Aparna (President, IFTU)
The Covid Pandemic has given cover to the RSS-BJP Central Govt. to attack working class rights as well as sell out India’s assets to Private Capital, maximally imperialist Capital. Under cover of a lockdown which reeked of police raj rather than containing an illness, those policy decisions were taken which have been held at bay since 1991 by workers’ united struggle howsoever weak and token the latter.
The changes pushed through in labour laws have definable aims. First, there is move to enchain the right to form trade unions, while the right to protest and especially to strike has been virtually done away with. These were rights encoded into labour laws as a result of struggles of working class. So the term ‘Industrial Relations’ is now tilted totally to upholding the supremacy of the employer by enchaining right of bargaining by workers. Second, are a host of attacks on the safeguards of employment tenure and conditions, with the emphasis on making employer’s right to hire and fire the rule and the working hours as flexible as possible. The third move is to virtually do away with even the concept of regular protected employment.
The fact is the changes have not come overnight. There was a growing army of contractual and casual workers in each and every establishment doing same work on regular basis for unequal wages and with no job protection. The failure of the working class movement to challenge and defeat this gradual temporarization of workers doing permanent work, has also weakened to some extent the fight back against the attacks on labour laws.
A further aspect needs to be considered. There is much talk of ‘unorganized’ workers actually being outside the pale of labour laws, without the Govt. explaining what prevented it from extending the coverage appropriately to these sections instead of doing away with the existing labour law framework. For instance, who if not the government decreed that AASHA workers were not entitled to minimum wage or statutory PF and ESI facilities? After deliberately creating sections of workers to whom labour laws were not applied, after rendering the labour law enforcement machinery defunct instead of streamlining it, to fault the then existing labour laws is to create deliberate alternative narrative to justify the attack on the existing rights themselves.
Many other policy decisions which, while affecting the working class, have direct effect on people, have also been taken in the Corona period. This brings up the issue of sale of almost all public sector undertakings. These were established by public money but are to be handed over for a pittance to private sector which will mostly be imperialist capital. Not only that. The huge lands and properties with this sector are also to be disposed off in the same way. The most burning issue in this is the sale of Indian Railways. The privatization of this sector will hit the common people hard.
A simultaneous attack has been launched on the govt. employees to muzzle their unions. The clause relating to compulsory premature retirement has been invoked and committees set up to arbitrarily decide who is to be shown the door. No appeal in courts will be allowed against the decision. This draconian move is only and solely to curb expression of the demands of workers.
The attack on working class coupled with attack on Agriculture will lead to less and less spending capacity for vast sections of the people along with rise in prices of basic essentials in food. This will undoubtedly worsen the economic crisis which is essentially a crisis of demand and lead to further worsening of the condition of the people.
There are other issues facing the workers. The lockdown in the name of containing corona has led to widespread job losses. Even where jobs are restored, wages of lockdown period have mostly not been paid and in many cases jobs have been restored on curtailed wages. The burning need of workers is for economic support while the Central Govt. has not even bothered to acknowledge the demand of all central trade unions, except maybe BMS which is linked to RSS, to give a lumpsum amount per month to all without jobs. IFTU has raised a demand of Rs 10,000 a month for next six months. On the other hand wages of govt employees and big public sector undertakings were deducted in the name of financing corona care response of govts. DA freeze has been implemented of three installments up to July 2021.
The attacks on workers are on in an atmosphere of general attack on democratic rights and in the context of a fairly feeble fight back on this issue.
Keeping this feature too in mind, one must assess the Call for Industrial Strike on 26th November. The call was given by the platform of 10 Central Trade Unions and most militant trade union centres like IFTU have also given a strike call for the same date. The question is legitimately being asked, that when the threat of change in labour laws was overhanging the workers very concretely since 2019, why no serious fight back was undertaken in pre corona period even and what will a one day strike achieve? The weak central fight back of the trade unions may have contributed to strengthening the confidence of the Central Govt, but service to imperialism is its inherent policy and the corona lockdown has provided the opportunity. But the 26th Nov strike should be seen in the overall context of workers struggle. Even as labour laws were being attacked, power employees of Uttar Pradesh won a struggle against privatization and also made the Yogi Govt write a no victimization clause into the agreement. Jute workers in Andhra pradesh went on strike and achieved agreement on wages for lockdown period even while the Central Govt. conveniently forgot PM Modi’s promise of wage payments for the period and the Courts did not enforce the same. Many other small and large units in various parts of the country also managed to secure such wages, wherever managements wanted to run the industry. Similarly, Ordnance workers have fought and staved off move for corporatization upto now. Coal workers have been fighting against auctioning of mines to private players. And most herculean of all, while Central Govt. set the police on them and state govts had to be pressurized for minimum assistance, while the highest Court initially refused to intervene on their behalf, millions of migrants walked throughout the country defying the police enforced lockdown because the Govts did not provide food and shelter to them. This forced the Supreme Court to take cognizance of the workers walking home and start proceedings to monitor facilities though it had rejected pleas to intervene just weeks earlier. Along with, trade union organizations in many parts of the country fought their state govts and forced support for migrant workers walking through the state or forced arrangements to be made to bring back workers to the native state.
These and so many more struggles of workers despite the lockdown are the answer the working class is giving the countrywide. The 26th Nov strike must be made into a coordinated response of the voice of all such struggles. Its wide implementation will become a harbinger of times to come.
A widespread struggle of the peasantry is on countrywide to demand rollback of three laws pushed through Parliament in corona period and which are going to have a devastating effect on Agriculture sector. The peasant struggle is an inspiration for the working class that the fight should be fought with the conviction that laws can be rolled back and also undone. The demands of working class in this strike also amount to demanding that all changes in law and policy decisions taken during corona period should be rolled back. We should also demand that all non BJP Govts not implement labour law changes in the states they rule as labour is on the concurrent list. The fight must be fought with the conviction that roll back is possible through firm struggles.
The 26th Nov strike must be implemented seriously. Mood must be built for intensifying the struggle, both by all India actions and also sector by sector and state by state.
November 21, 2020