New Delhi: Following the month-long farmers’ protest at the national capital that has left the Centre shaken, the trade unions are now looking to intensify their own agitation pressing forward the workers’ demands regarding the labour codes.
Much like the cultivators who are protesting the controversial farm legislations, unions representing the working class, too, have voiced apprehensions against the reform-oriented labour codes, three out of the total four of which were steamrollered in the last concluded Parliament session earlier this year in September – without any debate.
The Centre has indicated to effect all the four codes “in one go” by April next year.
While the farming community has managed to put the Centre under pressure to address its grievances by staying put in thousands at the outskirts of Delhi and blocking the carriageways connecting the city to its nearby states, the trade bodies are now putting efforts to build up on the momentum with its own set of independent actions including a prolonged workers’ strike among others in the days to come.
The ten Central Trade Unions have decided to launch a relay hunger strike around the upcoming Budget Session “to press for the demands that are of the working class of this nation”, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Amarjeet Kaur told NewsClick. “We are also planning for a prolonged general strike – of multiple days – in the next year,” she said.
These actions, she added, will above all, pressure the Centre to withdraw the labour codes along with extending solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ movements.
Also read: Will the Labour Code Bills Take Us Back to the 19th Century?
According to Kaur, similar to the farmers’ concerns about the agri reforms being brought in without consulting the stakeholders, trade unions, too, have been highlighting the lack of proper discussion before the codification of the labour laws.
“As such, both workers’ organisations and farmers’ unions have stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in protesting against the Centre’s policies. The ‘Delhi Chalo’ call of the farmers in November this year was also synchronised with the workers’ general strike,” Kaur said, adding that whatever the trade unions are planning ahead is in line to “solidify the mazdoor-kisan ekta (unity between workers and farmers).”
To be sure, major border points – Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur, Chilla, as well as Shahjahanpur – where farmers are staging a sit-in protest, are already witnessing participation in considerable numbers from the working class population, especially from the nearby industrial towns.
“Many workers have daily shift of up to 10-12 hours and even after that, they are making sure to visit the protest sites every other day to support the farmers,” Ishwar Tyagi, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Sahibabad industrial town, said. Located in Ghaziabad, the town is near to the Ghazipur protest site, where farmers mainly hailing from western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand are protesting.
“Many workers in the factories here are from those very states. Many have got their neighbours or some relative still engaged in farming back in the villages. As such, the workers are feeling a moral responsibility to stand with them,” Tyagi explained, adding, “The workers visit the protest site and help the protesting farmers in their langar sewa or any other voluntary activity.”
Such participation is largely being witnessed at Shahjahanpur village at the Rajasthan-Haryana border as well, where farmers have blocked the Delhi-Jaipur expressway. Incidentally, the road also connects several major industrial towns including those in Haryana’s Bawal, Manesar along with Rajasthan’s Neemrana – all located within close distances.
Yogesh Kumar of the Inquilabi Mazdoor Kendra argued that with the farmers’ protesting in close vicinity to the industrial towns, the sites are also now witnessing discussions over the “ill-effects” of the labour codes.
Also read: CITU Denounces “Repressive” Government Measures Against Farmers and Workers Ahead of General Strike
Raising concerns similar to the farmers’ unions – which fear that the three farm bills tilts the level playing field towards the corporates, the trade unions flay the codification of labour laws – a process that will see subsumption of over 40 existing labour enactments – as empowering the employers to further shirk their responsibilities towards the workers.
“Members of our organisations are distributing parchas which include issues pertaining to workers at all the border points,” Kumar said. The Mazdoor Kendra, which is particularly active among the industrial workers in Manesar, has also set up a book stall at Tikri border, from where Kumar spoke to NewsClick over phone.
Continuing with such solidarity programmes, trade union leaders now believe that a workers’ movement parallel to that of farmers would further beleaguer the Narendra Modi dispensation over its recent policy decisions.
Expressing his agreement with this idea, Satbir Singh of CITU Haryana said that the national committee of his union has already given multiple calls in this direction.
On December 30, a countrywide call has been given for the protests to be staged at workplaces; while federations associated with the CITU will court arrest at district levels on January 7 and 8.
“The ongoing movement will strengthen the workers’ fight for their rights. On the other hand, the workers have understood that if the farmers lose, then they will lose it too,” Singh added.
Also see: Twenty Five Crore Workers on Strike, Lakhs of Farmers Join Protest