THE working class and the common people have, on January 8, 2020, once again emphatically voiced their opposition to the neoliberal policies and the communal divisive agenda pursued by the BJP government led by Modi.
While the joint trade union platform gave the call for countrywide general strike on the day, around 200 peasants’ organisations extended support and called for a ‘rural bandh’. The call received massive response from the people already fighting the attacks on the basic tenets of our constitution and on the democratic rights of the people. Though full reports are yet to be received from all states and sectors, the available information shows that people responded magnificently to the call for strike and bandh. The visible anger of the people and the massive response from all sections of the people can be missed only by those having blind allegiance to the RSS and its affiliates in power.
The joint trade union movement comprising the major ten central trade unions in the country and almost all the independent national federations in the service sector raised not only the issues of the workers but also of all other sections of the common people. The trade unions strongly condemned CAA, NPR and NRC that seek to create two categories of citizens, and the violence unleashed by the BJP governments on the people fighting against CAA. They demanded strong action against the ABVP and Hindutva goons who attacked the JNU students including the JNUSU president with iron rods and sticks and against the vice chancellor of JNU and the police who facilitated the attacks.
The strike and bandh this time were more expansive than the earlier strikes. Around 25 crore workers and people from various sections reportedly participated in the strike and the demonstrations held on the occasion. What is significant is that workers and common people came out massively in support of the strike and actively participated in protest demonstrations.
The strike was total in many industrial clusters across the country, including in the multinational corporations. In Karnataka, strike was total in Toyota, Volvo buses, Volvo trucks, Bosch, ITC, Vikram (JK) Tyres, Reid and Taylor etc. Most of the industrial clusters in Karnataka, Maharashtra, NCR Delhi, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and West Bengal etc were closed due to the strike. Strike was total in the industrial zones of West Bengal like Barrackpore, Farakka, Kalyani, Budge Budge, Dankuni, etc. Successful strike was seen in Kolkata, Hide Road industrial area after a long time. In Haldia, the strike was 70 per cent. Strike was near total in the jute industry with 95 per cent workers participating in the strike. It was total in 31 out of the 49 jute mills in the state. 80 per cent tea garden workers struck work.
Workers in West Bengal ignored TMC chief minister Mamatha Banerjee’s opposition to the strike. Workers in Gujarat and other BJP ruled states ignored the threats and intimidation by their respective state governments as well as the government of India, of action against those participating in the strike.
In Telangana, there was total strike in the industrial clusters around Hyderabad, in Medak district etc. In Odisha, strike was complete in the Paradip industrial area, in the industrial areas in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela etc and big industries like JK Paper mills, Dalmia Cements and Refractories. Strike was also successful in the industrial clusters of Pune, Nasik, Mumbai etc in Maharashtra; Indore, Neemach etc in Madhya Pradesh; Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, in Ahmedabad, Baroda, Bhavnagar, Rajkot, and Surat industrial areas in Gujarat; in Ludhiana, Jullundar, Raikot etc in Punjab; in Chandigarh etc. Shopping malls were also closed in many states.
Another significant feature of the strike this time is the participation of IT employees, not only the ITES employees, but the so called IT professionals also. In Karnataka, a big motor bike rally was organised by KITU (Karnataka IT/ITES Employees’ Union) in Bengaluru in support of the strike. In West Bengal, around 35 per cent of IT employees were on strike while the strike was total in the SDF call centres. In the Kochi IT Hub in Kerala, most of the IT companies including Wipro, TCS, Xerox etc marked very low attendance for the first time in the history of the Kochi Infopark. The employees in the Akshaya Kendras across the state along with small and medium software and hardware companies joined the strike.
Thousands of workers struck work and participated in huge demonstrations at many places in each state. In Bihar, demonstrations were held in 38 districts with more than one lakh participating. Demonstrations were held in all state capitals and district headquarters. In Delhi, despite the inclement weather, thousands of workers, common people, youth and students participated in the joint demonstration held at the ITO.
As in the earlier strikes, hundreds of thousands of workers not owing allegiance to any central trade unions, most of them not at all organised under any trade unions, participated in the strike in industrial clusters. The issues of trade union rights, particularly the right to organisation, minimum wage of Rs 21,000 per month, social security for all, equal wage and benefits to contract workers doing the same work as the permanent workers etc found resonance with them. Garment workers also participated in the strike in large numbers.
