Onwards to the General Strike on Jan 8
THE CPI(M) has given a call to observe the entire month of December against the privatisation drive of the BJP government led by Modi and to create massive public support for the country wide general strike on January 8, 2020. One of the major demands raised by the trade unions that called for the general strike is to stop privatisation of the public sector undertakings which are the wealth of the nation. In addition, the alarming unemployment and job losses, which have aggravated under the present slowdown, anti-worker labour law amendments, increasing precarious employment were some of the other issues that were prominently raised by the trade unions.
The open mass convention on September 30, 2019, organised by the joint platform of ten central trade unions along with almost all the independent national federations gave the call for the January 8, 2020 general strike. Thousands of workers from all over the country participated in the convention. Obviously BMS was not part of the call.
This will be the first organised and united expression, at the national level, of the rising anger among the working class against the various measures announced by the BJP government led by Modi after returning to power for the second consecutive term. The Modi-2 government appears to have wrongly understood the mandate of the last parliament elections as popular sanction to pursue its neoliberal agenda more aggressively. This strike is to tell the government that it is grossly mistaken.
The working class and the toiling people of India have been continuously fighting against the adverse impact of the neoliberal policies on their livelihoods and living conditions. This persistent struggle is reflected in the fact that this joint countrywide general strike will be the 19th, against the impact of neoliberal policies since their advent in our country 28 years back. In addition, there have been innumerable sector-specific strikes during this period.
it was the Congress, which officially launched the neoliberal regime in our country, the BJP governments have been pursuing them with even more aggression and commitment. Besides, these two major political parties representing the ruling classes, had no qualms in joining together to get laws that favour the corporates and deprive the hard won rights of the workers, passed in parliament. The PFRDA bill and the recent Wage Code bill are only a couple of examples.
Discontent was brewing against the rising unemployment, attempts to amend the labour laws to deprive and deny the working class of its basic rights, the deepening agrarian crisis, the grievous impact of demonetisation and GST on the small and medium enterprises and the unorganised sector etc during the first Modi government. Three massive joint countrywide general strikes were held during the five year rule of the last government – on September 2, 2015 and 2016 and the two days’ strike on January 8-9, 2019.
In fact, soon after coming to power in 2014, the Modi-1 government started the drive for privatisation, labour law amendments etc leading to the disillusionment among the workers. The joint trade union movement had to wait for more than one year to accommodate the BMS, which was a constituent of the joint trade union platform at that time as the BMS wanted to give the BJP government at least one year time. It is now history that despite this, the BMS, which was party to the joint call for the September 2, 2015 general strike, deserted the joint platform just a few days before the strike. Since then the BMS has been following the tactics of ‘running with the hare and hunting with the wolf’. It continues its loyalty to the RSS, whose sarsangh chalak Mohan Bhagwat, in his Vijayadashami speech this year, strongly defended the policies of the BJP government, including the way it is addressing the present economic slowdown. At the same time, BMS tries to pose as a champion of the workers’ interests, to protect its base among the workers, just to withdraw when the time comes for jointly striking at the anti- worker policy regime. Its tactics are nothing but to confuse the working class and weaken the joint struggle against the neoliberal policies.
In the parliament elections, the BJP was able to mislead people and divert their attention from their day-to-day burning issues of employment, wages and incomes, social security, safety etc. It was able to rouse jingoist feelings and exploit people’s genuine patriotic feelings, for its political gains. Its return to power with increased mandate has emboldened the BJP government to advance its neoliberal agenda with a vengeance. It has announced ‘big bang reforms’ of i) privatisation, ii) labour law amendments and iii) creation of land banks for industrialisation. Various ministries including defence, railways etc have formulated ‘100 days plans’ to achieve these objectives.
This strike on January 8, 2020 will be exactly one year after the last general strike. The decision for the strike was taken four months after the BJP government came to power again. This was a response to the haste with which the BJP government, brushing aside all opposition, went ahead to implement its ‘big bang reforms’ to pay back their corporate masters for their support in the elections. It has trampled underfoot all concerns of national interest and people’s welfare.
This timely decision for the general strike was taken to bring together all the struggles that have already erupted in various sectors and develop them into a strong resistance movement to defeat the utterly destructive anti-national, anti-worker and anti- people policies of the BJP government.
The BJP government was wrong if it thought that people, the workers and employees, large sections of who in fact voted for it would accept its devastating decisions meekly. People, many of who voted for the BJP in the parliament elections started opposing its policies immediately after it assumed office.
A few days after BJP government was sworn in, the tribals in Bailadila hills in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh held huge protests against iron ore mining by Adani Enterprises which was appointed as the Mining Developer and Operator for the mine by the National Mineral Development Corporation. All mining activities were stalled. The government was compelled to order a halt to deforestation in the area.
As soon as the government decision to corporatise the railway production units was announced, as a part of the ‘100 days plan’ of the railway ministry, the railway workers in the production units spontaneously started militant demonstrations against the move. Thousands of workers came out on to the streets along with their family members, including in units where there were no strong union. Huge protests took place despite lack of strong rebuttal from the recognised national federations of the railway employees. The struggle is continuing.
Over one lakh workers of 41 ordnance factories across the country unitedly started a month long historic strike from 20th August 20. The strike was total and continued for five days when the government was forced to step back for the time being.
The coal workers went on a total strike on September 24, against the government’s decision allowing 100 per cent FDI in coal sector.
