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20 Crore People Participated in Rural Bandh and Sectoral Strikes, Say SKM, CTUs

Samyukta Kisan Morcha alleged that the government is "blinding the farmers to serve the exploiting Big Businessmen".

From Ranchi in Jharkhand to Dhule in Maharashtra and Rourkela in Odisha to Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, the rural bandh and industrial strikes by Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and joint platform of central trade unions made a visible impact on day-to-day life of people on Friday, with farmers and workers shutting shops, mandis, and factories, blocking roads, railway tracks, and highways. The constituent organisations of Samyukta Kisan Morcha had called for a rural bandh to press for its demand for Minimum Support Price (MSP) as per Swaminathan Commission formula, one-time loan waiver from all banks and NBFCs, scrapping the Electricity Amendment Act, and suspension of Ajay Mishra—who allegedly protected his son Ashish Mishra in the Lakhimpur Kheri Massacre—from the Union Cabinet. The Central Trade Unions (CTUs) joined the call to scrap four labour codes and set a minimum salary of Rs 26,000 for workers to combat the pinching impact of inflation.


Large-scale protests were observed in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Haryana, Punjab, and Gujarat. The workers with red flags raised slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘No to Privatisation’, and ‘Give MSP to All Farmers’. Due to the examination schedule on February 16, farmers and workers from West Bengal observed the law violation programme and Grameen Bandh on February 13. 

Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, who participated in a protest at Jantar Mantar, told NewsClick that the leaders expect a participation of 20 crore people in mass action, a first of its kind in the history of post-independent India.

She said, "It was certainly a big mass action. We have been organising general strikes, but today’s strike involved agricultural workers, scheme workers in rural areas, and workers engaged in urban industrial areas too. Our estimate is that protests were organised at 1 lakh locations across the country. If I were to cite an example, the electricity federation unions did protests at the village, zone, and district headquarters. Similarly, the workers of banks, insurance, telecom, and defence sectors participated in protests and led processions too. The coal sector is observing 100% participation. All units of the National Mineral Development Corporation were on a complete strike. The strike in EPZs and SEZs was successful with 80% participation."

When asked if the government departments reached out to them to discuss demands, she said, "Wherever unions served notices under the Industrial Disputes Act, we were called for conciliation. For example, the Central Coal Commissioner invited us for talks and our unions placed forth our demands. Since they did not accept our demands, we went ahead with our strike. However, many of the demands of the unorganised sector are still unaddressed, and none of the central trade unions have been discussed."


She added, "It is correct that the attitude of the central government towards workers has not altered, and they are behaving as if the strikes do not matter much to them. However, it must be remembered that workers are voters too, and they are watching very closely the destruction of our public sector and how BJP used unconstitutional schemes like Electoral Bonds to favour its corporate friends."

Hannah Mollah, national core committee member of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, told NewsClick that the member organisations will meet on February 19 in the national capital to build further strategy to make people aware ahead of general elections after today’s grand success.

He said, “We are very happy that today’s rural bandh was immensely successful after people shut shops and other establishments and protested in markets and stopped traffic at national highways. The people are realising that if MSP is key to the survival of farmers, four labour codes are a death sentence to organised workers. The bandh remained successful in all states of South India. Similarly, significant impact was seen from Bihar, Punjab, Haryana to Assam. Our workers in Jammu and Kashmir were lathi-charged and detained for a shorter period. The rails were also stopped at a few locations. The employed are perturbed that jobs are vanishing. The students are seeing the destruction of education. Now, it is up to the ruling party to realise to accept our demands or simply leave.”

Virender Gaur, president of CITU Delhi, who participated in a strike at Delhi Jal Board headquarters, told NewsClick that today’s strike is certainly a blow to people who think the voters will only vote on the issue of Ram Mandir inauguration. The workers are facing multi-faceted challenges. While permanent government employees are asking for old pension and job security amid a rampant privatisation drive, the jobs are increasingly made contractual under schemes like Agniveer. We may see that a son is getting earlier retirement than his father. We are also not surprised that the central government has abandoned the practice of inviting unions for dialogue to address workers' concerns. The ministers have much time to participate in the conference of FICCI and ASSOCHAM, but they have no time to meet us.”

In a statement, SKM said that it had sent “a polite and written appeal to the Prime Minister of India on Feb 13, asking him to be sympathetic and considerate to farmers who are suffering farm losses, distress, debt, unemployment, while farm labour suffers severe hunger, failure of treatment, and deprivation”. It further read: “It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has shown full sympathy to the Corporate Companies, but has unleashed repression on farmers with lathi charge, pellet firing, tear gas sprays, use of drones, road blockade, house-to-house threats and continuing with a ‘war-like approach’ towards the farmers. SKM condemns even more vehemently the injury caused to 3 farmers in Shambhu, who have lost their vision. Mr. Modi’s government is blinding the farmers to serve the exploiting Big Businessman.”


It added, “Modi government has deliberately vitiated the atmosphere on farmers' issues and hoodwinked people into believing that he is truthful and sincere. He promised a committee to consider MSP and other demands in December 2021. Seven months later he formed one with those who were openly opposed to giving MSP and he added Crop Diversification and Zero Budget Natural Farming on its agenda. Now, in the name of talks, he is mocking negotiations by sending ministers to the agitators at Shambhu to fool the people and keeping the points and progress in the discussion ‘secret,’ thus putting the farmers of the entire country in the dark. SKM raises questions over BJP’s policy of stubbornness towards solving basic problems of people and diverting their attention towards communal and religious disputes. SKM fought this on January 26th, 2021, and is determined to unite the people across India to achieve victory.”

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) called the support received by the Grameen Bandh “unprecedented”. In a statement, it said: “Farmers, agricultural workers and other rural workers stopped agricultural and other farm work and also trading of their produce and joined the workers in the demonstrations in thousands. Angry demonstrations against the anti-people anti national policies of the Modi government and calling for its decisive defeat in the 2024 Parliament election, were held in all the states and almost all the districts in the country.”

“This massive action was preceded by extensive and intensive campaign at the grass root level in which thousands of trade union and kisan organisations’ cadres and activists met workers, their families and neighbours at their residential areas, in addition to the workplace level meetings. The 16th February protest action is the prelude for the intensified campaign and struggle to save the country, to save democracy and the hard won Constitutional rights of our people and the secular character of our society from the clutches of the corporate communal nexus represented by the Modi regime. It is an expression of the determination of the toiling people of our country to defeat this corporate communal regime led by Modi and BJP in the 2024 Parliament elections,” read the statement.

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