April 03, 2022
Historic General Strike


Another Milestone in the Fight to Save the Country from Corporate Communal Policies

THE two days’ countrywide general strike on March 28-29 this year will be marked as one of the largest general strikes in the history of the working class of our country.

The significance of the strike is that the working class and the toiling people displayed their spirit of fighting amidst a very challenging and difficult situation.

On the one hand the Modi led BJP government is aggressively pursuing its neoliberal agenda ruthlessly attacking all the hard won rights of the people, their livelihoods and living conditions. The four labour codes subsume 29 existing labour laws. Though the three farm laws have been repealed, the Modi government has not taken any measure to fulfil the other assurances given to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha that spearheaded the historic farmers’ struggle. Prices are skyrocketing with the government refusing to provide any relief to the common people. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels. But the government refuses to increase public expenditure on infrastructure development and other measures to generate employment; it refuses to fill up the lakhs of posts that have been lying vacant. Emboldened by the passage of the labour codes meant to weaken the collectively organised interventions and actions by the workers, employers are increasingly resorting to victimisation and vindictive actions against workers asserting their rights, although the labour codes have not yet come into force. Conditions of all sections of toiling people are deteriorating.

On the other hand, BJP and RSS are utilising every occasion as well as creating occasions to increase communal polarisation. Not only religion, but caste, language etc are also utilised to create animosities and disrupt unity among the people. The hijab row, the Kashmir Files, halal meat, discrimination against Muslim traders near temples, every day, new issues are added to the already existing list of gau raksha, love jihad, etc. These along with the measures to placate the growing discontent through some welfare schemes, to whatever extent they are being implemented, are successfully utilised for electoral gains, as is seen in the victory of the BJP in the recent assembly elections, where it has retained power in all the four states.

The two days countrywide general strike was announced in the national convention in November 2021 when the farmers struggle was continuing and thousands of farmers were on the streets at the Delhi borders. The farmers’ struggle ended on a victorious note with Modi, till then considered invincible, compelled to announce the repeal of the three farm laws and apologising on the floor of parliament, of course, not for enacting them in the first place, but for his inability to convince a section of farmers on the benefits of the farm laws. This has created lot of enthusiasm and confidence among all sections of toiling people and progressive sections in the society, including the workers.

But the re-election of BJP in four states in the recently concluded assembly elections, except in Punjab, has to some extent dampened that enthusiasm. In some people, including some sections of the trade union movement, the results have led to a sense of dejection and loss of initiative. In addition, questions were raised about the response of the workers and their readiness to join the strike, given the impact of the Covid pandemic and the associated lockdowns, closures, restrictions and the resultant loss of jobs and incomes and the immense hardships that the workers had to face. This too added to the challenges before the joint trade union movement in ensuring the success of the strike.

But the working class and the toiling people of our country have effectively rebuffed these doubts and vacillations. They have proved their determination and ability to unitedly face these challenges and sent a strong message to the Modi government that they were not going to take the corporate communal attacks on the people and the nation as a whole, lying down.

The response of the workers, peasants, agricultural workers and all sections of common people to the strike which was called with the slogan ‘Save the People, Save the Nation’, was magnificent. The participation of workers surpassed that in the earlier strike on November 26, 2020, showing the anger of the working class and the people against the attacks on their livelihood, living conditions etc but also on the BJP government’s policies of handing over of the country’s precious infrastructure developed through public resources and the hard work of our workers, to the big corporates, domestic as well as foreign. Huge processions and demonstrations marked the strike in the entire country.

The strike received wide coverage in the international media. The desi godi media too could not avoid acknowledging it. As per the initial reports, the strike was successful in several strategic sectors of the economy.

It was unprecedented in PowerGrid, where workers in around 45-50 per cent of total substations in the country went on strike. Workers in hydel power projects in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam were on strike.