The bank employees went on countrywide strike on October 22, against the government’s decision to merge ten public sector banks into four. It received active support from the officers’ unions resulting in near total strike effecting banking operations.
The national convention of oil and petroleum workers, held in Mumbai condemned the privatisation drive of the government. A country wide full day strike of all refineries, marketing and pipeline workers of BPCL and HPCL was held on November 28, against the privatisation of BPCL and HPCL both profit making and well running public sector units.
It is to be noted that in none of these struggles were the economic demands of the workers in focus. All were directed against the policies of the government that hand over public resources and national wealth to the big corporates, domestic and foreign. The struggles are to protect national interests, people’s interests.
The rising consciousness of the working class, in terms of its realisation that it has to raise the issues of all sections of common people to gain wider support for its struggles, is visible in the Declaration adopted by the joint open mass convention on September 30. The joint trade union movement has come a long way during the last around three decades. There was a situation when some of the constituents were not ready to oppose privatisation, arguing that it was a ‘political’ demand. Today the joint trade union platform has been raising the demands of the peasants, agricultural workers, issues of unemployment, violence against women, privatisation of public health and education etc. The Declaration raised its voice against the attacks on the democratic and constitutional rights of people in the name of ‘urban naxals’, against attacks on dalits, adivasis and minorities etc. It has strongly denounced the communal forces which are creating conflicts and providing an opportunity to the government to deflect the attention of the masses from their core issues and were endangering the basic ethos and core values of Indian Constitution.
The joint trade union convention criticised the amendment to the RTI Act to cripple it, amendment to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to make it even more draconian and vindictive, and abrogation of Article 370 without consulting the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in fact by gagging them. It also opposed the rendering of lakhs of people homeless/stateless through the NRC process. It called upon the people to unitedly combat these destructive processes.
This indicates a growing maturity among the working class, gradual realisation that working class cannot succeed in protecting its hard won rights and benefits if its struggles are based only on its own immediate demands; to achieve its demands its fight has to be directed against the policies. And to defeat the policies it needs the support of all sections of toiling people, of all sections of the socially oppressed and economically exploited people. This is a positive development which needs to be recognised and further strengthened so that joint struggles involving all sections of working people can be taken to further heights.
CREATORS OF WEALTH
The working class of India is also slowly realising its role in the creation of wealth. Taking a dig at the prime minister’s reference to the big corporates as ‘wealth creators’, the Declaration asserted ‘WE ARE THE WEALTH CREATORS. The wealth we create is being looted by the corporates in connivance with the government that has caused suppressing of effective demand and consequent slowdown. We demand equitable distribution of the wealth that we create’.
It is this realisation that is slowly dawning upon the working class that needs to be nurtured to raise its consciousness so that the workers, as a class understand their role in changing the present exploitative system. The campaign for the strike needs to be carried out with this objective. The CITU’s twin slogans ‘Reach the Unreached’ and ‘Link up issues with policies; expose the politics that determine the policies’ must be put into practice fully during the campaign.
The ongoing struggles and the enthusiastic response from the workers across sectors and across the country to the call for general strike on January 8, 2020, indicates the determination of the working class to take the corporate communal offensive head on through united resistance; to assert that it is the workers and toiling people who build the nation and it is they who will save the nation from being sold off to the domestic and foreign corporates by the pseudo nationalist BJP government.
The common people of the country, the peasants, agricultural workers, the youth, students, women and all progressive sections have been extending solidarity and active support to the workers in all the struggles on their just demands. This was particularly so during the general strikes since 2015. The All India Kisan Sabha and other peasant organisations have called for a ‘rural bandh’ on January 8, 2020. The strike call has also received wide support from various other organisations of peasants and agricultural workers. Many other sections including progressive organisations of students, youth, women etc have also announced their support for the strike in various forms.
People in various states where the recent by elections were held, particularly in Maharashtra and Haryana have shown that they cannot be deceived by pseudo nationalist and jingoist slogans forever. They have shown that the governments that be, cannot ignore their day-to-day concerns related to jobs, wages and incomes. The BJP, which won all ten parliament seats in Haryana, and 41 out of the 48 in Maharashtra and, was expecting a cakewalk, suffered a setback in these elections. The BJP resorted to the most ugly and repugnant manipulations to somehow grab power.
The need of the hour is to defeat the anti-people and anti- national neoliberal policies, which have already been discredited and acknowledged as unsustainable globally. This can be done only through strong united struggles of all sections of the toiling people. The working class which has taken the lead in developing such joint struggles has to take more initiatives to unite all other sections, peasants, agricultural workers etc and bring them into powerful actions by heightening the intensity of the struggles. At the same time pro-people, pro-worker alternative policies and credible alternative politics to the degenerate politics of the ruling parties have to be placed before the people.
The ‘Workers’ Charter’ adopted by the joint trade union platform on March 5, 2019, on the eve of the parliament elections which elaborates on the 12-point charter of demands of the joint trade union movement provides the alternative to the present neoliberal order within the present system. The ‘Workers’ Charter’ encompasses the issues of all sections of the toiling people and shows the way to raise the demand and purchasing capacity of the people, which in turn can address the economic slowdown which the country faces today. The experiences gained by fighting for this charter will certainly bring into focus the contradictions of the present capitalist society and make the workers and the toiling people understand the need to transcend the present exploitative system.
The January 8, 2020 general strike should be turned into a landmark in a string of struggles aimed at such rise in the consciousness of the working class.