Hold Aloft the Banner of Struggle MAY DAY Zindabad
FIGHT FOR THE WITHDRAWAL OF ANTI-WORKER LABOUR CODES
FIGHT PRIVATISATION and PROTECT PUBLIC ASSETS
The 135th year of the historic May Day will be celebrated by the workers of the world under conditions of the pandemic and consequent restrictions used as a tool by the ruling classes to stifle normal democratic activity. Last year around this time, our country witnessed one of the harshest lockdowns imposed by the BJP-led government ostensibly to arrest the spread of the virus. What this lockdown did to those millions, called as migrant workers is a dark chapter in the history of the country that remains etched in our memories. They were all invisible and inconsequential to the rulers till the lockdown happened. Those in power and society at large woke up to witness these migrants trudging away to their distant native places in the scorching heat after being thrown out of work. Some dying on the way on the highways, on rail tracks, in trains and in accidents. How many died? The Union Labour Minister on the floor of the Parliament said that the government has no data! In fact, he said that there is no data regarding the number of these workers in the country. A survey revealed that in Surat in Gujarat there are around twenty lakh migrant workers out of whom only 7000 were registered. There are over 15 crore migrant workers in the country who slog at the construction sites, metro rail etc. but are nameless as they are not registered despite the Migrant Workers Act,1979 which has also been done away with by the Four Labour Codes. These labour codes adversely affect millions of workers in the unorganized sectors of the economy as many are pushed out of the ambit of any law.
It is a well-known fact that since long the World Bank, foreign capital and the native corporate have been demanding reforms in labour laws to their advantage. While the agenda of these labour law reforms could not be pushed through by the government all these years, the pandemic came in handy to bulldoze three labour codes in the winter session of the parliament in 2020, the Wage Code having been passed in 2019. Determining the criteria for fixing the minimum wage, allocating a mere 10% of expenditure of food and clothing towards house rent are flawed in the wage code and do not serve the interests of workers. The most important of the four labour codes is the IR Code that effectively takes away the hard-won rights of the working class. What was being demanded by the big managements to realize labour flexibility has now been granted by this code with freedom to hire and fire workers. Managements owning companies employing less than 300 need not seek permission from the government to retrench workers or close down the unit. A legal strike has been made impossible with sixty days notice and other riders. Forms of workers struggle like mass casual leave and go-slow have now been pushed into the category of strike.The inspection system has now been almost dismantled with labour inspectors acting as facilitators. Web-based self certification by the managements is aimed at protecting management interests. Fixed Term Employment is another instrument to cut regular workers and push out a large chunk of the workforce from the ambit of labour laws. In essence all the four labour codesstand to benefit the managements and hit hard the interests of the workers.
For long the World Bank has been advocating private-sector led growth and privatization as a remedy to the various economic maladies facing a country. It has been saying that governments have no business to be in business, that is, in economic activity. How well our prime minister parrots this slogan when he shouts that government has no business to be in business. What is to be done then? Privatize,privatize and private all that is public held, government held.At the height of the pandemic last year in May, announcing the financial package, the Finance Minister declared that all non-strategic PSUs will be privatized and strategic units like the defence will also be privatized with the exception of some four units. There are profit-making maharatna and navaratna companies in this list of PSUs going under the axe of privatization. Many of these PSUs pay huge amounts of money to the government in the form of taxes and dividends and yet the government intends to hand them over to private players at dirt cheap rates. The BJP led government has announced that two public sector banks would be privatized without naming them. The largest insurer in the world, the LIC is sought to be gradually privatized through disinvestment and the 49% FDI cap in insurance sector has been hiked to 74% thus facilitating domination of this sector by foreign capital. Hundred percent FDI has been allowed in railways and already the government has identified some twelve profit-making clusters to be handed over to private players. In a word, the government at the centre is on a privatization-spree with public assets up for sale on a platter to the private capital, both domestic and foreign. Yet the government shamelessly talks of atmanirbhar while putting up the country for sale.
In this scenario, the resistance put up by the farmers against the three farm laws that serve the interests of the corporate is significant in the history of peoples struggles in the country. This huge movement on the borders of Delhi, withstanding the biting winter and the hot summer now is one of biggest movements ever seen in this country. It has challenged the fascist, pro-corporate agenda of the BJP and demonstrated the inherent strength of the peasant masses. The working class should not only identify itself with this movement but should come out in thousands like the peasants to beat back the government’s assaults on workers’ rights. A significant struggle in this direction is the struggle of the workers and employees of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant in Andhra Pradesh against the privatization move by the central government. The establishment of this PSU was a result of a long struggle of the people and the attempts to privatizeit is being resisted not only by the employees of the plant but by the people at large.
On the occasion of 135th year of May Day we reiterate our belief and confidence in the strength of the working class in changing history to a better future. We remember the heroic struggle of the workers of Chicago in 1886 for an eight-hour working day and the martyrs who were hanged to death. We recall their court statements that call for a socialist society as the alternative to the exploitative capitalist system. We pledge to carry forward the struggle to realize this beautiful dream.
INDIAN FEDERATION OF TRADE OF UNIONS (IFTU)
May Day 2021