There was total bandh in Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Goa etc. The BJP government tried to intimidate shop owners not to shut their shops and compelled the transporters and transport workers to ply vehicles. But totally ignoring this, the people of the state observed complete bandh. In West Bengal too workers and common people came out in huge numbers and participated in the bandh resisting the police who tried to prevent them. In many districts in Jharkhand, Punjab etc there was a bandh like situation.
The strike on January 8, 2020 saw good response from the public sector workers compared to earlier strikes. It was total in several units of BHEL including in Trichy, Ranipet etc. Significantly, it was total in BHEL Jhansi and around 70 per cent Haridwar. Strike was total in RINL Vizag and Salem steel plant and partial in other steel plants. Contract workers in many PSUs, who today form overwhelming majority of the total workers, participated fully in many PSUs including in NTPC, Steel, NALCO Damanjodi etc in Odisha.
Kakinada, Tuticorin, Cochin, Mazgaon, Paradip and Kolkata ports were closed due to the strike by both permanent and contract workers. In Tamil Nadu, all the ports including the private ports, except Chennai port were closed. Garden Reach Ship Builders was closed due to 100 per cent strike.
DRDO labs across the country were closed due to the strike.
Electricity production and distribution were affected across the country including in Uttar Pradesh due to the total strike by the employees of the state electricity boards.
Road transport workers in most of the states participated in the strike, particularly opposing the MV (Amendment) Act. It is reported that around 3.5 crore road transport workers participated in the strike all over the country. The transport owners’ association supported the strike across the country. In West Bengal, though buses were run, there were no passengers. As a result they were withdrawn by afternoon. Private transport including buses, trucks, taxis etc were totally off the road in Kolkata as well as in all the districts in West Bengal. In Bihar too, transport was totally affected with the auto workers also joining the strike across the state. In many states, roads were deserted making the strike highly visible. In Madhya Pradesh too where most of the road transport workers are not organised, they participated in the strike in 21 districts.
Lakhs of scheme workers, particularly anganwadi employees, mid-day meal workers and ASHAs across the country joined the strike and participated in the demonstrations and dharnas. In Gujarat, in many districts where no other trade union exists, the anganwadi employees and ASHAs not only participated in the strike defying threats by the BJP state government, but took initiative to organise demonstrations.
Medical and sales representatives also participated in full all over the country in the strike as well as in the demonstrations. In several states including Bihar and Odisha, they not only joined the strike but organised workers in different sectors to join the strike in many districts.
Central government and state government employees participated in the strike ignoring the warnings of the governments. Around 13 lakh central government employees in postal, income tax, audit and accounts, etc participated.
Strike in the banking sector was near total while it was total in the insurance sector. Telecom employees also participated in the strike.
In addition, workers in several segments of unorganised sector like construction, beedi, brick kiln, village chowkidars, home based workers, domestic workers, autorickshaw drivers etc participated in the strike, as also the plantation workers across the country.
Huge demonstrations, rail and road blockades were organised in thousands of places in the country with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people. In many states like Telangana, Gujarat and others the police did not permit demonstrations and mobilisations. However people participated in the demonstrations defying police and administration. In Assam, over two thousand people including the CITU and SFI leaders were arrested and detained for several hours.
The call for ‘rural bandh’ given by the peasants’ and agricultural workers’ organisations was also met with huge response. Across the country tens of thousands of peasants and agricultural workers participated in the road and rail blockades in huge numbers. Students, youth and women also participated in the demonstrations.
On the whole, the strike was yet another proof that the BJP led Modi government is fast losing support of the people because of its aggressive neoliberal policies for the benefit of the corporates and its attempts to implement the RSS agenda of establishing the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ by attacking the constitutional principles. It is increasingly getting isolated from the young people. It is miserably failing in all its dubious attempts to confuse people and gain their confidence. After the sordid and abhorrent episode to capture power in Maharashtra, it stands further exposed for its greed for power.
Keeping in mind the growing anger among people, massive response of the people to the strike and bandh call, and the increasing readiness of people to assert their democratic rights, it is necessary to continue the struggle. The unity of the working class and other sections of the people needs to be widened and strengthened. It is only by heightening such united struggles that the anti-people and anti-national policies of the BJP led government and its divisive, disruptive machinations can be defeated.
This strike is a warning to the government that it can neglect people’s anger only at its peril.