August 13, 2023

SKM, CTUs to Hold United National Convention

Ashok Dhawale

AUGUST 24, 2023 will see a historic event in India. For the first time ever, the huge Talkatora Stadium in the nation’s capital Delhi will be witness to a joint convention of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the Central Trade Unions (CTUs). These two platforms today represent the broadest sections of the peasantry and the working class of India.

Over 5,000 delegates representing several organisations of workers, peasants, and agricultural workers will join this convention. Here, the importance of worker-peasant unity will be stressed. A joint resolution on the current grave socio-economic and political challenges in the country and our united purpose will be adopted. A joint charter of demands will be framed and on that basis a major nationwide call to action will be given. The slogan around which this convention is being organised is “Corporate-Communal BJP-RSS Raj Hatao, Bharat Bachao”.

This convention is taking place against the horrific backdrop of the communal and ethnic violence and the shameful atrocities on women taking place in Manipur for the last three months with the collusion of the BJP-led central and state governments. It is also taking place in the background of the RSS-incited condemnable communal violence in Haryana. All this is clearly an integral part of the RSS-BJP attempts to intensify communal polarisation in preparation for the coming general elections and state assembly elections. Hence, along with the burning economic demands of the working people, the steadfast defence of democracy, secularism, and the constitution will assume cardinal importance in this convention. 

Another huge worker-peasant national convention was organised at the same Talkatora Stadium in Delhi last year on September 5, 2022. Then also the stadium overflowed with over 5,000 delegates from all over the country. It was organised jointly by three of the leading class organisations in India – Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), and All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU). It gave a clarion call for a massive nationwide march to parliament on April 5, 2023. Accordingly, a one lakh strong nationwide worker-peasant joint rally was held at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi despite the scorching heat.

Five years ago, in 2018, before the Covid pandemic, two even more massive nationwide actions were jointly organised by the CITU, AIKS, and AIAWU. On August 9, 2018, lakhs of workers, peasants and agricultural workers courted arrest and filled the jails in India for their demands. It was perhaps the largest nationwide jail bharo struggle of recent times. Then again, within a month on September 5, 2018, these three class organisations jointly organised a two lakh strong march to parliament, which began from the Ramlila Maidan and culminated at Parliament Street. Red flags of all three organisations dominated the nation’s capital.

On August 9, the nationwide jail bharo struggle mobilised 5.5 lakh peasants and workers, at over 610 centres in 407 districts in 23 states. The peasants led by AIKS were around 3 lakh, the workers led by CITU were about 2 lakh, and agricultural workers led by AIAWU were around 50,000. The largest participation in the  September 5th Delhi rally to parliament was of the CITU along with the industrial federations, followed by the AIKS and AIAWU. On the previous day, September 4, over 10,000 women led by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) held a similar nationwide march to parliament, braving drenching rain.

The above struggles illustrate worker-peasant unity in action at the national level. They represent the unity of the three basic classes and the toiling people who actually produce the wealth of our country through their labour. These struggles created tremendous enthusiasm at all levels throughout the country. This was reflected in the mobilisation of several lakhs that they achieved. One important characteristic of these actions was the massive participation of women and youth. These actions were directed against the anti-people, pro-corporate, neo-liberal policies of the BJP-RSS central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They also castigated the communal, casteist, corrupt, and authoritarian nature of the Modi regime. They channelised the rapidly growing discontent and anger of the people against the rulers and also, to an extent, put forth alternative policies based on a 15-point charter of demands of all three basic classes.

The call for the first all India general strike against the policies of the then Congress-led central government was given by the central trade unions on January 19, 1982, and it was supported by several organisations of the peasantry. A day earlier, on January 18, 1982, the historic textile workers strike in Mumbai by over two and a half lakh workers led by Datta Samant began, and it lasted for over a year. However, the Indira Gandhi-led Congress regime decided to crush it passively; not a single demand of the workers was conceded; and this strike had disastrous consequences not only for the textile workers, but also for the trade union movement in the country as a whole, and even for the future development of Mumbai city and Maharashtra state. During the first all India general strike in 1982, several workers and peasants were shot dead in police firing. Every year since then, January 19 has been observed as martyrs’ day.

