FOR the first time in decades, the two major sections of toiling masses that create the wealth of our country, workers and peasants, have joined in militant actions against the government policies. The call to court arrest, given by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was supported by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which called upon the workers to actively participate in the programme. Thus, lakhs of peasants and workers participated in the demonstrations, processions, dharnas etc held in more than half of the total districts in the country. In several states, the programme was held in different places in some districts and tens of thousands of them were arrested. In many places, police did not have the necessary machinery to arrest all of those who offered to be arrested. Over 46 percent of the total participants were workers.
The huge and militant participation of peasants and workers in West Bengal and Tripura braving the intimidation, threats and physical attacks by the ruling parties in their states, the TMC and BJP respectively, inspired the people all over the country. The police in these states used tear gas, water cannons, lathi charge etc against the participants. In West Bengal, some of those arrested were not released even by the evening of the second day. The heroic participation of peasants and workers in the jail bharo in these two states created confidence among people across the country that by continuing and further strengthening such struggles, the Left in these states would be able to regain the lost ground and again emerge as the leading force, which in turn will boost the countrywide struggle against the neoliberal regime.
Participation of women workers in large numbers in many parts of the country, in support of the peasants’ demands was another significant feature. In several districts, they not just participated but took the initiative in organising the demonstrations and led the court arrest programme. Though district wise details of the participation of different sections of workers in the programme are awaited, even in states like Gujarat where the CITU is weak, in three districts, where no other CITU affiliated union existed nor the kisan sabha, it was the anganwadi employees and ASHAs under the banners of their unions, who held demonstrations and courted arrest. In Punjab, anganwadi employees led the demonstrations and courted arrest in many districts.
There was visible enthusiasm among the workers which was reflected in the huge participation in the August 9 court arrest programme and its spread in over half of the districts in the country. This indicates the potential to further expand and strengthen joint campaigns and struggles of the workers and peasants leading to the establishment of worker-peasant alliance. Such an alliance alone can decisively defeat the neoliberal onslaught on the working people of our country.
The need to develop wider joint struggles, not only of the workers, but also of workers and peasants, to launch offensive struggles against neoliberal policies aimed at their reversal, was being emphasised by CITU since many years. Extending support and solidarity to the demands and struggles of the peasantry and other sections of exploited and oppressed sections of people was seen as a measure towards developing the political consciousness of workers. Efforts were made to develop joint campaigns during the last three years. CITU, AIKS and All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) have been giving joint calls to observe January 19 together on certain common demands. The August 9 court arrest programme has taken such joint actions to a higher level and opened up opportunities to expand and consolidate joint struggles.
The success of the jail bharo programme reflects the growing discontent and anger of the toiling people against the impact of the neoliberal policies being aggressively pursued by the BJP led Modi regime. What needs to be done at this juncture is to channelise this discontent and anger into higher forms of struggles against the neoliberal regime. Peasants and workers have to be made conscious about the link between their day-to-day issues and the neoliberal policies being pursued by the ruling classes and about alternative policies. Unless their class consciousness is raised, the ruling classes would try to mislead them and divert their attention from their real day-to-day problems to non issues like beef eating, cow protection, love jihad etc. As elections approach, the RSS and its outfits including the BJP will desperately use all tricks in their hands and all resources at their disposal to divert the discourse among the people from the failure of their policies towards communal and divisive issues. They will use all methods to disrupt unity of the people and polarise society on communal and caste lines. The fight on the day-to-day and livelihood issues of peasants and workers, against the neoliberal regime has to be combined with the fight against the divisive and disruptive agenda of the communal and casteist forces of all hues and colours, particularly the RSS, which yields greater and wider influence with the BJP in power at the centre and in many states. All efforts have to be made to protect peoples’ unity.
CITU made efforts during this period to create awareness among the workers about how the ruling classes, in our country as well as globally, try to promote right wing forces to disrupt the unity of the people and weaken their struggles against the neoliberal policies. It has also tried to create awareness among the working class about the conditions of the peasantry and how the poor and marginal peasants and agricultural workers suffered due to the neoliberal policies being pursued by successive governments since the last more than 25 years. The campaign material prepared by CITU centre included ‘talking points’ on minimum support price, agricultural workers and migration due to rural distress, aimed at educating union activists. However, some more material related to agrarian crisis and rural distress could not be prepared as envisaged.
The decision to combine the exercise to revamp the organisation with the initiatives for the campaign culminating in the mobilisation for September 5 rally, taken by the CITU general council that met in Kozhikode in March, has proved to be effective. The CITU general council has decided to organise state level workshops in all states followed by district and state union level workshops and meetings of the lowest level committees of all CITU affiliated unions to discuss both. These were aimed to improve the democratic functioning of the organisation, to put into practice the decision to ‘reach the unreached’ and ‘link up issues with policies and expose the politics behind the policies’. State level workshops were held in all states except in Jammu and Kashmir because of the prevailing serious situation. It had to be deferred in Kerala due to some unavoidable reasons and will now be held in the second part of September. In some states district level and state union level workshops have also been completed. The importance of August 9 jail bharo programme was explained in all these workshops. Thus, the organisational preparations and initiatives at the lower levels have also resulted in the large participation of the workers.
CITU’s experience shows that sustained efforts to activate members at all levels of the organisation by improving democratic functioning, and to raise their political consciousness to enable largest sections of toiling people understand the need to defeat the neoliberal policies are essential for realising the potential that exists today to defeat the neoliberal regime. There cannot be any shortcuts to defeating the anti-worker, anti-peasant, anti-people and anti-national regime governing the country today.