40 Years of January 1982 all India Strike and Its Significance Today
Hannan Mollah and Vikram Singh
JANUARY 19, 2022, marking four decades of the historic all India strike in 1982 will be observed throughout the country. The CITU, AIKS and AIAWU have decided to observe this day highlighting its importance and further strengthening peasant-workers unity for future struggles to save India from twin attacks of neoliberal policies and communalism led by the BJP.
IMPORTANCE OF JANUARY 19
On January 19, 1982, peasant leader Bhola Paswan was leading a huge mobilisation of workers, peasants, agricultural workers and students at Babur Bazar on the Banaras-Mirzapur Road (then in Banaras district, but now in Chandauli district), as part of all India strike called by the central trade unions and federations. The protesters organised a peaceful blockade on the road and the transport was totally halted. The peaceful protest saw brutal police action without any warning. The police opened indiscriminate firing on the protesters. Comrade Bhola Paswan died in the police firing, but the protest was not halted. His younger brother, Lal Chand Paswan, a student and convener of the SFI unit at Ashok Inter College, took up the leadership showing enormous courage. He was also shot by the police. Another 32 comrades from mass and class organisations were injured. The police under the direction of the Congress government of Uttar Pradesh took away the bodies of two martyrs to a distance of 75 km to Ramsanchi and burned them without informing their families.
A similar story of courage and sacrifice was written on the same day by the agricultural workers in Tamil Nadu who organised successful strikes in the rural areas along with trade unions. Police opened firing on the protesters under the direction of the AIADMK government and three comrades were killed. Comrade Anjan and Comrade Nagooran, activists of All India Agricultural Workers Union, were killed in police firing at Thirumagnanam of Nagapattinam district and one activist of Bhartiya Khet Mazdoor Union Comrade Gunasekharan was killed in ThiruThuraiPoondy.
This was a successful strike that sowed the seeds of future united struggles of workers and the peasantry. The same unity of the farmers and the working class forced the BJP-led central government to withdraw three farm laws after a year-long struggle of the peasantry joined actively by agricultural workers and trade unions. One of the largest yet peaceful struggles of our times has seen the martyrdom of more than 700 farmers. It redefined the peasant-worker unity as ‘kisan mazdoor ekta’ became one of the most shouted slogans during last year.
This year we are observing 40 years of the joint strike of January 19, 1982, which was an important step in the journey of change in India. The day witnessed 10 workers, peasants and agricultural labourers making the supreme sacrifice in different parts of the country in brutal repressions unleashed by the governments.
Most of those killed were poor agricultural workers who had come out on the streets in solidarity with the working class. Such was the broader unity and leadership in one of the first countrywide general strikes and bandh in independent India. The urban and rural workers joined together in a day’s strike all over the country and led one of the most glorious episodes in the history of militant struggles in independent India.
This strike was the result of a consistent campaign for over one year. A meeting of Central Trade Unions was conducted on March 23, 1981, in Delhi, which decided to organise a national convention of the working class at the then Bombay (now Mumbai) on June 4, 1981. This was the effort to unite all unions on workers’ issues and launch united struggles.
The convention was attended by delegates of major trade unions like CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, BMS, representatives from all-India federations of government employees, public sector employees and others who participated in large numbers. The convention adopted a 13-point demand charter which reflects the visionary approach of the leadership of the trade unions.
Apart from the basic demands of the working class, the charter of demands included demands like minimum wages for agricultural workers, comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers, remunerative prices for the peasants’ produce, the sale of all essential commodities such as food grains, edible oils, cloth, sugar, etc. at subsidised prices through a network of shops. All this in a comprehensive public distribution system under the control and supervision of popular committees and stringent measures against black-marketeers, hoarders and smugglers, speculators and officers protecting them. These demands raised in the charter were the key to mobilising the peasantry, agricultural workers and other sections of the society.
The convention decided to organise an all India general strike on January 19, 1982, and a series of regional conventions for its preparation, rallies in different parts of the country and a Parliament march. The call for the strike was given under the banner of the National Campaign Committee by the trade unions only, but peasantry, agricultural workers and other sections of masses joined the strike on the basis of the demand charter.
A massive march to Parliament was organised on November 23 in the same year, which was attended by lakhs of workers from all over the country. The Boat Club was completely filled by the workers, including agricultural workers, who have come from all parts of the country.
There was an environment of resistance built on the conscious effort which resulted in the huge success of the strike. The central government and various state governments used all means to disrupt the preparation for the strike. There were rounds of transfers, threatening, fake cases before the strike and finally police firing on the day of the strike, but nothing could stop history from registering this valiant effort of the working class.
After the strike, trade unions decided to continue this unity and stood with the families of the martyrs’ families. In Tamil Nadu, CITU decided to collect one rupee from each member every year and give it to the families of our comrades. They collected a fund of Rs 40,000 for them in the first year. Since then, many all India strikes of trade unions have been organised. Joined by the rural masses, i.e., the peasantry and agricultural workers through rural bandhs, all India strikes have proven to be quite effective in recent times.
The history of this strike tells us that a conscious effort is required to build unity despite prevailing concrete conditions for a united struggle. The Modi-led BJP government is attacking all sections of the society through its anti-people neoliberal economic policies and communal Hindutva politics. The basic right of workers is being snatched and their future is set into peril through four labour codes, farmers were under attack from the entry of big corporates in agriculture assisted with three farm laws, agricultural workers, the most deprived sections (both economically and socially) of the working class in rural India, is struggling for surviving due to ever-decreasing working days, deliberate mishandling of MNREGA and weakening of a web of social security measures e.g. PDS, public sector health. Stagnant wages, price rise along huge unemployment (both urban and rural) has further worsened conditions.
In present times, the unity of the peasantry, rural and urban proletariat is more important. These are the times which demand the united struggle not only against the ruling party but against the big corporates. The peasant movement has set the example. One of the major achievements of the peasant movement is that the working-class has identified its enemy. The peasant struggle was against the ruling party as well as big corporates. The popular narrative was ‘Ambani- Adani ki sarkar’ and they called for a boycott of products of corporates, including Jio Sim, and we have witnessed a huge response to these calls.
When the working class has identified their enemy through their own experiences, at the same time they have identified their friends. Normally peasants and workers are pitted against each other for price rise and income inequalities. But during the last year of struggle, both sections were under attack by the same neoliberal economic policies of BJP which brought both together. The joint platform of central trade unions extended its active support to the struggle of SKM and SKM also took the issue of four labour codes and privatisation of PSUs. The issues of MNREGA and PDS are raised by both CTUs and SKM bringing agricultural workers closer. There were huge mobilisations of workers in support of the farmers' struggle and farmers and agricultural workers became part of strikes and other actions called by Trade Unions.
These were deliberate efforts by the leadership of workers, agricultural workers and peasants. After the victory of farmers, it was reiterated by the leadership to continue this unity. During the last seven years, a big question was confronting India: How to fight the politics of divisive Hindutva championed by BJP and RSS, which break the unity of people on their religious and caste identities. The answer is workers and peasant unity based on their issues which should call for broader support of common people. The common strike of January 19, 1982, was an important step in this direction. CITU, AIKS and AIAWU have decided to observe this day throughout the country highlighting its importance and further strengthening peasant-workers unity for future struggles to save India from twin attacks of neoliberal policies and communalism led by the BJP.
The present situation is seeing people from all walks of life engaged in a struggle against an authoritarian government, which is guided by the ideology of Hindutva, an Indian version of the fascist ideology of the Nazis. This is the continuation of the legacy of the martyrs of the 1982 all India strike, which was joined by various sections of toiling masses on their issues, thus unifying an India of diversity.