Strike was highly successful in the petroleum sector. In the northeast region, all the oil terminals and LPG bottling plants were closed due to heavy picketing at the entry gates. More workers participated in the picketing on the second day of the strike. The participation of contract workers in the refinery segment was 100 per cent. In marketing, both permanent and contract workers participated totally in the strike. In Cochin refinery, workers participated totally in the strike despite the High Court ban. 25 unions in the oil sector, 13 of contract workers and 12 of permanent workers served strike notice.

Port workers in Tuticorin VOC port, Paradip port and Mangalore port were on total strike. Five striking workers of Tuticorin port heroically prevented the management from engaging the CISF personnel to unberth a ship carrying windmill blades by jumping into the sea and blocking the ship from sailing, resorting to ‘ship roko’. Both permanent and contract workers in Bhavnagar and Kakinada ports also joined the strike.

Road transport was badly affected across the country. In addition to Kerala, strike was 100 per cent in the road transport sector in Haryana, 100 per cent among Punbus workers in Punjab and 100 per cent among the dumper drivers of Paradip port. In Tamil Nadu around 1.10 lakh workers in the government owned public transport joined the strike; around 350 bus depots were flooded with idle buses; strike was 91 per cent after a long gap of ten years. In Jammu and Kashmir, state road transport buses were totally off the road. Strike in the road transport sector in several other states including Telangana, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand etc was highly effective. This, along with the closure of mandis and markets has resulted in a bandh like situation in several states including Tripura, West Bengal, Assam, and in several districts in many other states. In many states auto rickshaws and private passenger and goods transport vehicles were off the road.   

Strike evoked good response among employees in the electricity sector. It was 100 per cent in KSEB in Kerala; in Tamil Nadu around 52 per cent electricity board employees joined the strike. Electricity employees in several other states including Haryana joined the strike.

Strike was total in insurance and massive in banks across the country. Branches of commercial banks including public sector, private sector and foreign banks and cooperative banks, were closed. It was successful in the regional rural banks as well. Strike in SBI was partial.

Strike among the central government employees was highly successful on both the days. More than 80 per cent of postal employees, 90 per cent of income tax employees, over 50 per cent of employees in audit and around 60 per cent in other departments participated in the strike. The participation on the second day was more with young employees taking the initiative for the strike against NPS.

Strike among state government employees was successful in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Chandigarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Tripura while in several other states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh a section of state government employees joined the strike. State government employees in Jammu and Kashmir held demonstrations.

The strike in BSNL was better than last time. It was near total in Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and in the north eastern states. It was total in Leh and Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir circle. More than 50 per cent employees joined the strike in Maharashtra. Strike was observed in many other circles but it was poor in Gujarat and eastern UP.

Strike was effective in the plantation sector; it was total in Kerala, over 60 per cent of workers on an average and 75 per cent workers in the state owned rubber plantations joined the strike. In West Bengal more than 3.5 lakh tea garden workers in Doars and Terai regions went on strike and joined rail and road roko programmes after taking out huge processions. Tea garden workers in Assam and Tripura also joined the strike in large numbers. 

Strike in the private industrial sector was successful in several states. Workers in major industries including MNCs like Bosch, Volvo, Toshiba, Sandvik, Mahindra and Mahindra, Tenneco (Escorts), JK Tyres, ABin Bev, Federal Mugul, L&M Cloth, Ceat etc in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu struck work. The workers also participated in huge demonstrations. Strike was 100 per cent in Ashok Leyland, Ennore Foundries, Madras Rubber Factory, Balmer Lawrie, Tablets India, JK Tyres, Apollo Tyres, Filter Cat etc in Tamil Nadu. It was successful in many other big private sector industries in the state. 

100 per cent workers in the engineering industry participated in Howrah in West Bengal. 24 out of the 52 jute mills in North 24 Paraganas, Howrah and Hoogly in the state were completely closed; in others strike was more than 70 per cent.

