THE ‘Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally’ on September 5 was unique and has a crucial historic relevance on many counts. It is the first ever mobilisation of the basic classes – workers, peasants and agricultural labour together in the capital of India. The rally outnumbered all recent mobilisations in Delhi and the discipline and the level of understanding of the participants on issues has set another benchmark for the future. The media coverage the rally received was a compulsion imposed by the people’s movement on the media barons. The most crucial contribution of this historic rally is that it put the class question on the political agenda of the country, a question which can no longer be ignored.
Since the introduction of the neoliberal policies in India, starting from 1991 itself, the trade union movement under the leadership of CITU tried to build resistance to these. In 1991, if it was CITU and a few other Left trade unions who organised the first nationwide general strike, by 2009, we could rally all the central trade unions including INTUC and BMS against these policies. However, later, on the eve of the 2015 General strike the BMS left the joint platform. Since 1991 there have been 17 strikes by the trade unions against the neoliberal policies adopted by successive governments in India.
The consistent struggles by the working class movement, often termed as ritualistic by many, could keep the resistance alive and through years of campaign and struggles could instill confidence in the peasantry, (whose distress was marked by suicides and not resistance), and bring them into the fight. The resistance movement of the peasantry under the leadership of AIKS against the land acquisition bill/ordinance supported by the working class movement and the general strike in 2015 could force the Modi government to backtrack on the bill. The AIKS and the different platforms of the peasantry with its leading role took the struggles further on different issues, including the ban on cattle trade and the lynching of peasants. The Kisan Long March in Maharashtra and the struggles in states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh could bring more vigour to the peoples’ movements.
The working class movement could give a strong resistance to the different moves to reduce real wages, the pro corporate changes in labour laws, the privatisation of PSUs and public utilities etc. The peasant organisations could build a movement on the minimum support price, loan waiver etc. These consistent movements helped in the formation of the Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan (JEJAA), the joint platform of class, mass and social organisations, with the strong base of class organisations.
One should recall the shape that these resistance movements took in the intervening period and the resultant political as well as policy interventions they could make. The National Platform of Mass Organisations (NPMO), the joint platform of class and mass organisations formed in early years of neoliberal policies was a platform formed by organisations that came together to resist the neoliberal policies. The struggles under the NPMO leadership, including Bharat Bandh calls, could make some advance in building resistance against neoliberal policies which eventually resulted even in changes in governments. The United Front government and the UPA governments are examples of such changes. However, these changes in governments were based on popular political slogans and issues and for an apparent change in face or party, rather than being focussed on clear class demands.
Today we face a different situation with the systemic world economic crisis and its impact and the resultant rightward shift in the world as well as in Indian politics. Various manifestations of this crisis and the more aggressive character of the Indian ruling classes, accompanied by ruthless social oppression, have imposed unprecedented burdens on the Indian people. The fundamental democratic, secular character of the country and the constitution is at stake. This crisis and the ruthless multipronged attack of neoliberalism at the same time have prepared the ground for resistance by the people, led by the working class and the peasantry.
Twenty five years of neoliberal policies in India have also witnessed the growth and consolidation of various class, mass and social movements against them. The coming together of these class, mass and social organisations, movements and platforms marks another stage in the people’s resistance movement.
However, these struggles of the basic classes have to be developed further to turn them into a political force in order to compel a change in policies rather than only a change of governments from time to time. Various streams other than those of the basic classes – collaborationist, compromising, pro-rich farmers, politically motivated, electorally oriented etc within the movements are operating strongly. It is the need of the hour to channelise these movements into a broad based struggle against the neo liberal policies under the leadership of the movement of the basic classes.
At this juncture, the CITU took the initiative to develop the movement in the direction of a strong worker-peasant alliance, from the top to the base. The decision for the joint Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally came from the CITU, with the AIKS and AIAWU responding to this initiative. The independent struggles by CITU, AIKS and AIAWU were organised in a series, the August 9 Jail Bharo, August 14 Samuhik Jagran and the culmination, the September 5 Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally.
The massive response to the widespread campaign in the last five months (from April to August) on the joint charter of demands covering all issues of the workers, peasants and agricultural workers shows the potential of the correct politics at the right juncture to transform into a decisive political force. More than five lakh workers and peasants courted arrest on August 9.
For the first time since the advent of neoliberalism, the politics and the movement of the basic classes, the working class, agricultural labour and poor peasants has emerged as the focal point and the other progressive social movements – of youth, students, women, environmentalists, dalits, tribals, minorities, all marginalised sections are joining the stream. The strong and widespread base of the trade union movement will act as the foundation of this movement. With the peasant movement joining along, this class alliance will not only be the base of resistance against the economic onslaught but also the force against the social oppression and communal divisive politics in the countryside.
This trajectory has to be strengthened and consolidated. The class movement needs to stand by every social resistance movement to fulfill its leadership role. In the coming days, the working class strike will be supported by the peasantry, the peasants’ march will be supported by the working class, the youth demand for jobs for all, the student demand for education for all will be supported by the basic classes, women’s issues will be taken up as the issues of the entire society, the dalit and tribal movements are no longer merely social issues but are class issues.
In the coming days class politics will play a decisive role.
The September 5 Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally marks a qualitative change in the history of peoples’ resistance movements in India.