More than 150 million Indian workers, or seven times the whole population of Australia, took part in a one-day general strike against Indian Prime Minister Modi’s assaults on public enterprises and workers’ wages and conditions.
Organised by eleven peak trade union bodies, the general strike focussed on a package of core demands, most of which Australian workers will have no trouble understanding:
The demands raised in the charter are:
- Reducing prices and bringing them under control
- National Floor Level Minimum wage of Rs 15,000
- No to anti worker changes in labour laws, Strict implementation of existing labour laws
- End contract system, and practice of outsourcing and hiring of daily wage labour
- Pension for all workers
- Equal wages for equal work
- Social Security for agricultural workers and other unorganized sector workers
- No to privatization
- Withdrawal of the Road Transport and Safety Bill
- Regularisation of Scheme workers
- No to FDI in Defence, Railways, Financial Sector and Retail Trade
- Withdrawal of the Land Acquisition Bill
- Defeat privatisation
Said to be the largest general strike in Indian history, it involved nearly all sectors of the working class including workers from manufacturing, mining, the public sector, transport and other sectors, along with workers in the informal economy. Workers in the private banking sector even formed their own union just to be able to take part.
Eighty-five per cent of manufacturing firms in India employ less than 50 workers, and around half of these workers are kept on short-term contracts and earn just $5 or $6 per day. The government’s proposals would deprive them of vital legal protections leaving them in even more precarious circumstances.
In the face of the growing wave of support for the September 2 general strike, the Modi government offered some minor concessions. One of the eleven trade union bodies pulled out at the last moment, declaring that because of this show of “good faith” the government should be given a six months’ grace period to implement various items in the charter of demands. However, the remaining ten bodies rejected this vacillation and persisted with the strike.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-affiliated National Committee of the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) called on all central trade unions and the working class to see this strike only as a first step to the desperately needed sustained and far more heightened struggle which is necessary to force the Modi government to back down from the attacks it has launched on, and the attacks this government has in store for, the working class.
A smaller federation, the IFTU (Proletarian) called on trade union federations to reject what it called the “tokenism” of one-day strikes. Prefacing its call by declaring that it supported the working class demands that formed the strike agenda and so was not against the strike, it said that one-day strikes were running out of steam as a tactic, and that ways must be found to lift the level of struggle. It said:
“The place that such “one day strikes” have in the working class struggle needs to be understood here. These are like “flag marches” of the detachments of the workers, through which the working class cautions the bourgeoisie and its government that if the assault does not stop then it will lead to battle on the streets. Thus, “flag marches” can happen once, twice or even thrice. The point to ponder over here is: If, even after such marches, the capitalist assault continues, will workers still continue to do the flag march or will they prepare for the combat? But we find since 1991 that these unions have done the “Flag March” for umpteen times and they are still doing it. They are not ready to move to the second i.e higher stage of struggle. They cannot think about a fight, even in their dreams. And on the other hand, the assault on the working class continues unabated. The bastions of the working class are crumbling one after the other. These unions have made blunt this form of struggle i.e “Flag March” (One day token strike as a warning) which was once a critical weapon in the arsenal of the working class. They have converted it into a means of concealing their escapism thus disgracing and tarnishing it completely. The result is that the perpetual practice of tokenism has taken it toll on the morale of working class by killing the workers’ aspirations for struggles with each passing of the day.”
The debate over how to increase the pressure on the Modi government will no doubt continue within the ranks of the Indian working class. The situation in the cities and towns is still far from the active people’s war being carried out in the Indian countryside by the CPI (Maoist) and its supporters. And both are far from the generally economist and fragmented level of struggle characteristic of the current state of the working class in Australia.
We salute the 150 million workers who stopped work in India on September 2.
We must continue to develop support in Australia for an independent working class agenda based on the potential for struggle in our unions and community organisations.