Why India’s workers are striking tomorrow?

Whenever a nationwide workers’ strike happens over some major issue, the “proudly apolitical” bunch comes out condemning the strike call. Now, since some of these apolitical ones have formed parties to contest in the local body elections in Kerala, its founders have slyly used this as an opportunity to ask people to not vote for the parties supporting the strike (which is an indirect call to vote for BJP, because only the sangh trade union is not participating in tomorrow’s strike).

Missing from all these posts are the demands raised by the striking workers. Should not any fair discussion on whether a strike action is right or not mention this? So, let us look at some of the demands of the nationwide strike of all the workers’ union (Except RSS-controlled BMS) tomorrow -

1. Withdrawl of the labour law amendments — The Central Government has now proposed 12 hour working days, to bring back the old days of slave labour. Many of the protections provided for workers in the existing labur laws were done away. Some of the requirements that are waived include toilets, ventilation, lighting, sitting facilities, protective equipment, first aid gear, creches, canteens, rest breaks, weekends. The management of a company can hold back eight days’ wages if an employee strikes for one day, ‘illegally’, as if there are “legal strikes”.

Many of the original labour laws came into effect soon after independence, and many others were improved upon over the years, through major protest movements helmed by the trade unions. Many who celebrate the suspension of these laws are unaware of the kind of blood and sweat that went behind winning of these rights. For instance, women working in textile shops won the right to sit, after several protests, only very recently.

2. Withdrawl of anti-farmer laws. Reams have already been written on it and the ongoing protests in Punjab and other states should be enough for anyone to know the seriousness of the issue.

3. End to privatisation of public sector companies. Assumes significance at a time when the centre is trying to allow corporates to start even banks, so that they can use more of public funds for their own private use. It also comes at a time when PSUs like BSNL are being systematically destroyed from within to favour Ambani and when the Airport Authority of India has systematically neglected the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, so that the public would raise a clamour to hand it over to Adani. Also, remember how the public health system in Kerala stood strong through Nipah and the COVID-19 outbreak. This is what they want to destroy.

4. Provision of Rs.7500 for all non tax-paying families.

5. Provision of 10 kilogram food grais to the needy.

6. Increase of work days under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to 200 days per year (100 now).

7. End to forced lay offs of employees in the public sector

8. Provision of pension for everyone. Improvement of PF pension system.

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The claim made by these apolitical groups that such strikes happen only in Kerala is a lie. Remember the yellow vest protests across France in 2018, which began as a protest against rise in fuel prices and morphed into a bigger movement for economic justice, demanding among other things a minimum-wage increase or the protests in Chile against the country’s neo-liberal economical model and demanding a new Constitution. Major changes or the rights that all of us take for granted now have been won through continuous struggle. It might not yield results the next day, but all changes have happened only due to the incremental effects of such protest actions.

It is notable that none of these anti-strike apolitical individuals raised their voice when Modi announced a surprise, unplanned lockdown for 21 days and pushed millions of workers to walk on foot for hundreds of kilometres, in the biggest exodus the country has witnessed since the partition or when sanghis unleashed violent, communal and anti-women protests and harthals in kerala a couple of years back.

Image courtesy — News8plus.com