Lakhs of workers in the industrial clusters in several states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, NCR Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, etc joined the strike.

Strike in cement industry was 70-80 per cent in most of the states. It was observed by the workers of Ultratech cement, Bela cement, Jaypee cement, KJS cement, Bagheri cement, Birla White, Kharia, Ambuja cement etc in different states including Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal etc.

Strike was 50-100 per cent in around 40 spinning mills in Tamil Nadu. In Telangana around one lakh power loom workers in seven districts participated in the strike. Around 40 per cent of power loom workers in Kolhapur, Solapur, Bhiwandi joined the strike.  

Medical and sales representatives across the country joined the strike on both the days in an unprecedented manner. More than 1.5 lakh sales representatives in 389 major cities and towns, besides smaller towns, were involved in the strike resulting in total cessation of sales promotion activities. They also joined the picketing at 2,100 points and demonstrations in many states.

Traditional sector workers in cashew, coir in Kerala participated in the strike en masse.

Around 80 lakh scheme workers, particularly anganwadi employees, ASHAs, midday meal workers joined the strike as well as the demonstrations, picketing etc all over the country.

Municipal workers in hundreds of municipalities in the country, safai karmacharis, grameen chowkidars, etc in most of the states joined the strike.

More than 10 lakh construction workers in more than 17 states participated in the strike on both the days. Participation of unorganised sector workers particularly head load workers, beedi workers, shop employees, tailoring workers, domestic workers, participated in the strike. The unorganised sector workers not only participated in the strike but also in the demonstrations, rallies, dharnas, rail and road blockades that were held in tens of thousands of places across the country.

In several states, massive mobilisations were held at the district level on the first day and at the lower, block, panchayat level on the second day. Significantly the strike and its demands were taken up to the panchayat level this time through such mobilisations. For example, in Karnataka, demonstrations were held in 625 panchayats in addition to more than 200 other centres in 31 districts. Similar programmes were held in several other states.

The participation of the working class in Kerala was historic. Massive mobilisations were made with minute planning before the strike. The workers of BPCL unit in Cochin and BEML Palakkad participated in the strike totally ignoring the court order banning the strike. Similarly, the state government employees and officers participated in the strike on both the days. On the second day they participated with renewed vigour despite the High Court order banning strike by state government employees. In addition to massive demonstrations, strike centres were opened at 1040 places which functioned day and night during the strike days, organising cultural programmes also.

This strike also witnessed solidarity actions from larger sections of people and organisations.

Defence employees, who did not join the strike due to the Defence Essential Services Act, held massive demonstrations in front of central government offices and ordnance factories. In Kerala, they joined the strike without serving strike notice.

The recognised federations of railway employees, the All India Guards Council etc called for solidarity actions in support of the two days’ strike though their observation was restricted to some zones. Railway employees in some zones like south eastern zone and eastern zone etc joined motor cycle rallies as part of the strike campaign. The All India Loco Running Staff Association observed solidarity actions in Southern Railways, South Central Railways, East Coast Railway and Metro Railway. Solidarity badges were worn on duty by loco running staff in Southern Railways. Demonstrations were held in Kerala and some places in Tamil Nadu and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

Railway contract workers held demonstrations in several states. In Central Railway, demonstrations were held independently by railway contract workers in Solapur, Ahmadnagar, Manmad, Nasik railway depot etc; they also joined the joint demonstrations. In Andhra Pradesh, demonstrations were held in Vijayawada, and a human chain was also formed. Big demonstration was held in Puri in Odisha. In Bihar, the Rail Neer workers shut the plant and joined the strike on both days. In Tamil Nadu railway contract workers in Integrated Coach Factory, wore badges and participated in the demonstrations held by DREU. In Uttar Pradesh, the station cleaning staff conducted meetings in three locations. In Kerala and West Bengal too railway contract workers joined the demonstrations held by the trade unions, in large numbers. 

