2 Days Workers General Strike
J S Majumdar
EXCEPT for RSS-affiliated BMS, all remaining 10 Central Trade Unions and independent national federations of the country, in a national convention at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on November 11, 2021, have taken a decision to resort to two days countrywide ‘workers general strike’ during the budget session 2022 of the Parliament.
WORKERS-FARMERS CONTINUING JOINT ACTIONS
The strike will be in continuation of workers-farmers joint struggle, which broke out on November 26, 2020, against Modi-led BJP government’s three black farm laws; for legal guarantee of MSP and for repeal of Electricity Amendment Bill; against four labour codes; and in protest against Modi government’s undemocratic measures and assault on the Constitution of India and democratic norms. While the three black farm laws are designed to corporatise agricultural land and entire agricultural produce; the four labour codes, complemented by Essential Defence Services Act, are aimed at ending workers collective bargaining rights and rights of collective actions, including right to strike; imposition of increased hours of work and unbearable working conditions and to work at the mercy of the private corporates.
On that day of November 26, 2020, workers resorted to countrywide general strike; and farmers marched to the Parliament which was converted into historic indefinite stay-in at six Delhi borders as Haryana police and the Delhi police under central government resorted to brutal physical assaults on the farmers at Delhi borders and on their democratic right of protest by preventing their peaceful march to the Parliament.
The joint movement, thereafter, as planned in regular meetings between the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) and Samykta Kisan Morcha (SKM), spilled over across the country in a series of workers-farmer joint and independent actions including farmers Mahapanchayats and tractor rallies; workers rallies, industry-wise actions/strike and countrywide Workers General Strike.
These workers-farmers actions have several milestones of significant action including: –
● February 3, 2021, workers countrywide protest and burning of labour codes;
● March 15-18, 2021, employees and offices’ nationwide strikes in the financial sector – banks on March 15-16, and LIC on March 18;
● May 26, 2021, workers-farmers joint black day protest;
● July 23, 2021, workers countrywide protest against privatisation and defence ordinance;
● August 9, 2021, workers-farmers ‘save India day’;
● September 5, 2021, farmers historic Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat giving a call for communal unity and ‘mission Uttar Pradesh’ and ‘mission Uttarakhand’ for removal of BJP from power in these states;
● September 27, 2021, workers-farmers 'Bharat bandh';
● November 3, 2021, CTUs announced two days workers general strike during budget session 2022.
Workers, several industry-wise, actions are also in the pipeline which includes construction workers strike onDecember 2; steelworkers strike on December 16, at the call of CITU; portworkersnotified strike onany day afterDecember 15, 2021; bank employees preparing again for a strike against the proposed BankNationalisationAmendment Bill; electricity employees also planningsimilaraction programmeagainsttheElectricityAmendment Bill; workers in several private enterprises are also in the struggle.
TEMPORARY RETREAT OF MODI GOVERNMENT & CORPORATE PROFITS
Facing these protests, the Modi government temporarily retreated; preparing for the further offensive of the BJP’s corporate-communal regime on the workers, farmers and the people.
Even without these new legislations and in a situation of a recessionary trend in the national economy, the private corporates have earned super-profits while burdens are shifted on the people; as exemplified by Oxfam report that Indian billionaires increased their wealth by 35 per cent during the lockdown to three trillion rupees, with Mukesh Ambani emerging as the richest man in India and earning Rs 90 crore every hour. During the same lockdown period, lakhs of people died of Covid pandemic most of them in absence of a free public healthcare system; huge loss of jobs and tragedy of migrant workers walking back home; reports of sharp drops in income to over 80 per cent for informal sector workers; debt burden has increased four times for the bottom 25 per cent of the households as found by Azim Premji University study.
On March 31, 2021, the central government kept on hold the implementation of four labour codes, which was to come into effect on April 1, 2021. It may be recalled that after yearlong wrangling inside and outside the Parliament, the Modi government, facing the Bihar assembly election, allowed the land acquisition ordinance to lapse in August 2015.
Now, it is three farm laws. After about a yearlong joint movement and farmers historic movement at Delhi borders; prime minister Modi on January 19, 2021, announced the repeal of three farm laws. The Parliament, in session now, is in the process of repealing these laws.
POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF WORKERS TWO DAYS STRIKE DURING BUDGET SESSION
This retreat, in no way, is indicative of a change of policy direction of the Modi government. It is the bare necessity for the BJP facing four Assembly elections, coming in the first quarter of 2022, including the crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, where their Yogi government is facing challenges from the rejuvenated Samajwadi Party, and Punjab, where they are bidding for power in alliance with the recently ousted chief minister, Amrinder Singh. The result of these elections, particularly of UP willhave a deep impact and determine BJP’s future in the next parliamentary election in 2024.
The entire Western Uttar Pradesh where BJP swept in the last parliamentary election is in turmoil as farmers are up-in-arms against BJP demanding repeal of the black farm laws etc. The more than a year now stay-in at Gazipur border by the farmers and the historic Muzaffarnagar farmers Mahapanchayat on September 5, 2021, and Lucknow Mahapanchayat on November 22, are indicative of the farmers' anger against the BJP regime.
The farmers' rally in Muzaffarnagar on September 5, was a historic landmark not only because of the massive number of farmers participation, converting the whole of the city into rally ground but also because of the peasants’ movement displaying unity and in its other contents. It may be recalled that Muzaffarnagar was the centre of communal division and violence in 2013 ushering in BJP rule at the centre in 2014 and in UP in 2017. September 5, farmers rally in Muzaffarnagar strongly conveyed the communal unity – between Hindus and Muslims; and unity of all castes - including the SCs, OBCs and upper castes.
Muzaffarnagar rally was named as ‘Kisan Mazdoor Mahapanchayat’ highlighting the class unity of workers and peasants. Apart from farmers’ issues, the Muzaffarnagar rally raised the issues of labour codes and attacks on workers’ rights; about massive privatisation and corporatisation drive through national monetisation pipeline; price rise etc. The Muzaffarnagar farmers rally raised the pitch at the political level by calling for the removal of BJP from power beginning from Uttar Pradesh. The SKM gave a call from its Muzaffarnagar rally ‘mission Uttar Pradesh, 'mission Uttarakhand’ with a single slogan of mobilising farmers and others in UP and Uttarakhand to remove BJP from power in these two states in the Hindi heartland with political significance.
These states elections are dominated by communal and caste forces with divisive agendas. For the first time, a powerful voice is being raised for class unity and class issues being in focus. Without underestimating the under-terrain caste and communal social entrenchment, the mission UP, UK can be considered a powerful countervailing force.
Hence, the two days workers general strike is politically significant particularly after the repeal of the three farm Acts. The victory of the farmers’ movement will definitely galvanise the workers into strike actions.