Why this Countrywide General Strike?
(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 19, 2012
The working class of the country is gearing up for the all India general strike on February 28, the 14th general strike in the last two decades. The call for the general strike, on the basis of a ten point charter of demands, was given jointly by all the eleven central trade unions in the country.
It is for the first time in the history of our trade union movement that both the INTUC and the BMS have joined the other central trade unions to call for a countrywide general strike. In addition, many independent all India federations of workers and employees in different sectors like state and central government departments, defence, public sector undertakings, insurance, banks, telecom, road transport, port and dock and of medical representatives, etc have endorsed the strike call. Several
federations held joint sectoral conventions that called upon their members to participate in the strike.
Reports from different parts of the country indicate that intense preparations are going on for the success of the general strike. The central leadership of all the major central trade unions have jointly addressed workers in well attended conventions and meetings being organised in several states, major cities and industrial areas and are together supervising the preparations. All the federations have started active campaign in their respective sectors. Several state level and independent trade unions like the TNTUC, the trade union wing of the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, and Shiv Sena unions in Maharashtra etc have also decided to join the strike. There is no doubt that the economic activities in the country will come to a grinding halt on February 28 with an unprecedented participation of the workers belonging to all affiliations.
GRASS ROOT WORKERS
While the central and state level leaders of the trade union movement are fully involved in the preparations for an effective strike, what is equally important is to involve the grass root workers, the workers at the shop floor, in the factories, in the offices and other establishments - in the campaign. It is necessary to take the message of the strike and particularly the demands of the strike to all the workers - to the workers waiting for work in the city junctions, to the workers in the construction sites, at the brick kilns, in the tea, coffee and rubber plantations, the rickshaw pullers and auto drivers, the workers of dhabas and hotels, the street vendors, to the shop employees, to the unorganised workers in their mohallas, slums and residential areas and to the rural workers in their villages. Workers in the organised and unorganised, urban and rural areas, men and women, irrespective of and beyond all affiliations should be made aware of the demands on which the strike is based. Not only the entire working class but the entire toiling masses of the country too must be made aware of the demands of the strike and their support and solidarity sought.
The five point charter of demands that was adopted in 2009 has been expanded by adding another five demands in the national convention held in September 2011. These ten demands – concrete actions to curb price rise including universalisation of the public distribution system, job protection, universal social security to all unorganised workers by creating a national fund with adequate budgetary allocations, effective implementation of labour laws with strict punishment to those who flout them, stopping of disinvestment, minimum wages of not less than Rs 10,000 per month, pension for all, equal wages and benefits to the contract workers, ensuring the right to organisation and collective bargaining, removal of ceiling on bonus, ESI etc – are relevant to all sections of the people. All efforts should be made to make the strike massive with the active support of all sections of the toiling people.
Besides, these issues are not isolated issues but are related to the policies of the governments at the centre and at the state level whether led by the Congress, the BJP or other bourgeois parties. The neoliberal policies being implemented since the last two decades have imposed huge burdens on the working class and the common people while benefiting the big corporates and the rich. The disparities between the rich and the poor have widened. While more than 84 crores of people in the country cannot spend more than Rs 20 a day for their survival according to the report of a government appointed commission, a few rich earn more than Rs 4 lakhs per day. It is reported that income inequality in India has doubled during the last two decades of the neo liberal regime. The top 10 per cent of wage earners now make 12 times more than the bottom 10 per cent, while in the 1990s it was six times. The government policies under the neoliberal regime are tuned to benefit the big corporates and traders at the cost of the workers and the poor. As per the figures presented in the parliament, the government has foregone taxes to the extent of Rs 14,28,028 crores in the last three years in the form of exemption of taxes; out of this Rs 3,63,875 crores was for the corporates and the rich.
