Renewed Attacks on Rights are Ahead!
On the eve of May Day 2020, the International Labour Organization has, for the third time, reinforced its dire predictions of the effect of the ongoing pandemic on workers’ jobs. Its spotlight is firmly on the unorganized sector. Nearly half of the global workforce is in immediate danger of having livelihoods destroyed, it says. The edge will fall on workers in informal sector with 3/4th of them, some 1.6 billion, likely to deal with job losses. This amounts to 76% of informal employment worldwide. 95% of these work in units of less than 10 workers. It has estimated that the global workforce is around 3.3 billion with 2 billion in the informal sector. This is a sector where “staying at home means losing their jobs and without wages they cannot eat”.
In India this is the sector which has walked itself into Visibility since 25th March 2020. Not that this has won them any relief from Rulers or Courts. They are in camps with no facilities and half hungry. They are trying to physically fit a half dozen or more of themselves into matchboxes called rooms as the powers that be practise social distancing. So on May Day we can recount the story of Jamlo Madkami, the 12 year old who walked from Telangana, where she had gone to work as agricultural labour, to her Chattisgarh home as she had neither wages nor food. She died of exhaustion and hunger just 11km away from her home. We must also speak about those desperate workers who made it alive in a boat from the coast of Tamil Nadu to the coast of Odisha. And also those who couldn’t complete the walk from Madurai to Rajasthan, from Mumbai to Madhya Pradesh, from Haryana to Uttar Pradesh, from Assam to…..and so on. No one has kept the statistics after the no of such dead crossed 50 by march end; the un-enumerated dead who fell to Rulers’ policies for the Pandemic. There are also tales of angry, hungry reaction, whether in Delhi or Surat or Mumbai or Kolkata or Telangana, to name some major centres.
Yet these were trailer times; the worst is still coming. Moves by the Central Govt to lengthen working hours, when they should be shortened for same wages so that more can work. Labour laws to the dustbin; enter Codes which are prohibitive for organization and organized struggle apart from much else. DA freeze, which is wage freeze, has already been announced for Central Govt employees up to July 2021. The UP govt has followed suit and no doubt public sector workers and govt employees of other states are in imminent line of fire. All these sections have already been subjected to extraction of one day wage for a Fund which Govt has taken Care to protect from audit. But expenditure on the people is in pronouncements. Free rations, financial supports, etc etc are rosy mirages which unorganized workers of all categories and self -employed- unemployed are tiring out in chasing.
Not to be outdone in attacking wages of govt. and public sector employees are the state govts. The UP Govt., as already mentioned, followed up the Central Govt.’s DA freeze for employees and pensioners by a freeze of its own. The Telangana Govt. of KCR borrowed from the govt. employees and allied state workers and unilaterally announced that they would face a graded compulsory wage cut for the next three months (from 50% for those higher on the ladder to 10% for class 1V employees) as a ‘loan’ to the state govt. in pandemic times. This money would be repaid after three months. The Jagan Govt of Andhra Pradesh went in for a facade of consultations. Some NGOs were called and with this ‘consent’, wages of Govt. employees and allied state workers are to be cut to similar extents as in Telangana but for two months; they are ‘loans’ to the state govt. to help against the pandemic.
Running with the tide came the Left Front run Kerala Govt. It is going to ‘with hold’ 6 days’ wages of all state govt. employees including those in state owned enterprises, public sectors, quasi govt. undertakings, universities etc. This will be done up to and including August, with promise of returning this one month wage ‘later’. There was no issue of a lighter burden on class 4 employees here. When the Kerala High Court pointed out that this decision had no basis in law, the Kerala Govt. promptly has brought an Ordinance. So this is the official Left Front! No invoking the energy of the people, no demand of added taxation of the rich, only imitating the model of attacking employees’ wages and enforcing ‘compulsory loans’. Why not take such “loans” from the employers?- but that would not be in character with the rulers, whose part they are.
And so May Day reminds once again, class consciousness and the widest unity to be forged for an even more Herculean struggle. Win the workers, rouse them and build the pressure for all sections to come forward into struggle
Determined struggle for 10% of GDP to be spent on relief in pandemic times, for 5%GDP for health budget, for universal social security and universal PDS, for payment of wages for every worker by Govt., whether or not it recovers from capitalists. For dedication to the crying need for strengthening revolutionary struggles, exposing impeding role of Reformism in the trade union movement. Taking the fight forward for a new dawn, a new world, which is anyway the message of May Day.
Long live Revolution!
Aparna (President, IFTU)
30th April 2020