After that there has been a whole series of all India general strikes by the working class of India as per the call of the central trade unions, and all of them have been fully supported by the peasantry coming out on the streets in solidarity actions around their own demands. Over 20 to 25 crore workers and employees, both organised and unorganised, have gone on strike.

The resistance of the working class and the peasantry across India increased manifold after 2014, with the advent of the Modi-led BJP-RSS regime, and its shamelessly pro-corporate and anti-worker, anti-peasant policies. The post-2014 struggles realised that this BJP-RSS central government was the worst culprit in intensifying neo-liberal policies, with the BJP-led state governments also are following suit.

As soon as the Modi government came to power, on December 31, 2014, it brought in a thoroughly reactionary ordinance to amend the LARR Act of 2013. The thrust of this ordinance was pro-corporate and anti-farmer, making it much easier for the corporates and their governments to acquire land from farmers. It clearly was a land grab ordinance.

A nationwide peasant struggle began in February 2015 against this reactionary ordinance. It was led by the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), a joint platform in which the AIKS played a vital role, along with the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and over 100 other peasant organisations. The ordinance was publicly burnt in large actions in over 300 districts across the country. Two large peasant marches to parliament were held under the BAA banner condemning the ordinance, the first on February 24, 2015 and the second on May 5. The BAA organised a public hearing on the issue on July 23.

At that time, the BJP was in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, and Left members of parliament rallied the entire opposition to oppose this ordinance. The Bihar state assembly elections were also around the corner. All this forced the Modi regime to withdraw the hated ordinance on August 31, 2015. This was the first significant policy defeat of the new BJP-RSS government, and it was farmers who inflicted it. However, several BJP state governments later pushed bills with amendments similar to this ordinance through their state assemblies.

In June 2017, farmers from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh began their struggle for loan waiver and remunerative prices. On June 6, 2017, the BJP state government of Madhya Pradesh resorted to brutal police firing, killing six farmers. Farmers across the country widely condemned this in demonstrations on June. 16

Soon after this firing, several farmers’ organisations came together to form the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), with the AIKS and other organisations being its major constituents. After a countrywide kisan mukti yatra traversed several states, the AIKSCC held an impressive kisan mukti sansad and mahila kisan sansad in Delhi on November 20-21, 2017. Thousands of farmers participated in it from across the country.

The ‘Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill’ was presented before the kisan mukti sansad by the then AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, former MP. And the ‘Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill’ was presented by Raju Shetti, then MP. These two seminal AIKSCC bills were then finalised after extensive countrywide consultations. They were then placed before parliament as private members’ bills in August 2018 by the then AIKS joint secretary K K Ragesh in the Rajya Sabha and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti in the Lok Sabha. These bills were supported by leaders of 21 opposition parties at a convention in New Delhi.

Another major initiative was the AIKSCC-led countrywide kisan mukti march to parliament on November 29-30, 2018. It began from five points near Delhi on November 29, 2018. Thousands of farmers walked a distance of 15-20 km to the Ramlila Maidan from these points. On November 30, around one lakh farmers began a massive march from Ramlila Maidan. It reached parliament at noon. It was a microcosm of rural India. Poor and middle farmers, tenant farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, and even some rich farmers were part of this rally. Women farmers, adivasi farmers, dalit farmers, farmers from minority communities were also present in large numbers. Every participant had a story of hardship – and resistance – to share. Many sections of the media captured these anecdotes.

It was a heart-rending sight to see wives and daughters of farmers from Telangana walking in the rally with framed photographs of their husbands and fathers who had died by suicide due to indebtedness. Farmers from Tamil Nadu had come with the skulls and bones of their farmer brethren, who had died by suicide.