Despite the sustained joint campaign and agitation since the last two years including courting of arrest, massive march to parliament, satyagraha, as well as a general strike in 2010, the government totally ignored the demands raised by the entire trade union movement of the country. It has refused to ban futures trade in food commodities and universalise and strengthen the public distribution system. While peasants do not receive remunerative prices for their produce and are committing suicides under distress, workers and the poor are forced to starve due to unaffordable prices of food articles. The government refuses to provide universal social security benefits like pension, maternity benefits, life, health and accident insurance etc to all the unorganised sector workers on the pretext of lack of financial resources. Under neoliberal regime the huge concessions to the few big corporates and the rich are called ‘incentives’ and the expenditure to ensure minimum livelihood security for the vast sections of the poor is derided as ‘subsidies’ and ‘doles’. The government allows the employers to flout all labour laws with impunity; but the workers, almost always – whether in Maruti Suzuki in Gurgaon, Hyundai in Chennai, Foxconn or Brandix in the SEZs in Kancheepuram or Visakhapatnam, in Reddy Labs in Srikakulam, or in Regency Ceramics in Yanam - are attacked by using brutal police force when they try to assert their basic rights. It is the workers who produce the wealth and enable the employers to earn profits; but most of the unorganised workers including the contract workers, casual workers etc in the organised sector do not get even the minimum wage; with the ever increasing prices, the real wages of the workers have, in fact, been coming down. Huge sections of workers, most of them women, are denied not only minimum wages but also the status of a worker by the government itself. They are called ‘social workers’, ‘activists’, ‘friends’, ‘guests’ etc just to deny them the minimum wages, social security and other benefits. Moreover, the Planning Commission ridiculously claims that an income of Rs 26 a day in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas is enough for a person to be considered out of poverty, thereby depriving them of the benefits of the existing welfare programmes which only cater to those below the artificially and arbitrarily fixed poverty line.
Under the neoliberal regime, the wealth of the nation like the natural resources including vast tracts of land, forests, mines, water bodies etc and public sector enterprises are being handed over to the big national and multinational corporates. The government is withdrawing itself from the responsibility of providing even basic facilities like education, health, social security etc to the people and turning all these services into profit making avenues for the rich in the name of public private partnership, thus helping private employers in exploiting the workers and depriving the poor of the access to free or affordable health and education facilities. The conditions of the working people cannot be improved unless these policies are reversed.
The ten demands, on which the strike is being organised, entail the reversal of the neoliberal policy regime. The CITU has taken a pioneering role in opposing the neoliberal policies from their inception even when some sections of the trade union movement nurtured illusions about these policies benefiting the workers and eliminating poverty through their trickle down effects. It has all along strived to unite all the trade unions for a joint movement against these policies. With two decades of experience of the neoliberal policies, these illusions have been completely dispelled. Discontent and resentment against the neoliberal policy regime is now growing among vast sections of workers and common people. The untiring efforts of the CITU to develop united movement against the anti worker anti people policies have borne fruit today when the entire trade union movement of the country has come together on a charter of demands that calls for a reversal of the anti worker anti people policies.
Resistance to the neoliberal policies is widespread not only in our country but in all the countries wherever they have been implemented, including in the advanced capitalist countries. In Latin America, where these policies were initiated much earlier than in India, strong people’s struggles erupted that have ultimately led to the defeat of the governments that were pledged to these pro imperialist policies and election of Left and progressive governments. Many of these governments are now implementing pro people policies and have increased their expenditure on providing food security, education and health facilities and employment generation. Some governments as in Venezuela and Bolivia have nationalised foreign oil and gas companies and banks while Argentina etc have nationalised pension funds. Big struggles have been taking place in Europe particularly Greece, Spain, Italy, Britain, France etc against the attacks on the workers’ pensions, retirement age, wages, working hours etc in the name of austerity in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. Even in the USA, the ardent advocate of neoliberal policies, which has been forcing them on the developing countries, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to all major cities. It is challenging not only the bail outs to the big corporates and the neo liberal policies; it is questioning the capitalist system itself which benefits the 1 per cent corporates against 99 per cent of the people.
The present world situation provides a favourable condition to intensify the struggle against the neoliberal policies that are being pursued by successive governments at the centre and in many states in our country. Because of the opposition from the trade union movement and the support extended to these struggles by the Left, both inside and outside the parliament, the governments could not move with the speed that they intended to in implementing the neoliberal policies. Some of the measures like amendment to the labour laws allowing them free hand to ‘hire and fire’ workers, financial sector liberalisation, privatisation of pension funds etc could be stalled because of these agitations and struggles including the 13 joint all India general strikes during the last twenty years. However, the government is trying to implement some of them through executive orders.
Now, with the all in unity achieved at the central level, it is time for this struggle to take a giant leap forward. The working class must make efforts to change the character of the hitherto defensive struggle into offensive struggles. This will be possible only when the unity achieved at the top level is converted into unity at the grass roots level. Such unity at the grass roots level along with developing consciousness on the need to change the policies, on the need to end exploitation and on the role of the working class in this process alone can make such transformation of the character of the struggle possible.
The CITU that came into being with the slogan ‘unity and struggle’ must shoulder the responsibility to ensure that this is achieved. All CITU state committees, its cadres and members must take this message of the strike to each and every worker in whichever field he or she works. The support and solidarity of the organisations of different sections of toiling people and the democratic forces to this 14th countrywide general strike should send a strong warning to the ruling classes to reverse these anti people policies. Let this countrywide general strike on February 28 be a milestone in the forward march of the working class of India in discharging its historic responsibility.