The role of IT employees in this general strike was remarkable. Under the banner of their respective unions, IT employees in West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, NCR Delhi and other places extensively campaigned about the strike and the issues that it raised, not only through social media but also physically participating in various activities, including wall writing, demonstrations etc.

The solidarity extended by the peasant and agricultural workers’ organisations is particularly noteworthy. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, whose leaders participated in the national convention of workers, extended support to the two days’ strike, reiterated their support after the dates of the strike were changed. The constituents of SKM actively participated in the strike. The SKM congratulated the working class for the success of the strike and reiterated its support to the workers’ struggle against the imposition of labour codes and resolved to continue the struggle against anti-farmer policies of the government. It has signalled its willingness to continue efforts for unity of workers and farmers that has been developing through synchronised and coordinated actions in addition to solidarity actions during the last around two years. This is a positive development.

The two days’ general strike received support and solidarity not only from the people of our country. It received huge attention internationally and huge solidarity from the international working class movement. Several trade unions including the World Federation of Trade Unions and others expressed their solidarity. Indian seafarers stationed in various countries across the continents and oceans at present have expressed their solidarity.

In several states, the state and district level leadership of AIKS and AIAWU coordinated with the CITU and planned joint actions on the strike days. Peasants and agricultural workers joined the demonstrations, rail and road blockades in almost all the states. This solidarity and support among the class organisations has to be further strengthened in the coming days. Members of AIDWA, DYFI and SFI also participated in the mobilisations on the two days in several states.

The strike received tremendous support from the common people across the country.  The overwhelming support to the two days’ general strike shows that people of our country are determined to save the country from the clutches of the corporate communal government and its devastating and destructive neoliberal agenda.  

General Strike Receives Encouraging Response in Tripura

Arupratan Sarma

Two-day nationwide general strike on 28-29 March generated encouraging response in the state. Banks, insurance sector and BSNL were totally shut down. At some places bank branches were opened forcefully by ruling BJP workers, but there were hardly any consumer. Shops and markets remained closed almost everywhere. In the rural and hilly areas the strike has been a total one. Public transport and private vehicles were off the road in most parts of the state. The motor stands at various places were reduced to deserted places having rows of parked vehicles only.

Ruling BJP preferred to flex its muscle power to stall the strike. Strict administrative orders were issued by the BJP-IPFT government directing the employees and the teachers to attend duty on 28-29 March, without fail. Public transport owners and workers were intimidated by the BJP musclemen with directives to run vehicles on these two days at any cost. Small establishment owners were threatened to keep open their establishments or get the trade license cancelled. Shop owners were threatened with dire consequences if they participate in the strike.

But the people of the state supported the strike in a big way, ignoring the strong arm tactics of the ruling party. On the morning of 28 March, everything remained closed throughout the state. Having seen the success of the strike call, the ruling BJP let loose its biker gangs at many places, who went from market to market, shop to shop, and forced the owners to open their shops and establishments. They also forced many vehicle owners and workers to run their vehicles on the road. In spite of all these, the strike call received an overwhelming support in the rural and hilly areas. In the capital city of Agartala and some other urban areas some of the shops and markets were opened forcefully, but presence of common people was very less. Some of the long distance buses were operated under coercion but with only 5-7 passengers. The strike was a near total one in a number of sub-divisions like Dharmanagar, Kanchanpur, Kumarghat, Kamalpur, Gandachhera, Sonamura, Belonia etc.

In the afternoon of 28 March, leaders of 5 central trade union organizations held a press conference and congratulated the common people for their support to the strike. CITU state president Manik Dey emphasized the circumstances under which the people were compelled to organize the nationwide strike. CITU state general secretary Shankar Prasad Datta presented a district wise summary of the success of the strike. CITU state leader Panchali Bhattacharjya congratulated the scheme workers for their active participation in the strike. The press conference was also attended by the leaders of TUCC, UTUC, AITUC and AICCTU.