and participated in the Mahapadav in large numbers.
The discipline displayed by the workers, belonging to different organisations and different states, during the entire duration of the three days’ Mahapadav was exemplary. Majority of the workers sat throughout the day and showed eagerness to hear the speakers – not less than 30 of them, in three sessions, every day! They responded with enthusiasm whenever a call was given to intensify the struggle.
However all this was of no consequence to the corporate media. The corporate controlled mainstream print and electronic media chose to black out the Mahapadav and the demands of the workers, the backbone of our economy. All that they could capture was some poor street vendors ‘doing hectic business’ selling shoes and books and the long lines near the public toilets!
But the Mahapadav and the issues raised by it received wide publicity in the social media and some pro-people television channels. Several teams active in the social media talked to the workers and union leaders and uploaded them in the websites.
The struggle and the demands of the workers also received huge support from various organisations within the country as well as from outside. The two major international organisations of the working class, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) sent messages of solidarity. In addition, national trade union organisations from different countries including Greece, Nepal etc expressed solidarity. The joint platform of over 100 kisan organisations and several women’s organisations came out in support of the Mahapadav. 50 eminent personalities including writers, university professors, scientists, researchers, artists and social workers, signed a letter to the prime minister demanding that the issues raised by the joint movement of the workers be addressed immediately. There were many more such expressions of support to the struggle of the workers.
As Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU said in the concluding session, the working class cannot expect support from the corporate media to its struggle against the neoliberal policies, the very same policies that are meant to benefit the big domestic and foreign corporates and being implemented at their behest. The lakhs of workers, who have come not only from the cities and towns all over the country, but also from its remotest corners, have to carry the message of the Mahapadav to the workers and all sections of the toiling people.
HUGE PARTICIPATION BY CITU
CITU had a highly visible presence in the Mahapadav. The CITU centre and all its state committees and industrial federations made effective preparations. The three months duration since the decision of the national joint convention on August 8, were utilised for intensive campaign among the workers with the objective of ‘reaching the unreached’. In addition to the joint leaflets and posters, lakhs of booklets, pamphlets and leaflets were published by the CITU committees in local languages. In addition sectoral unions and federations of CITU published lakhs of leaflets and booklets linking up the sector specific issues of the workers with the neoliberal policies being pursued by successive governments at the centre, whether led by the BJP or the Congress. Jathas, public meetings, gate meetings, street corner meetings, mohalla meetings etc were held across the country in which lakhs of workers participated.
The three days Mahapadav makes one thing certain. Discontent against the policies being pursued by the government is growing among all sections of the working class – unorganised sector workers, organised sector workers, those in the public sector and in the private sector, the scheme workers, contract workers and all others. Even large sections of the middle class employees who have voted for BJP are becoming disillusioned with the government’s policies. It has shown that the workers are ready to fight. What is necessary is to make them aware that alternatives to the disastrous neoliberal policies exist; to make them aware that it is the working class which has to lead the struggle for such an alternative; and create confidence among them that they can do it through their organised strength and by uniting with other sections of toiling people like the peasants and agricultural workers.
That is the task ahead for a class based trade union like CITU. The magnificent success of the Mahapadav and the role played by CITU in making it such a success increases its responsibility in discharging this task.