The kisan mukti march castigated the BJP-RSS central government for its anti-farmer policies, and demanded that the two private members’ bills for loan waiver and remunerative MSP placed in parliament on behalf of the AIKSCC in August 2018 be discussed and adopted. It demanded a special session of parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis and related issues. It also adopted a 19-point manifesto of Indian farmers which included the demands of all agrarian sections, including agricultural workers, tenant farmers, fisherfolk, and so on.

All these nationwide struggles were effectively supplemented and strengthened by the struggles in the states, like the 11-day farmers’ strike in Maharashtra in June 2017, which succeeded in wresting a total loan waiver of Rs 40,000 crore and other demands from the state government to the peasantry; the struggle of the peasantry in Rajasthan in September 2017, which also succeeded in winning a large loan waiver, pension, crop insurance compensation, and other demands; the kisan long march in Maharashtra in March 2018, which made progress in achieving land rights under the Forest Rights Act, and other demands. In several other states also, important state and local struggles achieved victory.     
The nationwide farmers’ struggle of 2020-21 was the climax of all these earlier massive peasant struggles and campaigns. When the Modi government promulgated the three farm laws first as ordinances on June 5, 2020, the AIKSCC gave a countrywide call for mass protests. When the Modi regime rammed through the three farm laws, and then the four labour codes, in parliament in September 2020 by murdering parliamentary democracy, the AIKSCC and the CTUs gave a clarion call for countrywide actions on September 25, 2020 against the farm laws and the labour codes. This call mobilised lakhs of farmers and workers all over the country, and it turned into a bandh in Punjab, Haryana and some other states.

The AIKSCC also gave a call for a massive ‘Chalo Delhi’ protest on November 26, 2020. In a welcome development, the central trade unions also gave a call for an all India general strike on the very same day. Hence it will always be written in letters of gold that this most historic recent struggle in India began on the solid note of worker-peasant unity.

On October 26-27, 2020, the AIKSCC invited many farmers’ organisations from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and other states outside its fold to a joint meeting in Delhi. It was in this meeting that the SKM was born. It was an unprecedented development – 500 farmers’ organisations coming together against a common enemy. The SKM unitedly led the year-long farmers’ struggle from November 26, 2020 up to December 11, 2021. The struggle resulted in over 700 martyrs, including the five mowed down at Lakhimpur Kheri under the cars of the BJP’s union minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni. Prime minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah still shamelessly retain this murderer in office.

Like in the CTUs, ideologically, the farmers’ organisations in the SKM belong to the Left, right, and centre. But it was indeed a welcome development that they all came together in an issue-based struggle. Herculean efforts by many went into building this unprecedented unity of farmers’ organisations. But in the final analysis, it was this unity that led to victory.

It was during the course of this nationwide farmers’ struggle that the SKM and the CTUs came closer. The CTUs fully supported all the action calls given throughout 2020-21 by the SKM, including the three Bharat bandhs. Hundreds of massive mahapanchayats were held throughout the country, and they were aptly called kisan mazdoor mahapanchayats, since both the peasantry and the working class took spirited part in them. A broad-based national convention organised by the SKM at the Singhu border in August 2021 was addressed by leaders of the CTU’s, and also by organisations of agricultural workers, women, students, youth, adivasis and dalits. On its part, the SKM supported the struggle calls for all India general strikes given by the CTUs against the four labour codes, and against the central government’s anti-national privatisation drive of the public sector.

It is in the background of these growing joint actions of the last few years that the leaders of the SKM and the CTUs held several joint meetings in Delhi. The joint national convention at Delhi on August 24, 2023 is a welcome culmination of all these struggles. While the independent struggles of both these platforms, and of each organisation within these platforms, will continue to intensify, strengthening the joint actions of the SKM and the CTUs has seminal importance, to save, and later to change, the country for the better.

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